Apr 21

Coconut King Prawns

Butterfly King Prawns with Sweet Chilli Sauce

I was working as a corporate lawyer for Clifford Chance in Hong Kong in 2002 and it gave Lisa an excuse to join me for a few weeks. One of the perks was to have access to the company junk (a Chinese boat) – which gave us the opportunity to visit Lamma Island – famous for its seafood heritage and its peace and tranquillity; a stark breath of fresh air from the skyscrapers and traffic jams of Hong Kong.

 

There it was hot and humid and we ate outdoors to try to catch the sea breeze. A scraggly looking man with even more scraggly trousers brought us massive freshly caught prawns bigger than I have ever seen. An open fire was used to cook the king prawns, which frantically tried to jump out of the wok and were skilfully caught by a fat woman with sturdy ambidextrous hands. Under the fire, the coconuts were roasted giving a whiff of toffee as they caramelised. This sophisticated dish was the stand out dish for me during this visit.

For days after, I still raved about this new find and how delicate the flavours were. In addition, I was really pleased because breadcrumbs were not used. This is probably one of the most tastiest, moreish gluten-free recipes.

 

Serves 2/Makes about 10–16

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 5 minutes

 

225g raw jumbo-sized king prawns, peeled and deveined

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

100g desiccated coconut

1 x 300g bottle Sweet Mandarin Sweet Chilli Sauce

vegetable oil, for deep frying

 

Halve the prawns but keep the tail end intact (so when they are cooked it creates a beautiful butterfly effect). Rub the salt all over the king prawns.

 

Dip the prawns in the beaten egg, then dip into the coconut. Repeat so the king prawns have a double coating of coconut. Shake off the excess coconut.

 

Cook in hot oil in a wok for 5 minutes until golden brown. Drain and serve with Sweet Mandarin’s Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Apr 07

Dashi Stock

This is a lesser known stock which we call ‘sea stock’. The kelp tastes seaweed-like but stronger and the bonito flakes originate from the dried bonito fish. It is perfect to use in a miso soup with tofu. The ingredients won’t be readily available at mainstream supermarkets but the ingredients or ready-made dashi stock can be bought online or at a good Asian supermarket.

 

1 piece approximately 200g of kelp (kombu), washed thoroughly

20g dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

10g dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes or until reconstituted)

1 litre of water

 

Add the kelp, dried bonito flakes and reconstituted shiitake mushrooms to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a hard boil for 10 minutes

 

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Any leftover stock can be frozen in ice cube trays and used as and when needed.

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Apr 03

Cooking at the @Ideal_Home_Show

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We’ve been cooking at the Ideal Home Show in London. Its been an amazing experience and a  lot of fun. Lisa’s been teaching the crowds how to take out the stress by squeezing the meat using a freezer bag!!

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We cooked recipes taken from our newest cookbook DIM SUM (available to buy at Waterstones, Foyles and Amazon).  There are over 2,000 varieties of dim sum ranging from dumplings to spring rolls, to buns to chickens feet. In our cookbook we’ve selected 100 favourite dishes.   Here are the Siu Mai Pork and Prawn Dumplings and Won Ton Soup we made at the Ideal Home Show.

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We want to thank the audience for being so welcoming and the show was a huge success.

We were delighted to launch the new sauces at the Ideal Home Show – don’t forget to buy your set of gluten free sauces online at www.hollandandbarrett.com , www.ocado.com or pop into Wholefoods. There are nine flavours – Sweet Chilli, Barbecue, Sweet & Sour, Hoisin, Sriracha hot sauce, Cantonese OK, Blackbean, Wasabi, Nut free satay. They are all gluten free, dairy free, nut free, free from MSG, free from artificial colours and absolutely delicious.IMG_0538 (2)IMG_0534 (2)

Apr 01

Happy Easter

Wishing everyone a very Happy Easter. Make the perfect Easter Banquet with our gluten free sauces. We now have nine flavours which you can buy from Holland and Barrett online, Wholefoods, Ocado and Sainsbury’s. Try Sriracha hot sauce, Nut free satay, Cantonese OK, Blackbean, Sweet Chilli, Sweet & Sour, Barbecue, Wasabi and Hoisin. image

Mar 31

My Mum’s Chicken’s Feet Soup (For Beautiful Skin)

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When my mum was pregnant with us, her knees were pained by the weight of the bump and Lily made this soup for my mum to boost her cartilage. There was a surprise in the pregnancy – only I had shown up in the last prenatal scan but in fact, my twin sister, Helen was hidden behind me and not even the doctors guessed my mum was having twins – no wonder the bump was so heavy! We were born at Royal Oldham Hospital, eight miles away from Manchester on 13th October 1977 and Helen came into the world two minutes later.

 

If you are feeling adventurous and want to delve into the heart of authentic China, then this recipe is for you. It’s our mum’s favourite soup because it helps her joints and eases her arthritis. The added benefits are that this soup is full of calcium and collagen – perfect for maintaining the firmness and moisture in her beautiful skin. This silky soup is not for the faint-hearted but if you can get past the toenails of the chickens, it is delicious.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

 

3 tablespoons uncooked peanuts6 dried red dates5 dried shiitake mushrooms10–12 chicken’s feet (they come cleaned and pre-packed but at some places you can select how many you want)

600ml water

1 tablespoon salt

Soak the red dates, peanuts, shiitake mushrooms in room temperature water for 15 minutes before using them. Once reconstituted, drain.

 

Clean the chicken feet by removing the layer of outer skin and trimming the claws (if not done so by your supermarket).

 

Pour the water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the chicken’s feet, peanuts, dates and shiitake mushrooms. Reduce to the lowest heat and simmer for an hour. Add the salt to taste and serve.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

 

 

Mar 24

Chicken Foo Young!

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Foo Yung has been criticised as an anglicised Chinese dish but actually this omelette dish has roots in a Shanghainese dish called Fu Yung Egg Slices.

 

Nonetheless, I believe we should embrace Anglo-Chinese culture and when I asked my grandmother what she thought of foo young she told me the story of how it came about. In the early 1950s it was estimated that there were five thousand Chinese in British ports and many started life out as laundrettes. However, many found their businesses becoming redundant overnight thanks to the birth of the washing machine. This had forced a particular Mr Foo to convert his laundrette into a takeaway but he was the most hopeless cook. He couldn’t tell the difference between green beans and onions and had no idea of measurements. So when a customer asked for an onion omelette, he threw in green beans and onions, in the hope one would be the right ingredient and poured in too much egg than was necessary for an omelette. The customer was obviously thrilled and ordered it again and again. By the time the laundry man had realised his mistake it was too late and the humble foo young was born and it made its way permanently onto the menu. My grandmother laughs at this dish because it really is symbolic at how forgiving cooking can be. Twenty years after this incident, the Chinese immigrants had increased tenfold and nearly all of them worked in catering and offered foo yung on the menu.

 

When growing up in our small takeaway we would always see the regular customers who were like the extended family. The majority of the customers that visited would always order the same dish every week at the same time and one of those dishes that we have served for generations is the Chicken Foo Yung for our long time customer Jerry. When he came in he would say ‘the usual please’. So Jerry this is the ultimate Chicken Foo Yung for you.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

1 tablespoons vegetable oil

100g beansprouts

100g green beans, sliced

1 medium onion, finely sliced

200g cooked chicken fillet, thinly sliced

pinch of salt

4 large eggs, beaten

 

In a hot wok add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Stir fry the vegetables and chicken for 5 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked (i.e. the pink meat turns white) and add a pinch of salt. Then pour into a colander to drain.

 

Clean the wok, return to the heat and add another tablespoon of oil. Return the vegetables and chicken to the wok. Pour the egg around the mixture of vegetables and chicken and leave it to cook for 5 minutes. Use a flat spatula and turn the foo yung over to cook the other side for a further 5 minutes. The foo yung should be lovely and firm not the consistency of scrambled egg.

 

Serve with steamed rice or chips (as Jerry does!).

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Mar 17

Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

 

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My parents married in the 1975 in Bury in a small traditional ceremony followed by a wedding banquet of huge proportions. My mum said practically all the Chinese who were in Britain were invited and turned up to the horror of my dad who had to foot the bill. The first course was chicken and sweetcorn soup and having never cooked for so many people in his life, he was so enthusiastic with the salt (rather than a tablespoon, the chef had read that to be a ladle!) that the guests couldn’t eat it. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop the celebrations and my father vowed to make this soup for his wife when they went home – so that they would start things off on the right foot. To this day they still talk about that salty soup and often remind me to watch the salt when teaching this dish at the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School. It’s a delicious soup but dad’s 100 per cent correct – too much salt can ruin it.

 

I’ve often been asked, do you make a big batch of the soup and serve it when customers order it. Well the answer to that is no. It’s all freshly cooked to order, which retains the best flavour and most importantly the soup holds together instead of being watery if you did the big batch process. Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup is one of the most popular soups at Sweet Mandarin and each one is made from fresh. The chicken stock is the secret to making a great Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

600ml chicken stock (see page 000)

100g cooked chicken breast, diced

4 tablespoons sweetcorn

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

potato starch mixture (1 tablespoon potato starch and 4 tablespoons water)

1 egg, beaten

1 drop of sesame oil

 

Heat a wok on a high heat and add the chicken stock. Add the cooked chicken and sweetcorn kernels and season with the salt and sugar. Cook for 5 minutes or until the soup is boiling. Add the potato starch mixture to the boiling liquid to thicken. Mix thoroughly for 1 minute and remove from the heat.

 

Swirl in 2 tablespoons of beaten egg and use a ladle to mix in a clockwise direction. Return to the heat for 30 seconds to cook the egg through. Add in a drop of sesame oil and stir into the soup. Add a Chinese soup spoon and enjoy.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

 

 

Mar 10

Hawker style Satay Chicken Sticks

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Hong Kong was and still is famous for its amazing expanse of culinary offerings. As the Chinese immigrants poured into Hong Kong to escape the Japanese invasion of China in the 1920s, the streets boasted increasing numbers of restaurants and street hawker stalls (dai pai dongs), which congregated on any street pavement in Hong Kong. These dai pai dongs were no more than tiny metal trolleys that served these chicken skewers as well as an array of other dishes including pungent preserved bean curd, fishballs and Shanghai dumplings called pot stickers because they stuck to the pot, filled with meat and vegetables and cuttlefish on a stick. In fact, these dai pai dongs had the foresight to put most of their items on a stick so it made eating on the go possible. These food sellers were found throughout the city and turned snacking into a Chinese institution. If you had the appetite, one could eat from morning till midnight. The rise in food sellers reduced prices and made food available to the masses. Chicken skewers with the peanut satay dip became a firm favourite with the nation.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

200g chicken fillets, cut into strips

 

For the marinade

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or sherry

1 tablespoon light soy sauce or tamari (if gluten free)

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon minced garlic

 

For the satay dip

140g peanuts

1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon chilli paste

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

 

Soak 12 wooden skewers, approx. 17.5cm long, in warm water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the marinade ingredients in a bowl and marinade the chicken strips for at least 20 minutes.

