Book – Takeaway
Author – Angela Hui
Year – 2022
Pages – 343
Genre – Non-Fiction/Autobiography
Several months ago, there was a discussion on Twitter (not X, surely we are not letting that happen…) about British Chinese takeaway food. Americans had seen that in our little land, Chinese takeaway included such delicacies as chicken balls, seaweed, and chips. So many chips. What followed was a mighty culture war (well, a very small section of Twitter) arguing over the merits and demerits of the British adaptations of Chinese food, the US equivalents, and the very fair points being made of the distance between any of this and the food that is actually cooked on a daily basis in China. Amongst the noise, I saw a tweet from Angela Hui, reminding people of the upcoming paperback publication of her book about growing up in a Chinese takeaway in Wales. On a whim, I preordered it (preordering remaining one of the best ways to support new writers). And promptly forgot about this fact until it popped up on my doormat several months later.
I love Chinese food. And for avoidance of doubt, I am indeed referring to the version that arrives in neatly stacked white plastic boxes and paper bags from the nice people at the other end of a Just Eat app. Sesame Prawn Toast, Chicken Chow Mein, Sweet and Sour Sauce, Smoked Shredded Chicken – I could go on and on, as my order varies from menu to menu. I am aware that it is hardly traditional Chinese fare, but until Hui’s book I was less aware of why it existed at all. In the sixties, Chinese immigrants arrived and set up shop, adapting the food of their homeland to the tastes of hungry Brits who still viewed anything beyond mint sauce as ‘exotic’. A distinct cuisine was created, and Angela Hui explains here what it was like growing up in Wales as a distinct mix herself; Chinese parents with next to no English, working all hours of the day to provide for their children who have Welsh accents and difficulty communicating fully with them.
The book is interesting, and so much of the stuff that we hear about how difficult it was for a Chinese family to set up shop in Wales, the problems that come with being a part of a community that you were not originally from, and how the Chinese wider community operates in Wales were all fascinating. A real treasure of this book is that after each chapter, Hui puts a full recipe for one of the foods discussed in the previous section – usually a true Chinese dish that the family enjoyed in their downtime.
A less good point is that too often the book falls back on repetition. There is too much discussion of the dynamics between Angela and her parents – a relationship that does not really develop much over the course of the book. I feel bad saying this – who am I to deny someone discussing the most important elements of their own life – but it does not help this book develop, and there is a midway lull that is unfortunate.
It doesn’t stop this book from being an interesting – although maybe not essential – read. And one that I will definitely be returning to for the sake of the recipes.