Tag Archive for: Street food

Seven years separate your latest book, Healthy Vegan Street Food, from Vegan Street Food (and amazingly it’s over a decade since your statement breakthrough on MasterChef). How has the profile of plant-based cuisine changed in that time?

The landscape has changed so much I hardly recognise it any more!  Plant-based food has become incredibly politicised through the growth in veganism. Which has been both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, there exists quite a hard and sometimes judgemental line about a strict vegan lifestyle but also the increase in the number of people, all people but especially omnivores, eating plant-based food. With the wide availability of products, it’s such a big shift in how people eat. I think people (esp. the younger generations) have embraced this more flexitarian approach to eating and it’s definitely a good thing for them and the planet. Like anything in life there also appears to be a polar opposite response too, that’s quite hardline from dedicated carnivores. As a former sociologist I find all that quite interesting.

How important to the growth of veganism is the kind of South Asian food you promote?

I think we should all be incredibly grateful to the cuisines across Asia because there’s so much more function, health and respect in their cooking overall. South Asian food is more evolved from accessibility and seasonality, rather than relying on Dutch hot houses or globally shipped foods. And, of course, it has many ancient cultural and religious practices that have informed and shaped how people eat. We have so much to learn from Asian cultures in terms of plant-based food. Vegan mock meat was essentially invented in China by the Han dynasty over 500 years ago. 

The new book is no rehash. Hardly a duplicate recipe in there. Even the travel element is updated. The emphasis is on that word healthy, all aspects of which you explore. Is that growing awareness the main difference?

I think the book reflects both my own journey and also what’s going on around us – that people are more interested in wellness and health now. Although I grew up in a family that was always quite healthy, I think we just know so much more now. Having the opportunity to travel has taught me a lot from other countries approaches to health and wellness. Functional medicine is huge in the US. Sadly it’s quite hard to access that kind of healthcare here in UK. And even those who do have access pay a high price for that.

But I’ve always been interested in wellbeing and health. I worked for the NHS as a researcher in evidence-based practice for 18 years before MasterChef. After I became unwell due to an autoimmune disease I began studying nutrition and developing my expertise in creating healthier food (that’s still amazing to eat).

What are your major healthy eating tips?

Mostly plant-based whole food most of the time. The whole food part is important. If you’re eating vegan ready made crap from the supermarket then you’re going to feel like crap. 

My main tips are firstly making some time for prep. Having real food prepped makes it a lot easier to eat healthier while leading busy lives. Number one for me is batch cooking. You can also prepare one meal while prepping some things for other meals. So I always make at least one sauce (such as a simmered tomato sauce) that I can use in two or three dishes. I usually make this while making another meal such as batch cooking a stew, soup or dal. Something that’s protein-packed, with mushrooms or tofu/tempeh plus lots of fresh veggies. I always have cooked rice in the fridge, as cooled, cooked rice has a much lower glucose curve – and is the easiest thing to stir-fry with fresh veggies. Make it black or red rice and you’ve seriously raised the antioxidant and fibre game! Black rice is also higher in protein and rich in anthocyanin – the same thing that makes blueberries so blue (and good for us).

I always take prepped food when I’m on the go as well because we tend to eat more rubbish when we’re caught out hungry out of the house. I don’t eat gluten, so instead of grabbing a sandwich I’ll have homemade energy bars in my bag – there’s a fab recipe or two in Healthy Vegan Street Food. Or I often post recipes on my Instagram for healthy snacks and treats.

I also try to eat seasonally and locally where possible – apart from my spice emporium at home. Now I’m living in Italy it’s easier to eat like this as it’s simply how their markets and produce are run. Imported goods are super expensive.

How big a part has your own auto-immune problem played in this?

It’s played a big part really. I was always pretty healthy until my 40s. Being a former researcher I became laser focused on finding answers. But what I’ve learned, like any good researcher, is I have a lot more questions. Social media would have us believe we can cure ourselves of all kinds of diseases but I think this is unfair at best and dangerous at its worst.  It can make you feel like you’ve failed if you don’t get better. But the truth is, you can only make the best of your own situation. There are no cure all easy answers sadly. We can keep ourselves in the best shape possible, so we are in the best place to handle whatever comes at us, physically or mentally. That’s all we can do.

What are your feeling about the rash of vegan ready meals?

