Jul 07

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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Jul 03

Har Gow – Prawn Dumplings

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This is probably one of the most famous dim sum and absolutely delicious. This dumpling comprises a prawn filling and the dumpling skin is pearly opaque white and smooth like icing sugar. I remember my mum used to tell us stories about the origins of the har gow – back to our family roots in Guangzhou in a teahouse that sprung up beside the Pearl River Delta. It was run by old man Zhou who had a crooked back who caught the prawns jumping out of the river. There were so many of them that some even got caught in his scraggly white beard and he had big baskets full of fat juicy prawns ready to be made into the filling – that is if you could catch them – as they’d be fighting to jump out of the baskets and back into the river.

This dish is said to be the one that the skill of a dim sum chef is judged on. At the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School we’ve had competitions to see how many pleats one can imprint. Whilst you can go for a respectable five pleats, to really show flair, aim for seven upwards. It is tricky as the skin is so delicate that over-handling can result in a broken dumpling – the cardinal sin of this particular dim sum. The other trick to bear in mind is that the filling mustn’t be overcooked – prawns are very unforgiving and turn rubbery. Ensure that the filling is made first and left to stand whilst you work on the pastry. The time the filling is left to stand gives the salt time to work its magic and draw out the water from the prawns, ensuring they have the perfect stickiness for the dumpling filling. This pastry cannot be made in advance and refrigerated as it will split when rolled out. Therefore only make as much pastry as you need.

One final tip, this dim sum is made to be eaten in one bite so don’t overfill it. In Chinese dim sum etiquette, especially during Chinese New Year, we do not use knives. It is believed that if knives are used to cut the dim sum, then you will also cut the luck out of your life. That is why dim sum and, in particular this dish, is very popular – as they are to be eaten in one fell swoop with no knives needed.

Makes 12

Preparation time 40 minutes

Cooking time 10 minutes

2 tablespoons bamboo shoots

10 king prawns, peeled and de-veined

½ teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon potato starch
For the wrapper
60g wheat starch

25g tapioca flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
100ml boiling water

Method

  1. Drain the bamboo shoots on a kitchen paper and chop into small pieces.
  2. Wash and then soak the king prawns in a damp paper towel. Chop each prawn into four pieces then flatten the prawns using a large knife or hammer until they are 5mm thick. Transfer to a bowl and add the bamboo shoots and ginger. Season with salt, sugar, pepper, sesame oil and potato starch
  3. Mix the filling in a clockwise motion so that it all sticks together. Transfer to the fridge until the pastry is ready. This will help the salt draw out any excess water from the prawn filling.
  4. To make the pastry, put both flours in a medium bowl and add the salt and oil. Mix the ingredients together and then quickly add the boiling water and mix fast. It will be incredibly sticky at this stage. Use your hand to continue kneading the dough till it becomes smooth. Cover the bowl with a wet cloth and set aside for 20 minutes to rest.
  5. Roll the dough into an approx. 18cm log and cut it into 12 even pieces. Press each piece with the palm of the hand and, using a rolling pin, roll the wrapper into a round shape. Add 1 tablespoon of filling to each piece of pastry and begin to pleat the furthest side of the wrapper. Bring the nearest side of the wrapper towards the pleated side and then crimp the tip to close the dumpling fully. The left thumb can be used to shape the back of the dumpling into a moon-shaped curve.
  6. To cook the har gow, fill a large saucepan or wok one-quarter full with water and put over a high heat. Place a cake rack in the centre. Place the dumplings on parchment paper in a bamboo steamer and transfer the bamboo steamer to the top of the cake rack to steam for 10 minutes.
  7. Serve the dumplings hot with Sweet Mandarin Sriracha Hot Sauce or soy sauce.

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

Jul 02

Steamed Chicken and Mushroom Rice

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冬菇蒸雞飯

We used to be so envious of our teenage friends when we were growing up. While they were having house parties and going out, we were expected to return from school to our chippy like clockwork ready to cook for and serve our customers. At the time we built up a lot of anger and resentment, however all our worries and frustrations seemed to evaporate when we enjoyed this dish which reminded me of the Chinese version of the British chicken and mushroom pie. I regard myself as British, but in cuisine terms I am totally immersed in Chinese cooking. So imagine my joy when I learnt how to make this classic British dish using the Chinese staple ingredient of rice. This recipe is so easy to make and packed with flavour – and it’s a healthy option too.

Serves 2

Preparation time 40 minutes , plus 30 minutes marinating time

Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes

6 skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2cm slices

4 x 3cm slices of fresh root ginger

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1 tablespoon potato starch

1 tablespoon Shaoshing rice wine

10 dried Chinese mushrooms

300g Thai fragrant rice

drop of sesame oil

1 spring onion, finely sliced

Method

Place the sliced chicken in a bowl, add the ginger, soy sauces, sugar, potato starch and Shaoshing wine and mix well together. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and transfer the chicken to the fridge to marinate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile place the Chinese mushrooms in a bowl, cover with warm water and set aside to soak until soft, approx. 15 minutes. Drain well, discarding the soaking liquor, and cut them in half if they’re big.

Wash the rice in a sieve under cold running water and drain well. Repeat this process twice or until the water runs clear rather than cloudy. Tip the rice into a bowl that will fit inside a steamer and cover with water from the tap. To work out the correct amount of water, place your hand in the pan so that the base of the third finger touches the top of the rice. Top up the water so it is level with the second knuckle on the third finger.

Fill a wok with water so it is just over one-quarter full. Set a round cake rack in the centre, cover with a lid and bring to the boil over a high heat. Place the bowl inside a bamboo steamer and steam in the wok for 10 minutes over a high heat until half the water has been absorbed into the rice.

Add the marinated chicken excluding the marinade and mushrooms and steam for a further 15 minutes.

To serve, add a drop of sesame oil and sprinkle with spring onion on top.

LISA’S TIP: You can also use the rice to stuff large Chinese cabbage leaves. Blanch the leaves in hot water for 2 minutes then drain. Stuff with the rice mixture and serve as parcel – delicious!

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

Jul 02

Buy Sweet Mandarin Sauces at The Allergy & Free From Show (Stand A438), Olympia London 3-5 July

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Our sauces are gluten free, nut free, free from monsodium glutamate and have no artificial colours. There are nine delicious flavours to choose from:

Barbecue

Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce

Cantonese OK

Sweet Chilli

Hoi Sin

Sweet & Sour

Blackblean

Wasabi

Nut Free Satay

Jul 01

Manchester International Festival 2 July – 19 July

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Manchester is the beating cultural heart of Britain and we’re proud to be associated with the Manchester International Festival which has kicked off today.

If you are visiting the Manchester International Festival why not also enjoy a meal at Sweet Mandarin. Show your ticket and we will give you a free portion of prawn crackers and home made sauces for you to nibble on. We are an award winning restaurant and cookery school in the heart of the Northern Quarter (next door to the Crowne Plaza Hotel) we welcome you to sample our wonderful Chinese cuisine and an ice cold beer or glass of wine or exotic cocktail.

