Sambal – The Southeast Asian condiment that packs a punch!

11 Jul

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Sambal is a staple condiment in places like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and is usually made by combining a variety of hot chili peppers with fresh ingredients like garlic, shallots, lime juice, shrimp paste, sugar and vinegar.

The ingredients are traditionally minced together in a pestle and mortar and can be eaten both raw or cooked – it’s a great condiment to use to add heat to all kinds of Asian dishes without overpowering the dish and you only need to use a small amount.

Add it to the end of your next stir-fry, fried rice or soup noodle dish and enjoy a traditional taste of Southeast Asia!




Cookbooks we’re into: Hunan – A lifetime of secrets from Mr Peng’s Chinese Kitchen

5 Jan

I’ve read a lot of Chinese cookbooks in my time, but none have quite captured my imagination and tastebuds in the way that Hunan has – although some of the pre-1980s cookbooks I’ve stumbled across do continue to be a source of hilarity when I flick through pictures of oddly arranged dishes, with the strangest choices of garnish (see fig.1) imagination indeed.

Beautiful decorative flowers surround these sweet potato balls. From The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking 1979

Beautiful decorative flowers surround these sweet potato balls.
From The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking 1979

2014 brought a new, polished Chinese cookbook that is an absolute pleasure to read, with not a decorative rose or chiseled carrot in sight. Hunan is a collection of Mr Peng’s treasured dishes which are served at his London restaurant, Hunan, famous among diners for it’s no-menu approach, where diners are instead served up to 15 small tasting dishes. A true pioneer for authentic Chinese cooking, Mr Peng has poured his lifelong obsession with food into the book, and into the fiery, delicately flavoured dishes. There is an air of simplicity that runs through the book, in the flavours, ingredients and methods, which makes the innovative dishes seem far less intimidating to the amateur cook and has re-ignited in me, a zest for real, simple Chinese cooking, using a few basic ingredients. I tend to go nuts with lots of different spices and sauces, but I’ve learnt to calm these down and find flavour perfection in ingredients I now know I didn’t fully understand.

I’ve selected these two dishes from the book, which are so simple to prepare and full of flavour and texture.

Dry-Fried Chicken

 Photographs Copyright Paul Winch-Furness

Makes 4 portions


1 Chicken Breast, cut into strips

2tbsp Cornflour

2tsp Oil

3 Fresh Red Chillies, sliced

3 Garlic Cloves, minced

Vegetable oil for deep frying

3 Spring Onions, thinly sliced

Salt and crushed Sichuan Peppercorns, to season 


Coat the chicken with cornflour.

Heat a good glug of oil in a wok until it’s nearly smoking.

Deep-fry the coated chicken breast on a high heat until golden brown.

Dry-fry the chillies, garlic, spring onions until they become fragrant. Add the chicken to the pan, season with the salt and crushed Sichuan peppercorns, then stir through to warm before serving.

Red Oil Beef

Photographs Copyright Paul Winch-Furness

Makes 4 portions


150g rib-eye beef, cut into 1cm wide thin strips

For the sauce:

1tbsp Red Chilli sauce

21/2cm piece fresh ginger, finely shredded

1tsp Tian Mian Jiang or sweet flour paste or Hoisin Sauce

2 Spring Onions, cut into medallions

2tsp crushed Sichuan Peppercorns

1tsp red wine vinegar

2tbsp water

1tsp sesame oil

1tsp chilli oil

salt and sugar to taste


Finely shredded Ginger

Coriander leaves


In a bowl, mix all of the sauce ingredients together. Adjust seasoning. you need a sauce that’s hot and numbing.

Heat the sauce in a wok on a medium heat for about 1 minute until it becomes fragrant.

Add the beef and quickly stir through before removing from the heat. Ideally, the beef should be medium rare but you can cook it for longer if desired.

Garnish with ginger and coriander, and serve straight away.

To buy a copy of Hunan from Waterstones click here

Happy eating!

Chinese New Year Fish!

29 Jan

Aside from dumplings, eating fish at New Year is one of the most important traditions. Eating it represents good luck, and prosperity – it’s just not New Year without a big, steaming, juicy fish on the table!

