Dec 16

Hot and Sour Soup

 

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

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

600ml chicken stock

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

100g small prawns

50g bamboo shoots

50g carrot strips

50g tofu, cut into strips

1 teaspoon chillibean sauce

1 tablespoon white vinegar

100ml Sweet Mandarin sweet and sour sauce

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon sugar

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

1 drop of sesame oil

1 small egg, beaten

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Dec 12

How did we end up in the UK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 09

Congratulations to @cathaypacificUK Direct Flights from Manchester to HK!

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

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

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

 

Dec 09

Crispy Won Tons

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Serves 2/Makes approx. 20

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

200g minced king prawns

200g minced pork

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoons potato starch

25ml water

20 wonton skins

vegetable oil, for frying

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Dec 05

How my grandma chose her English name, Lilly.

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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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Dec 02

Tuesday’s Pork Rib Broth

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

Serves 2

 

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 2 hours

 

3.5 litres water

400g pork spare ribs

2 whole carrots, peeled

2 whole radishes

5cm piece of fresh ginger, slightly smashed

2 teaspoons salt

50g fresh coriander, chopped

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Nov 28

My grandmother’s peace was to be shattered permanently…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Nov 25

Lettuce Wraps (or San Choy Bau in Chinese)

 

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

 

Makes 10–12

 

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

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

1 x 227g can bamboo slices

1 x 227g can water chestnuts, sliced

1 carrot, diced

6 Chinese mushrooms, soaked and diced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cooked chicken fillet, finely sliced

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

1 x 300g bottle of Sweet Mandarin Barbecue Sauce

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Nov 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Nov 18

Healthy Fish Soup

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My great-grandmother and great-grandfather were betrothed at the age of four and had an arranged marriage ten years later. Great grandmother was dressed in red – for luck and good fortune – before being taken to the groom’s home for the ceremony. She never went back – from that day on she belonged to the Leung family by both civil and religious law. Great grandmother’s duty was to obey and serve her mother-in-law and the adjustment was stark and solemn. A poem of Wang Jian (王建) implied that the new bride had to appease and gain her acceptance into the new family and one of the tests was to make soup for her new family. The fish soup was the typical soup and was supposed to show skill. The translucent opaque colour would show flair for cooking and drawing out the goodness of the fish into the liquid. The Chinese believed it was unhealthy to drink cold drinks with a meal and the soup would form an important part of the meal, lining the stomach and warming the body. Great grandmother swore by this soup. She believed the smooth velvety-ness calmed her mother-in-law’s temper which was incredibly short and extinguished the fire in her eyes.

You can use any white fish for this soup and one of my favourite fishes is sea bream – perfect for a healthy fish soup full of nutrients, creamy in texture and opaque white in colour.

Serves 2

 

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes

 

1 whole sea bream (or any white fish of your choice), weighing approx. 330g

1 teaspoon salt

200g spinach, washed and preferably stalks removed2 carrots, diced into thick rounds1.5 litres water

Clean the bream thoroughly and the salt on its body and cavity.

 

Put the whole fish and carrots into a saucepan, fill with water and bring to the boil. Hard boil for 5 minutes.

 

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Then add the washed spinach which will cook down in minutes.

 

Simmer for a further 15 minutes. At this stage the flesh of the fish will be cooked, falling off the bone and the soup an opaque white in colour.

 

Serve. If you are worried about the bones, sieve the soup into a bowl, then serve. Apportion the fish, spinach and carrots into each bowl of soup.

 

 

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

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

 

Nov 14

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.

Nov 11

Crispy Mini Rolls with Sweet Mandarin Dips

SWEET-MAN REFIN

Growing up in 1980s Britain, my father was keen to impress the value of Chinese culture and language on us, and how traditions and folklore were the stuff of our lives too. He even enrolled us in Chinese school, which we hated because it was held on Sundays – our only day off. We got cunning though and changed my parents’ alarm clock so the whole family would wake up too late for us to race to Chinese school. Eventually my father got exasperated and cancelled our subscription there, enrolling us in a local orchestra instead, which we much preferred.