For more information on the Manchester International Festival – go to http://www.mif.co.uk from 2 July – 19 July

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

 

Jun 30

Chicken skewers with jasmine tea and honey glaze

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茶香雞

Jasmine tea is scented with the perfume of jasmine blossoms to make a fragrant tea. Typically made with green tea as the base, it is probably the most famous scented tea in China. The jasmine plant is believed to have been introduced into Chinese teahouses from Persia via India along the Silk Road during the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD). The aromatic flavour of jasmine tea goes particularly well with chicken, giving these skewers a subtle sweet taste and a distinctive, smoky flavour.

Makes 16 skewers

Preparation time 10 minutes, plus 45 minutes marinating time

Cooking time 7-10 minutes

For the honey and jasmine tea glaze

10g loose Jasmine tea leaves

50ml boiling water

4 tablespoons runny honey

2 teaspoons yellow mustard

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon grated ginger

For the chicken

200g boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 tablespoon sesame oil

salt and pepper

sesame seeds, to garnish

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

you will need 12 bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water overnight

Method

First make the glaze. Place the tea leaves in a jug, pour over the boiling water and set aside to steep for 3 minutes. Strain into a small bowl, discarding the leaves, and stir in the honey, mustard, salt, sugar and ginger. Pour 5 tablespoons of sauce into a separate bowl and set aside.

Slice the chicken breasts in half, and then lengthways into 3cm ‘ribbons’. Halve each ribbon. Place the chicken in the honey and jasmine tea glaze. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside in the fridge to marinate for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile weave the ribbons of marinated chicken onto 12 bamboo skewers.

In a dry pan over a medium heat carefully toast the sesame seeds for 1 minute until they start to brown and set aside.

Heat a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of oil over a medium heat and add the skewers. Cook the skewers on each side for 30 seconds. They will cook very quickly so use tongs to turn them frequently. Preheat a griddle pan with a drizzle of oil over a high heat. Transfer the skewers to the griddle pan and slightly sear the on each side for 20 seconds.

To serve, sprinkle the chicken skewers with the toasted sesame seeds and accompany with a small amount of the reserved glaze.

LISA’S TIP: Using a griddle pan can easily burn this dish so an alternative is to grill the skewers for 5-8 minutes in the oven.

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

 

Jun 29

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.

 

 

 

Jun 27

Try our sauces for free – we are sampling at Chi Yip in Oldham today.

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Roll up, roll up. We’ve set up stall in Chi Yip, Chadderton and we welcome you all to come over and try our nine Sweet Mandarin sauces. All these sauces are gluten free, nut free, free from MSG and free from artificial colours. That’s why our Wasabi sauce isn’t an illuminating green colour! The nine flavours for you to try with our gluten free prawn crackers are: Thank you to everyone at Chi Yip – especially to Paul who has helped us fill the shelves with our sauces – as they are flying off the shelves and selling out week on week. If you’d like to stock our sauces email us at sauces@sweetmandarin.com Enjoy and may the sun shine on your day!

Sweet Chilli – the nation’s favourite – ours is simply the best with only fresh chillies – you will be able to taste the difference

Hoi Sin – perfect with duck

Barbecue – great to marinade meats for your summer barbecue

Sweet & Sour – perfect for chicken and vegetables

Sriracha Hot Sauce – this is hot and very tasty

Blackbean – packed with flavour and depth

Nut Free Satay – the world’s first ever nut free satay and absolutely gorgeous – oh and award winning too!

Cantonese OK – this sauce is used for Sichuan Beef and Cantonese steak – replicate these restaurant dishes at home

Wasabi – what a wonderful sauce – so refreshing and perfect for sushi or seafood or chicken.

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Also available at www.hollandandbarrett.com , Ocado, Waitrose, Sainsburys and all other good delis and shops.

In the USA available from TJMaxx, Homesense and Marshalls.

In Hong Kong available from CitySuper, MarketPlace, Yata, Wellcome

In UAE available from all supermarkets.

Jun 26

Chicken Stock

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My grandmother, Lily Kwok, met my grandfather, Chan under the most remarkable circumstances. Lily was a maid and cook for an English family in Hong Kong and was walking the baby with a friend when saw the lifeless body of a young boy (who eventually became our grandfather) washed up on the docks. She cried out to her friend and together they raised the alarm to their English family who took him to hospital and resuscitated him. Chan opened his eyes and the lights caused him to squint in pain. As he familiarised himself with the brightness, he saw Lily looking at him – thought she was an angel and that he had died. For days after this incident, my grandmother made chicken stock and painstakingly restored the health of Chan with this soup. She has sworn by this recipe and believes it is almost as powerful as the holy waters.

 

In many Chinese dishes, we use stock as a base. Throughout this book, references to chicken stock will refer to this recipe.

 

Makes 2 litres

 

Prep time 5 minutes

Cooking time 1 hour

 

8 chicken wings. weighing approx. 800g

1 large onion, chopped into large cubes

5cm piece of fresh ginger

3 litres water

 

Wash the chicken wings thoroughly. Add the chicken wings, onion and ginger to a saucepan, cover with the water and bring to the boil. Hard boil for 15 minutes.

 

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes with the lid covering the saucepan. It will reduce down to about 2 litres of stock, which can be used for soups or dishes. If any scum has formed on the top of the stock, skim it off before using. The boiled chicken wings will be extra tender and can be eaten. Extra stock can be poured into an ice cube tray and frozen. Use the iced stock cubes 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.

 

 

 

Jun 24

Sweet Mandarin Chinese Sauces – Made in the UK – Sold in China!

It’s not every day you can say that you make Chinese sauces in Manchester, UK and sell them back to China. It’s a bit like selling ice to the Eskimos I suppose lol. China’s a big place and we’re making a lot of sauce to supply these hungry diners. We must also thank the Prime Minister, David Cameron and Premier Li of China.

It all started when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron invited us on a trade mission with him in December 2014 to meet Supermarket buyers  and his endorsement of our sauces (he buys our sauces) was much appreciated. Premier Li flew all the way from China to the UK to try our cooking and loved our sauces – so much so he said he wanted to see them sold in  everywhere in China. And they say the rest is history!

Chefs which have appeared on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' meet the PM.

So to celebrate, we’re showcasing the sauces on the shelves of the supermarkets in Hong Kong China. We’re giving away free tasters of the sauces – Cantonese OK, Hoisin, Sweet Chilli, Sriracha Hot Sauce, Nut Free Satay, Barbecue and Sweet & Sour. They are all gluten free, dairy free, nut free and free from MSG and free from artificial colours. If you are in Hong Kong come see us at Citysuper, Wellcome,  MarketPlace and Yata. More places to visit later on this year but for now support these lovely retailers and buy a bottle or two of our sauces.  We look forward to meeting you and thank you very much for your support.TW Demo 2 AMP Demo 3 APM Demo 1 APM Demo 2 APM Discovery Bay Hysan K11 Mikiki MK Demo 1 MK Demo 2 ST Demo 1 ST Demo 2 TM Demo TP Demo TW Demo 1

Jun 22

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.

