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Food Histories of the Toysan People


Ben Hong
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Okay, I was lured over by Ben's post in the Vancouver forum and have read this thread with interest. Some personal background (admissions?): 1st gen Chinese, born in Victoria, BC, parents both from South China, Dad emigrated '50s, Mom '60s, 1st language Cantonese but when I started school I lost almost all of it and to this day I can barely (if at all) get by (and don't even try with any sort of dialect). I completely identify with Canadian culture and refer to myself as Canadian, but obviously my Chinese heritage has played a part in my upbringing and there are things that will always be ingrained (food and way of eating likely being most prominent).

My family visited China and Hong Kong when I was very young (7), but I have some distinct memories. I *hated* being so crowded everywhere in HK. The poverty in the countryside really made me appreciate what we have here. And the meals! My favourite was when our van broke down in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, but we were fortunate enough to be close to this pig farmer. To this day I'm not sure if he had some fresh kill lying around or what, but I ate what was most likely the best chow fun I'll ever have in my life.

Something I learned reading this: I think my father's side may have been from Toisan, because although the norm for dinner would be "sik fan", my father's father would have said "hek fan". And I could not understand most of what he said.

But I would call those deep fried dumplings "ham sui gok" not the Toisan name (and they have always been slightly sweet to me, whether that's sugar or sweet potato in the dough I don't know). Unlike my siblings, I used to *love* haam yee, particulary on rice or as "haam yee yook beung" (the old "meat cookie"). Perhaps I'll ask my Mom to make it next time I visit, because I'm not really willing to have my house smell like that (not to mention my poor wife who's caucasian).

Anyway, to avoid rambling I'll just say thanks to Ben for starting yet another thread that I now have to follow! Cheers!

PS: Has anyone read the book "The Accidental Asian" by Eric Liu? Even though he's Mandarin and it takes place in the States, I still identify with much of what he has to say.

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I got lured over here my Ben's post in the Vancouver forum too! :smile:

I'm only half Toisan; my mom's from Shanghai. My dad came over to Canada with his family when he was 9 or so, and his family owned two restaurants in Alberta that served burgers and steaks. My dad's mom babysat me when I was a kid, so I understand Toisan-wa quite well.

Growing up, ham ha (the salted shrimp paste) and other Toisan specialities showed up on the dinner table once or twice a week. One of my favourite pastries is the ham siu gok--I used to always pick this at the Chinese bakery (Keefer's) in Chinatown after church!

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Ling and BC, welcome to our little (growing) group. Admitting that you like ham yee and ham ha, you are Toisan to the core :laugh: BC, if your Dad came over in the fifties, I'd bet my crooked travel chopsticks that he is Toisan loh (man). We'd probably be very close in age , he and I, but he probably spent some time in HK before coming over to Canada, acquiring some sung wah (sik fan).

This thread is becoming very educational for all, including this old codger.

Thanks for your contributions.

PS: BC, don't underestimate the Caucasian wife's (Ihave one of those :rolleyes: ) abilities to learn to like certain foods. My wife likes salmon steamed with ham ha and she loves fu yu with anything . Ham yee is a hit and miss still :laugh::blink: .

Edited by Ben Hong (log)
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Thanks for the welcome, Ben. Indeed I learn something new from most of the threads I read on this site!

My Dad was very young when he came over; were he still with us, he'd be 67. I don't know if HK was a stop on the trail, but it would seem to make sense (your reference to "sik fan").

And I do credit my wife for expanding her culinary horizons. Her parents are British (who by my father-in-law's own admission "cook the shit out of everything"), plus she only used to eat chicken and some fish, so there have been definite leaps and bounds! She didn't even react as much as my sister did the first time my Dad pulled the old "I'm really going to eat this ornamental fried chicken head" routine! :raz:

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BC, amazing!

I came over in 1950, when I was 7. Jeez, I can't begin to tell you of the so called "adventure" :sad: . My wife is also British born but she was daring enough to try anything, including me, when things like that weren't as common as today. Haha, you ought to have seen her the first time my mother slaughtered 2 ducks, four chickens and an 18 pound goose in our basement laundry room the first Chinese New Year after we were married. :laugh::laugh::laugh:

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BC,

As Ben said, don't underestimate the Causacian half of relationships.My hubby is Scottish/English and he eats everything and always insists on using chopsticks.

:rolleyes:

I also came to Canada in the 50s. Smuggled out of China when I was 2, left HK when I was 10. Been here ever since.

I just met another Toisanese from another forum. She lives in Winnipeg! I have invited her to join eGullet. She's excited to hear about our "family" here.

She's coming out sometime for a visit, probably when my Mom and I make doong. Her family didn't agree with her bi-racial marriage so she is missing the Chinese part of her life. It is a painful split, but we will try to help her heal and rediscover her roots again. She misses Chinese food! May have to educate her husband as well;-)

I am still waiting for a recipe for ham sui gok! Any help with that? Ling?

