Last rites for the Tom Dip?


Bacon sandwich with Tom Dip

SOMETIMES things we eat are so inconsequential or taken for granted that when tastes change they slip unnoticed into the culinary waste bin of life. Then it is ages before anyone realises. I suspect that is likely to happen to Sheffield ‘s tomato dip – hardly a dish, certainly not a recipe, more a sort of breakfast afterthought.

 For a Tom Dip you take a bacon sandwich, baptise the underside of the top slice in a pot of bubbling tinned tomatoes on the stove and assemble your sandwich. That is it. Sometimes you can dispense with the sandwich. A slice of toast can be a tomato dip.

 It was once in every workmen’s cafe. It was so ubiquitous there was even a cafe called the Tomato Dip, with a bright red tomato on the fascia board, on Charles Street, below Arundel Gate. It is now called Wellies and Tom Dip is not on the menu.

 There are Sheffield people today who have never heard of it, just as they have never heard of polony, that sausage for which the city was once nationally famous. I asked around and got blank looks. But it is not yet last rites for the Tom Dip.

 You can find it at the Hard Hat Café on Duke Street, on the hot sandwich menu at £1.05, sandwiched between the fried egg and the chip buttie. No bacon is involved but this is how the dish was originally designed: for those who couldn’t afford bacon.

 You can also order it at Sarni’s, that cosy little café tucked away off the High Street in Aldine Court, guilty of severe apostrophe abuse but lovely all-day breakfasts, although Tom Dip is not advertised on the menu. Ask for it and the privilege costs an extra 20p so a tin of tomatoes must be the cafe’s heftiest earner!

 According to the chatty cook quite a few regulars order it. “If they’re dieting they just have it with toast,” she said, serving up a breadcake, the top half smeared in tomato, with a couple of slices of bacon. Some customers just like the juice, others the tomato lumps.

 I thought it might be a generational thing but Sarni’s also has a 14-year-old regular for the Tom Dip who has been eating it since she was four.

 So what does the dip have over a splodge of red sauce, particularly Heinz? Nowt. Unless it’s a Tom Dip a la Brian Turner, with olive oil, onions and garlic, it doesn’t cut the mustard, so to speak, with this eater (although Tom Dip lovers on the Sheffield Forum website point out the long simmering concentrates the tomato). But that really doesn’t matter.

 We are what we choose to eat. And every time you order Tom Dip you are making a quiet statement – I’m northern, I’m from Sheffield, this is what we do – and keeping a tradition alive. And please don’t tell anyone I’m originally from Norfolk!


Sarni’s is tucked away in Aldine Court


Could Bing be the next Big Thing?


Angie makes my crepe at Big Bing

Despite being right in the middle of Sheffield’s Moor Market trader Zhange Ge – but we can call her Angie – gets few English customers at her Big Bing Chinese crepe stall. They look, fascinated by the food theatre performed on the hotplate before them, then walk off without buying.

It’s their loss. With some 6,000 Chinese students in the city there’s plenty of business for Angie who sells what is China’s most popular street food but which has yet to make itself as well known as prawn crackers or chow mein. And for just £2.80 the standard version of what the Chinese call jian bing will fill you up for lunch.

Even though, as Angie says, it’s more of a breakfast back home in China.

Jian bing means fried pancake. It’s basically an omelette wrapped around a pancake and filled with crispy lettuce, crispy wanton and a hot dog, flavoured with hoisin sauce, chilli, spring onions, sesame and a few other ingredients. And although these are everyday items the result is more than the sum of its parts. You’ve got two soft layers in the pancake and omelette, two different kinds of crunch from the won ton and lettuce, bursts of flavour from the spring onions and spices, all bound together by the hoisin, bringing back memories of the crisp duck course in Chinese restaurants.


Big Bing on the Moor Market

Angie, who is 26 and comes from Qingdao in Shandong Province, where jian bing was traditionally invented almost 2,000 years ago, took just a couple of minutes to make mine.

