London proved to have the perfect location for a Beijing-style food stall.
Brixton in south London was once synonymous with gun crime, riots and drugs, but heavy investment in the early 2000s has transformed it. In 2009 developers took over a run-down 1930s shopping arcade and rebranded it Brixton Village, a covered market full of bakeries, boutiques and cafes. All the shops, from the Thai restaurant to the Pakistani snack stall, are carefully chosen to reflect the vibrant multicultural community of south London.
Ning pitched her Beijing restaurant in January 2011 and the managers jumped at it.
"They really liked the fact that we had a history and would bring something new to the market," she says. "I guess we were really lucky!
"Brixton Village reminded me of a Chinese market, like where my granddad and my mum had their shop," Ning continues.
"Usually in the UK, a fruit market is a fruit market and a veg market is a veg market, but in China people will be selling everything. In Brixton Village you'll have a greengrocer, then a butcher, then next to it a burger bar. It's really vibrant, just like Beijing. And it's more relaxed than in a restaurant - you just sit outside or get takeaway."
The idea had been simple - Ning would manage the business while her mother made the dumplings. But from the day they opened in October 2011, it was clear they had underestimated Brixton's taste for jiaozi.
"We actually ran out of food on that first day!" Ning laughs. "There were so many people wanting to be fed."
Now a handful of part-time helpers (almost none of them Chinese) helps in the tiny kitchen. There is no gas supply, but they manage with an induction cooker and hob, a couple of electric fryers and a few sinks run off two water heaters.
The menu is small and select. There are two soups, beef noodle and tofu; four kinds of jiaozi, including the Beijing classics of beef and spring onion, pork and Chinese greens, vegetable and king prawn; a handful of side dishes and a drinks menu of tea and, of course, Tsingtao beer.
The prices are admittedly higher than a true Beijing food stall - five jiaozi costing between 4.5 and 6 pounds ($7.2-9.6).
The timing isn't exactly Beijing-style either.
"We have to try to bring out all the food at the same time," Ning says.
"In China, you just get stuff as it's made, but we actually had some complaints online about that at the beginning, people saying the food is great but I don't fancy waiting around for my meal while my friend eats hers."
Ning knows Mama Lan's London restaurant can never be Beijing enough for Mama Lan herself.
"My mum misses her family more than anything," Ning says. "I think one day she'll go back for good."
But Ning plans to stay. "To be honest, I don't know how business works in China," she admits.
"And I love what I'm doing here. When you get things right and people are happy, it's a really nice feeling that you've made someone's day."
And she makes sure she gets her regular boost of home. "Beijing is a great city," Ning says. "I make sure I go back at least once a year for a feeding frenzy with my family!"
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