Viral Food Creator Laxmi Rana Shares the Cuisines That Make Up Her Identity
August 24, 2023
“I wasn’t born here, and I wasn’t raised here, so maybe that’s why I don’t get why Hong Kong people love their mushroom rice so much!”
Sharing this innocuous sentiment over a now viral Instagram reel that depicted her signature recipe for a rich and chunky mushroom gravy, food creator Laxmi Rana’s narration was a remark that seemed simple yet represented a wealth of cultural significance.
Born in the village of Kadesh in Western Nepal, raised in Singapore from the age of seven, and now rooted in Hong Kong with her son who was born in the city, Laxmi captivated the attention of tens of thousands on Instagram with her recipes.
From Nepalese staples like Kheer rice pudding, to quick fixes like soupy curry ramen, to a mouthwatering Char Siu omelette that melds together Singaporean and Cantonese favourites, her creations piece together a vibrant and diverse mosaic that reflects the cuisines that have shaped her life experiences.
Speaking to The Beat Asia, Laxmi shares her perspectives on the unique cultural and culinary history she has amassed over the years while in Singapore and Hong Kong, and the delicious dishes that have been born out of them. Bringing us along on a journey through tastes, she shows us how the joy of cooking, eating, and sharing food can be an activity that’s deeply fulfilling and healing.
For those of our readers who don’t know, what was it like growing up in Singapore and what made you first decide to move to Hong Kong?
I moved to Singapore in the mid 1980s at age seven after my dad (who served the Singapore Police Force as a Gurkha Officer) was able to bring our family over. Singapore was my home for the next 20 years. As a daughter of a Gurkha Officer, I stayed in a colony provided by the Singapore Government but studied in local schools and even worked for five years in a Singaporean bank after my graduation.
Living in a colony, we celebrated Nepalese festivals and occasions together as a community which I guess plays a huge role in me never forgetting my roots. At the same time, I assimilated with the Singaporean culture, traditions, and customs, because of my schooling, work life and the multi-racial friends I made along the way. I get nostalgic remembering eating the most delectable Biryani at my Indian friend’s home, an array of Kuehs (Malay cakes) and Beef Rendang (Beef Curry) at my Malay friend’s home and Steam Boat (Hot Pot) at my Chinese friend’s home.
I moved to Hong Kong after marrying my husband who was born and raised in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong has been my home for 16 years and counting.
What were your favourite dishes growing up?
Every month, my siblings and I would look forward to the 12th because that was our dad’s payday. Dad would take us out for a family dinner at a nearby open-air seafood restaurant where we would feast on local favourites like Chilli Crabs, Steamed Fish, Claypot Fish Head, and Sizzling Hot Plate Tofu, to name a few.
Besides the monthly seafood feast, Singaporean hawker food like Singapore Roasted Chicken Rice, Roti Prata, Hokkein Fried Prawn Noodles, Char Kway Teow (Fried Flat Noodles) and Mee Rebus (Malay noodles in sweet potato gravy) were my favourites. We would enjoy these delights about once a week.
We never went to fancy restaurants or went for overseas trips because parents in the 80s and 90s knew the value of money and saved every penny they could.
Do you have a particular recipe that you’re most proud of, and that your family and friends can’t get enough of?
Everyone loves my baked chicken wings and drumlets. Oddly, I have never done a recipe video for that [dish] so I am planning to make a recipe video for that to coincide with this interview!
Did you always have an interest in creating online recipes and cooking tutorials? How did this journey of sharing begin?
I have always enjoyed cooking, but it wasn’t until early 2018 that I started taking photos of my dishes and posting [them] on my personal Instagram account. Some of my friends encouraged me to go public with my posts. At that time, Instagram was about static photos and I really enjoyed styling my food and taking photos.
But [soon] people wanted to know how I made a certain dish and from eyeballing ingredients, I began measuring and sharing my written recipes. Then Instagram introduced stories, video posts and reels, and here I am today making minute-long video recipes!
What are the pantry essentials for someone who wants to start cooking Nepalese food?
The basic essentials would be – fenugreek seeds, onions, ginger and garlic, tomatoes, chillies, cumin (seeds and powdered form) turmeric, and fresh coriander for garnish.
What are some of the inspirations and influences that have shaped your cooking?
My cooking is influenced and shaped by my cultural identity – my Nepalese ethnicity, growing up in multi-cultural Singapore and where my home is now, Hong Kong. While my favourite cuisine has to be Nepalese, I need a rotation of other Asian and Western cuisines every other day.
I get inspired when I see fresh ingredients and when I taste dishes cooked by others. I also love to see how people from other regions and cultures cook with a particular ingredient which in turn inspires me to try [their] methods and styles.
How do you feel about the Nepalese food scene in Hong Kong? What are some underrated traditional dishes that you wish more people in the city could know about and try?
To be honest, I am not really in a position to comment about this as I have hardly eaten out in Nepalese restaurants since the pandemic, but I heard there’s a cool lineup of Nepalese restaurants in Jordan’s Wai Ching Street.
Some underrated Nepalese dishes are Chamre (Cumin and Turmeric Infused Rice), Buteko Alu (Stir Fried Potatoes) and Tamatar ko Chutney (Tomato Chutney) – the combo of rice, savoury potatoes and some spicy and tangy chutney is simple yet so yum.
And of course, our Nepalese staple of Dal Bhat Tarkali which is Lentils Stew, Rice and Side Dishes which can be meat or vegetables and-or achar (spicy salad). Nepalese people love Dal Bhat so much they say, “Dal Bhat Power 24 hours”. There are so many varieties of lentils and with little twists in the ingredients and cooking methods, the lentils can turn into a simple dal or levelled up. Maybe that’s why we never get tired of eating Dal Bhat!
If you could host anyone famous for a home-cooked meal, who would it be? What would be on the menu?
That would be the former President Barack Obama! I would make him a complete Nepalese meal with Dal Bhat Tarkali with sides of two to four meat and vegetable dishes, achar (spicy salad), Sel Roti (rice donuts) and Kheer (rice pudding).
What cuisine haven’t you explored yet, that is on your bucket list?
There are too many to list [laughs] but if it was a continent you had asked – I have never had African food!
What’s next in store for Laxmi?
To be honest, I have never been the type to plan. I like going with the flow and living one day at a time. Then I married my husband who planned 2-3 years ahead and made enough plans for [both of] us but would still ask me what my plan is. Every single time, I would say that ‘I don’t know, I will stick with your plan’. After his passing 8 months ago, I have had to make plans, plans which weren’t his, but I don’t want to jinx them so I will share them in due course.
Other than that, I am still trying to adjust to living without my husband; without being dependent on someone to make plans for me or to make me happy. For a few months after his passing, I was close to closing my food page because one of the hardest things I have had to do was to tell people I don’t know in real life that someone important in my life had suddenly passed away. Yet I knew that I owed people who cared about me an explanation. The amount of love and support I received in return was more than I ever imagined.
Slowly, I started taking photos and videos again and sharing my daily stories, recipes and connecting with people. My food page has always been a therapeutic journaling activity for me, now more so than ever.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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