Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey…

Paperback | October 13, 2009

byHelen Tse

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Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative memoir recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women.

Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the UK. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through.

A love of food and a talent for cooking pulled each generation through the most devastating of upheavals. Helen Tse's grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as an amah after the violent murder of her father. Crossing the ocean from Hong Kong in the 1950s, Lily honed her famous chicken curry recipe. Eventually she opened one of Manchester's earliest Chinese restaurants where her daughter, Mabel, worked from the tender age of nine. But gambling and the Triads were pervasive in the Chinese immigrant community, and tragically they lost the restaurant. It was up to author Helen and her sisters, the third generation of these exceptional women, to re-establish their grandmother's dream. The legacy lived on when the sisters opened their award-winning restaurant Sweet Mandarin in 2004.

Sweet Mandarin shows how the most important inheritance is wisdom, and how recipes--passed down the female line--can be the most valuable heirloom.

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From the Publisher

Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative memoir recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women. Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the UK. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they l...

From the Jacket

Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative memoir recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women. Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the UK. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they l...

HELEN TSE grew up in Manchester, UK. She studied law at Cambridge University and went on to work as a finance lawyer in London, Hong Kong, and Manchester. She opened the restaurant Sweet Mandarin with her two sisters, Lisa and Janet, in 2004, following the culinary footsteps of her mother and grandmother. Helen Tse is the first Britis...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:279 pages, 8.2 × 5.4 × 0.9 inPublished:October 13, 2009Publisher:St. Martin's PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312604815

ISBN - 13:9780312604813

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Memoir Story Description: St. Martin’s Press|October 13, 2009|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-312-60481-3 Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative memoir recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women. Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930 Hong Kong and finally to the UK. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through. A love of food and a talent for cooking pulled each generation through the most devastating of upheavals. Helen Tse’s grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as an “amah” after the violent murder of her father. Crossing the ocean from Hong Kong in the 1950’s, Lily honed her famous chicken curry recipe. Eventually she opened one of Manchester’s earliest Chinese restaurants where her daughter, Mabel, worked from the tender age of nine. But gambling and the Triads were pervasive in the Chinese immigrant community, and tragically they lost the restaurant. It was up to author Helen and her sisters, the third generation of these exceptional women, to re-establish their grandmothers dream. The legacy lived on when the sisters opened their award-winning restaurant Sweet Mandarin in 2004. “Sweet Mandarin” shows how the most important inheritance is wisdom, and how recipes – passed down from the female line – can be the most valuable heirloom. My Review: This family suffered tragedy after tragedy but managed to pick themselves up and keep moving forward in spite of the most horrible conditions and abject poverty. The strength of these Chinese women is astounding and a tribute to the culture they were born in to. Lily, the matriarch of the family was a strong, stubborn and courageous woman who taught her children the value of hard work and making a dollar in spite of the long hard hours that had to be put in to make the minimum amount of money. Lily never gave up and after tragedy she picked herself up and kept moving forward. This ability to forge ahead in times of trouble and utter chaos was handed down to the next generation and the next, making for 3 generations of women whose courage, strength, fortitude, and resilience won out in the end. This story was so enjoyable and so interesting that I read it one sitting. Helen Tse’s writing flowed well and made for a very pleasant experience. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work. Sweet Mandarin is her debut novel.
Date published: 2012-07-30

