Thursday, 29 November 2012

Gooooood moooooorniiiiing Vietnam

Can you believe it, Facebook is actually blocked in large parts of Vietnam? I've been a little quiet recently because of this. For some reason, BBC and cricinfo are also not accessible... This can be a strange country at times. You don't need much proof of this, just look around and you'll see things like dead snakes fermenting in bottles of alcohol - snake wine, no one drives on a particular side of the road, they don't seem to sleep - Sunday is as busy as a Friday and in Nha Trang, where I currently am, they are working non-stop on new buildings. I mean through the night! They also eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner...

One thing they do have that's not strange to me is good food. Not all of it, but the things they do do well, they do exceptionally well. One of these things is called Banh Mi.

Banh Mi is mostly eaten at breakfast or early lunch time. A warm baguette, soft or crispy stuffed with a multitude of ingredients. Each one is skillfully added to the baguette with chop sticks for a taste explosion. I'm a big fan of a hamburger. often the fuller the better. I love stuffing it with cheese, bacon, salad and even a sauce. But what the Vietnamese have done with the humble French baguette is nothing short of astounding. I've never seen so many ingredients packed into a little bun.

Bahn Mi

  • Crispy French baguettes

  • Spring onion, julienne
  • Baby lettuce, torn
  • cucumber, sliced thinly at an angle
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh coriander
  • Fresh basil (Sweet basil is best if you can get it)
  • Tomato, sliced thinly

Spreads and sauces:
  • Mayonnaise - homemade is best
  • Pork pate - see recipe below
  • Pork gravy
  • Chilli paste - see recipe below

  • Ham, sliced (store bought)
  • Egg, scrambled in a tsp of oil
  • Shallot, thinly sliced and fried till crispy

To assemble:
  1. Cut open the baguette like a boat, not all the way so the ingredients don't spill out.
  2. With a spoon add and spread the mayonnaise, pate, and gravy.
  3. With chop sticks add the salad ingredients - in Vietnam they add one or two of each things only so not to over stuff the sandwich.
  4. Add the chilli paste.
  5. Add the pork ham, the roasted pork and lastly the fried scrambled egg and crispy shallots.
  6. If you want, you can add some more chilli paste.


Pork pate:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 red birdseye chillies, finely chopped
  • 250g pork liver
  • 150g cooked pork, chopped
  • 6 tbps butter
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1 tsp pepper

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. In 2 tablespoons of butter sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes.
  3. Add the chillies and cook for an extra minute.
  4. Add the liver and cook for an extra few minutes until brown all over.
  5. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to a blender. Add the cooked pork, remaining butter and seasoning and blend until you have a course texture.
  6. Line an oven proof dish with butter and pack in the blended mixture fairly tightly.
  7. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Chilli Paste:

  • 8 large red chillies, halved (wear gloves)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 4 Thai shallots / 1 large french shallot, peeled and roughly sliced
  • 4 red birdseye chillies, halved (wear gloves)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp palm sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 4 tbsp vinegar

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. 
  2. Oil an oven tray and place the large red chillies skin side up on the tray together with the garlic and shallots. Roast them for about 30 - 40 minutes until the vegetables begin to blacken.
  3. In a blender add the roasted chillies, garlic and shallots, raw birdseye chillies and salt and blend until nearly smooth.
  4. In a pot heat the water, palm sugar and tamarind paste over a medium heat, stirring regularly. 
  5. When the sugar is disolved add the chilli mixture and bring back to the boil. Keep the mixture at a constant simmer for about 10 minutes until thick and sticky.
  6. Remove the paste from the heat and allow it to cool. Transfer it to a sealable jar and pour some vegetable oil over the top to preserve it.
  7. The paste will keep in the fridge for about 1 month.

Braai (Grilled) Pork:

  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ground black peppers
  • 6 spring onions, julienne
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 750g pork tenderloin, thinly sliced against the grain
  1. In a blender mix together the fish sauce, honey, sugar, pepper, spring onions and garlic until finely pureed.
  2. Marinade the pork in this mixture overnight.
  3. Thread the pork onto skewers.
  4. On the braai grill the pork, keep basting them and turn them regularly not to burn them (this can be done in a pan on the stove but the flavour won't be the same). Be careful not to overcook the pork.
  5. Remove the skewers and serve the pork cold
There's a lot of elements to making the perfect Banh Mi. At the end of the day it's up to you what you put inside yours. Substitute the pork for chicken, beef, duck or prawns but be creative. Spend the time making all the individual ingredients and scatter them in plates and bowls on the table for everyone to make their own. It's a winner and a crowd pleaser.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Out of India