 

However Chinese school was not in vain. I learnt a fascinating ancient Chinese story about how the Spring Rolls became the most popular appetizer on all Chinese restaurants menus around the world. The story goes that many centuries ago in ancient China during the Spring festival, the tea houses would prepare a Spring dish to celebrate. This Spring dish began life as a spring pancake but eventually was replaced by the spring roll to replicate the increasing status of wealth in China. Spring rolls were made to resemble gold bars, the symbol of wealth and power. Next time you order spring rolls, have a look how golden and beautiful they are, just like a gold bar. During Chinese New Year, these spring rolls are eaten as a symbol of a prosperous new year. You’ll never look at another spring roll in the same light!

 

Makes approx. 15–20 spring rolls

 

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

 

1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned

225g tinned bamboo shoot strips

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for deep frying

1 medium onion, finely sliced

400g fresh beansprouts

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon five spice powder

½ teaspoon sesame oil

1 (250g) pack of spring roll pastry (8×8 cm)

2 tablespoons of flour and 4 tablespoons of cold water, mixed into paste

 

To make the filling, in a wok boil with enough water to cover the carrot and bamboo shoots for 5 minutes until softened. Drain and set aside.

 

In a hot wok, add the vegetable oil and stir fry the vegetables for 5 minutes. Season with the salt, sugar, five spice powder and sesame oil. When cooked drain in a colander ensuring that the filling is as dry as possible otherwise it will make the spring rolls soggy. Leave to cool.

 

Separate the spring roll sheets and prepare the flour water paste – it should be sticky not runny. Place the spring roll on a flat surface or plate. Turn the spring roll sheet with the corner facing you, i.e. so it makes a diamond shape. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of the spring roll sheet. Roll the corner forward to the centre of the spring roll sheet. Dab some flour water mixture onto the left and right corners. Then fold over the righthand side to the centre of the spring roll and fold the lefthand side to the centre of the spring roll. Keep the spring roll tight and roll forward. Dab more flour water mixture to the corner furthest away. Roll forward and the spring roll is complete, and repeat with the remaining pastry sheets.

 

To cook the spring rolls, fill a wok with vegetable oil and heat until the oil is hot (see chef’s tips). When the oil is hot enough, drop the spring rolls in carefully and cook for 5 minutes, turning so the entire spring roll becomes golden like those gold bars!

 

Serve with Sweet Mandarin’s sweet and sour or sweet chilli dipping sauces.

 

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

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

 

Nov 07

We are the fourth generation of sauce makers…

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When I worked in Hong Kong it struck me how hard working and determined the Hong Kong citizens were. I was expected to work long hours including weekends and did so ungrudgingly. On my family were flying back to the UK, I was unable to bid them farewell at the airport as I was stuck in the office. I learnt quickly that to the Chinese business always comes first. Despite the fertile conditions and booming restaurant market, my great grandfather’s Leung’s business was slow to start and was always hard graft. Leung however was hard working and determined. He left before dawn and returned home only after the last restaurant was shut. Several times a month, he was forced to return to the village in China to oversee production of the soy sauce and prevent light-fingered insiders from pilfering the goods.

Eventually, he did manage to secure his first contracts with restaurants but setting up the distribution process from scratch was not cheap and on top of the running costs, local authorities had to be bribed to ensure the safe passage of goods to the island. In those early days, the burgeoning business made barely enough money to sustain the family. The highlights of Leung and Tai Po’s life together were few and far between and the hours they spent hauling the little cart through the streets were long.

Slowly his business began to prosper as restaurants, street stalls and suppliers began to purchase greater quantities of soy sauce from Leung. As more money came in, as last the family began to improve their living conditions.

They left their relatives’ shack and moved into a modest flat of their own. It was still in Wan Chai but overlooking the harbour. Life was at last taking a turn for the better and the family faced the world with renewed optimism. Space of their own was luxury beyond their wildest dreams.

