Donal Skehan: Recipes inspired by the best food in London’s Chinatown
I sought dan dan noodles and dumplings, and found a bellyful of perfection
Dan dan noodles: the core of this dish is udon noodles, peanut sauce and minced pork
Anyone who has done the usual London sightseeing stops will no doubt have visited Leicester Square, home to movie premieres and gaudy tourist tack shops. But stumble a few streets away from the crowds and selfie sticks, and you will find yourself facing a traditional paifang – or gateway – to London’s thriving Chinatown. N
ormally my experience of this area of London has been fleeting. Jumping off a plane and dragging a case en route to appointments doesn’t exactly allow for innovative food explorations.
A few weeks ago while working in the city I took some time to find out what makes London’s Chinatown special. Specifically, I was in search of dumplings, dan dan noodles and bubble tea. One lady in the know when it comes to all things food in London is Irish food blogger Niamh Shields, who writes the award-winning Eat Like A Girl blog. A quick Snapchat to Niamh (because that’s how we roll these days) asking for Chinatown recommendations brought me to Beijing Dumpling, where she had promised me some of the best steamed dumplings in the capital.
The restaurant is easily identified among the many other similar-looking shop fronts by the glass window, where you can watch chefs expertly prepare delicate dumplings ready for stacks of bamboo steamers. Once you are whisked through the door and seated, you’re faced with the tough decision of which dumpling to go for. The ones served here are Xiao Long Bao, a dumpling with a thin and light skin with a moist filling of ingredients such as crab, pork and spicy chicken. They did not disappoint.
We had planned to discover dan dan noodles elsewhere but after the smells wafting from our neighbours’ table became too tempting, we went ahead and ordered them right away. A spicy soupy bowl of handmade noodles rounded out with a rich peanut sauce and spiced crumbled pork made for a delicious dinner.
Bellies full of dumplings and noodles, it was time to discover Chinatown’s sweeter side. Just a few streets over, the Chinatown Bakery was bustling with tourists and food lovers trying to get their hands on tiny custard fish.
Strange though they may sound, these little fish-shaped waffles filled with custard – known as taiyaki – are a classic Hong Kong bakery staple. Although not the best custard nor the crispest waffle I’ve tasted, it’s weird and wonderful items like this that make discovering new aspects of a city exciting, and then developing recipes for this column really makes it memorable.