Mouth watering street life treats

In Vietnam the majority of the day to day life happens outdoors. This is specially true in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where everything comes alive as soon the sun comes up and everybody stays on the move until the sun goes down. By 6.30am the streets are packed with people going to work, hawkers selling noodles soups and banh mi for breakfast. Lunch time is the time when food stalls and markets selling fresh meals, tasty snacks and fresh fruit are the busiest. In the evenings ca phe, tra chan and vendors selling the most appetizing treats take over. And at dinner time is once again the turn of the food stalls and barbecues. The streets are always bustling with people savoring tasty snacks, enjoying a cold bear at a bia hoi or chit chatting with a tra chan and sunflower seeds.

The aromas coming from the hawkers, the good vibe of the ca phe stalls, the weather, the cute and colourful doll size chairs and tables… everything invited us to join and enjoy this Vietnamese outdoorsy way of living. And of course to try some of the mouth watering street life treats!

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Vietnam, fresh noodles bliss

If there is a country that knows how to make the most of fresh rice noodles undeniably that would be Vietnam. I never thought that so many alternatives were possible. In soups or dry, hot or cold, fried or steamed… the variations we have discovered in Vietnam are just endless. I would go as far as saying that rice noodles are to Vietnamese what pasta is to Italy.

Before arriving to Vietnam we were completely blind to the wonders of the Vietnamese cuisine but from now on we will be big advocates of these incredible flavours. Not just because it’s super healthy or because fresh ingredients are the core to any recipe… but mainly because it is so delicious!

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The not that cheesy Cambodian cheese

In Phnom Penh we learnt an important lesson, there is no such thing as Cambodian cheese! I have to say that we were a bit surprised to find in the menu a Khmer dish that included Cambodian cheese within its ingredients (cheese it’s not a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine) but we didn’t hesitate and we went for it. Cambodian cheese with pork, how bad can it be? As soon as the dish was at the table, a rotten fish odor assaulted our nostrils. We thought this must be a mistake, this is not what we ordered. Before complaining we searched for Cambodian cheese online. It took us just two minutes to find out that Cambodian cheese has little to do with cheese and that it’s a fermented fish paste! It’s just called cheese for its texture and for its distinctive smell. So there was no mistake… we forced ourselves to taste it… all I can say it’s not for my palate… even the memory of it makes me gag! How can Cambodians love their “cheese” so much?

Khmer cheese - The "tasty" Cambodian delicacy

Unlike Lao and Thailand, Cambodia didn’t truly enchant us for its gastronomy. Don’t get me wrong, we did eat very well in Cambodia and we did try very tasty dishes throughout the country. But for some reason, Cambodian flavours didn’t really surprise us (leaving aside our beloved Cambodian cheese) as much as Laotian and Thai, maybe it was just that we were used to them?

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One more Beerlao!

Of course we couldn’t close the taste of Lao chapter without talking about the drinks, and specially about the famous Beerlao. Beerlao is the country’s insignia, almost more representative than its flag! This lager is light, crisp, refreshing and definitively addictive. The best way to enjoy it is watching the sun set at any bar overlooking the Mekong river. While the locals drink it with ice, we still prefer it just chilled. Oh Beerlao, how much we miss you!

Beerlao - Pato and Pata enjoying a Beerlao

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Sticky rice with….

Rice is the staple food for the Laotians, specially steamed sticky rice. Sticky rice is traditionally served on cute bamboo baskets and it is eaten with anything: with meat, with fish and even with soups. In Lao, sticky rice is eaten with the hands, take a small amount of rice, press it to make a compact ball and then dip it into the main dish or eat it with the barbecued chicken or pork.

Sticky rice basket - One like this should is on the way home.

The cooking of the rice is simple, as we learnt in the cooking course in Luang Prabang. First the grains are washed thoroughly and soaked in water for several hours. Then the water is drained off and the rice is put in a steamer. After steaming it for around 20 to 30 minutes, the rice is moved to another container and moved around so it releases the steam until it has cooled down. The rice is ready to be served.

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Snacking in Lao

When peckish many are the options to calm your hunger around the streets of any Laotian town, village or city. Rice crackers, spring roles, seasonal fruits… just walk around, visit the many food stalls and markets and choose whatever you are in the mood for!

