Friday, 13 May 2011

Fuzhou Cuisine @ New Aroma

Of the myriad regional schools of Chinese cuisine that have arrived on Britain's shores in the past decade, one that is grossly underrepresented is the food of Fujian province, in particular that of its capital, Fuzhou (福州). Especially when you consider that many of the workers in Britain's Chinese restaurants (irrespective of style) come from the Fuzhou area.

Whilst New York's Manhattan Chinatown has many Fuzhou restaurants, they are less common in London. But that's not to say that they don't exist, as there's the Fuzhou Restaurant on Lisle Street and the venue for the meal featured in this post, New Aroma on Gerrard Street.

One of the best-known Fuzhou dishes is fishball soup (魚丸湯 yu wan tang), which is one of those dishes that transcends its roots and can be found in non-Fuzhou eateries. Fuzhou fishballs differ from normal ones by having a ground pork filling. Unlike many restaurant fishballs, these were 'own-made' and all the better for it.

It seem that balls loom large in Fuzhou cuisine, as evidenced by the sweet potato balls (蕃薯丸 fan shu wan) – these were another favourite of mine. The filling of ground pork and seaweed was damn good, and it came with a tasty broth with rice vermicelli (米粉 mi fen).

Other classic Fuzhou dishes include lychee pork (荔枝肉 li zhi rou), a sweet and sour style pork dish, so-called because the pork pieces looks like lychees. Other favourite dishes from the evening include eel in red wine lees (紅糟鰻魚 hong zao man yu), and a seafood noodle dish, whose Chinese name escapes me.

Incidentally, New Aroma also serves Cantonese food (both the real stuff and the Anglicised variant) as well as Sichuan food. Whilst these menus are in English and Chinese, the Fuzhou menu is in Chinese only. Our servers were helpful and they will probably help translate the Fuzhou menu, if you ask nicely.

Being a bit of a food trainspotter, I enjoyed sampling a cuisine, that other than Fuzhou fishballs, I hadn't really tried before. So I'd like to thank Limster, he of Chowhound fame, for deciphering the Chinese menu and ordering so adeptly, and Kake for organising the gathering.

If you want to know more about this restaurant and Fuzhou food (let's face it, my reviews are pretty half-arsed nowadays) then check out this Chowhound thread and the write-up on the Randomness Guide. For more photos of the food, check out this flickr stream.

New Aroma on Urbanspoon

New Aroma, 11 Gerrard St, London, W1D 5PP (Tel: 020-7287-6478)
Nearest tube: Leicester Square


  1. Excellent stuff. I'm going on tuesday! Really looking forward to it.

  2. And thank you for coming along (both times)! I'm uploading photos from the second visit as we speak, including one of the famous oyster omelette (which I am going to Leong's Legends to sample the Taiwanese version of next week — Wednesday lunchtime if you happen to be free).

  3. Now I am thinking I am getting a grip on Chinese cuisines and then Fuzhou cuisine comes along! I really like the sound of they lychee pork, I have to give this a try asap!

  4. I'm getting happier that Chinese cuisine is being more representative here in Blighty. It allows people with no clue about such things a little glimpse into a different world. Excellent.

  5. I really enjoyed the food here - especially those sweet potato and pork balls! Desperate to make those if I can find a recipe.

    Was good to finally meet you!

  6. Lizzie - let me know what you think!

    kake - the pleasure was mine. It'll be interesting to see how you think LL's oyster omelette compares. Sadly though, I can't make lunch that day.

    Ute - the lychee pork is OK but my fave are the sweet potato balls.

    Mzungu - the big shame about the Fuzhou menus that I've come across is that they're written only in Chinese. They need to spread the gospel with a English language menu with pictures.

    Sharmila - the sweet potato balls are amazing, as were the dumplings whose name I forgot! It was nice to meet you too!

  7. Were those the swallow dumplings? They were great too.

  8. Sharmila - they were the swallow dumplings; there's some chat about them on the Chowhound thread.

  9. This sounds lovely - particularly the fishy-pork balls (is there anything that pork doesn't go well with?). Out of interest, is New Aroma labelled as Fuzhou cuisine?

    This is one of the issues I always face in Chinatown, I can't see what type of food the restaurants serve, it's all a bit identikit Chinese to an uneducated eye (i.e. mine). Or am I just being particularly blind?

    I am always up for trying something beyond Sichuan, Hunan (very much the regions of the moment) and Cantonese food and would love to have different regions highlighted.

  10. Gworm - sadly, the signage indicating what cuisine is served is solely in Chinese. That said the picture of the chilli pepper does indicate that New Aroma serves Sichuan!

    It is a shame that more restaurants don't show off their specialities, but hopefully more places will be encouraged to show off their wares.

  11. I've always thought Fujianese cuisine and Taiwanese cuisine were similar, mostly because someone once told me that the fujianese and taiwanese dialects sound very similar, so I just assumed the two were tied, culturally (and they're physically so close to one another). the pork-filled fishballs, for example, def seem to be a staple of Taiwanese kitchens.

    Anyway, good tip. I'll check it out soon, as I often do with your advice.

  12. A-in-L - absolutely. Most peeps in Taiwan migrated from Fujian province over the centuries, so the food is very similar. Indeed on my 2nd visit to New Aroma, we sampled oyster omelette, which is common in Taiwan. And although I never saw the sweet potato balls in Taiwan, I do know that sweet potato is used a lot there.

  13. For what it's worth, I really disliked LL's oyster omelet/owa jen. too runny and the sauce was overpowering. How was the version at New Aroma? Does New Aroma sell gua bao or beef noodle soup? And yes, there's a LOT of sweet-potato dishes in Taiwan, especially in the south.

  14. A-in-L - New Aroma's oyster omelette was quite dry with no sauce. I liked it but I have very little experience of this dish to measure it against.

    With regard to seeing what else was on the menu, I couldn't really tell you, as it is in Chinese-only. That said, my perception is that the menu is more Fuzhou-style Fujian rather than the southern Fujian style that is more akin to Taiwanese. Not that I entirely know what that entails in terms of the actual dishes that are available!

  15. Have I not pimped my menu translations widely enough? :)

    Photos of New Aroma Fujian menu and translations in captions: 1, 2, 3, 4.

    Also, I can now report back on a comparison between the New Aroma oyster omelette and the Leong's Legend version — long version is on the blog, but the short version is that they were entirely different. Going by A-in-L's comment, it seems that LL aren't too consistent in the way they make it, since the version I tried wasn't runny at all (see photo on the blog post).

  16. kake - many thanks for the menu translations! So no gua bao or beef noodle soup, which I think are more Taiwanese than necessarily Fujianese.