A Cultural Melting Pot

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At home, oxtail came in the form of a warm pot of soup, with tomatoes, onions and potatoes. I remember looking for that little hole in the bone of the oxtail when I was young, then sucking out the remnants of soup and what seemed to be marrow inside the bone. And being very fascinated.

When asked the origin of this oxtail stew, I realised that it was a case of East-meets-West. A quick google search on “Oxtail Stew” displays results from Jamie’s “Insanely Good Oxtail Stew”and the like, with suggestions to cook this with herbs commonly used in Western countries, such as rosemary and thyme, served with pasta or mashed potatoes. However, in Hong Kong, this dish would be found in local restaurants, or Cha-Chaan-Tengs, served over rice. (A Cha-Chaan-Teng is a local restaurant serving a wide range of dishes, from instant noodles to Western-influenced pasta and rice bakes.)

screenshot_taipingkoon(source: http://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/photos-of-best-food-in-hong-kong#slide-5)

Hong Kong was once a British colony, and is a highly Westernised global city embracing the juxtaposition of Western colonial and local cultures – Westernalisation interpreted as import of values, cultures and traditions from the West (Bond & King, 1986:357; Eves et al., 2012:184). Cha-chaan-tengs, or local restaurants incorporating Western styles such as Tai Ping Koon (featured above), serve as examples of Western influences where traditionally British, American, Italian or Portuguese (the list goes on) dishes fuse with Chinese cooking methods and ingredients, then served with a bowl of steaming jasmine rice.

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Having spent substantial periods of my life in both Hong Kong and the UK, I do realise how Hong Kong has homogenised Western and local cultures to earn its title of a “cultural melting pot”, in creating a unique “Hong-Kong-ese” culture. Specifically, in my rendition of this oxtail stew, I added in oregano into the pot knowing that it paired well with the tomato base. However, I also threw in a chunk of rock sugar to braise the oxtail. The Chinese suggest that rock sugar has medicinal purposes which can soothe respiratory tracts and stop coughs; I used it with the handed-down knowledge that it can break down the toughness in meat while braising.

Perhaps, in the pots of melting goodness within Hong-Kong-ese cooking, the Orientalist influences into Western dishes are symbolic of the preservation of one’s own cultural originality in face of Westernisation – a common phenomenon in the process of colonisation (Said, 1978:7). Or maybe, we all just want food to taste good.

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Braised Oxtail Stew
Prep Time: 2.5hrs

1kg oxtail
3 slices of ginger
2 carrots, chopped into chunks
1 onion, sliced
4 tomatoes, sliced
3 tbsp tomato puree
half a cube of beef stock
1 bay leaf
2 tsp oregano
1 chunk of rock sugar (size of a pound coin)
4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper

1.     Add slices of ginger and blanch the oxtail in boiling water, for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2.     Add the beef stock cube and fill a pot halfway with boiling water, then place the blanched oxtail, carrots, onions and tomatoes until the water boils again. Then, add tomato puree, bay leaf, oregano and sprinkles of salt. Cover the pot and allow it to braise on medium heat for two hours.
3.     After two hours, sauté the mushroom and garlic, and add to the pot. Allow to braise for another 15-20minutes, and season to taste. If the stew is still a bit watery, add cornstach / flour to thicken the juices.

References:

  • Bond, M.H and King, A.Y.C. 1986. “Coping with the threat of Westernisation in Hong Kong”. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 9: 351-364
  • Eves, A., Lumbers, M. and Mak, A. 2012. “Globalisation and food consumption in tourism”. Annals of Tourism Research, 39: 171-196
  • Said, E. 1978. Orientalism: Western conceptions of the Orient. London: Penguin Books.

bananas – [           ] – hard-boiled eggs

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