Wen's dad lives to cook. He loves everything about it. He scours the markets for the freshest and best on offer that day. He daily makes his way around the various markets, and something told me he would take no nonsense from the vendors.
So it was with great anticipation we arrived to eat.
Wen's dad had spent the whole morning shopping and preparing for the meal. A peek into his domain revealed a very organised chef. Rows and bowls of precisely chopped vegetables all ready to be added at the right moment. There were live crabs in the sink, but not for long, alive that is. I was soon to witness the culling. No plunging into boiling water here, instead claws were cut off as they still wriggled. Then the disemboweling begun. I was given a lesson on the best way to kill them. Sorry it's a plunge into boiling water for me. That alone pricks my conscience!
Another bowl was full of clams, and a stack of freshly rolled spring rolls sat at the ready.
After witnessing the demise of the crab, I then went to sit and enjoy the array of fruits and chocolate on offer on the coffee table. All there to tempt us. No chance of refusing as now Wen's mum, known to me as WenWen, was literally peeling the fresh lychees and handing them to me and my husband. They were sweet and juicy as were the cherries. I managed to avoid the chocolate.
I had to stop as I didn't want to fill myself up before the main event. But this didn't prove as easy as I hoped as WenWen was determined to see to it that we were kept busy eating.
Soon we were called to the table. In China they don't have starters and mains, it just all arrives as it is ready. I knew it would be unlikely to see rice served as it is deemed as a poor man's food, something to fill you up when you can't afford the meats and fish. I was correct in my assumption. It did make a small appearance as a coating, similar to the way we would use breadcrumbs.
We were now ready to try a traditional home cooked family meal. Surely this is the best way to appreciate a country and their culture. And also a great privilege. An array of dishes were put before us, delicious sticky ribs, tender juicy prawns and baby corn, and meatballs coated in in sticky rice. Strangely they had an air of a haggis flavour about them. Seemed it was mainly ginger, soy sauce and black pepper in them. There was also a cold chicken dish, simply cooked breast, and of course vey tasty. A dish of cooked yams, but not the yam I know, this one is long and thin with a woody skin. It was served with lots of chopped chillies. I once tried to prepare this myself but when peeled it is incredibly slippery and I struggled to even hold on to it. The more I rinsed it, the worse it became. Much hilarity occurred as I told my story, and of course a lesson on the best way to do it. The proper way to do it was demonstrated by Wen's dad using a chopstick! Use your imagination.
Then the crab arrived in a wonderful hot and spicy sauce. Again very few ingredients are used. Mostly soy sauce, ginger, chilli, and pepper. But this was so good. I soon followed my hosts sucking the meat from the claws. There was six of us to eat and three crabs had been prepared! WenWen was doing what mothers do best and offering us more and more food. At one point everyone took a short break, a walk round the apartment. and then back to start again. During the whole time Wen's dad was in the kitchen cooking. He popped out from time to time, ate a few bites with us, then back to work. I have to say he cooked all this meal on a 2 ring gas cooker, as is common in almost all Chinese apartments, with a cigarette in hand and a beer to hand. Love his style?
Back to the table for the clams, slightly spicy with hit of chilli, a plate of fried fish. Similar in texture to cod but not really sure what it was, and it had a bone right down one side. I didn't see it pre- cooked so wasn't able to identify it. But it was so good and I was tempted, although by now I was so full, to go back for another piece. So I did! Probably against my better judgement. Oh well what is one to do?
I have to admit I also went back once or twice to the ribs, they were just so good, and maybe a second helping of crab. OMG I'm getting full again just remembering it!.
Then suddenly WenWen took off to the kitchen quickly followed by Wen. Seems it's Wen's mum who is the expert at frying the spring rolls. I had by this time forgotten all about them. It seems they are usually served at the end of a meal, not as we are used to as a starter. But, it seemed that Wen had to supervise, just to be sure. Soon became obvious that mum wasn't doing it correctly and dad had to make his way back to the kitchen to sort it all out. I was then given a lesson on the best way to put spring rolls into the hot oil, seam towards you to stop the roll filling up with the oil and opening out. Sounds like good advice to follow. Notice the use of chopsticks in cooking.
Of course the spring rolls too were delicious, but we had to stop her cooking them. There must have been about 30 of them. I would bet no group of six people could have eaten all the food which was prepared. But we gave it our best shot, but not quite good enough I'm afraid.
So I am happy to say our inclusion in a family day was over and above our expectations. Once again proving people are basically the same the whole world over. Put them round a table with good food and shared interest and a good time will be had by all. I will never forget this day and look forward to reciprocating in the future.
The good thing about it all was it was served on a plastic sheet so all the shells and bones are just put on the table and at the end the whole thing is gathered up and put in the bin. Easy quick clean up. Oh and the extra spring rolls were packaged ready for us to take away.
My only issue was not being able to chat with Wen's parent's, what little Mandarin we have mastered was useless as they speak Shanghiese, which is now no longer taught here, it is a dying language. But it did not spoil the day and I think we all had a good time sharing the meal together.