I grew up beside the sea at Seapoint, just south of Dublin city. From the age of four, my father gave me an interest in fishing and seafood. Sadly, there has been little point in my taking the fishing rods out over the past 20 years. The disastrous mismanagement of our coastal fisheries over the long-term has led to there being very little fish of any sort left within a decent beach cast of the Irish east coast.
Bringing up children is a trial as well as a joy. Their lack of worldly experience gives them a razor-sharp clarity that fades with advancing years and is often gone by the time they’re 10. When our youngest was younger, she possessed this clarity and wielded it without mercy. Often in my wisdom, I told both her and her sister “There is no such thing as a stupid question. Only a stupid answer.” Once, in frustration, I responded to yet another “Are we there yet?” from the back seat of the car with “Don’t ask stupid questions.”
In the fairytale, Beauty falls in love with the Beast, without knowing that inside the outer ugliness was the handsome prince of her dreams. It is a bit like my Cha Shao Roast Beef, crispy and crusty on the outside with lean deliciousness within.
The Beast, on the other hand, saw Beauty and immediately fell deeply in love with her and her obvious charms. It’s a bit like that with me and Bill Granger‘s wonderful Mango Pudding. It was love at first bite.
The earliest records of the Chinese cookingPeking Duck go back to the 14th century. They say that in more recent times, Henry Kissinger enjoyed the Peking Duck so much that he went to China a second time. On that trip he set up the historic visit by President Richard Nixon and the rest as they say, is history. Tricky Dickey subsequently suffered severe reputational damage when he tried to suppress the reporting of goings on in the Watergate Building. His good name, like the origins of Peking Duck is now ancient history. My worry is with more recent and personal concerns – my own culinary reputation.
It’s my own fault. I suggested that as I was cooking for the Wife and myself, I might include my eldest and her boyfriend in the pot. They gratefully accepted my offer. Then they did what great negotiators the world over do when they have a deal over the line. They changed the terms.
I need to be careful how I phrase this. There are two old steamers in the kitchen. They have been there for years and they have even been a big influence on the lives of my children. I think it’s time they came out of the closet.
For over 30 years, The Great Wall takeaway in Blackrock has been a small but constant part of south Dublin nightlife. Generations of us have stumbled in their aluminium and reinforced glass front door to order our post-pints feed. The after-pub crowd would generally be well-behaved if not a bit disrespectful towards the long-suffering Orientals behind the counter.
Once, I asked our server the meaning of the Chinese writing on a wall painting beside the lengthy menu. As he handed us our bags of deep-fried Sweet and Sour Chicken, he told me, with a grin; “You come in, you laugh at us. You leave with the food, we laugh at you.” We all guffawed but something stuck with me and has stayed since.
Not my usual way to start a post but circumstance has forced my hand. My two grown-up (in age only) daughters were having a conversation in the way that only the female of the species can. L (the elder) looks up from typing on her computer and says “It’s great that Laura and Paddy are coming to dinner on Sunday.” Without lifting her head from deep study of Facebook, S (the younger) replies; “Who the hell is Lord Paddington?” Now, just over a week hence, my nurse niece Laura and her fireman boyfriend Paddy have become forever the single entity “Lord Paddington”.
My love of Oriental cooking came from a period in my working life when I ate in Chinese restaurants at least once a week. I have spent over 30 years in advertising and during the late 80s and early 90s, I would dine out, often in excellent Chinese restaurants including the Orchid Szechuan on Dublin’s Pembroke Road or in the Imperial on Wicklow Street (great for Dim Sum). In those days, it was perfectly normal enjoy a three course meal with wine (often lots of wine) for lunch on an almost daily basis. Those habits have been diminished by time, social convention and economic change but my love of oriental fare and cooking have not been eroded.