Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines is a Southeast Asian country in the Western Pacific, comprising more than 7,000 islands and named after King Phillip II of Spain.

A few interesting facts:
The world’s largest pearl was discovered by a Filipino diver in the Palawan Sea in 1934. The gem weighs 14 pounds, is valued at US$40 million and is believed to be 600 years old.
The Philippines is the world’s largest producer of coconuts producing 19,500,000 tons in 2009
The Philippines is one of only 3 countries where skunks are found (Indonesia & US are the other two), they are known as skunk badgers
The city of Manilla is the world’s most densely populated city with 41,515 people per square kilometer
The Philippines is home to the world’s longest snake, the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), which also happens to be the world’s longest reptile. It can grow to 28.5 feet (8.7 m) in length
The Mindanao Trench or Philippine Trench, to the east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, is the third deepest spot under the world’s oceans at a depth of 10,540 metres
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history. It was fought in waters near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon, from 23–26 October 1944

There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in the Philippines, to name a few – the White Beach on Borocay Island (named “Best Island in the World” by travel magazine Travel + Leisure in 2012), El Nido in Palawan (Best Island in 2016), Puerto Galera, Samal Island, Davao City and Panglao Island, Bohol.

Philippine cuisine adopted the preferred Austronesian methods for food preparation; boiling, steaming and roasting and takes influence from by the cuisines of Malay-Indonesia, India, Japan, China, Spain and America. Dishes centre around the combination of sweet (tamis), sour (asim), and salty (alat). Filipino recipes I came across include Afritada (chicken and/or pork and potatoes cooked in tomato sauce), Tinolang Manok (chicken soup), Lechon (roasted whole pig), Torta (omelette), Kaldereta (goat meat stew), Mechado (braised larded beef), Kare-kare (oxtail stew), Sinigang (sour soup) and Bibingka (rice cake). I made Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce), which is one of the most popular Filipino dishes and can also be made with chicken. It was simple to make and full of flavour.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes + 2 hours marinating
Cook time: 1 hr 10 minutes

450g pork belly
2 cloves of garlic pounded
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cups water
1/8 cup malt vinegar
1 tbsp cooking oil

Marinate pork belly, soy sauce, bay leaves & garlic for at least 1 hour in a pan or wok.
Turn the heat on the pan to medium and stir well
Add water and simmer for 30-45 minutes
Add vinegar and simmer for 10-15 minutes
Turn off the heat and separate the meat from the marinade
Add the oil to the pan over a medium – high heat
Fry the meat for 5 – 10 minutes
Add the sauce, stir and serve with hot rice

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Ingredients for Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Pork belly pieces
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce) with rice
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Borocay Island
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Manila, Philippines
Aerial of Beach Along St. John Island
Philippines
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Palestine

The State of Palestine is a modern de-jure sovereign state in the Middle East recognised by 136 UN members and with non-member observer state status in the UN since 2012. The term “Palestine” has been associated with the geographical area that currently covers the State of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Most of the areas claimed by the State of Palestine have been occupied by Israel since 1967, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. Since ancient times Palestine has been a crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Described as one of the most troubled corners of the planet, travelling in Palestine can be challenging. Ancient Jericho is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world with the oldest known protective wall in the world. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements in Jericho, dating back to 9000 BC, almost to the very beginning of the Holocene epoch of the Earth’s history. The city of Bethlehem has more than two million visitors every year and The Church of the Nativity is one of the major tourist attractions. It stands in the Manger Square, over a grotto called the Holy Crypt, where Jesus is believed to have been born. Christmas is celebrated three times a year in Bethlehem:
Catholics and Western denominations celebrate Christmas on December 25, Greek Orthodox followers celebrate on January 6, and Armenians celebrate on January 18.

Palestinian cuisine is similar to other Levantine cuisines, including Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian. It is a diffusion of the cultures of civilisations that settled in the region of Palestine, with strong influence from Turkish cuisine. Some recipes I came across include Kubbi balls (fried spiced minced meat croquettes), Adas (lentil soup), Manakish (pizza), Musakhan (roasted chicken baked with onions, sumac, allspice, saffron, and fried pine nuts), Mansaf (lamb cooked in yoghurt), Mujaddara (lentils with rice & onions) and Sumaghiyyeh (beef stew with beans, sumac and tahina). I decided to make Labneh (cheese made from yoghurt) with pistachios, parsley, lemon and sumac dip served with freshly made pitta bread. It is commonly served for breakfast among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It had a similar taste and texture to cream cheese and we thought it was delicious, especially with the homemade pitta bread.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4 as a nibble
Prep time: 25 minutes + 5 – 7 days resting in the fridge (I left mine for 7 days)

500g greek yoghurt
Good pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp pistachios
1/2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 lemon zest, finely chopped
pinch sumac
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 – 6 pitta bread
Sliced carrot, pepper and celery

Pitta bread
2 tsp active dry yeast
½ tsp sugar
35 g wholemeal flour (1/4 cup)
310 g plain flour (2 1/2 cups)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

