Two weeks into our UK break and my three year old is missing Ayi’s cooking. My daughter was born in Beijing, and from the day she moved on to solids, she’s been enjoying jiaozi, baozi, and noodles. There’s not a big Chinese community in the English town where we’re staying, so finding authentic Asian food and ingredients isn’t easy. There is an exceptionally good restaurant serving Beijing cuisine, but as she’s the only one really craving Ayi’s tasty morsels, it’s an expensive way of satisfying her cravings. So off I went to see whether any of the supermarkets had anything to offer.
First stop was Marks & Spencer, a major British retailer specializing in the selling of clothing, home-ware, and luxury food products. Currently they have around 15 stores in China, but sadly none of these are in Beijing. The local store here has an extensive range of Asian cuisine ready to cook meals, including prawn and mangetout gyoza. These steamed really well in the microwave, without turning chewy, and were a big hit with my daughter. Neatly stuffed with fresh prawns and vegetables, in lovely bright colors, the accompanying zingy soy and lime dip was great too.
Next stop was Waitrose supermarket and their Asian spicy chicken dumplings. Aromatic little steamed dumplings, filled with chicken breast, spring onion, coriander, and chilli. These had a great flavor and were generously filled. The special microwave container they came in, ensured they were perfectly cooked and not at all flabby. There was no accompanying dip however, and these do need a delicate dipping sauce to complement them.
Waitrose also stock char siu buns. Soft and savory steamed buns, they were filled with tender pork, crisp water chestnuts, and spring onion in a rich hoisin sauce. I was surprised at how the buns retained their soft and springy texture after cooking. My daughter thought the sauce was a little strong in flavor, but I loved it and would have preferred more sauce. The filling to bun ratio was perfect, but they are tiny little buns, so you wouldn’t want to share any of the pack of six.
They may not be entirely authentic, but all of them exceeded my expectations. What was the verdict of my three year old? "The sticky pots were yum Mummy and buns soft and squidgy. Not as nice as Ayi’s, but nicer dumplings than yours." So it seems that when we leave Beijing for good, I have three choices. Bring Ayi with us, buy dumplings from these stores, or go on quite a few Chinese cooking classes before we depart.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos: Sally Wilson