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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Fireworks make us go Chinese

Rambutans plus exotic cartons of juice.
Fireworks are a Chinese invention - stumbled on in the 7th century after a cook spilt saltpeter (a gunpowder ingredient) on to their cooking fire with explosive results. This useful bit of knowledge means that around early November the amount of colourful explosions celebrating Bonfire Night (5 November) make me think of noodles, soaring towerblocks and all things Chinese. It's such a vast country, and in many ways I'm astonishingly ignorant about both it, and the strong links China has to the UK.  You can find out masses about how Chinese people came to the UK - dating from around 1901 - at the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, which takes a fascinating look at how the Chinese have become such an important part of the UK economy. The site estimates around 500,000 Chinese are now living in the UK (with the majority in London). This website also suggests that without Chinese students in the very best UK public schools these private schools wouldn't be able to continue economically. Food for thought to say the least.

Of course many countries - and lots of cities including Liverpool (which boasts a massive ceremonial arch imported from Shanghai), Manchester and Newcastle off Stowell Street - have a "Chinatown", so as a half-term treat I took Lola and her friend Freya for a Chinese meal in London's Chinatown. Both girls are 14, but neither seems to have eaten much Chinese food. This is really quite strange seeing as the Chinese take-away was probably the first exotic food that their grandparents probably tried (and Lola's great grandfather spent years soldiering in Hong Kong)... Even now there's a huge number of Chinese take-aways in the UK serving fabulous food. The most popular takeaway dishes according to this site are: 
  1. Chow mien
  2. Beef in oyster sauce
  3. Chicken with cashew nuts
  4. Sweet and sour pork
  5. Sweet and sour prawn
However we three diners are all vegetarian - so we began our search for a tasty meal near Leicester Square at Yang Guang, the Chinese supermarket on the corner of Newport Court (which also has a branch at Monk Street in Newcastle) to see what might be on offer. The girls were amazed by the huge white Chinese radishes and the plethora of exotic cartons of drink and encouraged me to buy juices labelled as sugar cane, lychee and chrysanthemum as well as a bottle filled with a mix of lurid green jelly-like liquid in which basil seeds seem to float - a dead ringer for frog spawn. Then on Gerrard Street we found New Loon Moon Supermarket and added some rambutans to our goodie bag.

Lola and Freya in London's Chinatown.
Chinatown is a magnet for people wanting a Chinese meal...but it's not necessarily the best place to go. A Chinese friend told me that it's filled with chains now, so a trip there could end up with you eating in the equivalent of McDonalds or Nandos. 

We ended up eating in New Aroma - an old fashioned place at 11 Gerrard Street which serves Fujian and Sichuan dishes at tables covered with white linen table cloths. Lola noticed it had been given a food and hygiene rating of just one, which I rather dismissed seeing as there were plenty of Chinese people enjoying tasty looking, piping-hot dishes -surely the test for whether to eat in a restaurant, or not. We then set to work with chopsticks to demolish vegetable noodles, broccoli in chilli sauce, aubergines and various rather snail-textured mushrooms and water chestnuts. The girls loved it, and it made me very happy that a short tube ride from our home we can find a completely different food world.

Over to you
Do you ever cook Chinese food at home - have you figured out the difference between a Chinese fast food set up (as many now are on Gerrard Street in London) and expert regional cooking? Any tips how I can work it out? Or where to go without leaving the UK...