To make the labneh:
Place sieve over a large bowl and line it with cheesecloth in a cross formation (so you have two layers of cheesecloth lining the bottom of the sieve)
Add a pinch of salt to yoghurt and stir through
Scoop yoghurt into the cheesecloth-lined sieve
Gather the edges of the cloth and tie with kitchen string to form a parcel
With the sieve resting over a large bowl, place in the fridge and let drain for 5 – 7 days. The longer the yoghurt drains, the thicker the labneh consistency will be. It should have the consistency of cream cheese
Gently squeeze out the excess liquid and remove labneh from cheesecloth and place in a bowl

To make the Pitta bread:
Put 1 cup lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl, add yeast and sugar
Stir to dissolve and add the wholemeal flour and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and whisk together
Put bowl in a warm (not hot) place, uncovered, until mixture is frothy and bubbling, about 15 minutes
Add salt, olive oil and nearly all remaining all-purpose flour (reserve 1/2 cup)
With a wooden spoon or a pair of chopsticks, stir until mixture forms a shaggy mass
Dust with a little reserved flour, then knead in bowl for 1 minute, incorporating any stray bits of dry dough
Turn dough onto work surface and knead lightly for 2 minutes, until smooth
Cover and let rest 10 minutes, then knead again for 2 minutes
Try not to add too much reserved flour as the dough should be soft and a bit moist
Clean the mixing bowl and put dough back in it
Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then cover with a towel
Put bowl in a warm (not hot) place and leave until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour
Pre heat oven to 240 c
On bottom shelf of oven, place a heavy-duty baking sheet or ceramic baking tile
Punch down dough and divide into 8 pieces of equal size
Form each piece into a little ball
Place dough balls on work surface, cover with a damp towel and leave for 10 minutes
Remove 1 ball (keeping others covered) and press into a flat disc with rolling pin
Roll to a 6-inch circle, then to an 8-inch diameter, about 1/8 inch thick, dusting with flour if necessary
Carefully lift the dough circle and place quickly on hot baking sheet and place in the oven
After 2 minutes the dough should be nicely puffed
Turn over with tongs and bake for 1 minute
The pitta should be pale, with only a few brown speckles
Transfer warm pitta to a napkin-lined basket and cover so bread stays soft
Repeat with the rest of the dough balls

When you’re ready to serve the labneh:
Toast the pistachios in a pan then chop into small pieces
Fill a small serving dish with labneh
Sprinkle pistachios, parsley, lemon zest and a pinch of sumac over the labneh. Drizzle the olive oil over everything
Serve with fresh pitta bread and crudités

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Ingredients for Labneh (cheese made from yoghurt) with pistachios, parsley, lemon and sumac dip
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Labneh (cheese made from yoghurt)
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Labneh (cheese made from yoghurt)
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Labneh (cheese made from yoghurt)
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Labneh (cheese made from yoghurt) with pistachios, parsley, lemon and sumac dip
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Pitta bread
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Pitta bread
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Labneh (cheese made from yoghurt) with pistachios, parsley, lemon and sumac dip with homemade pitta bread
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Palestine
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Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem
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Abraham path, Jericho
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The Church of the Nativity

Nepal

The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia with a population of 26.4 million. The capital, Kathmandu is called the living cultural museum of the world, with 7 World Heritage Cultural sites within a radius of 15 km.

Nepal has 8 out of 10 of the world’s highest mountains, including the world highest – Mount Everest. It was named in honour of Colonel Sir George Everest, a Welsh geographer who was responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India along the meridian arc from southern India extending north to Nepal, a distance of about 2,400 km. Mount Everest is called Sagarmatha (“Forehead of the sky”) in Nepali and Chomolungma (“Goddess mother of the world”) by the local Sherpas and Tibetans.

Nepal is the only country with altitudinal variation that ranges from 59 meters to 8848 meters. Nepal holds some of the most extreme places on the earth such as the highest lake on the earth (Tilicho 4800 meters), the highest valley on earth (Arun valley), the deepest gorges (1200 meter) in Kaligandaki and the tallest grassland in the world in Chitwan.

Nepal was the last Hindu country in the world when it was declared secular by the parliament in 2006. Although many religions harmoniously co-exist in the country, 81.3 percent of the population in the country follows Hinduism and it still has the highest proportion of Hindus in the world.

Some popular dishes from Nepalese cuisine include Tarkari (vegetable curry), Farsi ko Achar (pumpkin pickle), Bhuteko bhat (fried rice), Alu Tareko (fried potatoes), Thukpa (noodle soup), Khasi Ko Masu (mutton curry), Kwati (bean stew), Gwaramari (Nepalese bread snack), Aaloo ko Achar (spicy potato salad) and Aloo masu chop (spiced beef and potato croquettes). I decided to make one of their main staples – Dal (spiced lentil soup). It was so simple and extremely tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

2 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2″ piece ginger, grated
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp red chilli powder
225g /1 cup red lentils
750ml/3 cups water
½-1 tsp-salt
2 tbsp coriander, chopped

Heat oil in a deep pan and and cook onion over medium heat for 5-7 minutes without browning too much
Turn heat to low and add garlic, ginger, crushed coriander seeds, turmeric and red chilli powder, stir to combine and cook for 3-5 minutes
Add washed red lentils and stir to coat them with the onion and spice mixture, cook them while stirring for 2-3 minutes. (This step helps the lentils to keep their shape and texture).
Add water, turn heat up and bring it to a boil, add salt, then turn it to a medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes
When the lentils are tender but still mostly hold their shape, stir in fresh chopped coriander and take it off the heat
Serve on their own or with steamed rice

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Ingredients for Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Dal (spiced lentil soup)
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Annapurna, Nepal
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Durbar square, Kathmandu
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Kathmandu
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Mount Everest

Mongolia

The country the world knows as Mongolia is actually the historic Outer Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is still an autonomous region of China. Mongolia is the 19th largest and the most sparsely populated fully sovereign country in the world, with a population of around 3 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country behind Kazakhstan. With an average annual temperature of 1.3 °C/29.7 °F, Ulaanbaatar is the world’s coldest capital city.

