TL;DR – This is a delightful documentary exploring a world that hits a deep nostalgic note for me.
Disclosure – I watched this on ABC IView
Chopsticks Or Fork? Review –
Tonight I was looking for something to watch as I ate my dinner, and in a world of streaming where you have so much choice, it is almost paralysing at times just to pick one thing. But as I sat there with all those windows open, there was this moment when a documentary series about rural Chinese restaurants in Australia appeared, and it intrigued me. Now that I have watched every episode, I can tell you that this was the right choice.
So to set the scene, the premise of this show is that presenter Jennifer Wong and the crew, including director Lin Jie Kong, travel to rural towns in Australia to look at the Chinese Restaurants that take up a focal point in these communities. Here we get a show that is a part travel show, part food exploration, and part look at the intersections of culture these restaurants make. We get these stories and more as we meet six different families from restaurants across Australia from The New Bo Wa in Moree, Raymond’s at Malua Bay, Oriental Palace in Hervey Bay, Pagoda Chinese Restaurant in Atherton, Gawler Palace & Happy Garden in Darwin.
The first thing you see with this show is how they can deftly get to the heart of each story. Each episode is only about fifteen minutes long, but we get to know the family, their story, their restaurant, and the whole community in that time. This is all done with a small, almost guerrilla crew of what just looks like four people. All of this is a testament to the production and the passion behind the people making this show.
When I pressed play, I didn’t realise how instantly this show would hit those nostalgia moments from my past. Celebrating a birthday over lemon chicken, my dad ordering the Mongolian beef, all the sweet and sour pork in the world. The moment they cracked open that deep-fried ice cream, I was taken back to my childhood in an instant. It also does not hurt that I get asked chopsticks or fork many times a week.
All of this primes you for the food, but nothing prepares you for the emotion. Throughout this series, I laughed, cried, and laughed whilst I was crying to the point that it was hard to watch the screen. Part of this is because Jennifer Wong is fantastic at bringing you into this intersection of food, place, and culture. The banter between her and the director Lin Jie Kong and the people running the restaurant both bring you into this world and prepare you for the oncoming emotions.
One of the things that I liked about the series is how for all of its light tone, it never shies away from looking at the tough questions. What is it like being the only Chinese family in the town or cooking food more of a Chinese-Australian fusion than what is traditionally made? Do you want to take over from your parents one day, and what is it like having them spend six nights a week at a restaurant? How do you rebuild when you have lost everything? While the refrain of chopsticks or forks is ever-present, these deeper questions make the show stand out.
In the end, do we recommend Chopsticks or Fork? Absolutely. This show uses a light tone to shine a light on a deep and complex world. Every episode was heartfelt and a joy to watch, to the point that I wish that it was more than six episodes. If you liked Chopsticks or Fork, we would also recommend Street Food: Asia to you.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Chopsticks Or Fork?
Directed by – Lin Jie Kong
Production/Distribution Companies – ABC TV.
Featuring – Jennifer Wong, Lin Jie Kong, Susan Lumsdon, Adam Toole, Ernest Lai, Whitney Lai, Sophie Lai, Kingsley Lai, Corey Lai, Raymond Ng, Susan Ng, Emily Ng, Jade Norris, Peter McGann, Gary Bong, Aneliesa Tan, Elvin Bong, Andy Lin, Tina Tan, Stephen Scurr, Ghis Gallo, Gordon Grimwade, Thanh Ho, Kim Chiem, Vinh Chiem, Phong Chiem, Tina Kies, Bronson Kies, Daniel Lee, Jason Lee, Liao Nu Ling, Suzi Lee, Nathan Lee, Austin Chin, Neville Jones,
Episodes Covered – Moree, NSW; Malua Bay, NSW; Hervey Bay, Qld; Atherton, Qld; Gawler, SA; & Darwin, NT