 

Prepare the satay dip by crushing the peanuts using a pestle and mortar or put in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. You want to retain some texture in the sauce so therefore it is not advisable to blend the peanuts in a food processor, which will give it the consistency of smooth peanut butter. In a saucepan (without any oil), toast the crushed peanuts on a light heat until they brown for approximately 3 minutes. Then add the salt, ground turmeric, chilli paste, salt and sugar. Add the water and oil and cook for 5.

 

Preheat a griddle pan. Then thread three pieces of chicken onto each of the wooden skewers. Cook the skewers for a few minutes on each side until cooked golden brown for approximately for 3 minutes on each side. Serve with the satay sauce.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Mar 03

Steamed Savoury Egg with Chicken, King Prawn and Spring Onion

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You’ve had fried eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs and scrambled eggs. However, there is one more way that the Chinese love to eat eggs and that is steamed. This is perfect for an alternative breakfast and was a firm favourite of my grandmother when she was a child, especially after her tai chi exercises at 5am in the morning.

 

Go to Hong Kong today and you’ll still see women of all shapes and sizes and ages fill the parks and as if in a trance, began the swooping movements from left to right and top to bottom. My grandmother, Lily, was always amazed at how the beautiful and graceful movements of the whole group were so uniform, even without a firm leader. The worst part was having to transfer all the weight of her body onto one foot and stand there for what seemed like an eternity, trying to hold her balance and trying not to crack up laughing, as her sisters tried to poke her with their feet. The young sisters, despite being told all about the wonders of Tai Chi and the abilities to use just four ounces to move a thousand pounds, often looked forward to the end, when a breakfast of steamed savoury egg awaited them. Although their steamed egg was purely egg and spring onions, I have added to the recipe.

 

This recipe is one which my grandmother made for my mum, and my mum made for me. The best bit about this dish is drinking the juices from the steamed egg dish because it is so sweet and delicious. This dish is made mixing water and egg and steaming the mix to create a texture similar to silken tofu. The soft texture and saltiness of the chicken and prawns makes it perfect with steamed boiled rice.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

100ml boiled and cooled water

100g cooked chicken, sliced into thin strips

6 raw king prawns, diced

1 spring onion, diced

1 tablespoon light soy sauce or tamari

 

Beat the egg, then add the salt and water and continue to beat until mixed thoroughly. Using cooled boiled water makes the egg smoother than using tap water. Pour into two ramekins. Then place the chicken and king prawns and spring onions into the beaten egg and evenly spread.

 

Heat a steamer and when there is steam place the ramekins in the steamer and cover with a lid. If you don’t have a steamer, you can use a wok filled with hot water. Set up a rack using a cake rack. Cover the wok with a secure lid. Steam the egg for 10 minutes on a medium heat and then check to see if the egg has cooked. If not continue for another 5 minutes.

 

When cooked, remove from the steamer and serve with the light soy sauce or tamari and a side of steamed rice.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

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Feb 14

Valentine’s Day – Buy our DIM SUM book for a sweet valentine’s gift

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On 14th February its Valentine’s Day  - a day that evokes such an amazing energy at Sweet Mandarin because the room is filled with love. The banquet this year comprises of amazing dishes including blackbeans dried in spring sunshine and steamed with tender chunks of beef or the Love Dare which is tender strips of chicken breast lightly battered in a fruity Shanghai inspired sauce.

As the couples enter Sweet Mandarin, the excitement level is electric; as if they were on a first date. I see the ladies smooth their silky dresses, their fingers play across their hair to make sure all their pins are in place and some even resting a hand across their heart – probably to stop its desperate, anxious beating. The dimly lit room provides some solace for blushing men who delight in their partner’s soft mist of hair, their rosebud shaped painted lips and the warmth emanating from their body.

As each of the three courses are enjoyed the couples build up courage and they reach out to hold hands resting on the cool wenge wood surface. In between the courses, they don’t seem to move and their eyes interlock almost paralysed, too in love to move, too in love to speak. Finally I hear a gentleman look intently to his date and say ‘You are beautiful here (touches her heart) and here (touches her face).’ Her face glows with joy and love. It is such a tender moment that I am transfixed. It took willpower for me to turn away and head back to the kitchen and I could hear the blood pounding in my ears as the temperature soared.

To book a table email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com

Also don’t forget to pick up a copy of DIM SUM for a sweet valentine’s gift.

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Feb 06

Waterchestnut and Prawn Dumpling? Buy the dim sum cookbook and learn how to make them

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This is a really easy recipe but very effective and a party pleaser. Try this recipe at home and see what you think.This book is now available to purchase in Waterstones and online with Amazon. Also pick up a copy at Sweet Mandarin. We are having a book signing party at Sweet Mandarin on 22nd February 2015 5pm – 7pm to celebrate Chinese New Year. You are all welcome – to book your free tickets email lisa@sweetmandarin.com .

 

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Feb 05

Prawn Dumpling Mr Matt Preston? Masterchef Australia’s Next Challenge: Dim Sum…

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dim sum cookbook (2) - CopyOur brand new DIM SUM cookbook is out and we are delighted that it has caught the eye of Matt Preston, the formidable judge on Masterchef Australia. The DIM SUM Cookbook is now available to buy in all good bookshops and online with Amazon.

MPMatt loved the book so much he gave us four quotes! We are very grateful for your kind words and support Matt. Thank you for making us smile.

Love the book – love the fact there proper detail methodology there too!

Here are some jacket quotes. I like the first two best:

“Lisa and Helen put the ‘yum’ into yum cha”

“There’s no one I’d rather pleat dumplings with than the Sweet Mandarin Sisters”

“Lisa and Helen shine a bright light onto the delicious world of dim sum”

“You had me a ‘dumplings’”

Feb 04

Pork Open-Top Dumplings – Siu Mai – Buy our DIM SUM book today!

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This recipe is taken from the DIM SUM book out now in Waterstones and online with Amazon. Also pick up a copy at Sweet Mandarin. We are having a book signing party at Sweet Mandarin on 22nd February 2015 5pm – 7pm to celebrate Chinese New Year. You are all welcome – to book your free tickets email lisa@sweetmandarin.com .Support us and buy a copy today!

My grandmother, Lily, loved to join her father on his trips to restaurants where he sold his soy sauce in the 1920s. Our great grandfather had made a cart to transport his soy sauce barrels; it was heavy yet functional and pulled by him and Lily, who ran alongside her father tantalised by the blur of lights, shapes, people and noise. When they finally arrived at the target location, she was often treated to free siu mai, which she gladly accepted and called ‘a little piece of Heaven’ as the meat, Chinese mushrooms and delicate pastry were so delicious.

 

We still enjoy siu mai today and it is one of the favourites of the dim sum world. Dim Sum means ‘from the heart’. There are 2000 varieties, which include steamed dim sum like siu mai which is also an open top dumpling. For the ultimate luxury, use crab roe to garnish, but if you are just making these for a weeknight dinner then you can use carrot. I love siu mai and this is my own personal recipe adapted from the Hong Kong chef who trained me.

 

Gluten Free Replace the wrappers with beancurd wrappers.

Dairy Free

Makes approximately 12

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

200g minced pork

100g raw king prawns, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon potato starch

1 drop of sesame oil

2 tablespoons water

10 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked in hot water and diced into fine bits

1 teaspoon dried orange peel, finely grated

pinch of pepper

12 wonton skins, corners trimmed so they are round skins

 

Put the minced pork and chopped king prawns in a bowl. Using a spoon, mash the ingredients together so they blend. Don’t use a blender for this as you still want the meats to retain some texture. Add the salt, sugar, pepper, potato starch, sesame oil and water and continue to lightly mash the ingredients together. Finally add the chopped Chinese mushrooms and orange peel. The mixture is ready when it is all combined and sticks to the spoon – a bit like making hamburger patties.

Take one trimmed wonton skin and place it onto a cupped hand. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the filling into the wonton skin. Move the dumping between the thumb and index finger and continue scooping more filling until it appears full. Begin to turn the dumpling using your thumb and index finger so it moulds it into the siu mai shape (little upright oblong). Repeat with remaining skins.

Place on a plate which is greased with some oil and steam for 15 minutes.

How to Steam

Use an electric steamer and steam for 15 minutes or you can use a wok. Place a cake rack in the centre and fill with sufficient water just under the cake rack level. Turn the heat to high and when the water is boiling, place the plate of siu mai on the cake rack. Cover with a lid and steam for 15 minutes.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Feb 03

Beijing Dumplings – For Chinese New Year and all celebrations from our brand new cookbook DIM SUM

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To celebrate and bestow prosperity for the Chinese New Year these dumplings are cooked because they symbolise golden ingots used during the Ming Dynasty. Similar to the Christmas pudding where a lucky coin is hidden inside, so too does this tradition continue with these dumplings!

 

It is entirely up to you what type of filling you want to use but here is our version that we cook at home and serve at Sweet Mandarin. These were also served during the cook off stages as part of the F Word Best Local Chinese restaurant competition with Gordon Ramsay in 2009. We beat 10,000 other Chinese restaurants to be crowned the winner of the Britain’s Best Local Chinese Restaurant in the UK. It was a major achievement and wonderful to be acknowledged for what we love to do.

 

In case you think you can’t make dough or make dumplings trust me – I’ve taught hundreds of students around the UK using this recipe and they have all passed the dumpling test – and exclaimed ‘wow I made my own dumplings!’

BUY OUR BRAND NEW DIM SUM COOKBOOK

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Serves 2/Makes approx. 10

 

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

For the pastry

200g strong dough flour, plus extra for dusting

100ml boiling water

 

For the filling

200g pork mince

10 stalks of chives or 1 Chinese leaf, finely shredded

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon potato starch

drop of sesame oil

2 tablespoons water

½ teaspoon Shaoxing wine

 

For the dip

Malt vinegar or red vinegar

1cm piece of ginger finely sliced

 

To make the dumpling wrapper, in a deep bowl measure out the flour. Slowly add the boiling water bit by bit and mix using a wooden spoon. As the dough becomes remove it from the bowl and lightly dust the work surface with flour. Knead the dough using the palm of your hand to push the dough forward and folding the left and the right sides of the dough to the centre. Repeat this kneading technique for about 10 minutes and then leave the dough to rest in a bowl covered with a wet cloth.