A few ‘Horsey’ facts
In Mongolia there are 13 times more horses than humans, and sheep outnumber humans 35 to 1
The world’s tallest statue of a horse is the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue at Tsonjin Boldog measuring 40 metres tall
Mongolian native horses are called takhi, the Mongol word for “spirit,”. They have 66 chromosomes, two more than the average horse and they are the last truly wild horses left on the planet
In a span of just 25 years, Genghis Khan and his horsemen conquered an area larger and greater in population than the Romans did in four centuries
There is a theory that Mongolian horseman may have invented ice cream, when they took cream in containers made from animal intestines as provisions on long journeys across the Gobi desert in winter. As they galloped, the cream was vigorously shaken, while the sub-zero temperature caused it to freeze
The world record for the largest horse parade took place in Ulaanbaatar, on 9 August 2013 and involved 11,125 horses and their riders ageing between 2 and 90

Mongolian cuisine refers to the local culinary traditions of Mongolia and Mongolian styled dishes. The extreme continental climate has affected the traditional diet, so the Mongolian cuisine primarily consists of dairy products, meat, and animal fats. Popular dishes include Guriltai shol (noodle soup), Khorkhog (mutton cooked over hot stones), Khuushuur (deep fried dumplings), Chanasan Makh (boiled meat with innards), Budaatai huurga (stew with rice, meat and vegetables), Gambir (pancakes) and Boortsog (deep fried butter cookies). I opted for what is considered the national dish – Buuz (steamed dumplings). I have to say that there were a little bland on their own, but with the addition of some ketchup or soy sauce they weren’t too bad.

Rating: 6/10

Makes 30
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

250 g plain flour
150 ml water
300 g minced mutton, lamb or beef (with at least 20% fat)
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt
Pepper
1 tsp caraway seeds

Mix the flour and water together in a bowl and knead for 5 minutes until you have a pliable dough
Let it rest for 15 minutes
Mix together the meat, onion and garlic
Lightly bash the caraway seeds in a pestle and mortar
Add the caraway seeds, salt & pepper to the minced meat
Roll out the dough so it’s is no more than 3mm thick
With a pastry cutter, cut the the pastry into rounds and place the round in your hand, fill with a teaspoon of the mixture and then carefully bring the edges to the middle and twist it around. This recipe has some guidance on how to shape the buuz
Place them on some greaseproof paper whilst you continue to make the rest
Get a steamer ready and place the buuz in to the steamer ensuring they don’t touch each other (you will need to cook them in batches)
Cook each batch for 15 minutes
When you open the lid, using a chopping board to fan air over the top of the buuz to create a glossy top
Have them on their own or with ketchup or soy sauce

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Ingredients for Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Dough for Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Making Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Making Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Buuz (steamed dumplings)
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Mongolian horsemen
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Gobi desert, Mongolia

Laos

Lao People’s Democratic Republic is the only landlocked country in South East Asia. I visited Laos in 2002 and found it to be a beautifully scenic, peaceful and relaxed country. However it’s had its fair share of trouble. Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world and it ranks 29th hungriest nation out of the list of the 52 nations with the worst hunger situations in the world. Along with China, Cuba and Vietnam, it is one of the world’s four (or five – South Korea is disputed) remaining socialist states that openly espouse Communism. The government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide, human rights and religious freedom violations against the Hmong ethnic minority within its own borders.

Laos has been named the world’s most bombed country. Over two billion tons of bombs (i.e. more than all of the bombs dropped on Europe during WWII) were dropped in Laos by the USA during the Vietnam War. The highest point in Laos, the Phou Bia, is unfortunately not open to tourists because it is filled with un-exploded ammunition.

The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international visitors in 1990, to 1.87 million in 2010. The official tourism slogan is “Simply Beautiful”. The main attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang, gastronomy and ancient temples in the capital of Vientiane, backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng, ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region. My highlights include the trip down the Mekong, white water rafting in Vang Vieng and the chilled out vibe in Luang Prabang.

