Another year is soon to pass. As we set resolutions for the New Year, I’d like to recap a couple of key moments we experienced in 2018.
This year is exceptionally busy as I continue my freelance practice, and set off (seriously) to do some work for my PhD. It has been an extraordinary year as I am pleased to be involved in many fun projects, teaching and engaging with various audiences, writing my nutrition column and undertaking some exciting international travel.
Above all, we made the move to the Far East, which in itself is a far bigger and challenging project than expected. For me, it is about making sure our new abode feels like home to all of us, especially Audrey. It soon hit when she realised she was not returning to her friends in London after what was usually a short holiday to visit Hong Kong. After a few weeks of settling in (not without tears), in what was a surprising turn, she began talking about her new schoolmates fondly and was suddenly conversing entirely in Cantonese. This was completely unexpected and I salute her resilience.
As grown-ups, however, this resilience is tried and tested in more complicated ways. It is only when you are away from the hustle and bustle of our routine, that you look at the past with rose-tinted glasses. To many friends in Hong Kong, our move (back) is certainly very brave, considering the highly dense and stressful environment most people would find, especially for those starting a family.
This is when sometimes I find myself the need to justify our decision. Having lived abroad for over a decade and meeting all sorts of people, it does make me, now a sojourner , to think of life differently. We are privileged in the way we have options and are rather mobile with our work, but moving also means saying ‘see you later’ to our community of friends in the UK. It will take time to nurture new relationships, however, as I mentioned before, we made this conscious decision to move for Audrey so that she could have the language and culture exposure, and also take on new work opportunities.
We are embracing Hong Kong as our new home and are exploring the ways we can maintain both physical and mind space for our family within our means. It is tough especially when we are not short of plenty of unwanted comments, but we are blessed with many exciting events which will unfold in the coming year(s).
One of the areas I’ve found it particularly challenging to navigate is the way we have to buy things. Online shopping is existent, but is far more cumbersome to arrange for the delivery or collection ourselves. A specific area is the way we shop for food. Although there are plenty of eating out options in the city – buying groceries seem to require extra time and effort to plan such as making our trips to the shops.
We try to step away from supermarkets which predominantly stock imported goods at a premium and stay with individual market stalls that offer fresh options that are more likely to be locally sourced. Mind you, Hong Kong imports over 90% of its products, so this means for example, we are not eating salad leaves all the way from the US (who cares if it’s organic – a debate I’m happy to engage with). With a little planning, you are more likely to save some plastic too – a goal that I am trying to pursue by reusing those plastic bags as much as I could.
To be honest, I never had the need to go shop for my groceries until I moved to the UK. Going to wet markets can be a daunting experience even with the language skills, (as my mother-in-law recently told me). The speed at which vendors expect decisions to be made is enormous – and they are usually quite pushy. Not to mention the various scents (and smells) you might encounter in these usually very damp environments. So mind your way. But it also allows us to interact with food in unforeseen circumstances which encourage us to think about food more creatively. The best thing about having some kind of food and cooking knowledge is that no matter you are, you are able to put those building blocks to a good and tasty meal together.
We love bringing Audrey to the market as it helps her to truly understand where food comes from. Amongst those fruit and veg that dominate the market (my empirical observations estimate these to be at least 60%) are somewhat inhumanely caged chickens and seafood (often struggling in their waters). The conditions these animals are treated can be questionable, but one thing is for sure: the freshness of these foods. There are also other grocers which sell dried goods, such as rice and pulses. We like to ask Audrey to approach the till with our purchases or help with the change. These little things that many families think are dispensable and should be dealt with by a helper (a topic for another post), are important for us to help her appreciate everyday life and the food which we bring onto the table.
Recently, I bought some Chinese white baits (aka silver fish) and it was with those passing conversations with the vendor, that I realise how easy I can make this into a tasty dish. White baits are a collective term for the schools of fish which swim to shallow waters that are caught with other fish in nets. They are often much cheaper than larger fish and are very versatile. Nutritionally, they are low in fat (unless you deep fry them) but rich in protein and some important vitamins (especially D) and minerals such as calcium as they are usually eaten with their bones.
And then there’s all those freshly prepared blocks of tofu and fresh greens which are so plentiful at such low prices. Here’s a meal I’d like to share with you which have combined all these options.
Scrambled eggs with silver fish, steamed tofu and stir-fried veggies
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 spring onion, finely diced
300g white baits or silver fish (HK$20 or £2 worth)
4 eggs, beaten
Heat the oil in a pan and stir-fry the diced spring onion. Add the white baits (it will ‘seep’) and then the eggs. Wait for the mixture to cook slightly before turning. Scramble for around 2 minutes. Season with a sprinkle of salt.
Three portions. With rice and your favourite side of veggies – I steamed a block of tofu to finish with dark soy sauce and sesame oil, and stir-fried some assorted mushrooms with pea shoots in oyster sauce.
Per 100g: Energy 133kcal 558kJ | Fat 6.7g of which saturates 1.3g | Carbohydrate 0g of which sugars 0g | Fibre 0g | Protein 18g | Salt 0.3g
Per portion (190g): Energy 251kcal 1050kJ | Fat 13g of which saturates 2.5g | Carbohydrate 0g of which sugars 0g | Fibre 0g | Protein 34g | Salt 0.54g