If you think Chinese people actually eat luminous orange pork balls, egg fried rice and prawn crackers, then you’d be not just deluded, but insane. That is Anglo-Chinese food, the kind of thing created to satisfy our less than adventurous palates. But that’s all changing – now it’s possible to sample Chinese food as eaten by Chinese people in China right here in London. Radical idea, we know. Here’s our guide to where to find truly authentic Chinese dining in the capital.
Almost slapbang in the centre of China is Shaanxi province, home to the Terracotta Army, and to Xi’an cuisine – incredibly popular inside China, but little known here. Biang biang noodles – a single long flat strand of egg noodle-y wonder, covered in a savoury, soy, nutty hot sauce – is a signature dish and you’ll find it in Xi’an Impression, an unassuming looking Chinese restaurant opposite the Emirates stadium. Rou Jia Mo (pulled meats in a doughy bun) is another, and, for the more adventurous, try the skin-cold noodles: they’re not as creepy as they sound, more like a hearty, chewy take on a fresh noodle salad.
117 Benwell Road, London N7 7BW, xianimpression.co.uk
China’s stretch across Asia is vast and on its western side the food begins to resemble the cuisine of places like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Silk Road in Camberwell’s name explains a lot; Xianjiang province was on the ancient trade route, and here you’ll find the population is largely Muslim, making the food predominantly halal meats – mutton and beef – along with pilaf-style rice dishes and lots of peppers. It’s a niche cuisine, and though Silk Road is a hidden gem it’s always busy, which proves the point somewhat.
49 Camberwell Church Street, Camberwell, London SE5 8TR
Cosmopolitan Shanghai takes the best of all worlds; it’s a city where you’ll find the fresh ginger and soy vegetable dishes of Hong Kong and the south, and the heft of northern noodles. But it does have one thing of its own: shenjianbao, or soup dumplings. Technically challenging to make, Dumpling Shack in Old Spitalfields Market do a fine version. Each little dough parcel is filled with meat and a hot broth – take care as you bite it that you don’t burn your tongue. They’re not just amazingly tasty, the texture combination of chewy and liquid makes them novel to eat too.
Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield Street, London E1 6BG, dumplingshack.co.uk
Let’s talk about the capital, Beijing. In the north of China, it’s a land of hearty carbs, pickles and fermentations more typical of food you’ll find in the cooler northern provinces. It’s too cold to grow rice in this part of China, so the food here is wheat-y: dumplings, noodles and the like, most often served with vegetables. Mamalan are the pros when it comes to Beijing-style dumplings, as well as warming noodle dishes like slow-cooked beef tang mein.
Locations in Clapham, Brixton and Swiss Cottage, mamalan.co.uk
The Sichuan province is completely different to many other areas in China. Geographically, it’s below sea level, which makes it hot and sticky – much like the food, which is characterised by the numbing quality given to it by Sichuan pepper. Once you’re over the numbing effect, it’s sweet, salty and hot. You’ll recognise the sensation if you’ve ever had a decent plate of Kung Po chicken, and you can find just that at Hutong in The Shard.
33 The Shard, 31 St Thomas St, London SE1 9RY, hutong.co.uk