With the flat came new clothes and, for the first time since they had arrived in Hong Kong, regular meals. I’m prepared to bet money that they were big ones too as everyone in my family loves to eat. After these feasts, Leung would make great show of teaching his girls how to sample soy sauce like a professional. First, he would pour a small amount into a glass and swizzle it around before smelling its bouquet with great ceremony. He would then talk with the authority of a university professor about the perceived sweetness of the aroma as he let the sauce settle into an inky puddle in the bottom of the glass. Leung would declare that the true test of soy sauce was in the taste, dip a bamboo chopstick into the soy sauce to sample the product. Then he placed a drop on the tongue of each of girls. Finally he tasted one drop himself, smacking his lips loudly before declaring that the sauce was, of course, perfect and delicious.

This nightly ritual of testing soy sauce became a family joke as well as a celebration of everything that the aromatic liquid had brought them. As her family tucked into delicious dinners of soy sauce and fragrant jasmine rice, they laughed and joked about the day’s events and their adventures in the street, while my grandmother regaled the family with tales of the luxurious life on Robinson Road.

For everyone in the family, life was good. As the months passed, Hong Kong no longer seemed so alien and the island revealed its mysteries to them. As they walked the streets, especially near the quayside, they would often pass new families who had just arrived from the mainland. They were easy to spot, wide eyed, startled by the noise and bustle, with dirty faces and tatty rural clothes and their bundled possessions pressed tightly to their chests. My grandmother confessed that she would point them out and laugh her sophisticated city dwellers laugh.

“Now now, Lilly”, her father would say. “Don’t you remember your tears in the market? Not so long ago, that was us.” The days of the factory and the fields and their simple life seemed so long ago. But back home in Guangzhou, greed and jealousy were growing in the village as news of Leung’s success seeped back to his former neighbours.

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

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Nov 04

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.

 

 

 

Oct 28

Miso Soup with Tofu

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My grandmother lived through World War Two, which saw Hong Kong endure years of Japanese occupation. By the end of the war in 1945 Hong Kong was a shadow of its former self – the population had halved and the economy shattered. When Lily told me of this time she muttered Japanese phrases with a fluency that surprised me. At that point in her life, she was a maid to a Dutch chocolate maker located in Hong Kong who had won a contract to supply chocolate to the Japanese soldiers. She and her employer family learnt Japanese and set sail for Japan where Lily cooked side by side the Japanese cooks and there in Tokyo they swapped recipes including the miso soup.

 

Today, in Hong Kong, the Japanese influences are apparent for all to see. The miso soup is synonymous with Japanese sushi and is a favourite for many in Hong Kong and all over the world. This soup tastes totally different from Chinese soups because the dashi stock is flavoured with dried fish making it aromatic and full of umami flavour. It is something that is a must with sushi or teriyaki dishes. Miso soup is created by adding miso paste to dashi stock. Miso (みそ or 味噌) is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting rice, barley, and/or soybeans with salt and the fungus kōjikin (麹菌). The result is a thick paste used for sauces and spreads and mixing with dashi soup stock to serve as miso soup called misoshiru (味噌汁), a Japanese culinary staple.

 

Serves 2

 

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

 

800ml dashi stock

4 tablespoons white or red miso paste

75g silken tofu, cut into small cubes10g dried wakame seaweed 30g spring onions, choppedPour the dashi stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

 

Place the miso paste in a bowl and add 2–3 tablespoons of the stock. Stir to dissolve the paste in the soup. Pour the mixture back into the pan of simmering soup.

 

Add the tofu and wakame seaweed and increase the heat for about 5 minutes, but do not bring to boil.

 

Sprinkle with chopped spring onion just before serving.

 

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

 

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

20g dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

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

1 litre of water

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Oct 24

A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark

Hong Kong 1925 – 1930

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“A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark” (ancient Chinese proverb)

When I lived in Hong Kong in 2002, I found the place as exciting as it was overwhelming. It was buzzing with life, a heady mixture of the old and the new that was constantly evolving. My mother had always keen that I should visit the place. Hong Kong held a special place in her heart. It was, after all, the place where she grew up in until the age of seven. But her perception of Hong Kong has stood still since then even she was so taken aback at how much it had changed since she left.

Her first comment was “I feel more British than Chinese”.

It’s hard to imagine how much the city must have changed since my grandmother’s day. Long before the high rise buildings and tract s of reclaimed, Hong Kong had long been considered one of the marvels of the East. Victoria Harbour is one of the deepest maritime ports in the world and had been selected by the British as a safe haven for boats of all sizes against the fierce and unpredictable storms of the Pacific.

