I recently visited The Book Lounge for the launch of Ming-Cheau Lin’s book JUST ADD RICE – a collection of recipes and stories about growing up as a Taiwanese-South African. I had been following Ming-Cheau on Twittter (@mingcheau) and she had quickly become one of my favourite people on the app, with her outspoken views on feminism, food and cultural appropriation, and I was eager to get my hands on a copy and devour the book.
At the launch, there were a variety of food spread across the bookshop, and we sampled all as we made our way across the room, filling our glasses with gin and greeting familiar faces, though slightly different now that they weren’t confined to avis. Once we made our way back upstairs, we were faced with a completed packed room, everyone’s faces alert and ready for the guest of honour. Once we all settled, Pippa Hudson took control of the conversation and together they had the audience spell-bound as they discussed intersectionality, being a minority in South Africa and, of course, food.
Afterwards, as I flipped through my newly signed book, I noticed that there was also a section on East Asian holidays included, with stories and recipes, which made me think back to celebrating my first Lunar New Year earlier this year.
I was in Sydney for the holiday, where the city’s official festival program for the event has 80 events across arts, culture, food and sport, making it one of the largest Lunar New Year celebrations outside Asia. And so, in my red dress (on advice from my colleague who explained the holiday to me and informed me that many people wear red on Lunar New Year as it symbolises luck), I found myself heading to Chinatown to celebrate the Year of the Dog.
Like with many celebrations, food plays a central part, and most Lunar New Year celebrations will include dishes of fish, longevity noodles and dumplings. Chinese dumplings are considered lucky as they can be made to look like Chinese silver ingots, and legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the Lunar New Year celebrations, the more money you can make in the New Year.
While I did set out to eat as much as I could, everyone else had the same idea, and so I sampled a variety of dishes throughout the night instead. Having readily access to fresh, authentic East Asian food made me admire and appreciate it so much more, although one of my favourite items was from Din Tai Fung, who were selling dog buns – a dark chocolate and banana-filled dessert bao that was both adorable and delicious.
And so, reminded of the wonderful meals I enjoyed while Down Under, and eager to try out my new book, I decided I would try to make the ginger, sesame & egg-fried rice for dinner. I had sampled it at the launch and it was so good that after just one bite I knew I would have to buy the book, for this recipe alone. And I’m so glad I did – it was so simple, easy and delicious, the dark sesame oil providing a warmth I needed that chilly evening, that it may now be my winter comfort food. I also thought that East Asian food was too complicated, with ingredients that were too out of reach for me, but now I’m so excited to experiment more, and expand my culinary horizons.