It’s almost 11pm now in Paris and I’m sitting in my room at my host mom’s house, watching a “Follow Me Around Hong Kong” video on YouTube. It’s one of the many travelogues I occasionally watch. The YouTuber is filming herself getting one of her favorite Hong Kong food: glutinous rice rolls (腸粉). She drizzled on some sweet sauce, pooled on some peanut sauce, and finished up with a sprinkle of sesame. It is a traditional and iconic snack in Hong Kong, beloved for its cheap price and versatility as breakfast, street food, and dim sum.
Occasionally I watch different, random YouTube travelogues about Hong Kong. It amuses me to see foreigners/tourists/American-born-Chinese describe and navigate around the city I was born and raised in, eating all the food I grew up with and exclaiming how much they love them.
Oddly enough, watching all these videos of people eating the food from familiar Hong Kong-styled bakeries, tea houses and food markets did not stir up much nostalgia. People around me, friends, family, acquaintances, and all these YouTubers, have expressed their fondness for the unique Hong Kong-style food. Friends from Hong Kong who have gone studying overseas like me would occasionally exclaim how much they miss food from home, and can’t wait for a hearty meal of dim sum as soon as they touch down in HK. For some reason, I can’t seem to share that longing or excitement.
I have rarely craved food from home now that I’ve been away for almost five years, and the longer I’ve been away, the less I miss them. I learn to love what the country I’m staying in has to offer – stacks of french toasts drenched in maple syrup, greasy and over-sized pizzas, cream cheese smeared on toasted bagels… and now that I’m in Paris I’ve fallen in love with baguettes and cheese and everything stereotypically French. Till this point I have yet to get sick of the food from whereever I am at that moment – so I can cross off the possibility that the excitement comes from the novelty of the dishes.
I’ve been meaning to put a finger on this feeling for a while but for some reason something so seemingly insignificant – the lack of aching for food from home – has made me feel uneasy. I know there is nothing wrong with not having my home food as my #1 favorite cuisine. It just makes me wonder whether it says something about my connection with home. I am not going to dive into this whole heartfelt speech about identity crises and culturance dissonance, but since food is a big part of my life, I’m curious and at times a little bothered by the fact that I feel so little attachment towards Cantonese or Chinese food.
I am not saying I do no love Hong Kong food, and there is no denying that they are delicious. I still remember those Saturday and Sunday mornings many years ago, my parents would bring me to cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳, Hong Kong style restaurants) and order my to-go breakfast: macaroni in soup, lightly fried sausage, toast, an omelette and a hot cup of Milo or Horlick. There is also this fishball noodle place near my home that I believe serves the best fishballs in Hong Kong. But these memories are shelfed somewhere at the back of my mind, as I focus on what food is available around me.
Despite everything, from time to time, I still miss home. It’s more of a nuance than a heartache – the longing of something long gone, not strong enough for me to do anything about it. Hong Kong has slipped into a blur that still sends me small jolts of nostalgia every once in a while, a part of me that I look back to but cannot relive. And I wonder if food is just the visualized version of that feeling.
At the end of the day, I know that food definitely does not encompass everything that the city means to me. No matter where I am, Hong Kong will always be a piece of me. And I can still enjoy my ham and cheese panini while my parents enjoy their congee and stir-fried rice noodles. (Mom if you’re reading this please don’t be offended your cooking is delicious I swear)