Snack basket at bus station

If you are looking for a healthy option, fresh spring rolls is the answer, much nicer than the fried ones. While this type of spring rolls are originally from Vietnam, they can be found through all South East Asia. Herbs, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, spring onions and some kind of meet are wrapped in moistened rice paper. The spring rolls are served with a sweet fish sauce or hoisin dipping sauce. We just couldn’t stop eating them since we first tried them!

Fresh vegetarian spring roles with dipping sauce

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New salads for my repertoire!

In Lao we were introduced to a new concept of salad named Larp (also known as laap or larb). Larp is a wonderful meat salad, a classic within Laotian cuisine, consistent and delicate at the same time, easy to make but complex in textures, definitely not just a simple greens salad. Being the salad lover that I am, you can imagine how happy I was when we found out that a salad was one of the most traditional Lao dishes.

Larp salad - We cooked it at the cooking course in Luang Prabang

Larp can be made of chicken, fish, beef, tofu or pork. The minced meat is cooked in a wok with just a little bit of water. Once cooked, it’s set aside and mixed with finely sliced banana flower, kaffir lime leaves, spring onions, shallots, garlic, coriander, lemon grass and rocket leaves. One of the key ingredients is the rice powder, which gives the salad a very interesting and different texture. Rice powder is just roughly ground toasted rice that is used together with fish sauce and lime juice to make the dressing for the salad. If you are looking for a new type of salad I would recommend you give this one a go, so simple to make and so tasty that you won’t be disappointed!

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Not only tea and rice & curry

Being so close to India, Sri Lankan flavours undoubtedly show some influence from its neighboring country, though they still conserve their unique personality. Only 10 days in Sri Lanka gave us little time to experience the local gastronomy, but these 10 days were enough to discover that Sri Lanka wasn’t only the land of tea and rice & curry.

Breakfast

The national breakfast are string hoppers. These thin rice noodles are served with egg, coconut sambol, dhal and a plate of fruit on the side. We tried it one morning and we didn’t feel the need to eat anything else until dinner that day!

String hoppers accompanied with egg, coconut sambol and dhal.

Fresh bread served with tomato or coconut sambol was our choice a couple of days. Sambol is a sweet chutney-like mix, being coconut sambol the most famous. We felt in love with this soft and sweet bread. After our night hike to Adam’s Peak we almost ate a full loaf of bread!

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Noodles: The making of

Over the past few weeks we have been indulging our stomachs with tasty fresh rice noodle dishes. We have eaten them thin or thick in many restaurants and we have seen them in almost every market but we still didn’t know how they were made. Until in Muang Sing we had the opportunity to see how a woman was making them at her home. We found it very interesting so we we wanted to share it!

First the rice is grounded. Here it is a manual process but I guess at home a blender can be used.

Next, the rice powder is mixed with water to make a batter.

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A bit of Thailand served on a plate

Thai cuisine is well known all over the world. These days, with Thai restaurants everywhere, most of us have probably tried or heard of Pad Thai and Green Thai Curry even before visiting this tasty country.

Over the years, Thai food has been influenced by neighbor countries such as India, China, Lao… And while fried rice, beef in oyster sauce… can be found in most of the menus, Thailand still preserves its own unique identity with signature dishes like Pad See Ew or Tom Yum soup.

Every town big or small has at least one fresh food market where locals do the day to day shopping. Meet, fish, vegetables, fruit, rice, noodles, tea, spices, clothes, cooking utensils, fried insects… you name it and you find it! We both love to wonder around the crowded Thai food markets, discovering new types of fruits, being amazed by the variety of rice and noodles, being surprised with new smells (not all of them pleasant I have to say!) and the best of all looking for new flavours to taste.

Fish and rice are the staple of the Thai diet. Fish sauce, oyster sauce and shrimp paste are added to the wok (almost everything is cooked in the wok!) to prepare most of the dishes (even of meat dishes). And rice, both in grain or noodle form, is part of every meal. In addition to fish and rice, fresh herbs and spices are core to the Thai flavours and aromas, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, lemongrass, ginger… are just some of them.

I’m going to let the pictures do all the talking this time!

Pad Thai - Thai style stir fried noodles with eggs, fish and oyster sauce, shrimps, tofu... served with green onions, lime and peanuts. A classic!!

Pad See Ew – Stir fried fresh thick noodles with soy sauce, sugar, broccoli, egg and meat. While simple, one of our top dishes worldwide!

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