MY father’s merchant navy travels exposed me to China at a young age. Both my parents were adventurous food explorers, always seeking where the locals ate. I'll never forget finding myself in an intimidating lunch hall in Dairen, craving a spoon. This was the day I learned how to use chopsticks, by necessity of hunger. I have never looked back.

Growing up in Pakistan, Chinese food was our answer to a Friday night fish supper. Many Chinese immigrated to Pakistan after China’s war with India in 1962, but the original Silk Road connecting South China to Pakistan has been there from time immemorial. The Chinese community integrated by learning to speak Urdu, opening up restaurants or acupuncture clinics. The friendship between our two countries has now culminated in the rebuilding of the new Silk Road from Xingang to Gwadar port in Southern Pakistan.

In Pakistan, Chinese cooking developed its own distinct "desi" flavour, heady with chillies and spice, a more firey version of Szechuan cuisine. Keen to learn of its adaptation and influence in Scotland, I ask my friend Vicky to guide me through her home city of Stirling, where many Chinese people live. At the Oriental Market in Stirling Arcade, we walk into a well-stocked Chinese supermarket.

Loading article content

What I find fascinating about such shops is the abundance of dried ingredients, from the unusual sea coconut to dried soybean sheets. Many Chinese people come to shop here, seeking to keep that flavour of home alive.

After picking up a sweet called Haw Flakes (made from mashed juice of the Chinese Hawthorn), we talk to a young man at the counter called Alex (Le in Chinese), who moved to Stirling to study then stayed on here.

He explains that he really doesn't enjoy the, mainly Cantonese, food served in Chinese restaurants here, as he finds it too sweet. Growing up in Shangdong province, he is used to the fresher, lighter, Lu cuisine of that region.

Szechuan food is popular all over China, though the food you get here is really adapted for Scottish palates. Alex confesses that his greatest connection to home is his own cuisine even though he professes not be a great cook (cooking remains to an extent a "woman’s job" in China). What he misses most is his mother’s stir-fry, made using tomatoes, eggs and vegetables.

As for Scottish cuisine, he particularly loves the seafood, but has yet to come to terms with potatoes. Scotland’s scenery, he says, is what holds him here: the natural beauty is incomparable.

Walking next door to Friar’s Wynd Hotel we meet Ying Xian Zhang Holwell, the owner: a Chinese woman who married a Scottish master mariner and bought a wine-bar/restaurant and rooms in a deteriorating Victorian building which she took on as a project and revived it to its original splendour. A landscape architect and interiors designer by profession, she originally moved to England to study, but has now lived in Scotland for seven years.

In the 10 years since she left her homeland, the UK's Chinese food culture has changed, with greater emphasis on regional foods. Ying grew up near Beijing in Ji’nan City, where it is all about using fresh ingredients and learning the art of building flavours.

Friar's Wynd took two years to establish, but is now a flourishing business which serves traditional Scottish, rather than Chinese, cuisine, partly because it's easier to source the ingredients. Ying's husband Johnny, loves Chinese food, but she sticks to her business model and runs it well.

Ying, a mother of two, explains that in China both parents work it is the grandparents that take care of the grandchildren and cook for them, but her greatest memory of home and comfort food is her mother's homemade noodle soup called "tañg" (see the recipe below).

Ying loves Scottish weather, the water and of course, the people. When we met, we connect on the common link to seafaring, the power of chicken stock, the provenance of food, and how home is always found in the flavour of our mothers' recipes.

(Special thanks to Victoria Russell for her help with research.)

Ying’s family chicken stock and prawn head noodle soup

The flavours of this soup are simple yet fresh. The tastes of the sea from the prawn heads are complemented by the fresh zing of ginger and the earthiness of the sesame oil.

For the noodles:

50g plain flour

½ tsp salt

Enough water to make a soft dough

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. When they become a soft dough, using flour on the surface, roll into a thin circle, roll and cut into 1mm thin strips. Keep them floured to avoid sticking.

For the soup:

1 litre chicken stock, made by boiling 1½ litres water with a whole chicken with one onion and 1 inch ginger (discarded after stock is made)

1 king prawns, with heads taken off to use in the base, prawn body retained

1 tbsp peanut oil

1 tbsp finely chopped ginger

3 spring onions, finely chopped

1 small star anise

50g cooked pork belly, or cooked beef steak, chopped

Handful of finely chopped vegetables

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp finely chopped coriander

Heat peanut oil in a saucepan when hot, add spring onions, star anise, ginger and prawn heads, cook until prawn heads are pink.

Add 1 litre stock and ½ litre water; bring to the boil. After 15-20 minutes, add cooked meat and remove prawn heads. Drop in a few noodles, let them cook on a low heat for about 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat, add sesame oil and chopped coriander. Serve hot.