First she spread a thin layer of batter on the circular hotplate then, as it was beginning to set, broke an egg over it and spread that, too. After scattering on what looked like seasoning she flipped the circle (so the omelette was now on the outside) and spread a layer of hoisin sauce, the stuff you get with crispy duck, over the surface. Then came a hot dog, or, rather, half of one sliced down the middle.

“Do you want chilli?” she asked. There was something else which I didn’t catch but said yes to both. She sprinkled on chilli flakes, chopped spring onion and sesame seeds and added won tons and lettuce before rolling it all up into quite a hefty package, wrapped in paper with smiley faces and presented in a brown paper bag.

I found a seat and tackled it gingerly, worried that bits might fall out. They didn’t. At a nearby table a couple of pretty Chinese students were eating their jian bings much more expertly.

Angie has been on the market for about six months. Chinese students have plenty of places to choose from: there are a couple more oriental food stalls as well as the Portuguese custard tarts which the Chinese love at the Chinese-run CakeLicious stall.

Jian bing has been around for rather longer. According to legend the dish was dreamed up by General Zhuge Liang around 250AD who told his soldiers to cook batter on their metal shields held over a fire when, for some reason, they hadn’t got their woks.

Bing could well be the next Big Thing in  street food to take off although it is fiddly to make and needs some little skill. If you don’t like the version on offer you can have one ‘custom built’ from extra ingredients listed. To see how Angie does it check out the video at


Unwrapped and ready to eat

Peeling away the memories

I read somewhere once that in India the poor are so thrifty they don’t even waste potato peelings. They cook and eat them. I can’t recall how they they did it it, frying I expect, but it chimed with my ‘waste not, want not’ mantra and I mentally filed that fact away.

My father wasn’t Indian but he didn’t waste potato peelings either. He ran a pub, the Longe Arms at Spixworth, near Norwich, did food and kept pigs in the back garden. He boiled up the peelings as swill for his swine and it smelled for all the world like a brewery doing the mash. Which is why today whenever I pass a brewery doing what it’s meant to do I think not of beer but pigs. And hungry Indians.

The other night we were having bangers and mash and I got out some reds to peel when it triggered the thoughts above. The oven was on as I was baking bread and I thought I could use one of the shelves to turn the peelings into oven crisps. I washed the spuds carefully, peeled them and dried off the peelings on kitchen paper. I put a film of oil on a baking tray, laid the peelings in rows and slipped them into the 200C oven. They were done inside ten minutes, perhaps a little too well here and there, drained on more paper and salted. And they were pretty good.

I think what this showed me was that sometimes I am too quick to throw on the compost heap food I could otherwise eat. I shall do it again but only if I already have the oven on.

So I munched my crisps and thought of pigs and how nice it would have been if I also had a beer.

Tip of the Iceberg?


Garden red sorrel peeping up through the giant lemon variety

February doesn’t strike me as the month for salads but people seem to be panicking about where their next Iceberg lettuce is coming from. The rain in Spain has been devastating the salad crops which we import from there.

Doesn’t bother me. I did what I always do when I want some salad: I did a sport of foraging. I didn’t have to go far, either. Just down the bottom of the garden.

 The red sorrel which grows like weed (that’s because it is a weed) has just started to come into leaf, as has my clump of lemon sorrel and perpetual beet spinach. And there are tender young dandelion leaves just waiting to be picked. If this shortage lasts just pop an upturned flowerpot over some healthy specimens to exclude the light and blanch the leaves to make them less bitter.

 I know celery is also part of the Great Salad Shortage but it’s worth buying a head. Unless you get them from a farmers’ market most of the leaves will have been cut off but there are usually enough nestling down among the stalks to make a salad. They are also a very useful herb. The stalks also go in so you get two for the price of one. Then just grate up a carrot and you’re done.

 Perhaps this shortage is teaching us  lesson to eat seasonally. I grew up through Februaries when tomatoes and lettuce were non existent and my parents wouldn’t have known what an aubergine was if it was put in front of them. It’s been said many times before but we’ve lost the thrill of the first strawberries, asparagus and the like coming into season because they are available all year round. Perhaps this shortage is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of what might happen if our trading patterns broke down.


Find a head of celery with plenty of leaves




Boondi for breakfast


Sugar Puffs without the wheat

If it’s Monday it’s Boondi for breakfast. And very possibly on Tuesday as well. I seem to have invented Britain’s newest breakfast cereal but I doubt it will transform me into the Twenty-First Century version of Mr Kellogg but it does mean I can eat my very own ‘Sugar Puffs.’

 Perhaps invention is a little too strong but I have certainly given an Anglo tweak to an Indian food you very rarely see in restaurants. I came across it when invited to a Hindu festival in Sheffield and the food afterwards included what looked like puffed wheat or rice in a sauce of watery yoghurt. This, I was told, was Boondi. It was pleasant: savoury but low key in flavour and I thought little more about it.

 Then I came across packets of it at my local Indian shop which I visit for my lottery ticket, big bags of  cashew nuts, poppadoms, spices and the like.  I always like to browse the shelves and pick up a packet of this or that to try back home.

 Boondi isn’t wheat or rice but made with chickpea (basen) flour so if you like breakfast cereals but are gluten intolerant this would be ideal. It is whisked into a thin batter with water and dropped through a kind of spatula with circular holes into boiling oil. If you get it right it forms perfect hollow spheres. Otherwise they look wobbly. For me, it’s easier to buy a packet, around £1.50 for 400g.

 You can get it roasted or spiced but I have only seen it plain. To be honest, it’s really bland. So I added some to the oats and nuts the next time I made some granola. It worked pretty well. Then I tried eating it like Sugar Puffs in milk with a sprinkling of sugar. Not bad. But I was convinced I could do even better. And I have.


Let the boondi cool before storing in a jar

 I gently heat a large heavy-based pan, melt some butter and honey, add some spice, stir in the Boondi and stir until every ‘grain’ is covered in the butter-honey-spice mix. Do all this on the lowest heat setting: you don’t want to fry. I add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon or two of icing sugar for extra sweetness, in much the same way as you make popcorn. And that’s it.

 Here’s the recipe:

 250g Boondi

30g butter (I used leftover brandy butter!)

1 tbsp honey

I tsp of cinnamon, cardamom or mixed spice

Pinch of salt to taste

Icing sugar to taste

Proceed as above. To avoid the cereal turning into a solid lump turn out onto a baking try lined with greaseproof paper and stir every so often until cold. This filled a one litre Kilner jar which you might have to shake firmly before tipping the cereal into your bowl. You might think making this is a bit nerdy but I do like DIY breakfasts.

 Indians use it to make a pudding, topping a layer of sweet boondi with a milk and breadcrumb mix and baking in the oven.


Look out for bags of boondi in an Indian store

Giving a fork about your pork


Konrad Kempka at the 70-year-old bacon slicer


At first sight F J Kempka & Son’s butchers shop on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, could be a TV set designer’s recreation for a series set in the Sixties. The name is written in elegant flowing script across a red and white fascia conveying a subtle message: these are the national colours of Poland.

‘Pork Butchers’ it says underneath and, as if you need reassurance of the fact, there are sides of mahogany coloured just-smoked bacon hanging in the window, their residual warmth faintly misting the windows.

You walk though the doorway with its metal flyscreen and see the pork pies, coils of sausages, the old fashioned bacon slicer which, at 70 years, is older than the shop, pork chops, slabs of glistening liver and the faintly racy ‘I Give a Fork about My Pork’ poster on the wall and think, ‘This is how I want a butchers shop to look.’ It smells that way, too, with whiffs of woodsmoke and garlic in the air.

There’s a whiff of history in the series of faintly blurry black and white photographs on the walls. The butcher in the picture is Polish-born Joseph, a dark haired man with a look of concentration on his face as he strings a row of gleaming black sausages – perhaps just the ones he used to sling into the pannier on his cycle and pedal all the way to Thurgoland to sell to the Polish miners living there.