It worries me a lot. On the one hand, as I mentioned before, it’s drawn more people into eating plant-based. And to be fair, if they’re choosing a ready made vegan lasagne over a readymade meat lasagne, then at least it’s a small change. But we have to compare like with like, and ready made food is not great for us and should not be the main part of our diet. We need to eat whole foods, mostly plants, fresh and raw foods, fermented foods, healthy proteins and fats, this is true whatever our dietary choices and even more so as we age.

This is what I wanted Healthy Vegan Street Food to be about – healthy real food that’s more balanced and considered when it comes to nutrition. It’s a focus on making sure someone whose diet is primarily plant-based, would be getting most of the nutrients they need. If someone is solely vegan then you will always need to supplement a little. But to eat well for most of the time, the food has to be delicious and that’s what I wanted to create. So it’s possible to have treats and snacks as well as gourmet banquets, that are flavour-packed but also satisfying. 

How important is a plant-based cuisine in the fight against global warming?

We know that the commercial production of food impacts climate change in quite drastic ways. Obviously capitalism is, well capitalising, on the whole plant-based market. As it is too with the wellness industry. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to take better care of the planet and ourselves. And while it’s just a small thing, I feel that creating exciting, healthy and delicious things to eat made of plants is a pretty good place to start. 

Tell us about your current location in Italy – a far remove both from Chorlton, where you lived, and your Far East adventures.

We moved to Italy just before Brexit. Then the pandemic hit, which slowed our project plans down immensely – as it did for everyone. We moved here to Liguria to create a business that was more aligned to a healthier way of life. We have been building a retreat in the coastal mountains. Nothing complicated or any nutri-nonsense. Just simple principles of Move Well, Breath Well and Eat Well. Looking at the evidence base, these simple principles can give us the longer, healthier and happier life we all hope for. So yoga and hiking, cold water swimming and biodynamic breathwork (think Wim Hof) and together with delicious food and plant forward cookery lessons.

Your ‘Winter Reset’ programme is about to launch. Tell me about the aims of your Wellness Italy project.

This is our first opening for the retreat, so it’s a bit of a soft launch before next year. Our aim is to test the programme before we open the glamping site in the spring. This Winter Reset retreat is focused on yoga and breathwork, with accommodation in the village rather than camping on this occasion. 

We have some incredible teachers coming to support our guests. I actually met one person at a retreat in Thailand and have done some work with her since. I knew I wanted her to be part of the programme as a teacher. We hope next year that we can offer affordable retreat places for people who really need the opportunity. 

I’m well aware that it can be an elitist type of holiday. But we’re aiming to make it something more accessible. Everyone deserves to feel healthier and happier, not just those who can afford it. So we hope to start a Pay It Forward scheme eventually to create a place for someone in need to come for free. I’m also very excited about finally getting to cook for people again. And with small intimate groups too, more like a healthy supper club. And if I get the chance, sneak into the yoga class at the back before I have to get back in the kitchen!

Healthy Vegan Street Food: Sustainable & healthy plant-based recipes from India to Indonesia by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Photography by Clare Winfield © Ryland Peters & Small. She has published four previous books with them and the BLOG on her ‘Hungry Gecko’ website is an essential background read. 

Don’t miss Jackie’s showstopping recipe for Nasi Campur featured on my website.

‘Winter Reset’ runs from December 8-12 at Jackie’s Italian base of Pieve di Teco, high in the Ligurian mountains.  To find out more email mywellnessitaly@gmail.com .

Back in the day most folk’s first encounter with Indonesian food was probably via a Rijstaffel in Amsterdam or any Dutch city, an all-you-can eat buffet, at heart a colonial legacy. At its centre would be mounds of cooked rice – the Nasi of Nasi Goreng fame, that now ubiquitous fried rice dish, often featuring chicken or prawns.

Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of rice and farmer must make offerings of the sacred grain at harvest time to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility. This can involve eve trekking to the top of a volcano, of which there are many.

In her fascinating new book, Healthy Vegan Street Food (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Jackie Kearney makes rice the centrepiece of her own Indonesian/Malaysian-influenced showstopper, but it consists of just three or four plant-based elements and the rice is the more nutritious black variety. 

Healthy eating is at the core of the Masterchef legend’s fresh batch of recipes – without sacrificing flavour. As proof let me introduce you, in this exclusive extract, to her recipe for Simple Nasi Campur: Tempeh brittle, purple potato curry and coconut kale stir-fry.

