When considering the Shanghainese soup dumplings – xiao long bao – inevitably, the name Din Tai Fung comes up. There are branches of this Taiwanese-based restaurant all over the world but somehow I’d still not managed to visit even though I could have in the past few years. We stopped in to the branch in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay for a late lunch one day for me to have this rectified. Again, coming outside the regular mealtimes paid off and there were no queues. From their long menu, we only ordered a small selection of their most famous dishes.

Their pork xiao long bao must be one of their most popular items and an order of six came flying to our table shortly after we ordered. Instructions were provided at the table if you’re not sure how to tackle one – be careful not to burn yourself on the soup inside! That sweet, meaty broth didn’t leak from any of the beautifully pleated, thin-skinned pork dumplings and they were a pleasure to eat with a dab of ginger and vinegar. I’ve not had xiao long bao in London that came anywhere near these.

Pork Xiao Long Bao

The green vegetable and pork dumplings were good but next time (whenever that will be), I’ll just OD on the xiao long bao.

Green Vegetable and Pork Dumplings

Dan dan la mian was a tidy little bowl of hand pulled noodles in a gently spiced sesame and peanut sauce. They were delicious and nutty. I believe this kind of dan dan mian is Taiwanese in style; the original Sichuan version is different – porkier and much spicier. I do enjoy both versions though.

Dan Dan La Mian

Their fried pork chop went well with the noodles. This thin chop had been marinated in a give spice mixture and fried to tenderness. It was excellent. (I’ve tried making it in the past.)

Fried Pork Chop

The price for our meal was very reasonable and if I had had more time in Hong Kong, I would have loved to go back to have more dumplings. On our way out, we stood and watched the chefs make red bean dumplings. Terribly fiddly things and I’m glad they were making them and not I!

Making Dumplings

Din Tai Fung
G/F, 68 Yee Woo Street
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong

They have branches all over the world but sadly not here – do go and support Mr Noodles’ campaign to bring Din Tai Fung to London! Please, Din Tai Fung, we need you in Europe!

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Now that nights are getting cooler, thoughts start turning towards warming dinners. I found myself at home alone one night recently craving something hot (our flat was the opposite) but not wanting to make my usual big batch of something (think soup, stew, etc). I thought of Chinese rice porridge (also known as congee – but there are variations all over Asia). This is total comfort food for me – it’s serious Chinese food for the ill though everyone eats it when perfectly healthy too.

What one tends to get if ordering congee in London is the very thick Cantonese style ones with some sort of flavouring cooked in: fish, century egg, pork, etc. My mother used to cook a Teochew style porridge (much more watery and the rice grains are still whole) with pork and we’d down bowlfuls of it seasoned to taste with soy sauce, white pepper, garlic oil and chopped spring onions. If you were to go out in Malaysia and Singapore and have Teochew porridge, you’d get a number of small, strongly flavoured dishes served alongside a bowl of plain Teochew style rice porridge. This was exactly what I wanted.

Teochew Porridge for One

I’d never made a small batch of rice porridge before as I’d always cooked it for 2 or 3 (it doesn’t keep very well). But in a small pot, why not? And yes, I discovered it can certainly be cooked in small quantities – kitchen tigress gives a handy table for the ratio of rice to water required. I found that the amount I cooked (recipe below) provided me with two rice bowls of porridge, the perfect amount for my dinner.

Can’t forget about the dishes! As the Teochew porridge is unseasoned, the side dishes are usually quite salty. I made sauteed green beans, a chai poh (salted radish) omelette and cooked some minced pork with a chili black bean sauce. Looking around our kitchen, I found a few extras too that went well on the side: salted peanuts, half a hard boiled salted duck egg and some leftover dried prawn sambal. If it’s strongly flavoured, it’ll go well with the porridge! A bite of pork, a spoonful of porridge (actually, pros are able to push the top layer of porridge into one’s mouth with chopsticks), a nibble of salted egg, more porridge – I think it’s rather a fine supper on a cold night.

Teochew Porridge for One

Wash 1/4 cup of jasmine rice (or a regular long grained rice), drain, and then add 650ml water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes until the grains are soft but still whole. You don’t want them to end up as mush. It should be somewhere between thick and thin, still with liquid left. See this photo for reference.

Chai Poh Omelette

Omelette with Chai Poh

Beat 2 eggs together with a few dashes of fish sauce. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add 1 tbsp of sunflower oil. When hot, add 1 finely chopped clove of garlic and two pieces of chai poh (Chinese salted radish), chopped, and fry together for a couple of minutes. Pour the eggs over and fry as you would a flat omelette.

Fried Green Beans

This shows up quite often when I have no idea what vegetable dish to make; if you can get long beans, then all the better. Trim your green beans and cut into approximately 3cm segments. Heat a little sunflower oil over medium-low heat and then add a smashed garlic clove to slowly cook in the oil. Discard the garlic and then add the beans. Fry, turning often, until the green beans are all wrinkly. Salt to taste.

