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The UK’s Chinese Food & Drink Revolution

Britain has witnessed a transformation in Chinese food over the past two decades, this revolution has been pushed by the effects of China emerging as a new culture and political force in the world.

Things were not always the same, the first Chinese eating places were not aimed at the local British population, it was for the Chinese sailors who made their way into Britain and had settled at London’s Limehouse, Liverpool and other cities with trade activities. Once the Chinese population grew in the 20th century and Chinese restaurants started opening in Central London, these restaurants attracted local people and the taste was appreciated amongst customers who were not Chinese.

The credit to the altered palates could go to the servicemen who came back from Asia after the second world war. More Chinese restaurants started opening across London and other cities as well. The increase in restaurants were also due to the influx of Cantonese immigrants from Hong Kong and the Chinese refugees from Vietnam, who began to work in the food business.

However, the Chinese food was mainly Cantonese dishes that were altered to fit British taste. The regional cuisines of China were nowhere to be seen, so people outside of China knew only little about their food traditions and their authentic dishes. The situation remained the same even in the late 20th century, most people preferred dishes that they were used to eating like crispy duck, sweet and sour pork and egg fried rice. For this reason, the Cantonese largely dominated the Chinese food situation in Britain. But things began to change once the new generation of Chinese people took control of the business, and immigrants from all over China came to work in the UK. There was also an inflow of Chinese students who preferred eating food they ate back home.

So, unlike the past where Chinese food was dependent on the British people’s taste and preference, it witnessed a growth in a customer base that was diverse and substantial. This helped break the monotony of Cantonese cuisine into more diverse and rich Chinese cuisine.

Ning Ma was amongst those people who wanted to see more of Chinese food but couldn’t find anything reasonable. So, she took matters in her own hands by opening her own supper club and eventually her own restaurant called MamaLan.

MamaLan aimed to provide authentic and fresh Chinese food that was not only good quality but had a great taste too. Ning’s mother and grandfather were in the food business in China, she got all the original recipes passed down to her. The inspiration behind all the dishes offered at MamaLan comes from the street markets of Beijing but the dishes are innovative and modern too. Today MamaLan successfully operates in three locations in London, the first one opened at Brixton Village, then Clapham Common followed by a Kiosk in Canary Wharf. The success and authenticity of MamaLan’s cuisine are evident by how much the brand achieved over a short period of time.

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