 

Jun 19

My great grandfather was murdered. He died, aged 37, leaving a wife and six daughters behind.

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My great grandfather was murdered. The man who had tried so hard to escape his past died on that warm August night right back in the village where he was born. Leung was not discovered the following morning when the first workers arrived at the factory in the early hours. Stepping tentatively through the open door, they were greeted by the sight of their employer’s body lying in a pool of blood. Faced with the shocking sight of Leung’s brutal end and the fact that they may be implicated in the murder in some way, those first workers fled the scene. It took some while until someone senior arrived with the courage to raise the alarm. Not that it mattered; Leung had been dead for hours.

It could not be proved at that point that rival merchants were responsible for sending the intruder to Leung’s factory that night. With no means of forensic evidence being collected, the chances of finding the man were virtually zero. However one thing was certain, the soy sauce business was a cut throat one and Leung’s run of success had been ended by a flash of cold metal in the night. He died, aged 37, leaving a wife and six daughters behind him.

With the village in a state of shock, word of the Leung’s death made its way quickly back to Hong Kong. Tai Po had awoken that morning to find her husband had not returned. She immediately began to worry. While it was not unusual for him to work long into the night or even to sleep at the factory, he was always back in Hong Kong before dawn to begin his sales rounds.

For Tai Po, it was not her husband who came to the door that morning, it was his brother. Barely disguising his own grief, he bowed his head and spoke to her slowly and calmly. When she heard the news her breath became short and her head span. Leung’s brother’s quiet words rang in her ears, mixing with the sounds of the Hong Kong streets outside. The two swirled in her mind, overwhelming her with grief and she collapsed. My grandmother and her sisters had been sleeping. At the first cry of horror from their mother they rushed to the living room and watched the scene. My grandmother crowded with her sisters in the doorway to their living room as they too were told the news by Leung’s brother. My grandmother was inconsolable, howling in pain, and screaming that she wanted to join her father in the grave. I felt so sorry for her. She was no more than 12 years old. At that age, I had just entered secondary school and all I could think about was whether I wanted to be a violinist or a lawyer. There was no comparison between our lives and I realised that my life was so blessed in comparison.My grandmother suffered most of all. Overnight she found Hong Kong had gone from being her playground to becoming a cold and indifferent place. She believed that no one cared whether they lived or died and to a certain extent, she was right.

When I was working in Hong Kong in 2002, my apartment was in Wan Chai. I took a stroll with my grandmother around the block to see what she recognised of her old home. There was not much of the old fishing village left. But we took a shortcut home across Southorn Playground, a major landmark which is usually packed with people picnicking and playing basketball, she stopped and smiled. Southron Playground had been used both as a place of leisure and work. In the morning it served as a labour exchange as labourers (commonly called “coolies”) gathered to wait for employment. In the evening, while by night it was transformed into an open-air, working class “night club” where men were entertained by people by selling food, performing Chinese magic and “kung-fu”. The area was also known for prostitution as young women, probably no older than my grandmother’s oldest sisters, offered ‘special services’. It was here that she and her sisters had come to find work following their father’s death.

They found small odd jobs carrying groceries, delivering parcels, letters or stacks of dirty laundry. They also sewed table cloths for the restaurants. They all worked hard to survive despite their deep sadness. The six had no choice but to adapt to their new life and lowered social status.

I was amazed that we were standing in the same place where my grandmother had once stood almost seventy six years ago now she was watching the guys throw the ball into the net.

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

Jun 16

Cuttlefish balls in a spicy broth

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Cuttlefish Dumplings in Spicy Broth

辣湯墨魚餃

Szechuan province is renowned for its chillies and boasts: ‘China is the place for food, Szechuan is the place for flavour’. Szechuan peppercorns and red chillies create that biting, numbing, spicy hotness that many people revel in. They are also the key ingredient in chilli bean paste, which is used to flavour this dish.

Dad used to make this broth for Mum in the hope that it would calm down her temper: ‘Fight fire with fire’, he’d say. And I think it worked because Mum is as soft as anything now. This dish is so spicy it also has the affect of keeping her quiet for a bit – that is, until she starts sneezing!

Makes 24 balls

Preparation time 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes chilling time

Cooking time 15 minutes

300g raw, peeled king prawns, deveined

400g cuttlefish or squid tubes

1 tablespoon egg white

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon tapioca starch

2 tablespoons potato starch

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon chilli bean paste

300ml chicken stock

2 bunches of pak choi leaves

½ teaspoon sesame oil

Method

Put the king prawns, cuttlefish or squid, egg white, salt, tapioca and potato starch in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture forms a smooth paste, adding a little water if necessary.

The next step is to make the fish balls’ elastic texture. Wet your hands under a cold tap. With a wet hand, scoop up the paste and then throw it back into the bowl. Repeat this process at least ten times until the paste firms up. Return the filling to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and transfer to the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Shape the fish mixture into 24 balls, each the size of a grape, in the palms of your hands. Set aside on a plate.

Fill a medium saucepan with approx. 300ml water and bring to the boil. Drop in the fish balls and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over high heat, add the chilli bean paste and fry for 1 minute. Pour in the chicken stock and stir well to dissolve the chilli bean paste. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Add the cooked fish balls and the pak choi and cook for 4–5 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil.

To serve, divide the fish balls between 4 serving bowls and ladle the stock and pak choi over the top. Serve immediately.

LISA’S TIP: – Throwing the balls of fish paste is a traditional Chinese dim sum technique which firms up the mixture. Make sure the fish paste is firm first before throwing. If it’s still not combined add more potato starch into the mixture then proceed with the throwing technique.

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

Jun 15

Father’s Day – 21st June – I Love You Dad

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I know one day will never make up for all the universal joys and incredible memories of childhood that I’ve shared with my Dad but I wanted to thank you Dad, for being there for me, always, unconditionally and always fighting our corner. Together with the entire world – in celebrations of Dads all over the world on Father’s Day 21st June, I wanted to say I love you Dad.

I remember the midnight jogging sessions to Chaddy park with Dad, my siblings and our dog, Choy Sum as Mum drove the old banger alongside us. Even though we never managed to jog back as we all went home in the car – I loved that sense of adventure you instilled in us.

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I remember Mum had gone out to buy the groceries and you decided to be a hairdresser for the day. We all had pudding bowl haircuts……and it was so atrocious you bought us an ice cream to make up for it. I learnt quickly not to let you touch my hair ever again!
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I remember the amazing dinners you made us ranging from spare ribs to a whole steamed fish to chicken tomato with an egg in it and your amazing red cooked melt in the mouth chicken. And you allowed me to go on the woks and you taught me how to cook the perfect egg fried rice. Wow – Dad you’re the best.