 

To make the pork filling, add the minced pork and chopped chive or Chinese leaf to a bowl. Use a spoon to mash the ingredients together until they are blended.

 

Add the salt, sugar, potato starch, sesame oil and water and continue to lightly mash the ingredients together. The mixture is ready when it is all combined and sticks to the spoon – like making hamburger patties.

 

To make the Beijing dumplings, tear one 10cm piece of the dough and roll into a long 20cm roll. Chop the dough into small even sized stumps approximately 5 cm. Push down the dough stump with the palm of your hand and use a floured rolling pin to roll it out into an even circle. You can use a glass cup (with a diameter of approximately 5 cm) to trim the pastry into a nice round circle.

 

Take one round pastry circle and scoop 1 tablespoon of filling onto the wrapper. Dab your index finger into some cold water and wet one side of the wrapper so it becomes a semicircle. Start to close the dumpling by pinching the righthand side and close into a half-moon shape. (There are more complicated ways of closing the dumpling if you are feeling adventurous including pleating (where you plait the edge of the dumpling to create a beautiful pattern.) Repeat with the remaining dough.

 

Place the dumplings In a wok filled with boiling hot water and cook for 10 minutes. Serve with a vinegar dip (which is simply a vinegar of your choice with the finely sliced pieces of raw ginger in it).

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Feb 03

Buy Our Brand New Book : DIM SUM Small Bites Made Easy – Endorsed by Angela Hartnett!

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This is so exciting! Our brand new cookbook – Dim Sum Small Bites Made Easy is now on sale in Waterstones and online with Amazon. Also pick up a copy at Sweet Mandarin. We are having a book signing party at Sweet Mandarin on 22nd February 2015 5pm – 7pm to celebrate Chinese New Year. You are all welcome – to book your free tickets email lisa@sweetmandarin.com .We hope you will buy a copy and enjoy making our recipes. Its been such a joy to see these family recipes preserved for generations to come in this beautiful book. Thank you to Angela Hartnett for providing such an amazing and generous quote for the book.

Angela said “Love this book, the food looks so delicious you could eat it straight of the page”

Angela Hartnett

 

 

Feb 02

Want to try make Pan-fried Pork Dumplings…… Then buy The Dim Sum Cookbook – OUT NOW!

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This recipe is one of our family favourites and its so easy to replicate at home. We hope you will enjoy making these with your family.

Purchase the DIM SUM Cookbook from all good bookshops and online at Amazon. Thank you so much for your support.

Love Lisa and Helen

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Feb 02

BUY Our Brand New DIM SUM Book – Ken Hom Loves Our Book!

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dim sum cookbook (2) This book is now available to purchase in Waterstones and online with Amazon. Also pick up a copy at Sweet Mandarin. We are having a book signing party at Sweet Mandarin on 22nd February 2015 5pm – 7pm to celebrate Chinese New Year. You are all welcome – to book your free tickets email lisa@sweetmandarin.com .

We hope you will buy it and enjoy cooking up these fabulous recipes. For the next few days, we’ll be giving you a sneak peak inside the book. This book is for anyone who loves Dim Sum and cooking.

We are very grateful for Ken Hom giving us this amazing foreword for the DIM SUM Cookbook. Thanks Ken!

Love Helen and Lisa

 

 

Foreword to Dim Sum

by Ken Hom OBE

ken-hom

I was lucky enough to grow up eating dim sum, that wonderful and enormous variety of Chinese savoury and sweet snacks which are eaten between meals, for tea brunches and during banquets. Originally they were consumed only by members of the imperial household whose chefs concocted savoury delicacies such as minced pheasant dumplings and sweet ones made from steamed milk and sweet bean sauce. Over the centuries these and many less expensive versions have found their way into the diet of the ordinary Chinese. Even my aunt and mother made some very simple and tasty ones. Although most people have tasted dim sum in Chinese restaurants and think it is complicated and difficult to make little do they realise how easily it can be made at home. Helen and Lisa Tse’s Dim Sum is without a doubt, your best guide to these mouth watering delicious bites from one of the world’s most popular styles of Chinese food. The clear and precise instructions are good enough to entice any cook into the kitchen to make what seems complicated — simple. An amazing feat, indeed. The beautiful colour photos are enticing and the step-by-step photography gives you a feeling and confidence that Helen and Lisa are in the kitchen with you. I found the selection and choices of recipes and notes both helpful and insightful even to someone who has cooked and taught Chinese cuisine for so many years. It is quite obvious that many of the recipes and tips have come from their collective long experience of cooking and eating. I am certain your family and friends would be astonished and delighted with the results.

Without a doubt, Helen and Lisa have demystified and made accessible an intriguing delectable part of one of the most ancient cuisines in the world. It is certainly a book that belongs on every serious cook’s kitchen shelf not only for cooking but for reference as well. I, for one, will find it an invaluable addition to my cookbook library and will treasure it with each delicious bite.

Feb 01

Look Inside our brand new DIM SUM Cookbook – and Buy Buy Buy! Thanks Antonio Carluccio for Your Lovely Quote

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dim sum cookbook (2) - CopyThis DIM SUM Cookbook is a culmination of generations of dim sum recipes and even has a chapter on Superfood dim sum. This book is now available to purchase in Waterstones and online with Amazon. Also pick up a copy at Sweet Mandarin. We are having a book signing party at Sweet Mandarin on 22nd February 2015 5pm – 7pm to celebrate Chinese New Year. You are all welcome – to book your free tickets email lisa@sweetmandarin.com .

antonio carluccioThank you to Antonio Carluccio for giving us such a lovely quote for the book and for being an inspiration to us.

Finally, a book for my heart!

As I enjoy good Chinese food, the cuisine I like best after the Italian, I always find it frustrating not to be able to reproduce it because I think of its complexity. The Dim Sum book by Helen and Lisa Tse is written with such simple clarity, that it will encourage me, and I hope many others, to cook those morsels which I adore, including the chicken feet. It is very understandable and the introduction and tips, plus the step-by-step great pictures, will hopefully take me to produce “the real thing”.

Good luck girls and much love

Antonio

Comm Antonio Carluccio OBE

 

Feb 01

Sneak Peak – Char Siu Bow – Pork Bun Recipe from our brand new DIM SUM Cookbook

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This book is now available to purchase in Waterstones and online with Amazon. Also pick up a copy at Sweet Mandarin. We are having a book signing party at Sweet Mandarin on 22nd February 2015 5pm – 7pm to celebrate Chinese New Year. You are all welcome – to book your free tickets email lisa@sweetmandarin.com .

pork buns 2 (2)

popMy grandmother, aged 80, held my hand and told me she had a secret she hadn’t told a soul. I was slightly uncomfortable to be her confidante but I stayed calm and resolute. ‘What is it Pop?’, I asked (Pop is the nickname for grandma in Chinese). ‘I gave away my baby for adoption’, she said, close to tears. ‘What?’, I said with incredulous shock. ‘What did you say?’ ‘Help me find her. Before my time, help me find her and give her this letter.’ She pulled out a letter from under her pillow, crumpled and with her shaky handwriting on it. ‘OK, Pop’, I said quietly.

I hadn’t known my family’s history before this – only anecdotes and the odd story here and there but never quite pieced together. When we visited Hong Kong we tracked down her long-lost daughter, Ah Bing, who was the spitting image of our grandma. The tears, the pain, the sadness all bear on me as I recollect the reunion. But since that meeting, and even after my grandmother’s death, I’ve kept in touch with Ah Bing. Recently I found out what was in the letter. My grandmother had written an explanation of why she had to give up Ah Bing for adoption – how my grandfather had abused my grandmother and how eternally sorry she was for losing her daughter – and how for every day that she lived she never forgave herself.

Grandma also enclosed a recipe inside the envelope for Char Siu Bau, which literally translated means pork-filled bun. She’d heard on the grapevine that it was Ah Bing’s favourite dim sum. In turn, Ah Bing decided to share the recipe with us, since we were in the restaurant business, as she thought Pop would have wanted us to be the custodian of this precious recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as our family does. There is something very special about it. As you break the ‘bread’ or the bun, you will be overwhelmed by the aromatic whiff of the caramelised pork and the sweetened sauce, which leaks into the white bun making every mouthful moreish. Through this recipe my grandmother, my heroine, lives on. Miss you Pop.

 

 

The DIM SUM Cookbook is now available to purchase at all good bookshops and online at Amazon. Pick up your copy today. Thank you for your support.

dim sum cookbook (2) - Copy

 

Jan 27

Won Ton mean ‘swallowing a cloud’

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Literally translated, wonton means ‘swallowing a cloud’. The wonton floating in the soup is supposed to resemble the clouds. Every province in China boasts their own version of wontons with a variety of fillings from prawn to pork to cabbage to bok choy and makes their trademark by pleating the wonton into a particular shape to represent that province. However, all Chinese agree that when we feel under the weather they use food to heal the body. This soup is THE ultimate get well soon soup, especially if you have a sore throat and don’t feel 100 per cent. Why? Well the dumplings are boiled so they are easy to swallow for the throat and the clear broth is warming the organs and comforting the soul. Try it next time you don’t feel well.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

For the Filling

100g minced pork

100g uncooked prawns peeled, de-veined and coarsely chopped into small pieces

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

25ml water

1 tablespoons potato starch mixture

 

For the wonton pastry

200g plain flour

5 eggs (1 whole egg, 4 yolks)

25ml water

1 teaspoon salt

or

20 wonton pastry skins (shop-bought are ok or make your own)

 

For the soup

600ml chicken stock

50g Chinese leaf, chopped in cubes

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of sugar

a drop of dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon finely chopped spring onions

 

To make the wonton pastry, put the flour, eggs, water and salt in a food processor and mix until it forms a dough consistency. Remove onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out as thinly as possible approximately 1mm thickness. Using a glass tumbler or cup (with approximately a 5cm diameter) cut out round skins and dust with flour to prevent sticking. Cover with a damp cloth or clingfilm until ready to use.

 

To make the filling, put the prawns and minced pork in a bowl and season with the salt, sugar, sesame oil and potato starch and water. Mix it together with your hands until the ingredients are combined into a sticky paste. You don’t want to use a machine to blend it as you want to retain some texture.

 

Place 1 teaspoon of the filling into the centre of the wonton skins. Using your index finger dampen one corner of the edge of the pastry and fold over into a triangle. You will be able to make about 14 wontons. The technique is to pleat the edges so they meet in the centre so you have a dumpling edge that is wavy.

