The Taste of Vietnam 

The quality and variety of food in South East Asia is amazing and I’m happy to have discovered that Vietnam doesn’t let the SEA team down. With so many different traditional foods on offer I found it very difficult to choose every time we sat down to order. Here are a couple of my favourite dishes I discovered during my four weeks of exploration. 
Pho 

  
This stuff is everywhere. It is typically eaten for breakfast but you can usually find it somewhere throughout the day. Thin slices of beef are stewed with a delicious broth and served with rice noodles. Very tasty. 
Cao lầu

  
I tried Cao lầu a couple of times in Hội An. It’s a local dish made with fat noodles, pork, bean sprouts and green veg (usually green onions and a leafy veg). Unlike most noodle dishes cao lầu isn’t swimming in a bowl full of watery broth, which makes a nice change. The flavours are delicious as always. As is the thinly sliced seasoned pork. It’s also ridiculously cheap. 
Banh Mi 

  

These are everywhere and make a really nice change to the staples of rice and noodles found everywhere else in South East Asia. Banh Mi is basically a sandwich made in a crunchy white baguette. Inherited during the French occupation, these crunchy snacks are usually filled with an assortment of dried and cured meats and pâtés or fried eggs and laughing cow cheese. Nom. 
Bánh xèo or Vietnamese pancake 

  

Think of a greasy pancake filled with bean sprouts, onion, pork and shrimps, served with leafy veg and Vietnamese basil (which has a strong menthol flavour). This is really delicious when dunked in fish sauce. 

Bun Thit Nuong 

  

This is very similar to Cao Lau. Rice noodles are topped with grilled pork, bean sprouts and green veg. My favourite deviation is the addition of roasted peanuts. I love peanuts!  It is served with fish sauce. 

Kep Crab 

My Kep crab story starts in a crazy maze bar in Da Lat, Vietnam. I was sat nursing a cold can of beer when a shady American guy huddled up next to me and said, ‘Have you heard about the crab in Kep?’ To which I replied ‘No.’ 

‘It’s the best and greatest crab in the world dude. Go to Kep.’ 
‘Okay,’ I said rather stunned, ‘and where exactly is Kep?’ 

  

  
It turns out Kep is a completely brilliant, hidden gem in Cambodia, famous for not only its crab but also its peppercorns. Enter the most delicious seafood dish I have eaten in my entire life. That’s not even an exaggeration. 

  
Welcome to Kep. It is situated about 30 minutes south and down the coast from Kampot, also a beautifully sleepy town and popular amongst the backpackers. You may have heard of Kampot as it is home to geographically protected Kampot peppercorns, who proudly brandishes the title of “World’s Best Pepper.” However Kampot’s famous peppercorns are actually grown in Kep. Kep is a coastal town and fishes blue crab fresh out of the sea daily and in abundance. The locals have combined these two fantastic ingredients to create my new favourite dish- fried crab in peppercorn sauce. 

   
 Trust me, this is something else! For just $7.50 you can get a kilo of crab, plucked fresh out the sea before your very eyes, cooked and pan fried in the most amazing cream and green peppercorn sauce. It is served with a mound of rice and Kampot’s favourite peppercorn dipping sauce (also incredible-recipe below). This is the epitome of fresh food. Crabs from the sea and green peppercorns from the plantations mere kilometres up the mountains behind you. 

  
If a sit-down restaurant style dish isn’t what you are after then the crab market (situated next to the restaurants) may be your kind of place. $5 will get you a kilo of crabs and a lady will cook them for an additional $2.50. You can’t complain. This is a must try. 
Kampot’s black pepper sauce 

  • 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black Kampot pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar 
  • The juice of a lime 

Easy and delicious for dipping seafood and BBQ meats. 

Beer in Vietnam-Bia hơi

Bia hơi- ‘think global, drink local.’ That’s the moto here in Vietnam. I even have the t-shirt to prove it.   
I have found it. The holy grail. The cheapest beer so far in my nine long months of trotting the globe. Bia hơi, bia hơi, bia hơi!  

  
But what is it? Bia hơi is what would exist in every pub, club and restaurant in the free world if government taxes, health laws and alcohol restrictions didn’t exist. Bia hơi (hơi meaning gas, and bia coming from the French bière) is essentially home brew. The beer is made daily, matured for a short period of time and once ready, served fresh and consumed on the day. It’s fresh. It’s cheap. It’s beer. The cheapest I found was 3,000vnd (9p) and the most expensive was 10,000vnd (30p), and that was expensive as things went. 

