Anyone who lives in Manchester (and others further afield) and likes Chinese food will, I’m sure, have heard of Sweet Mandarin. The current Northern Quarter restaurant run by twin sisters Lisa & Helen Tse, established about 8 years ago but built on the strength of 3 generations of female Chinese restaurateurs.
Since firmly estblishing themselves on the Manchester food map, Sweet Mandarin have gone on to be voted “Best Local Chinese Restaurant” as part of Gordon Ramsays “F-Word” programme, there has been the writing of an historical account of their beginnings, the creation of a cooking school and essentially the building of a brand.
It is with the further expansion of this brand that they recently hosted a series of cooking demos and yours truly was lucky enough to be invited along. As it turned out the other lucky so-and-sos listed to attend had been caught out by the Manchester summer and were not able to make it, so what followed was a fantastic couple of hours in the company of the twins as we talked about their new venture and some of the recipes and dishes which incorporate these new sauces.
Now, I say new sauces…….
These 3 sauces, all as much at home for dipping as they are for cooking with, are simply adaptations of years old recipes handed down through generations. They have also always been available in the restaurant and, as with many such ventures, the decision to produce them for sale was as a result of customer pressure:
“A customer from Ireland turned up with three bottles, one for each of the sauces, so he could take them home and his friends could try them. The next time he went home he brought in fifteen bottles to be filled”
So what are the sauces?
Currently there are 3. A Sweet & Sour that has a delicious citrus punch to it which makes it much less sweet and cloying than others I have tried. A Sweet Chill that while similar to others had a zing that not all do. And finally a Barbecue that in my opinion was the stand out choice. So different to a “western style” barbecue sauce that can sometimes contain a spicyness and artificial sweetness that mask the flavour of whatever they are being served with. Instead when used cold as a dipping sauce or drizzled over a portion of San Choy Bau there was the merest hint of sweetness that only complemented the rest of the dish. However when the sauce was used to marinade some chicken, the sweetness got kicked up a notch which only further enhanced the natural flavours of the chicken, the added bonus being that everything became deliciously sticky. Given that I was in polite company I used a knife and fork, however if the twins had not been there, then sticky fingers would have been the order of the day!!!
Clearly I had decided on my favourite, however there were still two others to be cooked with…..
I am honest enough to admit that I don’t do a great deal of Chinese cooking at home, I think it goes back to scare stories of the sauces being laden with Monosodium Glutamate and a lack of knowledge of the ingredients. However with all 3 sauces able to boast of being MSG and gluten free I don’t think it will be long before I break out the wok and give some of these recipes a try.
So a big thank you to Lisa and Helen and while the sauce bottling may feel like a “cottage industry” supplying chinese supermarkets and your own website at the moment, I am positive that very soon we’ll be seeing them everywhere.
Best of luck