Deliciously easy homemade Chinese food

pork belly

Sisters Amy and Julie Zhang have been entertaining and educating their thousands of followers on YouTube with their recipes for deliciously easy homemade Chinese food. Calling themselves The Dumpling Sisters, the duo are engaging and charismatic cooks who have also referred to themselves as the 'young, Asian, and (much) less hairy Hairy Bikers'. Following up on their online success, the sisters have published a cookbook, The Dumpling Sisters Cookbook: Over 100 Favourite Recipes from a Chinese Family Kitchen, in which the recipes are interspersed with the insider tips and tricks that the girls' YouTube fans adore. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the cookbook.) Amy and Julie took time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions about their new book:

You have an interesting culinary heritage - where were you brought up and where do you live now?

We've been really lucky to be exposed to a bunch of different cultures, which has in turn boosted our love and appreciation of different cuisines. We grew up in New Zealand, so while we had sandwiches and crisps in our packed lunches, we always ate Chinese food at for dinner. Now we both live in London, which is a total melting pot of cultures and cuisines. It's amazing - you can have Korean one night and Ethiopian the next, all down the same street!

At what age did you start cooking? Do you remember the first thing you made?

We started pretty young, as we worked alongside our parents in the family food cart. For nearly 25 years our parents have been setting up shop at a big market in Christchurch, and they're still going today! One of the first things we were responsible for was making wontons. Dad's recipe for the filling was really simple to make, and our little fingers were good at peeling apart the sheets of wonton pastry.

Are you both engaged full time in your culinary careers or do you have other jobs?

At the moment we're both working on other things alongside The Dumpling Sisters. Amy works in healthcare advertising, and Julie's currently a policy intern at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

What prompted you to start your YouTube channel?

When we first started this project, we had aspirations to open a cool Chinese eatery in London. But we also knew that we needed investment to do this, as starting a food business is hugely expensive! We thought that being on YouTube would be a good way to raise our profile and to show potential investors what we could do. What we've found is that YouTube has connected us with loads more people that we could have imagined - not necessarily investors, but fellow food lovers and keen home cooks. YouTube is great, because it empowers ordinary people like us to tap into audiences that would otherwise be out of reach. It has been a terrific platform for us to share something we feel so passionately about, in such a lighthearted way.

How did you get involved with 'Jamie Oliver's Search for a Food Tube Star' and how did you do?

We saw the competition advertised on YouTube, and knew immediately that we wanted to give it a go. Because the competition was sponsored by Uncle Ben's, the only brief was that the video recipe entry should contain rice in some form. Being Chinese and serious rice lovers, we had loads of ideas before settling on a version of fried rice lettuce parcels that mum used to make for us when we were growing up. We ended up coming second in the competition from a pool of over 250 entries worldwide, which we were really pleased about!

How do you split your roles when developing recipes and filming your videos?

We don't really have set roles - we both do everything! So we develop half of the recipes each, and take it in turns to edit our videos. When it comes to filming the videos, one of us will start with slicing and marinating the meat, then in the next shot the other person will be prepping the veg. It's just straightforward alternating so that people don't get tired of seeing one person's mug!

Do you each have a favorite recipe from the book?

Julie loves anything porky, so Crispy Five Spiced Pork Belly and Lacquered Honey Hoisin Pork Spare Ribs are high on her list. Amy, on the other hand, is a chicken fan, so her favourites include a silky Fragrant Steamed Chicken and a Potato and Chicken Curry.

What Chinese ingredients do you recommend for a more authentic taste for Chinese dishes? And where do you buy your ingredients?

We have a nifty little feature in our book called 'Add an Exotic'. We selected ten ingredients that people may not be very familiar with, but that we think can really elevate certain dishes because they add a new flavor or texture. This includes things like salted fish, fermented tofu (way better than it sounds!) and wood ear mushrooms. For most of our recipes, you can get everything you need at an ordinary supermarket. But for exotics and great deals on things like rice and fresh veg, we hit up our favourite Chinese supermarkets and street markets, such as the one in Brixton.

Photo of Mum's cracking five-spiced roast pork belly from The Dumpling Sisters Cookbook: Over 100 Favourite Recipes from a Chinese Family Kitchen

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