8 Festive Dishes and 8 Festive Traditions of Chinese New Year

If you’re reading this you probably already know about Chinese New Year, so I won’t spoil the festive occasion with too much scholarly detail. 8 is the lucky number in China so here are 8 festive foods and 8 festive traditions for Spring Festival. Since CNY is as big as Christmas and China is vast, every region has its variation of customs. Having a northern mother and southern father, mine will be a mixture of northern and southern broadly speaking, leaning towards southern because that’s where I spent my childhood.


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Shikumen

I select restaurants to review for various reasons. Reccomendations, publicity, invite, occasionally just simple coincidence. We came across Shikumen due to a huge advert in London’s free morning paper. With an enticing dim sum menu, and a website littered with Shangai calendar pics, we thought it would be worth a trip to their Ealing branch.


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Bo Lang

When I first came across the restaurant Bo Lang, I knew I’d be reviewing it, and after meeting with a rather prestigious tea merchant in Belgravia, I had the chance to visit.


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Moon Cakes

Tiny sticky cakes with a salted egg yolk in the middle. Sounds tasty, no?
One baked lotus seed paste mooncake with one egg yolk weighs about 180 g, has 790 calories, and contains 45 g of fat, so they taste good, but aren’t so good for your figure, unless you want to end up looking like the autumn moon!


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Sweet & Sour

Frequently, conversing with my Western friends about Chinese food, I hear the old line that “the Chinese don’t eat desserts” wheeled out. The only thing they can really point to is the toffee apples and toffee bananas, which a lot of restaurants over here offer. This is a misconception worth correcting.


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Jiao Zi: A Spring Festival Recipe

Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, this year falls at the end of January. On Friday the 31st, we will be ushering in the Year of the Horse. People all over China will be jostling to travel back to their hometowns for the most elaborate annual culinary and festive extravaganza. Jiao Zi are one of the major new year foods of the North. In the West, they are simply translated as dumplings, but are a world away from the egg sized, suety doughballs consumed in stews and casseroles by the staunchly traditional British. Jiao Zi are the chewy bite size parcels of meat and vegetables wrapped in thin dough skins, pinched together, looking like miniature Cornish pasties, or ravioli.


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La Ba: a Winter Festival

Winter Chinese festivals are few and far between. 腊八 La Ba is one of them. Other than meaning “wax, 腊”La”, was an ancient ceremony of offering to the gods that happens on the 12th month of the lunar calendar, on the 8th day (hence “ba”).


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Dumplings in Brixton: Mama Lan

Situated in the recently rebranded and uber-trendy Brixton Village, 5 minutes walk from the Underground Station, is Mama Lan, a tiny L-shaped dumpling stall run by entrepreneur Ning Ma. As a teenager, Ning Ma immigrated to London with her family, and in 2010, quit her job in finance and put her resources towards recreating the taste of the family-run Beijing dumpling stall of her childhood.


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Mid-Autumn at Shanghai Blues

Generally, I tend to merit restaurants for the quality of their food rather than the niceties of the environment, however, having found that the Sichuan restaurant we had in mind for Mid-Autumn was not quite right for the occasion, we ended up paying a visit to Shanghai Blues on High Holborn. Housed in the Grade II listed building that was formerly St. Gile’s Library, I’d had my eye on the place for a review for a while, so we decided to “drop in cold”.


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The Flower Drum

Walking down Watford’s Market Street, you could have easily missed the shopfront, with its drab brown and sepia facia and dark windows, however, my razor sharp “Everything-Chinese” radar sensed it straight away. I was curious about the Flower Drum because of its low profile exterior, which seems so muted when compared to many the gaudy appearance and even gaudier names of places such as the “Jade Palace” or “Golden Dragon”, with their red and gold displays, or over-sized neon hanzi. The Flower Drum is a quiet little restaurant with a very pretty name.


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