Gastro, where have you been?! Say nui bow! :laugh::laugh: Where's the gai mo so

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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.....She didn't even react as much as my sister did the first time my Dad pulled the old "I'm really going to eat this ornamental fried chicken head" routine!  :raz:

My niece, who is a mix (Chinese/Portugese), age 5, loves Chinese Fried Chicken. In family dinners, my father-in-law often teases her by putting the ornamental fried chicken head on her plate. She always freaks out and screams. And everybody laughs...

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Wait: You're not supposed to eat the head?

Only if it faces you :raz:.

I USED to eat the tongue part....strange little V shaped cartilage....crunchy, grossed out my kids :wink::laugh:

Anyone read The Jade Peony by Jason Choy? Chinese Immigrants on the West Coast.

Do we need to start a new thread on related books?

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Wait: You're not supposed to eat the head?

Only if it faces you :raz:.

Seriously. I ate the head of the garlic-roasted chicken at my father's 75th birthday banquet. Had we been Chinese, would he have had the honor of eating the head, or would no-one have eaten it, or what?

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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In telling me stories about her early days as a daughter-in-law, my Mom said that she always got the neck, the head and feet of the chicken. Ah Yeah and Ah Geen got the "butt" and the drumsticks.

I like to eat the neck after supper, taking the time to nibble off every little bit of meat. :biggrin:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I know, I know, I've been so bad! Sorry!! ::ducks and runs:: :laugh:

I like chicken necks because of the great skin to meat ratio. The chicken butt and the bony parts next to it are great. I just started eating lobster heads after watching my friend do it at dinner. I didn't know there was anything there worth eating. This could explain why my cholesterol is not so good for someone my age!

Who here makes tonic soups? And I am still bugging my mom about the "gai loong"/"ham sui gok" recipe. She insists that it's too cold to make now in DC. She likes to fry thme outside because she doesn't want the house to smell of grease. ::sighs:: Small concession but still.

Edited by Gastro888 (log)
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Do we Toysanese like our food or what...???

Just joined the board and thought I might add a few words...

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).

Whereas chopsuey is a stir-fry, dai chop wui (or "da za hui" in Mandarin) is typically closer to a braise, thus the "wui" part. The ingredients are not as finely chopped as chopsuey (less "suey"??). Many Northern Chinese cuisines would put da za hui on their menus.

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...

Actually, I was quite surprised to see some of these dishes featured in Korean restaurants, e.g., sweet-and-sour pork as "tang sue yuk". Though different, they are just as delicious when well-made.

As well, many of these dishes are not the inventions of our Toysan Lo Wah Kiu as some might believe. Besides sweet-and-sour pork, which someone has already talked about, egg foo young is found in many regional cuisines of China. And orange beef probably has a Sichuan origin -- although typically much less sweet as the "Old Chinatown" version.

On that note: the one delicacy I really missed about "Old Chinatown" food is fried stuffed-boneless chicken wings. Anyone had them lately?

One last thing: I would go out on a limb and assert that, to be a "real" Toysanese, you have to have had "hong yuang" (savory -- as opposed to sweet -- rice ball in soup), typically made annually on the Winter Solstice. And if you have a taste for "steamed salted fish on meat patty," you are eligible for the Toysanese Gourmet Hall of Fame... :raz:

Glad to see us being "outted!"

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Gastro, where have you been?! Say nui bow!  :laugh:  :laugh: Where's the gai mo so

Not that I am a linguist or anything...

Just as someone reminded us that it is pronounced "Hoisan" rather than "Taishan," "Toishan," or even "Toysan," may I ask if "say nui bow" really should be pronounced "slay nui bao"? The "l" sound is very slight, and is found in "slam" and "slay" (the numbers 3 and 4, respectively). My late father drilled me on this when I was a kid. I wonder if it is just a parochial variance of our dialect?

By the way, technically speaking, Hoisan is part of the "Four Counties," the other three being Hoiping, Yinping, Sunwui, the dialect, cuisine and culture of each being a little different from the others, but not by much. In any case, I am sure we are all welcome here, right? :smile:

[Edited to add "food content," so as not to get deleted] Although I don't have a recipe for "hom sui gok," for making dim sum has never been my forte, I have managed to google for one here (http://www.wupage.net/7/zuofang/meishi/010.htm ). You would need to be able to display Chinese characters to read it though; should that be a problem, please speak up and I will try to translate it somehow sometime.

Edited by nondual1 (log)
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Nondual, you are indeed welcome. And yes, food is what brought us together here and food will always be a common thread with the Toisan people.

