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Suffolk private chef Lilian Hiw, of Lilian’s Kitchen, takes a tour of Asia to find canapé ideas

It has been a busy couple of weeks, in between writing my cookbook, getting ready for my cookery classes and cooking for private dinners, I am also busy organising a 60th birthday party - mine! I didn’t want a party initially, but a few good friends convinced me that I really should mark this milestone. I had a fancy dress party when I turned 50 and it was great fun, so a fancy dress party it will be.

However, I didn’t want to cook for my own birthday party, so a group of close friends are bringing their best dishes to the table. . . and two of my sisters and brother-in-law are coming from Singapore and Canada to celebrate with me. How blessed am I? Can’t wait.

While I was pondering on what to write for this month’s column, I thought to myself ‘why not share what I might serve at a client’s 60th birthday dinner party?’ So, let’s chat canapés (we will talk about main party food and desserts another time), I hope these ideas will inspire you when you are planning your party, or for your Christmas drinks and canapés parties in the coming couple of months (not long now).

Hong Kong char siew puff
Hong Kong char siew puff

Come with me, we will travel round Asia for a bit. . .


Dim sum literally translates ‘touch the heart’. Legend has it that the royal chefs of the Imperial Court, many centuries ago, created intricate little delicacies to delight the palette and ‘touch the heart’ of the Chinese Emperors and the royal families. They are steamed, deep fried, pan fried, grilled or boiled and the ingredients are boundless from meat and seafood to vegetables and endless delicacies.

Deep fried wontons
Deep fried wontons

These little morsels are so delicious they gained popularity throughout Asia and the world. Traditionally it was eaten for breakfast, but as popularity and demand for dim sum grew, it was served for brunch and lunch. Nowadays, you can find dim sum any time of the day in lots of Chinese or Asian food establishments. Dim sum dishes make the perfect canapés as they can be picked up with your fingers and eaten in one or two bites. These are two of my son’s favourite dim sum dishes.

Hong Kong char siew puff

Cut up some cooked Chinese barbecue pork, mix it with peas, hoisin sauce, sesame oil and encase them in puff pastry. Crimp to your desired shape – it can be rectangular, square, round, half moon, or pyramid shaped, as pictured. Brush the pastry with beaten egg yolk mixed with a tiny splash of water, lavishly sprinkle over nutty sesame seeds, bake them to a beautiful golden brown and brush lightly with honey water as they leave the oven. If you have a fussy-eating kid, make these, they are firm favourites with children and, well, adults alike.

Chinese five spice wontons

You can find wonton pastry from any Asian or Oriental grocery store, in the freezer compartments, or online. The beauty of wontons are you can fill them with literally anything you wish! Pork is the most commonly used meat, but hey, who is to say that you can’t use turkey mince and serve up some Christmas wontons? If you do use turkey, I would advise adding a spoonful of cornflour for a better mouth feel and moisture as turkey is a rather dry meat. For a non-meat version, I can recommend firm tofu. Make sure you squeeze out the accompanying liquid the tofu comes in and marinate the tofu for ten minutes to allow the flavour from the seasonings to be absorbed.

In the wontons pictured I added some Chinese five spice powder to give it some earthiness. Other great accompanying seasonings are soya sauce, oyster or mushroom sauce, sesame oil, salt and white pepper. I add water chestnuts to give crunch to the filling and they provide a natural sweetness. Spring onions and fresh coriander are great too, as they add fragrance to these little parcels.

Sushi-Smoked Salmon Nigiri
Sushi-Smoked Salmon Nigiri

Deep fried wontons are delicious eaten on their own, but I think dipping them in sweet chilli sauce makes them so moreish you won’t be able to stop eating them! You can also cook the wontons in water, drain and serve them tossed in light soya and a drizzle of sesame oil, or add some crispy chilli for a little kick. You can also serve cooked wontons in a broth with some Chinese greens like choy sum or pak choy, topped with some crispy onions - my go to comfort food.


You got it, little mouthfuls of yumminess. Be it little moulded rice of finger sushi (nigiri) topped with fresh or smoked fish, or seaweed roll (maki) stuffed with all your favourite ingredients. I simply love the combination of tuna in Japanese mayo, cucumber and crabsticks, a ripe yet firm and creamy avocado is a must, too. All the supermarkets sell everything you will need to make sushi, from Japanese sushi rice to seaweed sheets (nori), to pickled ginger, wasabi, soya sauce and sushi mats, to make rolling the maki a breeze.

Vietnamese summer roll
Vietnamese summer roll


This is ideal if you are expecting guests who have gluten intolerances, are vegetarian or vegan.

The rice paper wrappers in the packaging look like sheets of plastic, but when you dip them in water, watch them transform into a chewy soft vessel to encase your choice of ingredients. Summer rolls are served fresh with ingredients like mint leaves, fresh coriander, fine strips of carrots, lettuce, bean sprouts and cooled rice noodles. Prawns or pork can also be added. As the wrappers are translucent, you can showcase the vibrant orange of carrots or prawns and the bright green colour of the herbs through the rice paper. Serve it with crunchy peanuts and a chilli dip, or make a zesty dip of hoisin sauce mixed with peanut butter, sriracha chilli, a squeeze of fresh lime and some hot water to thin down the dip.

Singapore chicken satay
Singapore chicken satay


Imagine tender pieces of chicken marinated in ground turmeric, coriander, chilli and sugar. Grilled to juicy perfection, dipped in a punchy peanut sauce, then sprinkled with finely diced cucumber, raw red onions and crushed roasted peanuts.

Some believe satay was originally inspired by the kebab through Middle Eastern influence. Interestingly, in the Hokkien dialect, ‘sa-tae’ means three pieces, so in Singapore and Malaysia this meat skewer normally sports only three pieces of meat and those from Indonesia and Thailand have more pieces of meat.

Malaysian curry puff
Malaysian curry puff

I would suggest having plenty of cocktail napkins at hand, so that your guests can catch any drip from the peanut sauce!


Curry puffs are sold on every street corner as a snack - make mini ones to serve as canapes. It is believed to be inspired by various ‘mini pies’ like the British Cornish pasty, the Portuguese empanada and the Indian samosa during the colonial era. The Malay-style curry puff uses an oil dough wrapped in a flour dough, turned and folded to create the lamination and flaky finish you see in the picture. Traditionally, deep fry, but they’re just as delicious baked in the oven. These pastries are bursting with chopped up chicken, potatoes and peas in a fragrant curry sauce, the pastry is so light and it is easy entertaining for the host, simply chuck them in the oven.

Japanese sushi by Lilian Hiw
Japanese sushi by Lilian Hiw

If you fancy learning to cook Asian food, here are the class dates. Christmas Gift Vouchers are also available online via lilianskitchen.co.uk:

l Thai and Vietnamese (new menu) - November

l Asian Street Food - February

l Seafood - March

l Thai and Vietnamese - April

l Dim Sum - May

l Chinese - June

l Singapore and Malaysia - July

Till the next time, take care of yourselves!