“Indonesia’s answer to India’s thali. This selection plate means ‘mixed rice’, simply a plate of rice with three or four different dishes. It’s a generic term used across Indonesia and Malaysia. Nasi padang is a type of nasi campur, originating from the city of Padang in West Sumatra, where the mixed rice plate was served as a huge banquet alongside multiple curries made with meat, fish and vegetables, plus spicy sambals, peanuts and eggs.

“The Dutch colonialists adored this Minangkabau banqueting, which they called ‘rijstaffel’ or ‘rice-table’. Rijstaffel restaurants are incredibly popular throughout the Netherlands, and a closer foodie experience for most Europeans. Go hungry and be prepared for 15–20 dishes to be laid around the table.

“This recipe is a simplified little taste of nasi campur to make at home. The moreish tempeh brittle recipe uses a significant amount of (unrefined) sugars, so the portion should be a very small part of the whole platter, or give this a miss if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake and simply fry some soy-marinated tempeh instead. The kale stir-fry and simple curry are super-quick to prepare. You could also add other Indonesian elements like loaded cassava fries, manadu ‘woku’ curry or Indonesian corn ‘ribs’, if you want to create a larger rijstaffel.”


250g tempeh; 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1-cm/½ -in thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons), or use 1 tsp ginger paste;  2 tbsp coconut sugar; 1 tbsp date syrup, or use pure maple syrup or unrefined coconut sugar; 3 tbsp soy sauce; large pinch of salt. Baking sheet, lined with parchment. Serves 6.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5. Cut the tempeh into 6 mm/¼ in thick slices, then slice into 1 cm/½ in wide small pieces (the length will be the width of your tempeh block).

Place a wide frying pan over high heat with 1 tbsp of the oil. When the oil is very hot, add the tempeh pieces. Fry for 8–10 minutes until crispy and brown on all sides. Remove and place on paper towels to drain.

In the same pan, add another teaspoon of oil and add the ginger. Turn down heat to low and cook gently for 2 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients (except the tempeh). Bring the mixture to a low simmer until a thick syrup starts to form, then add the tempeh pieces. Mix well to coat all the pieces and fry gently until the liquid is reduced and sticky.

Lay the pieces onto the lined baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until crispy and nicely browned. Remove and set aside to cool. The pieces will then become more brittle and crunchy.


1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil, or use culinary coconut oil or good-quality vegetable oil; 7–8 curry leaves; 1 large brown onion, thinly sliced; 3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced; ½ tsp ground turmeric; 7.5-10-cm/3-4-in cinnamon stick; 250–300g bunch or 200g bag of kale, thick stems removed and thinly sliced; 75g desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes; 2 green chillies, chopped; ½-1 tsp salt, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime (about ½ tbsp). Serves 6.

Place a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the oil and then add the curry leaves, frying for 20–30 seconds. Now add the onion, garlic, turmeric and cinnamon. Turn down the heat to medium–low, and gently stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the onions are softened and the garlic is golden brown.

Add the kale and turn up the heat to medium–high. Stir-fry for 8-10 minutes until the kale starts to soften, depending on how crunchy you prefer your kale. Drain the desiccated unsweetened shredded coconut and squeeze out any excess water. Add the coconut and chillies to the pan, mix well and cook for 1 minute more.

Season with salt and remove from the heat. Add the lime juice and mix well. Serve immediately.


½ tbsp culinary coconut oil, or use good-quality vegetable oil; 1 large brown onion, finely chopped; 2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped, or use 2 tsp garlic paste; 4-8 small red chillies, to taste; ¼ tsp chilli powder; 1 tsp ground cumin; 1 tbsp ground coriander; 400g can plum tomatoes; 250 g purple potatoes, peeled and cubed, or use new potatoes; 

250g firm tofu, cubed (and lightly baked if you prefer); ½-1 tsp salt, to taste. Serves 6.

Place a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, then add the chillies and ground spices. Add the tomatoes (and juices) plus 3½ tbsp water, then squash the tomatoes to a pulp. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove from the heat.

Using a stick blender, blitz until smooth. Return the pan to high heat and add the potatoes. Place a lid on the pan, turn the heat down to low and simmer the potatoes for 20-25 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Add the tofu pieces. Season with salt and add a little more water if needed. This curry can be reheated when needed.