Just enjoyed an excellent Indian curry, a chicken madras, at a restaurant in Nha Trang called Ganesh Indian Restaurant.
Shared it with a jeera (cumin) rice and chilli & garlic naan.
Apparently this is the best restaurant in Nha Trang... Not just Indian. I must agree that the food is great and better than many meals I've even had in India... Well done.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Welcome Calvin

My brother recently joined me. He’s never really been out of South Africa on his own so I have been very excited to see him broaden his horizons and see more of the world. He flew into Bangkok just the other day and since then we’ve travelled together to Vietnam and been to two amazing places – Hanoi and Halong Bay. Both exquisite in their own right.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and although not the biggest city in the country it feels like there are billions of people constantly on the go. I heard something crazy - there are more bikes in the city than people. This definitely seems to be the case. Just try crossing the road and you take your own life into your hands. They cruise at speeds in congested schools, like fish. Some overly confident and others just looking to get to their destination. They ride in all directions, no matter the rules. They constantly hoot, whether this prevents accidents or just adds to the calamity I can’t be sure. They make the city like nothing else I’ve seen before, and nothing else Calvin has seen either. There is so much to tell about and see in this city I didn’t realise before and so glad we came here.
In total contrast to the hecticness of the city, Halong Bay is an island of peace, or should I say 1986 islands of peace. We went on a cruise tour of the famous peaked islands, a birthday present for Calvin who celebrated his big day on the trip.

As much as I never before really considered Vietnam as a travel destination I also didn’t think of the food of Vietnam as being too exciting. I mean, how can you compete against the wonderful world of Thai food and especially when you’re so close in vicinity. It’s like being an ugly cousin looking for attention but what I didn’t realise is that Vietnamese food has its own uniqueness and our first meal proved this. A meal that has so far edged into my top three on this trip... Pho Bo.

Pho Bo is a clear beef soup with rice noodles and thinly sliced raw beef. Is dead simple and yet until this trip I was very unfamiliar with it. I’m now so glad I’ve discovered it and had probably one of the best in Hanoi.

Pho Bo

  • For the stock:
  • 2kg beef bones
  • Water to cover the bones in a large pot
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 thumb size pieces of ginger, peeled and roasted
  • 2 onions / 8 shallots, peeled and roasted
  • 6 tsp whole coriander seeds, lightly roasted
  • 2 star anise, lightly roasted
  • 3 cloves, lightly roasted
  • 1 thumb size piece of whole cinnamon, lightly roasted
  • 4 tsp palm sugar
  • 2.5 tbsp fish sauce

To plate:
  • cooked / soaked rice flat rice noodles
  • Raw fillet or rump very finely sliced

The way I like to serve a Pho is to prepare everything and bring it to the table so everyone can choose what they want in have in theirs. It’s not technically done this way in Vietnam but I like the idea of everyone sharing the table and making the meal their own. This way new comers to Pho can also have several bowls of soup with different combinations of ingredients to decide for themselves what they like most. The pressure is almost off once you have made the perfect stock. Here’s a list of ingredients you should have available, but remember this is only a guide so go crazy and put out whatever you think will go well with your stock soup.
  • Spring onions, sliced
  • Handful coriander leaves, roughly torn
  • Bean sprouts
  • Thinly sliced red chillies
  • Lime wedges
  • Shallots, finely chopped and fried
  • Garlic, thinly sliced and fried
  • Carrots, sliced julienne
  • Radishes, sliced julienne
  • Pickled chillies
  • Chilli sauce
  • Chilli flakes
  • Sugar
  • Fish sauce / soy sauce
  • Pickled ginger

For the stock:
  1. Preheat the grill in your oven
  2. Boil the beef bones for 15 minutes. Drain and discard the water pat the bones dry
  3. Heat the oil in an oven proof pan and quickly seal the bones. Grill them until they're lightly golden brown and fragrant
  4. Remove from the oven wipe off most of the oil
  5. Put the bones into a large pot and cover with cold water
  6. Add all the other ingredients into the pot and simmer on the lowest heat possible for 1.5 – 2 hours / if you're using a slow cooker for 10 hours
  7. During the cooking process, skim the stock to keep it clear
  8. When the stock is complete strain it and discard the whole ingredients
  9. Put your stock back into the pot and taste it to adjust for taste. When you're happy serve it in individual bowls over noodles and thinly sliced beef.

To plate:
  1. Serve your stock immediately and leave it up to your guests to add the extra ingredients they prefer on the table.

