Friday, 23 November 2007

A taste of what's to come....

Some of you may be wondering why I haven't been writing about Cambodian food. There are couple of reasons, firstly we were there for just a few weeks and with so many temples to explore I had so little time to do anything else. Secondly, Cambodian food is influenced by its bordering countries and tends to be quite similar but nothing that really cries out - eat me.

So to be honest, I wasn't really that inspired. We didn't have any outstanding dishes to rave about unlike Vietnam and Thailand. I am wondering if that has anything to do with the fact that given the countries most recent devastating and traumatic historical events, namely generations wiped out by the Pol Pot regime, that, maybe some traditonal family recipes and methods of cooking are now lost forever. Travelling around, it was quite evident the majority of the population are under 20.

There are some interesting critters on Cambodian menus but we have both eaten our fair share of grubs and worms and insects on this journey and decided to give those a miss. We were keen to try the fried tarantulas, well Adam was, I was going to sit and watch amusingly but unfortunately, they were a little rarer than we thought and didn't come across any on our travels, not even live ones.

There is one particular dish that we enjoyed - Fish Amok - a mild and creamy coconut fish curry and I shall return at a later date with a recipe.

Sadly, our travels around South East Asia will be coming to an end soon. We have just a few weeks left and have decided to spend them on the most secluded island we could find. We have a bungalow waiting for us on a hill in the jungle overlooking a beach. There are no resorts there. Unfortunately that also means that we may not get the best internet connection. So this maybe the last entry for awhile.

But don't go away for too long, there is more to come. I have some amazing recipes to share that I have been collecting along the way but haven't had time to post. There is so much to explore in Australia in the food department and then of course there is the wine. See you soon.

Here are some more of Adam's beautiful photos of our journey to inspire your travels.

Monks on a bike near Siem Reap, Cambodia

Feet of a Buddha statue at Wat Saphan Hin, Sukhothai

Oil burners at Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Woman praying at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai

Worshippers at the Cao Dai great temple in Vietnam

Statues outside the Bayon, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Boy and his cows in front of Banteay Kdei, Angkor Wat

A cow at Bakong, Angkor Wat

Boy playing in a waterfall at Kbal Spean, Angkor Wat

A buffalo at Beng Mealea ruins, Angkor Wat

Cattle trader at San Pa Tong market, northern Thailand

A seafood stall in Bangkok's Chinatown

Bananas on a boat at Phong Dien, in Vietnam's Mekong Delta

Baby pygmy hippo resting on its mother's back, Chiang Mai Zoo

Front view of a green snake on an unused barbecue on Tong Nai Pa

Girl selling lotus flowers at Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Child in Chau Doc, Vietnam

Family moving house on an auto-rickshaw in Luang Prabang, Laos

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Lao, Thai and Vietnam suppliers

A few readers have requested where to get certain ingredients for Lao recipes. Most Asian supermarkets in any city will stock most ingredients, if you can't find it just ask, they may be able to order it in for you.

I have been reliably told that beer Lao is available in Oz - so I will get back to you once I have found an address.

Here are a few addresses for the UK.

If you like your sticky rice, you can purchase a Lao conical bamboo rice steamer, basket and pot at any Thai supermarket or try Tawana Supermarket, 18 Chepstow road, London W2. ph: 02072216316 supplies everything for both Lao and Thai food and you can order over the internet. has an interesting range of rice, like Forbidden Rice (black rice) and Bhutanese Red Rice and Lao river algae snacks - kaipen (really good toasted with jaewbong)

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Good-bye Vietnam

Well it is farewell to Vietnam and on to Cambodia. It has been an amazing journey from the North to the South. The food has been excellent throughout, Adam and I both agree, we have probably had just a few average meals in a month and that was due to the fact that we were stuck on either a boat tour without a choice of menu or too tired to go in search for something interesting to eat and just settled for second best.

If you do find yourself in Vietnam, the most important tip I can give you is eat where the locals eat, which doesn't include where all the tourists eat. The food will be of better quality, tastier, cheaper and above all else you are amongst it all and mixing with the locals. The menu won't be in English but as long as you have the basic words for duck, chicken, pork, fish and vegetables you can't go wrong - well you can but it will still be tasty.

The worst that happened to us - sitting in a bia hoi and one of the locals came over to share with us some of his grub and, yes, it was literally grub on a cracker, an entire plate of them all soft and chewy. And yes, we couldn't refuse - that would be impolite - so we both tucked in (Adam with relish)and it turned out to be quite tasty actually, and what an experience.

There are a few things I will miss, Hanoi for a start, it is now one of my favourite cities. Look beyond all the hassles and there is a lot of substance and character there, if you do visit give it more time than just a stop off along to Ha Long Bay. Have patience, you will need it, there are many touts and scam-artists but it is all worth it.

Secondly I will really miss all the yoke-ladies, they truly are amazing the way they lug all there wares about, strong, tough women, they add so much colour and character to Vietnam. If you get the chance buy something from them, a cup of tea, a meal, some fruit.

And lastly Bun Cha and Nem Cua Be, Caramel Pork and Bahn Mi would have to be the top dishes we had in Vietnam and they all happened to be in Hanoi too, I am salivating now just thinking about it. (previous blog for locations)

Here are a few of my favourite photos that Adam took of our journey, they may just inspire you to visit.

Local girl in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Woman selling doughnuts in Hanoi, Vietnam

A wall in Hanoi's Old Quarter, Vietnam

Woman carrying a yoke in Hanoi, Vietnam

Old woman at Phong Dien, in Vietnam's Mekong Delta

Man on a bike selling bananas, Saigon

Old lady smiling in Hanoi, Vietnam

Children in Chau Doc, Vietnam

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Treats in Hoi An

In Hoi An there are three dishes that particularly standout and are quite famous in the region. The first, known as the White Rose (Bahn Bao Vac) its a soft, white shrimp dumpling in the shape of a rose topped with crispy shredded onion and chopped shallots.

The second is a wonton dumpling - similar to those in Chinese cooking but the presentation is different. These are large but thin and crispy topped with vegetables. Ours had carrot, green beans, cabbage and fried onions and ginger. Both come with two dipping sauces, a chilli and a soy sauce.

The last one, and it also happens to be my favourite, is Cao Lau - a delicous noodle curry soup with thin slices of pork, fresh herbs and vegetables as well as squares of pork crackling and rice crackers scattered with pepper. What makes the Cao Lau special are the noodles, they are said to be made with special water from the Ba Le Well. The texture of the noodles is similar to that of the soba noodle they are not as soft as the pho noodle, they are served al-dente.

I have been scouring the internet for a recipe and have found only one, here since you won't be able to find the noodles outside of Hoi An you could substitute Soba noodles. The recipe is quite complex but it is worth it. Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Sweet Elixir

If you have a sweet tooth, you might like to try Che, a sweet soup made from essentially green mung beans. There are many variations on Che available throughout Vietnam.

In Saigon we tried Che in the local market and here it was served with at least ten ingredients all layered colourfully in a glass with ice and spoon. A cross between a cooling drink and dessert. Green mung beans in coconut milk, coconut shavings, bright pomegranate seeds, lotus seeds, sweetcorn and jellies. They are filling and a nice cooling treat after being out in the heat.

In Hue, Che is eaten as a simple sweet soup with different varieties of beans, rice, tapioca, root vegetables, lotus seeds and banana. It is enjoyed in parks and along the Perfume River banks. Its a versatile dessert because its cooling in summer yet can be also served heated in Winter.

We looked all over Hue for the sweet soup but could not find them until our last day when our motorbike drivers kindly offered to fetch us some samples to try. They came back 10 minutes later with 3 small bags of the sweet soups, che dau van - sweet soup of broad beans, a red bean and lotus seed soup and a green mung bean soup. Che is a little unusual simply because of its texture really mixed with extreme sweetness but again if you like your beans and you have a sweet tooth you will love Che.

For some of you, Winter is approaching, you might like to try this on a chilly day, it is similar to porridge - warming, sweet and filling and easy on the stomach.

Che dau Xanh - Sweet Mung Bean Soup recipe

Ingredients : Serves 4-6

225 g Skinned split mung beans, soaked in water for 3 hours and drained
500 ml Coconut milk
50 g Caster (superfine) sugar
Toasted coconut shavings (optional), to serve

Method :

*Put the mung beans in a pan and pour in 500 ml water.

*Bring the water to the boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat and simmer until all the water has been absorbed.

*Press the beans through a sieve, or puree them in a blender.

*In a heavy pan, heat the coconut milk with the sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

*Gently stir in the pureed mung beans, making sure the soup is thoroughly mixed and heated through.

*Serve hot in warmed bowls sprinkled with toasted coconut shavings.

Mung Beans

Buy the bright yellow, peeled, split mung beans for this soup rather than the whole green ones.