Week Nine: Pao

Pao – By Kerry Young

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Pao is the story of Yang Pao, known as ‘Uncle’ to the residents of Jamaica’s Chinatown. It follows his life from his arrival in Jamaica as a 14 year old, to his rise through the ranks of the Chinatown mob, to become leader of a ‘business’ empire which includes a protection racket, several dodgy supermarkets and such like – he is essentially the God father of Chinatown – the one people come to with ‘situations’ they need resolving. I’d say that is essentially the premise of the book – a series of situations that Pao sorts out for people, whether it be a pregnancy of a 12 year old girl, a rival mob leader threatening someone or even a murder – so there isn’t really an overarching plot that draws the novel together and keeps the reader engaged. I struggled to stay interested in the storyline as I didn’t really feel there was a compelling enough narrative or any real pace to the novel. Despite the shadowy, dangerous world that Pao inhabits, that doesn’t really translate to the page and there is little sense of suspense or danger to keep the book exciting. The book is narrated by Pao and written in Chinese/Jamaican dialect which I found slightly irritating, as it just felt a little bit lazy on the author’s part. Despite the first person narrative, no real emotion came through the writing and so it was hard to really feel anything for the main character. The other characters were much the same – hard to really know any of them or feel any attachment to anyone so it all felt a bit pointless. The author included reference to some political events in Jamaica’s history – such as independence day and it’s clear that she has tried to incorporate the social/political history of Jamaica into the novel, but much of this was lost on me. It just felt like a distant land, described in a distant way – for me it didn’t quite work and it is definitely not a memorable book that will stay with me – I’m actually quite relieved to have finished it! Quite a disappointing read – it’s just left me feeling rather cold and disinterested!

 

Luckily, the Jamaican/Chinese theme did provide me with lots of ideas for something to cook. I did try and find a fusion of the two cuisines but couldn’t really find much, so I opted to make a sweet and sour dish – sweet and sour prawns. More Chinese than Jamaican, but full of flavours, like pineapple that I consider Caribbean.

For my recipe, I used one by the Hairy Bikers, which I adapted as I don’t eat chicken. I also didn’t use fresh pineapple as it seemed like too much of a faff. 

My recipe is as follows…

For the sauce:

  • 1 tbsp cornflour

  • 300ml pineapple juice

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed

  • chunk of root ginger, grated

  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce

  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar

  • 2 tbsp soft light brown sugar

  • 3 tbsp tomato ketchup

  • 1 pinch dried chilli flakes

For the prawns:

  • tin pineapple pieces

  • pack of raw prawns (approx 180g)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 onion, cut into wedges

  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped

  • 1 tbsp cornflour

  • 4 spring onions, sliced

 

  1. Start by making the sauce. First blend 1tbsp cornflour with a little bit of pineapple juice and set to one side. In another bowl, mix together the remaining sauce ingredients and blend well. Set to one side.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions and peppers for a few mins until soft. Add 1tbsp cornflour and then add the prawns. Once they are cooked through, add the sauce and the pineapple pieces.
  3. Cook for a few mins until reduced, then add the pineapple/cornflour mix – turn heat up for about a min until the sauce is thickened and reduced. 
  4. Serve – with your choice of noodles or rice.

This tasted exactly like Uncle Ben’s sweet and sour sauce which was quite uncanny! Depending on whether you like that sauce, you’ll either find it delicious or disgusting. It is a very cloying flavour, so probably best in small doses, but pretty easy to make and at least you know exactly what’s gone into the sauce unlike the Uncle Ben’s version. If I were to make it again, I’d leave out the sugar (doesn’t need it) and add more chilli flakes to give it a kick. Also might be worth diluting the juice a little as this was VERY sweet. Not a bad meal though, definitely made a change.

Here is a rubbish picture (my iphone camera is rubbish and my photography skills aren’t any better):

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Stay tuned next week for hopefully a better book and more culinary delights! Can’t believe it’s week 10 of 2014 already… time is flying by!! 

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