Saturday, 29 October 2011

London - Yum Cha

Yum Cha on Urbanspoon
As a student, it doesn't get better than the promise of half-price dim sum.  Yum Cha in Camden offers just that until 7pm, meaning that semi-adventurous lunches and early dinners can be had for little money.  Their dim sum menu is fairly extensive, covering the usual dumpling fare to more intriguing cold dishes such as Jellyfish and Sliced Smoked Pig's Knuckle.  They have a few nods to other parts of East and South East Asia, but the main focus is on mainland China and Hongkong.

When I went with my friend Sarah, we were both hankering after as many dumplings as we could fit in our hungry mouths (and neither of us like jellyfish).  The dim sum dinner menu is packed with different types of dumplings, and we tasted almost all of them, from the gelatinous Crystal Scallop and Prawn Dumpling to the hot and soupy Minced Pork Shanghai Siew Long Bao (normally known as xiao long bao or "xlb") to the steamed and meaty Pork and Prawn Shumai, as well as a good number of others.  With four dumplings per serving with each dish priced around the £3.80 mark, the 50% discount really makes a difference, giving penniless students the ability to eat their way around China's favourite snack foods.

Properly meaty, full of ginger and garlic flavours, their skins just the right thickness and texture to firmly hold their ingredients, the dumplings were a joy to keep popping into my mouth.  My favourite were the Siew Long Bao as there's something deliciously raffish about sucking the hot and juicy soup out of the skins.  The Panfried Shanghai Pork Dumpling were also excellent, the bottoms slightly thicker and a little charred from being fried, giving them a sticky texture that contrasted nicely with the filling.

There were two let-downs. The Honey Roast Pork Buns could have been so much better had their fillings not been so cloyingly sweet and if the puffy white shells had been freshly prepared - biting into these buns should be akin to biting into a pillow made of savoury marshmallow not like fluffy sawdust. Similarly, the ingredients of the Chinese Prawn and Chive Dumpling tasted stale.

For cheap Chinese that tastes like Chinese food in an area trying so hard to be pretentious that having a sleeve tattoo is mandatory, Yum Cha is the place to visit.  To maximise your potential for eating your way around China, it is best to go when their very generous deal is on.

Friday, 28 October 2011

London - Yasar Halim

Green Lanes is becoming my go-to destination when I don't have anything in the fridge for lunch.  Partly because of its proximity to my front door and partly because of its plethora of good restaurants, cafes and grocers mean that I always have a choice.

Yasar Halim - a double-fronted, Turkish Cypriot grocers and bakery - is my current stop-off when I'm jonesing for something either stickily sweet or salty-savoury.  The bakery offers eight tulumba (crispy, oval gulab jamuns) for a quid, a price that I can't imagine being bettered.  The warm and gooey baklava leak sugar all over your fingers and face.  Similarly good value are the boreks (rectangles of puff pastry filled with feta, spinach or lamb), either the small for 55p or the large for £1.20.  The boreks' fillings, and I have tried all of them, are consistently good - the feta is partially melted and contains strands of herbs, the spinach seems almost healthy with hints of citrus, and the lamb is nicely spiced.  My favourite baked good, however, is a bun that contains layers of cooked black olives and slices of spring onions.  The bread is dense and yeasty, the olives salty, and the onions caramalised, making this one very reasonably priced bun a perfect meal.

Next door in the grocery side of the shop is every conceivable type of fruit and vegetable, along with a wide range of Turkish and Greek products, a thousand or so types of yoghurt, and a very cheap meat selection.  I regularly pop in to grab whatever's seasonal in Cyprus - figs (five for £1!) and giant pomegranates last month, juicy oranges at the moment.

Even without the rest of Green Lanes, including the Antepliler mini-empire, the local Turkish community would be well-served with just Yasar Halim.  I know that I need to break my habit and go elsewhere, but it's just so convenient and always delicious.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

London - Petek

Petek on Urbanspoon

Mains: £10-16

94-96 Stroud Green Road,
Finsbury Park
London N4 3EN

The Finsbury Park/Green Lanes area is stuffed to the gills with Turkish and Kurdish restaurants, cafes and groceries.  I am making it my personal mission to experience all of them.  I have been to Petek's, a two-room, be-lanterned, mid-scale Turkish joint on Stroud Green Rd twice now, and both times the food has been top-class.

Petek's owners clearly love meat in all its forms, as long as it's grilled.  You can choose one of their fish or vegetarian options if you want, and the vegetarian moussaka is delicious, but the succulence and flavour of their lamb and chicken dishes should be ordered by everyone apart from the most vegetarian of vegetarians.  Most dishes are served with a mound of spiced and fluffy rice, green salad, and a thick and sour yoghurt that is perfect for slathering onto the juicy meat.  Due to a mix-up with their wine delivery, their house red is currently much better than you would expect for the price, which I can attest to after drinking a lot of it.

Before you order, citrus-y olives, a fresh salsa of pureed tomatoes and chillies, and generous slabs of pillowy bread are brought to the table gratis.  The trick is to avoid filling yourself with the moreish bread, as hard as that is.  Scoffing down various combinations of bread, olives and salsa really slows down the ordering process - just as you settle on what you want to eat, you feel the urge to tear off yet another hunk and you forget everything but the salsa's sparky tang.

Although more expensive than the school-table kebabis lining Green Lanes or Blackstock Road, Petek's portions are plentiful and they compose high-standard ingredients into dishes that will satisfy both your tastebuds and your stomach.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Moving down to London town

...well, actually, I've already moved down. I'm here doing an MA for a year, so am on a serious budget (under £50 a week). Luckily, I'm game for trying to eat my way around the world without leaving the capital's confines or busting my budget. I'll happily walk everywhere I can in order to put less money on my Oyster and thus have enough for another bowl of pho, or a gozleme (Turkish pancake), or a Trinidadian roti wrap, or a pork baozi (puffy dumpling), or an artisanal ice cream, or some baklava from a specialist baklava bakery, or....well, the list is endless.  So while I might be irregular in my updates, know that I'm still out there finding you (and me) the cheapest, tastiest food I possibly can.