Teachers’ Memories from the Trip 2017 to Hong Kong & China
Jan Neal of Thomas Estley Community College
“The adventure began when I saw an advert on The Food Teachers Centre Facebook page for a CPD workshop & training course with FUN:) Healthy Chinese Cooking at the Ming-Ai Institute in London. Fast forward to July 2017 and unbelievably I was boarding a flight to Hong Kong as one of the three winners of the competition to experience the food and culture in Hong Kong and China. The five days that followed proved to be an amazing experience that I will never forget.
On our first night in Hong Kong we visited the Infinitus Building where we had a very interesting talk on the history of food culture in Hong Kong, followed by a ten course fine dining experience that included delicacies such as suckling pig, chilli prawns, jelly fish and moon cakes; all whilst taking in the spectacular view of Victoria Harbour at nightfall from the 38th floor.
A Level 8 typhoon was all part of the experience, but fortunately, the typhoon threat dropped & enabled us to visit magical temples and gardens. The mystical smell of incense, the tourists & people at prayer, the statues, red lanterns, architecture, bonsai trees & tinkling fountains all contributed to the feeling of peace & tranquillity with the sky scrapers in the background.
The teacher exchange day provided an interesting insight into the types of foods & dishes that are taught to students in Hong Kong. It was lovely to see the students, quiet and shy to begin with, but as the morning progressed to become more chatty and involved with helping with the demonstrations & having a go at some of the techniques.
The visit to the wet market was the most eye opening experience. The fruit & vegetable stalls were colourful vibrant and fresh with such a diverse range of ingredients, some familiar but many that were not. The fresh meat area showed that every part of the animal is used, with displays of trotters, ears, offal, snouts & tails as well as the more usual cuts of meat. We saw live chickens and toads in cages, then live fish swimming in tanks and fish leaping about on metal trays. Freshness is the most important aspect of buying food from the market and apparently once the fish dies it is cheaper. There were also stalls selling every type of dried food you could imagine, fish, meat, tofu, rice, noodles, tea, herbs, spices and many others. The whole market was jam packed with products available for the local residents who usually shop every day.
Our visit to China took us through the immigration process between Hong Kong & China – just fascinating to see the diversity of people making the journey and reinforced the view that nobody queues like the British!! The whole China segment of the trip was just fascinating - visiting the Lee Kum Kee Factory and eating a very tasty meal in the canteen, seeing the production lines, the huge soya sauce tanks and the sheer scale of the site with room for future development and finding out about the company commitment and contribution to the local community. Orange tea tasting in the afternoon was lovely, followed by a private dining experience which included delicately steamed fish and chicken feet!!
Another highlight of the trip was the visit to the Chinese Culinary Institute – I don’t think I have ever seen such an impressive catering college. Different teaching kitchens for different geographical cuisines, a superb demonstration and competition kitchen and an impressive bar and restaurant with the most incredible view over the coastline. The rooms in the ‘T’ training hotel were so luxurious that if I visit Hong Kong again I know where I’d like to stay.
The whole trip was just amazing & there were so many highlights but of course, the food that we had was just delicious. Such a variety of different cuisines & locations from fine dining to busy restaurants where we had so many different types of food including dim sum, Peking duck, numb and spicy dishes and of course the tea houses where we had the gorgeous custard tarts.
Thank you so much for giving my daughter and I the experience of a lifetime. The whole trip was well organised & informative with so many things that I will be able to pass onto my pupils, as well as being great fun with lovely people.”
Alicia Blankson of Bishopshalt School
“What I learnt:
Before attending the FUN:) Chinese food workshops I had thought I knew a great deal about Chinese cuisine but I have been proven wrong. I firstly learnt that there are several different types of cuisines and that the food eaten varies depending on province and availability of ingredients. E.G the closer the province to the sea the more seafood plays a part within the diet. Also that particular dishes are served for special occasions. I also learnt that dried food ingredients are very popular not only in cooking but also for medicinal purposes. I learnt that the differing styles of cuisine are also cooked using different size woks. I discovered that my favourite type of cuisine is SICHUANESE because of the unique flavour and tingling feeling from the peppercorn.
I leant that Chinese cooking has a deep routing in its culture and that some chefs are trying to keep this alive, I found interesting that from medicinal point of view that Chinese people believe that all things should be balanced and that certain food combinations work best when treating aliments. Similarly I learnt that particular allergies (gluten and vegetarian, pork free) are hard to cater for. I was surprised by that limited use of egg noodles in many of the cuisines, as its so widely used in the UK.
Most of all I learnt how to use chopsticks with confidence.
What I enjoyed:
I enjoyed the entire trip, but most of all I enjoyed learning about how cultural differences can impact on foods, diet and peoples prospective. For example eating some of the more niche foods may give the impression of wealth.
I immensely enjoyed learning about how Mr Lee first discovered oyster sauce and how the business has grown into what it is today. Touring the factory and seeing the process from start to finish and seeing how the product was first packaged and distributed around the globe was also amazing. Seeing the first bottle design and the actual first shop-front of the business shows just how proud the family are of the humble begins. Additionally, the fact that the company has given back to the local and wider community also filled me with joy. The fact that Lee Kum Kee has and is providing so much employment and development within the local area is amazing and a fact that should be commended.
