Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chinese Street Food in London: Baozi Inn

Chinese food in Chinatowns around the world can be hit or miss. More often than not, especially in large cities, the restaurants in Chinatowns cater more to tourists and Western palates. But there are some gems in the sea of General Tso's Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork and I found one at Baozi Inn in London.

Tucked on a side street that is literally a hop, skip and a jump away from the famous grand entrance gate that marks London's Chinatown, Baozi Inn is famous for its reasonably priced Northern Chinese street food. Baozi is the chinese word for pork bun and the menu is filled with an assortment of dumplings and buns, steamed and fried. There are also the noodle and rice dishes and small plates like poached peanuts and pickled vegetables...all familiar dishes from my childhood. The decor is faux plebeian Maoist China...old black and white photographs on the walls, wooden stools and tables. Reminds me of a modernized version of a Chinese inn set in an old Jackie Chan movie, only no one's there to start a kung fu fight.

Even though we wanted to try everything on the menu, we really only had the stomach for two dishes. The first was a lunch special of spicy tofu with ground pork over rice (below). I can tell this one was fiery right when they dropped the plate off in front of us and indeed it was. Delicate tofu lit on fire with chili oil and paste. We were sweating profusely (in a good way) with every bite but couldn't put our spoons down.

The second dish was what I was really looking forward to: Zha Jiang Mian which was noodles with a stir friend ground pork sauce on top. This is one of my mother's signature dishes so I had to see whose was better. The Baozi Inn version (below) had a slightly sweeter sauce than I prefer but the raw garlic on top was a genius move. Overall, a very very good execution of a dish that I grew up eating almost everyday.

Chinatowns in the US up until now, are made up mostly of restaurants serving cuisine from Southern China since that's where the early immigrants came from. Nowadays there is definitely more and more variety of Chinese regional cuisine in New York and hopefully London is also seeing this trend. In 2010, I'm gonna try to learn more about the different regional flavors of China through eating and cooking. If you live in London, check out Baozi Inn and then start with my mother's recipe for Zha Jiang Mian. And decide for yourself which is better!

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