Here’s our recipe for a delicious Chinese steamed Sea Bass with spring onions that we posted last year.

Now for a new recipe, this time for a spicy Szechuan fish:



1 large whole, white fish

2 tbsp cornflour

3 tbsp Shaoshing Wine

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp ginger, chopped fine

3 tsp sugar

2 tbsp black vinegar

3 tbsp soy sauce

2 spring onions, chopped

200ml fish stock

5 Chinese mushrooms, sliced fine

small handful of Szechuan peppercorns

15 dried red chillies, sliced in long ways in half

2 tbsp Chilli bean paste


Combine the wine, ginger, and a few pinches of salt into a bowl. Score the fish on both sides and marinate in the bowl for around 30 mins.

In a saucepan, heat 100ml cooking oil and add the sliced chillies and Szechuan Peppercorns. When it becomes fragrant (you can smell the spice), remove the chilli, peppercorns and half the oil, and set aside.

With the remaining oil, add the garlic, ginger, and chilli bean paste until cooked. Add the stock, soy sauce, sugar, mushrooms, spring onion, and vinegar and bring to a boil.

Add the fish, simmer and cover, cooking for 15 mins more. When the fish is cooked through, mix the cornflour with a little water and add to the pan, so that the sauce gets thickened.

Serve with the chillies on steamed white rice or on a bed of rice noodles.


It’s that time again…Chinese New Year!

15 Jan

Okay, so it’s not for another month but it’s difficult not to get excited about the biggest celebration on the Chinese calendar, especially because it means there’s going to be dragon dancing, red money packets, fireworks, beautiful red lanterns, and most importantly, a boat-load of delicious food involved. What could be better?

Chinese New Year comes as a most welcome relief by all who embrace it. For many, it’s the warm, glowing, mouth-watering light at the end of a cold, dank tunnel that is the January blues. It’s the time to kick the dumb diet and let yourself feel better by stuffing your face with a platter full of dumplings.

2013 is the year of the Snake. New year falls on Sunday 10th February.

If you were born in the year 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, or 2013 you are a Snake! Congrats. Snakes are popular, charming and determined, and although they are prone to over exaggerating everything,  they are the object of desire among those who know them. Seductive, and irresistible.

A Celebration of Food

Food is one of the most important parts of Chinese culture, if not the most important, and the types of food eaten are symbolic of age-old traditions that continue today. Chinese New Year carries a menu full of traditional dishes that symbolise a celebration of the new year. We have compiled our favourites for you to make your own Chinese New Year FEAST!

Easy Pork Dumplings

Makes about 30


30 won ton / dumpling pastry skins

250g minced pork

1 spring onion chopped fine

5 water chestnuts chopped fine

3 Shitake mushrooms chopped fine (soaked in water for 10 mins)

1 inch slice of fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine

1 tablespoon Oyster sauce

2 teaspoons Sesame oil


In a large bowl, combine the Pork, Mushrooms, Water Chestnuts, Spring Onions, Ginger, Sauces, and Wine. Season with salt and white pepper. Mix together well.

Place the Pork filling onto the centre of each Won Ton Pastry in teaspoon sizes.

Fold the wrappers in half so that the points meet to form a triangle, and squeeze the open sides together to make pleats along the edge.

Heat 1 tablespoon of Vegetable or Groundnut oil in medium sized frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the dumplings and place them side by side, so that they fill the base of the pan. Fry for 2 minutes then turn the heat down and pour 100ml water in and cover. keep an eye on the dumplings and keep turning them to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom. Cook until the water has dissolved, and the dumplings have absorbed the water all the way through. Add more water if they need cooking longer.

[Alternatively, steam them in a bamboo steamer on a piece of grease proof paper or a cabbage leaf for 8 – 10 mins]

Serve on a big sharing plate with a dipping sauce of either sweet chilli sauce or Dumpling sauce: 4 tablespoons rice vinegar 4 tablespoons light soy sauce.

Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or patience to make dumplings by hand, we stock a huge variety of ready made dumplings with lots of different fillings that are quick and easy to make!

