FOOD & DRINK / Hokkien in a basket

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The Independent Culture
A QUIRKY phenomenon, enthusiastically welcomed by the pub food guide editor Susan Nowak, is the random sighting of olde English pubs cooking in other idioms - Indian, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Sri Lankan and Filipino.

In Hatherleigh in Devon, for example, at the Tally Ho], Mine Host is ltalian, presiding over Potboiler's Brev, Tarka's Tipple, Nutter's and Janni Jollop beers, while his wife, Annamaria Scoz, cooks Italian fish dishes and country pasta dishes with authentic sauces - carbonara, bolognese, con funghi, amatriciana, al tonno, pesto - not to mention bruschetta toasts with parma ham and pickled wild mushrooms.

A Filipino called Felyboy shares the cooking at the Tregenna Hotel in Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, barbecuing orientally-spiced duck and chicken. A Sri Lankan-born cook, Deirdre Hall, cooks dark, savoury curries at the New Inn, Buckingham. A Thai cook, Soavanee Tinker, produces exotic spicy dishes with coconut cream, ginger, chilli and fermented fish sauce at the Black Horse, Walcote, Leicestershire.

And surely the last thing you would expect to come across in a traditional Kent country pub is authentic Chinese provincial cuisine. But China is where the inlaws of Michael Berry, landlord of the Black Bull in Cliffe, come from; his wife, Soh Pek, has won a national competition for the best pub dish of the year with her Hokkien Braised Pork, which uses Chinese mushrooms, water chestnuts - and lots of garlic.

Soh Pek also serves Malaysian pancakes with coconut and palm sugar, Thai jackfruit ice-cream and, airmailed specially from Brunei, where her sister now lives, delicious hand-made prawn crackers. This is her recipe for one of the most popular dishes served in the pub.


Serves 4-6

2lb leg of pork, cut into one-inch cubes

4oz Chinese mushrooms,

soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes,

then drained and cut into strips

8oz Chinese chestnuts

(available skinless in dehydrated form;

soak overnight and then boil until tender)

4 tablespoons black soy sauce

5 tablespoons light soy sauce

3 tablespoons cooking oil

5 tablespoons sugar

6-8 cloves garlic, crushed (plus one whole

head of garlic, unpeeled, optional)

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper


Heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the crushed garlic and fry until light brown. Add pork and Chinese mushrooms and stir-fry until the meat changes colour; add both soy sauces, sugar, pepper and enough water to cover. Add whole head of garlic, if used.

Cover and simmer gently until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick, stirring occasionally; remove the head of garlic; add the chestnuts and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes; taste, and season with extra sugar and soy sauce as you wish.

This is a dish which actually improves by being prepared the day before and then reheated. Serve the braised pork with plain boiled rice (Soh Pek uses long grain Phoenix rice and shapes it in a mould) and stir-fried seasonal vegetables.-