   

   
The only downside to bia hơi is that it can sometimes taste a bit quirky and it isn’t particularly strong. It averages at about 3-3.5% max in strength. It’s a little like drinking light American beer, which may offend the beer connoisseur but is absolutely fine in my eyes, when all it costs is 9 pence a glass. Who cares if it’s weak. It’s cheap, so drink more. Feeeeeed that beer belly!!! 

  

Seven is the magic number…Right?

I know this is very late. I actually wrote this back at the start of April whilst in Bangkok. I have a lot of catching up to do. But for now here is what we got up to in month 7. I’ve made it picture heavy to make up for tardiness.

Bali

Month seven has been a busy one. Four flights and four new incredible destinations.
First up was Bali. I have nothing but love for Bali and Indonesia. What an incredible place. We started in the mayhem of Kuta. Walking along the road and dodging mopeds was pretty daunting at first but we quickly got the hang of it.
From Kuta we took a bus to Ubud. Here I was introduced to the Eat, Pray, Love experience which consisted of a very hot and sweaty induction session of yoga. The monkey forest was amazing and the food was delicious. We got very cultural and even went to watch a Balinese fire dance thing. Ubud is really cool. It’s a lot more chilled then Kuta. And… drum roll please…  there are pavements!! It’s surrounded by lovely rice paddies which are also worth a walk amongst. I’d love to go back there one day.

From Ubud we took a rather posh boat to the Gili Islands. Wow! Paradise. Of the three islands I think I preferred Gili Air. Gili Meno was too quiet and Gili T was verging on too busy. Gili Air was the perfect middle ground for relaxing with a cocktail on the beach and snorkelling with turtles. Bali was so much fun. Cheap food, drink and accommodation, which is amazing for what you pay.

 

Back in Bali we took a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We only went to KL to break up our journey to Hong Kong but we were pleasantly surprised. It is full of huge, posh shopping malls (one with a theme park inside), which on our budget are nice for window shopping. There are some great, cheap food courts too. The Petronas towers were pretty impressive and look great whilst enjoying a cocktail at the Sky Bar.

Hong Kong
From KL we flew to Hong Kong. Here we stayed in my godfathers flat which was life saving. It was in such a great location and was a nice break from hostels. Being able to cook breakfast and watch telly in the evening was fun. Hong Kong itself didn’t disappoint. I’d been before when I was 17 but it was really nice to refresh my memories. We managed to pack a hell of a lot into the 5 days including the Ten Thousand Buddhas, Stanley market, Ladies market, Temple street night market, Big Buddha, Tai O, Victoria peak and Disneyland. We walked a lot, got very comfortable with the MTR and ate and drank plenty. Including some very cheap Chinese rice wine from the supermarket.
After brushing up on our Kung Fu (Kill Bill 1 & 2, Kung Fu Panda and Rush Hour) we felt ready to tackle the art of the samurai and so boarded our flight to Tokyo.

Japan
Japan was incredible. Before arriving we pictured Tokyo as this crazy futuristic metropolis and in ways it was. But it’s also full of small, friendly ‘micro cities’ where architecture boarders on communist. The cherry blossom however really  brightens up the streets. We couldn’t believe our luck with our timing. Cherry blossom or ‘Sakura’ season only happens for two weeks out of the year and we landed slap bang in the middle. The streets and parks were lined with food stalls, people sitting around and strolling up and down the canals drinking and being merry. It was like one huge party and it was incredibly cool to be a part of it. Our route in Japan went Tokyo-Kyoto-Hiroshima-Osaka-Koyasan-Osaka.
Again we crammed a hell of a lot into eleven days, but all the trains and checking in and out was so worth it. My personal highlights were;

  • Watching a Geisha Cherry Dance.
  • The food
  • Watching monks pray at the crack if dawn, at the top of a Buddhist mountain
  • Our very hungover Onsen experience in Tokyo. An onsen being a huge public hot bath where one bathes naked!
  • Sleeping in a capsule hotel.
  • Drinking sake rice wine with the locals
  • Admiring the incredible castles in every city
  • Cherry blossom parties.
  • Hiroshima peace memorial park
  • The toilets. Yes they are from the future.

