“Food has always been my connection to my Chinese roots. Born and raised here in suburban British Columbia I didn’t (and still don’t) speak a lick of Cantonese. But food, food is a language I understand. It’s the language between generations, a sign of love that filled our bellies to the brim (nothing could ever go to waste). It was the meticulously cut and peeled fruit my po-po would quietly bring us as we played. The vast family meals that would bring relatives together around the layers of plastic tablecloths and big lazy susan.
Looking back at my childhood, there were times when I was ashamed and embarrassed by the food so lovingly packed in my lunch box. Opening a thermos of handmade dumplings was labelled ‘stink bombs’ by other kids. So out of the desire to fit in, I would throw away my lunch so I wouldn’t be bullied at school and so I wouldn’t be questioned by my ma-ma upon coming home. Mind you, I didn’t stop eating Chinese food entirely, but I also wasn’t trying to embrace it in the public eye.
It took some time, to come back to an identity that I had spent so much time resisting and distancing myself from out of the desire to belong. As I got older, I came to realize how special our food was, not just because of how delicious it tasted but also how it always brought family together. The shame that once swallowed me turned to pride—I would take on the role for placing orders when out with friends who were eager to try new dishes and try my hand (unsuccessfully) at replicating the unwritten recipes my grandmas would make.
When the lockdown happened, I yearned for dim sum and baos, I missed the bustle and commotion of crammed tables and efficient service. Now, on days when I find myself in Chinatown, I just pause to listen to conversations I can’t understand, buy myself some goodies from the bakeries or take-away from the delectable restaurants we used to go to. Seeing lineups outside the butchers and BBQs, and the liveliness of the fish markets and produce stores reminds me of how alive this community and neighbourhood is despite the hardships and adversity they face. Returning to Chinatown, I catch myself reminiscing on the family meals we would have every week and how lucky I was to grow up with my grandparents—How food and this neighbourhood still bond me to them and my Chinese identity.”