Cooked black rice; 3–4 tbsp sambal balado; 3-4 tbsp red-skinned peanuts, lightly toasted, or use cashew nuts; freshly chopped coriander; rice crackers.

To serve the nasi campur individually, place some cooked black rice in the centre of a plate (or on a banana leaf if you like). Add a large spoonful of each of the dishes around the outside, plus a spoonful of sambal balado (or hot chilli sambal) and a spoonful of toasted red skinned peanuts. Sprinkle the potato curry with a little fresh coriander and add a few rice crackers, if you like. Indonesian rice crackers are fried, so I prefer to serve with baked Vietnamese-style crackers for a healthier option.

SAMBAL BALADO:  This Indonesian chilli and tomato condiment is a cornerstone of Indonesian food. Buy in or follow this recipe, which will make 250ml. 10-12 large dried red chillies, to taste, soaked in boiling water for 15-20 minutes; 2-6 Thai chillies (optional); 1 small red onion, roughly chopped; 3 fat garlic cloves; 1 large tomato, halved and deseeded; ¼ tbsp culinary/unflavoured coconut oil; 2-3 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves (optional); ½ tsp date syrup (or maple syrup/unrefined coconut sugar); ½-1 tsp salt,, to taste; freshly squeezed juice of one lime;. 

Drain the soaked chillies and add to a blender or food processor along with fresh chillies (if using), onion, garlic and tomato. Blitz to a rough pulp, then add to a small pan with the coconut oil. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the lime leaves, date syrup and salt, and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes until the liquid reduces. Add the lime juice, mix well and taste. Adjust the seasoning, adding more date syrup or salt, if needed. Store in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Healthy Vegan Street Food: Sustainable & healthy plant-based recipes from India to Indonesia by Jackie Kearney (Ryland Peters & Small, £20) Photography by Clare Winfield © Ryland Peters & Small. She has published four previous books with them and the BLOG on her ‘Hungry Gecko’ website is an essential background read. 

Check out my recent interview with Jackie.

Midnight at Colombo Airport, stepping out into the humid, slightly foetid tropical night after an 11 hour flight. The usual welcome on such trips, a taxi driver flourishing a card with my name, misspelt. All is not as it was meant to be, alas. A small group press trip has turned out to be just solo me after the others bailed out and the Sri Lankan tourist folk have buggered up the itinerary, too.

My scheduled B&B is taken; my host is under the impression I was arriving the previous night. He shows pity, though, pours us some wine and accommodates me in a box room come cupboard. Over breakfast he tells me a government minister had recently been assassinated in his own swimming pool along the road. My good fortune? The airport runway has been patched up after yet another Tamil Tigers bombing raid.

All this is long ago. The island once known as Serendib and, in colonial times, Ceylon, is in volatile chaos once again as I write, but not with the sense of danger pervading that 2005 visit. It was post the horrors of Tsunami but peace with Tamil rebels was yet several years away. As vivid as the elephant sanctuary, tea plantations and temples of Kandy was an encounter in a hotel outside that Buddhist stronghold. Karen was a former Norwegian police officer seconded to control (with an ever diminishing team) a breakaway Tamil territory. She was driving back there after ferrying a wounded rebel colonel by airbus to hospital captivity in the capital.

Despite all this turbulent back story I was greeted warmly in every village and fed royally, my chilli heat tolerance a great help. Looking back, though, I never really got to grips with the country or its cuisine.

That’s where Cynthia Shanmugalingam comes in. Her recently published, beautifully illustrated Rambutan: Recipes from Sri Lanka (Bloomsbury, £26) explores both, from the perspective of a Tamil expatriate in England. Coventry, where her parents arrived in the Sixties, is a far cry from her family’s origins in Point Pedro at the northern tip of Sri Lanka but the anecdotes that link each life are at the core of an evocative narrative that transcends mere cookbook. 

“I felt it was a special honour to be able to tell the real story of an immigrant Tamil kid like me, and I didn’t want to do a sort of tourist idea of Sri Lanka. I wanted to write a cookbook with all the melancholy and joy that comes with losing a homeland,” the former Treasury economist told the Independent newspaper. So, yes, it doesn’t fight shy of addressing the internecine conflict that overshadowed her growing up, while still conveying the sheer sensuous joy of the places she knew, the food she ate.