 

In a saucepan of boiling water, poach the wontons for 5 minutes to cook them through. Drain the wontons and leave to rest in a soup bowl.

 

Bring the chicken stock to the boil. Add the chopped Chinese cabbage, salt, sugar, white pepper, soy sauce and remaining sesame oil to season. Cook for 5 minutes. Garnish with finely chopped spring onions.

 

Pour into the bowl with the cooked wontons. Slurp away and fill your tummy with goodness.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

 

Jan 23

It has been said that the Chinese will eat anything that walks on four legs with its back to the sky…. that is except the tables and chairs

coverIt has been said that the Chinese will eat anything that walks on four legs with its back to the sky. In actual fact, Leung joked with Lilly that only the tables and chairs were safe from the voracious appetite of the Chinese. It’s true that in Hong Kong food and day to day life are inextricable. New restaurants opened up daily, often right next to one another. As competition grews between each new restaurant so did the size of the signs outside them. Each one became bigger and more colourful than the one next door as restaurants compete for space and attention on the road side. In Leung’s day these signs would have been long, thing hangings decorated with colourful characters. By the time I came to live and work in the colony, the streets were a mass of flashing neon.

Leung’s business was boosted by a new arrival to the throng of culinary temptations in Hong Kong. These came in the shape of small, street hawker stalls, called dai pai dongs. These were little more than tiny metal trolleys. They served pungent preserved bean curd and won ton noodles, Shanghai dumplings filled with meat and vegetables, wet soup dumplings and rice parcels. The competition between the street hawkers drove down their prices and made good food, for the first time, affordable to the masses. Their cheap, tasty wares turned snacking into a Chinese institution. If you had the appetite, you could eat from morning till midnight. For my great grandfather, Leung, the boom in new businesses was an absolute blessing as every one of these dishes was seasoned with a splash of soy sauce. As the food business grew on the street corners of the city, so did the demand for his soy sauce.

Sweet Mandarin © Helen Tse 2006 28

Along with the huge demand, Leung had another important factor contributing to his success – national pride. Both the Chinese and one from the Japanese used soy sauce in their cookery and both nations believed that it was they who invented it. The Japanese claimed the monk Kakushin created the dark liquid, whilst Leung and the Chinese claimed that it was in fact they who invented soy sauce first. My grandmother remembered only Chinese soy sauce because as anti-Japanese sentiment grew in Hong Kong, Japanese soy sauce was boycotted by the Chinese community. Sales of Leung’s original Chinese soy sauce soared as a result.

Leung soy sauce was prepared from a traditional Chinese recipe. He used soybeans, wheat and salt in its creation. The soybeans provided the distinctive delicious flavour; the wheat added the sweetness and aroma. First, the wheat was roasted and crushed, and the soybeans steamed to soften them. Special seeds were then added to the wheat and soybean mixture and it was left to sit for three days. This formed a dry mash called see yow peen which was combined with salt and water to form see yow gorn. Fermented in large tanks until it reached its full flavour, the see yow gorn was then poured onto cloths, folded and pressed, and the raw soy sauce was squeezed out. Finally this was refined and pasteurised, the finished product put into barrels ready for consumption.

Leung sold these barrels directly to restaurateurs and retailers. There were two kinds of soy sauce, dark and light, with the light soy sauce considerably saltier in taste than the dark. Chefs used the dark soy sauce to add colour and the light soy sauce to add flavour.

It was by her father’s side that my grandmother Lilly had her first experiences of the wonders of Chinese restaurants. My grandmother, who was more than grateful to escape the family’s dingy living quarters, ran alongside her father transfixed by the sights, smells and sounds she saw through their open doors.

By now, Leung made a primitive cart to transport the soy sauce barrels around town. It was heavy yet functional. When they arrived at a restaurant, my grandmother would sit by the cart whilst her father negotiated prices with the owners and poured out samples for them to try.

As a young child, my grandmother sat outside the restaurants and watched the wealthy dinners as they enjoyed their meals inside. To her young eyes, the restaurants seemed almost like theatres where the drama of ordinary lives of all kind was enacted before her. Rumours were spread, illicit lovers met and impossibly elegant women dressed in embroidered Chinese silk dresses, called cheung sams, dined with fat perspiring businessmen. Waiters, who buzzed backwards and forwards carrying steaming plates of food and returning with silver trays of money as all types of food was devoured day and night. She was often spoiled by these waiters and treated to free buns as she sat on the cart. The restaurateurs nicknamed my grandmother, ‘Leung and a half’. They found her amusing and warmed towards Leung. On one occasion she was even given a tiny tea cup set with matching chopsticks all in miniature size to fit her small hands. To their delight, my grandmother would copy her father; swilling the soy sauce around the tiny tea cup to test its flavour.

 

This is an excerpt from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Now available on Kindle.

Jan 20

Winter melon and wolfberry soup

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When we go for dim sum (also known as yum cha, which literally translated means ‘drink tea’) we bump into lots of family friends and one of those is Mr Dong. He grows his own winter melon, as does our dad. However, Mr Dong always boasts about how big and majestic his winter melons are, which irks my dad. One summer in 1988, dad decided to try to grow the biggest winter melon – he didn’t succeed but ended up growing over 60 of them in the back garden, which exasperated our mum who had to step over them to put the washing out. For weeks on end she created recipes using the winter melon. When we make this amazing soup it takes me back to the summer of 1988 – to our childhood filled with laughter and food.

 

Winter melons 冬瓜 (dong gua) grow as big as a 9kg watermelon and look similar with their dark green skin but inside, the flesh is akin to the neutral flavour of marrow which you’d find in supermarkets. Winter melon soup is reputed to be cooling and good for detoxification. Winter melon has a reputation as an excellent detoxifier and helps with weight loss. Although it is called the winter melon, it is actually a summer produce.

 

Serves 4

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 10 minutes

 

2.5 litres water400g pork spare ribs

300g winter melon, cut into small pieces, skin removed1 tablespoon dried shrimp, soaked in water for 10 minutes (optional)1 teaspoon white peppercorns, lightly pounded

1 dried honey date salt, to taste (optional)

 

First, add 1 litre of water to a saucepan and bring to boil. Add the ribs and blanch for 10 minutes. This will cook off the scum. Drain. Now your ribs are ready to be used for the soup base.

 

In a large saucepan, add the blanched ribs, winter melon, dried seafood, peppercorns and honey date. Cover with the remaining water and bring to boil for 15 minutes.

 

Lower the heat to low simmer for an additional 45 minutes – the soup will be full of the sweet flavour of all the ingredients. Add salt to taste and serve.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

Jan 19

@Telegraph features @sweetmandarins – Sweet! @businessisgreat

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What a brilliant way to start the week. Waking up to The Telegraph featuring us on their list of Female Entrepreneurs to watch in 2015. Thank you very much to Cambridge Satchel Company for adding us to the list and @businessisgreat for this wonderful campaign. We hope you will buy a bottle or two of our gluten free, nut free sauces to celebrate! Also our new cookbook DIM SUM : Small Bites Made Easy launches in a fortnight so hope you will put that on your wish list and buy from 8th February 2015 – perfect for Valentine’s or as a Chinese New Year pressy!

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Jan 16

I imagine him falling in silence…

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They stopped at the end of a long jetty that led out into the water. Rows of junks and fishing boats were tied up along both its sides, bobbing gently. Most of them were empty as their crews had gone ashore to enjoy the city’s night life. Though a few were illuminated by a single dim lantern on deck or light from inside a cabin, maybe playing host to a watchman or sleeping crewman. Chan was told that the person the Dai Lo had to see was on one of the junks moored further along the jetty, Chan’s role was to keep a look out for any one, particularly police. He was to call out if someone was going to disturb the meeting. Chan was never told what the meeting was about and he had the good sense not to ask.

“Run!” cried his Dai Lo as he swept past him at full sprint. “Run, boy!”

My grandfather, Chan turned on his heel and took off after him. As he did, the harbour night watchman signalled the alarm. A bell rang out, issuing with a series of fast metallic clangs which brought the whole harbour to horrifying life. Soon everywhere was bathed in light, windows and doors flew open, people shouted and pointed as the two ran together desperately searching for an alley in which to lose themselves.

The wind rushed in Chan ears as he ran, until all he could hear was his breath and the thud of his feet on the wooden slats beneath him. The tinny whine of whistles announced the arrival of the police.

Chan looked over his shoulder to see the men in blue uniform, pouring down gangways on the quay. They were close on their tail. He tried to shout out a warning to his Dai Lo, turning back in time to see the older man veer sharply away and disappear through the doorway of large warehouse. Now Chan was alone. He did not know Hong Kong. He had nowhere to hide, had no-one to turn to and knew no secret back route through the rabbit warren of the city streets. As he ran for his life, he heard a gun shot behind him and a chunk of concrete from a nearby wall disintegrated. Chan ran blindly, until he came to the end of the quay.

He stopped and looked around desperately. He sucked in short breaths in an effort to get some air to his burning lungs and tried to hold back tears that were blurring his vision. Then he saw his only way out, a steep looking arched, iron bridge that led back towards the city. He put his head down and ran with all his strength up the incline of the bridge. As he reached its apex his heart fell. There, ahead of him, he saw two men in dark uniforms, both with the blunt muzzle of their pistols pointed at him. Turning around he saw two more officers about to reach the start of the bridge and more gaining ground behind them.

Chan looked ahead and behind again. He could not run forwards and he could not run backwards nor could he fight off guns with his bare hands. His only escape route was to jump. Looking over the wooden rail he peered down at the raging water below him. All he could see were sharp rocks and the heavy black current that swirled around them kicking up flashes of white surf. He was sweating heavily and his chest was tight with panic. He was still fighting for breath from the run and the alcohol in his blood made his head swim. He looked up at the glowing landmarks of Hong Kong, while the stern words of his Dai Lo’s rang in his head – “whatever you do – you must not get caught.” He looked down at the inky waters. They were as dark as the bruised rings around his friend’s eyes

As the officers began to slowly inch towards him from either side of the walkway, they called ahead for Chan to give himself up. The light from their lanterns dazzled him. He realised that he had no choice but to make the jump. He took a final deep breath and vaulted the barrier.

As Chan teetered on the edge, he thought of his mother and father and of how angry they would be at his stupidity. Then he thought of his friend’s swollen face and fear forced his hand. Whispering a silent prayer to his ancestors, he threw himself into the night air.