Grin khao “Eat Rice”, the staple food of Lao people is steamed sticky rice, which is eaten by hand. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world. Popular dishes include Som Tam (green papaya salad), Kaeng jeut (vegetable and pork soup), Mok pa (fish steamed in banana leaf), Khao phat (Lao fried rice), Kai Aw (Lao chicken stew) and Khanom maw kaeng (coconut custard cake). I decided to make a famous Lao dish – Larb (marinated meat salad). It was simple, fresh and completely delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

1/8 cup uncooked long grain white rice
450g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced galangal
1 small red chilli peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1/8 cup fish sauce
1/2 tbsp shrimp paste
1/2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/8 cup lime juice

Preheat an oven to 175c
Spread the rice onto a baking sheet
Bake the rice in the preheated oven until golden, about 15 minutes
Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, grind into a fine powder with a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
Meanwhile, grind the chicken thigh meat in a food processor until finely ground and set aside (or get the butcher to do this for you as I did!)
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat
Fry the shallots over a medium heat for 3 minutes until golden, then set aside
Stir in the garlic, galangal, chilli peppers, spring onions and cook until the garlic softens, about 2 minutes
Add the ground chicken meat and cook, stirring constantly to break up lumps, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes
Season with fish sauce, shrimp paste, and sugar
Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes
Stir in the ground rice, mint, basil, and lime juice
Just before serving, stir in the fried shallots
Serve with lettuce leaves

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Laos Monks
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Mekong River, Laos
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Luang Prabang, Laos
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Patuxai Victory Monument, Vientiane, Laos

Brunei

Brunei, officially the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace is a sovereign state on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.
According to legend, Brunei was founded by Awang Alak Betatar, later to be Sultan Muhammad Shah, in the late 14th century. Upon landing he exclaimed, Baru nah (loosely translated as “that’s it!” or “there”), from which the name “Brunei” was derived. He was the first Muslim ruler of Brunei.
Hassanal Bolkiah, the current Sultan of Brunei is the second richest royal in the world, he has a collection of more than 5,000 cars. He was once the richest man in the world before being overtaken by Bill Gates in the 1990s. The IMF have ranked Brunei fifth in the world by GDP per capita at purchasing power parity and Forbes also ranks Brunei as the fifth richest nation, based on its petroleum and natural gas fields.

Most of Brunei is within the Borneo lowland rain forests ecoregion, which covers most of the island. It’s known for its beaches and biodiverse rainforest. It has 161 km of coastline on the South China sea, and it shares a 381 km border with Malaysia. The total population of Brunei is approximately 430,000, of which around 240,000 live in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, which is home to the opulent Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque and its 29 golden domes. The Istana Nurul Iman palace, also in the capital, is the residence of the Sultan of Brunei.

The cuisine of Brunei is similar to, and heavily influenced by the cuisine of neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, with additional influences from India, China, Thailand, and Japan. Recipes I came across were Ambuyat (a sticky ball of starch dipped into a sour fruit sauce sometimes called ‘edible glue’), Daging Masak Lada Hitam (spicy slow cooked beef with potatoes and beans), Udang Sambal Serai Bersantan (chilli prawns with coconut milk) and Serondeng Pandag (Fried chicken with garlic wrapped in pandan leaves). I opted to make Bruneian Fish curry, which unfortunately didn’t turn out very well. The addition of whole spices towards the end of cooking was the recipe’s downfall and rendered it inedible. If you do feel the need to give this recipe a try, I would pound the spices with the chilli and garlic and add at the same time.

Rating: 2/10

Serves: 3
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

500 grams white fish fillets (cut into 5cm pieces)
1½ cups coconut milk
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons ghee
3 onions (cut into wedges)
3 gloves garlic (pounded)
3-5 hot green chillies (pounded)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1½ cup chicken stock

Blend tamarind juice with ¼ cup coconut milk
Heat the oil in a pan, add the onions, garlic and chillies
Stir-fry till golden brown
Reduce heat, add remaining spices, stock and coconut milk
Boil gently till oil separates
Bring to rapid boil, add fish and tamarind mixture
Simmer 5 minutes, stirring carefully
Remove and serve hot with steamed rice

China

China, the most populated country on the planet, with over 1.3 billion people is the world’s second largest country by land area. Despite its size, all of China is in one time zone. China had the largest economy in the world for much of the last 500 years but as of 2014, it is the world’s second largest economy by nominal GDP, after the US. It is the world’s largest exporter of goods.

A few random facts:
The PlayStation is illegal in China
Facebook, Twitter and The New York Times have been blocked in China since 2009, despite this there are still 95 million Facebook users in China
In China, you can major in Bra Studies
China has treatment camps for Internet addicts
China used more cement in 3 years (2011 to 2013) than the U.S. used in the entire 20th century
China is the world’s largest consumer of red wine
The first toilet paper reportedly was used by a Chinese emperor in 1391

China has the second highest volume of UNESCO world heritage sites in the world with 50 sites, behind Italy’s 51. With around 57 million international tourists each year, China is the fourth most visited country in the world after France, The US and Spain. The most popular tourist site is The Great Wall of China, with over 10 million visitors each year. It is the longest wall in the world and was continuously built from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD. Although the official length of the Great Wall is 8851.8 km, the length of all the Great Wall built over thousands of years is estimated at 21,196.18 km. The Northern West sections of the Great Wall are deteriorating so quickly due to demolishment by nature and human, it is believed that these sections may disappear within 20 years.

