Cantonese pub

The sweet and sour sides of growing up in a Chinese restaurant

Takeaway: Stories from a Childhood Behind the Counter

Angela Hui

Trapezep. 352£16.99

Angela Hui was born into a life of service: Chinese takeout. His parents had fled mainland China, where they experienced starvation under communist rule before arriving as exotic newcomers to the South Wales province in 1985. There they are part of a Chinese diaspora , financially supported by dozens of family takeaways scattered throughout the valleys. . The Huis settled in Beddau, a former mining town of 4,000 people that was still struggling socially and economically after the recent closure of the mines.

They call their restaurant Lucky Star. Hui’s mother is always trying to find ways to invite good fortune, but as with most of her other endeavors, the choice of name doesn’t turn out to be particularly fortuitous: managing the takeout will be almost as difficult a life. that the face of coal had been for their new neighbors.

The takeaways will be Hui’s nursery, playroom and, when she’s fresh out of kindergarten, her workstation, where she’s supposed to work from 5 p.m. until late at night, giving up to a social life and doing all the homework she has on the counter. High.

His parents and older brothers cook, in a cramped kitchen with steaming woks and fryers, or deliver in the Welsh rain.

Angela is in front of the house, so to speak, on the physical front line between the Hui’s private house behind her and the public area leading to the main street outside. She answers the phone – her parents never feel comfortable in English and rely on her as a translator – and warily greets walk-in punters, many of whom come out of pubs and are consequently drunk. On one occasion, a drunk trying to steal a can of cola knocks himself over and takes all the lucky houseplants with him; this is not good feng shui.

His mother is trying to grow something from her house – shark fin melons, a kind of squash – in their unpromising back garden. When they are almost ready to harvest, some youngsters kick open their doors and smash the fruit for fun.

There is also, inevitably, racism. Even a regular customer will call them “Chinks” in a row for pennies. It can get threatening. The family does not involve the police on these occasions. Instead, their deterrent is having Mr. Hui wave a meat cleaver. He’s dexterous enough to wield two at once, like a Cantonese gunslinger.

Having been motivated to travel to Europe to escape hunger, Hui’s parents then surround themselves day and night with food. When not cooking, on their one day off, they travel to Cardiff to stock up on Asian supermarket ingredients before going to eat someone else’s Chinese food – at a dim restaurant sum where extended family and other takeout owners gather every Sunday afternoon. Even their lonely annual vacation to see relatives in Hong Kong is a long shopping trip from which they return with suitcases full of ingredients and cooking utensils.

Family relationships are characterized by conflict, with food serving as peace offerings: both parents are what are now called nurturers. During the endless family feuds, you mostly side with young Angela. Until she enters her teens and starts drinking, coloring her hair, sneaking around and listening to terrible goth-emo bands, at which point you start to see the furious side of her parents. But the family’s history has darker moments than those provided by gothic guitar bands, most notably in Hui’s portrayal of his parents’ often toxic marriage.

Food passages provide welcome relief. The chapters are complemented by recipes, for take-out dishes like spring rolls and shrimp toast, but also for off-menu dishes enjoyed by the family alone. I particularly fell for the Chinese steamed eggs, a kind of savory pastry cream as light as a soufflé.

Carry is a personal story, told with force, but it also tells a universal story. “Thousands of Chinese takeaways were born after waves of migration,” as Hui puts it. “From the Chinese Communist Revolution to the Cultural Revolution…I’m just beginning to understand my parents’ goal of traveling the world for a better life for their children.”

Now the restaurants that these 60s, 70s and 80s migrants established are starting to close – as Lucky Star finally did in 2018. By then Hui left takeaways and Wales too, s settling as a journalist in London where she writes for trending millennial titles like Vice
and gal-dem. One can’t help but think that she could have done better through her parents’ cherished ambition for her long-term prosperity if she had followed her brother’s career in the electronic games business rather than journalism. . But then we might never have had this rather lovely memoir.