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Food Histories of the Toysan People


Ben Hong
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Thanks, Ben!!! I forwarded that site to my friends to share my roots with them. I'm going to see about the Lee/Wong clan. Hopefully I can get some info.

edited to add this: So I asked my parents tonight about Toisan. My dad's from the east, mom's from the south. My dad said he's from the area known as 49 and my mom said she's from the area known as 50. :huh: I don't know if my parents were pulling my leg or giving me a hard time for being a nosy "jook-sing". (Which by the way, when I learned what that truly meant, I was really offended when people called me that.)

My dad remembers the Japanese invasion. My mom grew up extremely poor and didn't have new clothes to wear and only "ham ha" to eat once a week. Wow.

Will find out more!

Edited by Gastro888 (log)
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First generation ABC of Toisanese parents and proud of it! When I was a teenager in high school I was embarrased to speak Toisan because most kids spoke Cantonese, even the ones from Toisan households. But people usually figured out that Cantonese wasn't my main dialect because I spoke it with a slight accent and of course being a dumb "jook sing" I spoke mainly English. Now that I'm older, I'm more comfortable with who I am.

I never learned how to cook any of the homestyle dishes my mom made when I was growing up. I really miss those dishes now that I no longer live with her. I try to observe as much as possible when I visit her. I do miss joong, woo tau goh, hahm har jee yook, and hahm yee. Unfortunately, my Puerto Rican husband has not developed a liking for those things :laugh: .

In terms of what village my parents were from, I've been told a thousand times when I was a kid. And I still don't remember :unsure: .

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I really didn't know how many Toisan folks were around, that's why I started the thread - to "flush" you guys out of hiding. You young'uns apparently had some pride problems growing up, what with being outnumbered by the Hong Kongers and Mainlanders who arrived in the past 30 years or so. In future threads or posts, I will tell you how the Toisanese were significantly responsible for the overthrow of the last dynasty of imperial China, thus paving the way for a Republican China. There are many great reasons to feel proud of who we are. Tell some of your friends to join sites such as the eG, not only for the communal aspect, but to find out about the fabulous, earthy, flavourful food that our people enjoy. Language is the greatest medium for culture, but food is the soul.

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I am certainly glad this topic came up. I have a question about chop suey.

E. N. Anderson in The Food of China quotes another author in saying that chop suey is, or at least based on a Toishan dish. If this is correct, what can anyone tell me about this dish in its home environment?

If I went to Toysan today could I eat it? In a reastaurant, or is it more of a home cooked dish?

How different would it be from that served up in overseas Chinese restaurants geared towards non-Chinese customers?

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I am certainly glad this topic came up. I have a question about chop suey.

E. N. Anderson in The Food of China quotes another author in saying that chop suey is, or at least based on a Toishan dish. If this is correct, what can anyone tell me about this dish in its home environment?

What exactly is chop suey? I know it is a common dish in Chinese restaurant gearing towards Westerun customers. From its name, I could translate it into Chinese as something as "chopped bits of everything". Is it just like a stir fry or there is more to it?

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Chop suey is anything and everything. Like Yuki says, it means a little of everything lying around the kitchen at the time.

Tales (myths?) of how it was originally concocted abounds. My favourite concerns a raliroad, construction, lumber, mining whatever Chinese camp cook who overslept. When the workmen all came to eat, he had nothing prepared so he started the fire and heated the pots and pans and started throwing bits of leftovers, veggies, etc into the pans, added some soy sauce, and served it. When asked what it was, he came up with "chop suey" or roughly, mixed bits and pieces in Toysanese.

There is a similar dish that we are sometimes served in home "banquets" and other occasions. That is called "dai chop wui" which is a stir of cloud ears, golden needles, duck or chicken blood, gizzards, livers, mushrooms, snow peas, etc. Absolutely delicious.

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I grew up in Hong Kong and had never heard of the term "choy suey" until I came to the U.S. for school. After learning the meaning of the term, and tasted it in some of the "Chinese" restaurants in San Diego, I have been avoiding it since.

It sure is some "Chinese" dish born in America.

I have never met a choy suey dish worth "to die for".

