‘When I was younger, slaving over a wok in Dad’s Chinese takeaway, I never imagined that one day I would be writing a cookbook full of my father’s recipes. Arguing with him in the busiest of kitchens, I never imagined that I would one day thank him for his patience and guidance; that one day I would have the confidence to teach others - to share with you the secrets of my family’s kitchen, taught to me by the greatest chef I know, Poppa Wan. I never imagined that you would want to listen . . .
Nowadays, it seems like everyone has eaten Chinese food and thinks they know what it’s about: unhealthy, usually deep-fried and covered in pink and gloopy sweet and sour sauce. But I’m here to tell you that the Chinese food we’re used to in the UK is a Western invention. The dishes my dad taught me to cook were quick and healthy, and very different to the sort of thing that most people have come to expect from their takeaways. My aim with this book is to show you all how easy, simple and tasty home-cooked Chinese food can be. I’m going to take out all the rubbish and leave all the good stuff in.
Food has been at the centre of my life ever since I can remember. Whether cooking for our loyal customers in the family restaurant or cooking to feed ourselves, food is a way of life for the Family Wan. Dad taught us that food wasn’t just nutrition. He lives by one mantra and one mantra alone: ‘We do not eat to live. We live to eat. We live for food.’ It’s a mantra that I now live my life by.
Food is important to Chinese culture - and when I say that, it’s a total understatement! Everything in my father’s culture revolves around food . . . happiness, sadness, forgiveness, even people’s nicknames: I have a cousin we call ‘Sweet Potato’ and my best friend goes by the name of ‘Chicken Leg’! I always say thataChink without food is like a shoe without a heel: completely pointless. Food is just who we are. A lot of our conversations revolve around it - food is in our stories, colours our memories and is often used as analogies. One of my favourite memories is of my dad watching a football match on the edge of his seat. Michael Owen was running down the pitch to score a goal and suddenly Dad shouted at the television, ‘Michael Owen, he got leg like chilli - hot and spicy!’
When I was growing up, Poppa Wan taught me about Hong Kong, his motherland. As a child he fed me stories of how he would cook potatoes in makeshift ovens made of rocks and wire, hidden in the mountains that surrounded his village. A man of few words, he is more skilled in the kitchen than the most practised magician. He has the natural ability to wow an audience into submission with one toss of his wok or a slice of his cleaver. He taught me to respect eating food, to enjoy the sharing of food with the people I care about most; he taught me that this is the secret behind Chinese cookery. It allows you a brand-new sense. Chinese cooking brings with it the sense of emotion. I never realized it as a child but every time my dad stir-fried, boiled, diced, sliced or steamed, he was teaching me a secret language - one filled with tradition, a sense of my heritage and also a bitter-sweet bereavement for a world he loves and misses.
ESEMPIO DI RICETTA