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Five-Spiced Banana Fritters

Is there such a thing as a good Chinese dessert, you say? The answer: absolutely

It’s a common complaint: why are Chinese desserts so bad? Do Chinese people even do desserts?!

We get it. It can be pretty disappointing to come to the end of your meal at a Chinese restaurant – having just enjoyed incredible dishes like roast duck, mapo tofu and garlic king prawns – to discover that vanilla ice cream is the lone option on the lacklustre dessert ‘menu’. Or perhaps there has been a time when you’ve pinned all your hopes on an order of mango pudding, only to be greeted with a gelatinous, bright orange and artificially mango-y set of plasticky cubes.

The truth is, for most Chinese people the sharing dishes are the real stars of the show. In China, dessert as we know it in the West isn’t commonly taken. After a Chinese meal, you might be served some complimentary fresh fruit like melon and orange wedges with tea to finish on a light note.

But that’s not to say that we don’t have a sweet tooth. Dig just a little bit deeper and you’ll see that our penchant for the sweet stuff is reflected in the way that even savoury Cantonese dishes often incorporate a touch of sweetness. And I can’t gush enough about the incredible breads and pastries on offer at Hong Kong style bakeries. The mingling aromas of freshly baked sunny egg tarts, golden buns and fluffy pandan sponge is enough to send me into a hyperglyceamic headspin…

… but to return to the highly pressing issue of dessert: if you’re anything like us, there’s almost always a separate ‘pudding pocket’ waiting to be nourished. You’re essentially full up, but somehow not too full for a cheeky little bite of something sweet. What could possibly fill that little pocket after a Chinese meal?

The answer is… lots of things! Proper mango pudding, made with fresh ingredients like the recipe that we have in our book, is a great option. As are tong yuen soup dumplings, those delightful little chewy balls filled with anything from sweet red bean paste to sugary peanuts and even nutella. For something more refreshing and super light, try our lychee and orange sorbet. More recently, we’ve seen a really popular street snack in Hong Kong and Guangzhou take off here in London, the eye-catching bubble wrap waffle. Don’t they look like an absolute dream?

Back in 2012, I had the most delicious bubble waffle on Beijing Road in central Guangzhou. I was with our Dumpling Brother, Justin, and we shared a waffle filled with purple yam ice cream, condensed milk and peanut paste. The best part of these waffles is the contrast between a crispy exterior and a soft, pillowy interior that is simply wonderful for sinking one’s teeth into. And of course, the deliciousness is boosted even further with the addition of toppings like ice cream and velvety sauce. I just love desserts like this, but unfortunately making bubble waffles at home for dessert is not an option as they require a rather fancy bubble iron.

But fear not! Today I’m sharing an easy recipe for something just as texturally terrific as bubble waffles, but that you can certainly make at home without any niche waffle equipment. Enter the almighty golden banana fritter.

I never saw these in the restaurants back in New Zealand, but I’ve discovered that they’re a popular fixture on menus in London’s Chinatown. As for the authenticity and origin of banana fritters, I am assuming that they are one of those clever creations of diasporic Chinese entrepreneurs who stumbled upon a delicious dessert by frying bananas in the same batter that makes sweet and sour pork so divinely crispy. As a worshipper of all things golden and crunchy, I was completely hooked from the first toffee-drenched bite.

Eager to make my own fritters at home, I developed the following recipe. Adding Chinese five spice to the batter makes the fritters especially warming in the cooler autumn climes. Meanwhile, using sparkling water in the place of still water gives rise to fritters that are extra crispy and explody when they hit the oil. Serve these with vanilla ice-cream, our signature soy salted caramel sauce and an extra sprinkling of five spice powder. All of your burning questions about Chinese desserts will be answered in one bite: yep, they exist, and yep, they’re awesome.

Serves
4
Ingredients

4 small/medium ‘just ripe’ bananas
vegetable oil, for deep frying

for the batter
75g plain flour
60g cornflour
2 tsp five spice powder
1/2  tsp sesame oil
1/2  tsp baking powder
1/4  tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml sparkling water

to serve
soy salted caramel sauce
vanilla ice cream
1 tbsp icing sugar mixed with 1/2 tbsp five spice powder

It’s a common complaint: why are Chinese desserts so bad? Do Chinese people even do desserts?!