The 80 recipes are revelatory, too, making it easier to recreate at home the raw and pickled dishes, sambols, curries, rice and rotis, coconut and, yes,  that are at the heart of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Cynthia will be showcasing all of these when her own restaurant, Rambutan, naturally, opens in Borough Market in October, capitalising (and perhaps improving? upon the success of groundbreaking London Sri Lankan restaurants such as the Hoppers chain, Paradise and, my own favourite in Kingly Street, Soho, Kolamba. Meanwhile, flying the flag in the North West is Stockport-based Little Lanka, shortlisted for ‘Food Trader of the Year’ in the 2022 Manchester Food and Drink Awards.

What I can’t see on the Little Lanka take-out menu is Mutton Rolls, a hugely popular street food dish I first encountered when I finally arrived at the prime reason for my Sri Lanka trip, the Colombo Food and Drink Festival. So good I ate three. The name suggest there’s bread involved; think again. Let’s turn to page 266 of Rambutan for a proper evaluation – and a recipe I really didn’t do justice to when I attempted it recently.

Cynthia suggests Colombo’s benchmark mutton rolls are to be found in the quirky Hotel Nippon – consisting of a slow-cooked mutton curry, wrapped in a Chinese pancake, breaded and then fried into a crisp, red-hot snack. The hotel is in an area known as Slave Island, home to the 40,000 strong Sri Lankan Malay community, whose cafes serve deep-fried cow’s lung and a tripe curry. Let’s admit I’m happy just to pursue the mutton (I used hogget) roll, recipe below (my version and how it should look)…


2tbsp coconut or veg oil; 1 finely diced red onion; 10 fresh curry leaves; 1 garlic clove, finely chopped; 2cm fresh root ginger, finely chopped; 300g mutton (or lamb) trimmed of fat an diced into 2cm cubes; 2cm piece of cinnamon stick; ½tsp sugar; 2tbsp SL curry powder (below); 100g waxy potatoes diced into 1cm cubes; 100ml coconut milk; ¼ whole nutmeg grated.

Coating: 100g panko breadcrumbs; 1tsp ground turmeric; 250g plain white flour; 1tsp salt; 3 large organic or free range eggs; 200ml milk; 200ml water; 100ml veg oil for shallow frying; ½tsp meat powder (below).

Sri Lankan curry powder: 30g coriander seeds,15g cumin seed,15g black peppercorns 2tbsp coconut or vegetable oil 2, 10 fresh curry leaves, 70g dried Kashmiri or medium hot red chillies, ¼ tsp ground turmeric.

Meat powder: 4 whole cardamom pods; 2tsp fennel seeds; 4 cloves; 2.5cm piece of cinnamon stick; ¼ nutmeg, grated.

Method (condensed)

Fry the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add curry leaves garlic and ginger for a minute, then the hogget, cinnamon, sugar, salt and SL curry powder. Just cover the lamb with cold water and bring it to a gentle simmer, to last for a couple of hours.

While the lamb is cooking boil the seasoned potatoes for six minutes, drain. 

Scoop the cooking liquid from the meat. Reduce it in a small saucepan for 10 minutes, to thicken, then add drained potatoes and coconut milk, stirring in nutmeg and meat powder. Combine with meat again and remove cinnamon stick.

Make coating by slightly crushing the panko and half the turmeric together. Put the flour, the remaining turmeric and salt in a mixing bowl. Break the eggs, whisk in then gradually add milk until smooth; whisk in the water now, a third at a time.

Heat veg oil in a small pan, pour enough batter into the pan so that it’s 2mm thick. Swirl it around to let it cook for around 30 second so it’s cooked. Transfer and keep warm and repeat until you have eight pancakes. To make the rolls take one one warm pancake and place two tablespoons of the meat mixture. Fold the pancake tightly around like a burrito to seal. Repeat. Coat them all with breadcrumbs. 

Fry two mutton rolls in a heavy-based pan with oil to a depth of 1cm, two minutes on each side, using tongs to hold and tun them. Repeat with the rest of the rolls. Keep warm, serve with sriracha.

So what’s a rambutan and what can you do with it?

The name of Cynthia’s book and imminent restaurant is Rambutan. Oddly this lychee-like fruit has a rather minor role in the narrative, taking centre stage in a dessert recipe I’m eager to attempt – ‘Rambutan and Rose frozen Falada’. 

It features first in one of the most vivid chapters, ‘Eat Fruit with Salt and Chilli’, introduced by her favourite uncle: “One day Athappa put a small hairy, red and yellow fruit into my hands from a brown paper bag and told me to crack it open. A rambutan. I dug my nails into the crisp, spiky shell and prised out a translucent orb, a meaty scented jelly, all sugar and perfume and a faint sourness at the same time.”

