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. 

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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. 

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.  

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 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.

   

Kangaroo burgers 

Australia. Home to many wonders. Martian-like landscapes, some iconic architecture and incredible wildlife, in particular the kangaroos. In Canberra we had privilege to get up close and watch these crazy, jumpy animals in the wild. Our excitement at seeing them munching grass and hopping around immediately gave us away as tourists, because in Australia they are seen as an overpopulated pest. It’s crazy that to me kangaroos are an exciting, exotic animal but that to Australians they are just another thing to hit and obliterate when driving fast. And as I discovered yesterday, roos are also a delicious supplement to any proper Aussie barbie (BBQ). 
  
I first tried kangaroo in 2009 on my first trip to Aus and I remembered it was delicious. So upon arriving again 7 years later I knew I had to try it again. I was apprehensive at first when slapping the red mince onto the hot griddle, but as soon as I smelt it I knew it was going to be tasty. The hardest thing was getting past the idea of it being kangaroo: I’d been in such awe watching them bounce around in the wild, it seemed a shame to eat one. As I’d hoped, the burger was incredible…so good that I had two more! Hmm. If I was to compare it to anything I’d say it tasted similar to beef (surprisingly not chicken). It’s quite a dark, red meat and really juicy and moist. 

 

BBQ

 
The cool thing about roo meat is that it scores pretty high on the nutrition front. Kangaroos are not farmed but are open range animals. They are harvested in their own environment which means they are never exposed to human intervention like the rest of the meat trade. No chemicals, no hormones and no antibiotics. They are clean, and they are lean. Kangaroo meat has less then 2% fat and it is also low in sat fats. It’s the perfect meat for the meaty man. Medium rare steaks are delicious too. 

Hangi

In Rotorua, New Zealand we visited a working, living Maori village. The village is called Whakarewarewa . Its a bit of a mouthful and crazy considering the Maori alphabet only consists of 15 letters. FYI the wh makes the same sound as an English ph sound. The village is pretty impressive mainly because the whole place is built on a geothermal hot spot and is surrounded by hot pools (bubbling at 100-300 degrees) , sulphur lakes, acid lakes, geysers and hot mud pools.

 

The cool thing is that they can use this natural thermal energy to their advantage. As well as using the hot water to bathe and wash in they also use the steam to cook in under ground ovens. It’s pretty cool. Not only does it cook the food and keep it juicy and moist but it is also free! Free cooking!

 

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Hangi oven 

 

 

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Hot baths

 

In the small village cafe they sold Hangi pies and sweet corn that had been boiled in the thermal water. Of course I couldn’t pass on the chance to try these and so purchased both. The Hangi Pie was filled with chicken, lamb and veg, all of which had been steam cooked under ground. The meat was delicious, moist (hmmmmm moist) and very tasty. I could have easily eaten another but unfortunately I had bought the last one. I thought that perhaps the overpowering smell of sulphur that lingered in the air may have tainted the meat, however this was not the case. Eggy fart meat is thankfully not a Maori delicacy.

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Our tour guide told us that at the start of her shift she sticks a cut of meat in the Hangi oven along with some assorted veg. Then at the end of her shift she collects her perfectly cooked meat and takes it home, where he husband has pre-prepared some roasties and gravy. What a life!