Or for that matter, Chicken "chow mein", Egg Foo Young, Almond Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, Egg Drop Soup...

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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You've gotta try Sweet and Sour Pork in Beijing, and Congee Village makes a very worthwhile genuine-Chinese Beef and Chinese Broccoli Chow Mein here in New York.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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You've gotta try Sweet and Sour Pork in Beijing

I haven't eaten it in Beijing, but you're right, if it's made properly (with mui, or sour plums) it can be excellent, entirely different to the awful stuff you get in the Sates with ketchup and canned pineapple.

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Chop suey is anything and everything. Like Yuki says, it means a little of everything lying around the kitchen at the time.

There is a similar dish that  we are sometimes served in home "banquets" and other occasions. That is called "dai chop wui" which is a stir of cloud ears, golden needles, duck or chicken blood, gizzards, livers, mushrooms, snow peas, etc. Absolutely delicious.

How would you write "dai chop wui" in Chinese? Could "chop wui' have morphed in to chop suey?

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Dai=big, chop (jup)=mixture, wui=dish?(production). This was more of a dish served at important occasions, where a chicken or duck would be slaughtered, hence the parts and blood, etc. But know that this dish bears little resemblance to the beansprout, mushroom and celery abomination that one would see in some "Chinese" cafe'.

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You've gotta try Sweet and Sour Pork in Beijing

I haven't eaten it in Beijing, but you're right, if it's made properly (with mui, or sour plums) it can be excellent, entirely different to the awful stuff you get in the Sates with ketchup and canned pineapple.

Hmm. . .I thought it was just vinegar and sugar that they were using.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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You've gotta try Sweet and Sour Pork in Beijing

I haven't eaten it in Beijing, but you're right, if it's made properly (with mui, or sour plums) it can be excellent, entirely different to the awful stuff you get in the Sates with ketchup and canned pineapple.

Hmm. . .I thought it was just vinegar and sugar that they were using.

It might be, in Beijing; as I said, I haven't eaten it there. "Sweet and sour" as a concept isn't just restricted just to one area of China. It's made in lots of areas (so I've heard) although they might not always call it sweet and sour. It doesn't have the be the garish, bright red stuff; I have heard of "white" (or rather colourless) sweet and sour, which might be the Beijing version you're describing.

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How would you write  "dai chop wui" in Chinese? Could "chop wui' have morphed in to chop suey?

The 2 terms have a common word of "chop". In Chinese it means "gathering", or "together", or also "assorted".

It is the "gathering" meaning used in "dai chop wui", and "assorted" in "chop suey".

The term "chop suey" just means gathering the bits and pieces (implied raw food ingredients to make the dish).

------------------------------------

Sweet and Sour Pork: I agree that you will probably find this dish with different incarnations in different parts of China. It is a common dish in Cantonese cooking. I like the Sweet and Sour Pork prepared in Hong Kong. But in the States, it's a different story.

It's the same story that while some of these dishes indeed originated in China, they turned into something quite different in the USA (or elsewhere around the world outside of China).

Orange Beef (sweet sweet sweet), Chicken Chow Mein (where "mein", or noodle as we know it, is optional), and Egg Foo Young (can't stand that they put so much flour in the egg mix to make an omlette, and oh, with the terrible "gravy") came to mind...

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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How would you write  "dai chop wui" in Chinese? Could "chop wui' have morphed in to chop suey?

Sweet and Sour Pork: I agree that you will probably find this dish with different incarnations in different parts of China. It is a common dish in Cantonese cooking. I like the Sweet and Sour Pork prepared in Hong Kong. But in the States, it's a different story.

It's the same story that while some of these dishes indeed originated in China, they turned into something quite different in the USA (or elsewhere around the world outside of China).

Orange Beef (sweet sweet sweet), Chicken Chow Mein (where "mein", or noodle as we know it, is optional), and Egg Foo Young (can't stand that they put so much flour in the egg mix to make an omlette, and oh, with the terrible "gravy") came to mind...

