I read this Facebook post about Chinese in Suriname and thought I’d share …
The ethnic Hakka group are called ‘guest people’ in China because they were displaced from the north into the southern Fujian/Guangzhou region. In the late 1800’s they left China and emigrated to disparate parts of the world, mostly to hot, tropical regions like Jamaica, Singapore & Suriname. Ethnic heritage is written in food, molded by time and place.
Whenever I travel and see ‘Hakka’ dishes I make a point of trying them. Most of the time, the dishes are unrecognizable to those I grew up with. I have to search hard to find similarity. Invariably it is not in the taste, rather in the technique in making the dish.
For example, stuffed bitter melon is a quintessential Hakka dish. In my family it is stuffed with minced pork and braised in oyster sauce In Singapore it is stuffed with white fish paste and simmered in a broth. In Suriname it looks to be braised and flavored with tomatoes, yellow peppers and herbs. The framework for putting the dish together is the same but the outcome, the flavor, is quite different. It makes me think that heritage is not about history and genetics, it’s about the values and traditions that define a people.
Anusasananan’s ‘The Hakka Cookbook’ is a beautiful book. One of the few, maybe the only book devoted to Hakka cuisines around the world. It’s a fascinating read on the Hakka diaspora. It’s the type of cookbook valued more for its stories rather than the recipes. Those come from my mother’s kitchen.