Chinese Language Week: Talking Food connects Auckland chef to his parents

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A renowned barista and chef says talking about food is one of the few ways he and his immigrant parents can have a fluent conversation.

Sam Low, who made headlines in 2020 when he turned his managed isolation and quarantine meals into the perfect plate dishes, loves cooking from his parents’ house in China.

But it’s not just the cuisine that is special, said the Auckland man. Talking to their parents about the recipes and ingredients is one of the most in-depth conversations they can have.

Between their limited Cantonese and limited English, the family does not tend to discuss politics or deep issues.

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“Along with food, it’s the most articulate way for me to have a conversation with my parents, Low said.

Chef and barista Sam Low loves cooking Chinese dishes like wontons (雲吞), in part because it brings him closer to his parents who speak little English.

SAM LOW / Provided

Chef and barista Sam Low loves cooking Chinese dishes like wontons (雲吞), in part because it brings him closer to his parents who speak little English.

Low’s parents come from a village in southern China. Before coming to New Zealand, they spent time in Fiji.

“I am the next generation where I speak Chinese with my parents and English with my friends, and the vocabulary I have in Chinese is very limited.

“Having these in-depth conversations is really hard. Much of this is done through action, and usually it revolves around food. “

Low’s parents ran a noodle factory in Fiji, and his childhood was immersed in authentic Chinese cuisine.

This is something he rejected when he hit his teenage years and only returned after he started traveling the world and running out of home.

“One way for me to connect with the feeling of being home and family was through the flavor profile and memory of Chinese cuisine,” he said.

He started cooking more Chinese food and calling his parents for the correct recipe or to check the ingredients.

SAM LOW / Provided

“One way for me to connect with the feeling of being home and family was through the flavor profile and memory of Chinese cuisine,” says Sam Low.

“Thanks to the food, I was able to have a wider dialogue with my parents. When I lived in Vancouver or Melbourne, I called them to ask for a recipe.

“It allowed us to reconnect and have more than just, ‘How’s your life in Vancouver?’ It allowed me to have a feeling of shared passion and connection.

“Food is the language of love in my culture. Talking about food meant that we were talking about love for each other.

Low shares some of the meals he cooks his Instagram page, and his talents help him make a living as a content creator.

Before returning to New Zealand, he was one of the few chosen to attend a prestigious culinary school in Italy, specializing in the art of “slow food”.

For his scholarship application, he devised a recipe around wontons in consomme broth (or superior Chinese broth) and explained to the committee how this simple dish brings him straight home to prepare the meal around the family table.

SAM LOW / Provided

“Talking about food meant we were talking about love for each other,” Sam Low says.

“Normally I packed them at the table with mom and dad doing the garnish. “

Low said he liked the idea of ​​everyone cooking and eating together and was thrilled to present the dish to the jury.

“His [a] humble ingredient that doesn’t get a lot of light like tortellini or other things in the consomme because it is considered an inferior ethnic and socio-economic dish.

The application process won him the scholarship, and although Low returned to New Zealand due to the pandemic, it inspired him to continue his career path regardless.

Low never got his chef's scholarship due to the pandemic.  He has been back in New Zealand for almost a year.

SAM LOW / Provided

Low never got his chef’s scholarship due to the pandemic. He has been back in New Zealand for almost a year.

It occasionally welcomes Chinese pop-up kitchen events where he presents his own brand of Chinese cuisine.

Cantonese words to use when ordering or making wontons:

  • Wonton: 雲吞, pronounced wàhn tān (translates to swallow a cloud)
  • Meat: 肉, pronounced yuhk
  • Vegetarian: 齋, pronounced zaai
  • Wrap: 包, pronounced bāo
  • Soup: 湯, pronounced tong
  • Boiled: 㷛, pronounced bou
  • Chopsticks: 筷子, pronounced faai zi
  • Chili oil: 辣椒 油, pronounced laat ziu jau.



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