Laura Waddell: What is it like to grow up as the child of Chinese takeaway owners?

What is it like to grow up as the child of Chinese takeaway owners? In Takeaway by Angela Hui, the author shares stories from a childhood behind the counter.

Growing up in the ‘bleak and beautiful’ ex-mining town of Beddau in Wales, Hui is the daughter of Hong Kong immigrants who started up shop selling spring rolls and shredded chilli beef to locals, working hard to keep the business going while raising three children. It’s a profession not without its stresses, but when all goes smoothly, Hui writes with respect of her parents: “I’m in awe of their teamwork, how they lean over each other, grabbing bits of ingredients and sharp knives from here and there, seamlessly without a word; a lifetime of work; a culinary ballet; a marriage.”

I enjoy the glimpse into tips and tricks of the kitchen, where the extractor fan is always whirring and the wok always roaring. How ‘lid duty’ - popping white lids on silver containers and folding down the corners to secure - is a dedicated role, one which Angela and her elder brothers compete to lock down in the fastest time. How, when delivering orders around their town in her elder brother’s car, on dark and drizzly nights she was pleased to get a break from the counter, they used a cardboard box carefully divided into taped up sections to separate and keep the orders upright - the handiwork of their mother who grew up without the means to let anything go to waste. How the process of making the western dish of chicken maryland was so fiddly and time consuming they referred to it in house as ‘Ma lun fan’, translating to ‘f*cking annoying’.

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But when the book really gets into its stride, Hui turns her attention to unpicking the guilt and responsibility faced by children of immigrants who do not necessarily want to take hard-won family businesses on to a new generation. She reflects on friendships and relationships curtailed by opening hours and Sunday language lessons, and raises the difficult subject of violence against women. “Abuse can happen behind closed doors, but what if home is where you live and work? How do you escape then?”

Takeaway: Stories From a Childhood Behind the Counter is out now. Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
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Takeaway offers an intriguing, nuanced glimpse into food and identity, work and life in the Welsh valleys.

Takeaway, by Angela Hui, published by Trapeze

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