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

Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

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

    Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

    Structured Finance

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

    SQL Server Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

    C#.NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone