Early last summer, in 2011, one of our production assistants, Ganesh, informed us he was about to be married. I congratulated him, but he wore a long face. Ganesh is a part of the growing population of Indians who was born and raised in the city of Hong Kong. He spoke Cantonese fluently, and sometimes even more fluently than even my own daughter, with whom he was of similar age. What was striking to me was that he didn't speak very good Hindi nor had he ever stepped foot in India. This made no sense to me. He looked like an Indian, so therefore he must be Indian. No doubt about it.
Like many others, I had expected him to marry an Indian wife. His parents thought so too, and that was when I learned that Ganesh was put up for an arranged marriage. That was why he had the long face. "My parents consider me Indian, even when I am not!" declared Ganesh. He stood there with watery eyes. Why was he sad? Was it because the bride they picked not beautiful? "You don't understand do you, Mr. Mo?! You are just like so many other people! You think I'm Indian because of the way I look outside, but in truth, I am one of you. I am a Hong Kong person! My true love is a lovely Hong Kong girl in this city, yet it is forbidden because they believe I should marry a girl from India. I am unable to choose!" he said in Cantonese.
It started making sense to me. A culture is not made by a certain bloodline, but of the people living in its land. It is like a tiger living with lions, growing up with lions, thinking like lions. The tiger is not a tiger, but a lion in a tiger's skin. In a way, Ganesh is a reflection of the transformation of Hong Kong. The city has become diverse, faces that once were reserved for foreigners are now faces that are our neighbors, coworkers and friends. Much like its people, Hong Kong's food has also transformed in the past few decades. One of the most common modern Cantonese dishes is the curry chicken rice. Curry is a delicacy in Southeast Asia, most famously popular in India. However, Hong Kong has adapted the famous Indian curry and made it its own. The result is that it is neither an Indian taste, nor a Chinese taste. It is somewhere in between.
Today's lesson is that simple but really delicious Hong Kong-style curry. It is common in many Cantonese-style restaurants throughout the world, but you can easily cook it at home. Here is how it is done.
1. PREPARING THE POTATOES, CARROTS AND ONIONS
Take both potatoes and both carrots and cut them into chunky pieces. In a pan, fry them until they turn into a golden brown. Once they are done, set them aside in their own plate. We will use them again later. Do the same for the onions. Cut them into pieces, but stir fry and cook them in a plan for 30 seconds. Put them on the side. They shall return later.
You may be wondering why we have to fry the potatoes at such an early stage. The answer is that if you do not fry them, they will turn into starch. But if you fry them first, they will not become starch no matter how long you cook them later.
2. PREPARING THE CHICKEN
- Yellow Curry Powder
Set the chicken up by cutting it into pieces, then marinated the pieces with some yellow curry powder. Both of these are easily attainable from the market. I usually get my curry from the Indian stores in Hong Kong. Indian stores have more selection in curry.
Slice a garlic clove into 4 or 5 thin pieces. Put these in a hot pan along with the curry marinated chicken pieces mentioned from the above paragraph. Fry them together for 2-3 minutes. Then add the chicken broth into the pan and watch it boil. Once it begins boiling, set the flame to medium and cook for around 10-15 minutes.
3. COOK THEM TOGETHER NOW
- Coconut Milk
- More curry powder
- Some Chicken, beef or pork bones
Put the vegetable pieces and the chicken pieces together from steps 1 and 2. Cook them until the broth becomes thick. The potato should create a thick sauce that looks like the curry seen in restaurants. While you are doing this, add the salt, sugar, ketchup and coconut milk. Add a tablespoon more of the yellow curry powder. A good secret in cooking is to add bones for flavoring. By adding chicken, beef or pork bones, they curry will sink it their flavors. This makes it much, much, much more delicious!
Keep cooking until the sauce becomes thick and it looks like curry.
Okay, you're done! If you want another tip, don't eat it on the same day of the cooking. Instead, let the bone marrows spread their flavor into the bone for a refrigerated day.
And that is how you make Chinese-style curry.
Ganesh's wedding was incredible. My wife and I were honored to be invited to India. His family had spent a considerable amount of money on a traditional Indian wedding. It lasted several consecutive days, but by the second day, my wife and I stopped because we were physically tired from all the moving and dancing. Ganesh's bride was a very beautiful young lady, but even that did not bring a genuine smile to his face. His heart belonged to a Hong Kong girl somewhere, yet this was a young man trapped in an unwanted destiny.
After his wedding, Ganesh stayed to live in India. His father used his connections to get him a secure job. I often wondered what has happened to our former production assistant. I remembered Ganesh as a smiling, hopeful young man, holding the cameras while I recorded cooking lessons in Hong Kong. Now that I think back, I realize if I put his personality to a Chinese face, he was just one of us. I even heard rumors Ganesh was quite the mah-jong shark. Whenever I think about Ganesh, I see a tiger who was raised by lions now returning to his other tigers. I hope he has learned to be happy. He certainly was with us.