My grandmother remembers her arrival in Victoria Harbour as a wide eyed, seven year old child, perched on her father’s knee at the front of the little ferry boat as they bobbed across the choppy waters. Flotillas of commercial junks and sleek private sailboats of the rich clustered around them. Beyond those, she could just make out a huge grey navy battleship at anchor like some sleeping whale.

They crossed the harbour with their little boat hugged the coastline for safety. As they approached shore, they passed through messy groups of small, rag tag fishing boats, swathed in loose rigging and weighted down with fishing nets, boxes and barrels. As they passed each vessel, their crews, who were lounging on deck in the morning sunshine, roused themselves and shouted greetings, offers to buy and sell, sometimes holding up their wares for those on the ferry to see. Lilly’s father, Leung, who had made the trip many times, turned them down with a friendly, confident wave.

From the harbour, Hong Kong sat in the lap of high green mountains. The city seemed to spread itself out as far as my grandmother could see in either direction. At its centre was the heavily populated nub of Wan Chai where dozens of ramshackle wooded buildings were crammed into an impossibly small space; behind them stood stately white colonial buildings that dominated Hong Kong

Sweet Mandarin © Helen Tse 2006 18

Island. Such architecture was the physical symbol of British power and civilisation. The imposing blocks stood two or three stories high and were lined with long cool verandas supported by whitewashed pillars. The slums of Wan Chai were dense and familiar looking to a country girl whereas the wide boulevards and municipal square created a feeling of space and order in the centre of a city that made it look like some great citadel.

My grandmother had never seen so many buildings piled next to each other; a crazy concept to a child used only to one room huts. The city was eating its way into the lush green forest around the harbour. Some outcrops stretching so far up into the hills off winding roads that they faded into the mist as if the urban sprawl carried on up into heaven itself. My grandmother said she was worried that some of the little houses would fall off the cliff’s edge they seemed so precariously placed.

In Guangzhou the air had been dusty and dry, approaching Hong Kong by sea, the atmosphere was heavy and tropical yet laced with the salty tang of the ocean. Seagulls squawking overhead as they approached the shore and my grandmother heard the first sounds of people, rickshaws and cars over the splutter of the little boat’s engine. It was the hubbub of a busy port; the honk of distant foghorns and the steady trundle of cranes unloading cargo. Men shouting orders at running labourers and everywhere chains slipping and ropes creaking as crates and barrels made their way ashore. There were people everywhere, hurtling back and forth with wild purpose up and down the quay. They were carrying, lifting, shouting and smoking, joking and jostling as they went about their business. The scene was so frenetic it made her heart race.

They moored next to a high concrete wharf and climbed a wooden ladder to exit the boat. Stepping ashore, the family huddled in a circle around their meagre pile of possessions, a few tatty bags. All around them the bustle of Hong Kong’s streets spewed out onto the quayside. There were sailors of all nationalities arguing inventories with Chinese dock men dressed in oily rags.

My grandmother had to look twice when she saw her first English man. He seemed like a giant. Twice as tall as her father, with full round eyes and a thick

Sweet Mandarin © Helen Tse 2006 19

blond moustache, he strode past her in a white linen suit as crisp as a sheet of paper. She told me her mouth dropped open with the shock. She did not take her eyes off the man until he walked out of sight.

I could imagine rural Chinese today having that same initial reaction to Westerners visiting their homeland. Nothing much ever happened in my grandmother’s village to make anyone walk with purpose let alone run, in Hong Kong the people seemed to be moving at double speed. They hurried between shops decorated with strings of lights and long thin signs displaying columns of Chinese characters in a blur of movement and colour. On the dusty streets stood small compact stores selling all kinds of food, clothes, dried goods, utensils and beautiful trinkets. Lanterns red and gold in colours adorned the stores and the hawkers yelled out special offers to all that would listen. The frantic bargaining of the customers and stall holders standing by them was part of the public spectacle as wooden abacuses were handed from seller to buyer as each flicked the smooth balls back and forth to find a mutually agreed price.

My grandmother clung onto her father’s coat tightly as she took in the scene. As a young child who had never seen such sights, she was truly frightened by the deafening noise.

For all the excitement, my grandmother told me what she most remembers of her first moments in Hong Kong was how hungry she felt as she stood on the quayside. The family had not eaten since they left home and all around her the air was thick with the smoke from small fires. Smells of fresh fish on ice and roasting char siu pork wafted from quay side eateries that fed the local fishermen drifted through the air. I could only imagine the colourful and startling scenes that lay before my grandmother’s eyes as I stood on the now pristine Wan Chai harbour fifty years later. The International Convention Centre, a huge flat glass building that housed thousands of people for exhibitions and concerts, stands there now on reclaimed land that would have been water in my grandmother’s day. But then a lone street hawker, his trolley stacked with smoked and barbecued chicken skewers walked past me, the smells made me hungry as her. Some things never change.

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

Oct 21

Sesame Prawn Toast

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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

Jul 04

May the Fourth Be With You – Sweet Mandarin – Independence Day Bonanza – Awesome!

Happy Independence Day. Today on the 4th July 1776 America celebrated its independence from Great Britain. The funny fact I learnt was that the legal separation of the countries actually occured on the 2nd July rather than the 4th July. However, on the 4th July fireworks, banquet and parties were scheduled. So the entire USA adopted 4th July as the official celebratory day. That means food trumps legal papers! Hey I’m cool with that!
Thank you to America for embracing our book, Sweet Mandarin – which is used in schools in America and has been endorsed by Amy Tan and Oprah’s chef, Art Smith (click here) .

To celebrate this wonderful day, come to Sweet Mandarin for Fourth of July Cocktails and enjoy a spot of al fresco dining in our beer garden. We’re putting on the ultimate barbecue chicken, lettuce wraps and some awesome coconut king prawn dipped in our home made sweet chilli sauce. To book a table go to our website www.sweetmandarin.com (Book a table page).

Jul 02

Thank you to the generations of clients who have supported us. You’re the best.

We held a Thank You Dinner for our longest standing clients – those who through generations have frequented my Grandma’s restaurant, my Mum’s takeaway and now us at Sweet Mandarin.

 

As I was serving these wonderful folk, my heart twinged with sadness and longing. Unlike my grandma’s and mum’s businesses who have loyal regulars every single week – on the same day, at the same time – ordering the same dishes (‘Usual please’) for the last 50 years – being located in the Manchester city centre area – the population is far more transient.

Nonetheless, I value my regular customers and corporate clients and set myself a personal challenge to get to know my regulars with a view to build a lasting legacy for Sweet Mandarin and future generations. Helen, Janet and I want to invite you to Sweet Mandarin for dinner. Who knows, maybe after my 50 years, our grandchildren can invite you, our regular customers to a wonderful event like the above.

 

Jul 01

A fact which is too close for comfort – Foodbanks & Fareshare

Being a restaurateur and sauce manufacturer, I’ve always got food on my mind. When I met with Lucy Danger, CEO of Evolve (which also collaborates with Fareshare) at the Inspiring Women Awards dinner I discovered some uncomfortable truths as we were tucking into our three course gourmet meal. 500,000 people are fed by Fareshare (the warehouse which distributes to Foodbanks such as The Trussell Trust and Salvation Army). That figure swam around in my mind because it was such a large number. The UK is the 7th richest country yet the UK is facing destitution, hardship and hunger on a massive scale.

“In the UK?” I asked. “There’s that many people hungry?”

“Yes” replied Lucy “and the frightening thing is that number is growing every day. These people are falling through the net and without foodbanks they’d be without food. They range from people who have lost their jobs, or people whose benefits have been stopped or people who pay for heating in these freezing months over food. What is most heart breaking and shocking is how many children go hungry – about 130,000.”

I’d only really recalled the Oliver Twist Dickensian era where food shortage was in the forefront of everyone’s minds, but today, 21st century, this situation of starving families is an uncomfortable reality. I remembered as I was teaching dim sum masterclasses to the 174 schools in Manchester, that many students said they did not have any lunch money and hungrily finished every morsel of food which we had made in class.  Then I started to read reports in the newspaper about 13million people living under the poverty line and due to either redundancy or ill health they couldn’t afford food. Indeed the Manchester Evening News reported 1 in 10 people in Manchester skip meals because they can’t afford it. I swallowed hard and shook my head in disbelief. I didn’t feel comfortable sitting in a plush hotel eating my meal knowing these facts and felt compelled to do something.

