Getting to Know You: Lynne Chen
Updated: Apr 10
A new series of Q&As with members of the vibrant Irish international community to share their cultural heritage, food memories and stories.
We chat to Lynne Chen, a housing, student, and mental health counsellor based in Trinity College, Dublin.
Lynne loves watching and reading anything food-related, with the exception of the movie Chef, because, in her opinion, real-life chefs don’t get to live in meticulously clean lofts while running a food truck.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
On paper, I'm an American born Irish national. I was born near Washington DC, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and moved to Ireland several years ago. My parents are both Taiwanese, mom is from the big city, Taipei, and dad is from a fishing village outside a city called Kaohsiung. Despite both being from Taiwan, they met each other in DC, and the rest is history!
My childhood is similar to the one told in the American sitcom Fresh Off The Boat. DC being an expensive city, my dad ventured out to this place he had heard about, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and next thing we knew, Mom, my baby brother and I got on a plane heading towards desert land. My parents have been running Chinese restaurants ever since.
As a child, I hated that our backyard grew crazy vegetables that could never have been found in the grocery stores, or had chickens, or at times, geese or ducks that would later end up on our dinner plates. I wanted to just fit in and have the swimming pools or swing sets my friends had in their backyards! I also hated spending all of our spare time in the restaurant, folding napkins, peeling shrimp or green beans, while my friends got to go camping or travel on their school breaks.
Now as an adult, I have crazy respect for dad's cooking and knowledge of food. I've been to Taiwan with him twice and each time it's just helped me make sense of who we all are. I wish I could encourage my younger self with the type of stuff I know now.
What brought you to Ireland?
Well, it's the stereotypical reason why many non-Irish people are here. I met someone! I love how bright the summers are, but man-oh-man are the winters tough. The Taiwanese community in Ireland is growing and lovely.
Until I moved to Dublin, I never really realized how much my Taiwanese side comes out, such as, how frequently I ask what people have eaten, or plan for what's the next meal while eating.
Do you cook?
I do cook but I must admit not every concoction is a "hit". My dad has to be the best cook I know, he's really in his element when he's in a market, and it doesn't really matter what type of market it is, he just loves being around ingredients. I can relate, and my partner hates how long I can spend in Lidl!
I find pretentious cooks the worst.
What is your favourite food memory?
A steaming bowl of Pho (Vietnamese noodles in soup). I think this was a "coming of age" experience for me. My parents introduced me to Pho when I became "old enough" to eat on my own and decide what I wanted to put into the dish: bean sprouts, cilantro, lime, etc.
Most traumatising food experience?
As a teenager, my brother and I thought it would be fun to try out restaurants our parents never took us to, so one evening we decided to try out "French cuisine". We went in and thought the tablecloths, the waiter pulling out our chairs, and the piano music was all funny. Halfway through our meal, the waiter asked us how we were doing and addressed us as a "young couple". We both got so grossed out in that way teenagers do, promptly paid our bill and bolted out.
Where do you shop?
I'm loyal to Lidl and Aldi because they both have a location near where I live, but I try to go to Asia Market in Walkinstown or Rong's on Parnell St every few weeks to stock up on the necessities: large bottles of dark soy sauce, sesame oil, Michu (cooking rice wine), rice or mung bean noodles, fresh tofu, pineapple cakes, etc. It's great to see that places like Tesco and Supervalu stock fish sauce and Thai curry paste now, but someone told me that fish sauce is like olive oil in that the first pressing is the best, and the brands that do this can be more easily found in Asian grocery stores.
Growing up in New Mexico, USA, I became quite fond of the Green Chile (not a typo, it's not chilli!). It can be hard to describe Green Chile without offending New Mexicans, but it looks like a large Jalapeño. Green Chile has a distinctive heat, some sweetness and bite. They're usually roasted in big cylindrical metal "bins" (I don't know what else to call them!), and from there they can get added to anything - cheeseburgers, breads, muffins, eggs, burritos, soup, pizza, even sushi or fried rice! Every time I go home, I come back with a suitcase full of jars, and I tend to run out within two months.
Are you particularly excited about the cuisines of other cultures, and if so, which ones?
I love any cuisine that isn't fussy and has a bit of a kick, which makes Thai and Vietnamese food my two favourites, but I really do love going into any type of restaurant that's welcoming and jovial.
I guess I'm sort of repulsed by Jaffa Cakes. I hate the texture of the biscuit and then the texture of the orange part.
Can you share a recipe?
Scallion pancakes are incredibly easy to make. Mix together two-parts flour, one-part water, a generous sprinkle of salt and as much chopped up scallions as you want, the more the better! Then mould into pancakes and fry. These pancakes call for vegetable oil as needed, but using beef dripping or residue oil makes them even tastier!