The history of Chinese cuisine stretches back for thousands of years. Each dynasty created new recipes and regional cuisine took off with the most influential being Cantonese, Shandong, Jiangsu (specifically Huaiyang cuisine) and Sichuan. Popular dishes include Tea eggs (egg boiled in tea), Suan La Tang (sour hot soup), Zhajiangmian (noodles with bean paste), Peking duck (roast crispy duck), Kung pao chicken (stir fry chicken with vegetables, chilli and peanuts), Dim Sum (bite size food steamed), Cha siu bao (steamed bun filled with pork), Har gow (shrimp dumplings), Phoenix claws (chicken feet) and Chao Fan (fried rice). I opted to make Char Sui pork (“Fork roast” – Cantonese barbecued pork) which you can use in Cha siu bao, Noodle soup, Chao Fan or indeed just gobble it up as it comes! The recipe is very simple and although marinating time is lengthy, it was totally worth the wait – utterly scrumptious!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes +
48 hours marinating time
Cook time: 30 minutes

400g pork fillet
2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
2 tbsp ginger, freshly grated
50ml light soy sauce
50ml rice wine (shaoxing)
1/2 tsp chinese five spice powder
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp hoi sin sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground Black pepper
30ml honey

Cut slashes into the sides of the pork fillet and place in a sealable bag
Add all the other ingredients, only using half the honey and marinate the pork at least overnight, 48 hours is even better
Preheat the oven to 180C
Line a baking tray with foil or baking/parchment paper and place a rack on top
Remove the pork from the marinade, reserving the marinade
Place the pork on the rack and tuck the thin end of the the tenderloin underneath so the whole piece is roughly the same thickness
Brush the pork with the remaining honey
Roast for 25 minutes or until the internal temperature is 145 – 160F/ 65 – 70C
Around halfway through roasting, baste generously with the reserved marinade (dab it on so you get as much marinade on the pork as possible – this is key for getting the glossy glaze)
When the pork is cooked, switch the oven to grill.
Baste the pork very generously with the remaining marinade (again, dab rather than brush it on)
Grill the pork until it is nicely charred and caramelised – around 2 to 3 minutes, basting at least twice during grilling
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing

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Ingredients for Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Marinade for Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

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The Great Wall of China

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Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

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Li River, Guilin, China

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Sichuan Giant Panda sanctuary

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Shanghai, China

Turkey

The Republic of Turkey is a transcontinental nation, straddling eastern Europe and western Asia. It is a country with a long and very diverse cultural heritage. For more than 2000 years Istanbul was capital of three empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.

Some interesting facts:
Turkey has 13 sites on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites including the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, a Mesolithic temple (Göbekli Tepe), a Biblical city (Ephesus) and a WWI battlefield (Gallipoli)
Turkey hosts two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
Turkey is the sixth most visited tourist destination in the world with 37.8 million foreign visitors in 2013
97% of Turkey is in Asia
The Marmaray metro line, under the Bosphorus strait, opened in 2013 and enables you to travel between Europe and Asia underground
The tongue-twisting, 70-letter Muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine, or “as if you are from those we may not be able to easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones,” is thought to be the longest word in Turkish
Homer, Aesop and St. Paul the Apostle were all born in Turkey
The earliest coins recorded were made during the reign of King Gyges of Lydia, Turkey, c. 630 BC and consisted of electrum, a naturally occurring amalgam of gold and silver

Turkish cuisine is regarded as one of the most prominent in the world and the cuisine varies widely across the country. Although meat based foods such as kebabs are the mainstay in Turkish cuisine as presented in foreign countries, native Turkish meals largely center around rice, vegetables, and bread. Popular dishes include Lahmacun (Turkish pizza), Adana kebabi (Spiced lamb kebab), Simit (circular bread with sesame seeds), Akçaabat meatballs, Analı kızlı soup (meatball soup with bulgar & chickpeas), Toyga (yoghurt soup with herbs), Hünkar Beğendi (‘Sultan’s Delight’ – lamb with mashed aubergine), Kuzu kapama (spring lamb stewed) and Baklava (filo pastry filled with honey & nuts). I decided to make a type of Turkish kebab – Tavuk Sis Kebap (Chicken Shish Kebab), which were delicious with a lovely spicy tang.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 25 minutes + marinating time 2 – 24 hours
Cook time: 8 minutes

2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp red pepper, powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, smashed with salt
1 tsp pomegranate paste
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the yoghurt with the spices, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bag
Cut the chicken into small cubes and add to the bag
Mix your chicken thoroughly making sure it is well covered
Marinade in the fridge over night or for at least 2 hours
Put your chicken cubes on to skewers
Preheat the barbecue or grill
Grill the chicken for about 7-8 minutes, making sure to turn the skewers so that all sides are cooked equally
Every time you turn the chicken, brush with marinade
Serve with pitta bread, tomato, red onion and lettuce

Cambodia

Cambodia, officially known as the kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is 69,898 sq mi in area, and has a population of over 15 million. Bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, it has a 275 mile coastline along the gulf of Thailand. Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital and is home to the art deco central market, and situated on the riverfront are the glittering Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum.

Probably the most well known site in Cambodia is Angkor Wat situated in Siem Reap Province. The complex of temples make up the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 162.6 hectares. Originally constructed as a Hindu Temple, it was gradually transformed to a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. As with most other ancient temples in Cambodia, Angkor Wat has faced extensive damage and deterioration by a combination of plant overgrowth, fungi, ground movements, war damage and theft.

