I had to move to Europe to actually pay a visit to the local Chinatown in Buenos Aires, even though it was literally a stone throw’s away from where I was living when I was there. You know how it is…
And when my nephew Federico visited me in London and we went to Chinatown here, his remark about the place was that it wasn’t bigger or better than the one in Argentina but “more Chinese”. Now, that was food for thought.
I love researching, writing about, cooking (and eating!) food from different cultures. Depending on my mood and the need of the moment, I might be totally into Greek, Moroccan, Japanese… you get the gist, right?
Chinese food is no exception. Even though I have yet to try my hand at the Cha Siu Bao (叉燒包), much loved by the Japanese (I had my first one in Tokyo and have been dying to make it ever since), I have ventured into humbler dishes which are easy to replicate at home.
Now, I might be spoiled having grown up in a city where your local takeaway were (and are) the most succulent, juicy empanadas or Italian artisan gelato so I have yet to warm up to the British takeaways although I have been known to order them. Don’t get me wrong, I love Chinese and Indian food. But that’s precisely the point: I like the food properly made and we all know that the cheapest option isn’t always the best. Given how affordable eateries are in London are now (at least in my neighbourhood), I hardly bother ordering a takeaway if I don’t feel like cooking at home.
But sometimes, I do. Just like when I get a craving for burgers and don’t rush to the nearest MacDonald’s to get one (rather make my own), when I have the craving for Chinese food, I make a little effort and cook it at home.
It just so happens that I didn’t do these two dishes on the same day but I think they can make a very nice combo should you want to cook them together for a meal.
Once again, I had a go at one of Narda’s recipes for the sweet and sour chicken. If I have one complaint to make it would be that it tasted too much like a frozen TV dinner for me to notice the difference between home-made and bought. Still, it was nice.
Egg fried rice
1 kg leftover rice (it must be very cold)
5 eggs (for me 1 egg per person is enough)
oil (as necessary) (groundnut oil or sesame oil is best)
fresh ginger, grated 1 tbsp
chopped garlic, 2 tbsp
150g red pepper
150g spring onion, finely sliced
This dish to make use of whatever leftovers you have in the fridge so the above quantities are simply a guideline. In an ideal world, it would pay off to use a wok to do it but you can achieve equally successful results with a frying pan.
Chop all the vegetables into equal-sized portions (I like mine quite small).
Heat very little oil in a pan (if using a wok, heat it very well first and when it’s screaming hot, add the oil from the sides so that when it reaches the bottom it’s already hot).
Add the cold rice (best if it’s straight from the fridge) and fry it until you hear it cracking (almost like when you’re making risotto). If the oil is not very, very hot, the rice will just absorb it and the end result will not be appetizing. Trust me.
Add the vegs.
When everything is almost cooked, move the rice and veg to one side of the wok or pan so that you have some space left. Crack the eggs there and lightly whisk them as they cook (you want neither a sunny side up nor an omelette rather to be able to see some yolk and egg white).
There are two ways to serve it: either lightly mix the eggs with the rice in the pan before serving or serve the rice first and then sit the scrambled egg on top. Either way it’s one of the most satisfying leftover meals I can have.
Sweet and sour chicken (adapted from a recipe by Narda Lepes)
Heat the wok or the pan until it’s screaming hot (see above).
First add chopped garlic and then the chicken cut in rather large portions. Leave it to seal without moving it too much.
For the sweet and sour sauce:
In a bowl dissolve 1 tbsp cornflour in a little white wine (you can use water). Add Chinese five spice and sweet chilli sauce. Add a lug of soy sauce. Mix it very well so that it is lump-free.
Move the chicken a little so that it browns evenly and add spring onion cut in long, thick batons (the same size as the chicken).
Add the sweet and sour sauce (always from the sides). Leave it to cook so that the sauce thickens. Serve over white rice or, even if it’s not very authentic, a boiled potato.