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Heritage Food


Home Up Heritage Food The "Q" Life & Time Clan Diaspora Chinese Pioneers Clan Genealogy


A topic which fascinates us is the question of "What did the Chinese pioneers eat during the Gold Rush days and beyond?".   Our research into this topic included interviews with folks who were fortunate enough to have grown up in a Chinese family environment during the last days of the Gold Rush.   As well, we drew on our life experience, as well as observations from a number of field trips, notably to China, Chinatowns in San Francisco, New York City and a number of cities in South East Asia, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang, Kuala Lumpur etc. where the Chinese have a long history of settlement in these places.

Our observation is that, the style of the "common family convenient meal" 家常便飯 Hoisan: gar cheung ben faan; Cantonese: ga seung bin faan; Pinyin: jia chang bin fn; ) has hardly changed over the years, or even from Chinatown to Chinatown, i.e. from one Chinese community to another.  Sure enough, there may be subtleties, minor variation and adaptation using locally available ingredients.

There is a common theme: use all parts of the plant or animal, waste not want not, application of preserved vegetables, fermented soy beans, the ubiquitous soy sauce, salt fish, preserved meat, Chinese sausage and other time-honoured spices common to a Chinese kitchen.

In time, it is our intention to elaborate, but for the time being, we treat you to a pictorial view of a Heritage Dinner we hosted recently.



Menu for a Chinese Heritage Dinner

As designed by the Chinese Heritage Interest Network


Village-style rice porridge traditionally served at breakfast.

The hot bowl of porridge is served with a variety of tiny dishes; the taste of each dish is aimed at awakening ones sense of simplicity and earthiness. This is a typical Cantonese meal enjoyed by the young and old, the wealthy or those of modest means alike.

Given the simplicity and popularity of this style of cooking, it is entirely possible that rice porridge would have been the staple breakfast meal of the Chinamen of the Golden Age. In some Chinese families, porridge is welcome not only as a breakfast meal, but also at other meal times.

On this occasion, the compliment includes:

Lightly salted deep fried peanuts

Thousand-year old egg, with pickled ginger

Salted duck egg

Preserved bean curd cube

Pork floss

Pickled cabbage hearts


1000 Year-old Egg Salted Duck Egg


bulletSizzling Rice Soup

This is another popular dish, developed by people keen to make use of any available scrap of food and to minimise food wastage. The base of this dish is a traditional herbal, pork-bone or vegetable soup, simmered for hours, over a slow stove. Burnt rice (燶飯 -- nung faan), or rice crust formed at the bottom of a rice pot (飯焦 -- faan jiu ) as a result of rice cooked in the traditional absorption method, is carefully scraped out, further dried or deep-fried and then added to a simple soup. The hot soup is poured over the burnt rice, usually at the dinner table and in the presence of guests, it makes a sizzling noise, hence the name - sizzling rice soup. Nothing goes to waste.

Main Courses

Earthen-pot Salted fish and Chicken rice or plain rice, served with:

bulletHoinam chicken. (海南雞飯) Hoisan: Hoinam cheung ben faan; Cantonese: hoi naam gai faan; Pinyin: hai nan ji fn; ) This is a speciality dish originating from the island of Hoinam, usually served cold with a number of sauces, for example, a mixture of oyster and sesame sauce or finely chopped ginger and spring onions. For the best result, the chicken should be a corn-fed, or free-range chicken. Stolen chicken is particularly tasty as well. The cooking method though simple, can be quite tricky. Patience and great faith must be exercised in preparing this dish. Once the preparation of the dish has started, one must exercise great patience, and resist the temptation of lifting the pot lid, to inspect the cooking. For the cooking process calls for the chicken to be lowered, breast side down, into a pot of boiling spiced liquid. The liquid is once again brought to the boil and left to cook for a few minutes, the duration is dependent on the size of the chicken. The pot is then covered and the heat turned off. No more visible heat is required from here onwards.

bulletPork with preserved vegetable. This is a highly complicated, explosive dish, not to be tried in a Western home kitchen environment. It is a triple-cooked dish. The preparation process includes marinating, boiling, air-drying, deep broiling (this is when the pork will explode), careful slicing of the pork (without destroying the delicate shape of the pork), addition of the preserved vegetable complete with the rich sauce and finally the dish steamed for hours. The preserved vegetable is usually Chinese mustard green, preserved and stored in an earthen pot. The preserved vegetable keeps well and for years, this type of vegetable has been exported from China, to all corners of the globe. The oversized jar is often recycled as a container to hold liquid, such as oil, drinking water. The pot is often mistaken by non-Chinese as "ginger jar".

bulletStuffed Bitter Melon. (Hoisan: Young Foo Qua) This dish is for the connoisseur of Southern Chinese regional cuisine. The melon is bitter, but the after-taste is clean, clear and subtle. Stuffing used ranges from fish paste to minced pork mixed with chopped vegetables or dried prawns. Cooking method ranges from pan frying, to serving in clear soup something preferred by the Hakka people.
bulletKai-toy. As pronounced by the Toisan people, this is another Southern Chinese vegetable dish, loved by connoisseur for its subtle bitter taste. Today we are treated to a variety of baby Kai-toy.


Steamed Trout. This is a fresh water fish, prepared in the traditional Cantonese style. The trout can be substituted with any other fresh fish. Its sauce is simple, the cooking method is disarmingly straight forward a process of steaming, once the fish has been carefully prepared. Yet there is a risk of delivering a below par plate, as the steaming period must be just right and the sauce, complete with a fine balance of ginger, spring onion and pepper.  

In the attached link, we have included the recipe for Steamed Fish


Coconut and bean slice.

Red bean and glutinous rice pudding

Coffee & Sweets

. Fi-shang (花生) toffee (peanut toffee), as described by Sir Lionel Lindsay in his book "Comedy of Life"

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