If you asked me what my cultural background was a few years ago, you probably would have got a different response each time, depending on the year and my mood. The usual answer was something along the lines of: “Asian, I guess? Lots of different types of Asian.”
My father is from Kashmir, a disputed region between India and Pakistan. My mother was born in Singapore to Chinese-Filipino parents, but was adopted at a very young age by a Eurasian mother and an Indonesian father. By my count, that’s six ethnicities already.
As I’ve grown older, more confident, and prouder of the cultures that make me who I am, I now make it a point to disclose all my major ethnicities. That being said, if you don’t know me or you’re a rideshare driver, I’m probably still going to say “I’m Chinese-ish”.
These recipes are a snapshot of my journey as a young Asian-Australian, clinging to culture through food while navigating my way through the western world. This is my Chinese-ish cooking – vibrant, crispy, tasty, colourful and incredibly delicious.
Fiery Sichuan fondue
It’s a well-established fact that plenty of people of east Asian descent suffer from lactose sensitivity. I’m a touch lactose-intolerant myself, but I reckon this recipe is worth the pain.
In this recipe, we use beer instead of the traditional high-acid white wine. Beer is exactly what I’d be drinking with this dish, as the savouriness pairs beautifully with the cheese.
As with all popular Sichuan dishes, this fondue is served under a blaze of vibrant red chilli oil. If you don’t have a fancy fondue setup, use a cast-iron skillet or something similar that retains heat and pop it back on the stove whenever you need to warm it up.
2 tbsp cornflour
300g gruyere, grated
300g comte, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground white pepper
100ml chilli oil (your own variety, or use Lao Gan Ma chilli oil)
Fresh dill, parsley and chives, roughly chopped
Cracked black pepper
Bread, cut into cubes
Hot smoked sausages
Place the cornflour and cheeses in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
Heat the garlic and lager in a pan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Add a handful of the cheese mixture at a time to the simmering beer and whisk vigorously, ensuring each addition is completely melted and emulsified before adding more.
Once all the cheese has been added and the mixture is thick and smooth, add the lemon juice, salt and white pepper and stir. If the mixture has turned into a blob of melted cheese with some separated liquid, don’t worry. Simply increase the heat and whisk hard to bring it back together.
Transfer the cheese mixture to a fondue pot or cast-iron skillet. Dress liberally with the chilli oil, fresh herbs and cracked black pepper. If the fondue starts to set, simply pop it back on the stove and warm it up over low heat.
Serve the fondue with pickled chillies, bread, smoked sausages, charcuterie and boiled potatoes for dipping.
Sichuan sausage sangas
I love a sausage sizzle, as we call them in Australia. This recipe keeps the sizzle, the sausage and the white bread, but the similarities end there. Instead, a flavourful, juicy, Sichuan peppercorn-spiced pork sausage is studded with guanciale, smeared with Japanese mayonnaise and refreshed with lime juice. Definitely not your average sausage sanga.
450g pork mince
50g guanciale or pancetta, finely chopped
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp iced water
Vegetable oil, for shallow frying
For the spice mix
3 tsp Sichuan or Korean chilli flakes
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp ground white pepper
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
4 slices white bread
Place the pork mince in the freezer for 30 minutes before using.
To make the spice mix, place all of the ingredients in a small frying pan and toast over low heat until very fragrant, taking care not to burn the chilli flakes. If they turn too dark, start again. Set aside to cool, then blitz into a fine powder using a food processor.
Add the chilled pork mince, guanciale, ginger, fish sauce, light soy sauce, dijon mustard, sugar, cornflour and iced water to the spice mix and pulse until combined. The mixture should bounce back when pressed. Refrigerate the sausage mixture for two hours.
Using wet hands, roll the sausage mixture into four logs of 2cm x 4cm and refrigerate for at least one hour to set.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add enough vegetable oil to evenly coat the base of the pan. Cook the sausages until they are a deep golden-brown, rolling them around continuously for about 10 minutes.
To assemble, wrap the sausages in white bread with a generous handful of fresh herbs, a decent smear of mayonnaise and a good squeeze of lime juice.
Cheat’s egg custard tart
The humble custard tart makes appearances in many different cultures, most famously as the Portuguese pastel de nata. The egg custard tart made its way to Hong Kong from the nearby Portuguese colony of Macau, and the Cantonese transformed it by adding more egg yolks and decreasing the sugar and dairy.
Traditional Chinese puff pastry is incredibly difficult to make. Using ready-made shortcrust pastry is foolproof and puts a still-warm, freshly baked egg custard tart in easy reach of everyone.
Vegetable oil, for brushing
2 sheets shortcrust pastry
For the custard
80g caster sugar
150ml hot water
60ml sweetened condensed milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
For the custard, dissolve the sugar in the hot water in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to make a syrup. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, condensed milk and vanilla together to combine. While whisking continuously, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg mixture. Strain into a jug and allow to stand until the air bubbles dissipate. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Lightly brush a 12-hole muffin tin or 12 fluted individual tart tins with oil. Cut the pastry sheets into 12 even squares and press into the greased tins, trimming off any excess. Chill in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.
Line the pastry shells with baking paper and fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice. Blind bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and weights and bake for another three to four minutes until golden. Set aside to cool.
Reduce the oven temperature to 140C and divide the custard equally between the shells.
Bake the tarts on the lowest shelf of your oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is just set. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15 minutes. Enjoy the custard tarts while they’re warm.
This is an edited extract from Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul, illustrated by Joanna Hu published by Murdoch Books (RRP $39.99). Photography by Armelle Habib