The Long March of Chinese regional cooking in Britain

Dinner in Changsha, Hunan

You can read my article on the new Chinese regional restaurants in the Guardian here. I thought I’d use my blog to offer a bit more information.

So here are a few of the most interesting regional Chinese restaurants in London:

HUNAN: Local Friends (hu nan ren湖南人)

Chef Ren Jianjun, a native of Yueyang in northern Hunan Province used to work at the Shangri-La Hunan restaurant in Oriental City, Colindale. Ignore the entire front section of the menu and turn to the back, which is conspicuously RED because of all the chillies. Here you’ll find a wonderful selection of hearty Hunanese dishes which are among the most authentic in London.

Local Friends, 28 North End Road, Golders Green, NW11 7PT, 020 8455 9258

Local Friends, 132 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 6DG, United Kingdom

020 7729 9954 Continue reading…

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Roast chicken musings

Posted by Fuchsia on January 27, 2014
Chinese food culture, Cooking / 4 Comments

As always, cooking mainly ‘Western food’ for Chinese friends was an interesting experience. For a start, I faced unusual competition for the best bits of the chicken. Whenever I cook roast chicken for my family or Western friends, chances are that someone will want the breast meat, which suits me fine – but anyone Chinese knows that the most delicious parts of the bird are the legs and wings, as do I. My friend chose to have wing ‘so I can fly high!’. She added that when she was a child, her parents wouldn’t let her eat chicken’s feet because they thought eating them would make her calligraphy as ugly as chicken’s footprints! (Probably her parents just wanted to eat the feet themselves.) And she said many Chinese parents in the past deliberately gave their children – or most likely, their sons – the cockscomb, because this resembles an imperial official’s cap, and might help them to enter the civil service. Continue reading…

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Firecracker chicken – laziji 辣子鸡

Posted by Fuchsia on January 18, 2014
Chillies, Recipe, Regional cuisines, Sichuanese cuisine / 7 Comments

As 2014 is the Year of the Horse, perhaps I should be marking the Chinese New Year with a horse recipe (!) – but instead I‘ve put together one for that Chongqing classic, ‘Chicken with chillies’ (lazi ji 辣子鸡). You can read the full recipe on the Financial Times website here, along with a quick and easy version that does not require dismembering a poussin but uses chicken wings instead.

At first sight, this dish can appear terrifying to the uninitiated, because there are more chillies than pieces of chicken, a great red -silk-and-firecracker pile of them. But, as with that other notoriously chilli-laden dish ‘Water-boiled fish’ (shui zhu yu 水煮鱼), the spices are just there to lend their flavour to the cooking oil, and should not be eaten. Use your chopsticks to rummage out crisp morsels of chicken from among them. The fragments of skin will be the most delicious, and some of the little bones so crisp you can munch them. Continue reading…

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Hutong at the Shard (or Chinese food at the top of the world)

Posted by Fuchsia on January 14, 2014
Chinese restaurants, Restaurants / 3 Comments

Well, I was a total shard-sceptic, but now, having been inside the building for the first time, I have to admit I’ve been converted. A friend of mine is working in the kitchens of Hutong, the Chinese restaurant on the 33rd floor, and invited me to lunch – and what a view! What a feast! We dabbled in the dim sum menu: opalesque, translucent orbs filled with colourful morsels  (‘crystal crab meat dumpings’); roast puff pastries stuffed with wagyu beef instead of the usual char siu pork; and pretty little bundles tinted with spinach juice, holding a mix of carrot and shiitake mushrooms. Judging by these, the dim sum here is exquisite and at least on a par with its closest London rival, the Royal China Club. Continue reading…

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You turnip! Vegetable insults around the world

Posted by Fuchsia on January 09, 2014
Language, People / 11 Comments

Which to choose, from such an embarrassment of possibilities?

In Zambia, an opposition politican has been charged with defamation for comparing the president to a potato. Speaking on the radio earlier this week, Frank Bwalya described president as ‘chumbu mushololwa’, an expression in the Bemba language which, according to the BBC website, refers to ‘a sweet potato that breaks when it is bent and is used to describe someone who does not listen to advice’. It found guilty, Mr Bwalya faces a prison sentence of up to five years.