And now you and the fat baby are partners in crime!
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For everyone out there, don’t forget its Father’s Day on Sunday 21st June. We only have a few tables left that evening (5-10pm). If you’d like to tell your Dad you love him by treating him to a delicious Chinese banquet, I’d be honoured to serve you our sumptuous food and ice cold beers. To book your table email saweetmandarintables@gmail.com

Jun 15

Taro Cake

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Mum explained to me that taro is as hard as stone but with enough fire, it can be ground down to be soft, squidgy putty in your hands. Taro is a tropical plant and is from the family of root vegetables called Araceae. Taro can often be referred to as yam.  It is grown in the paddy fields in China and has a nutty flavour. In its raw form it is toxic because of the calcium oxalate, which can cause kidney stones, but when soaked in cold water and then cooked this toxicity is thankfully minimised and the root is safe to eat. Here’s a beautiful taro cake I’ve made with mum. I should add that mum said that men are a bit like taro – hard as stone but soft when you got them in your hands!

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

Jun 12

“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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Jun 09

Salt and Pepper Squid

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Fried Squid

炸魷魚

When we were children, Mum told us that squid were very special creatures because they only appeared in the sea when the sky was clear and the universe was calm. At other times they were busy fighting in the sea kingdom against the reef and seaweed enemies, which is what caused the big thrashing waves to crash against the beach and cliffs. We’ve grown up to look upon this dish as a real treat and love it. However, for a newcomer to dim sum, this dish could be a little offputting with its weird tentacles and slightly chewy textures – but persevere and hopefully you’ll end up loving it as much as we do.

Makes for 2

Preparation time 25 minutes

Cooking time 15 minutes

2 whole squid, body and tentacles, cleaned (ink sack and hard cartilage removed)

approx. 300ml vegetable oil

200g potato starch

2 teaspoons salt, plus a pinch

½ teaspoon ground white pepper

2 teaspoons caster sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

2 red chillies, diced, to garnish

Sweet chilli sauce (see page XXX), to serve

Method

Separate the tentacles so that you have bunches of three or four tentacles stuck together. Cut open the squid body by making a vertical cut through one side of it. Open up the body, lay it flat, and make shallow diagonal cuts across the inside of the body in a criss-cross or diamond pattern. Cut the body into small, even-sized, rectangles, approx. 5 x 2.5cm.

Fill a wok with vegetable oil so it is at least 7.5cm deep.  Heat to 190°C over a medium heat (to test the temperature, see page 00).

While you’re waiting for the oil to heat up, put the potato starch in a shallow bowl. Mix in a separate bowl the salt, white pepper, sugar, ground ginger and five spice powder together in the bowl and set aside for later.

Working with one or two pieces of squid at a time, coat the squid in the potato starch and gently shake off the excess. Place the coated pieces of squid on a plate in a single layer until you’re ready to deep-fry them, separating the tentacles from the body pieces as they both require different cooking times.

When the oil is hot enough, carefully lower one-third of the squid into the hot oil. (You need to cook it in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.) As you drop the squid into the hot oil the pieces will curl up. Keep turning them until they are golden brown and crisp all over – the tentacles will take 2-3 minutes and the body parts will take 3-4 minutes. Remove the first batch of crispy fried squid from the pan using a Chinese wire strainer or slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb some of the excess fat.

Immediately sprinkle over a pinch of the salt-and-pepper mixture over the deep fried squid and set aside while you cook the rest. Make sure you bring the temperature of the oil back up to 190°C between batches.

To serve, scatter over the diced red chillies and accompany with Sweet Chilli Sauce.

LISA’S TIP: The best way to know when the squid is ready is that tubes and the tentacles will start to curl up. This is an indication that the squid is cooked and don’t let it become too curled otherwise it will be overcooked.

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

Jun 08

How my grandma chose her English name, Lilly.

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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.

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Jun 05

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

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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.

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Jun 04

Crab Claws

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蟹鉗

Crab claws are a symbolic dim sum dish that is traditionally enjoyed at Chinese weddings. It’s a favourite on the wedding menu which essentially resembles joy, celebration and completeness. It is essentially a crab claw encased in a prawn mousse and breadcrumbs then deep-fried. The crab claw is the sweetest nugget of the crab and the easiest to eat.

It is always a huge honour to host a wedding at Sweet Mandarin. The ceremony is usually opened with firecrackers, which often make the children cry as it is so loud. Once the firecrackers have finished and everyone has returned to their seats the food begins to flow. At one wedding I was touched when the opening had the opposite effect on the bride. She laughed initially as the firecrackers went off, but when her new husband fed her a crab claw with great tenderness she reacted with tears of joy! I, too, was overcome with tears and still recollect that sweet moment, which I was honoured to share with the sweet couple.

Makes 12 claws

Preparation time 20 minutes, plus 40 minutes chilling time

Cooking time 4–5 minutes per batch of 4.  Total time 15 minutes.

12 cooked crab claws (thawed on kitchen paper if frozen to absorb excess moisture)

200g plain flour

250g panko breadcrumbs

1 large egg

vegetable oil, for deep-frying

For the king prawn paste

300g raw, peeled king prawns, deveined

1 spring onion, finely sliced

2cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled

1 shallot, finely diced

1 garlic clove, grated

1 teaspoon white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon potato starch

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine

3 teaspoons vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing

To serve

Sweet Mandarin Sweet Chilli Sauce

Method

Combine all the ingredients for the king prawn paste in a food processor and blitz to a smooth paste. Scoop out into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and transfer to the fridge to firm up for 20 minutes.

Dry the crab claws really well on kitchen paper – this is important or the king prawn paste won’t stick to them.

Tip the flour onto a plate and the panko breadcrumbs onto a separate plate. Beat the egg in a little bowl ready for coating the crab claws later.

Remove the king prawn paste from the fridge and grease your hands with a little oil. Shape the king prawn mixture into 12 balls, approx. 4cm in diameter. Insert a claw into each prawn ball and mould the paste around the shell to form an even coating. Dip the coated claws first in the flour, then in the beaten egg and finally in the panko breadcrumbs and arrange on a plate. Transfer to the fridge for 20 minutes to set.

Fill a wok half full with vegetable oil and preheat to 180°C over a high heat. Lower the crab claws one at a time into the hot oil and cook for 4-5 minutes, turning frequently until golden brown. Cook in batches of 4 to prevent overcrowding the pan. Use a Chinese wire net or a slotted spoon to scoop out the crab claws and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve with Sweet Chilli Sauce.

LISA’S TIP: To ensure the prawn balls are coated evenly place the panko breadcrumbs in a deep container. Once one side is coated turn it over so it’s immersed in the panko breadcrumbs. You can also sprinkle the panko breadcrumbs on the areas where the breadcrumbs are missing.

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com with your name, telephone, date, time and number of guests, and whether you have any dietary requirements or special occasion.