I enjoyed most of all meeting with the HK teachers and exchanging recipe ideas, and helping them to understand and adapt their recipes to a more Western style but still keeping up with the Chinese traditions.
The visit to the wet market intrigued but also baffled me, as there was such a vast array of ingredients and just how fresh it was. Walking through the market as seeing and being able to select ingredients like this was an intense experience which left me a little confused and turned off by it all. Seeing just how the purchasing of ingredients varies to that of the West was astonishing, being able to purchase ingredients like this changes the way in which you cook, as it impacts on flavour and texture. I was turned off a little by the fresh fish, meat etc. due to the fact that I could potentially see it being slaughtered. In the UK it’s not something you see so you are more detached from that aspect of it.
I appreciated, being able to part take in this experience, trying such a variety of foods that I would never have tried if not for this trip, learning about the different styles and that Cantonese food isn’t all that Chinese cuisine has to offer.
What baffled me:
The main thing that baffled me was seeing how and hearing about how food is purchased. It was baffling because I’m so used to shopping for a week or two, whereas many people shop daily. For me this is a better way of purchasing and consuming foods as you only buy what you need, it allows for more creative cooking as you maybe limited in choice and it also reduces the carbon foot print and food miles. I was also baffled by the variety, and how the price of ingredients especially the fish changed depending on how close to death it was. I found it funny to hear that sometime people would wait for the fish to die then purchase at a lower price.
What amazed me:
Seeing the fish twitching in the dishes some looked as though they were fighting death. Also the set up of the kitchens and hotel rooms at the CCI (Chinese Culinary Institute), this element was really eye opening and had a major impact on my trip because it showed how the future generations are being trained not only in cultural aspects but also in Western ways. I feel that by also displaying the images and achievements of former students gives pupils more to aspire too. Also the set up of the student training kitchens and the facilities available shows that a great deal on financial and emotional investment has been made to ensure that the majority of the population can be nurtured to fulfil their potential.”
Fiona Budd of Robertsbridge Community College
“Our journey began with an overnight flight from Heathrow and we arrived in Hong Kong in the afternoon with news of a typhoon on the way so we were lucky to spend our first evening at the Infinitus Plaza, 38 floors above down-town Hong Kong. Here we were able to enjoy spectacular views across Victoria Harbour and took some iconic pictures of the city at night before the cloud descended the following day. We were served a very stylish 10 course meal while there that evening which prepared us for the fabulous and varied array of food that we enjoyed over the next five days. I have never eaten so well - breakfast, lunch and dinner every day - with different dishes from a wide range of Chinese regional cuisine.
The following day we did some local sight-seeing including the beautiful Nan Lian Gardens. These formal gardens included a Buddhist temple and a wide collection of unusual trees and rare plants. They were beautifully laid out and very peaceful which seemed incredible as they were surrounded on all sides by high rise buildings and offices in the very centre of the city.
On Monday we got down to work and all took part in the teacher exchange meeting at the Lee Kum Kee Hong Kong headquarters. Here we met up with three Hong Kong Food teachers and their students as well as Alice who runs the demonstration kitchen and who had organised all our cookery sessions. Here we were able to share cooking techniques and experiences through demonstrations of our respective cookery cultures. We encouraged the students to take part in some practical tasks and there was plenty of tasting and discussion, with lots of ideas for future lessons and projects. The students were so quiet and polite and as teachers we were interested to hear how cookery teaching is approached in schools in Hong Kong. I am hopeful that we can make so long term contacts with the other schools and share our experiences.
On our way back we visited a massive indoor ‘’wet market’’ where all manner of foods can be bought over five floors. This was quite an experience - you would need most of the day to do your shopping, there was so much to see. Highlights included an amazing range of fruit and vegetables, all beautifully displayed and all kinds of meat and fish including live turtles and toads which seemed really incongruous to us UK visitors. There was also a wide range of dried goods, especially seafood, which is used widely in Chinese cuisine and it was almost impossible to identify the different items in their dried state.
The next day we were off to visit mainland China and the Lee Kum Kee factory plant in Xinhui. This trip was so interesting - what an experience just crossing the border with such crowds of people, especially coming back into Hong Kong. There is so much development going on, building work everywhere and the cities seemed constantly busy, even in the middle of the night! The factory was like something from a James Bond movie - massive and well organised - we even toured round in a golf style buggy and felt like true VIPs. That evening we visited a Chinese tea house and were able to try local teas made with tangerine peel - considered to be cleansing and healing. The tea making process is very calming, it can’t be rushed, so we all had to slow down and enjoy the soothing tea making ritual.
The following day we returned to Hong Kong, queued to cross back over the very busy border and followed up with a trip to the CCI (Chinese Culinary institute) college for students studying catering and hospitality. Here there is a hotel and restaurant run by the college where members of the public can dine and stay overnight so that students can get the experience of working with real guests. The accommodation and service was quite luxurious and we all felt that a future stay at the college would be excellent!
During our visit we experienced a range of different transport methods - a tour around the bay on the White Star ferries, a traditional tram ride through the centre of the city and the speedier method of using the underground trains - very like London but so efficient! Throughout our whole trip we had our trusted minibus driver who was always there to take us to the next venue on our very busy agenda. We did so much and enjoyed an eye opening visit to a part of the world I had never explored before. This is a superb opportunity and I would encourage all future teachers to participate in the competition next year.”