I asked Lucy what they needed and they said they needed pasta, rice, sauces. Sauces! I immediately pledged to donate a few pallet of our Sweet Mandarin Sauces – which could be perfectly used cold for dipping or with pasta or rice. A few weeks later, I visited the Fareshare warehouse and was pleased to see the pallets of Sweet Mandarin Sauces donated had nearly finished. I’ve pledged to give 10% of my sauces to Foodbanks. Todate, I have donated to 35  foodbanks but there are about 500 foodbanks so I’ve only scratched the surface and one day I will donate to each of them. I cannot and will not sit back and do nothing now I know these statistics. I pledge that I will continue to help where I can. So the more Sweet Mandarin sauces sold, the more I will continue to help.

When we arrived at Fareshare which is based in Smithfield Markets, I was immediately humbled by the enthusiasm ans passion Lucy Danger and her team gave to the cause, and sat and discussed how we at Sweet Mandarin Sauces could lend our expertise in giving Fareshare assistance from a food manufacturing point of view. You see, donations vary vastly and may sometimes include a pallet of mangos with a short shelf life of days. In that circumstance, turning a pile of mangoes into mango chutney extended the life of the product and could be enjoyed by many more families. Its been a bit like pot luck with pallets of lemons, potatoes, carrots – the latter two easily distributed to Foodbanks and families, but the lemons, well its a bit harder to give away 3,000 lemons right?  With the lemon, we discussed the possible products to make from lemons and how to get accredited from a Health and Hygience perspective so that Fareshare can actually commercially sell their products and generate a self sustaining income.  I’ve realised that my manufacturing experience can help Fareshare to process their raw ingredients and create a wonderful product from it which will be enjoyed by many. I know that this is a cause which hits a nerve in my heart and I’ve got to do my bit to help and to raise awareness.

I urge all of us to not waste food but if anything is in your cupboards that hasn’t been used – to donate it to your local food bank. Foodbanks also patiently stand at the front of Sainsbury’s and there you can buy beans, pasta, our Sweet Mandarin sauces and donate a bottle or two to the grateful volunteers.  I am saddened, shocked and called to action by the rising number of people relying on foodbanks and hope that you too can help out a neighbour in these desperate times.

For more information go to http://www.fareshare.org.uk

Jun 28

I love Fridays at Sweet Mandarin

Hurray! We’ve made it to Friday. To celebrate we’re going to make you some amazing cocktails – Tom Cruise inspired – to get you in the mood for the weekend. So first, let’s enjoy the video of the original Cocktail movie.

Come to Sweet Mandarin to celebrate Fridays with our wonderful cocktails. Try the Shanghai Alley cocktail (infused with lychee, passion fruit and a hint of strawberry) or the snake blood cocktail (an aphrodisiac). Oh and don’t forget to sample our wonderful dishes. To book your table go online www.sweetmandarin.com

 

Jun 26

Help he’s choking……

In the restaurant business, I’ve seen it all, including when someone starts choking and goes blue. Its moments like this which put the fear of God in us, especially if we don’t know what to do in a life-or-death situation like this. Luckily, we’ve had nurses and air hostesses in at the time when such incidents happened but I always felt that we as servers to the public should be in a position to also assist.  That is why when I met Joanne who runs Millie’s Trust at the Inspiring Women’s Awards where she deservedly won the Inspiring Women Award I listened with a sympathetic ear when she told the audience how she lost her baby because the nursery staff did not know what to do whilst the baby choked to death, and it also motivated me to enrol on her courses (which she now runs with the help of Stockport First Aid Courses) – so I could step up to this responsibility, as could my entire team, if we were ever faced with this situation at Sweet Mandarin.

For many restaurants, First Aid may well be the last thing on our minds as there are so many other things to juggle – menus, customers, staff, suppliers, but to be honest, that attitude is wrong. First Aid should equally be on the fore front of our minds as the statistics show a staggering 16,000 choke and death can easily be avoided if we know what to do in these circumstances.

The course was taught by Jo-Anne and was excellent. She taught the team and I how to save lives if someone choked, or collapsed or was burned. She even taught us how to save ourselves if we were choking. For 2 hours of our time and the fee (some of which goes to Millie’s Trust), this is well worth it.  I ask all restaurateurs to take this course. We all have a duty and responsibility to our customers and I know you will also benefit personally.

It’s heart rendering to know Joanne lost her baby daughter because of choking and has such courage to set up a charity to teach and empower others so no-one has to face the tragedy she has. I continue to pray for her healing and may God bless their family for their good works. Her Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/milliestrust - get in touch and book onto her First Aid courses.

 

Jun 25

Who’s going to see Kings of Leon? If so, come by for Beer+Ribs before the coolest concert ever!

How exciting, today, Tuesday 25 June the Kings of Leon are here! Their favourite dishes are the salt and pepper ribs ! To celebrate the return of Kings of Leon, we’ve got a show special. Ribs + Beer for £5. This will surely make your evening even sweeter and make you the King of Rodeo.

The Tennessee quartet – Followill brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared and cousin Matthew Followill – will be performing tracks from their soon-to-be-released sixth studio album, alongside hits from their decade-plus rock back catalogue.

Following a two year hiatus, this June’s shows mark the band’s fifth and sixth Manchester Arena performances. If you are going to see them, then we also look forward to seeing you at Sweet Mandarin for your pre-concert top up of Ribs + Beer = dedicated to the coolest kids on the block.

The Followill clan’s Southern rock hits include California Waiting, Molly’s Chambers, The Bucket, King of the Rodeo, On Call and – from 2008′s Only By The Night – Sex On Fire, Closer and Use Somebody.

Jun 21

The Who come to Manchester – Dine at Sweet Mandarin

Sweet Mandarin is a 10minute walk to the MEN Area. Perfect for a Pre-concert meal. Book here

 

The Who, one of rock’s most legendary and defining bands, return to Manchester Arena this weekend to perform their iconic 1973 double album Quadrophenia in its entirety, along with a selection of Who classics. If you are going to this concert, then make it extra sweet by stopping by at Sweet Mandarin for a pre-concert meal.

Feb 25

Lisa Cooks for The +50 Show (Manchester Central GMEX)

Retirement Show Demonstrationlisa at retirement show

I’m cooking at the 50+ Show which is on at the Manchester Central (GMEX) from 1.00pm onwards. I was invited to cook for this event in the last few years so its an honour to be invited back.

I have a word of advice for husbands and wives who are planning for their retirement to take up cooking.  Many couples who have joined me at the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School have told me that learning how to cook and jazz up meals has really helped keep their marital relations from sagging like a cold souffle. Cooking is in part fun but also a lot of work and at times stressful, if you don’t know how or what to cook.

Retirement itself is a big adjustment from working everyday to wondering what to do with the hours ahead. There can only be so much DIY to be done (if any) but what has endured is the daily dinner hour and the dreaded question ‘What’s for dinner?’, and unless you eat out, you still need to plan and prepare your meals.

Some couples eat out all the time but  in the current economy, the trend in most households is to eat out less.  For the newly retired, taking on the role of cook can be a little daunting for someone who perhaps has never cooked the daily meals. Perhaps you can just about boil an egg, chop an onion and put a pizza in the oven but I’d like to invite you to broaden your horizon and tastebuds and join me at the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School.  There, I can teach you the art of Chinese cooking – its healthy, relatively cheap to re-create at home and delicious. If you want to learn more, come and visit me at Manchester Central (formerly called GMEX) on Friday 1st March and Saturday 2nd March 1.00pm at the Cookery Demonstration or drop me an email to book onto the Sweet Mandarin Cookery School Beginners course.

Here is the link to the 50+Show http://www.50plusshow.com/manchester/programme/5-CookeryTheatre.htm

Dec 06

Sweet Mandarin – Winner of Dragons Den – Featured in the Mirror

Dragon's Den Stats Infographic - Mirror Online
Via: Mirror.co.uk

Oct 10

Michael McIntyre Drops In

Sweet Mandarin is a 10minute walk to the MEN Area. Perfect for a Pre-concert meal. Book here

Michael McIntyre will perform a six-night residency at the Manchester Arena as part of a brand new autumn UK tour.

