Healthy gem: Chop Chop in Glasgow
Eating out does not need to be an unhealthy choice if you know where to go. While I have always assumed that Chinese food – at least our “westernised version of Asian food – is laden with fat and yukky, headache-inducing MSG (monosodium glutamate), it seems it doesn’t have to be this way.
At Glasgow’s new Chinese restaurant Chop Chop, head chef Jian Wang creates only fresh, cooked-from-scratch Chinese dishes. Nor is there a trace of MSG in sight – or in the taste.
On top of this, Jian makes sure there is an emphasis on cooking vegetables for a short period of time, so as to keep the nutrients locked inside. She also adds delicious spices and herbs to entice people to eat more of our five a day.
Jian’s bid to cook real Chinese food in the UK
When Jian first came to Britain, she couldn’t find any “real” Chinese restaurants. She says: “When I first tried the food served in Chinese restaurants in the UK, it was just so different to what we have in China.
“In China we eat the food that I now cook in my restaurants. It’s not the gloopy version that is so readily available elsewhere.”
In particular, Jian hates the idea of chips and curry sauce – a popular choice among Scots at other Scottish takeaways – and she is not a fan of the chow mien and heavy sauces that she has see in other westernised restaurants.
Her dishes do have sauces but they are cooked from scratch and using fresh ingredients.
“She said: “I had a dream to open a restaurant and to bring the real Chinese food to Scotland. And this is what we now do, in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.
“My aim is to cook and serve healthy, low-fat meals, which is exactly what traditional and authentic Chinese cuisine is.”
Jian has also become something of a TV star and appeared in Gordon Ramsay’s F Word when he went walkabout in the UK to find the country’s best chefs. She won through to the finals in London,
Ramsay thought her dumplings were the best he had ever tasted and when he tried them live on TV. He said: “The dumplings are amazing. What a little find this restaurant is; and the great thing about it is just how passionate Jian is about her cooking.
“Hand-made dumplings; that’s very rare in this country. I think she is amazing.”
Award-winning Chop Chop
Of course, taste matters and I was curious to find out how different the food would be at Chop Chop in Glasgow, the latest establishment opened by Jian. (There is another in Edinburgh.)
Chop Chop was twice voted Britain’s Favourite Chinese Restaurant in 2010 and 2012, and has a loyalty membership of over 20,000 people.
Both the Glasgow and Edinburgh restaurants have won the AA Rosette for the quality of the food.
Jian, 54, who runs the restaurants with husband, Roy, learned at her mother’s and grandmother’s knee following traditional northern Eastern Chinese recipes. She was soon to take over the family cooking at home.
She took her family role so seriously that she would rise in the early hours to cook for her older brother who worked shifts.
She said: “He is my brother and I wanted to make sure he had good food for his day at work. I like looking after people and I do that through my food.”
And when you eat in Jian’s restaurants, that’s something that you feel instantly. Her cooking is what you imagine she would lovingly cook for her close family. It’s fresh, tasty, healthy and natural. The dishes are brightly coloured with crisp textures.
The tastes are bright and beautiful and while they are definitely Chinese they do not resemble many of the dishes I have eaten before at other Chinese restaurants. I love that all the ingredients are identifiable, too, rather than being covered in a sauce.
I took my teenage daughter Havana and her friend with me to the Glasgow Chop Chop. They enjoyed every dish and were surprised that it was Chinese food. “It doesn’t look like the Chinese food we have as a takeway,” said Havana. “But I like this much more. It tastes yummy and a bit spicy and really fresh. I even like the green beans, which I wouldn’t normally eat!”
What makes Chop Chop different
Jian said: “It was always a dream of mine to have people come and enjoy my food. I offer a different approach to Chinese cooking and also to running the restaurants and making up the menus. I use fresh ingredients and never additives. You don’t need it.
“My husband Roy and I go back to China every year to find different recipes. I like to bring the kind of food that we are eating in my region of Changchun back to the UK.”
Jian is now working on a recipe book, chronicling her early memories of food and China and the influence they have on her cooking. And has just launched her cook school.
Find Chop Chop at 248 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, EH3 8DT, tel:0131 221 1155 and 43 Mitchell Street, Glasgow, G1 3LN, tel: 0141 221 9799. See Chop Chop.