This woman can write. My main picture is from the book, taken by the brilliant San Francisco-based photographer, Alex Lau.

It is still hard to credit how much city development has escaped my attention while locked down in my Pennine fastness. Returning gradually to Manchester, I can suddenly feel adrift – and not always in a pleasurable way. Take Circle Square, a brooding behemoth of an apartment complex on the old BBC site off Oxford Road. 

OK, I first crossed its portals on a sullen, drizzly day but didn’t get the vibe promised by Vita Living: “Contemporary apartments and unreal amenities, all neighboured by leafy-green space in the form of the brand-new Symphony Park. Artisan shops, independent bars and restaurants surround Circle Square and make it a true urban oasis for everyone to enjoy.”

On the same day’s trail the ‘tropical garden’ at rival development Kampus looked ominously, bedraggled but the site opposite Canal Street offers a quirky mixed bag of living spaces, while formidable food and drink offerings (Pollen, Cloudwater, Beeswing) are on their way. Similarly, the giant towers of Deansgate Square are being serviced by quality delis (to spare the upmarket residents the trek to the Hulme Asda).

Circle Square’s own newly opened food hall is its most striking feature. Hello Oriental, an architecturally swirling three-floor, subterranean complex. boasts an Asian inspired bakery and café, a Vietnamese restaurant, a whole gallimaufry of East Asian street food options and a supermarket stocking an Instagrammable selection of packaged foodstuffs and colourful snacks hitherto available online. I suspect the small plate dining opportunities will prove more of a draw than the basement shop.

Strangely sterile the physical shop. Hardly anything on the shelves that counts as fresh. For that I’ll still be making my way down to ramshackle old Chinatown. We all have our favourite stores there. Mine is the Hang Won Hong on the corner of George Street and Booth Street. Chinese ingredients apart, it offers enough Thai and Korean staples to fuel my store cupboard. 

For my Chinese recipe needs I usually turn to Fuchsia Dunlop, for Korean Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo, for Japanese home cooking and ramen Ivan Orkin. Online for pan-Asian I’ve recently discovered mycookinghut.com/, an acclaimed blog by Leemei Tan-Boisgillot.

Here are a couple of her recipes, which feature in her latest cookbook, due out in June.

Korean Spicy Seafood Noodle Soup


1 tbsp sesame seeds; 15g dried wakame; 500g mussels, scrubbed and debearded; 1 tbsp sunflower oil; 1 onion, sliced; 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped; 1cm piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped; 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, drained and cut into thin strips; 1 tbsp Korean red pepper powder or cayenne pepper; chicken stock ¼ Chinese cabbage, core removed and cut into bite-sized pieces; 1 tbsp light soy sauce; 1 tbsp chilli oil; 300g raw, peeled large king prawns, tails left on, deveined; 400g squid, scored with a crisscross pattern and cut into bite-sized pieces; 500g cooked fresh fine egg noodles or 350g dried fine egg noodles; 2 spring onions, finely chopped.


Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the sesame seeds and dry-fry for a few minutes until the seeds begin to pop.Tip onto a plate and leave to one side.

Soak the dried wakame in a small bowl in warm water for about 10 minutes until it rehydrates. Drain, rinse and leave to one side.

Tap any mussels that are only partly opened and discard any that don’t shut. Put the mussels in a saucepan over a high heat and steam for 3–4 minutes, or until the shells open. Discard any that don’t open fully. There is no need to add any additional liquid to the pan, as the mussels will release their own liquid to steam in. Remove the mussels from their shells and leave to one side.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2–3 minutes until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the shiitake mushrooms and Korean red pepper powder and cook, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add the chicken stock.

Return the pan to the heat and bring the stock to the boil. Add the Chinese cabbage and cook for 3–4 minutes until tender. Add the soy sauce and chilli oil and then add the prawns and squid. Bring to the boil for a few seconds, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 5–6 minutes, or until the prawns turn pink and are cooked through and the squid is tender. Three minutes before the end of cooking, add the mussels to heat through.

Divide the hot, cooked noodles into deep soup bowls, then spoon the prawns, squid, cabbage and mussels into the bowls.

