Food: Fish fakes

Some ethnic delicacies you must never buy from a supermarket, says Annie Bell

Hunger has a habit of being untimely. In my case, it was bank holiday hunger aggravated by an empty fridge. I had popped in on some friends and their new baby in the evening, and developed an insatiable craving for Thai fishcakes as I left. Fortunately, I was in the vicinity of Sabai Sabai, which is one of west London's best Thai restaurants, so it was only a matter of minutes before the craving was attended to.

What is it about Thai fishcakes? As David Thompson says in his book, The Top One Hundred Thai Dishes: "Fishcakes are fishcakes are fishcakes unless they are Thai fishcakes." It's the blend of flavours that is so quintessentially Thai: garlic and coriander roots, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and chillies, and then the dip of a hot and sweet liquor containing minute pickles of carrot, onion and cucumber. I like them best of all when I am in a Thai restaurant, but they are easy to produce elsewhere, and are welcome enough on the menus of other restaurants and pubs.

They are less than welcome, however, when they crop up in supermarkets. Any food that is fashionable invariably ends up on the shelves, but it is a dismal misjudgement to think Thai fishcakes can be successfully reheated. They are good only when they have emerged freshly from the deep-fat fryer and are eaten as soon as they are cool enough. Any later and they lose their succulence and have all the appeal of a Kwik-fit tyre. It is the egg white that is crucial to the taste: this is part and parcel of a Thai fishcake and creates an altogether different texture from the creamy salmon sort.

I am not sure why supermarkets sell spring rolls, either. I bought some prawn ones yesterday, if only to remind myself of just how bad they can be. The pastry was literally dripping in oil, they were a long way from being crisp and there was no firm division between the inner layers and the filling, which had fused into a mush. The fact that there are subtle differences between Thai spring rolls and those from Vietnam, Canton and Shanghai, is of little relevance to the greasy sausage that comes under the same name here.

I had also bought spring rolls from Sabai Sabai. These were perfectly crisp on the outside and filled with glass noodles, Chinese mushrooms and water chestnuts, with a splash of fish sauce and oyster sauce - a Thai interpretation of the Chinese spring rolls from which they derive. They also came with a sweet and hot dipping sauce which was a far cry from the gloop that resides with the chilled-down version. Sumitra Darninsung, who owns Sabai Sabai with her brother, says that now and again they buy Thai food from supermarkets, including M&S, and are always disappointed that "it doesn't taste like Thai food. Is it food at all?"

One of the reasons for buying ready-made spring rolls is the difficulty of making them at home. Chinese food doyenne Yan Kit-So gives a recipe for Shanghai spring rolls in her book Classic Food of China that goes on for three pages, taking in one marinade for the shrimp and another for the pork, as well as a soy dipping sauce, and that's before testing your origami skills. Unlike their supermarket cousins, however, her spring rolls are crisp on the outside and juicy to the point of being soupy when you bite into them.

The same problem extends beyond Thai fishcakes and spring rolls to things such as bhajis and pakoras, sesame toast, samosas and dim sum, which seems to be one of the fastest-growing areas, especially when it comes to party food. Look at it this way: if you were preparing all the food for a party, would you consider serving up food that you had fried, cooled, chilled and left to stand around for days before reheating it in the oven? Not unless you wanted to lose friends. The bottom line is that none of these items was ever intended for the convenience market.

As a city dweller, I feel I have no great excuse for buying such food. Being within 10 minutes of Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants, with a menu from each tucked away in the drawer, it is easy enough to ring through an order and pop down and pick it up a few minutes later. Outside big cities there is more of an excuse: even Red Star can't deliver crisp spring rolls overnight. Perhaps it is best, in that case, to save such food as a treat for when you are eating out. The only way these items are likely to disappear from the supermarket shelves is when people stop buying them. Until then, we are doomed to live in a divided society of real spring rolls and others that no self-respecting Chinese would touch with a pair of chopsticks

Sabai Sabai, 270-272 King St, London W6, 0181-748 7363

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Manager - £50,000

    £49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

    £48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

    VB.Net Developer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

    SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game