When asked for inspiration for my next blog post, my dear boyfriend replied incredulously ‘your next blog should obv be about food, can’t believe you’ve not done one yet…’ He has a point. This trip was more than slightly prompted by the lure of gastro-tourism, and a quick flick through my photos on my camera reveals a fair few badly shot, flash-free photos of my dinner for that evening, some of which I will treat you to here. I’ve also done a couple of cooking courses in Thailand and Vietnam, so I’ve got handson experience of making this stuff. So a quick run through of the foodie hits of the region:
1. Mango and sticky rice
an unexpected entry in my top five foods sampled thus far, but a good’un. Rice, sweetened with syrup and shredded coconut, surrounded by slivers of ripe mango, topped with sesame seeds come together to create a sort of rice pudding of SE Asia, infinitely better than horrible tinned ambrosia at home.
2. Thai green curry – inevitable, and sadly now somewhat cliche, I really did find the green curry in Thailand the best of all the Thai dishes I tried. A dish that, in England, is usually reserved for the mild option on pub menus, and nearly always served with chicken, and lastly, biggest degradation of all, available in jars from Tesco, is a shadow of its Thai self. They seem to have two versions, a dry chicken and pork mixture with rice, fried in green curry paste, and the wet form that is more familiar in the West, but with Thai aubergines, massive amounts of lemon grass, and so much chili that my fellow cooking class attendees were visibly dismayed. The coconut milk and a dash of sugar and fish sauce offsets the chili, however, and it’s soooo good. As a side note, I bet no-one knows how coconut milk is made? Turns out, you put a load of coconut in a sack, add some water, and knead it like bread for about half an hour, et voila, coconut milk is created. Learning this, I felt a bit like an evacuee sent to the country from war-torn London, who didn’t know milk came from cows.
3. fresh spring rolls
Actually, I’ve got a bit of a love-hate thing going on with these. I landed in Vietnam keen to try these in particular, they are a mixture of noodles, bean sprouts, pork and a prawn or two, wrapped in rice paper and eaten dipped in a peanut sauce. They are a Vietnamese speciality, and at first I couldn’t get enough of them. Maybe they are only good in the North, maybe I ate too many too soon, but something happened in between Hoi An and Phu Quoc which lead to a slightly embarrassing incident. I’d contracted a distaste for fresh spring rolls, so ordered some fried ones, only to be presented by a huge plate of 6 fresh ones. I tried manfully to eat my way through them all, but couldn’t face the last two, so I hid them in my bag and ran for the hills. Not quite sure why I felt the need to do this, but at the time it seemed very important that the waitress didn’t know I didn’t want them. So, in summary, fresh spring rolls: good only in moderation.
4. mekong fruits
The array of tropical fruits available in Asia is mind-boggling to the innocent Londoner who has only ever seen star fruit in the ‘weird and different’ section at Tesco. In the Mekong delta particularly, on every corner is a fruit stall filled with fruits I’d never seen before, all ridiculously colourful and succulent looking. Yet they still put bloody apple in a fruit salad. Where are they getting it from? Do they ship it in especially so as not to frighten the Westerners too much? This issue has been puzzling me for some time, if anyone has any enlightenment, please advise. Favourite fruit discovery has been rambutans, sort of like a lychee but denser, and with a more intimidating outside.
5. white rose
I learned out to make rice paper at the Red Bridge Cooking School in Hoi An; they make it seem ridiculously easy. All you have to do is soak some rice for a day, drain off the water, and there you have rice paper batter. Then boil up some water, stretch a skin over the lid of the pan, and dollop out the mixture into a vaguely pancake like shape. Flip it, something that I had about equal success with as in pancake day flippings of years gone by, and there you have it. Stuff this with another mixture of pork and prawn, cover with fried Vermicelli flour, and you have the white rose. Well, apparently there’s a secret recipe, but whatever.
The guide books tell you not to trust the ice in SE Asia, then they immediately present you with a recommendation that is hard to resist in the face of daily relentless humid heat. Cendol is milky shaved ice, topped with sugar syrup, a selection of aforementioned fruits, weird green strands of ‘pea flour’ and occasionally vegetables – sweetcorn goes surprisingly well. It’s sweet and delicious and incredibly refreshing, and I’ve eaten bloody loads of it. No ice poisoning yet, but there’s still a whole 6 weeks to go.
So there you have it, a brief run down, in no particular order. And I haven’t even mentioned Amoc, the Cambodian fish in a banana leaf that is currently rocking my taste buds, or weird Khmer green curry with sweet potato thing they’ve got going on. More for another time…