I hope to do the pho we had on our first night in Hanoi justice. If you are ever in Hanoi be certain to find Pho 10, a dingy restaurant serving only pho. You'll be more than surprised.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Mr Samet and his food stall

Ok, so I’ve been a little slack at updating things the last few days. I’ve been on the road a lot seeing new places and eating new foods. The difficult thing about travelling on your own in non-English speaking countries is communicating and when I find food that interests me it’s especially hard to get the recipe out of the locals.

I returned to Bangkok yesterday to meet my brother today. I’m excited as he joins me for his first overseas trip on his own. I can’t wait to show him what I’ve seen and learnt over the past few weeks. In Bangkok there’s a little street in Sukhamvit area called Soi 38. A soi is a road. With so many back and forth throughout this spralling city they’ve settled on numbering street names as I’m sure they’ve run out of names!

On Soi 38 everyday at about 5pm a few market stalls spring to life and by 6pm the street is buzzing. Shutters have opened and street vendors have returned. Steam from freshly cooked food fills the air and there’s a hurried intensity to prepare and serve food to a few early comers. Most are local.

I returned here last night and am determined to bring my brother here tonight. It’s just too good a little find not to share.

But back to finding something you love and not being able to get the recipe... At one of these market stalls, probably my favourite in Thailand to date, I meet an elderly man. He wears a back brace for is arched back. He’s tiny with an infectious smile. His name is Mr Samet. Mr Samet and his wife run a little stall that only sells pork. They barbeque it, they mince it and wrap it into neat little wontons and they fry it. Each tastes beautiful. The salty sweet meat is treated with love and it tastes that way. What’s more is they serve the pork with a broth, you can have your pork smothered in it or on the side. I tried both but have to say the soupy, salty, slightly oily broth with soft, melt-in-your-mouth wontons floating in it and crispy pork scattered on a bed of noodles is by far the best way to enjoy this street food delight. I struggled for a long time to convey my message to Mr Samet. I’ve asked him a hundred times “how do you make this” but every time all I get in return is a smile, a nod and menu. Then out of the blue a young Malaysian man steps in and offers to try translate. He’s been living in Bangkok for 6 months and all too happy to try and help. After an hour of back and forth I finally have, jotted down on several napkins, the recipe for Mr Samet’s incredible Moo Grob and pork broth.

For the crispy pork:
  • 2 or 3 strips of nicely layered pork belly, between 1 and 2 cm thick
  • 3L water
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • Oil

For the broth:
  • 3L boiled water
  • 1.5 kg pork bones and firm off-cuts (ears, tail, snout)
  • Pork water (from above)
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8-10 white pepper corns
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3 birds eye chillies, bashed open to expose the seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic, bashed to release flavour
  • 1 large onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 large carrot, halved
  • 2 tomatoes, halved
  • Fish sauce, to taste
  • 50g Rice / egg noodles
  • Garlic chives, cut into ½ inch lengths
  • Spring onion, cut into ½ inch lengths
  • Mustard leaf or cabbage, shredded
  • Bean sprouts

To serve:
  • Fish sauce
  • White sugar
  • Sweet basil
  • Pickled chilli

For the pork:
  1. Boil water in a kettle and add to a deep based pot.
  2. Flavour the water with 1 teaspoon of salt.
  3. Score the pork belly lightly on the fat side and when the water is rapidly boiling add the pork belly, covering well.
  4. Cook the pork for about 5 minutes until it turns white.
  5. Remove the pork with a fork / thongs and place onto a drying rack. Pat dry with kitchen towel to remove all the water.
  6. Keep the water in the pot for the broth later.
  7. While the pork cools and dries further mix the vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt together. Stir until the salt dissolved (you can put this mixture into the microwave for a minute if you want).
  8. In a bowl brush the vinegar mixture all over the pork and set aside while you prepare the broth.

For the broth:
  1. Preheat your oven grill to a medium heat
  2. Boil the water in a kettle and add it to a deep based pot.
  3. Add the pork bones and off-cuts and boil for 5-10 minutes to remove all the scum from the bones. You’ll notice the water gets frothy on top. This is all the impurities from the bones.
  4. Remove the bones from the water and discard the water.
  5. Pat the bones and off-cuts dry with a kitchen towel.
  6. Put the bones onto an oven try and grill them on all sides for about 10 minutes until the excess meat is coloured a little.
  7. In the meantime bring the water from earlier back up to the boil.
  8. Remove the bones and off-cuts from the oven and add them to the pork water.
  9. Add the bay leaves, white pepper corns, sugar, birds eye chillies, garlic, onion, carrot and tomatoes.
  10. Turn the heat down to a rolling boil and add the lid to the pot. Boil this broth for at least 4 hours. (The longer the stock boils for the more intense the flavour will be – Mr Samet. boils his stock overnight and only used it a day later so that flavour can develop).

