Being ‘One Chinese In Colombia’, of course I have to be held responsible for my ethnicity and spread my culture! So, at the biggest Chinese event of the year, Chinese New Year, I HAD to celebrate it! What’s a better way to have a Chinese culture education than to make a Chinese dinner, with food holding number one importance in the Chinese blood?
But it’s not the easiest project to date. There is practically no Chinese shop here.. In London, you can get sesame oil in any ordinary supermarket chains but when I went looking here, all I’ve found was soy sauce – 1 familiar brand and some Colombian ones that have oriental style fonts.. I guess the supermarket stocks 10 different brands of soy sauce but none of sesame oil because of Sushi’s popularity in Bogotá.
So, given limited resources in a foreign place, I had to plan carefully what to cook. After a few clicks on Google I decided to make dumplings, noodles and chicken, based on the ease of finding the ingredients. Since I didn’t need any extremely exotic ingredients, and I have seen soy sauce by brands that I can trust in the mainstream supermarkets, I didn’t think I’d have much of a problem. It turned out that things always appear easier than they really are.
I recalled having seen a shop that sells global products. I went on their website and discovered that they sold everything from Japanese MSG, Indian chutney to Thai cassava.. I called to order for delivery. After a long 15 minutes battle in Spanish on the phone, I completed the order, feeling quite fairly pleased that I have managed to make another Spanish conversation with a stranger and that delivery cost was only US$ 2.5. The next day at about 11am, the delivery time, I got a phone call from the shop, telling me that they couldn’t deliver to me because my other was under US$ 50. WHAT THE F^(%@$&^#^? Why didn’t they tell me that yesterday!? So typical.. Luckily my inadequacy of the Spanish language refrained me from letting it out on the salesperson. FINE. I decided not to buy from them and boycott them, since I found out that I had to pay 4 times as much as I would have paid in the USA for the exact same ready-made dumpling wrappings! Not a big deal, I can always make the dumpling wrappings from scratch myself, right? That’s how they’d do it in China anyway!
So I went digging through my suitcases (yes, still living out of a suitcase) for the name card of the new Chinese restaurant that I came across the other day. I called, and announced proudly that I was new in town and wanted to make a Chinese new year dinner.
“Call another number, from this shop you would be able to find what you need.”
I called, a man picked up, and told me the address to which I should go and shop for whatever I needed.
I waited no more. With the hope that I was going to a one-stop-shop and would find everything there, that afternoon, I arrived at an undoubtedly residential area. It appeared to be the wrong neighbourhood to have a shop.. I looked for the address that was given to me. It really exists! It turned out to be a house that’s heavily guarded by a sturdy white cage, behind which stacked cardboard boxes as high as 6 feet. A van also parked behind the gate.
Yes. This must have been the right place. The cardboard boxes said ‘soy sauce’ in Chinese. Each box contained 2 bottles of 15 kg of soy sauce. Yes. Where else would you get so much soy sauce in Bogotá?
A young Chinese man opened the door and led me to the first floor. At the top of the stairs lied another cardboard box, almost as if it was placed there to deter outsiders from getting in (dubious..)! It appeared that the Chinese family has converted the house into a warehouse! Each of the rooms was filled with different products. Snacks, sweets, cooking sauces, dried mushroom and kitchen utensils.. Another man was cooking a vegetable shredded pork stir-fry in a wok. A woman with a baby had been wrapping Chinese tamal..
Whilst it appeared to have everything, I ended up buying nothing. I only needed noodles, dumpling flour, cooking wine, and Chinese rock sugar, all seemed basic but all turned out to be ‘at another warehouse’. Apparently the stock had just arrived recently and was being held by the customs office. So I had to return 2 days later, and as a consequence, postpone my dinner plan.