Readers will know how much I love the food and culture from my native Northern Ireland and also how I often travel to China to present TV and launch food products for Great British and Northern Irish brands in China. What a surprise when I stumbled upon a Northern Irish restaurant in China. A Home from home, I was even greeted at the door in my mother tongue of Ulster Scots with a big smile by Eddie the Chinese owner who lives in Belfast now saying in broad Belfast tone ‘bout ya’, slightly different to the ‘Ni Hao’ I have been greeted with the past 10 days. Welcome to the land of BT8 in Shenzhen, just above Hong Kong.
To those in Northern Ireland BT8 is the postcode of the Ravenhill Road. However in China the symbolism of this is very different indeed. BT still as an amage to Belfast but the number 8 being the number of good luck and fortune in China. And in Chinese culture this is very important.
Imagine the scene, tired, lots of travelling on this trip and after Eddies big smile I see a clock on the wall with Belfast time, I see pictures of the Titanic (made in Belfast, she was fine when she left us), a picture of Queens University, Belfast on the wall and an image of the Giant’s Causeway. Just like walking into a western supermarket in Beijing to buy a Digestive Biscuit the comfort factor of this was huge to me. Eddie said ‘would you like a wee scone or something’, memories of BT62 where I’m from of my mother’s ‘Date and Wheaten scones’ flooded into my head. Ever tried eating a scone with chopsticks? Ulster humour at it’s best.
I was here to host a press evening, 20 members of the press arrived and I spoke about my home, thinking of the dichotomy of the grey buildings all around and the green fields of home. Northern Ireland is very different to ‘Chinese Style’, however what is the same is the message I gave the NI Government in my food strategy document Beyond the Plate
. Food tells the story of our people, the story of who we are, it’s a time to talk and share, its a time for us to learn about each other and about the day that is past and it’s a time that we can learn from each other. Sharing Northern Ireland with the Shenzhen media was a joy, as I spoke they had one eye on me and another on the infamous ‘WeChat
’ snapping pics and taking down what I said, print magazines came too and interviews were the main subject of the night. I’ve done many interviews over China, the questions are always the same:
- do you like China?
- what is your favourite Chinese food?
- will you marry me, your very handsome?
Well, I’m well versed in questions one and two, but as for questions three, Mummy McIntosh always taught me to be polite and accept every gift given to me and if needs be, re-gift, but do it discreetly. Mum, in her fantastic parenting never realised that there are opportunities where ‘re-gifiting’ was not appropriate! The main cultural difference here is that I don’t have a wedding ring, and Chinese marry young. I’m sure in the eyes of the Chinese I’m the ‘Playboy of the Western World’. I was even teaching them to eat oysters, a new concept for the Chinese in BT8.
What Mum did teach me is to share food, and that’s what I did. There is nothing more deeply personal than the food your mother fed you, they feed you with the best there is, through love and through wanting to give you the best that they can. Chinese mum’s I’m sure do this too. You see, with food we are all the same. The cuisine tells a story, a story of us, and we realise we are all the same.
BT8 is a new concept in China, its about eating and socialising with live music and a cocktail bar. In Chinese culture one normally eats and goes, here at BT8 we share the Northern Irish culture of ‘sharing’. A band played after, the closest song we got to Northern Ireland in their set was a cover of Celine Dion’s your heart will go on from the movie Titanic, as i said before, ‘she was fine when she left us’. How interesting to see a cocktail menu with a whiskey cocktail called ‘Titanic’, indeed, it had a huge ice-berg in the middle.
BT8 is a sister restaurant of Zen
restaurant on Adelaide Street in Belfast.
Perhaps I’m bias, but home is where the heart is, N. Ireland is a warm place with family values much stronger than in London where I live now. But like the Chinese, this combination is perfect.