Two holidays are on the horizon this weekend. Monday, February 11th, 2013 becomes a holiday with BC’s first Family Day statutory holiday, and on Sunday the 10th, Chinese Canadians will welcome the Year of the Snake. Both of these occasions will call for much good food to be consumed, although snake is NOT on the menu, even though it is the year of the snake… although I have tried Chinese snake wine in the past and have seen snakes being butchered for sale at a market in Hong Kong. After both of those experiences, I’m going in a different direction when it comes to tradition.Chinese food already has quite a long tradition here in Canada, of course. The first real waves of Chinese immigrants arrived in the mid to late 1800’s , they took part in the Fraser Canyon gold rush, and the Canadian Pacific Railway, and here on Vancouver Island in the coal industry, especially up island, where a small town like Cumberland once had the fifth largest Chinese settlement in BC. We still have a Chinatown in Victoria, but other towns like Nanaimo, Ladysmith, and Duncan all had sizeable Chinese settlements at one point. If you’re ever on your way to Duncan, just south of Duncan at Whippletree Junction you can see a collection of some of the once Chinese-owned buildings that were moved from Duncan in the 1960’s. Of course all these immigrants brought their style of cooking with them, mostly Cantonese, as that was the province most of the early Chinese immigrants came from.
That immigration ended up giving us some authentic dishes and others that were not actually from China to begin with. Some of these dishes are still with us today, but not necessarily associated with fine Chinese dining….so you have chop suey and chow mein, sweet and sour chicken balls, almond or lemon chicken, egg foo yung and so on. Of course now we have variations of Chinese cuisine from many different regions such as Szechuan and Hunan and Hakka.
I think the imprint of Chinese cuisine on our Canadian food culture has been massive. I’ve visited a lot of small towns across Canada, and invariably there is at least one or more Chinese restaurant in town, often they will have Chinese and Canadian food or Chinese and Western food under their names. When I lived in Prince Rupert there were no fewer than six Chinese restaurants in a city of about 15 thousand, and quite often the larger Chinese restaurants in a town are important sponsors of sports teams and other cultural activities. We now have many farms in BC which grow Chinese vegetables like bok choy, sui choy and cilantro, specialty farms raising Chinese style poultry like ginseng chickens and quail.
And I think, when it comes to something like family day, the Chinese culture has given us traditions that have been adopted by many families, no matter their ethnicity. The Chinese buffet for lunch or dinner, or the dim sum brunch which has extended from strictly a Chinatown kind of thing to more widespread approval, even if some people still don’t like the idea of eating chicken feet. For guest host Khalil Akhtar I brought in a few things…homemade barbecue pork made in the oven. Egg foo yung with Chinese sausage, and my favourite, a pork and shrimp wonton noodle soup.
All of these were made at home by me without too much fuss, and stuffing the wontons is a great family activity. Some notes on the recipes if you want to try making these foods from scratch: The Chinese sausage I used in the egg foo yung recipe was very fatty, so you might want to cut down on the amount, or fry it on its own first and drain the excess oil. Have a large plate handy to that when the bottom side of the dish is done, you can slide it onto the plate, put your fry pan over top of the dish (careful, it’s hot!) and then invert so you get the uncooked side in the fry pan without too much of a spill. And make a double batch of the sauce in the recipe, you’ll need it.
For some great dumpling and potsticker recipes, check out this Vancouver Sun column by my good friend Nathan Fong. He has all kinds of ideas for dumplings you can make this weekend. The wonton wrappers I used for my recipe are available at most supermarkets and are separated easily. Moisten the edges when you put in the filling so they seal more easily.I want to especially mention a book that came out a few years ago called Chow: From China to Canada: Memories of Food and Family by Janice Wong, a Vancouver-based artist who produced an excellent blend of recipes and history based on her own family’s experience in Canada. This is where I got the recipe for the oven-roasted BBQ pork:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 tsp pepper
several slices of fresh ginger root
1 clove garlic, minced
6 tbsp hoisin sauce
4 tsp salt
6 strips boneless lean pork (I used about 2 pounds of centre loin)
6 standard metal paper clips
Combine the marinade ingredients and add them to the pork in a large ziploc bag. Marinate for at least four hours, but overnight is preferable. Remove your top oven rack, move the bottom one to its lowest setting and preheat the oven to 425F. Bend the paperclips into an S-shaped hooks. Remove the pork from the marinade and skewer one end of each piece of pork with a clip. Hook the opposite end of the clip onto the oven rack. Put a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and put the top rack back in so it is at its highest level and the strips of pork hang down from the rack and over the baking sheet. Roast the pork for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 325F and continue roasting for another hour or until nicely browned on the outside.