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Hong Kong meeting the parents

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more

There are so many places to eat in Hong Kong that you could happily spend a lifetime in Hong Kong searching for the finest noodles or the perfect wanton soup. Perhaps it's because living space is relatively small. Maybe it's because people are working such ludicrously long hours they rarely have time to buy, prepare and cook a decent meal at home themselves. The important thing is that when you do have some time, you don't want to waste it by eating a bad meal. Good company and great food that's what life is about. And there are few things more important than a family dinner.

My first Hong Kong food experience takes places moments after we land, jet-lagged, at Norman Foster's futurist airport. I'm a little nervous about meeting Amy's parents and keen to make a good impression. We choose a Shanghai style restaurant and according to custom, as the honoured guest I'm offered first dabs on the food. First up are the vegetables - kale and spicy green beans. Nervously clutching my chopsticks, I reach across the table. Time slows down a little and I can feel everyone watching me expectantly. I take a careful grip of the slippery beans and, with a small sigh of relief, manage to transfer them to my plate.

"Well, I wouldn't want you all to remember me as the Englishman who dropped the vegetables into your tea pot!"

The laughter breaks the ice so we dig into our food - ginger spiced dumplings swollen with pork. They are delicious and quickly followed by roasted duck accompanied with unusual little pancakes shaped like clams.

My situation as the funny foreigner at the dinner table is not unusual. A recent TV advert showed a foreigner meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time. It's a disaster and there are chopstick accidents and tea mishaps aplenty. The family eventually warm to the poor fool, but only after he has consumed a whole chilli and turned a rosy shade of scarlet.

I'm relieved that my experience is rather less dramatic. Amy's family are generous, making sure the poor girl fillets all the best bits of fish and meat for me. I feel a bit guilty, but it might be rude to object. Even my chopstick skills receive a favourable review. Still, I know I have a long way to go when I watch Amy's Dad wield his with the dexterity of an experienced gunslinger at the OK Corral.

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more


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