Some memories from my restaurant days:

One of our favourites with the customers were the deep fried breaded spareribs. We would egg wash the ribs, then hand bread them with cracker meal. This is like bread crumbs except not as "porous" if that is thr right description. The ribs were deep fried and some menus list them as "bonbons"? I still can't understand why. :unsure:

For sweet and sour ribs, we'd bring a stockpot full of the deep fried ribs to boil in water, vinegar, and sugar. The ribs were then strained and ladled into a holding unit in the steam table and kept hot. The "rib juice" as we called it, was strained and put into a large pail into the cooler. This is what we used to make our sweet and sour sauce. It is not just vinegar and sugar. It had the flavour of the ribs in it. Ketsup and soya were never used. The sauce was thickened with cornstarch slurry and kept in another holding unit. The colour was a light amber with a nice balance of sweet and sour. Other restaurants all used ketsup AND red colouring in their sauce. The customers always wondered why ours looked better and tasted more flavourful. They have been known to order a container to take home. They are missing it these days.

Our westernized "chow mein" was the same as the chop suey: shredded cabbage, onion, celery, mushrooms with the exception of made on site crispy egg noodles on top of the veg. My son was very good at making these and it was hard to keep hands out of the bin when they are freshly made! The noodles were also used to make Chinese noodle cake: keh mah. :wub: Cantonese chow mein was on the menu where soft or crispy stir-fried noodles are at the bottom of the dish, or lomein.

For egg foo young, we served the westernized and Cantonese style. The westernized one, we used the same veg mix as the chop suey, choice of meat, with a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed in as binding agent. And yes, we used "the brown sauce on the side. I didn't mind it as it was like meat gravy (wonderful on white rice :rolleyes: ) The thing to do was not to make it thick like glue!

The Cantonese style had just eggs, beansprouts and onions, BBQ pork and baby shrimps. No binding agent was used and you had to cook each patty carefully and slowly so that it would set without burning. These were cooked on the side of the wok and never on the bottom. I loved these with chili oil.

Orange beef: sweet, sweet, sweet!? :rolleyes: Never! Crispy, spicy, sweet AND sour, full of citrus aroma and chun pei flavour. We kept a pail of sauce base of boiled vinegar, water and sugar. With each order, we'd put a ladle into the wok, add orange extract, rehydrated julienned chunpei, chilis, 5-spice powder, simmered then thickened with cornstarch slurry. It has to be just thicken enough to lightly coat each piece when you toss in the lightly floured and breaded deep fried pieces of meat.

Ooooo, I think this made up for my 2 days of silence on this forum! :raz::laugh::laugh::laugh:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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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.

Hi. I'm toishanese too! Born and raised in NYC.

The cantonese word for Gai Loong is "Hom Sui Gok". If you go to restaurants in Chinatown and ask for Hom Sui Gok you'll get what we know as Gai Loong! It's funny my mom used to make these every year at new years and since my family lost her several years ago we have only been buying them. This year, my oldest brother asked that I try to make them since he knows I love cooking so for the last few days, I've been gathering up recipes and the ingredients to attempt to make them. Wish me luck! :smile::smile:

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You've gotta try Sweet and Sour Pork in Beijing

I haven't eaten it in Beijing, but you're right, if it's made properly (with mui, or sour plums) it can be excellent, entirely different to the awful stuff you get in the Sates with ketchup and canned pineapple.

Hmm. . .I thought it was just vinegar and sugar that they were using.

It might be, in Beijing; as I said, I haven't eaten it there. "Sweet and sour" as a concept isn't just restricted just to one area of China. It's made in lots of areas (so I've heard) although they might not always call it sweet and sour. It doesn't have the be the garish, bright red stuff; I have heard of "white" (or rather colourless) sweet and sour, which might be the Beijing version you're describing.

I just came back from a year of living and working in Shanghai and it seems like sweet and sour is a big thing there. In fact, if I had to describe the cuisine of Shanghai in one or two words it would be exactly that, "sweet and sour"! It's so amazing the complexity and the variety of food in China. Very cool.

