Gloria Chung has an array of wine bottles displayed on her vintage sideboard but, “I don’t really drink much these days. I’ve been asking my friends to come over to taste them,” she says.
Although Chung has been trying to take better care of her health, she makes an exception for the contents of a bottle of black liquid sitting in a crystal carafe.
“My aunt made this. It’s black glutinous rice wine,” says Chung, a food and travel writer. “I’m Hakka, so our family often makes glutinous rice wine. If we’re eating with my mum, and we’re all having a good time, we might have a couple of glasses.”
Chung’s love of food is in her genes – her grandfather ran a congee shop, her father was a chef, her uncle had a dai pai dong, her aunt owned a shaved-ice shop and she has cousins who make their own cha gwo (Hakka-style steamed dumplings made with glutinous rice and flour) and Lunar New Year pudding the old-fashioned way, over a wood fire.
“We didn’t grow up with fancy foods, but we always had real food,” Chung says. “My mum was a housewife, and picked up the occasional bit of casual work. But no matter how busy she was, she would make sure we had a real meal before leaving the house. To her, a bowl of noodles with a few slices of pork and vegetables is hardly cooking.”
Chung seems to share that philosophy – she’s a master of quick, tasty meals made with additive-free ingredients, and teaches the occasional cookery workshop.
She often makes a meal of tossed noodles with termite-mushroom confit by J’s Garden, the Sheung Wan grocer that specialises in fungi.
“It’s so fragrant. The mushrooms sit in oil with Sichuan pepper. I’m a little allergic to shrimp, so I try not to eat so much XO sauce, and this is a really good alternative.”
She still has a little of the oil left at the bottom of a jar, but “I’m not throwing this away yet. The oil is great for stir-frying, say, green beans with mushrooms”.
Most of Chung’s pantry items are more than one-trick ponies. Another jar contains what’s left of the Spanish organic marmalade that she picked up on a recent travel assignment to Spain.
“Marmalade is very versatile. I can use it as a jam, chutney or in orange tea. I always have tangerine, mandarin or orange marmalade at home.”
In her hands, the teas that friends often give her become ingredients, too. “I can’t drink them quickly enough, so I use them in cakes – Earl Grey is great for that – and with herbal teas, you can throw them into a stew like [you would] a bouquet garni.”
She does enjoy her pu’er, however.
“I’ve been drinking more and more of it. It aids digestion. But I’m no connoisseur, I just drink what’s given to me.”