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Food Histories of the Toysan People


Ben Hong
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Proud of who we are and what we eat. A lot of younger participants of this forum may not realize it, but North American "Chinese" food served to the "lo fan" was largely created by us Toysanese...chop suey, sweet and sour ribs, garlic spare ribs, chicken balls, etc. But more than that, the style of "real" (I don't mean the newfangled fusion, spicey Szechuan, etc.) Chinese food served to the "lo wah kieu" during the abominable Exclusion days still can be called the mainstay of much of the Chinese restaurant industry in North America.

I have to assume that I am the oldest Toysanese here, at least one who can still remember some of the aspects of village life in old pre-revolution China and as such, I would like to see this thread roll and I would be more than pleased to answer some of the questions (about whatever)you may have. And if I can't answer specifics about food, we can call on Dejah who is an accomplished chef and her Mother, her brain a precious repository of village recipes and culture. (Btw, Dejah is much, much, much younger than I)

If your parents or grandparents came to "Gam Shan" before the mid 60s, chances are they are/were Toysanese, or just simply ask them.

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I am a proud Toysanese . . .and yes, much, much younger than Dai Gaw Ben. :wink:

Ben does have a great store of knowledge, about our area, the history, people, and the food!

Will your family "buy sun" on New Years Day? What will be on the table for the offering in the morning? This festival coming up has brought a wonderful opportunity for the young'uns to read about old traditions.

I will have my simmered WHOLE chicken, dried squid, crispy pork, fruit and tay doy on my table early in the morning. There will be incense burning in my special urn. This is not nearly as eleaborate as what will be happening at Mom's.

I will have a picture to post of her morning ritual. My brother Ken will take the picture as I am not allowed to make my visit until the 2nd.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Gam Shan? Is that "gold mountain"?

Yes. The literal translation is Gold Mountain. Generally refers to San Francisco and it's vincinities by the Chinese. The name stuck since the gold rush days.

The process of being recruited to come here to mine gold, or later to bulid the railroad was called "Mei Ju Jai" (literal translation: being sold as suckling pigs). Meaning that they were deceived by others that they could get rich overnight working in the USA, only to realize that it was hard labor waiting for them.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Some part of my family came here in the early 80s but most of them came to Canada in the 90s. Most of the people I know came from Hong Kong during the 80s and 90s where they are uncertain about the future of Hong Kong. I am proud of the hard work of our ancestors and family in this new land.

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Hzrt. Unfortunately the selling of labourers still happens, only they call it people smuggling these days.

Yuki, I am proud that you feel proud of what all our predecessors achieved in the face of overwhelming odds. I have not met many newer immigrants or young people who "gave a damn". Thanks for reaffirming to an old codger, that there are gems like you around.

Now to keep this thread within the realm of food, can anyone name a favourite "village" dish that you or your parents eat? Or a dish cobbled up in the face of a paucity of "Chinese" type ingredients here in Gam San?

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Or  a dish cobbled up in the face of a paucity of "Chinese" type ingredients here in Gam San?

Of course, there's chop suey with green cabbage, celery, onion. canned sliced mushrooms, AND, wait for this: canned bean sprouts!

This was in a rural community on the Canadian prairies, and before my parents sprouted their own.

We used to sprout the mung beans in big stainless steel pails, holes punched on the bottom, burlap covering the bottom and on top of the beans. There were 3 of these pails, started on different days. Each pail had its own sprayer set to a timer to keep the beans moist with tepid water. The sprout room was kept warm and dark. Once they reach usable length, the sprouts would be put into a huge laundry tub of cold water. The hulls would rise to the top. My kids hated the job of cleaning off the hulls. The sprouts would be drained and put into the cooler for daily use. It took many years before Chinese vegetables became a familiar sight in stores.

I am doing an interview on Monday with the local chef and culinary instructor for the city magazine. He wants to know about the first appearance of Chinese food on the prairies, AND the recipe for chop suey! :laugh::laugh:

I could give him so much more . . . but chop suey is what he wants . . . :rolleyes:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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My parents came from Toysan (which is the correct Romanization of our village Toysan or Toisan?) and met in DC. I will ask as to which part they are from. I was born in the Washington, D.C. area.

I'm hella proud of my roots and that I'm a Toysan woman.

In terms of food, mom makes a steamed dish of eggs, salted duck eggs, lap cheong and rice noodles. It's kinda quiche like, no crust. And joong! Oh man, - sticky rice, mung beans, lap cheong, salted duck yolk, fatty pork and dried shrimp. Oh and she makes "gai loong", these fried dumplings of with minced pork, scallions, black mushrooms, dried shrimp and lap cheong inside. The dough's made from glutonous rice flour.

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Gastro888, yep, you certainly are a Toysan Mui. Gawd love ya, you certainly have the same appreciation for the same foods :rolleyes::biggrin: I think Toysan, Toisan are interchangable, they sound the same.