Jun 03

Come to the Ideal Home Show Manchester 5 June 2015

imageWe are delighted to announce that we are cooking at the Ideal Home Show 2015 in Manchester at Event City opposite Trafford Centre. Our cooking demo will be at 3pm. We look forward to cooking for you all. Here’s the link http://www.idealhomeshowmanchester.com/

About the Sweet Mandarin Sisters

Helen Tse MBE and Lisa Tse MBE  Head chef and Founder of Sweet Mandarin  – twin sisters, authors and  the third generation of women restaurateurs, Helen and her sister Lisa set up Manchester based restaurant Sweet Mandarin, which won the coveted Gordon Ramsay ‘Best Local Chinese Restaurant’ on the F Word beating 10,000 other restaurants. The sisters are passionate about food, people and business. Helen’s first book, Sweet Mandarin – An autobiography that charts the three generations and their roller coaster lives in the food industry was published by Random House in 33 countries and she is the first British Born Chinese author. Their second book, Sweet Mandarin Cookbook was a Times Bestseller as was their third book, Dim Sum – small bites made easy which Lisa says “is a dream come true as their family recipes are their family heirlooms and heritage”. The sisters look forward to sharing the recipes with you. The twins also appeared on Dragons’ Den to successfully pitch their gluten free sauces. Their Sweet Mandarin sauces – barbecue, sweet chilli and sweet & sour – are now sold in supermarkets worldwide. The twins most recent engagement was cooking for UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Premier Li Kequian of China at No. 10 Downing Street. They were awarded an MBE for services to food and drink by Her Majesty The Queen in 2014. Please feel welcome to visit Sweet Mandarin in the Northern Quarter Manchester. To book a table email sweetmandarintables@gmail.com .

Chefs which have appeared on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' meet the PM.

 

May 12

Mum’s favourite salted ducks’ eggs

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As a child I remember seeing these bright white eggs in the tray compared to the normal eggs I’ve seen in the fridge. I asked my mum why are these eggs different and she said try one! The first time I tried it I remember the salty sensation on my tongue and I pulled a face and asked why is the egg salty? My mum said these are a Chinese speciality – Salty Duck Eggs. Over the years I’ve grown to love them and when paired with steamed rice I could happily eat one or two whole salty eggs on my own. My mum explained to me that the best salted duck eggs should have a bright, orangey red yolk and the egg white should be translucent. Give it a go and you’ll change your perspective on normal boiled eggs forever.

 

Makes 12 eggs

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Soak time 30 days

 

12 duck eggs (or chicken eggs)

900ml water

200g sea salt (or rock salt)

1 star anise

2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine

 

Rinse the eggs and drain well. Set aside.

 

Put water and salt in a saucepan. Add the star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. Bring it to the boil. Once the salt completely dissolves, remove from the heat. Leave to cool completely.

 

Once cooled, pour in the wine and stir well. Carefully arrange the eggs in a 2 litre clean glass container. Check every egg to make sure there are no cracks on it. Pour the salted water into the container and cover the eggs. You’ll notice some eggs will float to the surface, so place something, like a little sauce plate on top of the eggs. The basic idea is to get all eggs completely submerged in the brine. Tightly cover the container and place at room temperature. The brining process normally takes 30–40 days. Label the start and finish dates on the container to remind yourself.

 

Drain all the eggs and wipe dry with kitchen paper. Put them in an egg carton and keep in the fridge. The salted eggs can be kept for a 4 weeks in the fridge.

 

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 29

Thank you to @salfordbizsch #passion4digital

pizap.com14303126644331We are invited by Aleksej Heinze to the Salford University Business School at least once a year to give a talk on social media (follow us on Twitter @sweetmandarins) and our journey at Sweet Mandarin. It’s been 10 years! yes 10 years! and we’ve had some ups and downs but we’ve made it stronger and sweeter that ever before!  Since we’ve opened we have a restaurant,  cookery school, range of sauces, range of cookbooks, range of woks and more! We are always honoured to return to Salford University because the students are so enthusiastic and will be some of the great leaders of tomorrow. We’ve had about 50 odd tweets since the talk this morning and as promised the winners of the tweets are below – you win a bottle of our wonderful sauce! Well done and hope to see you all at Sweet Mandarin!

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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)

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 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 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 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 .

 

Oct 21

Sesame Prawn Toast

photo 3 (8)

 

The old Chinese fable goes that this dish was created by a Beijing chef whose specialty was mantou bread and a Guangzhou chef whose specialty was seafood. The Beijing chef travelled to Guangzhou to visit his friend and they put together the bread and seafood to create their version of the prawn toast. My cookery students have always wondered how prawn toast is made as it is one of their all time favourite dim sum. The key to the perfect prawn toast is to ensure the oil is hot enough to fry the prawn toast so that it stops it being greasy and absorbing the oil. Use raw sesame seeds for a golden prawn toast. Don’t use toasted sesame seeds as it will result in blackened sesame seeds once deep-fried.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

150g raw king prawns, shells and heads removed and de-veined

1 teaspoon of salt

pinch of white pepper

1 drop of sesame oil

2 slices of thick white bread

50g non-toasted sesame seeds

vegetable oil, for deep frying

 

 

Blend the prawns in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper.

Spread the prawn mixture onto one side of the bread. Spread it evenly and most importantly ensure the corners of the bread are covered with the prawn mix.

Pour the sesame seeds onto a plate. Dunk the toast with the prawn paste into the sesame seeds and pat it down. Sprinkle the corners with the sesame seeds if they are not stuck on.

Fill a wok or large saucepan with vegetable oil and put on a high heat. To ensure the oil is hot enough, place a wooden spoon in the oil. If it forms bubbles around the wooden spoon, then the oil is hot enough to cook the prawn toast.Carefully place the prawn toast in the oil prawn-side down, hold the prawn toast down under the oil using a wooden spoon (as the prawn toast will float on the oil and therefore not cook the other side of the bread) and cook for 4–5 minutes or until the toast is golden brown and crisp on both sides and the prawn topping is completely cooked through – the prawn paste will be white and opaque and the sesame seeds will be golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.

Cut the cooked prawn toasts into quarters and 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.

 

 

 

Oct 17

Women in China

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When I travelled to Guangzhou in 2002, I found China to be a country that was careering head first towards the 21st Century. My base was a hotel housed in a skyscraper which was circled by endless cavalcade of cars and flanked by a shopping mall packed with affluent and well dressed shoppers in the latest designer labels. When Leung and Tai Po were struggling to raise their family, life in the rural villages had remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The people grew their food in their own vegetable patches and paddy fields. There was neither medicine nor communication with the outside world. To be born a farmer meant being destined to die as one; trapped in a cycle of poverty. To survive famine, flooding and periodic attacks by bandits, everyone was forced to work towards a common goal, to feed their families.

