Susan Ng, culinary consultant, food writer and Food Revolution Toronto ambassador, writes about her food hero, her grandma Kuen, and why she is donating to Community Food Centres Canada this holiday season.
#myfoodhero is my grandma, Kuen. This is my story...
Growing up, intimate and extended family gatherings were plenty and my grandma was often at the centre of them. It was a chance for everyone to catch up with her and to eat her homemade goodies. She immigrated to Canada from Guangzhou China when I was eight, and lived with us for a short time; she was always in the kitchen cooking up something good. Amongst her many traditional Chinese dishes, two trademark specialties are fondly remembered and loved. One is her casual bowl of rice dumplings in a light cabbage soup called tangyuan. The other is the labour-intensive zong zi, a Chinese version of tamales made to celebrate the annual Dragon Boat Festival. Bamboo leaves are wrapped around glutinous sweet sticky rice mixed with all sorts of filling — savoury or sweet and boiled until ready. Grandma’s signature filling is savoury with seasoned pork belly, Chinese cured sausage, peanuts and duck egg yolk. The entire process involves a lot of time, preparation and patience. Very few people know how to make these well, but my grandma made them with ease and joy!
In the early 1980s with my grandma, brother and sister to the far right and our cousins.
Freshly wrapped zong zi made its anticipated circuit delivery to family members, an unwavering production from a huge batch. Only later did I really appreciate grandma's tremendous effort: It truly was a labour of love! As she grew older, big family gatherings were far less, but we were bound together with a bite into her delicious zong zi. She probably made them for family until she was 90. She passed away at 98! It wasn’t until I tasted a family friend’s version that I realized if I didn’t learn to cook these, my grandma’s culinary legacy would be lost forever. For the last two years, in what felt like a momentous task at the start, I proudly taught myself to make these rice bundles along with my mom and have been distributing them to my siblings’ families. My regret is not learning the tricks of the trade first-hand alongside grandma when she was still alive.
To see how to make zong zi, check out my step-by-step post
My wish is to carry forward new memories around this family childhood favourite from my grandma who I adored. It is my honour to preserve her culinary legacy by passing on the same heart and skills to my children one day (who love eating zong zi), and hopefully it will continue onwards for generations to come — a family history that would exemplify a taste of the beautiful spirit of their great great (plus) grandma!
This holiday season, I'm celebrating #myfoodhero grandma Kuen, with a donation in her memory to Community Food Centres Canada to support their work in bringing the power of food to low-income communities. I hope you'll consider making a donation in honour of your food hero, too.