In the chill of the Hong Kong night I imagine him falling in silence. Behind him the bridge disappears and soon he feels as if he is floating. The drop takes a surprisingly long time and out of the corner of one eye he can see his own hands waving in slow motion as he vainly attempts to defy gravity. His feet touch the water first then almost instantaneously his body receives the full impact of the drop. There was pain. Then the shock of being immersed in the freezing cold blackness surges though him like a mighty electric current. His mouth and eyes are smothered as he tumbles in the water, being dragged deeper and deeper by his own body weight. He wants so much to survive; to say sorry to his father and mother. His father’s face is the last thing he sees, looming before him in the dark of his mind’s eye before he blacks out.

Excerpt from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Now available to download on Kindle.

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Jan 13

Salt and Pepper Juicy Mushrooms

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My grandmother’s first restaurant Lung Fung, which auspiciously means ‘The Dragon and the Phoenix’ opened in 1959 in Middleton, Manchester known locally as ‘Holey City’, a nickname it picked up in the Second World War when bombs fell on the city – most of which never exploded. The story goes that the bombs had been made in slave labour camps and the workers had deliberately left out the detonators. When they fell on Middleton they didn’t level the town but made big holes in the ground. Middleton is home to us and it is here that salt and pepper mushrooms were created.

 

This recipe might change your life. If you’ve never tasted mushrooms like this before I would highly recommend you try out my recipe and let me know if you have been converted. So many customers have told us this is THE best mushroom dish and they can’t get enough of it. Thank you to those customers but all I’m doing is combining simple ingredients and flavours with a skilful technique. I would love you to try it and put a smile on your face!

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 5 minutes

 

1–2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1–2 garlic cloves, sliced

½ medium onion, diced

½ [red, green or yellow?] pepper, diced

1 fresh red chilli, finely sliced

250g button mushrooms, halved

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon five spice powder

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine

 

Add the vegetable oil to a hot wok. Quickly stir-fry the garlic, onions and peppers and chilli for 1 minute.

 

Then add the mushrooms and cook for 4–5 minutes until they are browned. Sprinkle over the salt, sugar and five spice powder. Add the Shaoxing rice wine and toss well. Serve.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Jan 09

I never knew my grandfather…

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My grandfather, was called Kwok Chan. He was born in 1914, four years before my grandmother. Though no one had seen or spoken to him for many years previously, we know that he died in 1961, a year after he arrived in England.

Kwok Chan followed my grandmother to England in 1960. He is buried on English soil and every year, my grandmother visits his grave and places a wreath on his gravestone before lighting the traditional three joss sticks. One of the sticks was placed behind the stone, the other in front of the stone and one of them was placed to point East. When I joined my mother and grandmother at his grave, I was also given three joss sticks and I too performed this simple ceremony of respect for the dead. Despite the many harsh words my grandmother had expressed about him and his conduct over the years, it was obvious that she still held some affection for him deep inside her.

As children, my grandmother gave us strict instructions never to touch the shrine to her husband in the dining room. I must have been about nine years old when my natural curiosity first got the better of me. My grandmother had stepped out to buy milk and bread from the corner shop and left me alone in her house. I used this precious opportunity to inspect the image of my grandfather for the first time.

I had to climb on a chair and reach precariously across the dinning table to get to it. The rim of the photo frame was dusty. I was eager to leave no evidence of my actions so I brushed off all the accumulated dust with hem of my blouse to remove any fingerprints. The photo was a head shot of my grandfather taken in black and white. He had close cropped hair, high cheekbones and the kind of eyes which shone with life even in a dull old photograph. His lips were full and he had girlish good looks. In his eyes there was a certain sadness. He bore an uncanny resemblance to my mother. Unlike my grandmother, my mother spoke fondly of him but she also confessed that she did not know him at all. None the less, she felt it right to give him the respect a father deserves from his daughter.

The photo was a snapshot of another time. The man in it was youthful and at the peak of his powers. In later life he would become corrupted by the darker side of Hong Kong but when that image was captured he and my grandmother were at the beginning of their genuine and passionate love story. Their love was unusual for the time, a marriage not arranged by relatives or village elders but by fate itself. I suppose that was how she chose to remember him.

Excerpt from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Now available to download on Kindle.

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Jan 06

King Prawn Tomato

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When I was a child, I was very insecure. I hated the fact that I was Chinese and had a flat nose. We’d just studied Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women at school and inspired by this book, I put a peg on my nose every night to make it straighter like my fellow school friends. However, every morning it was flat as a button. As I grew up, I realised that my dual culture is actually an asset and not something to be hidden. We worked in the family takeaway and could cook the entire menu aged 11. This dish takes me back to my childhood days and Friday nights, which were a busy rush of customers for the tea time slot and dinner slot. My dad used to make this dish for us and it’s my version of comfort food. When I see tomatoes at the supermarket this dish always comes to my mind! I particularly love the egg swirls in the tomato sauce and I prefer my dish with lots of yummy sauce to go with the rice!

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 medium onion, sliced

14 medium king prawns, peeled and de-veined

2 medium tomatoes, quartered

150ml chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon potato starch mixture

1 egg, beaten

 

Heat the wok so it is dry and hot and smoky. Then add the vegetable oil and swirl round the wok. Add the garlic and then the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Next add the raw king prawns and cook for 5 minutes flipping on each side to make sure they are cooked.

 

Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. I like to cook the tomatoes in the wok so they have a little smoky flavour to them. Add the chicken stock and stir into the dish. This will stop the dish from burning and the prawns from overcooking. Spoon in the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the salt and sugar. Taste and adjust if you feel it is lacking in seasoning.

 

When the mixture is bubbling thicken with the potato starch mixture. Only put about 2 teaspoons of the potato starch mixture in and it will thicken immediately.

 

Remove from the heat off and swirl in 3 tablespoons of beaten egg into the bubbling mixture. The egg will cook and create beautiful swirls contrasting beautifully with the red tomatoes. Serve with steamed rice.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

 

Jan 01

We got an AA Rosette for 2015! Thank you @TheAA_UK

 

Hello and Happy New Year my friends. Hope you had a good Christmas. Look what we received ! We got an AA Rosette (the only Chinese in the North West to receive one!!) What a wonderful way to start our 2015 off! Thank you so much AA. We are honoured and humbled by this award. I know the phone has been ringing off the hook so we’ve decided to open up tonight from 5pm – 10pm to celebrate this award. So if you’re sick of turkey and need your fix of tasty Chinese cuisine then we’ll see you later. We can’t wait to personally wish you and your family a very Happy New Year and may it be a blessed year filled with peace, love and joy. Lots of love Lisa and Helen @sweetmandarinsaa ro

Dec 31

Happy New Year! A New Year – A New You – Tip Top Tips for 2015

 

A New Year’s Message to You All

HELLO!

We hope you have recovered from all the Christmas festivities and raring to go for 2015. At Sweet Mandarin there are early preparations  to make the celebration of  the year of the Sheep a magnificent one. As we await this celebration, let us see what is in store for the year of the Sheep.

To ease you into the brand new year why not start the new year with our lovely jubbly tips to get the NEW YEAR OFF TO A BANG and most importantly a NEW YOU…Every day we keep you up to date with New Recipes and Cooking tips on our blog.

We are open on 31st December and 1st January – and then its normal trading hours. If you are fed up of turkey then your table by emailing sweetmandarintables@gmail.com and we will welcome you with open arms.

Happy New Year To YOU

Best Wishes and Sweet Dishes to You and Your Family

Lisa, Helen and Janet

TIP TOP TIPS FOR 2015

1. LOOK FORWARD

2015 welcomes the Year of the Sheep – the sign symbolizes prosperity and comfort.  Reward yourself with a dinner at Sweet Mandarin to celebrate your year ahead.

2. RECHARGE YOU
A great Chinese proverb: ” Getting up when the sun is up and rest when the sun is down” Remember to recharge your batteries after the christmas rush. Enjoy a sumptuous meal at Sweet Mandarin and book a table.

3. COOKING YOUR WAY TO HEALTH
Try something different by taking part in the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School (Featured in the Sunday Times and CityLife). Learn how to make fast, healthy super suppers and impress you, your friends and family.

4. TREAT THE NEW YOU
Calorific mouthwatering dishes at Sweet Mandarin to celebrate the new year – Try the Sizzling King Prawns bursting with fresh vegetables and light soya flavour. Join Sweet Mandarin’s fortnightly detox menu and see the New You.

5. ME MYSELF AND I
Take advantage of the special offers for Sweet Mandarin Newsletter subscribers. Win a bottle of champagne, a meal for 4 or a place on the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School. Everytime you visit Sweet Mandarin enter our monthly prize draw (for free) and good luck.

Dec 25

Merry Christmas – We’re having Peking Duckenail for our Christmas Roast (that’s Duck Chicken Quail)

photo 1 (14)

Peking duck is Beijing’s most famous dish and was served to numerous Emperors. However, the true Peking duck recipe takes over 24 hours to make and requires a pump to blow air between the skin and the duck and a specialised upright oven so all the fat drips off the duck leaving delicious crispy skin. Whilst I love Peking duck, to be honest it is very hard to recreate in a home kitchen. However, I am inspired by this dish and have adapted the flavours to create our unique family Duckenail roast, which comprises of a quail in a chicken in a duck stuffed with a mix of Chinese mushrooms, chestnuts, Chinese sausage and sticky rice. We made it for an alternative Christmas dinner Chinese-style and it came about because Janet wanted quail, Lisa wanted duck and I wanted chicken. So we thought why not put it together? It started off as a bit of a challenge and a bit tongue in cheek, but it was such a hit we make it even when it is not Christmas! For Christmas, we used a whole duck, whole chicken and whole quail. However, that is a bit too much for two people! Therefore, I have adapted our family recipe to make the quantities suitable for two people rather than a family of six.

 

 

 

Makes 2

 

 

 

Prep time 20 minutes

 

Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes

 

 

 

2 duck breasts, deboned

 

2 chicken thighs, deboned and skin removed

 

2 quail, deboned and skin removed

 

2 teaspoon salt

 

1 teaspoon five spice powder

 

 

 

For the stuffing

 

200g cooked chestnuts, diced

 

200g dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted by putting in hot water for 15 minutes and cut into small pieces

 

200g sticky rice

 

1 Chinese sausage (25g), diced

 

1 teaspoon salt

 

1 teaspoon sugar

 

½ teaspoon five spice powder

 

½ teaspoon garlic powder

 

2 teaspoons sesame oil

 

1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

 

 

 

For the plum sauce

 

3 plums, peeled, destoned and quartered

 

½ red chilli, sliced into small pieces

 

3 tablespoons caster sugar

 

½ teaspoon five spice powder

 

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

 

50ml water

 

 

 

Add all the ingredients for the plum sauce to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the plums soften to a pulp. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

 

 

 

Mix all the stuffing ingredients together in a bowl until they bind. Divide into three. You need to make two parcels so steps 3-6 sets out the directions for one duckenail which you need to repeat. Rub the duck’s skin with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of five spice powder. On a piece of foil, turn the duck skin-side down. Spread one third of the stuffing mix over the top of the duck.