As a woman, life in China in the 1900s held no prospects whatsoever for my grandmother. Their society dreaded the birth of daughters, often treating them as little more than subhuman, a burden on the family. Mao Tse Tung wrote that all Chinese people had three ropes round their necks, political authority, clan authority, religious authority. But a woman also had a fourth; the authority of the husband.

This suppression of women was engrained in the feudal Chinese social system. Before Mao, Confucius had perpetuated the domination of men over women, fathers over daughters and husbands over wives. Confucianism is characterised by conservative values, strong ethics, emphasis on the family and respect for elders and cold logic approach to man’s problems. Even at the beginning of the Twentieth century, it formed the basis of the views held by many Chinese citizens. The result was that for thousands of years, political power in China had been closely associated with the control of women.

Women did not have any rights over property, nor did they enjoy any independent decision-making power in matters affecting the family and clan. Nor was education an option for women. A shame, as my grandmother proved to be an intelligent and inquisitive child. Women, particularly rural women, were

regarded as objects, whose body and mind were under the total control of their husband. It is an attitude embodied in an old saying describing marriage:

“Having married a cock she must follow the cock; having married a dog she must follow the dog; having married a carrying pole she must carry it for life.”

So profoundly negative was society’s view of female children that every year thousands of new born baby girls were routinely murdered or abandoned by their mothers simply because of their sex.

As the third girl born to rural farming family, it would not have been uncommon for my grandmother to be abandoned on the hillside, fed poison or be buried alive. Some Chinese women even believed that sacrificing a daughter could guarantee the birth of a son in their next pregnancy. In practice, they may have believed that sentencing their daughters to death far better than condemning them to the life of a woman in China. All that lay ahead of my grandmother was a life of discrimination, poverty and drudgery.

However my great grandfather, Leung felt strongly that his daughters were valuable in their own right, that they had the ability to develop their lives into something positive in the generations beyond his lifetime. This, combined with my grandmother’s natural self belief and determination, would change her destiny. Not just for her but for all her female descendants myself included.

When I was at school, my ambition was always to become a lawyer. My parents expressed some concern that I had chosen to work in such a male dominated environment but not my grandmother.

She told me a story that Leung would tell her as a child. A favourite of his that confirmed the value of patience and commitment to one’s ambitions despite the odds. In the story an eccentric old man who decides to level two huge mountains to open a road from his village southward to the bank of the Han River. He was laughed and scoffed at by his neighbour.

‘How can you dispose of so much earth and stones,’ they asked him. His reply was simply:

‘Though I shall die, I shall leave behind my son, and my son’s a son. From generation to generation I hand this task. Since these mountains cannot grow any larger, why shouldn’t we able to level them?’ After five generations the mountains were finally levelled.

My grandmother explained to me that her father told her even though I was a girl, she could earn her place in the world. It was a valuable lesson.

This excerpt is taken from the book Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse. Published by Random House and sold into 33 countries. Now available to download on Kindle.

cover

Oct 13

Happy Birthday !

 

Picture1 (2)

Happy Birthday To You

Happy Birthday To You

Happy Birthday To Lisa and Helen

Happy Birthday To You!

 

We were born and bred in Middleton, Manchester above a takeaway. Word of mouth spread quickly through Middleton that our mother, Mabel had moved to Mills Hill and our gran, Lil’s curry was available once again. Business grew as swiftly as my mother’s stomach ballooned. She would serve the customers and waddle around the shop. As before the business became part of local life and the customers noticed that my mother was pregnant they took an interest in her welfare. Some even knitted and little socks and baby cardigan sets which they gave to her as presents. On some days, it seemed as if everyone was as excited about the new arrival as she was.

When my mother was close to due date, my parents had no idea they were expecting twins. I was lying behind my sister Lisa so they had quite a surprise when we turned up together. They had only seen Lisa on the scan. My mother gave birth to Lisa in the Royal Oldham Hospital, eight miles away from Manchester on 13th October, just after lunch. I came into the world second, two minutes after her.

Despite the shock of taking home two children rather than one, my mother said it was great to have twins. I looked after Lisa and Lisa looked after me. When I cried, Lisa would calm me down by stretching out a tiny arm in comfort me. We shared a bed, then a room and even a study desk, until we were in our late teens. As we grew, we would remain as close as only people who have a shared the same womb could be. We kept each other company at school and when we were old enough to work in the shop too. And now we’re business partners in Sweet Mandarin.

Like many Chinese children, my childhood revolved around the family business. It was a way of life. If you are born into your obligations, you do not know any better. All I knew was that we lived in the shop ate from the shop and worked in the shop. There was nothing else.

Sunday was our day off and this was spent either at a Chinese restaurant having a family meal or at another friend’s shop so my parents could talk with their friends about how business was and how they could improve the takings. My father tried to enroll us into Chinese school on Sundays, We hated it. But luckily Sunday was the only day the shop was closed and my parents were prone to oversleeping. We often moved the clocks forward so the alarms went off too late! As they never woke in time so we missed the classes. Eventually my father exasperated by our determined stone walling of Chinese school, cancelled our subscription and enrolled us into the local orchestra instead. Hence occasionally, you might have to put up with me playing the violin to you in the restaurant!

We just want to thank God, all our family and friends and customers for celebrating our birthday with us at Sweet Mandarin. Be blessed and God Bless You Always.

Love Helen and Lisa

 

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.

Oct 10

The Story behind Sweet Mandarin

Sweet Mandarin - Helen Tse 2006.

“To the ruler, the people are Heaven; to the people, food is Heaven”. (An ancient Chinese proverb)

My grandmother, Lilly Kwok, was born in 1918 small village in Southern China. As an unborn child, she kicked so hard that the midwife thought she would be a boy. That independence, strength and energy stayed with her all her life. Lilly is 88 now and still a fit, intelligent and, I’m afraid to say, stubborn woman. She and I are very alike. Along with my mother, she has been the inspiration for much of what I have done with my life; my success at school and in business; my return to the catering trade; and my journey back to China to rediscover my roots. In short, her story is my story.

Having grown up living and working in a Chinese catering tradition she started, it was a path that I and my two sisters vowed we’d never allow to become my livelihood. We never expected that eventually our lives to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother and my mother, Mabel. Despite my sisters and I pursuing professional careers as a lawyer, financier and engineer, we opened a Chinese restaurant together called Sweet Mandarin in 2004.

At the time, we were asked by everyone we knew – why open a restaurant? Restaurants are difficult to run, hard work and financially precarious. It is a tough, male dominated world and no place for three twenty something professional ladies. Indeed our friends in Manchester’s Chinese community were doing everything they could to escape the restaurant and take-away businesses of their parents. Many had even moved away from their hometowns so with their homes a few hundreds of miles away, it was virtually impossible to rush back to help out in the family catering businesses. Albeit extreme, that was the only way one could really escape without being crushed by guilt and obligation. I could count on one hand the number of my Chinese peers who were willing to embark on such a venture and return to their roots.

