China Town Kitchen

China Town Kitchen

From the perspective of someone who had a fairly ordinary, suburban American upbringing – in which dinner often featured one of several ways my mother could stretch a pound of hamburger to feed five – Lizzie Mabbott’s childhood was exotic. Born in Hong Kong to a Chinese mother and English father who had moved to China “on a whim,” Mabbott ate spicy fishballs on sticks from street vendors for after-school snacks. On Sundays, her extended family gathered in restaurants for dim sum brunch, where her “elder aunties would choose a braised chicken’s foot from the steamer for their bowl, only to suck all the skin off the bones and then delicately but deliberately spit all the bones out onto the tablecloth, chopsticks sometimes guiding the way.” “Chinatown Kitchen” by Lizzie Mabbott, Mitchell Beazley 2015 David Munn photo Search photos available for purchase: Photo Store → Mabbott chronicles these memories in the introduction to her first cookbook, “Chinatown Kitchen,” the result of her efforts to cook what she never had the chance to learn from her Chinese grandmother, who discouraged children being in the kitchen. Mabbott’s family moved to the United Kingdom when she was 13; over time, she realized how much she missed the dishes of her childhood. In 2008 she started a blog, “Hollow Legs,” her childhood nickname, to document her discoveries at Asian supermarkets and recipe research. She traveled to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, adding those flavors to her repertoire. I was excited to bring “Chinatown Kitchen” home to show my husband, who grew up going to New York City’s Chinatown and has long talked about cooking more Asian dishes in our home kitchen. While the recipes are intriguing, one of the most useful elements of the book is the extensive descriptions of Asian ingredients; some, like miso and fish sauce, I already know and use, but many others I don’t. We are fortunate to have Asian supermarkets in Portland (even the Forest Avenue Hannaford has an impressive Asian ingredient section). Mabbott suggests the cookbook can be a guide for those unfamiliar with Asian markets, and I fully intend to use it that way. Given its modest size, “Chinatown Kitchen” is packed with detailed information, presented in a lively, fun style. Some of the recipes are thoroughly authentic, others are more of a mashup – Mabbot’s personal take on Asian dishes. She calls a recipe for buddae jjigae that includes Spam, baked beans, kimchi and hot dogs “the ultimate instant noodle pimp,” and a few pages later, offers a traditional recipe for the classic Thai soup tom yum goong. Since I learned to make thoroughly authentic spaghetti carbonara in Rome, from a Roman, I was intrigued by Mabbott’s udon carbonara, “an enormous bastardization,” she writes. But a very good one. With the addition of sprouted broccoli, garlic, scallions and crumbled toasted nori, it has umami in spades. UDON CARBONARA Serves 2 4 strips of bacon, chopped into small pieces ½ sheet of nori toasted in a 400 degree F. oven until crisp (I used a whole sheet) 1 small head of sprouting broccoli or any other dark leafy green 1 scallion 1 fat garlic clove 2 handfuls of shredded Parmesan cheese 2 free-range egg yolks Two 7-ounce blocks of vacuum-packed or frozen udon (I bought a 16-ounce package and used most of it) Freshly ground black pepper Fry the bacon in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until most of the fat has rendered and the bacon is starting to get crisp. While the bacon is frying, crush the nori in your hands into a bowl so that it becomes large flakes/dust. Separate the broccoli into small florets, trimming away any tough parts. Separate the white part of the scallion and shred finely. Mince the green part and reserve for the garnish. Crush the garlic, add to the bacon in the skillet, and fry gently on low heat for a couple of minutes. Add the whites of the scallion, then immediately remove from the heat. Whisk the Parmesan with the egg yolks in a large bowl. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and cook the broccoli or leafy greens for 1 minute, then add the udon and cook following the package instructions (usually about 3 minutes, or until the blocks have loosened and untangled). Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking water, then drain the noodles well and add to the egg and cheese mixture. Add the bacon mixture and toss well with the reserved cooking water. The egg and Parmesan mixture will emulsify into a sauce, coating the udon strands as you keep tossing. Garnish with the scallion greens, toasted nori and plenty of black pepper. Serve immediately on warmed plates. Share Read or Post Comments Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form Send questions/comments to the editors.
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China Town Kitchen