As for real Toisanese pronounciations, there are three sounds that non Toisanese have huge problems with: "thl" and two sounds of "ng" .

The "thl" sound is found in words such as four ("thlee") and die, dead (thlay) or snow (thluet). The sound is formed by touching the tip of the tongue against the front teeth and breathing out the sides of the tongue as you say the word.

"Ng" has two facets, a nasal gutteral hum like sound like the word for five, or the family name. Also it is the start of a word like two "ngee" or cow "ngow" in toysanese. The English equivalent is to be found in a word like "ringing" where the sound of the first "ng" is heard very plainly.

"Ng pon gnow gnuk chow thluet ow" or Five plates of beef chow snow peas.

Couple that with the 5-7 tones that are to be found in the southern main dialect, and you have a linguists nightmare. Nobody said that it was easy being Toisanese. :rolleyes:

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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...

A Caucasian co-worker of mine used to work in New York City. When his staff ordered lunch from a Chinese-run coffee shop, an American-born Chinese girl would always place the order in Chinese and, at the end of her order, say, "Fat lo fan."

Frank would pick up the food, but he never had to introduce himself as the staff always recognized him and gave him the order. So finally he asked the Chinese girl, "I don't know how they recognize me. Could you please tell me, what does 'fat lo fan' mean?"

The poor girl turned beet-red and murmured, "It means, 'Fat white guy.'" :laugh: Frank still laughs about it to this day.

There are two sides to every story and one side to a Möbius band.

borschtbelt.blogspot.com

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And if you have a taste for "steamed salted fish on meat patty," you are eligible for the Toysanese Gourmet Hall of Fame...  :raz:

Yeah it behooves my siblings why I like this otherwise offensive dish (smell, even appearance). I suppose it's an acquired taste like durian - which I have not acquired myself!

As  for real Toisanese pronounciations, there are three sounds that non Toisanese have huge problems with:  "thl" and two sounds of "ng" .

The "thl" sound is found in words such as four ("thlee") and die, dead (thlay) or snow (thluet). The sound is formed by touching the tip of the tongue against the front teeth and breathing out the sides of the tongue as you say the word.

"Ng" has two facets, a nasal gutteral hum like sound like the word for five, or the family name. Also it is the start of a word like two "ngee" or cow "ngow" in toysanese. The English equivalent is to be found in a word like "ringing" where the sound of the first "ng" is heard very plainly.

Ben this is fascinating, and has confirmed for me that my father's side was Toysan. I'm hearing all those sounds in my head that I could never reproduce as a child, let alone now!

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I like chicken necks because of the great skin to meat ratio.  The chicken butt and the bony parts next to it are great.  I just started eating lobster heads after watching my friend do it at dinner.  I didn't know there was anything there worth eating.  This could explain why my cholesterol is not so good for someone my age!

I was having dinner the other night with some Chinese friends and a "lo fan" joined us. We were eating chicken wings and I mentioned that I love the wings because "they have the best skin to meat ratio". The guy said, no they don't! I asked him what has a better skin to meat ratio and he said, "the chicken breast!" I looked at him in astonishment, then realised we were talking from opposite sides - to him, it's better if it has less skin, to me, it's better if it has more skin.

Does anybody remember Chinese fried chicken? The old-style Chinese delis in the States used to make versions of this, but the best we ever ate was during our village association lunches (Kow Kong village, in "old Chinatown" in Los Angeles). We had these gatherings several times a year; lunch was at the village association "hall", dinner was at a restaurant in Chinatown. The lunch menu was always the same: this sweet pink punch (made with 7-up or a cheaper equivalent), Hawaiian punch (or a cheaper equivalent) and a big brick of cheap vanilla ice cream; chow mein (which my father was always in charge of making) and fried chicken, which one of the "uncles" (they were all called uncle, even if they weren't) would make. He was very secretive of the batter and the recipe died with him. I can reproduce the taste of the marinade (the usual: soy sauce, rice wine, ginger and garlic) but I can't get the batter right. It was crispy, oily and delicious... If anybody has any ideas of how to make it, I would be so grateful. My family still talks about this fried chicken, even though it's been about 20 years since we ate it.

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Does anybody remember Chinese fried chicken? The old-style Chinese delis in the States used to make versions of this, but the best we ever ate was during our village association lunches (Kow Kong village, in "old Chinatown" in Los Angeles).

:

He was very secretive of the batter and the recipe died with him. I can reproduce the taste of the marinade (the usual: soy sauce, rice wine, ginger and garlic) but I can't get the batter right. It was crispy, oily and delicious... If anybody has any ideas of how to make it, I would be so grateful. My family still talks about this fried chicken, even though it's been about 20 years since we ate it.

I'm very interested to find out more about this fried chicken, because I don't ever recall eating a Chinese-style fried chicken that has a batter. I wonder if I can find it in NYC?

