Chinese Food on Baker Street

It’s six years since I left my expat life in China, and three years since I last visited Hong Kong, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out on Chinese food.  Look at these photos to see how lucky I am to live in Marylebone, where my current favourite Chinese restaurant is Bright Courtyard on Baker Street.

First up, Shanghai dumplings or xiaolongbao. Learn from my mistakes: pick them up with chopsticks if you like, but don’t forget to support them with a spoon to stop all the hot soup dribbling out when you bite into them.

xiao long bao

I don’t think there’s any graceful way to eat the next dish, but I do know four ways to order it in London. Just ask for Chinese broccoli (English) or jielan (Mandarin) or gailan (Cantonese).  Or do what I did last week – keep your receipt from your last visit and show it to the waiter.

jie lan with garlic

Final lesson from my mistakes – cut the prawn cheung fen into sections – much easier to manage, and less likely to slip and slide out of your grasp on to the white tablecloth.

cheong fun

Banana Stems

We harvested the bananas in the garden last Friday.  I will disappoint readers of my earlier post by admitting that I did not cook the banana flower – my excuse is that the flower was too small. Here is a photo of one of the leaves instead.abstract banana leaf

I thought we might need steps to reach the bananas, but we didn’t – the branches of the banana tree can be bent down to ground level by a couple of strong gardeners. Gardener Shankar harvested the bananas.  Then he got to work demolishing the entire tree with a sickle just like the tools from this post.

sickle cutting banana branch

Then we took up Gardener Shankar’s suggestion of consigning the banana fruit to a wholesale banana shop for quick ripening. Last year we made our own storage box in the garage, and waited impatiently for two weeks for the bananas to ripen.   I don’t know what the shop will do, apart from store our fruit in a really hot room. Maybe they will just swap them for some ripe fruit?

banana fringe
As well as the fruit, we were harvesting the banana stem.  Our driver told us that he believed banana stems to have great health benefits in preventing and treating kidney stones.
stalk cross-section
The outer layers of the stem were stripped away, and the sickle was put to use again.
cross section centre of stalk
We weren’t impressed with our stem – like the flower it was too small.  But Dayalan went home with some pieces for cooking anyway.
centre of stalks

Taking Pulses

We have a new supermarket in the Whitefield suburb of Bangalore – D-Mart.

Like all the big Bangalore shops, D-Mart is strict about security. On my first visit I was carrying only a small handbag and a camera bag, but a security guard fastened them both shut using plastic ties.  Which is fair enough, because I could easily have scooped some lentils into my purse and slipped a few chillies down the side of the camera bag.  And it explains why the woman in pink in the first photo isn’t carrying any bag or purse or means of payment for her trolley full of shopping.
Anyway, today’s photos come from the iPhone that escaped the security crackdown.

Indian supermarkets are full of lentils and other pulses – moong dal, tur dal, channa dal, etc. D-Mart has a great big bin where you can help yourself to as many lentils as you like.

dal in Dmart

For contrast, here is a photo of the pulses sold in a London supermarket.  I was actually surprised and impressed by the range of the pulses; but it is funny that they are only available in small packets.

Waitrose lentils one shelf

Back in D-Mart, I liked the reflection of these dried chillies in the metal bin.

red chillies in DMart

In D-Mart you can buy rice by the sackful. My London branch of Waitrose sold nothing bigger than 1kg.

rice in Dmart
On the other hand, Waitrose didn’t tie up my bag, or station a guard at the exit to check my receipt.

Banana Flowers

We have bananas in the garden again.  One banana tree gave us fruit in January, as reported here and here.  A second tree is now holding green bananas and a banana flower. This is how they looked on Wednesday.

Bananas in garden with flower

These bananas look smaller than January’s crop.

Bananas closeup

For the first time in my life, I have paid attention to the banana flower.

Banana flower in our garden

Banana flowers are edible – here are some on sale in Bangalore’s Hypercity supermarket.

Hypercity banana flowers

They cost 20 rupees per kilo. At least they did two months ago. I took this photo before our own banana flower appeared, and food prices have been rising in India.

Hypercity banana flower price

P.S. For anyone interested in ladybirds, I updated my post “Is there any country that doesn’t have ladybirds” this week, after spotting something spotty in the garden.

Apples and Plums

I’ve already told you how keen I am on India’s tropical fruits, like mangoes and bananas.  But my trip to Northern Ireland has not been fruitless.  Here are some photos of apples and plums in my brother’s garden.


That photo was taken on 3 September. One week later, on 10 September, the autumn sun had conspired with John Keats “To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core”.


I haven’t eaten any of the apples, but the plums are delicious.


DSC_0530My cousins also have plum trees, and are equally generous with their fruit.  So it has been a plum-filled September for the whole family, well, except for one over-enthusiastic springer spaniel. Steve would eat all the plums if we’d let him, but they are terrible for his digestion, so we try to distract him with the throwing ring.


Digging, and Blackberry Picking

Blackberries are ripening in the hedgerows on our farm, so I picked some.
This gives me an excuse to remember the late, great, Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who died on 30 August 2013.  Seamus Heaney was born in Northern Ireland, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

In honour of Seamus Heaney, here is a link to his poem entitled “Blackberry Picking”, and another photo showing “the glossy purple clot among others, red, green, hard as a knot”.


Another popular Heaney poem is “Digging”.   My family is a good example of the generational shift between working the land and working with words, as described in that poem.

“But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.   Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests.  I’ll dig with it.”


I know – it’s a fork (or, in the local dialect, a grape) not a spade.  But I liked the sunlight on the grass behind it.


By the way, do you see how different the dark Irish soil is from the red soil of South India in the next photo of Clovergreens Golf Club?

Clovergreen 9th tee

10 Clues that We’re in India – Clues 6 and 7

Yes, I’m still using the same old photo of traffic.  Here are two more clues that it is Indian traffic.  For clues 1 to 5, look at the blog entries for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Traffic in Bangalore

Clue No. 6.   The faded blue writing on the building is in Karnataka’s local language – Kannada.


I was hoping for something deep and meaningful, but my husband’s Kannadiga colleague tells me that the sign says “Asian Hardware”.   I can’t read or speak any Kannada; I’m only 50% sure I could recognise signs for Bangalore or Whitefield; but I recently found a website with some useful phrases –   Someone has even started a WordPress blog for learning Kannada.

Here are some more photos of local Kannada signs, this time with ready-made English translations.

Whitefield Fish and chicken centre

divine light

Clue No. 6.   If you look at the tree trunk, you will see an advertisement in English for PG or “Paying Guests”.  That ad is too small to read, but it was not hard to find other ads for PGs.

PG ads
All three ads share the same typo – the Realince Fresh shop given as a landmark is actually called Reliance Fresh.

PG Gents

There is a big demand for rooms to rent in Bangalore, because so many people move here for work.  People care about the type of room they get, but they also care about food.  If you want to attract tenants moving down south from the northern cities of India, you need to reassure them about the menu – see the photos above for the promise of “south and north homely Indian food”.  What are the North Indians worried about?  Do they think that the South Indian menu will offer curd rice only?

curd rice