We get it. It can be pretty disappointing to come to the end of your meal at a Chinese restaurant – having just enjoyed incredible dishes like roast duck, mapo tofu and garlic king prawns – to discover that vanilla ice cream is the lone option on the lacklustre dessert ‘menu’. Or perhaps there has been a time when you’ve pinned all your hopes on an order of mango pudding, only to be greeted with a gelatinous, bright orange and artificially mango-y set of plasticky cubes.

The truth is, for most Chinese people the sharing dishes are the real stars of the show. In China, dessert as we know it in the West isn’t commonly taken. After a Chinese meal, you might be served some complimentary fresh fruit like melon and orange wedges with tea to finish on a light note.

But that’s not to say that we don’t have a sweet tooth. Dig just a little bit deeper and you’ll see that our penchant for the sweet stuff is reflected in the way that even savoury Cantonese dishes often incorporate a touch of sweetness. And I can’t gush enough about the incredible breads and pastries on offer at Hong Kong style bakeries. The mingling aromas of freshly baked sunny egg tarts, golden buns and fluffy pandan sponge is enough to send me into a hyperglyceamic headspin…

… but to return to the highly pressing issue of dessert: if you’re anything like us, there’s almost always a separate ‘pudding pocket’ waiting to be nourished. You’re essentially full up, but somehow not too full for a cheeky little bite of something sweet. What could possibly fill that little pocket after a Chinese meal?

The answer is… lots of things! Proper mango pudding, made with fresh ingredients like the recipe that we have in our book, is a great option. As are tong yuen soup dumplings, those delightful little chewy balls filled with anything from sweet red bean paste to sugary peanuts and even nutella. For something more refreshing and super light, try our lychee and orange sorbet. More recently, we’ve seen a really popular street snack in Hong Kong and Guangzhou take off here in London, the eye-catching bubble wrap waffle. Don’t they look like an absolute dream?

Back in 2012, I had the most delicious bubble waffle on Beijing Road in central Guangzhou. I was with our Dumpling Brother, Justin, and we shared a waffle filled with purple yam ice cream, condensed milk and peanut paste. The best part of these waffles is the contrast between a crispy exterior and a soft, pillowy interior that is simply wonderful for sinking one’s teeth into. And of course, the deliciousness is boosted even further with the addition of toppings like ice cream and velvety sauce. I just love desserts like this, but unfortunately making bubble waffles at home for dessert is not an option as they require a rather fancy bubble iron.

But fear not! Today I’m sharing an easy recipe for something just as texturally terrific as bubble waffles, but that you can certainly make at home without any niche waffle equipment. Enter the almighty golden banana fritter.

I never saw these in the restaurants back in New Zealand, but I’ve discovered that they’re a popular fixture on menus in London’s Chinatown. As for the authenticity and origin of banana fritters, I am assuming that they are one of those clever creations of diasporic Chinese entrepreneurs who stumbled upon a delicious dessert by frying bananas in the same batter that makes sweet and sour pork so divinely crispy. As a worshipper of all things golden and crunchy, I was completely hooked from the first toffee-drenched bite.

Eager to make my own fritters at home, I developed the following recipe. Adding Chinese five spice to the batter makes the fritters especially warming in the cooler autumn climes. Meanwhile, using sparkling water in the place of still water gives rise to fritters that are extra crispy and explody when they hit the oil. Serve these with vanilla ice-cream, our signature soy salted caramel sauce and an extra sprinkling of five spice powder. All of your burning questions about Chinese desserts will be answered in one bite: yep, they exist, and yep, they’re awesome.

GET THE METHOD →

Slice each banana into three segments at a sharp angle.
Fill a medium-sized saucepan to halfway with vegetable oil. Put it on the hob over a medium heat
Gently whisk together all of the batter ingredients until you have a smooth batter. Check that the oil is ready (it should be about 180 degrees celsius) by dropping a little bit of batter into the pan – it should sizzle and puff but not turn brown instantly.
Use a fork to coat a banana segment with the batter, then gently drop the segment into the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally, until the fritter is golden brown. Remove onto a wire rack and repeat with the remaining banana segments. I find that in a medium saucepan, doing two fritters at a time is ideal.
Serve the fritters with vanilla ice cream and a toffee sauce, like our soy salted caramel sauce. Finish with a generous sprinkling of the icing sugar and five spice mixture.
Finally, the photos are done and I can tuck in…
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