Extra Content

Bookclub Guide

RECIPESRecipe of dishes featured in Sweet Mandarin, including Mabel's Claypot Chicken and Lily Kwok's CurryAs a British Born Chinese, I have lived a very British way of life being educated at Cambridge University and working as an attorney in London, Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands. However, throughout my life, I grew up with the backdrop of serving and cooking in the family restaurant and continue my involvement in the catering empire as a co-owner of Sweet Mandarin Restaurant. Chinese food has had an overwhelming presence in my life and been the catalyst for my hunger for understanding China, its culture and the significance of food each with a story to tell. China is a captivating and vivacious collection of diverse cities, provinces and regions. In the south, Guangdong, the Cantonese speaking region where my family originates from, is renowned for its steaming, boiling and stir frying and dim sum feasts which we have become accustomed to and love in the western world.LILY KWOK'S CURRY (serves 2)Preparation time 20 minutes, cooking time 1 hourINGREDIENTS:For the sauce:6 tbsp vegetable oil or Ghee, (clarified butter)3 Onions, finely chopped4 cm piece Ginger, peeled and thinly sliced4 garlic cloves, sliced4 mild fleshy red chilies, seeds removed and chopped1/2 tsp ground turmeric1/2 tsp ground cumin1/2 tsp ground coriander1/2 tbsp Chile powder2 1/2 tsp curry powder125ml water2 1/2 tsp plain flour2 1/2 tsp self-raising flour400 - 500ml chicken or vegetable stockFor the chicken:3-4 tbsp cornflour2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips2 tbsp oil1/2 onion, thinly sliced2 tbsp fresh peasMETHODFor the sauce: 1.) Heat the oil or ghee in a heavy-based pan or wok over a high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for 3 minutes, or until starting to soften but not brown. Add the ginger, garlic and chilies and continue stir-frying for 30 seconds, then reduced the heat to very low and leave to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened but nothing browns. 2.) Stir in the turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili powder and curry powder and continue cooking very gently for a further 5 minutes. Don't burn the spices or the sauce will taste acrid; sprinkle on a few drops of water if you're worried. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little. 3.) Put the water in a food processor or blender and add the contents of the pan. Blend until everything is very smooth, then add both the flours and blend again. Put the puréed mixture back into the pan and simmer for 20-30 minutes (the longer the better) over a very low heat, stirring occasionally. Add a little hot water if it starts to catch, but the idea is to gently 'fry' the sauce so that it darkens in color to an orangey brown. Once you have a thick paste, gradually stir in the stock and simmer until the curry sauce has reduced. For the chicken: Season the cornflour with salt and pepper to taste, and toss the chicken strips in this to coat them. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Add the chicken pieces and stir-fry for a couple of minutes until they turn white. Add the onion and peas and stir-fry for a further few minutes, then stir in the curry sauce and heat until everything is piping hot. Serve immediately.SWEET MANDARIN GARLIC BUTTER FISH or KING PRAWNS (Serves 2-3)Preparation time 5 minutes, cooking time 10-15 minutes. Tilapia or cod is a great choice for a low carb diet or any healthy diet. The Chinese love to steam fish and use garlic for cooking. Garlic has hypoglycemic effects, as well as those that lower blood cholesterol. It is an expectorant, antibacterial, antifungal (antimycotic), antiviral, antiparasitic, amebicidal, insecticidal, larvicidal, antitumor, antithrombotic, and antihepatotoxic (helps the liver detoxify). It also lowers blood viscosity, improves microcirculation, and has diuretic properties. Garlic oil is known to act as a gastrointestinal smooth muscle relaxant. INGREDIENTS:3 tablespoons butter2 cloves garlic, finely choppeddash salt2 Spring onion cut into one inch strands4 tilapia fillets or cod fillets (boneless) or 20 King PrawnsPREPARATION:Chop spring onion into one inch strands. Place tilapia / cod fillets in a wok/saucepan, put spring onion over the fish and steam for 10 -15 minutes until fish turns opaque white and flakes easily with a fork. If you are using king prawns, steam for only 5 minutes. Whilst the fish is being steamed, in another saucepan, combine butter, garlic and salt. Heat over low heat until butter is melted and starts simmering. The garlic will turn golden brown and be crunchy. Remove from heat.Serve the fish on a plate (on a bed of vegetables e.g bok choy, spinach, broccoli, Chinese cabbage) and pour the garlic butter over the fish.Serves 2 -3.MABEL'S CLAYPOT CHICKEN (Serves 4)Preparation time 10 minutes (excluding marinating the chicken and soaking the Chinese mushrooms) Cooking Time 10-20 minutesFood is the continuing thread for people moving around the world. My grandmothermade this meal for my mother in Hong Kong and in the UK. At Sweet Mandarin, thisspecial dish of tender chicken double-cooked in a clay pot is a bestseller. It has an intenseflavor and a wonderful aroma. It's a great no-nonsense meal that is easy to make at home.Soy sauce is the key ingredient to this claypot - soy sauce is also something that is integral in our family's story and the reason why our family moved from Guangzhou, China to Hong Kong. Soy sauce also holds a bittersweet tale for our family. Because of my great grandfather's successful soy sauce business, he was murdered by a rival merchant.INGREDIENTS4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 7-8 oz (200-250g) eachMarinade: 1 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of sugar, 1 tbspChinese rice wine, 2 tsp cornstarch5 dried Chinese mushrooms (soaked untilsoft and sliced into thin pieces)2 spring onions, finely sliced2 baby bak choi, cut into rough squaresThumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced½ lap cheung (Chinese sausage) sliced1/2 clove of garlic, crushed1/2 cup chicken broth1 tbsp dark soy sauce4 tsp oyster sauce1 tsp granulated sugar1/4 tsp sesame oil1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 5 tbsp cold water5 tbsp oil for stir-frying400ml or 2 cups of jasmine rice, cookedMETHOD1. Pre-heat oven to 360-375°F(180-190°C or Gas Mark 4-5).2. Soak mushrooms in hot water for one hour (alternatively use ready-to-cook tinnedChinese mushrooms).3. Cut chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.4. Mix the marinade ingredients (salt, sugar, Chinese rice wine and corn starch) in a largebowl, add the chicken pieces and stir gently.5. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.6. Place wok on high heat. Add the oil, stir in the ginger and garlic, and cook until golden.7. Drain the chicken (reserve the marinade). Stir-fry the chicken until it's cooked through.8. Add lap cheung, spring onions, mushrooms and bak choi. Stir-fry for three minutes until thevegetables soften slightly.9. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and oyster sauce.10. Add chicken broth and marinade and bring to a boil.11. Add cornstarch mixture and mix well until consistency thickens.12. Switch off heat. Pour the chicken, vegetables and stock into a clay pot.13. Cover and place the pot in the oven.14. Bake for 5-10 minutes until mixture is bubbling.15. Serve with fragrant jasmine rice.SWEET MANDARIN DIM SUM THREE WAY Literally translated, "dim sum" means "to touch your heart" and originated from the teahouses which set up along the Silk Road and exploded in Guangzhou. My great grandfather, Leung helped to facilitate this food mania through supplying soy sauce to the bustling establishments and because of the expansion of dim sum in Hong Kong, our family moved to Hong Kong capitalizing on this opportunity. In the west, dim sum came about as a natural result of Chinese immigrants moving to the western world which readily absorbed these cosmopolitan influences and as a result dim sum has become the firm favorite of the Western world. A meal in a restaurant opens the taste buds, but cooking dim sum for my friends and family widens all the senses. I learnt the authentic recipes from Guangzhou and used them at Sweet Mandarin. Together with my sisters, Lisa and Janet we made every dim sum from fresh. Stuffing and shaping wontons was the real family enterprise. We made the stuffing from a light prawn mince and wrapped the teaspoon of filling with a fine egg based pastry. We all left our individual stamp on the won tons in the way we crimped the edges. I added a flamboyant tail on these wontons, which can then be dipped in the sweet and sour dip. My everyday rituals of properly selecting produce, cooking and presenting a meal, which I have inherited from my family, have given me an insight to see the meaning of my own cooking as a metaphor for life. These dim sum three way recipes have been simplified so that even our students in the Sweet Mandarin school of excellence can cook these delicious dim sums. The secret is the filling. Here, one filling can make three dim sums.This recipe is the simplest and tastiest way to enjoy spring rolls. We will make Chinese cooking a fun, funky, free styling event. Try this at home and impress your family and friends.INGREDIENTS Egg flour wrappers for the won tonSpring roll wrappers for the spring rollsWhite BreadMae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce Buy from Supermarket or Sweet Mandarin's Sweet and Sour SauceFilling350g Chicken breast meat or 250g pack small shrimp- need a blender to blend the meat2 slices Fresh root ginger75g Canned bamboo shoots, drained, chopped finely1 teaspoon Salt2 teaspoons Soy sauce1 teaspoon CornflourBeaten egg for sealingVegetable oil for deep-fryingOne Method for the filling: . Put the chicken into a blender and blend until a smooth pate. . Add ginger, bamboo shoots, salt, soy sauce, cornflour and continue to blend. Spring Rolls / Won Ton. Lay flat a wrapper. Take 2 tablespoons of filling and spread across each pancake just below the center, Fold the pancake up from the bottom by raising the lower corner to fold over the filling. . Lay a spring roll wrapper in front of you so that it forms a diamond shape for a spring roll. Twist for won ton. Use your index finger to wet all the edges with water or a cornstarch/water paste. Place approximately 2 tablespoons of filling near the bottom. Roll over once, tuck in the sides, and then continue rolling. Seal the top with the beaten egg.Chicken Toast. Spread the mixture onto white bread.One Method for the Three dim sums. Clean out the wok / frying pan. Pre-heat the oil for deep-frying to 360 degrees . Deep-fry the spring rolls, won tons and chicken toast in 3 to 4 batches, cooking until they are golden brown and crispy (about 3 minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. . Serve the dim sum with sweet chili / Sweet Mandarin sweet and sour sauce dipping.

Editorial Reviews

"Sweet Mandarin is a banquet of family stories. a memoir of survival and victories, luck and determination." -Amy Tan, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club