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Dr John Hawkins

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Posted on 2008/08/08 08:50:33 (August 2008).

[Saturday 2nd August]
My opinion of London's Chinatown has fluctuated somewhat over the years. When I was a student in Reading I'd make occasional trips to London, and at that time Chinatown was definitely a firm favourite - it represented a lot of what excited me about London at the time - a sense of the exotic I suppose.

In the intervening time my opinion had waned a bit though, and I think I had started to see it as just a bit of a tourist attraction. A lot of the restaurants seem to have become a bit mediocre and underwhelming - although whether that is because they've changed, or just I've become more discerning, I'm not actually sure. If I want a guaranteed good Chinese meal I'll tend to go elsewhere now (for example Royal China on Baker Street). Even the food shops had began to lose their appeal a bit too - I suppose that taste for the exotic that Chinese food had previously provided has since been overtaken by Japanese food. Besides, many of the raw ingredients I liked in Chinese food also have their equivalents in Japanese food, and to be honest I think the Japanese versions are often better quality and tastier - this is certainly true of things like rice, tofu, soy sauce and oriental mushrooms.

However, eventually this change in my attitude towards Chinatown (and Chinese food in general) had come somewhat full circle. My time living in Tokyo (where I often dined at a couple of excellent Taiwanese restaurants there) and since then coming back to London and having discovered places here which some really interesting vegetarian Chinese food, have opened my eyes to the fact that one thing Chinese food has over Japanese food is a thriving vegetarian cuisine. Or perhaps what I'm really identifying here is Taiwanese food. Like Japan, Taiwan has a long history of Buddhism, but unlike Japan a large portion of people there are vegetarian as a result. Yes, in Japan they have Shojin Ryori, but this is a tiny minority thing served at some temples, and even then is often not 100% vegetarian. I never in all my time there met a Japanese person who was vegetarian. I believe this is because, in a population of over 120 million, there are actually none.

Taiwain, on the other hand, does seem to have a decent population of vegetarians, and as such (perhaps along with other parts of Greater China) they produce some really interesting vegetarian food. Particularly they seem rather fond of "mock meats", which many Western vegetarians turn their noses up at, but I have to admit to being rather fond of. I never stopped eating meat because I didn't like it - I was one of the biggest carnivores you'd ever have met before I turned vegetarian - it was purely a moral thing.

So anyway all of this self indulgent diatribe is really just a set up for the fact that in the afternoon today we went shopping in Chinatown. We have found a particularly good supermarket there (I have determined it is particularly good because very few of the customers or staff seem to speak English), and after a good ferret around managed to find some interesting vegetarian items. Including:

- Vegetarian beef jerky.
- Vegetarian duck.
- Vegetarian abalone.
- Vegetarian shrimp!
- Vegetarian cheung fun (intestines!) a few of the usual Chinese staples like tofu, black bean sauce, and straw mushrooms.

Naturally in the evening we then went home and cooked all of these things, and had a bit of a Chinese feast at home. I'm often quite disappointed with my own food when I try to cook Chinese, but (with the exception of the tofu and black bean sauce dish, in which I rather overdid it with the black bean sauce) it all came out rather well today. Particularly the drunken prawns - the vegetarian shrimp with some Chinese leaf, cooked in lots of sake. Mmmmmmmm!

Comment 1

Took your time! I told you about it last November!

Posted by John's Mum at 2008/08/08 10:34:59.

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