27 Sept 2021
An acclaimed barista and chef says talking about food is one of the few ways he and his immigrant parents can have a flowing conversation.
Sam Low, who made headlines in 2020 when he transformed his managed isolation and quarantine meals into picture-perfect plated dishes, loves making food from his parents’ home in China.
But it’s not just the cuisine that is special, the Auckland man said. Talking to his parents about recipes and ingredients are some of the most in-depth conversations they can have.
Between his limited Cantonese and their limited English, the family doesn’t tend to discuss politics or deep issues.
“With food, it’s the most articulate way of me having a conversation with my parents,” Low said.
Low’s parents are from a village in the south of China. Before they came to New Zealand, they spent time in Fiji.
“I am the next generation where I speak Chinese with my parents, and English with my friends, and the vocabulary I have in Chinese is very limited.
“Having those in-depth conversations is really hard. A lot of it is done through action, and usually it revolves around food.”
Low’s parents used to run a noodle factory in Fiji, and his childhood was immersed in authentic Chinese food.
It’s something he rejected when he reached his teenage years, and didn’t return to until he started travelling the world and missing home.
“One way for me to connect with the feeling of home and family was through the flavour profile and memory of Chinese cuisine,” he said.
He started cooking more Chinese cuisine, and ringing up his folks to get the recipe right or check on ingredients.
“Through food I was able to have a larger dialogue with my parents. When I was living in Vancouver or Melbourne, I would call them to ask about a recipe.
“It allowed us to reconnect and have more than just, ‘How is your life in Vancouver?’ It allowed me to have a sense of shared passion and bond.
“Food is the language of love in my culture. Talking about food meant we were talking about love for each other.”
Low shares some of the meals he makes on his Instagram page, and his talents help him make a living as a content creator.
Before returning to New Zealand, he was one of a select few chosen to attend a prestigious culinary school in Italy, specialising in the art of “slow food”.
For his scholarship application, he designed a recipe around wontons in a consomme broth (or Chinese superior stock), and told the committee how the simple fare takes him straight home to preparing the meal around the family table.
“Normally I would wrap them at the table with Mum, and Dad would make the filling.”
Low said he loved the idea of everyone cooking and eating together, and was excited to highlight the dish to the judging panel.
“It's [a] humble ingredient that doesn’t get a lot of light such as the likes of tortellini or other things in consomme because it’s seen as a lower-socioeconomic, ethnic dish.”
The application process netted him the scholarship, and although Low returned to New Zealand due to the pandemic, it inspired him to pursue the career path regardless.
He occasionally hosts Chinese cuisine pop-up events where he showcases his own brand of Chinese cuisine.
Cantonese words to use when ordering or making wontons:
Wonton: 雲吞, pronounced wàhn tān (translates to swallowing a cloud)
Meat: 肉, pronounced yuhk
Vegetarian: 齋, pronounced zaai
To wrap: 包, pronounced bāo
Soup: 湯, pronounced tong
Boiled: 㷛, pronounced bou
Chopsticks: 筷子, pronounced faai zi
Chilli oil: 辣椒油, pronounced laat ziu jau.