Friday, 18 May 2018

Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse

Paperback:  Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative true story recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women.  Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the West. 

Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through.

A love of food and a talent for cooking pulled each generation through the most devastating of upheavals.  Helen Tse's grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as an amah after the violent murder of her father. 

Crossing the ocean to the UK in the 1950s, she eventually opened her own restaurant where her daughter, Mabel, worked from the tender age of nine.  But gambling and the Triads were pervasive in the Chinese immigrant community and they tragically lost the restaurant.

It was up to Helen and her sisters, the third generation of these exceptional women, to re-establish their grandmother's dream.

Sweet Mandarin (2007) shows how the most important inheritance is wisdom, and how recipes - passed down the female line - can be the most valuable heirloom.  It is also a memoir of survival and victories, luck and determination and perpetual mounds of dirty dishes waiting to be washed - a banquet of family stories.

About the author:  Helen Tse MBE (born 1977) is a British author and restaurateur.  Her most noted work has been Sweet Mandarin, a memoir of three generations of Chinese women, beginning with her grandmother, Lily Kwok, establishing themselves in the Manchester area.  Before she became an author and restaurateur, she studied law at Cambridge University and then worked in finance and law for Clifford Chance and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In 2006, she won a Young Accountant of the Year award and in 2008, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Staffordshire University for her "contribution to literature".  Tse is one of three granddaughters of Lily Kwok;  the others are Lisa and Janet.  All three have continued in the hospitality business with Sweet Mandarin, a Chinese restaurant they opened together in 2004 in Manchester's Northern Quarter, where "Lily Kwok's Chicken Curry" remains a menu item.

,In 2007 Helen Tse published a family memoir, also called Sweet Mandarin, about her grandmother's life and career.  In collaboration with Lisa Tse, she has also published cookbooks based on their grandmother's recipes:  Dim Sum: Small Bites Made Easy and Sweet Mandarin Cookbook.

Tse was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to the food and drink sector.

Rating:  4/5

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