Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Takeaway – Angela Hui

Morning Loves!

I’m back in the UK after a glorious holiday. I had such a wonderful time and feel more refreshed and recovered which is lovely. I hope you’ve all had a lovely August and have managed to have some form of a break. It’s needed for all of us! Hello September as well! I cannot believe how that has crept up on us!

Today I want to share with you my book topic and choice for my Book Bingo Reading Challenge! For August I opted for Non-Fiction which I do love. I go through a cycle of reading it, loving it, going back to fiction, remembering I’ve not read any non-fiction so then pick one and then the cycle continues. I wish I could understand why that happens but that’s a discussion for another day. I decided to read Takeaway by Angela Hui. Oh my days, I love this book so much. Let’s crack on with it!

What’s it all about?

I picked this book because like many families, mine has a long tradition with popping to the Chinese take away. In fact, it’s something I still do today both with my family and friends – pop to the Chinese takeaway, usually on a Friday or Saturday night. But what about the people behind the food? This book is honest, humble and wonderfully written. It’s a fine piece of non-fiction.

This novel explores, through Angela Hui’s voice, the story of her parents and how they came to be in Wales and their day to day lives of running the takeaway during the 1990s. We see just how different the family were and how they naturally stood out amongst the habitants of the Welsh valleys. Lucky Star was their home and business for thirty years. The rhythm of that life was comforting and joyous. But, it wasn’t always easy.

“The telephone rang constantly and a stream of people would pop in to pick up orders in hot foil containers stacked in white plastic bags. It was a juxtaposition of us being treated like immigrants, but also being keepers of something instinctively British.”

Each chapter focuses around a specific aspect of life within the takeaway: the weekend service, language barriers, summer holiday and competitions, just to name a few. However, there are a couple of anecdotes that really stuck with me. Hui talks openly about the racism she and her family experienced and how isolating that is. It’s an uncomfortable but essential read because I bet it still happens today. The reactions of her parents are contrasting; calmness and defiance from her mother, rage and anger from her father.

“We’ve always held our tongues and erred on the side of caution when confronted by racism. In reality, we’re just cooking to survive. Trying to get through a night’s service smoothly is just basic survival.”

I found myself feeling like I knew both Hui’s mother and father. There’s obvious conflict with the father but that is explored openly. They’re so different yet they work together to provide food for the local area. Hui’s opportunity to do deliveries means that (finally) she can get out of the takeaway and see new places. We can take for granted the childhood experienced Hui wouldn’t have been like yours or mine. Life was the takeaway. Every revolved around that kitchen; serving the community and then having a meal together. The impact on Hui’s own romantic relationships meant that this was strained too throughout her young adult years.

“I’m ashamed that I never gave him a chance to understand my situation by explaining things to him. How the takeaway had a hold on me.”

Time goes by, Hui ages and the little girl is now off to university. Even that is still tied to the takeaway, working weekends to help. But, as things most often do, it’s time for the takeaway to close its doors. The changing climate, the local competition and the stress on the family resulting in her mother’s poor health meant that it was time to finish serving. Their story has come to an end.

“We had some good times, right?” I say to no one in particular. Mum is holding back tears. Dad looks to the ground and pats me on the back. “Well, since Tom’s here I’ll get started on my ribs…”

Final Thoughts

I love this book. There, I said it. I found it honest, upsetting, humbling, overwhelming, moving and utterly remarkable. It’s made me really think about my own local takeaway and their own stories. What brought them here? The food of my Friday nights, what does it mean to them? Etc. The truth in this book hurts. Times change, people change, poor attitudes towards others different from us are still being displayed. Yet, at the heart of it all is a family wanting a better life and wanting to be part of a community. To sum it up perfectly:

“In these fear-filled times, I hope this book will serve as a refuge of nourishment, a fortune cookie of joy and an education to what goes on behind closed doors in the nation’s favourite takeaway.”

I urge you all to go buy and read this book. If you’re interested in cooking, at the end of each chapter is a recipe so the reader is able to try out some of these signature dishes at home. I’ve got my eye on a beautiful belly pork dish! This added touch is something I’ve really enjoyed reading too. It’s another way of bringing Chinese cuisine into our own homes.

Speak soon loves! (I’ll be back at school by the time I post again! Wish me luck…)

Big Love xxx

Hungry – Grace Dent

Hi Loves!

How are we all? Hanging on in there?  I do hope so. We are rapidly approaching Christmas and for teachers everywhere, who are still in schools across the country, it means we get a break at long last. I genuinely can’t wait to just stop and recover. I’ve never experienced a term like it. I think I’ve only survived because I’ve had plenty of hot chocolates and delicious food which brings me perfectly to the book I want to share with you today. I read Grace Dent’s Hungry in a day because I just couldn’t put it down. I genuinely adore Grace Dent. She’s an excellent writer: witty and engaging. She also has one of the best jobs in the world (in my opinion) as she is a food critic, writing for the Guardian currently and judging on Masterchef. This book was every foodies delight!