Bring the chicken stock to a vigorous boil. Add the spring onions and prepared wakame to the bowls, then ladle in the piping hot stock. Sprinkle over the toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Sichuan Mapo Tofu

This is a famous Sichuan dish that comes with a story. It is said that during the Qing dynasty, a restaurant on the outskirts of Chengdu was well known for a delicious, very spicy tofu dish, which was made by the restaurateur’s wife. She had pockmarks on her face, and as a result was called Mapo – ma means ‘pockmark’ and po means ‘elderly woman’, and her signature dish was called Mapo Dou Fu.


300g soft silken tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes; 1 tbsp sunflower oil; 1 cm piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped; 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped; 200g beef or pork mince; 2 tbsp chilli bean paste; 1 tbsp light soy sauce; 1 tsp granulated sugar; 1 tsp ground toasted Sichuan pepper; 1 tsp cornflour; 2 spring onions, roughly chopped. Serve with 400g cooked egg noodles


Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then remove from the heat. Carefully tip the tofu into the water and leave to one side.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for 1–2 minutes until fragrant but not coloured. Add the mince, break up the lumps and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until starting to brown. Add the chilli bean paste, soy sauce, sugar, ground Sichuan pepper and 200ml water, stir to combine and slowly bring to the boil.

Carefully drain the tofu and add it to the wok. Gently push the ingredients around the wok until the tofu pieces are coated with the sauce. Do not stir as it may break up the delicate tofu. Let it simmer for 3–5 minutes until heated through.

Meanwhile, combine the cornflour with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Slowly pour the cornflour mixture into the wok or pan and gently fold through. Sprinkle over the spring onions and serve immediately with noodles.

• Both recipes are fromThe Asian Home Kitchen by Leemei Tan-Boisgillot, to be published by Nourish in hardback, price £20, on June 14, 2022. Leemai is a recipe writer, food stylist

The atmosphere will be eclectic at the upcoming Red Bank Festive Trail, the only slightly off the beaten track antidote to the fake jollity and craven rapacity of Manchester Christmas Markets. As 2021 draws to its uncertain close it has never been more important to support the city’s independents and I can’t think of any more indie stretch than the arches above the ‘Green Quarter’ (but don’t get me started on that nomenclature).

Contributing to the Festive Trail celebrations (Saturday December 4, 12pm-6pm) are The Spärrows, Blackjack Brewery, Beatnikz Republic, Popup Bikes, Base Bar, Runaway Brewery, Chapeltown Picture House, GFFdamian Dance Studio and admirable street food champions GRUB, who are the very definition of grass roots.

I’ve been along for the rollercoaster ride with founders Jason and Juliana Bailey from the start back in 2014 across a variety of pop-ups and venues, with a constantly shifting roster of vendors they have supported and mentored. It’s great to see them in a permanent home  now at the top of Red Bank – its bar, events space and street food garden a beacon of sustainability. 

In a Manchester scene where corporate developers pay lip service to ‘street food’ and ‘artisans’, hosting them for fixed terms to give cool cachet to their building schemes, GRUB is the real deal.

This Saturday afternoon may offer a promenade of brewery tours, live music, dance performances, street food, cinema screenings, fresh produce stalls and a record fair, but such vitality is not a one-off thanks to an eclectic (that word again) calendar of events and fairs GRUB generates. I recently attended a packed wine and cheese matching at their Red Bank HQ featuring Reserve Wines and Chorlton Cheesemongers.

GRUB have led the way in plant-based promotion, so no surprise to see they are hosting a 100 per cent Vegan New Year’s Party.


The Baileys’ events company also reaches out across the region in collaborations. Its latest project epitomises their approach. Following their major reopening earlier this year, Contact performing arts venue on Oxford Road has sought to reenergise its catering. 

GRUB have recruited for them a street food chef to watch – Michael Anderson, owner and creator of Tikka Chance On Me. Describing himself as “a gobby Irish Mancunian with a big belly and an even bigger mouth who loves life and lives to eat”, he quit his day job in 2019 and has since been creating ‘Northern’ dishes inspired by Indian ingredients, until recently from an Ardwick base. To match his culinary creations at Contact beers will be local, cocktails from the GRUB team. Opening hours will be 10am-8pm Monday-Friday, 12pm-8pm Saturday.

GRUB, The Red Bank Project, 50 Red Bank, Manchester, M4 4HF. Wednesday-Friday 4pm-10pm, Saturday 12pm-10pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm.