Looking at the date it has been over a month since my first real post so, if I'm not flattering myself by thinking folk will want to read more than once, I apologise to anyone that has been waiting.
I imagine most (all?) of the folk reading this know me somehow but in case you don't my name is Joshua, I'm just the wrong side of 30 and I live in London. London is big, impersonal, noisy, rude, busy, expensive and devoid of countryside. I absolutely love the place. Not for any of the aforementioned reasons of course but because of food, and after all this is a food blog. I grew up in the countryside and used to hate London, thinking Leicester Sq and the surrounding tourist haunts were all the place had to offer. I continued to not know what the place was really all about until probably 18 months of being here. I think it's only once you step back from Leicester Sq, Oxford St and so on and so forth (not that these areas are completely devoid of culinary interest, as today's post will hopefully show) and see what the place really is, a load of towns of individual character that have grown to the point they're touching, that you can begin to appreciate the place.
London's many towns are stuffed to bursting point with food based delights, many of which are well off the tourist track but are also well worth a visit for anyone visiting our capital. Whether it's Michelin starred or paper tablecloths, fine foods on Borough Market or cow foot on Ridley Road Market or any of the number of international cuisines London has a street or three devoted to I can see why a couple of years back Restaurant Magazine named London the best city in the world for food. Hopefully over time I can show you a few of the lesser known delights but for today I'll start with one of the more common ones because, firstly, it's the one I visit the most and due to its location in the middle of the West End it's the one most out of towners will see too.
London's Chinatown is far from the biggest and best Chinatown in the world but it's still a gem and somewhere I visit multiple times a week. Once you get past the £8 eat as much as you like buffets and other tourist traps you're left with a few really good supermarkets and the chance to sample Chinese food that isn't so common anywhere else in the UK.
For me one of the first things that strikes me about the restaurants in Chinatown are the rails of roast meats hanging in the windows of some of the restaurants: rows of glistening ducks and chickens, big slabs of pork belly, red dyed char sui and day-glo cuttlefish. Closer inspection normally shows trays of the less desirable, in this country, parts of animals - ears, tongues, intestines and necks - that whilst most folk here would rather throw away are prized by the Chinese for the variety of taste and texture they provide. These window displays always seem very popular with visitors yet when they enter the restaurant they're seemingly forgotten as they shun the opportunity for something new and instead have a selection of deep fried starters followed by the same special fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, crispy chilli beef and chicken chow mein they could get anywhere. I admit that I too used to be scared but since taking the plunge I've been hooked and now seek to convert as many folk as I can to their delights. The stuff is perfect for the British palate too, the roast flesh and gravy like sauce not a million miles away from a well executed Sunday roast. The meat may be cold (well room temp anyway) and hanging in the window but the combination of juicy flesh, succulent fat, delicate seasoning and crisp skin is to die for, which is lucky as too much pork belly can't be good for anything other than the tastebuds.
One of the biggest restaurants in Chinatown is a place called Wong Kei on Wardour Street. Equally as famous for the surly attitude of their staff (they've cheered up in recent years much to the disappointment of some) as they are for their food and hated by any many people as love it but whatever your view is you cannot argue it's an institution. The ground floor is reserved for lone diners and for me eating there is one of my favourite eating experiences. There's something about sitting on my own, in silence, watching London pass by the window and surrounded by folk who are there entirely because they appreciate the food that really does something for me. It also holds the honour of being the first the first place I tried roast pork belly.
That's enough typing for now so here's some shots to peruse instead.
The Infamous Wong Kei
A Chef At Work
A Chinese Bakery
At least you can still buy tripe in some places
The title of this blog is Cooking the Books so I best get back to the theme. I thought about cooking up some barbecued meats but my attempts at home have never matched those from Chinatown so didn't want to put anyone off. Instead I've taken my inspiration from one of my other favourite dishes which is mixed seafood, either in noodle soup or on a fried noodle cake, the book recipe is strange (to me) as it incorporates the two so I thought I'd give it a taste test. I wasn't really that impressed with the combination (or the photo) but my plan was to blog it so I will, after all this blog is about food I cook and eat and not about perfect dishes and photos.
Mixed Seafood with Fried Noodles and Soup Base
This recipe is from a Keith Floyd cookbook, Floyd in China. He's probably not someone whose books I would look out for normally but it was on sale and flicking through it had some traditional looking recipes in it so worth the few pound it cost.
The Ingredients (for 2 people)
Egg noodles for 2
100gr Pork Fillet
100gr King Prawns
100gr Snow Peas/Mange Tout
600ml Chicken Stock
1/2 ts Sugar
2 Tb Light Soy Sauce
2 ts Cornflour
1 Tb Rice Wine
- To prepare the noodle pancake first cook the noodles. I use the packets of fresh egg noodles available in Chinese supermarkets, one bundle per person, which just need to be simmered for one minute. If you're using dried noodles then prepare as suggested on the packet. Once cooked drain well and place one portion's worth on a lightly oiled plate, shaping into a circle about 6"/15cm circumference. Leaving them to cool will help them set their shape ready for frying.
- Thinly slice the pork and then cut the squid into bite size pieces scoring the inside with a cross pattern.
- Mix the last 5 ingredients together to make the soup base.
- Heat some oil in a wok and then fry the noodle pancakes, one at a time, for a couple of minutes a side until they're starting to crisp up and turn golden. Once cooked, drain on kitchen roll and place into a bowl each ready for the soup. Don't worry about the temp as the soup will reheat them if they cool down.
- Heat the wok again then add the pork stir, frying for a minute, before adding the seafood and peas.
- After a couple of minutes the seafood should be starting to colour so add the soup base and bring to the boil. At this stage be careful to not boil for too long, a minute or two is fine, or your seafood will go tough and shrink.
- Split the bits between the two bowls then pour the stock over.
The girlfriend said this was great but I wasn't convinced, it was tasty, don't get me wrong, but I love my seafood noodle soup and I love my seafood on crispy noodles and will keep them separate going forward. I also prefer my stock lighter in colour so won't be adding any soy sauce to future soups.
Give it a go though and see what side of the fence you fall on.