 

 

 

Using a rolling pin, pound the chicken until it is a thin fillet about 2.5cm thick. Lay it over the stuffing. Then cover the chicken with one third of the stuffing. Then lay the quail meat over the stuffing and cover with the remaining stuffing. Roll the foil so the duck wraps around the meats and filling and creates a roll.

 

 

 

Place the parcels on a baking tray and put into a hot oven at 270 degrees for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and continue to cook in the oven for a further 30 minutes at 220 degrees celsius. To brown the skin, put under the grill for 5–10 minutes.

 

 

 

Serve with the plum sauce.

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com .

Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails.

We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco,

Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip.

Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery School can cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners.

We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena.

We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre,

Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza,

Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

Dec 19

If Heaven made him, Earth can find some use for him

photo 4 (5)

When my grandmother was offered a chance to leave Hong Kong by the Woodmans, she stood to leave behind a good deal more that her mother and the crippling poverty of Wan Chai. Though the Woodman family did not know it but

by the time my grandmother boarded the boat for England, she was supporting a husband and three children, one of whom would grow up to be my mother.

My long deceased grandfather was never discussed in our house. To my sisters and I he was little more that an old photograph that stood on Lilly’s dinning room. His picture was placed at the centre of a small shrine she had created to his memory on a cupboard above her dining room table. Next to the photograph was a plate of half dried up oranges, they served as a food offering and a small plant pot. A number of burnt out incense sticks were stuck in the soil, the only indication that Lilly probably still honoured her husband.

However as my grandmother grew older she began to drop little stories about him into our conversations. Just the odd line dropped into conversation here and there. These were often delivered as if he were in the next room rather than dead and in the grave for 20 years. Each nugget would tell us more about him. As always, it was odd objects would jog her memory of home and the life she had left behind.

We have a bar in Sweet Mandarin. It a cool, contemporary cocktail bar but along with fancy drinks, such as Smirnoff and Jack Daniels, we sell bottles of strong Chinese alcohol call Moutai . We have three snakes liquor, plum wine, lychee wine and rice wine all on display in colourful glass bottles marked with enticing looking labels. The bottles may look innocuous but the liquor inside them is 40% proof, strong enough to blow the head off even the most hardened drinker. We serve a snake blood cocktail at the bar, which had proved to be particularly popular on Friday nights with young men keen to prove their mettle after a few drinks. One afternoon while sitting drinking tea with Lilly at the bar the bottles caught my eye, I asked her jokingly:

“Have you ever tried snakes blood liquor, Pops?”

‘Yes, but its too strong for me,” She replied in a matter of fact manner. “It’s also more a drink to help you out…you know.” She made a gesture with her finger, imitating the male member, initially pointed it down and then letting it rise slowly up. She let out a wicked chuckle as she made eye contact with me. “At home,

men drank to improve their performance in the bedroom.” I blushed feeling a bit awkward at my grandmother’s bawdy talk, but decided to really test her.

“Ok, then. What about that one?” I asked, pointing to a dark coloured bottle that had a picture of bamboo leaves and a girl dressed in the Chinese silk dress on it. Her aced hardened.

“You can keep that one”, she said. “Men always blame the wine, or the woman but it’s not that… when men intoxicate themselves, they allow themselves to be tempted.” I had no idea what the old woman was talking about. Had I missed something? “No matter how much I hated his mistress, I could not blame her…”

My grandmother looked at me with a new seriousness. She wobbled slightly on her bar stool, as she were about to faint.

“Pop, are you all right?” I asked. Her eyelids fluttered

“Sorry Helen”, she said. After taking a deep breath, she seemed to regain her composure. Then her mood passed and she smiled again. “When you are my age, there are so many memories. And not all of them are pleasant.”

“I don’t understand, Pop”, I said.

“That bottle was the brand that your grandfather used to drink and it ended up killing him. If only it had killed him off sooner.” I was taken back by her harsh words about her husband, the man she was supposed to have loved.

She looked down at her shoes, as if ashamed of the secret that she had hidden within herself for decades.

In many such incidents was the story of our grandfather revealed to us – a cryptic, contradictory tale of the hurt one human being can inflict on another.

When my grandmother left later the afternoon she called out a final warning to me for the doorway. Pointing back at the alcohol on the shelf, she said:.

“That stuff is poison. Not just of the body but of the man himself. With your grandfather, it turned a good man bad.” I decided that I needed to find out more.

Excerpt from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Now available to download on Kindle.

cover

Dec 16

Hot and Sour Soup

 

 Picture2

Helen, Janet and I gave up our day jobs as a lawyer, engineer and financier to open Sweet Mandarin in 2004 to the horror of our parents who protested that restaurants were hard graft and economically precarious. Nonetheless, our passion to serve Chinese food our way was too strong to resist and we bought a derelict piece of land and built Sweet Mandarin in four weeks including the kitchen, bar, the ceiling, the glass frontage, the team and the menu. The first item is Hot and Sour soup and that is what caught the attention of John who walked through the door on day one to order this dish. He is now a dear friend and we owe him a huge vote of thanks for his supporting in helping us getting our gluten-free sauces off the ground and into Sainsbury’s but recently we reminisced about that rainy day in November 2004 and he said that our friendship was cemented when I served him this hot and sour soup. ‘It’s the ultimate test of a good Chinese restaurant. Your hot and sour soup was so good that I had to get to know you, chef !’ It’s also a firm favourite with my sister Janet who loves, loves, loves my Hot and Sour soup! It certainly warms you up and the spices are wonderfully aromatic and enhance the flavour of the soup. Once you’ve perfected the perfected the balance of those spicy and sour flavours, you’ll sip to your heart’s content.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

600ml chicken stock

100g cooked meat, such as pork, chicken, ham or char siu

100g small prawns

50g bamboo shoots

50g carrot strips

50g tofu, cut into strips

1 teaspoon chillibean sauce

1 tablespoon white vinegar

100ml Sweet Mandarin sweet and sour sauce

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon sugar

1 portion of potato starch mixture (1 tablespoon potato starch mixed with 4 tablespoons water)

1 drop of sesame oil

1 small egg, beaten

 

Add the stock to a wok or saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the cooked meat, prawns and vegetables and tofu and cook, stirring often, for 3–4 minutes. Drop in a generous teaspoon of chillibean paste and pour in the vinegar and sweet and sour sauce. Season with the salt and sugar, stir well and cook for about 5 minutes until boiling.

 

Pour in the potato starch mixture when the soup is boiling and stir immediately. Potato starch only reacts with boiling liquids. You need to stir the potato starch mix in vigorously. If you don’t stir the soup will become gloopy in the centre and watery on the edge of the wok

 

Remove from the heat and slowly swirl in 2 tablespoons of beaten egg so the egg drop cooks in the soup. Use a fork or the stirrer to mix the egg into strands to create the egg drop effect which is essentially thin swirls of egg. Return to the heat for 30 seconds to cook through the egg.

 

Add in a little drop of sesame oil and mix. Serve and enjoy!

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

 

 

Dec 12

How did we end up in the UK?

photo 5 (4)

Mrs. Woodman senior’s concern for her amah’s well being was exceptional. Unlike the majority of expatriate families, she genuinely cared about the plight of the local Hong Kong Chinese. With a brutal dictator ruling the Chinese mainland, hundreds of thousands of refugees, fleeing violence and political uncertainty, continued to stream into Hong Kong.

The British colonial government had long been overwhelmed. The slums of Wan Chai filled to bursting point while refugee camp sprung up on the edges of the colony. Charities and relief organizations did what they could to help the new arrivals, but most of them faced a struggle to survive in appalling conditions. More and more, expatriate families including the Woodmans found the daily exposure to the refugee’s suffering meant that they no longer felt comfortable in the Hong Kong.

The final straw for the Woodmans came in 1953, when tens of thousands of refugee huts in a slum area were burned down in a freak fire. The huts were constructed from driftwood and old packing crates and the tinder dry structures went up in flames fast, killing the multitude of men, women and children packed inside. The Woodmans could see the flames from the veranda of their house on the Peak and the night air was filled with the smell of burning refuse and human

Sweet Mandarin © Helen Tse 2006 69

flesh. The newspapers reported the carnage in graphic detail the following morning, speaking of burning people running in the streets and dead children; the accompanying pictures of blackened structures confirmed the family’s worst imaginings.

The Woodmans knew that the conditions for Hong Kong’s poor would continue to be appalling for years to come and it was only a matter of time before another fire, a collapsing building or disease would cause further human tragedy. They could not in good conscience stay in Hong Kong.

Besides, the family was homesick and they were extremely concerned about the political aggression of the new communist state in China on their doorstep. When Mrs. Woodman senior suggested that she would like to go home to die peacefully, their minds were all but made up.

True to their commitment to my grandmother, the Woodmans asked her whether she would consider a position with them in England. This offered my grandmother a chance to get away from all her troubles and the biting poverty at home. Yet it was a heart wrenching decision. If she went with the Woodmans to England, she would have to, at least for a while, leave her own family behind in Hong Kong. For many sleepless nights, my grandmother agonised over her decision.

Excerpt from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Now available to download on Kindle.

cover

Dec 09

Congratulations to @cathaypacificUK Direct Flights from Manchester to HK!

cathay (2)We’re super excited to hear that Cathay Pacific have launched their direct flights from Manchester to Hong Kong. We congratulate Cathay Pacific on this wonderful news and welcome back to Manchester (as kids used to fly with Cathay when they flew out from Manchester about 15 years ago).  Our family originate from Hong Kong and we still have many family members in Hong Kong so it will be wonderful to get a direct 12 hour flight rather than the usual 17-24 hour flights (with layovers). Also our gluten free, nut free sauces and cookbook are sold in HK and China so we envisage doing even more business out there. A bit of selling ice to the eskimos I hear you say! Bring it on!

We also look forward to welcoming the Chinese tourists – we’re already getting a lot of hungry visitors keen to try our dishes that we cooked for Premier Li at No. 10 Downing Street. We’ve aptly named the dishes our ‘No.10 Specials’ which includes the Claypot Chicken, Five Treasures Egg Fried Rice and many more delights. For our full menu click here Enjoy!

Here’s a clip from the BBC News featuring Sweet Mandarin sauces. We look forward to flying with Cathay Pacific. Tempted to book right now – click  here .