These people believed we had taken a step backwards. Even on our opening night party, a huge affair with fireworks and a street party, I saw them shake their heads pitying our choice. However I also remember the older Chinese bosses of the Chinatown restaurants and supermarkets smiling at us with respect and quiet acknowledgement that we were the next generation to carry the flickering, dimming torch. They wished their sons and daughters would take a leaf out of our book and continue the family restaurant business.

Opening my own restaurant gave me more than just a chance to test my entrepreneurial streak. It brought me closer to sisters for a start. Though I shall be the voice for all of us in this book, they share this heritage with me but I shall be their voice for all of us in this book. It also introduced me to my grandmother and mother and opened up a bridge between us that crossed East and West as well as the present and the past.

While my sisters and I have faced many problems in getting our business off the ground, these pale in comparison to those faced by our grandmother and mother, who arrived in England off the boat from Hong Kong with nothing.

My mother, my grandmother and I always shop together on Saturday mornings at a Chinese supermarket called Chi Yip close to home. We buy stock for Sweet Mandarin and Chinese produce for our home cooking list. It was during these shopping trips that the story of my grandmother’s life, which had been locked away for decades, was first revealed to me. Of course, I knew some things, the funny characters and anecdotes that all families share when they get together but never the full details of the determination and incredible struggle that had brought my grandmother to England. The story slipped out in parts. As we shopped, week after week, my grandmother would reveal more, often prompted by individual items she picked up around the store. It was as if each bottle or package was tied to a chapter in her life that she wanted to share with us. When your entire family works in restaurants, food, it seems, becomes your family heirloom.

There is very little written about the journey of mainland Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong and Britain, many of whom have built their lives in the restaurant and catering trade. As I discovered more about the journey that has been my grandmother’s incredible life, I wanted to describe to the world her experience, for it is one which is shared by so many Chinese in this country.

Immigration is a huge issue in today’s multiracial society and this book is about those who emigrate from the place of their birth to build a new home in another and the struggles they face to survive in both. This immigrant story is about my grandmother, my mother and myself; three generations of independent Chinese women who made a life in the restaurant business. The story ranges from Guangzhou, in south China in the 1920s, to Hong Kong in the 1930s to England from the 1950s to the present day.

Though these lives have been played out in different eras and countries, they are as dramatic as the times we lived through. Like all families, we have faced unpredictable and devastating upheavals but the women in my family have learnt to survive.

There is no other book that can tell this story because no-one has walked in my shoes. Like the Chinese cooking which has saved us, my family fortunes contain layers of meaning and wisdom that cannot be easily explained. This is a book that is written from the heart and which seeks to remember past generations with gratitude and thanks. It is both a witness to the kindness and cruelty of people and a demonstration of how resilient human beings can be. Sometimes, it seems as if the most terrible of times has brought out the best in my family.

I offer you this book in the spirit of Lilly Kwok’s Chicken Curry, Mabel’s Claypot and Buddha’s Golden Picnic Basket and in honour of the exceptional women who gave me a chance in the world.

Gambei or Cheers!

Helen

This except is taken from the book Sweet Mandarin which was published by Random House and sold into 33 countries. It is now available on Kindle for download.

cover

 

Oct 08

Mr Chow’s Oven Baked Barbecue Chicken Wings

photo 5 (8)a‘I can still taste those barbecue chicken wings from old Mr Chow on the corner of Stanley market,’ said my grandmother. ‘They were the first thing your grandfather bought for me on our first meeting. He also had to buy a portion for my friend, Kat. In those days, you couldn’t go on a date un-chaperoned.’ The three of us agreed they were delicious and the majority of the discussion of the evening comprised of guess what ingredients were in the barbecue sauce.

 

It turns out that my grandfather didn’t eat his chicken wings as he was lovestruck. He didn’t want to get his fingers dirty and said he was straight out of a Ming dynasty story ‘The Oil Peddler and the Plum Flower Girl’, where the usually unruffled soul of the leading male character Qin Zhong is as if struck by lightning: ‘He stood dumbstruck for an age, his whole body limp and numb’ known today as ‘love-struck’.

 

It turns out the feeling was mutual love of earth-moving, soul-shattering proportions between my grandmother and grandfather – well at least in the beginning. And straight after that date, my grandmother set about experimenting with the herbs and spices in her employer’s well-stocked kitchen to replicate the very same taste of love that she had experienced on that starry night in Stanley.

 

This very same sauce is what we have bottled and makes this fuss-free recipe and unlike other barbecue recipes doesn’t need any marinade time at all because of the secret ingredient, the Sweet Mandarin barbecue sauce. This sauce is packed with herbs and spices and brings the chicken wings to life and hopefully your love life too!

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

 

800g chicken wings

1 x 300g bottle of Sweet Mandarin Barbecue Sauce

3 spring onions, sliced

 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.

 

Clean the chicken wings in water and drain. Pat dry with kitchen paper. Lay the chicken wings on a foil-lined baking tray and pour over the Sweet Mandarin Barbecue Sauce. Ensure all the chicken is covered evenly. Cook for 20 minutes.

 

Remove the chicken from the oven and scatter the spring onions on top of the chicken wings to decorate and serve.

Oct 01

Chicken Stock

Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is one of the key ingredients in Chinese cooking and is used as a base for many of the recipes in this book.

This really simple Chinese recipe is for a light, delicious and naturally sweetened stock.

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My grandmother, Lily Kwok, met my grandfather, Chan under the most remarkable circumstances. Lily was a maid and cook for an English family in Hong Kong and was walking the baby with a friend when saw the lifeless body of a young boy (who eventually became our grandfather) washed up on the docks. She cried out to her friend and together they raised the alarm to their English family who took him to hospital and resuscitated him. Chan opened his eyes and the lights caused him to squint in pain. As he familiarised himself with the brightness, he saw Lily looking at him – thought she was an angel and that he had died. For days after this incident, my grandmother made chicken stock and painstakingly restored the health of Chan with this soup. She has sworn by this recipe and believes it is almost as powerful as the holy waters.

 

In many Chinese dishes, we use stock as a base. Throughout this book, references to chicken stock will refer to this recipe.

 

Makes 2 litres

 

Prep time 5 minutes

Cooking time 1 hour

 

8 chicken wings. weighing approx. 800g

1 large onion, chopped into large cubes

5cm piece of fresh ginger

3 litres water

 

Wash the chicken wings thoroughly. Add the chicken wings, onion and ginger to a saucepan, cover with the water and bring to the boil. Hard boil for 15 minutes.

 

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes with the lid covering the saucepan. It will reduce down to about 2 litres of stock, which can be used for soups or dishes. If any scum has formed on the top of the stock, skim it off before using. The boiled chicken wings will be extra tender and can be eaten. Extra stock can be poured into an ice cube tray and frozen. Use the iced stock cubes 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.

