Happy New Year of the Monkey!

Happy New Year of the Monkey!

What are you doing to celebrate? Need a few ideas for London, New York and beyond? Check out the Telegraph’s guide for what’s happening in ten Chinese communities around the world. If you are in London, also make sure to check out The Magical Lantern Festival, a dazzling extravaganza of lights, music theatre, culture and art that runs to 6 March at Chiswick House in west London. We are going on the 22nd Feb, come join us! Want to learn a few New Year’s greetings? Here are some useful phrases and an audio guide on how to pronounce them. And most importantly, where to eat?  Here are some ideas to get you exploring: Shikumen in Shepherd’s Bush for dim sum and Peking Duck Tian Fu Bu Yi in Shepherd’s Bush for Sichuan cuisine including a ma-la hotpot Royal China and Royal China Club on Baker Street for Cantonese Bright Courtyard on Baker Street for a mix of regional Chinese including some Shanghainese dishes Local Friends in Golder’s Green for authentic Hunan cuisine; be careful to avoid 90% of the menu which is standard Cantonese and Anglo-Chinese food. Xi’an Impression for noodles and street food from Xi’an Gold Mine or Four Seasons for their roast meats. If you know of a good Chinese place, why now leave us a comment?...
Suzhou Style Pork Mooncake Recipe 鲜肉月饼

Suzhou Style Pork Mooncake Recipe 鲜肉月饼

It’s the Mid-Autumn festival this coming Sunday, and we have been busy perfecting the recipe for the Suzhou style meat-filled mooncakes that are popular in Shanghai. This seasonal treat has a rock-star status in the Shanghai street food scene; people would queue for up to 12 hours just to get their hands on them and have to fight off scalpers for spaces in the queue. Here is what the scene looks like. Suzhou mooncakes have a distinctly flaky pastry which is very different to the Cantonese style mooncakes that are prevalent here in the UK.  The stuffings can be savoury, sweet or a combo of both. The most famous and popular version is this pork-filled Xian Rou Yue Bing 鲜肉月饼。 Here is what you need to make 8 mooncakes. For the water dough: 100 g flour 30 g butter or lard 50 g warm water 5 g sugar 5 g salt Mix all the ingredients well until they are combined. The warm water helps to soften the butter/lard, so you don’t need to leave it at room temperature to soften. The dough feels sticky like bread dough, so you can throw it a few times onto the work surface to help work up the gluten. It helps the dough to be elastic and allows it to be repeatedly folded and rolled out without breaking apart. Wrap the worked dough in cling film and set aside for 30 minutes. For the oil dough: 100g flour 50g butter or lard, at room temperature Mix the flour and butter/lard well and wrap in cling film for 30 minutes For the stuffing: 200 g minced pork 1...
Mid-Autumn Festival: a supermoon, an immortal and lots of mooncakes!

Mid-Autumn Festival: a supermoon, an immortal and lots of mooncakes!

On the 27th September, Chinese people around the world will celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 which is the second most important festival in the whole year.  It celebrates family gathering and reunion, thanksgiving for a good harvest (due to China’s agrarian roots) and affords people a celestially auspicious window to pray for material or spiritual blessings (with increasing fervency in modern times!). On the night, family members return home to have a big reunion meal. Mooncakes of various sweet and savoury fillings are given as gifts to friends and families leading up to the festival, as the round shape signifies completeness and unity in Chinese culture.  After the dinner, everyone would sit around to admire the bright moon, sip tea and enjoy the stacks of mooncake they surely would have accumulated by then. The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar as the Chinese believe the moon appears the biggest on this date.  In a highly unusual culmination of events in the cosmos, there will be a supermoon and a lunar eclipse at the same time during the festival this year.  A supermoon happens when the moon reaches its peak while it is at the closest possible distance to the earth, making the moon’s diameter look up to 14 per cent bigger, according to Nasa. This September’s supermoon will also coincide with a lunar eclipse, making it a supermoon lunar eclipse – an event which has happened just five times since 1910. The last time the two events converged was in 1982 and the next time will be 2033.  However,...
Dragon boat & Zong Zi