The one I'm familiar with is the crispy skin style that has been par-boiled in some kind of strong lo chap marinade, then hung to dry before deep-frying.

Edited by Laksa (log)
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The one I'm familiar with is the crispy skin style that has been par-boiled in some kind of strong lo chap marinade, then hung to dry before deep-frying.

The recipe that I've learned and have tried calls for marinating the inside of the chicken with salt and five spice powder. Then par-boiled in straight red vinegar to about half cooked. (5-10 minutes) Hung up to chicken to dry for half a day. When ready to eat, deep-fry the chicken to fully cooked.

I think the vinegar (acid) extracts the water out of the skin, and hunging up the chicken helps to drain the excess moisture under the skin. So the result after deep-frying is a very crispy skin on the chicken.

BTW: This is my 500th post. A big mark. What prize do I get? :raz::raz:

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I also saw Ben's post in the Vancouver forum. First a bit of history. Both my grandparents were from Toysan. My grandmother emigrated to Vancouver in the 1890's. My dad and his 4 brothers and sisters were all born in Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1920's. The house is still standing to this day. Sometime during the 40's or 50's he travelled back to Toysan, met my mum, got married and moved back to Vancouver.

Here are some food related recollections that I have. My mum was very traditional and always cooked the rice in this beat up pot. The handle had fallen off years before and there was just a bare metal piece to hold onto. She must have cooked with this pot for over 30 years.

After the rice was all scooped out she used to make "fan jeu" or "fan noong". For anyone that doesn't know what this is, you put the pot back on the stove and brown the remaining rice that's stuck to the bottom of the pan. My brother and I used to fight to see who would scrape the rice from the bottom of the pan. We never added water to soften it. We just took a big spoon and went at it. Does anyone know the Toysan name for this? I got the above two names from some co-workers but that's not what I remember my mum calling it.

Of course, there was the almost daily "yook beung" and "ham yee". I think she cooked the dishes the same way they used to cook in her village because whenever we ate at relatives the food always looked more normal than how we ate at home.

I'm not sure if this next one is a Toysan delicacy or what. Cow's brains. At least once a year my mum would boil a cow's brain in an earthenware pot inside a large metal pot for around 4 or 5 hours. Then my brother and I had to eat it. To this day, I'll eat any kind of food anywhere no questions asked. If you can cook it and serve it on a plate, I'll eat it. I have no qualms about eating anything. My mum also used to boil up all sorts of crazy concoctions that I used to drink.

One other thing that was made a little different was the "joong". She used to soak the leaves in our bath tub for about a week before using them. There was always a large chestnut, a piece of fat about the size of your index finger and the bright orange egg inside. She also used to make the square sweet one with the red jelly topping inside. Does anyone know what that red material was or was it just food colouring? I never ate it as a kid much preferring the traditional joong.

That's all I can think of for now.

Someone left the cake out in the rain ...

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BTW:  This is my 500th post.  A big mark.  What prize do I get?    :raz:  :raz:

Ding! Ding! Ding!

For making it to your 500th post, you win dinner for two at "Ah Hee's Claypot Chicken Rice" Restaurant (airfare not included). Ah Hee is the one with the apron.

ahhee.jpg

Well... maybe "restaurant" is stretching it a bit, but Ah Hee himself will come to your table and stir your chicken rice for you:

claypotchickenrice.jpg

For token Toisanese content, the chicken rice has nice salted fish in there!

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Agog. Welcome to this little community. Yep, you sure come from a long line of Toisan folk. In fact, your grandparents predate anyone I can think of and as such they were lucky to be a family during the evil days of the exclusion.

Fan noong is what we normally call the tasty crust at the bottom of the pot. It is great with a bit of fu yu spread on it, and especially good when it is from a pot of "yau fan", with all the oily goodness from lap yuk, lap cheong, dried shrimp etc. :wub:

Cow brains with "doong guay" or medicinal roots is supposed to be good for developing intelligence :biggrin: Your mother probably comes from a village that is very, very close to mine. Her doong are exactly how my own mother would make them and the way she soaks the bamboo leaves is done at home too.

Laksa, if there is one single thing that I really miss in Canada is the clay pot food vendors. I JUST LOVE TO EAT THE RICE POTS. All my future french fries for some claypot goodies. :rolleyes:

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[...]

Cow brains with "doong guay" or medicinal roots is supposed to be good for developing intelligence :biggrin:[...]

This sounds like yet another things Chinese and Jewish people have in common. My grandmother liked to say that eating brains made a boy smart (I don't think that was anything sexist, as I come from a family with two boys and no girls, excluding my mother, of course :laugh:). My mother, on the other hand, hates offal and said eating calf brains would make me as smart as a cow! :laugh:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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