 

Mar 26

Happy Mother’s Day – I Love You Mum

mothers love

The written character for mother love is composed of two elements: love and pain. I had always thought this emotion was felt by daughters for their mothers especially when I was growing up and often reluctantly had to help in the family catering business giving up my weekends, social life and teenage years, but looking at the sacrifices my mother made and her courage, I realised this emotion was for her. My mother suffered deeply to give birth and there are so many things in her life that I long to know.

People keep secrets from each other all the time. Mothers keep secrets from their daughters; daughters keep secrets from their mothers. We tell part truths. And it is these secrets – these stories that have a ripple effect throughout generations. I don’t know every single aspect of my mother’s life – but through her experiences and how she taught my sisters and I, these things have helped to turn us into the persons we have become as adults.

I’ve learnt that the cruelest words in the universe are if only. When I was away from Manchester – Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, the initial reaction was wow freedom – hurrah. Yet as soon as I landed, I missed the smells of jasmine tea, hungered for my mum’s congee and steamed chicken, missed the chatter with our customers in the shop and the laughter around the family table late at night. I missed having my mum as a confidant – and being able to pour out my failures to my mum. But what I missed most was my mum and my family.

 

During my stint away from home, I’d never admit I was homesick or that I loved my mum. It was this fear of being weak. Yet every day I’d try to re-enact the usual routine I’d been accustomed to at home – even the things I hated doing such as washing up reminded me of my mum and gave me some comfort as I waded through the soapy suds. I had the freedom in Australia to go out, meet whom I wanted and not hear the nagging of my parents. Yet, this fear of not seeing them again. The fear that I might be stuck here forever – scared me and when it was finally time to return home, I was a different person and grateful for my mum.

My mother has tried so hard to protect me as a child but sometimes mothers can’t protect their children even if they try with all their might. I guess we can only do our best in the moment. My relationship with my mother has changed, evolved, endured tension and been rejuvenated through love.

On Mother’s Day (Sunday 10th March), I just wanted to tell you, Mum, that I Love You and thank you for being the best Mum in the world.

To celebrate Mothers Day and to tell your mum that you love her, join us at Sweet Mandarin for a celebratory dinner (from the a la carte menu or banquets).

TO BOOK A TABLE click here

Aug 16

Peter Pan and Stacy Solomon as Tinkerbell spreads some magic in Manchester and at Sweet Mandarin

If you are going to see Peter Pan make your visit even more magical with a treat at Sweet Mandarin (which is a 10 minute walk away from the MEN Arena).

Stacey Solomon joins the cast of this ground-breaking theatrical production to become Tinker Bell. In her role Stacey will be narrating the show and singing the much loved classic You Raise Me Up which has been adapted by musical director Matt Dunkley (a driving force behind music for Moulin Rouge, Black Swan and Inception). This will combine with classic hits by Robbie Williams, Seal and Rod Stewart, to name a few, to create a truly impressive soundtrack to compliment one of the most spectacular arena shows ever seen.

Stacey Solomon has been a family favourite since winning over viewers hearts on the 6th series of The X Factor with her down to earth nature. Stacey said: “Singing and performing is a huge passion of mine and to be asked to be one of my children’s favourite characters is such an honour, I can’t wait to see their faces when I come flying out on stage.”

Peter Pan, The Never Ending Story is a high-flying, hi-tech fantasy adventure that combines the drama and excitement of live theatre with the epic visuals of a blockbuster movie.

Pinch yourself as you watch Peter Pan fly high above the stage without wires – a world first in theatre! Marvel at the spectacular scenery, brought to life by state-of-the-art digital imaging – Neverland like never before.

Lose yourself in the show’s original music score and specially arranged classic songs including Angels, Forever Young, Sailing and Nessun Dorma. And hold your breath as Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys cross swords with Captain Hook and his Pirates.

Featuring an international cast of acrobats, dancers, stuntmen and magicians, Peter Pan, The Never Ending Story is a magical experience that moves live entertainment into a new dimension. Theatre… with added fairy dust!

Jul 16

Rhianna’s here! Are you joining us at Sweet Mandarin?

 

Did you know that Sweet Mandarin is a short 10 minute walk from the MEN Arena where Rhianna is playing. She’s left her Umbrella with us after a sumptuous feast of hot and sour soup and sizzing scallops. If you are going to see Rhianna, come on over and let us treat you to a diamond quality pre-concert dinner. Please book your table here to avoid disappointment please.

 

Following her four sold-out Manchester Arena dates in winter 2011, the international R’n'B returns to showcase tracks from her latest album Diamonds, alongside the chart-topping hits Umbrella, Don’t Stop The Music, Only Girl (In The World), SOS, Disturbia and Shut Up And Drive.

The recipient of six Grammy Awards and seven Billboard Music Awards, Rihanna has sold over 37 million albums and 146 million digital tracks worldwide, and currently holds the record as the top-selling digital artist of all time.


 

 

Jul 12

Congratulations to all the Graduates – Celebrate your graduation at Sweet Mandarin and let me buy you a drink!

Congratulations to all the Graduates.

We see new friends coming in and old friends are about to leave. Graduates now have a big decision to make in their life track. Some of them will start their career next summer while others will plan for their further study. Time flies. Three years at university transform a person from a high school student to a professional ready to serve society. We at Sweet Mandarin congratulate you on your hard earned degrees and give you our best wishes.

But before you start to fly high, please slow down and spend a quiet moment on your university campus, where you have been studying, working and making friends for three years. Give sincere thanks to every road you went through, every book you read, and every friend you made. Because once you begin to work, you will see how different it is from university life.

At university, all moments, happy or sad, have been treasures from heaven. Pack them up in your mind, and embark on a new journey. Plenty more such moments are waiting for you in the years to come. Whether these moments are good or bad, you will understand life through experiencing them.

Years later, when you are in another part of the world, the moment you think of your youth, you will realise that part of your heart is still at university and Manchester will always be your home!

To celebrate, join us at Sweet Mandarin for a graduation banquet. To book a table go online here

Jul 05

Are you going to the Manchester International Festival – Dine at Sweet Mandarin & make it a sweet night

 

 

Manchester International Festival lasts for 17 days and Sweet Mandarin is slap bang in the middle of their venues  so you’re in for a sweet treat – enjoy an evening of delicious food at Sweet Mandarin and a night filled with music and culture. This is one of the festivals that I have been hungering after and its a perfect pick me up to July which sometimes can feel somewhat sluggish and one gets impatient for something new to experience. Well here it is!  The Manchester International Festival is a rich bedrock of music, culture and arts and you’ll be buzzing at the end of the festival because there are some amazing acts on. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Goldfrapp play with the RNCM string orchestra and Neneh Cherry (blast from the past). Then there’s Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston – a little piece of Hollywood has descended right on our doorstep. It will fill your yearning to awaken the creative senses in you and at worst put a smile on your face. These events really put Manchester on the map and locals are in for a treat. It’s been a pleasure to cook for many of the talented artists and team who are behind this event. So which events are you going for?

Here’s the entire what’s on guide here

To book a table at Sweet Mandarin click here

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