Comedian and food fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week, Jess and her foetus come to a compromise.
My darling chap and I have lived together in an extremely small flat for a while now. So, as our love has blossomed, so has our active hatred for each other’s possessions. We’ve become most adept at getting each other brilliant presents which aren’t physical objects. This Christmas, I got a sushi-making course. Woop. I love sushi. Then, however, our inner and outer tackle worked much faster than we’d expected and I got a similarly exciting foetus in my womb. As nice as that was, I was loth to discover that it eats what I eat and that the idiot’s allergic to raw fish.
No need for alarm; I checked on Amazon Local, where my boyfriend had bought my cooking lesson voucher from the London Cookery School. They also did dim sum classes. I’d take dim sum over sushi any day. Tiny Asian pasties with inky, sour and spicy dips? Turnip cake littered with bacon bits and translucent tubes full of glass noodles and whole prawns? Dumplings so tiny it’s fine to have 12? Yes please.
Daydreaming about these glorious Chinese tapas is as close as I get to a religious epiphany. Just the thought of them and my heart feels high, light and full all at once. Good for you if you get that sort of all deep and all-consuming contentment from a belief in God; I get it from food containing sesame oil.
My class was above the Star of Kings pub in King’s Cross. It’s a bar that’s been through many an incarnation in the 14 years I’ve lived in London and its current is my least favourite. It’s the sort of judgmental, pretentious wanker’s pub that makes outsiders hate London. Be warned, the staff are way above cleaning the one grotesque toilet. The course is upstairs in a big room, above the pub, in every sense.
“The pork, prawn and mushroom mix inside the sui mai required being balled up and repeatedly thrown really hard at the table. No wonder you feel so serene by the time you wolf them down.”
I met Will, the brilliant and bustling sensei and I sat with maybe 15 others all round a big table. I wasn’t the only lone ranger. Will was the perfect mixture of amiable and teacherly for keeping us, en masse, on task. Never before has so much fiddly-widdly work (technical term) gone into making so little food. It was worth it.
We set about making three staple types of steamed dim sum. Har gow, the prawn dumplings that look like a sort of transparent shell. Chiu chow, little pork-filled semi-circular pouches. Finally we made sui mai, the ones which look like little yellow buckets with the contents peeping out of the top.
First we made the fillings. We paid special attention to the ingredients we only needed tiddly amounts of, like white pepper. Everything was measured to the milligram. You’d have no idea looking at these three minging piles of pink sludge that they contained such dainty flavouring. The pork, prawn and mushroom mix inside the sui mai was particularly fun. It required being balled up and repeatedly thrown really hard at the table. No wonder you feel so serene by the time you wolf them down.
Then the tapioca pastry. What ended up, miraculously, as a neat white ball took a sort of fairy’s dance through a variety of steps. ‘Cooking’ the flour mix in the precise amount of water and then kneading were key. But with the right guidance we all nailed it. Then cutting and assembling the little shits. Let’s just say that others took to it more naturally than I.
A combination of meat shovels for hands and an impatience to rival a toddler meant it took me a fair while to get mine in. Eventually I did.
The sui mai were again the best fun, involving pushing the whole package through a self-made finger tunnel (sounds so much ruder than it was) to get the tiny package effect.
Luckily they didn’t take long to steam because by the time they arrived we were chewing our arms. Oh, they were hoofed down with so much sheer joy. We were all so proud of them. Some of mine looked crap but some were spot-on and all of them tasted amazing. They were salty and spicy with gorgeous juicy prawn flavours. There were tangs of strange salted radish and twangs of lovely sesame and soy. Cor, it was a blast. One or two losers needed to take a few home but most of us easily and proudly devoured everything we’d created. It was the most fun and triumphant night out.
Honestly, I knew in advance that I’d love this course. But I’d expected to leave thinking it was an intense and crazy thing to have tried just the once. Like using a whip in the sack or reading all of Peter Ackroyd’s London. I had no idea I’d come away all confident and excited about trying to make dim sum at home. Like as something I might actually do. Often. I can’t wait.
London Cookery School
See Amazon Local for deals
Tel: 0207 0999 111
Location: various across north and central London
Accessible: Sadly, they’re not. No step-free access or adapted toilet facilities.
Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.