 

Dec 09

Crispy Won Tons

photo 20

These are one of my favourite dim sum. They are a great party food and are so easy to make. You can fill the wontons with any filling of your choice. I prefer using prawn as it makes the wontons light when fried up.

 

Dim sum mania spread to Hong Kong as the Guangzhou population immigrated to Hong Kong in the 1920s. Chinese restaurants grew exponentially in Hong Kong and soon dim sum was available from 6am through to late afternoon. Restaurants in Hong Kong and Guangzhou became filled mainly with the elderly population who often gathered to eat after the morning session of tai chi exercises, often enjoying the morning newspapers.

In the west, dim sum came about as a natural result of Chinese immigrants moving to the western world. When Europe started trading with the Orient, the seaport of Guangzhou became the gateway to the West. The Chinese readily absorbed these cosmopolitan influences, and being great travellers themselves, emigrated to the America and the United Kingdom. They were the first to make Chinese cooking known to the Western world and as a result dim sum has become the firm favourite across the Western world.

 

Go to a Chinese restaurant on a Sunday afternoon and you will be greeted by a sea of Chinese families spanning three generations. Dim sum is the Chinese equivalent of French hors d’oeuvres or Spanish tapas. It’s a colourful and loud dining experience starting with the rush for vacant seats and the hustle and bustle of the gesticulating waiters selling their dim sum specials from their trolleys. Bamboo containers filled with steamed dim sum are stacked high and quickly snapped up. Waiting staff ask what kind of tea we want to drink offering a vast array of jasmine tea, oolong tea, pu’er (or pu-erh) tea and green tea, which helps to wash down the dim sum. The noise of the chatter of the diners is deafening. It’s a busy, frantic affair and there is an air of organised panic in the restaurants, which adds to the excitement and entertainment. Dim sum is an overwhelming introduction to the Chinese nation’s love of food, gregariousness and cheerful chatter.

 

I love dim sum. There are over 200 dishes to choose from. One Cantonese saying goes that anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies is edible. Another says that the only four-legged things that Cantonese people won’t eat are tables and chairs. The range of cooking skills required to make dim sum is vast. There is usually a dim sum master overseeing his section of the kitchen and there is a real art involved in making the dishes. Some dishes are steamed, others are fried. Some are baked. The variety of tastes is also mind boggling: sweet, sour, savoury and chilli.

 

A meal in a restaurant opens the taste buds, but cooking dim sum for my friends and family widens all the senses. I learnt the authentic recipes from Guangzhou and used them at Sweet Mandarin. Together with my sisters, Helen and Janet we made every dim sum from scratch. Stuffing and shaping wontons was the real family enterprise. We made the stuffing from a light prawn mince and wrapped the teaspoon of filling with a fine egg-based pastry. We all left our individual stamp on the wontons in the way we crimped the edges. I added a flamboyant tail on these wontons, which can then be dipped in the sweet and sour dip. My everyday rituals of properly selecting produce, cooking and presenting a meal, which I have inherited from my family, have given me an insight to see the meaning of my own cooking as a metaphor for life.

 

Serves 2/Makes approx. 20

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

200g minced king prawns

200g minced pork

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoons potato starch

25ml water

20 wonton skins

vegetable oil, for frying

Sweet Mandarin’s Sweet and Sour dipping sauce, to serve

 

Put the prawns and minced pork in a bowl and season with salt, sugar, sesame oil and potato starch and water. Mash with a fork so the mixture is combined into a sticky paste but still retains some texture.

 

Place 1 teaspoon of the filling into the centre of the wonton skins. Using your index finger dampen one corner of the edge of the pastry and fold over into a triangle. The technique is to pleat the edges so they meet in the centre so you have a dumpling edge that is wavy (see photo opposite).

 

Fill a hot wok ¼ full with vegetable oil. Check the oil is hot by placing a wooden chopstick in it. If bubbles appear the oil is hot enough for deep frying. Drop in the wontons and cook for 5 minutes. When they turn golden brown scoop them out and place on a kitchen paper to drain.

 

Serve with Sweet Mandarin’s Sweet and Sour dipping sauce.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Dec 05

How my grandma chose her English name, Lilly.

photo 4 (3)

My grandmother still speaks of the Woodmans with great affection. In her time with this gentle English family, my grandmother would learn what was like to be part of an English family. She became accustomed to Western behaviour like drinking tea at three and going for long walks after Sunday lunch. She took so well to the English way of life that the family and their friends came to describe her as ‘the English rose with a Chinese heart.’

Having recently arrived in Hong Kong, The Woodmans lived on Robinson Road, which meant Lilly had not only achieved her ambition to venture behind the forbidding gates of it mansions but she was working no more than five minutes from Eva. My grandmother was again engaged as a nanny, this time to two young children.

Her experience in this household had none of the formality and discipline of her last post as the Woodmans were an entirely different breed from the Van Houtens. Mr. Woodman, had none of the Mr. Van Houten’s detachment. Nor did he share any of his cold formal attitudes to employees and Lilly came to love him for it. Tall and balding with slightly sticking out ears, when he smiled, he showed his gums and his eyes formed into two small slits as if he were a parody Chinese. He became known to Lilly and the other servants as the ‘English Chinese man’ because of his unusual looks.

Mr. Woodman was responsible for the rebuilding of the entire electricity supply to Hong Kong. He was a very important man in industrial circles but he was quintessentially English and bewildered by the exotic sights and sounds of Hong Kong. In the hot and humid summer that Lilly first came to the Woodman household, be was perpetually exasperated by the demands of his new job.

Lilly’s role morphed quickly into all round household help and city guide as well as one of unofficial confident and guide, even if it mean reminding her flustered master that his glasses were on the top of his head and he was expected to work Saturday mornings as part of the typical working ethos in Hong Kong.

Lilly’s spirit of fun fit well with the Woodman’s family self depreciating good humour. After so many years of hardship the family’s genuine affection for each other made my grandmother feel at home in their house. .

However her duties also included looking after Mr. Woodman’s elderly mother, know respectfully Mrs. Woodman senior.

Mrs. Woodman senior was a heavily built old lady who was failing in her health. She had a good heart and of and grateful for the attention my grandmother gave her. The connection between the too grew into a lifelong friendship. Mrs. Woodman senior’s advice and support made her hugely influential in my grandmother’s life. Of all the Woodman family, it was her who came to love my grandmother like their one of her own

One of the great pleasures of the job, recalls my grandmother, were the walks she used to take with Mrs. Woodman senior. Though she was in her sixties and my grandmother was still only in her twenties, the two found they had much in

common. They loved to walk by the sea and watch the activities along the pier. My grandmother would always comment on the white flowers floating on the water where the river joined the sea. She loved their beauty and delicacy, and admired their strength; they were able to survive in the powerful waters around them. It was Mrs. Woodman senior who told her that they were called lilies, the name of the magical water flowers that inspired my grandmother to adopt the English name, Lilly.

But despite the ease with which my grandmother could move in Mrs. Woodman’s world, her employer had little idea of the squalor in which her trusted servant lived. Mrs. Woodman senior was intrigued and she often quizzed her about her home life as they travelled together by car or taxi through the crowded streets.

Eventually Mrs. Woodman Senior decided to take her investigations a step further and asked my grandmother to show her how the Chinese really lived. More particularly she wanted to see how Lilly lived.

Although Lilly had spent many hours with Mrs. Woodman, and they had grown very close, she was not yet ready to show her home. But the old woman was insistent. So one afternoon at the end of a shopping trip, my grandmother took her back to the slums of Wan Chai. As soon as the cab came to a halt in the thin, dark street, my grandmother began to blush in shame. The presence of Mrs. Woodman senior brought into sharp focus the misery of the place where she and her family lived. It was something that, out of familiarity, she had previously ignored. The windows of her little apartment opened out on the street below, which itself teamed with people spitting and smoking. There was underwear flapping about in the wind hung from a piece on sting across the veranda; the gutters were filled with gravel; and weeds were growing out of the cracks in the concrete walls. Piles of wood ends and rusting metal obstructed the entrance to the concrete steps that led into the gloomy hallway. Mrs. Woodman senior commented on how forlorn, lost and forgotten Lilly’s home was and she could not understand how someone could really live in such conditions.

The interior was even worse. Rubbish was strewn in a corner and dirt stained cloths partitioned the rooms. It was cold and depressing in the cramped accommodation and the lingering fumes from their kerosene oven made the old woman choke as she stepped across the threshold. The lack of plumbing and basic running water meant that the whole place stank of urine, not just from my grandmother and her family but from the hundreds of other who called the block home.

Mrs. Woodman senior was shocked to tears at the sight of my grandmother’s apartment. She covered her mouth with a handkerchief as she picked her way through the debris, afraid to sit down. Looking at her with sad expression, she asked rhetorically how Hong Kong could call itself a British colony with such terrible medieval living conditions prevalent amongst its residents.

Excerpt from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Now available to download on Kindle.

cover

Dec 02

Tuesday’s Pork Rib Broth

photo 3 (4)

My twin sister Helen, younger sister Janet, younger brother Jimmy and I grew up in the family food business and lived above the shop. Like our parents and their parents – it was a way of life and we simply didn’t know any different. All I knew was that we lived over the shop, ate from the shop and worked in the shop. There was nothing else. Days of the week were marked by what was cooking in the pot. As a child I always remember Tuesday was soup day. My mum used to make a big silver saucepan (industrial sized) filled with over 50 spare ribs as the ultimate stock pot. I remember enjoying a bowl of this soup which was rich with flavour and the spare rib meat was melt in the mouth tender. My mum used the slow cook technique – it took two hours on slow cook to break down the protein and calcium in the bones. I’ve tailored the recipe to serve two.

Serves 2

 

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 2 hours

 

3.5 litres water

400g pork spare ribs

2 whole carrots, peeled

2 whole radishes

5cm piece of fresh ginger, slightly smashed

2 teaspoons salt

50g fresh coriander, chopped

 

Prior to making the soup, blanch the ribs to reduce the scum formed in the soup. Fill a saucepan with 1 litre of water and bring to the boil. Add the ribs and blanch for 10 minutes. Drain and put ribs into second large saucepan.

 

Add the carrots, radishes and ginger. Fill with the remaining water and bring to the boil. Hard boil for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and a simmer for 1 ½ hours.

