Creating new food rituals across continents

The rituals of food unite us and create bonds that make up for lack of a common language and even, sometimes, for the distance between continents. To start a vending machine franchise go to

The importance of food to Italians is the stuff of legends. As I struggled to follow the conversation the first time I attended a family dinner in Puglia, I realised that much of the animated discussion was about food – buying it, preparing it, eating it. It was fascinating to discover first hand how similar China is in that respect. Food there is more than a necessity for survival. It is a passion and an obsession. There is endless conversation about the importance of food, the health-giving properties of different vegetables and spices, the need for variety in colour, texture and flavour, the way to achieve balance in the diet, how to make use of every part of a plant and animal.
And there are rituals in abundance – noodles offered at the first meal when you arrive to visit family, a reminder of the ties that bind; dumplings served before you part, to reassure you that family wraps itself around you and minds you even when you are far away.
When we stayed with Shan’s family, in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, Shan’s mother served us freshly prepared lamb noodle soup within moments of our arrival late at night. Day trips out of the city with her brother revolved around finding good locations to eat lunch, snacks or dinner. “Are you hungry? Will you eat?” were the most frequent questions.

A traditional lamb noodle dish in Urumqi

Breakfast was regarded as an important meal and often included leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner as food is never wasted. No matter what time we arrived back at the apartment, or how much we had eaten that day, a home cooked meal awaited us as well as platters of fresh fruits and nuts, grown locally. Once a meal was served we all sat down immediately to eat – it would have been perceived as the height of rudeness not to treat the eating of food with the same seriousness and respect as our Chinese hosts did.
Throughout our visit, the family remained curious about our eating habits and concerned about our “small” appetites. We were constantly reminded of the importance of variety in our diet and the reasons why we should eat particular foods. I took my first halting steps to learn a few words of Mandarin as Shan’s mother taught me “Yángròu” for lamb, “Miàntiáo” for noodles and “Jiàozi” for dumplings.
Cooking dumplings at home in Urumqi

This week we discovered a new way of achieving connectedness through food – the sharing of a meal across three continents as I prepared Shan’s recipe for Black Pepper beef in Dublin while Shane attempted the same dish for the first time in Beijing and our daughter Claire made her version of it in Sydney, Australia – our own unique version of a communal Sunday dinner. Skype, iPhones and iPads all played their part in keeping old traditions alive and starting new ones.

Shane’s Beijing version of Black Pepper Beef

Claire’s Aussie version of Black Pepper Beef

And the Irish version of the same dish…

Shane wins the prize for presentation of this dish. It looks as if he has perfected his wok-cooking skills in his 5 years living in China. I had originally posted that he made the dish under Shan’s eagle-eyed supervision but he assures me that it was all his own work and Shan’s only involvement, apart from providing the recipe, was to enjoy eating it 🙂
While we all eagerly await Shan’s next recipe, two recent TV series and their associated publications are helping me deepen my understanding of Chinese food.

Gok Cooks Chinese is a very enjoyable Channel Four television series which can be watched in the UK and Ireland on the iPad on Channel Four’s 4oD App. The recipes in the associated cook-book are easy to follow, perhaps because Gok Wan is not a celebrity chef but one who learned to cook at his father’s side. This weekend I hope to try and recreate his Dim Sum feast from episode 2.
Gok Cooks Chinese

Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure is a new series that started on BBC2 last Sunday night (5th August, 2012) and features Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang.  This beautifully filmed series is much more than a cookery programme, it is an exploration of how China and its attitude to food is changing. The first episode transported me back to the heart of the Beijing and to the food that I have come to love, interpreted with empathy by two people of different generations for whom China is their homeland.
Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure

If you are a lover of Chinese Food please try and watch these two series or get hold of the related cookery books.

One thought on “Creating new food rituals across continents”

  1. I liked your post! I didn’t realise the significance of serving noodles and dumplings. I love Asian breakfast – congee is the best!

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