If an old Geezer can offer a bit of advice, please stick close to your Mother and try to learn to make some of the more traditional festive dishes while she's still interested in doing so. You sound like someone who would like to and should be learning those traditions. If you have followed Dejah's posts on several forums of the eGullet, you will see that she is trying to learn all she can from her Mother, who is 95. (Dejah is a grandmother, but she is much, much, much younger than I am :biggrin::raz::wink: )

Dejah: Indirectly, chop suey, s&s spareribs and chow mein were the lifeline for a great many villages in impoverished Toisan. These dishes not only fed the lo fan clientele, but also families in China. Very important aspect to mention in your interview (that is if the reporter can understand the concept) Chinese hand laundrys were just as important.

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If an old Geezer can offer a bit of advice, please stick close to your Mother and try to learn to make some of the more traditional festive dishes while she's still interested in doing so. You sound like someone who would like to and should be learning those traditions.

My wife doesn't cook. Toisanese nor Cantonese nor American.

When she was small, she showed some interests in watching over her mother's shoulder and tried to learn a few things about cooking. And everytime, her mother just chased her out of the kitchen. "Why are you here? What do you know? you are in my way!" :sad:

If you mother doesn't chase you away, then take advantage of it...

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Ah, unfortunately, I'm in the same situation as hzrt8w's wife. My mom chases me away or gives me a funny look when I tell her I want to learn. She says that I wouldn't be able to do it anyways and it's a futile effort to teach me. *sighs* So I research and try my best.

Dejah, the goh posting you did is fantastic! I had those gohs as a kid and didn't like the brown sugar taste but now I'm wanting one for old time's sake.

Ben, seriously...write a book. You have alot to say...I'm sure you could get funding somewhere!

Edited by Gastro888 (log)
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OK, after wrestling with my digital camera and trying to figure out how to post pics on eG, here we go! (Or as spaghetttti says, "Whee hee!")

gallery_19890_766_206491.jpg

Woon jai goh in Cantonse or buot doi goh in Toisanese. My mom looked at me weird when I asked her to make these and she's like why are you asking about them now? What prompted you? I said, oh, I saw it on the computer. These were the best yet - took 5 tries to get 'em soft and smooth. Yum. Had 3 today.

gallery_19890_766_39232.jpg

Gai loong in Toisanese. I don't know if there is a word for this in Cantonese. My mom made them today with some of her friends. This is not her handiwork. I mean, she made them but I don't think made the filling or the dough. It is not as good as mom's from scratch. She flutes the edges and stuffs them just to the point of bursting. Filling this time was pork, black mushrooms, scallions and water chestnuts. My mom's filling's more generous with alot of "lieu" and not as finely chopped. Oily as heck but yum, yum, yum.

I asked my mom where in Toisan she was from and she's like South of Guangzhou, southern part, Toisan. I said yes, but WHERE? Response in Toisanese:

"Toisan mah hai Toisan-lah!"

("Toisan is where I'm from and Toisan is Toisan." Lah is the universal expression of exasperation for us Cantonese folks)

And I asked her about her old cheongsams. "Don't have them! If I did, you're too fat for them anyways!" :blink::laugh:

I think she was crabby 'cause I interrupted her Jade TV show. :laugh:

Ai ya, I'll try another day.

Edited by Gastro888 (log)
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Ah, unfortunately, I'm in the same situation as hzrt8w's wife.  My mom chases me away or gives me a funny look when I tell her I want to learn.  She says that I wouldn't be able to do it anyways and it's a futile effort to teach me.  *sighs*  So I research and try my best. 

Are you still living at home? because if you are, you probably won't learn much. My mother was the same way when I was growing up - she didn't want to teach me; said it was faster to do it herself and said I got in the way. I learned a little just by watching her while I pretended to do my homework at the kitchen table, and I also learned some stuff by sitting quietly while watching my father and grandmother each week as they cooked for an average of 20 of our extended family for Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch. But I didn't cook until I left home - then I really missed my mother and grandmother's food and wanted to try to reproduce it. So I called my mother and asked her how to cook something - she would say "marinate the meat in some soy sauce, rice wine, salt, sugar, oil and cornstarch" and I would ask, "how much?" She said I just had to learn how much by doing it, and my first attempts were horrendous.

A few years ago, I was trying to teach my cousin how to cook and I said, "marinate the meat in some soy sauce, rice wine, salt, sugar oil and cornstarch." She asked "how much?" and I told her the same thing my mother told me. It's something you learn just by doing it. I'm grateful to my parents that I learned how something is supposed to taste, and as I said, I learned a lot by watching HOW they do it, but until you do it yourself, you won't KNOW it.

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Please forgive me, I know I don't belong here, but I just have to say that Gastro's woon jai goh and gai loong look amazing.