To finish the crispy pork:
  1. Heat the oil in wok on a medium heat.
  2. Remove the pork from the bowl and pat dry again with kitchen towel.
  3. When the oil is hot enough carefully add the boiled pork. Fry until golden brown.
  4. Remove the crispy pork from the work and let it rest for a few minutes on some kitchen towel.
  5. Once cool to handle you can chop it into slices to be added to your broth soup.

To finish the broth:
  1. After at least 4 hours taste the broth and adjust flavour as needed. Remember you can’t remove salt so be careful not to add too much,
  2. When you’re happy with the broth strain it into a container / pot to be served immediately or heat again later.

To serve:
  1. Prepare the egg noodles by boiling it in some water for 3 minute.
  2. Transfer the noodles to a bowl, pour over some broth until mostly covered and top with garlic chives, spring onion, mustard leaf (or cabbage), shredded, bean sprouts and slices of crispy pork belly
  3. Season with chilli flakes, fish sauce, sugar and pickled chillies – these are usually served on the table so guests can help themselves to their favourite.

So, after all that it's done. It’s a long and can be a laborious task. But get it right and you’ll be so glad you spent the time doing it.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Panaeng - the Jolly Frog's way

I recently learnt how to make this curry. From the paste through to the finished product served with fluffy jasmine rice. But not until I ate it again at a little restaurant in Kanchanaburi called the Jolly Frog did I realise exactly how this dish was meant to be served. Now I was taught this recipe by a Thai Master Chef and although his recipe was authentic it didn't impact me the way Jolly Frog's did. With barely any sauce and loads of fresh lime leaves the key to this recipe is getting the bags of flavour through the paste and cooking the accompanying ingredients just right.

I asked how I can learn to make this recipe myself and although the staff are friendly enough I was not given permission to enter the kitchen and see for myself. So the next best way to find out was to order it - 4 times...

Each time was as good, if not better, than before and each time I discovered how I would make this given the chance. Using the base from the recipe I was taught here's my take on recreating the perfect Panaeng curry - with mixed seafood.

Panaeng curry (Gaeng Panaeng)

For the paste:

  • 3 – 6 dried large red chillies, soaked in water for 10 minutes then sliced (or cut with a scissor)
  • 1 tbsp lemongrass, cut at an angle about ½ an inch in length
  • 1 tbsp galangal ginger, finely sliced
  • ¼ tsp zest of a lime
  • 1 tbsp coriander root, chopped
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp white pepper corns
  • ½ tbsp shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, sliced
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 ½ tbsp roasted ground peanuts

For the curry:

  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 100g fresh mixed seafood (prawns, mussels, calamari, squid heads, clams)
  • 1 tbsp panaeng curry paste
  • 100ml coconut cream
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded as finely as possible
  • 1 tsp palm sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp red chillies, julienne (seeds removed)

For the paste:
  1. Combine all the ingredients from toughest and driest first to softest and wettest last in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Pound together until you have a fine paste. Try to ensure you don’t have any large pieces of the ingredients in the paste.

If time does not allow, you can use a food processor. Just be aware that your paste will not be as fine as when you use a pestle and mortar and therefore you paste won’t be as fragrant.

For the curry:
  1. Put oil in wok and add 1 tbsp or panaeng curry paste, stir vigorously until fragrant
  2. Add coconut cream, a tablespoon at a time and combine, heat until fat separates (oil on top)
  3. Add the mixed seafood and fry in a paste and continue to add coconut cream.
  4. Add lime leaves, chillies, sugar and fish sauce.
  5. Stir contantly until seafood is cooked.
  6. Serve with rice, add sliced red chillies and sliced lime leaves for garnish and enjoy!

Now I've not tried this myself so I'm leaving it to you to give it a try. Let me know how it comes out!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sweet and Sour

Whenever I travel and go to places that offer something different, something out of the ordinary I often think to myself how does this exist together with what's right. For example, when I was in Mozambique I went wale shark diving and besides throwing up over the side of the boat I thought if this was good for the wales - I mean polluting the water with noise from boats and possibly petrol too, fake feeding them and then this out-of-the-ordinary people jumping in and out of the water to get a glimpse of these wonderful creatures. The same goes for when I went on a camel safari in the dessert in India. Were these camels well looked after when tourists were not around? Whenever you cross human interest with an unsuspecting animal you're bound to create an inequality - usually not in favour of the animal. For this reason I am a little skeptical when it comes to doing activities with animals unless I know they've been looked after well and genuinely enjoy the job we're asking of them.

