Every now and then an incident, an experience or a story can jolt me back to who I really am. Not a very nice person. A recent trip to Montevideo, Uruguay, did that for me. I saw a dark side of my Chinese self: the ethnocentric Chinese who thinks that Chinese food is the best in the whole wide world. And no other!
I discovered that there was no Chinatown in Montevideo! No Chinatown, no Chinese food! I mean good Chinese food! Horror of horrors! No Chinatown also means no shops that sell Chinese groceries like bean sprouts, tofu, soya sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fresh ginger, noodles, OMG….. how to survive for 3 weeks in this otherwise lovely city on the shores of the Atlantic! All the above named are basic ingredients in all Chinese cuisine. If I can get hold of them, I can cook a Chinese meal. With a bit of improvisation, of course.
I now understand why some Chinese people during their first trip outside China would carry boxes of instant noodles with them. I remember my first sight of a group of Chinese in a flight from Shanghai to Melbourne a few years ago and I was amused. And again I saw this when I was sitting in the Kuala Lumpur International airport a few weeks ago. Yes, I had to smile broadly. We Chinese are so ethnocentric when it comes to our food, and it does not matter how long we have lived abroad. We have to have our own kind of food: noodles or rice with accompanying dishes of little goodies. These side dishes do not have to be complicated. In my case, a piece of dried fish or a fried egg will do. And with thin soya sauce and preferably some chillies (for my Malaysian self), I am over the moon. To my consternation, I discovered that in Montevideo, Chinese ingredients could not be easily found! Ignacio, a young Uruguyan chef and I started to be very creative and selected only dishes that we could find ingredients for. In a local supermarket in Montevideo, to my utter delight, fresh chillies and ginger were available, and so was Kikkoman thin soya sauce. A big fat chicken was also easily found. So chicken rice (kai fun) quickly materialised through efforts between me and Ignacio.