There’s a piece by me in the Financial Times today, about the way Chinese and Asian food has been localised in Sydney…
Chinese cuisine, Chinese restaurants, Ingredients, Restaurants / 3 Comments
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 / 11 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!
Awards, Chefs, Chinese restaurants, Hong Kong, Restaurants / 1 Comment
Some time ago I wrote a piece for the Financial Times about the Michelin Guide’s awarding of its maximum accolade, three stars, to a Chinese restaurant, for the first time. While researching the article, I interviewed the director of the Michelin Guides, Jean-Luc Naret, on the controversy over whether one could judge Chinese and Western restaurants by the same criteria. Since I spoke to him, I’ve had one more niggling question, which is: with most Chinese restaurants, you really need to go with a large group to see what they can do, so aren’t they at a disadvantage when the judging is done by lone Michelin inspectors on repeated visits? Perhaps the inspectors don’t go alone, but it’s hard to imagine that their expenses budget would cover repeated visits with a party of people. If you visit a typical high-end Chinese restaurant alone, or with one dining companion, you are likely to be able to try only a few dishes, and to miss the excitement that comes from a really well-planned and diverse dinner for a group, which can be a kind of showcase for different cooking methods. In general, it is international hotels with Chinese restaurants that offer something equivalent to a Western tasting menu: could this explain the much-criticised focus on hotel restaurants in the inaugural Michelin Guide to Hong Kong and Macau? Hmm…
Ba Shan, Chinese cuisine, Chinese restaurants, Restaurants, Review / 1 Comment
A couple more reviews of Ba Shan, the new London restaurant in the Bar Shu Group for which I work as consultant. Giles Coren, writing in the Times on Saturday, called it ‘A wonderful addition to my eating life… and a fresh new way to enjoy the most exciting food in the world’. Terry Durack, in the Independent on Sunday, found it ‘immediately charming’, and enjoyed ‘a meal of such distinct and interesting textures and flavours… a gastronomic tour of the provinces of China that Chinatown forgot’.
On Monday night I went to the awards ceremony for Restaurant magazine’s annual survey of the ‘World’s Fifty Best Restaurants’. Predictably, and I think deservedly, El Bulli took the top spot for the fourth year running, and Ferran Adria and his brother Albert were there to receive the award. But once again the only Chinese restaurant on the list was Hakkasan – in London! I’m a great fan of the dim sum at Hakkasan, and I love the design, but the best Chinese restaurant in the world?! Come on…
Time Out published a glowing review of Ba Shan, the latest restaurant in the Bar Shu Group, last week – five out of six stars!
And Richard Vines, writing on Bloomberg.com, called it ‘the most exciting new Chinese restaurant I’ve tried in London since Bar Shu three years ago’.
I have to say that I’m seriously addicted to the guo tie (pot-stickers) and the dumplings in chilli oil sauce.