The Vietnam war extended into the country with the US bombing of Cambodia from 1969-1973. Following the Cambodian coup of 1970, the deposed king gave his support to his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge emerged as a major power, taking Phnom Penh in 1975 and later carrying out the Cambodian Genocide from 1975 until 1979. Led by Pol Pot, they changed the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. The new regime modelled itself on Maoist China during the Great Leap Forward, immediately evacuated the cities, and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime range from approximately one to three million; the most commonly cited figure is two million (about a quarter of the population).

Industry in Cambodia was badly disrupted by the war. Agriculture is the traditional mainstay of the Cambodian economy, however since the late 1990s, tourism is fast becoming Cambodia’s second largest industry. In 2015, there were just under 4.8 million tourists visits. The key attractions are Angkor, Tonlé Sap, Sihanoukville, Silver Pagoda and Siem Reap.

Recipes I came across during my research included Pleah (hot and sour beef salad), Amok Trey (fish curry), Bai Sach Chrouk (BBQ pork and rice), Kuy Teav (noodle soup), Chhnang Plerng (hot pot), Samlor Kako (soup made with spice paste, fish paste, meat, fish and vegetables) and Bai chha (fried rice). I decided to make Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef) served in lettuce leaves with rice. It was really enjoyable.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 1 hour marinating
Cook time: 20 minutes

300g sirloin steak, sliced (or you can use chicken if you prefer)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed black pepper
2/3 tsp chilli sauce (optional, preferably vietnamese or chinese chili sauce)
2 tsp oil + extra for cooking
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped
A few lettuce leaves
Cooked rice
For the pepper sauce:
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed back pepper
1 tsp crushed garlic
juice of a lime

Mix sugar, salt, pepper, oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ketchup and garlic in a sealable bag, add meat and coat thoroughly
Marinate in the fridge for 30 to 60 minutes
Mix salt, sugar, pepper and garlic in a bowl
Cook the rice
Add oil to a wok, fry the onion until brown and add steak and stir fry 5 minutes, until done (don’t over do it)
Mix in chili sauce as desired
Prepare a serving plate with a bed of lettuce and rice
Just before serving, squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime into the pepper sauce and stir lightly
Serve the steak over the rice and lettuce with pepper sauce on the side

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Ingredients for Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Lok lak (stir fried marinated beef)
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Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
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Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh
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Kompong Phluk Kompong, Tonle Sap, Cambodia
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Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Syria

This challenge is about learning about different cuisines and expanding my cooking skills, however it’s difficult to ignore the pain and suffering that the people of Syria are experiencing. According to Mercy Corps, the Syrian civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four and a half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. Prior to the outbreak of the war in 2011, according to the U.S. government’s estimates, Syria’s population was 18 million. The UN estimates about 11 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, including about 4.8 million refugees who have been forced to seek safety in neighbouring countries. During 2016, the U.N. predicts $7.7 billion is required to provide emergency support and stabilisation to families throughout the region.

Since approximately 10,000 BC, Syria was one of the centers of Neolithic culture (known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world. Archaeologists have demonstrated that civilisation in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth, perhaps preceded by only those of Mesopotamia. The earliest recorded indigenous civilisation in the region was the Kingdom of Ebla, near present-day Idlib, northern Syria, founded around 3500 BC.

Syria has 6 UNESCO world heritage sites:
Ancient City of Aleppo (1986)
Ancient City of Bosra (1980)
Ancient City of Damascus (1979)
Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (2011)
Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (2006)
Site of Palmyra (1980)

They also hold a number of Guinness world records:
Longest marathon TV talk show by one team – 70 hr 5 min in Damascus (2014)
The largest copper bas-relief measures 122.5 m² (1,318.5 m²) in Qurdaha, Lattakia, Syria (2009)
The oldest surviving Christian church in the world is a converted house in Qal’at es Salihiye in eastern Syria, dating from AD232. In the 1930s, Yale archaeologists dismantled it and rebuilt it back in the United States.

Syrian recipes I came across include Yakhanit batata (potato and lamb stew), Sharhat Mtafay (Lemon garlic steak), Kufta kabab (lamb kebab), Dawood basha (Syrian meatballs), Kibbeh bil sanieh (kibbeh pie), Mujaddara (lentil pilaf), Fatti dajaj (chicken fatti – bread, rice and chicken in yoghurt and nut sauce), Muhammara (red pepper dip) and Makdous (Pickled stuffed eggplant in olive oil). I opted to cook Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven), which was a little oily but tasty nonetheless.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes

4 chicken pieces on the bone
3-4 medium potatoes
1/2 head garlic, peeled and mashed with a little salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp pimenton
1/2 tsp dried coriander leaf
Salt & pepper

Rub the chicken pieces with the mashed garlic all over (reserve 1/2 tsp for the potatoes) and place in a casserole dish
Season the chicken with pimenton, salt & pepper
Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthways then cut each half into half cm slices and place on top of the chicken pieces
Season the potatoes with the remaining garlic, salt, pepper and dried coriander
Drizzle over the olive oil
Cover with foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes, uncover and roast for a further 5 – 10 minutes to brown

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Ingredients for Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Mashing the garlic
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
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Crac-des-chevaliers, Syria
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Site of Palmyra, Syria
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Bosra amphitheatre, Syria
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Ancient city of Aleppo
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Aleppo, Nov 2014

Thailand

Thai food is one of my favourite cuisines in the world and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it first hand. In 2002, I spent 6 weeks travelling around Thailand, exploring the sprawling mass of Bangkok, visiting temples, elephant riding in Chiang Mai and of course lazing on white sand beaches. I also did a cookery class for the day in Chiang Mai and have used a recipe from the book I was given on the course for my challenge.