“When he took over the shop it was not doing well so he started smoking bacon and making Polish sausages and would cycle over in the afternoon with them. Even today, I get third generation families coming to buy them here,” says Konrad Kempka, the ‘& Son’ on the fascia.

This month sees the 60th anniversary of his father starting the business, hence those old photographs. It’s quite a story. Young Joseph, was a 17-year-old apprentice butcher when the German tanks rolled into his village, just 15 miles from Auschwitz. “They put everyone in a German uniform or shot them,” he adds drily.


The shop opened on 5 January, 1957

His father was sent to the Russian front then, when that was going badly, to France, where he, like others, escaped to join the Free Polish Army and fight in Italy. When the war was over he was given the choice, Canada or Britain. He found himself in a Polish camp at Hardwick Hall and while some went to work in the steelworks, he took up his old career as a butcher, working for Roneys on Sharrowvale Road, then for Cyril Rackham, who had a string of shops in the city. Dad worked at Heeley Green but when Rackham retired he sold him the shop on Abbeydale Road.

In the meantime Joseph had met a local girl called Jeanne at a dance at St William’s Church Hall on Ecclesall Road and married. With the Communists in charge in Poland there was no chance of going back.

As for Konrad, he ‘just fell into’ the butchery trade, from keeping watch on the shop to helping out his Dad. For a time it seemed he wouldn’t. At 21 he went to Los Angeles, working illegally as an engineer, but the pull of Sheffield was too strong. There wasn’t enough trade in the shop so he bought a lock-up butchers on Greystones Road, taking over when his father retired.

He’s seen some changes. “I probably sell less continental stuff these days but at one time we were the only people who sold garlic in Sheffield. Now garlic is in everything. And we sold buckets of sour cream, local people couldn’t believe it! And at Christmas we used to sell carp from Poland in blocks of ice. You couldn’t do that now.”

There are still reminders of the shop’s heritage. Kabanos, long, thin, smoked Polish sausage, are in the display counter, along with two types of Black Pudding, one English, one continental. The shelves are lined with jars of bockwurst, gherkins, sauerkraut and red peppers. In the window is a stack of Ukrainian loaves.


Konrad’s father Joseph – see the resemblance?

Kempka’s is still mainly a pork butcher although you can get chicken, lamb and beef. Oxtails will often hang in the windows along with magnificent home smoked hams, a fine sight at Christmas but available all year round. A Kempka’s pork pie is a wonderful thing, always praised when pork pie lovers swap recommendations, and among the biggest sellers, along with Konrad’s smoked bacon. I am, though, one of the few customers who ask for it still with the rind on. You can do a lot with a bacon rind!

He and his wife Pat, who helps in the shop, have noticed that customers have shied away from fatty pieces of meat, But that, we agree, is where the taste lies. “It will come back again,” he says. That is why he always buys bigger sides of pork to include the fat for, unlike some shops which buy in their sausages and bacon, they need it in the manufacture of products.

The shop has seen some 60 years. Konrad, at 63, and always a little hazy on dates, reckons he has done half that. But for how much longer will Kempka & Son keep going? Konrad, serving his second year as president of the Confederation of Yorkshire Butchers Councils, won’t be drawn.

Those of us who like their smoked bacon, a ham to boil at Christmas and a pork pie – ‘hold it upright as it’s still warm and not quite set’ – for tea or, as the poster says, give a fork about their pork, hope it will not be just yet.

352 Abbeydale Rd, Sheffield S7 1FP. Phone: 0114 255 1852


Smoked hams in the window at Christmas


The Star Maker still twinkles


Mick Burke takes it steady with an orange juice

A magazine once dubbed him the Star Maker. A former student affectionately referred to him as “the old wizard.” Whatever you call him, an awful lot of chefs, some now with Michelin stars, are very grateful to Sheffield College chef-lecturer Mick Burke, who has just retired.

