My first time in China was as a short-term exchange student and to say I fell in love is an understatement. When I came home, I experienced for the first time in all my travels, what I like to call ‘Travel blues’. All I wanted was to be put on a plane and shipped back to China (which I did a few months later for a stint that lasted more than 5 years!). The only thing that made me feel slightly better was authentic Chinese food, which was impossible to find.
Back home, I hit the denial stage where I would only eat food with chopsticks. ‘It’s so I don’t lose these acquired skills’ I told myself as I picked up a pizza balancing on chopsticks. Talk about a new low.
On desperate days I caved in and ordered a Chinese takeaway. (If you’ve ever been to the UK, fast food Chinese places are not authentic Chinese food!)
I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. This was in a land far away, a long time ago, before popular cooking blogs and youtube chefs, so I did what I could and brought a library’s worth of Chinese cookery books (thank you Fuchsia Dunlop), bamboo steamers, and a stir-frying pan.
Now came the hardest step, sourcing the ingredients. I looked online and the closest Chinese store was a couple of hour’s train journey away. No delivery options were available except if you were buying wholesale. I briefly considered setting up a restaurant by that point.
In the end, I was blessed to receive my invitation letter to study for a master’s degree, and off I went to China again to be surrounded by the food I couldn’t get enough of. When I finally decided to call an end to my time in China and move back home for good I went straight to acceptance and came prepared.
A whole suitcase of spices, sauces, snacks, and hot pot mixtures, but it turns out I didn’t need them. In the years I was in China, Asian cuisine became popular in the UK, and even my tiny countryside town gained its own bubble tea shop, a Korean BBQ, and a variety of Asian-inspired restaurants. This year Waitrose even put baozi and jiaozi center stage sharing recipes in their magazine.
At our table, it’s common to have a few Chinese dishes accompanying western ones. I’ve learned to make all my favorite food. The only thing I miss is the convenience of having it made for me!
I’m thankful that now Chinese ingredients are easily sourced, frozen jiaozi and baozi can be found in most supermarkets. Laoganma, Chinese vinegar, and five spice can easily be brought. Whereas before you’d have to visit specialist stores. Representation matters and I’m glad that back home we have embraced a bit of China.