Tickets for the Wednesday 24 – Monday 29 October shows are on sale now, priced £35.00. Please note, this show is not suitable for under 16′s.

The star of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Britain’s Got Talent follows in the footsteps of comedy giants Peter Kay, Lee Evans, Ricky Gervais and Eddie Izzard by playing multiple nights at the Manchester venue.

Michael’s spot on observational comedy and trademark ability to turn everyday situations into hilarious master-classes of human exasperation have struck chords with millions of fans.

He has released two best-selling DVD’s; Live And Laughing which currently holds the top spot as the biggest selling UK debut stand-up DVD and Hello Wembley which became the fastest selling UK stand-up DVD of all time.

Last year Michael released his first autobiography Life & Laughing - one of the best-selling non-fiction books of 2010 and the Christmas number one – and also hosted the Royal Variety Performance in front of HRH Prince Charles.

Other highlights include a 2010 British Comedy Award for Best Male TV Comic, a 2009 British Comedy Award for Best Live Stand-up Performer plus two nominations for Best Comedy Entertainment Personality and Best Comedy Entertainment Programme for Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow.

Jul 06

The Olympics 2012 comes to Sweet Mandarin

Sweet Mandarin met with Seb Coe, Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and Daly Thomson to talk about the impact of the Olympics on local businesses and Sweet Mandarin’s work with schools. Sweet Mandarin works with over 174 schools promoting healthy eating and food technology programmes (click here to read more) and CEO, Lisa Tse said “It is encouraging that the Olympic games has encouraged more PE lessons and healthy eating to be taken seriously. We go to schools to teach students how to cook dim sum, how to look after one’s diet and that its cool to aim high and achieve academically and on the sports field. ”

Seb Coe outlined the success of the initiative in inspiring young people all around the world to take part in sport – many for the first time in their lives.  Sport is being used to encourage and motivate children and their families and to develop leadership skills in young people. The programme is helping change lives.

Sweet Mandarin is launching a special Olympics Games 2012 menu to celebrate the success of the UK teams competing around the UK. We believe you eat healthy, you will feel a lot better and contribute more to you environment. To book a table click here.

Jul 01

Remember Roxette? They’re here!

Sweet Mandarin is a 10minute walk to the MEN Area. Perfect for a Pre-concert meal. Book here

Pop duo Roxette will play the Manchester Arena this summer as part of their first live UK shows in more than 17 years.

Tickets for the Wednesday 4 July Manchester concert are on sale now, priced £35.00.

Performing tracks from their latest album, Charm School, alongside hits from their pop rock back catalogue, Roxette visit the city this summer for only one of three UK shows.

Formed in Sweden in the late 1980′s, Marie Fredricksson and Per Gessle scored a number of chart-topping hits including Must Have Been Love, Joyride, The Look, Listen To Your Heart, How Do You Do, Sleeping In My Car and Dressed For Success.

Currently on part of a massive two year world tour, Per Gessle said: “The concerts have been amazing so far. Marie and the band are in top shape and the response has been incredible. We feel very fortunate and look forward to a very exciting year!”

Jun 12

Blink 182 at the MEN Arena, Visit Sweet Mandarin

Sweet Mandarin is a 10minute walk to the MEN Area. Perfect for a Pre-concert meal. Book here

Californian trio Blink 182 return to the Manchester Arena on Friday 15 June  for the first time since 2004′s sold-out appearance to perform hits from their pop punk back catalogue including I Miss You, What’s My Age Again, Carousel and All The Small Things plus tracks from their latest album Neighbourhoods.

Support comes from US rock band All American Rejects and Scottish group Twin Atlantic.

Formed in San Diego in 1992 by Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge, the band recruited drummer Travis Barker in 1998.

The band’s breakthrough album, Enema Of The State, was released the following year and went on to sell over 15 million copies worldwide. Their next two albums, 2001′s Take Off Your Pants And Jacket and 2003′s Blink 182, cemented their position as pop punk pioneers.

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