Increasingly more places are getting to grips with catering for those with a gluten intolerance, however it can still be a challenge at times, in particular for those with a love of asian food. When Chinese New Year arrives the other half would usually have slim pickings, where dishes not containing the dreaded gluten would be few and far between. Luckily since moving down south, we’ve found Naturally Chinese – the first Chinese restaurant to be gluten free accredited. As you can imagine this is no mean feat, making it the obvious place for us to go for Chinese New Year.
Having been last year we knew it was good, booking in advance to avoid disappointment, we turned up Friday evening. For me it was a bit of a triple whammy meal – Chinese New Year, end of half term and Valentine’s Day.
Automatically my eyes head straight towards the starters to see if there’s any dim sum on the menu. My favourite ha gau dumplings were a given, juicy prawns wrapped in gelatinous translucent wrappers, followed by crispy belly pork (of course) with a good meat to fat ratio and decent crackling. Whilst gluten free goodies included crispy squid, spring rolls made with rice paper and a beef brisket hot pot. Service was friendly, not over-facing and like our previous visit were on hand for advice with the gluten free menu. Personally I can’t fault Naturally Chinese – it’s a popular restaurant, however still retains a relaxed ambience, the food is spot on and those with a gluten intolerance can rest easy in the knowledge that all the highest standards and guidelines have been followed to the nth degree.
Dumplings!!! Dumplings feature in so many different cuisines around the world and certainly take up a prominent place in Chinese food. Made in virtually every household, as a child I was taught by my mother to make them and it’s something I still do as it’s pretty straight forward and within a short space of time a tasty snack (or meal if you’re hungry) can be prepared, cooked and eaten!
So when my friend mentioned a dumpling making workshop to coincide with Chinese New Year at Leeds University, I booked my place and turned up on Wednesday evening with lots of other dumpling fans. Organised by The Business Confucius Institute a non-profit public institution, the event was fully booked and a fun way of meeting new people with a common interest.
We were there to make Jiaozi, the classic dumpling, which common dim sum staple and definitely eaten during Chinese New Year. 2015 is the Year of the Sheep, beginning on the 19th February, the first day of the Lunar calendar and ending with the Lantern festival on the 15th day.
I’d never made my own wrappers using flour and water for Jiaozi before, the dumplings we made at home were more like ha gau, the steamed translucent dumplings using wheat starch. After a quick tutorial and a few tips and hints we were given the task of making our dumplings by either rolling out fresh wrappers or using pre-made gyoza wrappers.
I thought I’d have a go at rolling some fresh ones, out, my mother would probably have chuckled watching me have a go at it. The rolling and folding was so skilful, but they made it look so easy. I was definitely out of practise and my first few attempts looked shocking!
I kept at it, and slowly improved with help from the assistants, and with the whole class getting to work we quickly made enough for the first few batches to be cooked up, and then came the best bit; we could try out the fruits of our labour. Cooked two ways; steamed fried (pot sticker style) or boiled. My favourite were probably the fried ones, but they were both pretty tasty.
We’d made so many we were able to leave with takeaway! It was such a great way of meeting new people, all with the same love of dumplings! With Chinese New Year starting on the 19th, I have no excuse not to make dumplings now!
The year 2015 is the Chinese Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram (depending on where you may be) and is celebrated for 16 days, beginning on the 19th February. Chinese New Year is a huge deal in the Chinese community and is celebrated with a number of cultural events, a stand out highlight is also the eating and drinking that goes hand in hand with the festivities. Therefore dining out at one of your favourite Chinese restaurants with friends and family is definitely one of the best things to do at this time of year!!
If you fancy going out for a bite to eat, Leeds has a number of choices to suit tastes and pockets in and around the city centre:
The first three are places where feasting on dim sum to your hearts content is easily done, I could eat it all day long, every day if I had the chance. They’re also good spots if you prefer the full-on banquet too however! Dim sum-wise I find it hard to settle on a few dishes, usually ordering three or four items if I’m being greedy, and with a pot of Chinese tea I’m in my element grazing through each delectable morsel. My go to dishes are classics that will be very common to dim sum lovers I’m sure, being a creature of habit I like what I like and that’s it. The table would probably be filled with ha gau, cheung fun (rice noodle roll) filled with either beef, prawn or char sui, then glutinous rice with lotus leaf and either sui mai or war tip.
Red Chilli located on the corner of the Electric Press is well known for Beijing and Sichuan style cookery. In terms of the food has a large menu full of classics, but is also littered with some unusual fare and less obvious westernised choices than some other establishments, such as their dishes with mutton, offal and hot clay pots.
Here I go for Xiaolongbao (steamed minced pork dumpling), stir fried soft shell crab with garlic and salt which is to die for, guotie (pot-sticker dumplings), and the last time I went we also devoured their Chinese sausage fried rice.
Noodle House is great, found in the city’s rejuvenated Northern Quarter, here you can dive straight into dishes ranging from the humble wonton soup to sliced belly pork at more than reasonable prices. For those really wanting to push the boat out then there’s always the celebratory suckling pig!! More canteen/takeaway style than a restaurant it’s a great place for a relaxed informal feed.
During the celebrations, it’s customary to see restaurants show off speciality dishes with Chinese New Year banquet menus to coincide with the festival. Great for large gatherings!!
Leeds itself will be celebrating with a number of different events being held, such as at Leeds Town Hall with The Leeds Chinese Community Association hosting a Chinese New Year Festival. Here’s people will be entertained with music, dance, the art of Chinese calligraphy and of course food.
The Business Confucius Institute has organised different cultural events at the University of Leeds, I recently attended a dumpling making workshop on the 4th February, one of a number of events held every month. Having a mother who’s pretty awesome at making dumplings, I was taught as a child and often dabble in the art when I feel a craving!!! So the event sounded right up my street and I got my dumpling mojo on, hopefully I’ll be inspired to try new fillings, wrapping techniques and test them out ready for the start of the new year. They also have other events going on such as their Chinese Tea Ceremony and Chinese art paper workshops amongst others.
Harvey Nichols will be serving Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea in their Fourth Floor Cafe from 19th February. If that wasn’t enough then celebrity chef Ching-He Huang has designed a menu especially for the store with her Yin & Yang Menu, running from the 16th – 28th February. The menu is up on their website and sounds pretty amazing, taking you on an experience which will lead you through a whole host of tastes, textures and aromas. Themed cocktails also take their place on the menu too!
So there’s certainly lots of going on in Leeds and I’m definitely looking forward to celebrating, Happy New Year!!!
Hi, I'm Diane and welcome to my blog. I'm currently hopping between Leeds and the South finding the best and the worst in food and drink whilst on my travels. You'll find reviews and recommendations, sometimes the odd thing about running, travel and my life in general.