Minced Pork with Chilli Black Bean Sauce

Minced Pork with Chilli Black Bean Sauce

Rinse 1.5 tsp preserved black beans and chop roughly. Mix them together with 1 tbsp oyster sauce, 1 tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp light soy sauce, a dash of Chinese black vinegar, 1/4-1/2 tsp sugar and 50 ml water.

Finely chop one clove of garlic and saute in 1 tbsp sunflower oil. Add about 200g minced pork and fry until cooked. Add about 1 tsp chilli paste and continue frying for another couple minutes. Pour in the sauce mixture, stir well and let simmer for a few minutes. Stir again and thicken with a little cornstarch/water mixture.

I walked by Princess Garden of Mayfair for the first time about two years ago and while I immediately recognised that it was a popular place for dim sum, I assumed that it was quite expensive – this Chinese restaurant being located in the not exactly budget neighbourhood of Mayfair! Mr Noodles organised a recent dim sum lunch there and I joined in, keen to try the food as I’d heard good things.

Seven of us gathered one Saturday afternoon there, all hungry for dim sum. Quite the spread was ordered and these were the particular highlights/most interesting dishes to me. First to arrive were the baked char siu buns with their glossy tops and heavily sauced filling. Mr Noodles has said that this is the first place in London he’s found these that are more commonly found in Hong Kong.

Baked Char Sui Pork Buns

Their wu kok, a fluffy fried taro pastry with a meat filling, a firm favourite of mine, was very good and especially fluffy.

Wu Kok

Mr Noodles was raving about the golden cuttlefish cheung fun and so of course, we had to try it! I had no idea what to expect (I think images of golden tentacles waving out from the cheung fun filled my mind) and so was pleasantly surprised to find a tube of cuttlefish paste wrapped first with a fried tofu skin wrapper and then encased in the cheung fun. What a great variety of textures – bouncy, crispy and slippery smooth – and yes, it was tasty too.

Golden Cuttlefish Cheung Fun

Inside the Cheung Fun

I was also quite taken by this pan fried sticky rice; again, I had no idea what to expect and what turned up was large sticky rice patties fried with egg on one side. I quite liked them though I missed the ritual unwrapping required when having sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves.

Pan Fried Sticky Rice

Of all the steamed and boiled dumplings we tried, my favourite was this prawn and chive dumpling. I didn’t think the siu mai or the har gow were the best I’ve had but they were passable.

Prawn and Chive Dumpling

Oh dear, we did order a lot of food (the photo below is only halfway through the meal)! That pan fried turnip cake on the lower left was also excellent.

Dim Sum Table

We couldn’t leave without sampling some of their desserts. Clockwise from the left, we have little pumpkin pastries, egg custard tarts (dan tat) and pineapple custard buns. (There’s no actual pineapple in a pineapple bun – the name comes from the look of the biscuit topping.) My favourite was the pumpkin pastries which weren’t too sweet but had a nice chewy texture but the pineapple bun seemed to be the most popular with the rest of the table.

Desserts

With all the food we ordered (bloated stomachs go!) plus the location of the restaurant, I certainly didn’t expect my part of the bill to be under £20 but it was! ‘Twas a fun lunch and I rolled out of there vowing to return again for more of their novel dim sum. Bookings are probably essential.

Princess Garden of Mayfair
8-10 North Audley Street
London W1K 6ZD

Princess Garden on Urbanspoon

I had a block of shortcrust pastry taking up valuable ice cream space in my shoebox sized freezer and I knew I had to use it up somehow. My last visit (actually, I should make that “final visit”) to Oriental City had me walk away with another boxful of the delicious roast meats from China City Express – I always ordered a mixture of char siu, that reddish barbecued pork, and siu yoke, the roasted pork with gorgeously golden brown, crunchy skin. With half a silver takeaway container of char siu on my hands, I knew I had to make these char siu pastries.

Char Siu Pastries Straight Out of the Oven

The filling was meaty and salty and sweet and the pastry crumbly. Of course, homemade shortcrust would be better but sometimes there’s just no time! And when you decide to make at 10pm, it’s nice to have the shortcut.

Inside a Pastry

Char Siu Pastries
makes about 15

1.5 cups char siu, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
sugar
1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

around 250g ready made shortcrust pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with a little cold water
sesame seeds

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Toss in the chopped onion when the oil is hot and fry until translucent and perhaps even a little brown. Add in the chopped char siu and stir together until the char siu is heated through. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil and stir through. Add sugar to taste – you might like the filling to be a little sweeter. This will also depend on how salty your other sauces are. Finally, add the cornstarch mixture – this will cause all the liquid to thicken and the onion and char siu mixture will start to pull together. Set aside until cool.

Roll out the shortcrust to about 1/8 – 3/16 inch thickness. Cut into rounds a little larger than a mug diameter and fill with approximately 1 tbsp of filling. Fold in half and seal by pleating the edges. I used a curry puff maker that I purchased in Malaysia ages ago – this saved me a lot of time! Or feel free to enclose the filling using any shape you fancy. Lay on a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush the tops with the egg mixture. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake in an oven preheated to 200 degrees Celsius for about 15-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.