Personally, I think I’d find it more insulting to be compared to a kohlrabi – not the world’s loveliest vegetable, even if it’s delicious. (A friend and I were wondering how many years you would get for that – perhaps even execution?) Continue reading…

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Dinner at the Clove Club

Posted by Fuchsia on January 03, 2014
Restaurants / 2 Comments

Radical chicken's feet

There is only the slightest, most tenuous little Chinese excuse for writing about my recent dinner at the Clove Club on this blog, but it was such a fabulous meal that I’m going to anyway. My phone ran out of juice very quickly so I took almost no photos (which was actually a relief: Instagram is fun but can also be a self-imposed tyranny). We had the set menu, with a few extra tasters which were sent out by the kitchen.

The Chinese excuse lies in one of the extras, an ingenious little concoction of boned, deep-fried chicken’s feet, gently embracing a mushroom and chicken stuffing. This is the only time I’ve ever been served chicken’s feet in a non-Chinese restaurant, and these were divine: crisp, crunchy and totally unexpected. (Have any blog readers come across interesting chicken’s feet dishes outside the Chinese culinary world?) Continue reading…

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President Xi Jinping’s steamed baozi

Posted by Fuchsia on January 02, 2014
Chinese food culture, Dumplings, Politics / No Comments

Baozi (library pic - not from Qing Feng)

Last week, Chinese president Xi Jinping caused a sensation after being photographed queueing up for a tray of steamed baozi at a Beijing snack shop, Qing Feng. According to the pics, he bought his own meal ticket, queued up with a tray, collected his pork buns, and then sat down among other customers to eat them. Chinese people have been amazed to hear of their paramount leader rubbing shoulders with the ‘Old Hundred Names’ commoners of Beijing. Some have reacted cynically, wondering if this could possibly be a cynical PR stunt (dreamed up perhaps after former US ambassador to China Gary Locke caused such a stir by buying his own coffee in Beijing), rather than a real glimpse into the hitherto unknown everyday life of Xi Jinping.

It is unusual for today’s Chinese leaders to fraternise with the public. On my most recent trip to China, one of my friends remarked on how leaders’ lives were an absolute mystery: ‘No one ever sees them. We don’t even know if they actually live in Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound, as they are said to. After all, no one ever sees them going in or out.’ Continue reading…

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Christmas greetings!

Posted by Fuchsia on December 24, 2013
Chinese food culture, Festivals, Uncategorized / 4 Comments

I’ve always rather admired those incredible Chinese cold-cut platters 冷盘, in which auspicious scenes are recreated in a collage of little slices of food. Sometimes they may be assembled from slices of cooked tongue, roast duck and other meaty ingredients, sometimes from multicoloured vegetables, often a mixture of both. It’s rare to see them in restaurants these days, because they require a great deal of patient work and artistry – in China, I think I’ve only seen them as exhibition pieces in culinary competitions. But I love to flick through cookery books that show some of these extraordinary platters in their full glory. Continue reading…

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House of Ho

Posted by Fuchsia on December 16, 2013
Restaurants / 3 Comments

That marvellous egg pho cuon

A few years ago, I happened to be in an episode of Bobby Chinn’s World Cafe Asia when he was filming in Chengdu: you can watch our antics here (small fee required to watch the video). Anyway, turns out he’s opened a restaurant in London, and it was a lovely surprise to receive a phonecall out of the blue and an invitation to try some of the dishes at the House of Ho, opening this week in Soho, London…

The highlight was undoubtedly the Pho Cuon, a dreamy, ethereal parcel of rice pasta enclosing an egg cooked

Monkfish with lemongrass

long and slow, in a very delicate broth, but we also loved the smokey aubergine with warm scallion vinaigrette, the shaking beef, the lemon grass monk fish in a caramel sauce, and the stir-fried egg choyote, which was very simple and utterly gorgeous.

House of Ho, 55-59 Old Compton Street, 0207 287 0770

Apple-smoked pork belly, braised cabbage, egg

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Chinese feasts for the British PM – a few thoughts

Posted by Fuchsia on December 03, 2013
Banquets, Menus, Politics / 8 Comments

Random Chinese banquet picture from my library!

Today, the Daily Telegraph published menus of the lunch and dinner served to the British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday in Beijing. Lunch, apparently, was ‘hors d’oeuvres’, creamy mushroom soup, beef steak Chinese style, bamboo fungus with green vegetables and boiled sea bass, followed by pumpkin cream with sago, ‘pastries’ and fruit. Dinner was another ‘hors d’oeuvres’, sturgeon’s marrow and bamboo fungus soup, boiled lobster claw with peach gum and saffron, codfish roll with bacon, sauteed shredded pork in chilli and garlic sauce, steamed duck and taro paste with rice wine, assorted vegetables in casserole and rice congee with gingko, followed by more ‘pastries’ and fruit. Continue reading…

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