Today I was lucky enough to find a tour that not just took me close to an amazing animal but also encourages them to be themselves. Today I went elephant riding.

Here, way west of Thailand, just about on the Burmese border is a little place called Sangkhla Buri. It's a town that for centuries has brought different people from all over together. People from Thailand's north, central and southern regions, Burmese, Bangladeshis / Indians and even Chinese. The old town was, until a few years ago, stuck in the valley of the surrounding hills until the government decided to build a super dam. Subsequently the town was moved higher up onto the hill tops and today the dam is what brings life to this revived town. Together with reviving the town the locals have established conservation tours where tourists can enjoy jungle treks or elephant rides with the funds going to the local communities scattered around the hills to preserve local traditions and the animals they hold so dearly.

The elephants today are used for a maximum of 2 hours a day and then left to roam in their camp, eating freely, bathing happily and showing their natural spirit. It was a huge relief to see good done for tourism and animals alike.

I'm so grateful to Su, Ann and Dao for making this experience so sweet.

The experience itself has made me think about the contrast of how animals are sometimes treated (especially in this part of the world) and a recipe I recently learnt for sweet and sour chicken. (Unfortunately the chicken in this dish didn't have much choice).

You know you order sweet and sour from your local Chinese restaurant you're confronted with this interestingly tangy, orange sauce that coats your food... Well you'll never guess how incredibly simple it is to make it yourself.

Sweet and sour vegetables with chicken (Pad Preaw Wan Gai)


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 100g chicken thigh fillets, sliced against the grain
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 2/3 cup pineapple, diced
  • ½ cup cucumber, diced
  • ½ tsp garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup mushrooms, sliced or cut into bit size pieces
  • 3 baby corn, cut lengthways into quarters
  • ¼ cup onion, cut into boats (thickish slices)
  • ¼ cup spring onion, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • ¼ cup cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • (you can also add sliced carrots if you want)

Mix the following into a sauce:

  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce


  1. In a wok or pot heat the oil.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and give it a quick stir, cooking until fragrant.
  3. Add chicken and stir fry until almost cooked (add a little chicken stock to prevent the chicken from sticking and burning).
  4. Add all the remaining ingredients and sauce mixture and cook on a high heat until the chicken is cooked. (the veg should still have a little crunch).
  5. Serve immediately with rice

It is that easy... this recipe will serve two people.


Sunday, 4 November 2012

From bitter to bitter sweet

There aren't many thing I don't eat. Duck being one of them and raisins in warm food another, but the worst for me has always been grapefruit. It's bitter with a touch of sourness. To make it bearable most people smother it in sugar undoing all the natural goodness you're hoping to get from it. I just don't understand how anyone can enjoy this fruit. In Thailand they have a similar fruit. It's light green, almost lime-like in colour. Taste wise it's less aggressively bitter than grape fruit but it's similar enough! It's called Pomelo fruit.

Not knowing what it was I gave it a try recently and out of respect I fought hard not to spit it straight out. I guess most Thai people feel the same because they add this fruit to a salad and expertly hide the taste behind several ingredients. Immediately after eating the fruit on its own I was offered this salad to compare. Just by including a few ingredients to this bitter citrus fruit it transforms it from inedible to something unique and special. I actually enjoyed it. Spicy, salty, sweet, with that distinct bitterness all coming together in a harmony of sorts. I managed to wangle the recipe out of a street vendor with the help of someone very happy to try out their English. Now you're going to struggle to get pomelo outside SE Asia so instead use grape fruit and you will be hugely surprised at the results.

Grapefruit salad (Yam Som-O)

  •  ½ cup grapefruit (or pomelo if you can get), separated into segments
  • 4-6 prawns, cooked
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp
  • 2 tbsp shallots, finely diced
  • 2 stalks spring onions, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 1 stalk coriander root, chopped (or 5 stalks fresh coriander)
  • 1 tbsp chilli paste
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar

  1. Prepare the sauce by mixing the chilli, fish sauce, lime juice, coriander root and sugar in a bowl. Mix well together.
  2. In another bowl add the grapefruit segments, prawns, dried shrimps, spring onion and shallots. 
  3. Add the dressing and mix well. 

This recipe will serve two. So double it up if you have some friends over for lunch. This interesting salad will also accompany a chicken, pork or fish braai very well.

Give it a go, it's different but will definitely surprise you.


Friday, 2 November 2012


Just arrived at this beautiful, tranquil spot. It's soul food to be here...