Mabbott chronicles these memories in the introduction to her first cookbook, “Chinatown Kitchen,” the result of her efforts to cook what she never had the chance to learn from her Chinese grandmother, who discouraged children being in the kitchen. Mabbott’s family moved to the United Kingdom when she was 13; over time, she realized how much she missed the dishes of her childhood. In 2008 she started a blog, “Hollow Legs,” her childhood nickname, to document her discoveries at Asian supermarkets and recipe research. She traveled to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, adding those flavors to her repertoire.
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China Town Kitchen

It’s not exactly a Chinese cookbook, as the sub-subtitle indicates. So while you’ll find soy, ginger, garlic, rice wine and other ingredient friends from China, there’s also lemon grass, fish sauce, lime leaf, coconut milk and about a million kinds of shrimp paste. Most of her dishes are easy, though some require a soak or a rest. Many seem quite new, and none are boring.
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China Town Kitchen

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china town kitchen 4

China Town Kitchen

Given its modest size, “Chinatown Kitchen” is packed with detailed information, presented in a lively, fun style. Some of the recipes are thoroughly authentic, others are more of a mashup – Mabbot’s personal take on Asian dishes. She calls a recipe for buddae jjigae that includes Spam, baked beans, kimchi and hot dogs “the ultimate instant noodle pimp,” and a few pages later, offers a traditional recipe for the classic Thai soup tom yum goong.
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China Town Kitchen

But her first cookbook, which was released here in July to very little fanfare, could change all that. “Chinatown Kitchen: From Noodles to Nuoc Cham” is a knockout.
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China Town Kitchen

Mabbott has something of a noodle fetish, so “Chinatown Kitchen” features a glorious mosaic of noodle dishes. An eyewateringly pungent blend of shallots and spices and herbs and stinky shrimp paste — in short, a curry paste — lies at the heart of Malaysian Curry Mee. I cried onion tears near the blender, but they were forgotten as the mixture simmered away into sauce along with curry leaves and lime leaves, two of my favorite smells in all the world. The noodles and the tofu puffs and the vegetables were basically a vehicle for the curry, but I’d gladly get in that car every day.
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China Town Kitchen

Only one time did I not see eye to eye with the shocking, in-your-face flavors of “Chinatown Kitchen.” It was a spicy peanut and tofu puff salad that looked so delectable I tested it twice, even though I wasn’t sure about the shrimp paste (hae ko, a molasses-like product that not even the biggest Asian store near me carried). First I tried it with pungent, hard-core, gray, muddy “belacan” shrimp paste, which can clear a room of uninitiated eaters the instant you open it. It was absolutely overwhelming, and I couldn’t sell the leftovers even to my voracious teenager. The second time, I tried a sauteed sweetened Filipino shrimp paste — more accessible, but still a bit intense for company. If I ever find the hae ko, you can be sure I’ll try a third time.
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Often with Chinese and Southeast Asian cookbooks, I’ve been a sucker for the authenticity that comes with the hardest-to-find ingredients. “Chinatown Kitchen” tosses all such neuroses out the window. Enough of its recipes are throw-together simple, and even so, they’re an easy sell for the most jaded palate. I, for one, will be eager to see what future surprises Mabbott has in store.
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Food ‘Chinatown Kitchen,’ reviewed: I kept going back for more The inside track on Washington politics. Be the first to know about new stories from PowerPost. Sign up to follow, and we’ll e-mail you free updates as they’re published. You’ll receive free e-mail news updates each time a new story is published. You’re all set! Sign up *Invalid email address Got it Got it