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Fresh fruit and vegetables cheaper than Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda!

18 Dec

We’ve got a bunch of exotic fruits and vegetables (at our Sandy branch) that we believe should be reasonably priced, it is Christmas after all!

So for a limited time we have stocked up on:

Apples, Avocado, Aubergine, Brussels sprouts, Cauliflower, Cherry Tomatoes, Clementine’s, Guava, Green Peppers, Long Red Peppers, Iceberg Lettuce, Kaki, Kiwi, Mango, Potato 2kg, HUGE Red Cabbages, Vine Tomatoes all priced lower than Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda!

We hope to see you soon!


Summer, Seafood and Salads

20 Apr

With all the summery weather we’ve been having it seems like the perfect time to start eating lighter, simpler suppers and sharing delicious picnics out in the sun. Here are a few ideas to keep your summer menus fresh and interesting – there’s no need to turn up with the same old potato salad or supermarket-brand pre-prepared picnic food…


Asian salad dressings are easy to make and can spice up any picnic or barbeque. Rather than using olive oil and lemon juice, try replacing them with
groundnut oil – a very delicate flavour
rice vinegar (which can also be used for sushi rice)
a dash of soy sauce
a few drops of sesame oil
grated garlic
grated fresh ginger/wasabi
chopped red chili (optional)
a little brown sugar

You can use the dressing on any salad leaves, adding a good few handfuls of bean sprouts, grated carrot, edamame/sugarsnap beans, salad onions, shredded mooli, and perhaps some cooked prawns or chicken. To make a more substantial salad, try adding some glass noodles, which you only need to blanch in boiling water, and are delicious served cold. Also, to add some crunch, top with a few wasabi peas or sesame sticks – delicious.

Asian dressing

If you really can’t imagine summer parties without potato salad…try making this simple Japanese version with Japanese mayonnaise (such as Kewpie), which is made with rice vinegar rather than distilled. It is very subtle, creamy and versatile, a perfect dish to accompany hot or cold dishes. All you need apart from the cooked potatoes are some cooked chopped carrots, peas, sliced hard boiled eggs and very thinly sliced raw red onion. Then use a few spoonfuls of Japanese Mayonnaise, add a little salt and pepper and chill until serving.

Kewpie Mayonnaise £4.55 for 500ml at Central

Simple Summer Salmon
This dish is perfect for eating on warm evenings, the cold noodles are refreshing and the miso salmon is very tasty.

Miso Salmon with cold noodles

Serves 2
Marinate salmon fillets in the following ingredients overnight:
225g white miso paste
200g sugar
110ml sake
110ml mirin
Cook 150g soba or buckwheat noodles and drain, rinsing in cold water and draining again.
Grill the salmon about 5-6 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily.
Garnish the noodles with some chopped spring onion, seaweed flakes and wasabi to taste.
Serve with the salmon and steamed tender-stem broccoli.

Three Ways with Cheung Fun #1

29 Mar

Recently a lot of our customers have been asking us about cheung fun and what they can do with it at home. Although you may have encountered it only in dim sum restaurants, these Chinese “noodle rolls” are incredibly versatile and easy to prepare in a variety of ways, and over the next few posts we will look at 3 different and interesting ways to enjoy a new kind of dish at any time of day.

Traditionally a Cantonese dish, chee cheong fun is a soft, wide strip of folded rice noodle, and is commonly served during dim sum stuffed with a variety of fillings, ranging from char siu pork to fried dough stick. You could think of it as the Chinese version of cannelloni, although it is dressed with sweet soy sauce and hot oil rather than tomato sauce. At dim sum, you can order a variety of cheung fun, which are served steamed until almost translucent, with their tops scored to reveal the filling.

Making cheung fun from scratch can be rewarding as you can experiment with the fillings and what you put into the rice dough itself. However, it can be rather tricky if you’re looking for a quick snack.

Buying ready-prepared cheung fun makes it even easier to enjoy, as it can be quickly stir fried, steamed or even microwaved. Here is a Malaysian inspired serving suggestion that can be enjoyed as a delicious snack any time, or as an unusual Asian style breakfast.

Malaysian Style Cheung Fun

Cheung Fun Rojak

Serves 2
200g x Fresh Cheung Fun – plain or seafood
1 tbsp Rojak Sauce (Malaysian shrimp paste fruit sauce) or to taste
1 tbsp Sesame Seeds
1 tbsp Fried Shallots
Shredded Cucumber
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Steam the cheong fun in a bamboo steamer over a pan of boiling water or in a steamer until soft (alternatively you can stir-fry or microwave it). Remove carefully and chop into 1-2 inch pieces. Top with some rojak sauce, oil, toasted sesame seeds, the cucumber and fried shallots.

For a healthier version of this dish, try adding steamed cheung fun to shredded lettuce and cucumber, using a reduced salt soy sauce mixed with a little sugar and a few drops of sesame oil as a topping, with some chopped spring onions.

Much better than a bowl of cereal…Have fun!

Simple and delicious Chinese Steamed Fish

1 Feb

This dish is a must-have at your Chinese New Year dinner table. Fish, in Chinese culture represents long life and abundance, and is usually served with the head on, as this is believed to fulfil your wishes for the year!

RECIPE: Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger and Spring Onions


One whole fish (eg. sea bass, red snapper) scaled and gutted

2 tablespoons peeled and thinly sliced ginger

2 spring onions cut into 1in long strips

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp oyster sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sugar

pinch of salt

handful of fresh coriander leaves

Bamboo Steamer rack/basket – This can either be placed on a wok or saucepan over 2 inches of boiling water. (The water should not touch the bottom of the steamer).


  1. On both sides of the fish, cut deep incisions across width at 3 cm (1″) intervals.
  2. Sprinkle with salt inside and out.
  3. Cut spring onions into 2 or 3 sections, then slice lengthways into thin strips. Julienne ginger slices. Insert spring onions, garlic and ginger into incisions – any excess can be placed inside fish.
  4. Place fish in a steamer. Steam on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  5. Place fish on a serving dish.
  6. Mix soy sauce, vinegar, oyster sauce, and sugar  and pour over fish.
  7. Remove water from wok. Add both sesame and vegetable oil to wok, heat till sizzling and pour over fish.
  8. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve.


Chinese New Year! 3rd February 2011

30 Jan

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2011 is the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit and begins on the 3rd February 2011 – normally the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. This is when the Chinese calendar begins. Also named the ‘Lunar New Year’ and ‘Spring Festival’, Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in Chinese culture and is a time for families to get together and enjoy delicious feasts!

Red money packets (hong bao) containing an even amount of money is normally given by grown-ups and elders to immediate family – usually children and is a sign of good luck.

In Chinese society, the monetary value of the gift is very important and the giving of red money packets are socially acceptable because they allow the receiver to accurately measure the strength of their family relationships.

 80017977     Food is an essential part of Chinese New Year, and is by the far the most exciting!

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are a time for families to get together and have a meal. The New Year’s Eve dinner is often very large and traditionally includes fish and chicken. However, the New Year’s Day dinner is typically vegetarian.

Some typical Chinese New Year dishes are:

Uncut noodles: Families may serve uncut noodles, which represent longevity and long life, though this practice is not limited to the new year.

Nian Gao: Most popular in eastern China because its pronunciation is a homophone for "a more prosperous year (年高 lit. year high)". Nian gao is also popular in the Philippines because of its large Chinese population and is known as "tikoy" there. Known as Chinese New Year pudding, nian gao is made up of glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, salt, water, and sugar. The colour of the sugar used determines the colour of the pudding (white or brown).

Fish: Is usually eaten or merely displayed on the eve of Chinese New Year. The pronunciation of fish (魚yú) makes it a homophone for "surpluses"(餘yú).

Buddha’s Delight: An elaborate vegetarian dish served by Chinese families on the eve and the first day of the New Year. A type of black hair-like algae, pronounced "fat choy" in Cantonese, is also featured in the dish for its name, which sounds like "prosperity".

Jao Gok: The main Chinese new year dumpling. It is believed to resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots.

Fa Gao: – Literally translated as "Prosperity Cake", fa gao is made with wheat flour, water, sugar and leavened with either yeast or baking powder. Fa gao batter is steamed until it rises and splits open at the top. The sound "fa" means either "to raise/generate" or "be prosperous", hence its well intending secondary meaning.

Yu Sheng: Raw fish salad. Eating this salad is said to bring good luck. This dish is usually eaten on the seventh day of the New Year, but may also be eaten throughout the period.

Red Jujubes: (also called "Chinese Dates") – symbol of prosperity

Turnip and Taro Cakes: A dish made of shredded Radish/Taro and rice flour, usually fried and cut into small squares.

Mandarins: are commonly eaten as they symbolise good fortune and wealth.

Bakkwa: Chinese salty-sweet dried meat, akin to jerky, which is trimmed of the fat, sliced, marinated and then smoked for later consumption or as a gift.

Sweets: Sweets and similar dried fruit goods are stored in a red or black Chinese candy box.

Jiao-Zi: (Dumplings): Eaten traditionally in northern China because the preparation is similar to packaging luck inside the dumpling, which is later eaten.

Melon Seed: Other variations include sunflower, pumpkin and other seeds and are a symbol of fertility.


The dragon dance is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture. Along with the lion dance, it is most often seen in festive celebrations.

In the dance, a team of dancers carry an image of the Chinese dragon on poles. The lead dancers lift, dip, thrust, and sweep the head, which may contain animated features controlled by a dancer and is sometimes rigged to belch smoke from pyrotechnic devices.

The dance team mimics the supposed movements of the river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner. The dragon’s fabric and bamboo body can be as long as tens of meters.

The dragon dance is a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations held in China and in Chinatowns around the world. The costumes used in these celebrations are usually made in specialty craft shops in rural China and imported at considerable expense using funds raised through subscriptions and pledges by members of local cultural and business societies.

Firecrackers are lit in order to drive away evil spirits. Firecrackers are usually strung on a long fused string so it can be hung down. Each firecracker is rolled up in red papers, as red is auspicious, with gunpowder in its core. Once ignited, the firecracker lets out a loud popping noise and, as they are usually strung together by the hundreds, the firecrackers are known for their deafening explosions that are thought to scare away evil spirits.

The Lantern Festival is held on the 15th of the first month of the Chinese calendar. It is also known as the Little New Year since it marks the end of the series of celebrations starting from the Chinese New Year.

The Lantern Festival is a Buddhist holiday that is often compared to Halloween. As children go trick-or-treating at night on Halloween, during the Lantern Festival, children go out at night carrying bright lanterns. In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, for only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones; in modern times, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs. For example, lanterns are now often made in shapes of animals.

You can find a huge range of Chinese decorations, lanterns and traditional ingredients at any of our branches so you can have a festive and prosperous Chinese New Year!

Gōng xǐ fā cái, hóng bāo ná lái !

(Happy New Year, now give me a red envelope!)


Easy Ramen Recipes

20 Sep

For a quick and tasty meal, nothing beats a big bowl of ramen soup. The best thing about this dish is that you can add pretty much anything you like – seafood, meat, poultry, vegetables, tofu, chilli, or just on its own with some bamboo shoots in chilli oil. Whatever you decide, ramen soup is always comfort in a bowl – guaranteed to lift your spirits and satisfy your taste buds.

Chinese roast pork and tofu ramen

Serves 4


4 Chicken or Pork ramen noodles

50g fried bean curd

Cantonese Roast Pork (sliced thinly)

1/2 a Chinese cabbage (sliced into strips)

1 red chilli (optional) chopped


Place Pork slices under a pre-heated grill for 5-8mins – turning occasionally.

Bring 2 litres of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the cabbage, bean curd and simmer for 3mins. Add the noodles, chilli, noodle dry seasoning packet and simmer for another 3 –4mins. Add the sesame oil seasoning from the noodle packet and serve immediately.

Add the pork slices on top and garnish with the coriander.

Tip: Add a fried egg on top if you’re really hungry!

Enjoy with chilli sauce, garlic chilli sauce, soy sauce sweet chilli sauce or whatever you prefer!