Food & Culture

Jennifer Wong: ''The best way to dislodge a fishbone is to take yourself to a food court and get a $7 Chinese meal with a Coke''

The writer and comedian on memories of yum cha, regional Chinese restaurants and her new ABC series Chopsticks or Fork?

By As told to Georgie Meredith
Jennifer Wong, host of ABC's Chopsticks or Fork? Photo: Teresa Tan
I grew up in Cherrybrook, which is a suburb in Sydney about 30 minutes from the city. It had a very big Chinese population, to the point that when it was Mid-Autumn Festival on the community oval, we'd do a lantern dance and there'd be markets and stuff like that. You take it for granted; when you're little you don't realise that the way you grow up is perhaps a bit different to how other kids grow up. I had a really big extended family, so it was common for us to have people over on Saturday or to go to other people's houses. Food was the way you got together. Everything was centred around a meal.
In my family, if you ever have something stuck in your throat at the dinner table, like a fish bone for example, you take a big ball of rice and swallow it. But in one instance, it didn't work. We had to take my grandmother to the hospital and were sat there for a while. We waited so long that they suggested we go home and wait it out. I asked if there was anything I could do in the meantime, and the woman at the little booth said: "Well, I happen to know that if you drink a lot of Coca Cola it will dissolve the fishbone..." So there I was thinking "oh my god, if you take the Chinese way and the Western method, the best way to dislodge a fishbone is to take yourself to a food court and get a $7 Chinese meal with a Coke and you're fine!"
I think the Hong Kong I know is different from the Hong Kong a tourist would see. When I go, I spend time in the pockets where my family lives. I think with COVID, you really think about the places you miss and Hong Kong is a place that I miss very, very deeply because so much of my family is there. The energy there is so different to the energy in Sydney. People walk faster there. There's always a neon light and something delicious to eat under it. I miss that a lot.
Any yum cha situation makes me think of Hong Kong. When you're at yum cha and you sit down, your ears are at that perfect level to pick up every single sound that's happening at that restaurant – you've got the women who are pushing the trollies and talking quite loudly, you've got the waiter coming over to fill up your teapot. It's that hubbub that I really enjoy when it comes to eating and gathering.
I love Japan. My brother lives in Tokyo and that was my last overseas trip before COVID. Chatei Hatou is one of my favourite places in Tokyo. It's a kissaten where you can while away the afternoon with a strong black coffee and enjoy cakes made in-house. They serve their coffee in $100 Wedgwood cups and saucers and other beautiful sets. I've heard the staff choose cups and saucers to match the personality of their customers.
Raymond's at Malua Bay was one of the restaurants that stood out while we were filming Chopsticks or Fork? At the time we went, it was probably the newest Chinese restaurant in the whole country. And I say that because Raymond's previous restaurant burned down in the bushfires of 2019. Ten months later, he's rebuilt in this gorgeous place just down the street, with beach front views. The food is amazing. They use locally produced honey from Mogo for their honey prawns, and local oysters from Bateman's Bay. Sometimes his mates will catch lobsters and he'll cook them up that day. It's a real family thing – his daughter came back from Sydney after working there for 10 years to help him run this restaurant. His son designed it. It's just so fun and gorgeous and really modern, but with Raymond's history of cooking in Australia in the '70s.
Chopsticks or Fork premieres on ABC iview on 13 June.
  • undefined: As told to Georgie Meredith