In our Parting Shot series, readers share their experiences of expat life in Hong Kong. Here, LENKA MERAN tells the story of how she became a cook in HK – by accident!
Becoming an accidental chef
So, there are few things that need to happen before you can become a gourmet chef by accident, even just an amateur one.
#1 You must stay in one apartment block or neighbourhood long enough for other residents to move out – two to three years should be sufficient.
#2 You must be a member of some community in your area. Easiest way is to get pregnant! During your pregnancy, other parents will start noticing you for the first time. Soon enough, you’ll become an “official” part of the neighbourhood family club! You’ll then realise how many families live around you, and soon you will know their kids’ names, ages, what school they go to, and so on.
#3 Finally, you must be one of those friendly types – someone who likes people, likes to chat, and likes to socialise with your neighbours.
Flavours of Iran
Sure enough, once I’d fulfilled those conditions, it wasn’t long before my dear friend Joan moved with her family to Canada. She left me all her sauces, spices and other unfinished frozen food. That’s how I came to experiment with pomegranate molasses and zaatar spice!
I don’t waste food, nor does Joan. That’s why she gave me all her leftover ingredients. I investigated the recipes I could use given the expanse of new and exotic condiments she gifted me. An Iranian cookbook was the catalyst for unlocking those amazing new flavours – salads with pomegranate, rice with dates and zaatar flatbread, among many others!
Gourmet and Indian
A few months later, my Indian friend Divya decided to leave. She lived in our apartment complex longer than me, but I never noticed her until she had her baby girl. Well, my dear Divya introduced me to gourmet foods like pistachio oil from a French village, French sea salt, salt from Iceland, and black salt (which is in fact pink!). She left a few other things like rice flakes and urad wadi, and she always kindly followed up with a link for an appropriate recipe. This time, my family’s palate was enriched with a multitude of Indian flavours!
Organic and African
And then it was Candice’s mum who left in a rush. Candice lives next door to us and is a good friend. As her mum departed rather abruptly, Candice simultaneously became gluten-free and dairy-free – that resulted in her kind offer to select whatever I desired from her mum’s pantry, fridge and freezer! Suddenly, my kitchen was full of everything organic. There were items like wild mountain honey, vanilla bean seeds and oat milks – various brands of everything, and only the most expensive as I later found out in the supermarket.
Also, because she was from South Africa, Candice’s mum helped me discover all the hotspots in the city for finding African ingredients.
A word of thanks
So, there I was, still living in my neighbourhood and feeling sad as many friends came and went. But, every time I cook with their gifted ingredients, I think of them in gratitude and send happy and grateful thoughts their way for expanding my recipe book and allowing my family to enjoy so many exotic meals.
Sometimes I take a picture and send it to them to say “thank you” again. They are happy, as their food didn’t get wasted, and it keeps us bonded, not just with WhatsApp, but in some strange way via the meals we eat that they contributed to as well.
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This article first appeared in the Autumn 2022 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue