I made a point of trying to prepare my Chinese friends for our Sunday lunch at St John Bread and Wine. “It’s one of my favourite restaurants, and I think the food is wonderful, but you may find it a bit simple by Chinese standards. The kitchen is incredibly careful (非常讲究) about the quality of ingredients, and the founding chef was one of the catalysts for the renaissance of British cooking. I’m taking you there because I want to show you some of the best of our local cuisine, but it’s quite meaty. And even if you’re not crazy about the savoury courses, one thing in which they excel is puddings and other sweet things, so you must try them… Etc etc.” Continue reading…
A few pieces in the press over the Chinese New Year:
Chopstick tourism – about regional government restaurants in Beijing. You can see on the right some of the extraordinary ‘four-horned beans’ (si jiao dou 四角豆) we tried at the restaurant in the Nanjing Great Hotel. Don’t they look like dancing figures? They remind me of Matisse’s ‘Dance’ paintings. Below left is a pic of the fabulous steamed lamb with flower rolls at the Ningxia Hotel, and on the right some of the wheaten staples served in the same restaurant. (Financial Times)
Sizzling Sichuan - eating in my old home-from-home, Chengdu. (Observer)
You can read my piece about eating my way around Piedmont with Chinese restaurateur A Dai on the From Our Own Correspondent pages of the BBC’s website. Or you can listen to me reading it myself on their podcast for today, 13 November, on this webpage.
I’ll try to post a suitable photograph later!
Bashan, the sister restaurant of Barshu, for whom I also work as consultant, has launched a very delicious new menu of Hunan dishes, a few of which are based on those in my Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. As you can imagine, being involved in all the tastings has been delightful!
The new menu offers dishes that include the ever-popular steamed fish with chopped salted chillies, Chairman Mao’s favourite red-braised pork, the famous General Tso’s chicken (invented by a Hunanese exile chef in Taiwan), Bandit’s pork liver with green chillies, sizzling stir-fried lamb with hot peppers, and a number of rustic stir-fries made with the dried vegetables that are a favourite ingredient in the region. Other specialities include a sumptuous stew of beef with zongzi, the glutinous ricecakes that are traditionally eaten at the Dragon Boat Festival in the fifth lunar month, an irresistible platter of stir-fried bamboo shoots with pork, and a gentle bowlful of silken beancurd seasoned with the yolks of salted duck eggs. Prices start at £4.90 for appetisers and £6.90 for main dishes, so it’s a bit cheaper than Barshu.
Our designer has created some special posters for the restaurant, in keeping with the new revolutionary atmosphere.
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.
I’ve been going through some old notebooks, and found an account of a supper I had in 2005 at a crazy Chengdu restaurant called ‘The mess canteen 伙食团’. Its name was a reference to the mess canteens of the revolutionary era, and all the dishes on the menu were named after revolutionary slogans. So you could order ‘The fragrant grasslands 芳草地’ (a lettuce stem salad), ‘Years and years of peace 岁岁平安’ (stir-fried long beans with minced chicken), ‘Chaos 乱七八糟’ (stir-fried chicken offal), ‘Atom bombs 原子弹’ (meatballs), or – my favourites – ‘Fire-exploded embassy 火爆大使馆 or ‘Dry-fried embassy 干煸大使馆’.
All the waiters and waitresses were kitted out in army gear, and announced the arrival of new guests with a loudhailer. The boss (who you can see in the picture above, with me), was known as the ‘Village Chief’, and prefaced every sentence he uttered with a line from Mao’s little red book.
The restaurant originally occupied a sort of shack in an alley opposite the Sheraton Hotel, but later moved to a new location (pictured). Does anyone know if it’s still there, somewhere?
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…
The legendary Catalan chef Ferran Adria announced last night that he would be closing his restaurant, El Bulli, after the next two seasons. As I think I mentioned, I went there for dinner for the second time in October. Anyway, you can listen to me on BBC Radio today, on Newshour, talking about Ferran Adria and his work.
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…
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!