My father’s father made his living in dried spring onion and ginger, two overlooked ingredients in Chinese cuisine; often they are the key. The Chinese believe that certain foods (including some vegetables) cool the body, which can cause headaches. Ginger softens such vegetables, makes them smooth on the tongue, and counteracts the cooling effect.
The juicy spice of spring onion fosters intelligence, because in Chinese they share a common character: chung/chung ming. Once on the way to an important exam, my best friend and I sucked on stalks of spring onion, laughing at the edge we would have over everyone else.
Fish is said to have the same effect on brainpower, which is probably why as kids we were force-fed steamed flounder in blankets of julienne spring onion. Our parents’ hopes for a lawyer or doctor in the family rested in one common vegetable.
My parents owned a restaurant for several years, the first in Lower Hutt to serve authentic Chinese. While my mother was pregnant with me she continued to work the dinner shifts and late nights, keeping me up in her belly. I was there at the end of each night to settle the last bill, lock the doors, and share supper with the staff. I think this has affected my ability to sleep before midnight.
We were eating out at another Chinese restaurant (the one that got shut down for poor hygiene) and my brother’s nose began to bleed. Bloody noses are as common as missing socks in my family, so we slipped into the usual routine without drama: tip his head back, pinch the bridge, wrap wet tissue around his ears. Then a large woman burst from the kitchen, a bunch of dusty cabbage leaves in her fist. She pushed us all aside and began stuffing leaves up my brother’s nostrils. This will help, she said. The entire restaurant stopped to watch this performance; I’m sure a flash went off somewhere to my right.