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I really didn't know how many Toisan folks were around, that's why I started the thread - to "flush" you guys out of hiding. You young'uns apparently had some pride problems growing up, what with being outnumbered by the Hong Kongers and Mainlanders who arrived in the past 30 years or so. In future threads or posts, I will tell you how the Toisanese were significantly responsible for the overthrow of the last dynasty of imperial China, thus paving the way for a Republican China. There are many great reasons to feel proud of who we are. Tell some of your friends to join sites such as the eG, not only for the communal aspect, but to find out about the fabulous, earthy, flavourful food that our people enjoy. Language is the greatest medium for culture, but food is the soul.

Thanks Ben and Dejah for the welcome. I'm proud of the fact that the Toisanese have been everywhere in the world. Ben, I'm looking forward to your future posts.

Thanks Ben for starting the thread! I am NYC born Toishanese and both my parents are from ToiShan. My dad is from Bok Suy Look Hong - White Water Green Hamlet. Growing up I was always told to respond to inquiries as to where my family is from that the proper response would be Bok Suy Low Hom - Hom family from White Water! It's funny that I just came across this site because last year around xmas I ran into an acquaintance at a party. I hadn't seen him in years and he too is Toishanese. He lost his mom 2 years ago and I lost mine in 1996. we were both lamenting about how we miss the traditions and such so he threw a Toi Shan pot luck new years dinner where we all tried to make dishes our mom's made. I made sticky rice (naw my fan) It was so great to be with others of the same background and the first good new years I've had since I lost my mom.

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AH! Thanks, judyfoodie! I was wondering what "ham sui gok" was. Every time I see it on the dim sum carts, it doesn't look the same like my mom's. The ones in the photo are more like "ham sui gok" that I see at dim sum - my mom's dough is crisper and fluffier. (Ok,ok, mom's are the best!)

You're lucky you know exactly where in Toisan y'all are from. *sigh* I'm trying to figure it out.

Hey Uncle Ben, thanks for this thread. It's totally prompting me to talk to my parents more and understand where they're coming from. You know, we should plan some mass eG Toisan meeting or something like that if that's possible.

(Well, considering how FRUGAL us Toisanese are, would that be possible? Hee hee hee :laugh::laugh: )

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AH!  Thanks, judyfoodie!  I was wondering what "ham sui gok" was.  Every time I see it on the dim sum carts, it doesn't look the same like my mom's.  The ones in the photo are more like "ham sui gok" that I see at dim sum - my mom's dough is crisper and fluffier.  (Ok,ok, mom's are the best!)

You're lucky you know exactly where in Toisan y'all are from.  *sigh*  I'm trying to figure it out. 

Hey Uncle Ben, thanks for this thread.  It's totally prompting me to talk to my parents more and understand where they're coming from.  You know, we should plan some mass eG Toisan meeting or something like that if that's possible. 

(Well, considering how FRUGAL us Toisanese are, would that be possible?  Hee hee hee  :laugh:  :laugh: )

yeah, the ones in the restaurant are never as good as moms! I kind of remember that my mom boiled sweet potatoes and mixed that in with the dough for the gai loong and it became even more golden brown and delicious than everyone else's. To all of you who still are lucky enough to have your parents on this earth, pay attention to all the traditions, the tales and of course, the recipes. Don't make the same mistake as my family did and take it all for granted until it's too late. Now we're scrambling to try to recreate all of mom's recipes! The crappy thing is that I am a filmmaker by trade and I could have easily filmed mom making all her specialties! I am a goofball.

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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.

Hi as per the maps (which unfortunately in China is not a definitive answer on things) i bought while in China and visiting Toysan, it's TOI SHAN. which makes no sense since in our dialect it's pronounced TOY SAN and without an "H" sound.

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judyfoodie, WELCOME ABOARD! :biggrin:

So far on this thread, we've been saying" Toisan" , "Toysan", etc. But in Hoisaon wah, , my family always said" Hoi Saon". I think Toisan is Cantonese pronunciation.There are also regional differences in this dialect . . . I say Hoi Saon, Ben may say "Hoi San", etc. . . :unsure:

I need to check with my mother about our village: Hoi Saon, Lung Pan, Oi Gong Huay.

Family name: Choy

We need to make a list of the dishes our parents made. Then we can pool our recipes!

I haven't had goy lung for a long time. I wonder if my Mom is up to teaching me this while I am Po-Po sitting . . . :hmmm:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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