Dragon boat & Zong Zi

  This Saturday is the Duan Wu Jie 端午节 or Dragon Boat Festival in China and across many Asian countries. Growing up in Shanghai, I didn’t see any dragon boats being raced down Huangpu River. Instead, it was a day forever etched into my memory with a spacial food: Zong Zi 粽子. Like all Chinese festivals, there is always a story or two to explain the origin of the event. The version I grew up with has to do with a poet named Qu Yuan 屈原 (c. 340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu during a period of wars between neighboring states. He was a minister in the Chu court and advised the king against an alliance with the increasingly powerful state of Qin. As often is the fate with straight talking and loyal subjects, Qu Yuan’s advice was ignored and he was banished from court with accusations of treason. Twenty-eight years later, Qin invaded the Chu capital and proved Qu Yuan’s worries a sad reality. In his despair at failing to stop the demise of the Chu state, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. The local people raced out in their boats to to retrieve his body and hence the origin of the dragon boat races. When his body could not be found, they dropped balls of sticky rice, Zong Zi, into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body.   Zong Zi is made with bamboo or reed leaves stuffed with sticky rice and a combination of savory or sweet ingredients. My favorite is the Shanghai...
Jamon, Jamon!

Jamon, Jamon!

Recently, a friend came from Hong Kong and brought me a most fitting gift, a tranche of Jinhua ham 金华火腿, the most famous Chinese ham you’ve never heard of!  It brought back memories of childhood in Shanghai, when we had a relative who came to visit from the countryside who brought an entire leg of the Jinhua ham as a present. It hung on a bamboo stick in our living room next to our washings and I would gaze up at it longingly, taking deep breaths to enjoy its aroma. Slowly we would cut paper thin pieces from the leg and use them sparingly in the cooking, to give food an extra depth of flavor and to heighten the 鲜 (Xian) or unami taste.  We would never eat it raw like the Iberico ham.  With frugality, the leg seemed to have lasted years before it completely disappeared off the clothes line. Jinhua ham was first mentioned in written records in the early 8th century during the Tang Dynasty. Due to its red color, it was referred to as Huotui, or fire leg. It has been said that reports of its production spread and was eventually transmitted to Europe by Marco Polo. It is a type of dry-cured ham named after the city of Jinhua, where it is produced, in the Zhejiang province south of Shanghai. It is traditionally made using the hind legs of a breed of pigs native to China known as the “two ends black” 两头乌, which have black hair growing on their heads and hindquarters with white midsections.  It is chosen for its quick time to maturity, excellent meat quality, and thin skin. To make a traditional Jinhua ham, it takes 3 to 6 years, not unlike a well cured Iberico ham....
The dog ate the sun!

The dog ate the sun!

Total solar eclipses are thrilling to watch, and we will all have a chance to get in on the action this Friday! The Chinese was one of the earliest cultures to keep written records of solar and lunar eclipses. They were first recorded around 2400 BC on oracle bones made from tortoise shells and other animal bones (see picture). The eclipses were regarded as heavenly signs that foretell the future of the Emperor, and hence they were meticulously recorded. As a result, the Chinese has been credited with keeping the longest continuous watch of the sky since those oracle bones cracked onto the scene. The ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses occur when a legendary celestial dog devours the sun. In the Chinese language, the term for eclipse was “chi” which also means “to eat”. One ancient Chinese solar eclipse record describes a solar eclipse as “the Sun has been eaten”. It was customary in ancient China to bang drums and pots and make loud noise by burning firecrackers during eclipses to frighten that dog away. Even more recently, in the nineteenth century, the Chinese navy fired its cannons during a lunar eclipse to scare the dog that was eating the Moon. But somehow, I don’t think my fellow viewers would appreciate me practicing these traditions on...