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