Month eight to follow shortly. Stay tuned.

Thai Food Heaven 

Khao soi (pronounced Cow soy) has got to be one of my favourite Thai dishes. This dish is popular and widely available across Northern Thailand and Laos, and it’s bloody amazing. It’s like all the best things mixed together in one tasty bowl. Picture this; a bowl of coconut chicken Thai curry, boiled egg noodles and shallots topped with deep fried crispy noodles, coriander and green onions. My mouth waters as I describe it. It truly is sensational. 

 

Khao soi

 
The flavours are classically Thai and the mixture of boiled noodles and deep fried crispy noodles creates an incredible blend of textures in the mouth. It’s available at most street food stalls and is very cheap. Or you can splash out and get a posh version in a restaurant. I tried both and to be honest the street version is just as good.  

Lifting Laos spirits 

Laos seems to be very fond of the home made whiskey and vodka. A lot of bars tend to give the option of having your drink mixed with the local stuff instead of the premium global brands. The local stuff is cheaper and with the ratio of spirit to mixer (about 70% spirit to mixer), after sinking a couple you’re not bothered. They mix them strong in Laos. You can buy the Laos whiskey in the shops and whole 700ml bottles at the bar. The whiskey will set you back about £4 which is insanely cheap considering a 700ml bottle of Pepsi to mix it with costs around £1.50-£2. Spilt with a couple of pals and you’ve got a fine night on your hands. Not bad eh? 
 

BeerLao dark with a jack fruit whiskey chaser

 
  
Some bars and restaurants make and flavour their own stuff. The base alcohol is usually rice wine, vodka or whiskey. They then mix this up with a load of fresh fruit/ spices and sugar, then leave it to flavour. The results are surprisingly good. I think I will definitely try this at home. 

   
 

My Japanese Food Adventure 

I loved Japan for lots of reasons, but especially because of the food. Saying it was amazing would be an understatement. Not only does it taste great but it also often looks like a masterpiece. Take a bento box for example- all the food neatly arranged into little sections and it is so colourful you could mistake it for paint pallet. Every time we left a restaurant we beamed with satisfaction. Every time we had the pleasure of watching our chef cook in front of us on a huge sizzling hot plate, we found it hard not to gawp and dribble in anticipation. Every time we carefully balanced a morsel of food held by precariously gripped chopsticks to our mouth, our faces melted into a look of pure gastronomical ecstasy. Basically what I’m trying to say is that Japan is a food lovers heaven. Here is just a taster (pardon the pun) of what we ate during our stay. 
Bento    

 
Sushi   

Curry    

 
Okonomiyaki and teppan noodles    

 

Ramen   

Street food snacks 
Rice wrapped in bacon finished with mayo and green onions 

  
Takoyaki or Octopus balls 

 

Steamed buns

  
Every city has streets lined with quick, cheap and easy fast food. It’s all delicious and a must try.
Sweets 

Dango dumplings 

  
Fish waffle/ pastry 

   
 Traditional cream filled puffs 

  

Indonesian drinks 

Bintang 

You can’t go anywhere in Indonesia without seeing the Bintang logo. Bintang meaning star, is the beer of Indonesia. Although I did find a few other brands of beer, they were few and far between, besides who needs other beer when there’s Bintang. At about £1-£1.50 a large 600ml bottle who’s complaining about the choice? It’s cheap cold lager which is precisely what you need to cool you down in the sweaty heat. 

  
For those with more fruity tastes there is Bintang Raddler lemon and pink grapefruit. These are sweeter and a good thirst quencher, but only 2%. 

  
Indonesian rice wine 

On the Gili islands you’ll find a lot of cocktails and good happy hours. The cheaper cocktails tend to be made using a rice wine called Arak or Brem which is like the local moonshine. A google search of Arak or Brem will bring up a whole load of horror stories from the press of holiday makers being poisoned drinking Brem or Arak. So I guess be careful. I had no idea of these horrors until after trying some rather disgusting, cloudy, vinegar-like Arak. I had it neat which was pretty rough but I hear it’s good with lemonade. Just be careful it’s the proper stuff. 

Fanta Stroberi 

Strawberry or Stroberi Fanta isn’t an alcoholic drink but something I drank a lot of. It’s super sweet and a bit sickly but I love it and you can find it anywhere. Its a bit like Peruvian Inca Cola which is also made by the Coca Cola Company. 

