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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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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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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A sip of India

If I would have to say what is the drink that better represents India, without a doubt Chai would be my answer. This sweet spiced tea is incredibly addictive! To prepare it, the best back tea is boiled in a mixture of milk and water with a blend of spices (cardamom, fresh ginger, cloves, cinnamon,…) and sugar. Every masala chai is different from the others, and every household has their own particular way of preparing it but they are all just incredibly tasty. After tasting the Indian Chai I don’t know if I’ll be able to get used to Irish Barry’s tea again. Good coffee can also be found in India, but mostly in the south where locals tend to replace the chai with coffee that is brewed in the area.

Many are the options to calm the thirst on those hot days when visiting India, from the fresh fruit juices to the different soft drinks such as Slice (mango flavored drink), 7th up (soda), Limca (lemon & lime fizzy drink), Thumbs Up (Indian cola) and the usual Sprite, Coke, Mountain Dew and Fanta. But our favorites were fresh lime soda and Mirinda (which brought Isma many memories from his childhood).

   

  

Beers, wines and spirits aren’t too widely available in India (both taxes and religion have something to do with this). In many bars and restaurants you won’t find any alcoholic beverages in the menu, but if you ask for it they might sell it to you under the table. Aside KingFisher and King’s (that we tried in Palolem), we didn’t get to find any other local beer. In Palolem we also found an Indian rum named Old Monk, which was sold to us as the rum that the Indian soldiers used to drink, and true or not we gave it a go!

And of course, I can’t forget to mention lassis, a yogurt and fresh fruit smoothies that are so good for breakfast. Plain and banana lassis are the most traditional ones, but in Jodhpur they have a special lassi flavored with saffron and butter, yummm so good!

Saboreando Tailandia

Aunque nuestro paso por Tailandia pretendía ser rápido y fugaz antes de ir a Laos, al final nos quedamos algo más de una semana disfrutando de algunos de los encantos de este maravilloso país, entre ellos la comida Thai.

Aterrizamos en Bangkok pronto por la mañana después de un corto vuelo de 3 horas de madrugada (hay que decir que en Srilankan airlines se viaja muy bien y son bastante generosos con la comida) y con más sueño que ganas pasamos inmigración y cogimos el metro para ir al hotel. Nada más salir del metro todos los aromas provenientes de los puestos de comida empezaban ya a hacernos la boca agua, estábamos deseosos de volver a comer un rico pad thai!

Habíamos reservado en el mismo hotel que el año pasado para así recordar viejos tiempos, y ya de paso pegarnos un mini lujo para celebrar los 3 meses de viaje con piscina y un buen desayuno. Después del check-in nos fuimos a dormir un par de horas para recuperar fuerzas. Ya más descansados salimos a las calles de Bangkok con tres objetivos claros: pad thai, iced thai tea y la guía Rough Guide de Laos. Los dos primeros fueron fácil encontrarlos (nuestros estómagos por fín se quedaron satisfechos) sin embargo dar con la guía nos costó un poco más, tuvimos que coger el metro otra vez y recorrernos dos centros comerciales hasta encontrar la que parecía ser la última guía Rough Guide de Laos en Bangkok (parece que el destino nos la estaba guardando a nosotros!).

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