Connecting Ireland, China and Australia through a love of food

Two of my great passions in life are travel and food. I love to visit new places and to get authentic experiences a bit off the beaten track.

My son Shane and his Chinese wife Shan live in Beijing where he has a product sourcing and design business Enter the Panda Ltd. They have a son, Dermot Gao O’Neill born on 5th February 2013, our little dragon born on the cusp of the Chinese New Year and the beginning of our own tiny Sino-Irish dynasty.

My daughter and her Welsh husband Mike live in Sydney. Between them my children have brought me to places I never expected to visit in my lifetime, let alone return to again and again.

Shananigans was born out of a three week visit to China in June 2012 as I attempted to share a flavour of that experience in tweets and photos. The deliberate mis-spelling is a play on Shane and Shan’s names.

That extraordinary country assaulted my senses as I came to terms with how it was about to become entangled in our lives with our first grandchild on the way. More than anything the visit opened my eyes to the treasures of Chinese regional cuisine. I thought I had some understanding of Chinese food from visiting Chinese restaurants here in Ireland and trying to cook it over the years but I really had no idea how rich and varied it could be and how healthy and fresh-tasting.

During our visit, I set Shan the challenge of finding us a different regional cuisine each night we were in Beijing, so we sampled Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanxi, Cantonese, Peking and Shanghai among others. I handed over complete control to her, allowing her to choose the number and types of dishes, using her own instincts for what constituted a balanced meal. As a result every meal was a surprise and delight. Then while we were in Shan’s hometown of Urumqi in Xinjiang province we got a real sense of their Uighur cuisine with its Turkic and Arabic influences and also sampled a number of her MaMa’s favourite home cooked dishes.

By the end of the holiday I had completely rebalanced my diet – with far more and a wider variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, relatively smaller quantities of meat, fish and tofu, modest amounts of rice or noodles and virtually no processed sweets or desserts. The holiday seemed to involve almost non-stop eating in large quantities and yet I came back feeling healthier and fitter than I had for some time and also weighing less than when I left.

When I came home to Ireland I missed the food – the spiciness, the colour, the texture, the range of different dishes in a meal, the sociability of communal eating, the chopsticks…. And so the Shananigans continue. To begin with I asked Shan to teach me long-distance how to cook the Chinese way – a kind of on-line tutorial using iPhone and iPad to help source ingredients and re-create in an authentic way some of the dishes I had enjoyed in China.  I use Irish produce whenever possible to show how well our excellent fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and other products can work in Chinese recipes.

The blog has evolved in ways I hadn’t anticipated as I continue my own explorations into Chinese cuisine and intersperse those posts with other tales of family, food, culture and travel in Ireland, China, Australia and beyond. I’ve made many lovely new friends along the way.

I’ve returned to China many times in the past few years, each time bringing back new recipes and insights. In 2013 I acquired a Big Green Egg and I’ve been experimenting with this ceramic marvel – a variation of the traditional “kamado” cooker – to grill, smoke and roast foods and to prepare my own versions of Chinese dishes such as Peking Duck – barbecue food with a Chinese twist.

I hope you will enjoy the recipes and the stories.

Julie

Email: julieoneill@me.com

Twitter: @julieon