Chef Linda Huang of Hummingbird Kitchen rolls the small balls of dough into what looks like a miniature chapati in such fluid motions without missing a beat.
The rolling pin is much smaller than the conventional one found in most Kenyan households, which she explains is specially made for the art of dumpling making. She expertly stuffs the dough with ground meat before proceeding to seal them.
They are placed on a hot pan with a little bit of oil to create a golden brown sear, after which a small amount of water is poured into the pan and another pan used to cover the cooking buns.
“This captures the steam that cooks the dumplings. The oil creates a crispy element while the steam results in a fluffy moist dumpling,” explains Chef Linda.
The art of eating the dumpling is not as simple as the movies make it, especially if you have had no training in using chopsticks.
The fluffy pork buns (cha siu bao) are served with a dipping sauce, usually made with soy sauce, vinegar and a little water. You then bite a small piece off on the side, letting out excess steam, which quite frankly if you throw the whole thing in your mouth will be a steamy or scalding affair for your tongue.
“This is a very typical Chinese street food,” she says as she plates them in a bamboo steamer lined with banana leaf. The dumplings are soft and fluffy with the base creating a crispy contrast to the fluffy dough and moist filling. Extra fine dough is used for best results.
“Chinese food is about flavour and textural variation. It is also comfort food, which unlike what you find in Chinese restaurants around the world is not greasy and oily,” she explains.
Most of the dishes are pan fried or steamed, with minimal oil used.
The dumplings can be steamed, pan fried or deep-fried. This offers alternatives for the health conscious to those looking for the greasiness of a deep-fried pocket of dough; because we all know it’s a guilty pleasure.
Chef Linda and Chef Archie Athanasius, executive chef at Hemingways Nairobi were working together to bring Asian cuisine and Kenyan taste buds to the table.
“Every culture no matter how diverse has a food similar to that from another country,” explains Chef Linda. The traditional salted scallion pancakes she prepares are reminiscent of chapatis in flavour jazzed up by sesame and scallions commonly referred to as spring or green onion.
“Because we are in Kenya, we bring some elements of local tastes in,” she explains.
The five-spice rub barbecued pork sits in a marinade liquid for two days, each bright bringing a new flavour in the mouth.
The five spice is a combination of spices used by the Chinese in their cooking.
“Each region has a different five-spice but the three constant ingredients are star anise, cloves and cinnamon,” she says.
The marinated meat can be used to make a stir-fry. The noodles need to be cooked lightly, taking them off the fire before they are fully cooked, rinsed with cold water to stop the cooking and a dash of sesame oil to stop them from sticking to each other.
Chinese cooking just like any other form of cooking is about understanding the ingredients and the technique.
“Anyone can follow a recipe, sometimes it’s the tips that make a difference,” explains Chef Linda.
Her father and grandfather have passed on experts tips as both were chefs well versed in various traditional dishes.
The ingredients for the dishes served up are locally available, including the ‘special flour’ for the dumplings, which can be substituted with regular flour.