What It’s Like Growing Up in a Beloved Chinese Takeaway

Read an exclusive extract of Angela Hui’s new book, "Takeaway: Stories From Behind the Counter", out today.
Angela Hui and her mum outside 'Lucky Star' Chinese takeaway in Wales, 1995
All images courtesy of Angela Hui

In the preface to Angela Hui's new book, Takeaway: Stories From Behind the Counter, the writer and journalist says that “Chinese takeaways in the UK are often seen through the lens of exoticism and fetishisation”. Instead, she writes, “the Chinese takeaway in the UK deserves respect, not just for functioning in hostile environments, but because it’s a unique thing in itself. A spice bag in Ireland, Liverpool’s salt and pepper chips, and an old east London Chinese takeaway dish ‘Jar Jow’ are all expressions of what it means to be Chinese in the West.”


In Takeaway, Hui explores all of the above and more. As someone whose family owned and ran Lucky Star, a Chinese takeaway in South Wales from the 90s until 2018, the book lifts the lid on an institution and mainstay which has persisted across the UK for over 70 years. With beautiful, vivid language and colourful, intimate description, Hui intersperses recipes and memories that spring to life on the page.

You can read an extract of the book, out today, below.

The takeaway board at Lucky Star takeway in Wales, 1995

Contrary to popular belief, we rarely eat the food we serve customers. Mum deems fried foods as ‘yeet hay’, a Cantonese phrase that means ‘unhealthy’ and literally translates to ‘hot air’. In Chinese culture, certain foods are believed to cause an imbalance in the body’s energy levels; too much hot or ‘heaty’ foods such as sneakily nabbing a chip or two during service would result in breakouts, sore throats and lethargy. Chinese takeaway food should be reserved for a weekly treat, and you don’t need me to tell you it’s not good for you if eaten every day. Although Dad would never apologise for his behaviour and outbursts like the previous night, nor be able to make up for the money he lost, watching the tenderness with which he and Mum prepare our family meal* shows me how much they care about us, and each other. I seldom see the soft side of my parents, particularly Dad, but maybe this is his way of reaching out. Somehow, without telling us, he is trying to make it up to us and win back our love.


Dad lifts the lid of the rice cooker like a magician performing a spectacular illusion and disappears behind a plume of rising steam. I’m instantly hit with the smell of jasmine rice’s almost buttery popcorn-like sweet, floral aroma intertwined with the delectable smoky-sweet fragrance of lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and lap yuk (Chinese cured pork belly). Dad plucks the steamed Chinese charcuterie out with his asbestos fingers, places it on the wooden circular chopping board and begins slicing it into bite-size pieces before returning it to the pot.

– CHOP –
– CHOP –
– CHOP –
– CHOP –

You could have sworn he was hacking down a tree rather than slicing. The banging of the cleaver is so loud it echoes all the way through to the front counter. He scoops up the chopped meat with his cleaver in one swift motion and splays it decoratively on top of the rice. Mum appears by his side, she drizzles the dark soy sauce mixture and sprinkles the spring onions in. Dad vigorously mixes everything together with a rice paddle to fluff up and to ensure each grain is coated in the sauce, and specks of rice go flying everywhere like mini firework sparks.

He looks over his shoulder and spots me hovering around.

‘Ah mui! Ah mui! Ah muiii! I’ve made your favourite bo zai fan,’ Dad chuckles. (Bo zai fan is claypot rice.)


‘Call your brothers down to sik fan*.’

My mouth’s watering just looking at the fluffy, steamed rice studded with maroon and white marbled pieces of sweet-savoury Chinese sausage and dark-brown cubes of Chinese cured pork belly flecked with bright-green spring onions; I’ve forgotten all about the snack. I know Dad’s ulterior motive and what he is doing. He often conveniently ‘forgot’ any of the previous night’s events even happened.

The shop front of Lucky Star takeaway in Wales, 1995

My parents have so much pride that they’d rather hide how they really feel, especially Dad, and after years of repressing emotions instead of discussing them, it gets harder and harder for them to admit mistakes. They stubbornly stick to their justifications, and I have to pick my battles. I’m so used to Dad’s rampant inability to apologise that I start making excuses for him to friends, family and customers, and have convinced myself that he’ll simply apologise in other ways that are no less valid. This flavourful bowl of rich, savoury rice goodness, lovingly prepared by my parents in front of me, might be a delicious peace treaty and an act of love, but just once I wish Dad felt comfortable enough to be apologetic. Baby steps. I’m sure one day we’ll get there. I grab a bowl excitedly before I can dig in to appreciate this elaborate family meal . . .



An over-eager customer calls in their order ahead, before we’ve even opened.


‘I’ve got it!’ I shout at the phone as if it can hear me. I huffily put down my bowl of rice to rush up and get the phone call in time.

‘Heeell-loooo! Tynant Lucky Star! How may I help you?’

*In hospitality, 'family meal' means a group meal that a restaurant serves its staff outside peak business hours, usually just before opening. Typically the meal is served to the entire staff at once, with all staff being treated equally, like a ‘family’, but I guess in this instance we are literally family.

*Sik fan means to eat dinner or eat rice in Cantonese. It’s probably the most important Cantonese phrase. Rice influences nearly every facet of life. A meal isn’t a meal without rice and this is something that echoes far and wide in many parts of East and Southeast Asia. Rice acts as a neutral component to the meal and it gives one a sense of fullness, which is why it’s so important.

Takeaway: Stories From a Childhood Behind the Counter by Angela Hui is out now. You can order your copy here.