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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What Does Twelfth Night Have in Common with Chinese New Year?

To the Chinese, Spring Festival is as big, important and family orientated as Christmas. In fact the two have some rather similar traditions on ushering in good luck. During Victorian times Twelfth Night, the end of Christmas on the 6th of January, was still celebrated. Do you know that popular children’s game? Whoever finds the dry bean in the cake gets to be king, whoever finds the dry pea gets to be queen and everyone else has to wait on the king and queen. Provided you don’t choke on them, finding the dry bean or dry pea represents good luck coming your way.


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Dong Zhi (Winter Solstice)

Last night, we celebrated 冬至 (“dong zhi”) or Winter Solstice, which for the Chinese is one of the 24 seasons in the Lunar Calendar. This is longest night of the year for those in the northern hemisphere, after which the night will gradually shorten and the day lengthen. In Chinese philosophy, Dong Zhi is a time when strong forces of the Yin begin to wane and weak forces of the Yang, start to rise . It’s been an important winter festival for more than 2000 years, as a time for ancestral, heaven worship, rest and celebration of the departure of ill luck, diseases and the health and good luck this will bring.


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