My grandmother is my biggest inspiration. I grew up on her farm in southern Taiwan; she used to cook with her wok on a large wood fire burner, and make delicious seasonal food. She did this whilst wearing Chinese traditional dress, red lipstick and curlers in her hair: she was the ultimate matriarch. We had delicious juicy oranges and plenty of bamboo on the farm, but in terms of material wealth, we didn’t have much; what we did have was amazing produce and her incredible cooking, and that was all we needed, really.
Vegetarian Chinese food is amazing. I love mapo tofu, sticky tofu with rice, General Tso’s tofu and Hong Sao tofu – there are so many amazing Chinese options with tofu. It’s one of my vegetarian staples and so delicious with rice and steamed greens. It’s also incredibly healthy; we use it as a key ingredient in our house as my husband is a vegan.
Most Chinese vegetarian dishes can easily be made vegan; all you need to do is omit the eggs, as we Chinese use virtually no dairy in our cooking. Asian cuisine is great when you’re on a budget. You can cook an amazing selection of stir-fried vegetables, depending on the season, with delicious rice or noodles, especially if you stock up on Chinese cupboard essentials: good-quality soy sauce, vinegar, rice wine, five spice, chilli pastes, and soy bean pastes. This ensures you can make wonderful flavour combinations.
I eat around 80% vegetarian most of the time. I sometimes skip breakfast, but when I do eat it, I’ll have porridge cooked with oat milk, a drizzle of honey, and sliced apples. Lunch is usually an aubergine and potato curry with rice, or if I’m out, I’ll have a veggie mushroom burger or a veggie wrap on-the-go. My dinner will either be vegan mapo tofu with rice, mushroom tomato ramen, or a tofu, chickpea, and potato katsu curry.
My latest obsession is French Dijon mustard! I just love it: ‘peppery hot’ is one of my favourite flavour profiles right now, alongside ‘hot and sour’. I also love to cook with rice vinegar, Shaohsing rice wine, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
Cutting down on sugar, and desserts in general, is one of the ways that I try to stay healthy. I substitute it by eating more fruit, and find that can help. In my cooking, I’ll also limit the amount of oil I use – luckily, stir-fries only need small amounts of it. I also try not to snack in-between meals, as each time you eat, you spike your sugar levels, and I find that the more I eat, the more I want to eat, but I don’t need to!
My grandmother always said, if you don’t know how to cook, you can’t feed yourself, and you can’t be healthy. I would say that’s a bit harsh, but you should work hard, hone your craft (especially your signature dishes), and remember that practise makes perfect! Enjoy the cooking process – I find it so meditative and relaxing – and use it as an opportunity to reconnect and nourish yourself after a busy day.