So when his friends, staff and former students organised a farewell lunch for him at Sheffield’s Copthorne Hotel there was a big turn-out to pay tribute to the 62-year-old chef whose culinary skills,particularly in patisserie, are a legend in the industry.

 They weren’t just content to sit down to a slap-up meal and swap stories. Some, like Rupert Rowley, of Michelin-starred Baslow Hall and Nathan Smith of the Old Vicarage, both Burke protégés, teamed up with chef-lecturers Neil Taylor and Len Unwin to plan and cook the lunch. Joining the brigade was Will Haythorne of Jersey’s Langueville Manor, where another of Mick’s Michelin Men, Andrew Baird, is in charge. Andrew couldn’t make it but gave the nod to Will, another ex-student, to lend a hand.

 Naturally the college, which is losing the brightest star from one of the country’s leading catering sections, made the most of the do: trainee chefs helped out the star names while other students brushed up their waiting skills under the eye of lecturer Maxene Gray.

 It’s a good job there was so much talent in the temporary kitchen offered by the Copthorne. It was Friday the Thirteenth and bad luck struck early when the power went off and stayed off. Food had to be cooked in the hotel’s kitchen and ferried upstairs. “The room we used turned out to be a changing room!” grinned Rupert. But only afterwards.

 Guests wouldn’t have known as they tucked in to game terrine with anise, a terrific crab and lobster ravioli in langoustine sauce, roast sirloin and a wickedly citrousy lemon tart. “That’ll have woken you up,” said Andrew Baird, drily, retired executive chef of the Sheraton Park Lane Hotel, a lifelong friend. One of Mick Burke’s greatest strengths was his connections. He could send students to the best places, get the top chefs to do demos, and call in favours. I recall him getting Michael Gaines down to star in the new kitchens that he had a big hand in commissioning in 2009.

 His involvement didn’t stop at picking up the phone. The room was full of tales of him ferrying students to competitions in his own car or a minibus, from which they all seemed to return with a medal, very often gold.

 “He gives back twice as much as you give him,” said Tom Lawson, now co-owner of the often dazzling Rafters restaurant. “It’s just his enthusiasm as a chef and his ability to instil that in you,” added Marcus Lane, previous owner of Rafters. He, like other former students, now grown up and perhaps wealthier than him, still refers to ‘Mr Burke. Why? “To me he is till my lecturer.” Among other well known local chefs there to pay tribute were Jamie Bosworth, Richard Irving, Christian Kent and Chris Hawkins.


Mick Burke in his chef’s whites

 Mick, a miner’s son from Bolton on Dearne, was the first boy in his domestic science class at Pope Pious secondary school, Wath. Going home with his box of buns on the bus could be challenging. He studied catering at Rotherham and passed with honours as student of his year. Before long he was at Claridges, later coming back to Sheffield’s Grosvenor Hotel as chef tournant, the bloke who can fit in anywhere when needed.

 But Mick never stopped learning. He went to Granville (a predecessor of Sheffield College) to take his 7063 City & Guilds and finished up student of the year again.

 It was around this time he thought of a career in education. As one of his colleagues put it, he could have worked anywhere and would doubtless have influenced many chefs: by choosing education he influenced thousands. It was his pastry work that singled him out. Typically, he made sure he had the right teacher, Roger Taylor, then pastry chef at the Connaught. At this time Mick was lecturing at Granville and the course was in Birmingham. He would teach until noon, catch the train at 1pm and not return home until the following morning.

 Mick is 62, still relatively young. “I have worked here for 37 years and 109 days. There is life outside Sheffield College,” he said enigmatically. Whatever it will be, and he was giving no clues, he will be up to his old wizardry.


Students made Mick this retirement cake


And also:

*Mick said the lunch had disrupted his retirement plans – it was held on the day he and his wife Jill had designated ‘Tidy Friday’

*Each table had a butter hedgehog, in memory of a competition for a themed dinner, in the college’s case Sheffield Steel. Asked by judges how the hedgehogs fitted into the theme a bright female student explained that in Sheffield the little beasts hibernated in the city’s warm steelworks