Food 2016 – Bian Dang, London

Wednesday, December 14th 2016 – Bian Dang, Kerb on the Quay, London

A fine dry day, one more week of Kerb on the Quay left, and about to no longer work nearby, I decided that despite the cold, I’d scoot out in pursuit of a final Kerb fix for 2016. I was briefly distracted by a pair of grebes on the water of what used to be West India Dock, doing the mating thing where they mirror each others’ moves and make heart-shaped with their necks and heads. However, it was too cold to hang about for long so I got a move on and headed for the food stalls.

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Scanning the half dozen traders still coming out to play so late in the year threw up a dilemma. Pretty much every stall had a chicken option and a pork option. Now I don’t like chicken – it’s dull, often dry and unless I can guarantee it’s not from an intensively reared bird I’d rather not touch it. Pork I can appreciate the taste of – the trouble is it doesn’t get on with me, and eating it usually guarantees me an upset stomach for around 24 hours afterwards. It’s really best not bothered with for me, unless it’s really, really special,. Vegetarian it would have to be. I wasn’t in the mood for tofu or similar meat-substitutes so Bian Dang it would have to be.

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There was quite a queue for their Taiwanese lunchbox options, so it took a while before I could order. When I did get there the oyster mushrooms looked very tasty indeed. They are coated in sweet potato flour, and are then fried until crisp and tossed in pepper and salt and as I love mushrooms that was the dish for me.

The main attractions (mushrooms, pork or chicken) can also be combined in something they call “the Beast” which did cause the daftest question of the day to be asked. A woman just ahead of me in the queue looked hard at the board, then asked “Is that all three?” – why yes, it is, because that’s what “all of the above means”. I managed not to say anything, sarcastic or otherwise, but I don’t know how.

The mushrooms came with a good portion of steamed short grain rice, an assortment of pickles (mostly beetroot this time), stir-fried vegetables, slow braised pork sauce and half a marbled tea egg.

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The batter on the mushrooms was nicely seasoned, and crispy while the mushrooms were meaty, dense chunks of funghi, a great vehicle for the batter and for the pork sauce. The stir fried vegetables were still pleasantly al dente, and the rice was hot, and was absorbing the sauce and the other condiments in a manner that changed it from a plain carbohydrate hit to something savoury and warming. The pickles were lively, with the beetroot retaining its structure and providing resistance when you went to bite them. But the best bit? The best bit was that marbled tea egg. It may be the best “boiled” egg I’ve eaten this year, with the yolk warm and still runny, and none of that undercooked white (or worse uncooked) you can get in pursuit of a soft yolk.

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It was lovely and I wish I’d braved the queues earlier in the year…

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