I suppose there's no such thing as an honorary Toisanese? :unsure:

Yetty CintaS

I am spaghetttti

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April, without exception that's what we all do. Most Chinese cooks cook by taste and not by recipe. I would not and could not give out "accurate" recipes. To be successful in producing good meals, it is imperative that one knows the 5-6 cooking techniques, poaching, steaming, chowing, etc., know the flavours and texture of ingredients, and develop the ability to (almost) subconciously meld flavours. One can almost duplicate any dish if you have a basic grasp of these essentials.

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Hello. Fellow Toysans. I regret not picking up more cooking tips from my granny. She died when I was very young. But I remember when I visited my grandparents, that she would be busy cooking in the kitchen. I know she made the dumplings by hand(hai gow)(used the rice bowl as her cookie cutter, sticky rice with duck and other delectable goodies. Where can I gain this kind of knowledge?

Your pics of the deep fried dumplings look like a step in the right direction. It is like I am rediscovering my roots. I look forward to visiting this poster.......

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Gastro, You are a gem! Great pictures. . .yum! I wonder if the gai loong is the same as ham gok? I love these...chewy, oily and savory!

I made my gnow lahn yuen last night. They are so boring to look at that I decided to post a pic when I stir fry them with other ingredients. They tasted good tho' when they first came off the steamer, dipped in soya and sesame oil with a bit of mah la yow.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Glad you like the photos! I'll be taking more pics soon.

Gnoh lahn yuen? What's that?

Hey spaghetttti, you're now officially a girl from "da village". Toisan's country, from what I've learned from others. Hey, country's all good. Keep it real, keep it true! Southern China's got the best of everything!

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Don't all Chinese mother pass on their recipes when their daughters get marry? I know my grandma did that for my youngest aunt, she gave her some lessons in how to properly steam fishes, chicken, minced meat, stir fry vegetables, soup and many other dishes. I learned everything from looking at how grandma cooks and we never use accurate measurement. When I was at home(treated like a princess by my parent), there was no need to learn how to cook or even step into the kitchen. Everything would be done by them and all I have to do is sleep, do homework, and watch TV.

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Hey spaghetttti, you're now officially a girl from "da village".  Toisan's country, from what I've learned from others.  Hey, country's all good.  Keep it real, keep it true!  Southern China's got the best of everything!

You're right about Toisan being country. When I first moved to Hong KOng, I didn't realise that Toisanese was a different dialect than Cantonese - it was all I knew (and I wasn't very fluent, any way). So when I tried speaking to people here in Toisanese, they would give me the most contemptuous look, like "what are you saying, you little village peasant?" Hong Kong people aren't very tolerant about people from the villages. Even if that village is Monterey Park, California! :biggrin:

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Gai loong in Toisanese.  I don't know if there is a word for this in Cantonese. 

Dejah was close, but missed by missing one word. In Cantonese it's called Ham Shui Gok (Literal translation: Salty Water Puff).

I asked my mom where in Toisan she was from and she's like South of Guangzhou, southern part, Toisan.  I said yes, but WHERE?  Response in Toisanese:

"Toisan mah hai Toisan-lah!" 

("Toisan is where I'm from and Toisan is Toisan."  Lah is the universal expression of exasperation for us Cantonese folks)

Don't feel bad. It's a typical Chinese response to their children on something that they don't know, or they don't know how to explain well. Just brush off the question either with a question ("why do you want to know?") or with a circular logic ("I am therefore I am").

Here is an online map of GuangZhou (the major city in province of GuangDong (a.k.a. Canton). Actually Canton is the old name for GuangZhou (the city), not the the province. Hong Kong is on the lower right. Toisan is somewhere to the south of GuangZhou. I can't tell exactly where on this map. If I find my map printed in Chinese, I might be able to tell you.

On-line map of GuangZhou

I also heard that Toisan is actually refering to the general vincinity of 4 villeges: Sam Yup (three rivers), See Yup (four rivers), and ?????? (I forgot).

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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You're right about Toisan being country. When I first moved to Hong KOng, I didn't realise that Toisanese was a different dialect than Cantonese - it was all I knew (and I wasn't very fluent, any way). So when I tried speaking to people here in Toisanese, they would give me the most contemptuous look, like "what are you saying, you little village peasant?" Hong Kong people aren't very tolerant about people from the villages. Even if that village is Monterey Park, California!  :biggrin:

It is true. Unfortunately, sadly. Hong Kongers are renown to be arrogant and impatient especially towards "immigrants" from Mainland China. The native, Hong Kong-born discriminate against others from ChowZhou, Hakka, Shanghai, Beijing, Szechuan, Toisan, Taiwan, even India, etc. who speak Cantonese with heavy accents. They only kowtow to "Gwai Low" (westerners). *sigh* Colonial legacy.

Some waiters discriminated against my wife in Hong Kong during one of her visits because she spoke very broken Cantonese. Then she got mad and told them off in fluent English, and they conceded.

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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