By Siu Tung
Three years ago, Ngai Sze Man (Winnie) came to Tai Sang Wai for the first time because of work. Before that, she was an urban dweller who was very used to city life and had never been to the countryside in Hong Kong. When she came to Tai Sang Wai, she saw for the first time the very neatly aligned rows of low-rise village houses with farmlands at the back, followed by a vast fishpond. She was shocked by the fact that there was still a beautiful, secluded place like this village. At that time, she came up with the idea of understanding the lives of villagers there.
Shortly after her child was born last year, she had some spare time and thus signed up for the residency program in this village. Although she could not spend the night in Tai Sang Wai because of her child, she often came to the village to observe the lives of the villagers and talk with them for inspiration. She was most impressed by the grey mullets (a type of fish) in Tai Sang Wai, which seem to represent this place. She often met the grey mullet cultivators beside the fish ponds when they were feeding the fishes with a variety of foods, such as white bread, milk powder, instant noodles and soy pulp, etc. She found it very interesting.
Grey mullet is an important inspiration for her. She has turned her artwork into six designed dishes. She hopes that after tasting these dishes one by one, participants will feel as if they have experienced the life of a mullet.
The first dish is called “Tong Yuen” (meaning “origin from a fishpond”). She hopes to represent the state of a newborn grey mullet in a fishpond. On each plate, there is a piece of blue ice made of mint leaves, lime and some seasonal fruits of Tai Sang Wai. As the ice slowly melts, participants have to use straws for drinking the blue water, mimicking the action of grey mullets drinking water.
The second dish is called “The Flavor of Rice”, which is a plate of toast-like snacks. The main ingredients are bread, soy pulp, as well as some instant noodles and rice noodles. She hopes the participants to taste the food that grey mullets eat, of which an array of flavours intermixes.
Two out of every three visits to Tai Sang Wai, Winnie would come across with a shovel truck. Seeing shovel truck is her most unforgettable scene. By the first time she saw the shovel truck, she saw it from a distance heading to the beautiful fishpond and dumping a lot of construction waste on the roadside. Every time when she saw a shovel truck, there would be another new pile of construction waste on the roadside. She felt angry and helpless about how human activities destroyed nature.
The third dish of the feast with grey mullet is a dessert called “City”, a marshmallow with a match next to it. The participants can light the match and torch the marshmallow slightly before eating. Inside the marshmallow is some uncooked instant noodles. She wants the shock in taste will prompt the participants to imagine things that are soft and sweet on surface can also be hard inside and be burnt by fire. With this dish, she would like to present how human activities are harming the nature.
The fourth dish is called “Pollution”, fish in Aspic made with frozen grey mullet soup. The fish soup does not have any seasoning. Participants can taste the original taste of grey mullet. Then, she provides participants with spices of various flavours and colours, including bamboo charcoal powder, green tea powder, chilli powder etc. The participants can mix the spices freely and sprinkle them over a fish-shaped mould. She guesses that the participants will come up with an intricate flavour in the end. This is indeed her desired effect as she wants to express grey mullets living in turbid water.
— She remembers the history of Tai Sang Wai told by the villagers. In the past, the fishpond farmers here raised fishes using “gei wai”. Unfortunately, the water quality was then contaminated by human activities. Since then, the fish farmers have changed to use fishponds instead.
The first four dishes represent Winnie’s observations in Tai Sang Wai, while the later two dishes are her imagination and hope.
The fifth dish is called “Rebirth”. Winnie guesses that the participants will like to clean up their taste buds by now. So she prepares a glass of lemonade for them. The drink will wash away all the flavours just tasted. Through which, she wants to metaphorise a new start for everything.
The last dish is called “Fish”. She serves salted grey mullet dices and various ingredients for participants to make a salted fish rice ball. When the rice balls are shaped, she will bake them in the oven and let the participants taste it together. When eating dices of salted grey mullet, she remembered the friendly older people in the village who opened up dialogues with food. She once saw a villager drying salted fish. She went and asked the villager the way to cook a salted fish and she was answered very explicitly. Another villager passed by and expressed his opinions on cooking salted fish. The topic of her conversation with villagers was always about food in the village.