 
   

Indonesian Delights

Wow. Where to start? As you may have gathered from my blog, I am a big foodie. The last couple of months I’ve been travelling NZ and Australia and although they have some nice and fresh food options, I have to say that they have nothing on Indonesia. This is real eating. My first dining experience was in Bali on a small food stall right on Kuta beach. I was immediately offered burgers and pizzas. I shook my head and asked for the local food menu. I hadn’t come all this way to eat western food! Upon receiving the local menu I was first delighted by the difference in price. Western food is all priced up. Perhaps it is something to do with getting the western ingredients which makes it a lot dearer then the local food which was incredibly cheap. The local menu immediately ticked the travel budget box. Then there was the options…The menu was vast! I asked the guy serving which were the popular Indonesian dishes. He pointed to the satay and the fried rice. ‘One of each then please,’ I said before he hustled off to start cooking. I was beaming from ear to ear. Satay is one of my all time favourite dishes. Peanut butter is like my kryptonite. I literally eat it with a spoon every day at home. So satay sounded excellent and the thought of eating that everyday for the next three weeks made me very happy. Needless to say, the satay and fried rice called Nasi Goreng was great. I don’t want to bore you and talk through every meal I had, when I ate it and how it tasted, so I’ll just post a few dishes that I found really yum and that I also managed to take a photo of before shovelling down my throat. 
Nasi Campur 

  
Nasi Campur (pronounced champur) is basically a mound of rice surrounded by a variety of smaller dishes. I found that the small dishes vary from place to place, probably dependant on what the restaurant has and serves as main dishes. But usually is was some fried Tempe, a special peanut sauce, a skewer of chicken, sone tofu, some mixed vegetables, steamed or fried and a fried egg slapped on top. I had this a lot mainly because I like the variety. It’s a bit like tapas but with a hefty helping if white rice in the middle.
Satay/ Sate chicken

  

This was a standard go-to for me. BBQ chicken on a skewer, topped with a delicious peanut sauce and served with rice. Nom. 
Bakso 

  
This is a pretty cheap dish and is mainly found at street food vendors. They push around carts with the bakso ingredients all laid out and ready to be tossed together. The easiest way to describe it is; a bowl of brothy ramen noodles with some meatballs thrown in. The meatballs are usually either beef or chicken or sometimes a combination of both. They look kind of strange and grey but don’t let that put you off. They are pretty tasty. If you don’t fancy the noodles and broth then you can also just buy a bag of meatballs. 
Fish BBQ 

  
We had a fish BBQ a couple of times on the Gili Islands. It’s basically the days catch BBQed and served with rice/ chips, fried veg or salad and a sauce. For those who like a little kick there is a tomato chili sauce sometimes referred to as ‘Lombok’ sauce. Nice and spicy. For those with more tame taste buds, there is garlic butter and often ketchup too. 
Other dishes we tried and loved. 

Tempe/ Tempeh Goreng– fried Tempe with rice. This is a great snack 

Gado Gado– steamed veg, eggs, tempeh with peanut sauce. 

Nasi Goreng– Indonesian style fried rice. Sometimes with chicken, prawns or Tempe. 

Mie Goreng– the same as Nasi Goreng but with noodles instead of rice. 

Olah Olah– steamed veg with a lovely coconut sauce. A little like a veg curry. 

Chicken/ fish/ Tempe curry– delicious coconut sauce based curries. A little like a Thai curry but with less spice. 

Urap urap– steamed veg, beans etc. mixed with shredded coconut. 
Sweets 

I only had one pudding in Indonesia. Not because they don’t have them, mainly because I was so full after devoting my main.  
The one Indonesian sweet I tried was called a Klepon. 

  
A Klepon looks kind of strange. It’s green and covered in shredded coconut which on a dark market stall could easily be confused for grated cheese. It’s a traditional boiled rice cake that is flavoured and coloured with the paste from a leaf. It is filled with liquid palm sugar and rolled in coconut. 

I would describe it as like chewing on a ball of green play dough that suddenly releases some brown sticky liquid. Very strange but worth a try. It’s still edible. 

Indonesian snacks

Sweetcorn

Coal BBQed sweet corn. Lathered in butter and salt. Delicious. 

  
Rambutan 

A furry/ spiky red lychee type fruit. Can buy in bunches from the markets or the ladies on the beach.