Welcome traveller. Sit with me and I’ll tell you a tale of woe.
The place was Hong Kong, the food was Hong Kong Crispy Noodles with Mixed Vegetables from The Veggie Chinese Takeaway Cookbook by Kwoklyn Wan and the stench of failure was in the air. Except it was actually just a minor disaster which was already over by the time we started watching Kung Fu Hustle and Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.
I’m honestly not sure why I found this recipe so stressful (something for my non-existent therapist to unearth!). Kwoklyn Wan has put together a great collection of Chinese takeaway-style recipes, written in an easy to understand manner. And he’s from the UK, so I can’t even blame this on non-Brits measuring everything out in cups and pinches and quarts and quantum particles.
There is a chance that the unfamiliar ingredients threw me off. If it’s a European or Middle-Eastern dish the chances are I regularly use the ingredients and know most of the techniques. South/South-East Asia is another (far more tragic) story. Despite having read the recipe so many times that the words transformed before my eyes into black splodges on the page, I lost all motivation and heart when the instructions in the first step told me to “grind a sheet of nori” and I realised that my 1 euro mortar and pestle from Flying Tiger wasn’t going to cut it. I also kept doing silly things like carefully measuring out oil and pouring it into the bin (no, I still don’t know why that happened) and chopping dried mushrooms, only to place all the chopped parts back into the container and then spending ten minutes hunting for them.
In the end, I got through step 1 (making shiitake mushroom sauce from scratch) before giving up and reverting to a basic student stir fry. Which, thanks to the excellent sauce, was actually pretty good.
The plan had been to watch the 2017 Netflix documentary about Joshua Wong, the teenage activist who highlighted the creep of Chinese nationalism in Hong Kong. Inspiring stuff that my frazzled brain was absolutely not ready for. It also felt a bit weird to eat Chinese food (the stir fry) as part of the Hong Kong film night while watching a documentary about how the Chinese government is working to erase Hong Kong identity.
Steve and I have been together for long enough that he has perfected the fine art of leaving me to flop around looking mournful over some self-imposed dilemmas. Once I’d done about 20 minutes of this extremely productive and attractive behaviour, he sensed that it was solution time. Why not watch Kung Fu Hustle while we eat? A cinematic collaboration between Chinese and Hong Kong film studios, much like the stir fry which he was sure would be delicious and not even slightly “the acrid failure” I was claiming.
So we watched Kung Fu Hustle (which was silly, fighty and homophobic enough to distract me from my inability to grind nori sheets) and by the time it was over I was ready for Joshua and the umbrellas. Unlike the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, who were clearly not ready for an impassioned, earnest teenager to inspire hundreds of thousands of protestors to fight for universal suffrage. Despite knowing what’s happened to Hong Kong democracy since the documentary was filmed (2017), it’s still really fantastic to see the impact Joshua Wong had and it absolutely put my cooking woes into perspective.
Any dish that involves deep frying is probably best left to the professionals and everyone should watch Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.