Gosh, I’m impressed. I’ve had a few really lousy Dongbei (or Northeastern) suppers in London, and until last night had never had a good one. But a friend and I decided to visit Manchurian Legends, a Chinatown newcomer that has won some enthusiastic reviews, and for once it did live up to the hype. We began with homemade ‘mixed chilled vegetable salad’ (家常涼菜), an elegant mix of tofu skin, beanthread noodles, carrot, cucumber, spring onion and coriander, deftly seasoned with chilli oil, vinegar and lashings of garlic; and a couple of perky little fried pastries stuffed with scrambled egg and Chinese chives (韭菜盒子). The potful of sweet potato ‘glass’ noodles with sliced belly pork and pickled mustard greens that followed (酸菜五花肉燉粉條) was delightfully soft and slithery in the mouth, soothing and refreshing at the same time, and we enjoyed another local speciality, thick, lazy ribbons of mung bean pasta on a bed of slivered vegetables, adorned with intensely-flavoured pork strips, chilli and vinegar (東北大拉皮). Continue reading…
Of course, you can get a club sandwich from room service at any international hotel in China, and probably anywhere in the world, but how about this room service menu from a hotel I stayed in in Chengdu? It was wonderfully reassuring to know that I could summon up some diced rabbit in chilli oil or dan dan noodles if the need arose. The only problem was that when the need did arise with the onset of late-night munchies, the kitchen had closed for the evening. It was then that I noticed that the room service was only available until 9pm.
Fortunately, I was able to sneak out of the hotel, where I passed a mobile 烧烤 stall where a man was grilling everything you could think of on bamboo sticks, and then found a whole row of little eateries selling dishes made with goat, a speciality of Jianyang (简阳), a town to the southeast of Chengdu.
The extensive menu at the place I chose included every part of the goat you can think of, made into cold dishes, hot dishes, snacks and nourishing soups. Some of the dishes were versions of mainstream classics such as twice-cooked pork and red-braised pork, but made with goat. Since I was on my own and had eaten a rather large dinner a few hours Continue reading…
Chinese cuisine, Chinese food culture, Chinese restaurants, People, Restaurants / 11 Comments
You can read my article about Suzhou cuisine in today’s Financial Times Weekend.
Here are a few photographs from my various trips there: one of my favourite garden, the Garden of the Master of the Nets (网师园)；one of the Wumen Renjia restaurant courtyard, and other of the wonderful Mrs Sha, who runs it; and a couple of food.
Chinese cuisine, Chinese restaurants, Food and health / 1 Comment
I’ve just written a guest post for the Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog, which you can read here.
My review of possibly my favourite Shanghai restaurant, Fu 1088, appears in today’s Financial Times.
Chinese cuisine, Chinese restaurants, Ingredients, Restaurants / 3 Comments
There’s a piece by me in the Financial Times today, about the way Chinese and Asian food has been localised in Sydney…
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, a local government in Hunan is issuing precise instructions for making Mao’s favourite dish, Red-Braised Pork (hong shao rou 红烧肉), in an attempt to stem the flood of imitations. They are also attempting to standardise recipes for other dishes enjoyed by Mao, including stir-fried pork with peppers (nong jia chao rou 农家炒肉) and steamed fishhead with chillies (duojiao zheng yutou 剁椒蒸鱼头).
I was particularly amused by this because in the course of research for my Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook I was shown two different versions of this in Mao’s home village Shaoshan alone: one, made by the wife of the local Communist Party Secretary, was a simple dish of braised pork belly, cooked in lard with dark soy sauce to give colour, a dash of vinegar and a little sugar; the other, made in the kitchens of the Shaoshan Guesthouse, where I’d just had lunch with Mao’s nephew, was a more sophisticated dish, coloured with caramelised sugar (糖色), spiced with dried red
chillies, star anise and ginger, and enhanced by some juices of fermented beancurd. Who can say which is truer to Mao’s own tastes? Continue reading…
Chefs, Chinese cuisine, Chinese restaurants, People, Restaurants / 13 Comments
Francis Lam has written an interesting piece on the history of General Tso’s chicken for Salon.com. And I think it may clear up one of the niggling little questions that has been perplexing me since I gave a paper on the subject last month, at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In the discussion that followed my talk, I realised that I didn’t have any idea how to explain the fact that, although the Taiwan-Hunanese chef Peng Chang-Kuei seems clearly to be the originator of the dish, and although the Chinese name of the dish on the menu of his restaurant in Taipei is Zuo Zongtang’s chicken (左宗棠土雞 － Zuo Zongtang is the full name of General Tso), he translates it as ‘Chicken a la Viceroy’. It didn’t occur to me to ask when and how the English name was changed from ‘Chicken a la Viceroy’ to ‘General Tso’s Chicken’ – and I’d resolved to ask Chef Peng and his son about this detail next time I talk to them. Continue reading…
A quote from a Chinese-American friend in Hong Kong: ‘It infuriates me that people always think that Chinese food should be cheap – it’s racist, it’s ignorant. They don’t understand that Chinese cooking techniques are just as complex as those used in French cuisine. I have sent friends in San Francisco to really good Chinese restaurants – and these are people who know about food – and they have complained that “it’s so expensive”. Even in Hong Kong, you find some Hong Kong Chinese people who are willing to spend a lot on French food, but not on Chinese food.’ Continue reading…
Chinese cuisine, Chinese food culture, Chinese restaurants, Restaurants, Unusual delicacies / 16 Comments
I was intrigued while in Sydney to find ‘mango pancakes’ an apparent staple of Chinese restaurants there. I’ve never come across this speciality anywhere in China, even in Hong Kong (which some chatters on the Web suggest is its place of origin). For those of you who haven’t come across them, mango pancakes consist of a normal sort of pancake stuffed with whipped cream and chopped fresh mango – delicious, but not typically Chinese at all.
Is the mango pancake the General Tso’s chicken or the fortune cookie of Sydney (or the whole of Australia), i.e. a Chinese diaspora creation that has become an indispensable part of a particular immigrant Chinese culinary culture?
I’d love to hear from any blog-readers out there who know more… Has anyone seen this kind of mango pancake anywhere else in the world? Hong Kong? Other Australian cities? Anyone have any idea when it started to appear in Sydney Chinese restaurants? Do all Cantonese restaurants in Sydney, or Australia, serve them, or just a few? Please let me know!