 

Then add the salt and chopped coriander and serve. The ribs will be falling off the bone and deliciously sweet.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

 

 

Nov 28

My grandmother’s peace was to be shattered permanently…

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My grandmother’s peace was to be shattered permanently not by the violence of Mr. Houten temper but the violence of an entire nation. Not long after the boy’s first birthday, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on the American navy in Pearl Harbour. Though Japan had nominally been at war with China since their invasion of Manchuria four years earlier, it was the attack on America that kick started their unchecked aggression in the Pacific.

Initially the Japanese Imperial army invaded and occupied British, Dutch, and U.S. colonies that now make up the present-day countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and closer to home, Hong Kong. The British forces were soon overwhelmed by the speed and ferocity of the Japanese attack and were forced to surrender on 25th December 1941, Christmas Day to Isogai Rensuke, the first Japanese governor of Hong Kong. Chinese and British alike called that day ‘Black Christmas’.

To the occupying Japanese, Chinese life was effectively worthless. One of the first things the new administration did was to cut rations for civilians to near starvation levels in order to conserve food for their own soldiers. It became unlawful to own Hong Kong Dollars, which were replaced by the Japanese Military Yen, hyper-inflation and economic hardship became the norm of daily lives

Japanese cruelty towards captured civilians was infamous. Lilly witnessed prisoners being beaten, tortured and executed. They were punished in an especially brutal manner for alleged escape attempts or the suspicion of espionage. Almost 300,000 Chinese were massacred and than 80,000 women were raped.

People barricaded themselves in their houses only coming out for food rations. Desperate for food, Tai Po began exchanging Hong Kong Dollars for a handful of rice.

However, it was business as usual for the Van Houten family. The Dutch and the Japanese had a long trading history dating back to the 17th century. As a result Holland continued to trade with Japan until their invasion of the oil rich Dutch East Indies a year later.

Despite the chaos and brutality around them, the Van Houtens remained unaffected and would sail from Hong Kong to Japan to do business by helping to satisfy the troops’ sweet tooth by supplying chocolate for their rations.

My grandmother was expected to go with them. Still a young amah she was terrified of the prospect of going to the enemy’s heartland. To clam her fears she focused on looking after their baby boy. Her mother, Tai Po, was very beside herself. Like most Chinese, she had been brought up on horror stories told about the barbarism of the Japanese. She wanted my grandmother to quit her job, a request that would only have been made in the most serious of circumstances. But my grandmother knew that the family did not have time to conscript any other amah and that they relied on her. Moreover she had formed a personal attachment to the youngest Van Houten and feared that his safety could only be assured by her presence.

In the course of the journey my grandmother was press-ganged into service by the Japanese militia and forced to become a translator. As she had been in the service of the Van Houtens and they had assumed that since she could speak English, Cantonese and some Dutch, she must be good with languages.

She was forced to learn Japanese, taught by a bilingual woman who was half Japanese and half Chinese by birth. The teaching methods of the Japanese were harsh, and students who received bad results in Japanese exams risked corporal punishment. The woman had grown up in Japan and had originally wanted to become a geisha but had been denied due to her tainted Chinese blood. She became my grandmother’s personal tutor not just in Japanese but in history and traditions of Japan.

Even today my grandmother has no doubt that her new role probably saved her life on more than one occasion. Following her intensive training, she was considered at least useful by the Japanese soldiers. She could translate simple messages for them as they sailed. Many were the forced confessions of prisoners.

On the boat the Japanese continued the brutality perpetrated on a huge scale in Hong Kong. Through the time she spent with the guards, my grandmother had managed to develop their trust despite being Chinese. As often as possible, she used this position of influence to persuade the guards to spare people’s lives. One day, she came across some guards, who were about to rape a female prisoner. She cried out in Japanese:

“Imagine if that was your sister or wife. Save your dignity. This is a war between men.” It was enough to bring the soldiers to their senses and, after a few minutes of discussion, they even apologised to the half naked woman who was frozen in fear on the deck.

While doing her translation work or in service with the Van Houtens, my grandmother was relatively safe but on the streets of Hong Kong or Tokyo she was just another Chinese prey to Japanese aggression. Once while out walking, she found herself held at gun point by some Japanese soldiers. Fearing the worst, she cried out in Japanese:

“I am a translator for your people and am useful only if I live. Please spare my life. I need to get back to work for your officials.” The soldiers were so shocked at this small Chinese woman speaking their language that they spared her. Others were not so lucky. A colleague of Lilly’s, an elderly Chinese seamstress who had

worked for another family in the Peak, failed to bow when passing by a Japanese sentry in the street. The solider screamed at the frightened worker and beat her with a stick until she lost consciousness. She died of a heart attack during the assault. It was an incident that sent fear through amahs across the whole of Hong Kong.

 

Excerpt from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Available to download on Kindle.

Nov 25

Lettuce Wraps (or San Choy Bau in Chinese)

 

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When I make this dish, I think of my grandfather Chan who grew up well practised in Kung Fu and also immersed in his family’s restaurant business. He’d often amuse himself by throwing lettuces in the air and slicing them mid-air with a machete. The lettuce with its fresh, crisp leaves stayed intact and felt the sharpness of tapered edged smooth blade exactly cut the lettuce into two equal sizes. The result was much practice and lots of wasted lettuces. When his father caught him, he would be beaten. But Chan never cried in front of his father. Chan’s tomfoolery and macho stance made the waitresses giggle and soon he became quite a ladies man. Whilst I do not recommend in anyway this method of slicing the lettuce with a machete mid-air, I do recommend you try this recipe as the combination of textures, flavours and colours make the most delicious and healthy San Choy Bau.

 

Makes 10–12

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

1/2 iceberg lettuce or 2 baby gem lettuce, separated

1 x 227g can bamboo slices

1 x 227g can water chestnuts, sliced

1 carrot, diced

6 Chinese mushrooms, soaked and diced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cooked chicken fillet, finely sliced

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

1 x 300g bottle of Sweet Mandarin Barbecue Sauce

 

Wash the lettuce and pat dry with kitchen paper. Dice the vegetables into small 0.5cm pieces.

 

In a hot wok, add the oil and cook the vegetables and chicken. Cook for 5–8 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Season with salt, sugar and a splash of water.

 

Place the cooked filling mixture in the lettuce leaves and pour over some Sweet Mandarin Barbecue sauce. Serve.

 

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com . Our opening times are Tuesday – Sunday 5-10pm.

Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese Restaurant in Manchester which serves delicious Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails. We make our own sweet chilli sauce, bbq sauce, sweet & sour sauce which you can buy from Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Ocado, Booths, Wing Yip and Chi Yip. Sweet Mandarin Chinese Restaurant and Cookery Schoolcan cater for the gluten free, dairy free diners. We are a short 15 minute walk from the Manchester Arena. We are not based in Chinatown, but based in the trendy Northern Quarter near the Arndale Centre, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Debenhams and Primark. The nearest hotels to us are the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Premier Apartments, Blue Rainbow Aparthotels, Light Hotel and Hatters Hostel.

 

Nov 21

“If you bow at all, bow low” (Ancient Chinese proverb)

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One Sunday during my family’s visit to Hong Kong, I arranged to meet them outside the HSBC tower in the Central district. As they approached me across the concourse I heard a loud, high pitched noise. It sounded more like the clucking of a flock of flamingos than anything you’d expect to find on the streets of Hong Kong. All of us were intrigued so we moved closer to the noise to take look. It was coming from a cafe in front of the building and emanating from noisy flock of another kind, a gathering of Filipino women sitting and eating together, comparing jewellery bought from nearby shops and nattering in their native tongue.

“What are all those women doing there?” I asked my mother.

“I think they are the amahs,” said my mother.

“Amahs? As in Maids? All of them?” I asked

“Its Sunday, they all get a day’s holiday on Sundays. I suppose this is the only place they can meet.”

To understand the unique role of amahs in Hong Kong society, one must first understand class. Hong Kong’s class system was one of Great Britain’s less welcome gifts to the colony. While money had always separated the opulent lives of the rich from the grim struggle of the poor in China, the British added a unique layer of social convention to the divide. In Hong Kong, this class system was as clearly demarcated and as difficult to transcend as it was at home in the UK. Though the foreigners had lived in Hong Kong for decades, few of them could have imagined the day to day hardship of the Chinese who worked for them, nor the backwards rural life of the villages they came from.

These two diametrically opposed worlds lived and breathed next to each other, yet seldom crossed over. The bridge between the two was occupied by the amah. These trusted Chinese maids were often the mothers of peasant families who spent their days, and most of her nights, serving as a butler, baby-sitter, seamstress and cook to the wealthy families that employed them. The amahs would work tirelessly over long hours, neglecting their own children who were left to grow up under the care of grandparents.

Between the 1930 and 1950, amahs rose in popularity. Chinese women began to displace Chinese male as household servant. Women would work for half the monthly wages of the men, earning something between HK$5 to $15 a month. Male Chinese servants demanded at least HK$30 per month. It made financial sense to choose them.

In England, I did not know any family with a maid. To me, maids only existed as characters in period dramas shown on TV however they are part of the fabric of Hong Kong life.

As a young woman, my grandmother was an amah and had served in the grand homes of the city. After the loss of her father my grandmother and her sisters had been forced to grow up fast and returned to Hong Kong with the intention of rebuilding their lives as best they could. But with no money and dependent once again on their Aunt and Uncle for a home they needed work.

My grandmother was 12 when the family returned to Hong Kong. She was no longer the naive little girl who had once held onto her father’s coat tails for fear of losing herself in the city’s crowds. As the family made there way home from the docks, my grandmother wandered through the mobs that swarmed through its narrow streets like a zombie. The festival and the excitement of seeing old friends in the village had been a distraction to the reality of their now she was nervous returning to her Uncle tiny shared shack. As Lilly climbed the steep steps to the apartment, she was filled with a deep yearning for her late father.

To their surprise, Aunt and Uncle were welcoming. The family’s obvious grief had softened their stance towards the women and they were met not with the usual sarcastic remarks and scraps but by sympathy, food and drink.

Despite their hospitality, Lilly remained ill at ease in their company. The small space felt impossibly claustrophobic. She wanted to leave immediately.

Her mother tried to pacify her. She called her over and demanded that she greet her aunt and uncle politely but she was unable to hide her feelings, Lilly kept her distance and glared at them. The more her mother tried to coax her to sit and eat with them the more difficult it became to contain the grief and loss that swelled inside her. She wanted her father back and with it, the protection and freedom he had offered her. The situation was too much to bear, she ran out of the cramped apartment and into the streets. She ran blind, pushing aside those in front of her, her vision obscured by the tears in her eyes. She ran until her lungs ached. When she finally came to a halt breathless and exhausted, she found herself once more standing on Robinson Road.

 

Excerpt taken from Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House in 33 countries. Now available on Kindle.

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