Book Review – Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse

Helen Tse is the co-owner of a Pan-Asian restaurant in Manchester, England, that bears the same name as her book, Sweet Mandarin. Don’t let the title fool you; while I was hoping to find some Chinese recipes while leafing through the book, there were none to be found. But what I did find was a wonderful memoir.

Incidentally, the restaurant came first. Tse wrote the book as homage to her mother and grandmother. Also, she wanted to share her family’s experiences as immigrants and what it is like working in a Chinese restaurant. Her memoir spans almost a century, recounting tales from three generations of headstrong women across two continents.

From the very beginning of the book we learn about her grandmother, Lily. Lily does not live a fairytale life but one of poverty, sacrifice and overcoming obstacles. As each chapter progresses, you read about Lily as a little girl from a small village in Guangdong, China, to a grown woman in Hong Kong and how she ended up in England. The author also writes about her mother, Mabel, in the second half of the book. Her grandmother was able to save enough money to bring Mabel over to England from Hong Kong for a better life. It is through Mabel’s experiences you get to see what it is like to be a young immigrant growing up in Manchester, England. Finally, we learn a bit about Helen herself as a British Chinese and what made her give up a law career to concentrate on starting a restaurant.

This book is not your typical dry Chinese history book. Tse does a good job of grabbing the reader’s attention from beginning to end through various twists in each chapter. Reading it I gained knowledge about what it was like to be a Chinese woman living in China and England in the past century. I highly recommend reading this book not only to learn about Helen Tse’s fascinating family, but to learn a bit of history from it as well, as the best stories are always true stories.

The American release of Sweet Mandarin is available July 8 on To learn more about the book and restaurant, go to