What’s it all about?
This novel is a journey through Dent’s life via the foods that were central at that specific time. We see a love of ‘Sketty’, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, butterscotch Angel Delight, just to name a few. Like every story, it begins at the beginning, in the north of the country in Carlisle. Dent’s relationship with her father is moving, emotional and poignant. We get a snapshot of her father in 2017, obviously unwell. In the space of one page we are cast back to younger years, 1980, we see a young girl making dinner with her father. Dent’s mother focuses on home improvements as well as working. We see a very normal domestic setting which is humble and true to itself.

“You’re as thick as bloody thieves, you two.”

Like many little girls, Dent is a Brownie. However, it is obvious that she feels like she isn’t good enough, or others are favourites in comparison to her. We see a charming anecdote about a matchbox competition where the winner of the most items inside a matchbox wins a box of Terry’s Harlequin. Dent and her father work together and manage to get twenty eight items inside. However, ‘Darlene’s’ box seems to be longer and with more items inside. Dent, like the rest of us, learns that life just sometimes is not fair. 

“Somehow I manage not to say some of the best swearwords in my nine-year-old cursing artillery. I do not say ‘piss’ or ‘arse’ or the bizarrely effective showstopper ‘twat’.”

1988 brings the start of the shopping revolution: big shops! Big Asda arrives locally. What this brings is opportunities, not just for a range of food but for literally everything from clothing, toys, key cutting and prescriptions. For anyone who experienced this first hand, I imagine the description runs true. It’s something, foolishly, I’d not considered. I’m just so used to having that level of convenience around. Evidently, this was a complete game changer for everyone at the time. We had access to most things, things we didn’t even realised that we needed. 

“This meant something remarkable – that every day could feel like your birthday at ASDA if you loitered by the Thomas the Tank Engine celebration cakes at closing time, waiting for the appearance of one of Cumbria’s most influential figures: the woman in charge of the reduced sticker gun.”

As Dent grows up, she knows for sure she wants to write and she makes the most out of every opportunity she gets. She dabbles with bits, submitting them along the way to the likes of Cosmopolitan and Chat. She has a difficult decision to make (one that I absolutely can relate to), leave the North for London where there is more of a chance to be successful or stay with her family. She makes the decision to move and lands her first writing job. From here, everything changed. In 1996, at the age of twenty six, we see Dent flying first class to Austria for a freebie trip. It literally changes her life and who can blame her? Who wouldn’t want to have opportunities like these?  

“So now here I was, one year into officially being Editorial Assistant, checking in at the exceedingly grand Hotel Imperial, Vienna, being escorted by the manager to one of their largest suits for a two-night stay. He turned the key in the lock and I squeaked with joy.”

One foodie experience I think many of us can relate to in the book is the Toby Carvery. There will be a Toby Carvery near you, wherever you are in the UK. It’s known for the four choices of meat, limited vegetables and gravy. Despite Dent’s palate developing, expanding and becoming more refined, her parents are the same as ever. A Toby Carvery costs a grand total of £4 each. This is a night out for the family, somewhere he father now only feels comfortable. Despite this being a whole other world to Dent, the family moments are so important to her but it does highlight the different between London and the rest of the country. 

“George, look at her face, look at it! It’s four quid for the carvery! Four! You can’t turn your nose up at that price. Oh, she’s too posh for this now! Too posh!”

The ending of the novel is arguably the most devastatingly beautiful. It is here we see the long time coming diagnoses of dementia for her father and the impact this has on them all. We have hints throughout the book about him forgetting a few things periodically, but it turns into a much bigger issue. There are moments of complete clarity and it is like her father is really back with them. Sometimes there are moments when he has completely gone to somewhere no one can reach him. It is also the part where we learn that Dent’s mother has cancer. Two blows in quick succession means the impact on Dent personally is astronomical. 

“Dementia is really awkward. Not just painful and frightening. Embarrassing. I don’t like to be left alone with Dad… sometimes I can see the terror in his eyes…”

What is clear though, Dent and her father will always have Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut to bring them back to the moment, back to their sense of reality. The ending of this novel is one of hope, despite all the adversity. Hope for the future, hope for food to continue shaping our lives and providing us with new experiences and ultimately bringing us all together again. 

“Sometimes I feel like – am – I am – ppphhh.”
“Shall we have a bit of chocolate?”
‘I take the bar of Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut we got him for Christmas. His eyes light up.’
“My chocolate.”

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Final Thoughts
There’s so much about this book I genuinely love. If like me, you wanted to push yourself to read more non-fiction, then absolutely start here. If you love food, then this is definitely for you too! There are plenty of other anecdotes that we can all relate to in here. I hope this gives you just enough to get your taste buds going! Recently, I also attended a Zoom event where Grace discussed her book and left that feeling moved and inspired. This book is such an unsung hero. It’s painfully real. I feel so lucky to have a signed copy too! (See above!) 

Continue to stay safe and well all. 

Big love all xxx

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