Things I hate about London Chinatown:
1. The ten thousand bajillion tourists there. What are they there to see, exactly? Have they never seen Chinese people? Seriously, I hate going to Chinatown and feeling like I’m part of the scenery.
2. The many crappy and overpriced restaurants that cater to Point Number One above.Things I love about London Chinatown (and that outweigh the things I hate):1. Chinese groceries in Chinatown are awesome. Loon Fung Supermarket, the biggest one, sells 22-pound bags of Jasmine rice, ten thousand brands of soy sauce, super-convenient frozen dumplings (the “Beijing Brand” pork-and-chive deserves special mention) and stocks “Great Wall of China” wines (I’ll let you know if I ever screw up the courage to give it a go).
On top of all this greatness, you can also pick up Skippy peanut butter at about half the price of the going rate at an “American” section in mainstream London supermarkets. Chinese wine and Skippy peanut butter – clearly, Loon Fong is my kind of place.
What’s a bah tsang? See photo at left. It’s a portable meal. Sticky rice and a variety of fillings (fillings depend on what part of China you’re in or from) get wrapped up in bamboo leaf, tied with a string, and steamed. When you want to eat it, you can eat it cold or re-steam the whole thing and voila, you have a hot, tasty meal that doesn’t even require a plate or fork. It’s a Chinese tamale, really.
The bah tzang lady sells fresh, simple, homemade ones filled with pork and egg for £1 each, and sometimes she’s accompanied by a woman who sells homemade sesame candy that looks tasty, too.
3. Chinese Experience (118 Shaftesbury Avenue) restaurant for unusual, creative, fresh dim sum and Royal Dragon (30 Gerrard Street) restaurant for traditional, but also fresh dim sum. Alas, be warned that the vast majority of dim sum places in London don’t do the carts. It’s all about ticking boxes off on a form listing all your dim sum options.
Our favorites at the Chinese Experience restaurant include the crispy turnip cake served Singapore-style and the crispy Beijing-style dumplings with sesame (see photo at the top of this post). That said, the biggest draw of Chinese Experience are the decent xiao long bao, the Shanghai soup dumplings (see photo at right) that I’ve craved since the days when I could drop by Joe’s Shanghai at my leisure.
The Chinese Experience version is good because the skin is thin but also sturdy so the soup doesn’t leak out, and the pork filling and soup are flavorful, though it lacks the zing that thrilled at Joe’s or Din Tai Fung in Taipei.
Still, It’s the best in quality/price we’ve found so far in London. (The nearby ECapital Shanghai restaurant also serves them, but they’re pricier and have a subpar thick skin; Royal China Club and Yauatcha serve good ones, but they’re expensive enough that you don’t want to pop by too often).