Thailand is the only country in South East Asia that hasn’t been colonised by Europeans. This has been ascribed to the long succession of able rulers in the past four centuries who exploited the rivalry and tension between French Indochina and the British Empire.

The Andaman Sea is a precious natural resource as it hosts the most popular and luxurious resorts in Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Ranong, Phang Nga and Trang, and their islands, all lay along the coasts of the Andaman Sea and, despite the 2004 tsunami, they are a tourist magnet for visitors from around the world. Tourism makes up about 6% of the economy and it was the most visited country in Southeast Asia in 2013.

Thai cuisine blends five fundamental tastes: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, and salty. Common ingredients used in Thai cuisine include garlic, chillies, lime juice, lemon grass, coriander, galangal, palm sugar, and fish sauce (nam pla). The staple food is rice and Thais domestically consume over 100 kg of milled rice per person per year. Popular dishes include Yam Nuea (Thai Beef Salad), Nua Pad Prik (fried beef with chilli) , Tom Kong (hot and sour chicken and shallot soup), Grat Doo Moo Yang (BBQ spare ribs) , Gung pad nam man hoy (prawn with asparagus and oyster sauce) , Pla Moo (hot and sour pork salad) , Ped Yang (roast duck with cloves) , Gaeng Mussaman (Mussaman curry) , Tod Man Pla (fish cakes with kaffir lime leaves), Tom yam gung (hot and sour soup with prawn and lemongrass). It was tough trying to choose from all the delicious recipes, but it seemed only right to do the most famous Thai dish – Gaeng Key Au Waan Kai (Green curry chicken). I made the paste myself and I think I may have gone too light with the chillies as we didn’t think it had enough of a kick, but the flavour was yummy.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1 tbsp namphrik gaeng key au wan (green curry paste) – see below
3 tbsp groundnut oil
75g aubergine (small asian ones if you can get them), cut into cubes
1 tin coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp palm sugar
3 kaffir lime leaves
Fresh Thai basil or coriander

For the Namphrik gaeng key au wan (Green Curry Paste):
(you can increase the qty as it’ll store in the fridge for 4 months)
4 green finger chillies (use 6 if you want it more spicy)
1 tbsp asian shallots, finely chopped
1/3 tbsp garlic, minced
20g ginger, finely chopped
1/4 tbsp lemongrass, finely chopped
1/3 tsp garlic chive or fresh chives or spring onions
1/3 tsp shrimp paste
1/3 tsp salt
4 kaffir lime leaves
1/3 tsp coriander stems, chopped

For the Namphrik gaeng key au wan (Green Curry Paste)
Place all the ingredients in a large pestle and mortar (if you only have a small one, do it in small batches) and blend to a paste

Put the oil in a pan over a low heat
Add the green curry paste and bring to the boil, stirring continuously
Add the chicken over a high heat and stir well to coat with the paste
When the chicken is cooked, after about 5 minutes, add the coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves, cook for a few minutes
Add the aubergines and bring to the boil
Stir in the sugar and fish sauce
Taste and add more sugar if necessary
Remove from the heat, sprinkle with chopped basil or coriander
Serve with steamed rice

Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been devastated by war since 1978 and it continues today. The US war in Afghanistan (America’s longest war) officially ended on December 28, 2014. However, thousands of US-led NATO troops have remained in the country to train and advise Afghan government forces. Since 2001 there has been over 90,000 direct war-related deaths.

A few non war related facts
The world’s first oil paintings were drawn in the caves of Bamiyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan around 650BC.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the poster boy in many of the muscle building centers in Afghanistan, as they say he looks like an Afghan.
Afghanistan’s national game, buzkashi, or goat-grabbing is regarded as the world’s wildest game. It involves riders on horseback competing to grab a goat carcass, and gallop clear of the others to drop it in a chalked circle.
Kandahar airfield is the busiest single runway airstrip in the world.

Despite years of bloodshed, it remains a battered but beautiful and proud country with a rich culture, imposing ancient ruins, old cities and religious shrines.

Afghan cuisines reflects its ethnic and geographic diversity with staple crops of wheat, maize, barley, rice and dairy products. It is also known for high quality pomegranates, grapes and melons. Recipes I came across include Rhot (Afghan sweet bread), Nakhod e shor (spicy crunchy chickpeas), Quorma e Zardaloo (lemon apricot stew), Borani Banjan (layered aubergine), Kebab e murgh (chicken kebab), Mantu (meat dumplings), Mashawa (Afghan chilli) and the national dish of Kabuli Palau (rice with meat, carrots, raisins and pistachios). I decided to make a hearty and warming soup on a chilly September evening – Shorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup), which was tasty and comforting.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours

900g beef steak cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
8 cups water
1 medium russet potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander

Add oil to a large casserole dish and place over medium-high heat
Add the onion, brown for 5 minutes until soft, add the garlic and the meat
Mix well and cook for about 10 minutes until the meat is cooked through and a thick sauce forms
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, coriander, turmeric, salt, pepper and the water, mix well
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a medium heat, cover and cook for 1 hour
Add the potatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans, and coriander to the soup
Bring to a gentle boil again, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the meat and potatoes are tender, approx 30 – 45 minutes
Serve immediately on it’s own or with pitta bread

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Ingredients forShorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup)
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Shorwa e gosht (Afghan bean and beef soup)

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Bamiyan caves, Afghanistan
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Buzkashi
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Military soldiers in Afghanistan mountains

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, and the ninth largest in the world. It’s a huge place with a very small population of only 18 million people. The name Kazakhstan translates as “Land of the Wanderers” and with only 6 people per square mile, they have plenty of land to wander! The Kazakh Steppe (plain), with an area of around 310,600 sq mi, occupies a third of the country and is the world’s largest dry steppe region. The steppe is characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions.

A few facts
It is believed that the first apple trees grew around Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, as far back as 20 million years ago
There are 27,000 ancient monuments throughout Kazakhstan
It is home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s oldest and largest operating space launch facility from where the first manned spaceflight with Yuri Gagarin took off into space in 1961

Highlights for visitors to Kazakhstan include the landmark buildings in Astana – Kazakhstan’s new capital, Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve, Almaty’s Central State Museum, enjoying the view from Kok-Tobe hill and Levoberezhny Park.

Traditional foods of Kazakh cuisine include mutton, horse meat and various milk products. Popular dishes are Beshbarmak (boiled horse or mutton meat eaten with pasta and broth, it also called “five fingers” as it is eaten with one’s hands), Zhauburek (kebab), Khazakh lemon chicken , Shelpek ( flatbread) Kylmai (sausage) and Baursaki (Fried Doughnuts). I made Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots) which was fairly simple to make and pleasantly tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr

350-400g of boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into strips
1 cup of rice
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
1½ cups of water
1 tsp of salt
Black pepper

Fry the onions until brown on medium – high heat, then remove on to a plate
Using the same pan fry the meat on high heat until nicely browned and the juices has evaporated
Add the carrots and fry together with the meat for about 10 minutes
Add salt and pepper
Add the onions back into the pan
Slowly add your stock cube blended with the water and bring it to boil
Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes
Meanwhile prepare your rice by rinsing it thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear
Add the rice but don’t mix it in. Just let the rice sink into the liquid by spreading it carefully. The rice should be covered with water about 2 cm above it, so add more if necessary
Cover the pan and cook it on a gentle simmer until the rice has absorbed the liquid – about 15 minutes
At this point the top layer of rice is not cooked yet, so you need to flip the top layer and bring the sides to the center by covering the top layer at the same time
Make a few holes all the way through to the bottom, so that the steam can come through from the bottom of the pan to get all the rice properly cooked
Leave it to gently cook for another 8-10 minutes
Taste the rice to ensure its cooked. If the rice is ready, you can now mix the meat and carrots by bringing them from the underneath the rice to the top
Gently mix all together and serve

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Ingredients for Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Pilaf (rice with meat and carrots)
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Astana’s Concert Hall
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Almaty, Kazakhstan
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Baikonur Cosmodrome
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Shymkent Mountains, Kazakhstan

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is an island nation south of India in the Indian Ocean.

Lonely planet describes Sri Lanka as endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, oodles of elephants, rolling surf, cheap prices, fun trains, famous tea and flavourful food.

Sri Lanka has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, namely, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the ancient city of Sigiriya, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the old town of Galle, the sacred cities of Anuradhapura and Kandy, Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Central Highlands.

The most popular time to visit Sri Lanka is in its driest season during January to March.  May hosts the important religious celebration of Vesak, where the city comes alive in colours, lights and festivities.  Christmas is also well celebrated.

Sri Lankan cuisine has taken influence over history from the Dutch colonialists and Southern India. Staple ingredients are rice, coconut and spices. Recipes include Kottu (stir fry of bread and vegetables), Kool (seafood broth), Pol Sambola (coconut with rice and hoppers) and Pushnambu (rich cake made from coconut treacle). I opted to cook Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry) which had a lovely spicy flavour but was slightly dry.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 1-3 hours marinating
Cook time: 35 – 40 minutes

2 chicken breasts
1 medium onion chopped
2 green chillies chopped
1 piece of lemon grass
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp mustard seed (crushed)
salt to taste
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp vinegar

Trim any excess fat from the chicken, then cut into chunks
Grind the ginger and garlic into a paste
Add the chilli powder, curry powder, turmeric, pepper, salt and the lemon grass into a plastic bag with the chicken and allow to marinate in the fridge for 1 – 3 hours
Fry the onion, green chillies and the ginger garlic paste in the oil over a low heat for about 5 minutes and then add mustard and cover
and simmer for about 3 minutes
Add the chicken, vinegar and a little more salt and stir
Cover and cook over a low heat for about 30-40 minutes or until the chicken is tender
Serve with steamed rice

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Ingredients for Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry)
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Marinating the chicken
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Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry)
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Kukul mas curry (Chicken curry)
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Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka
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Elephants in Sri Lanka
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Anuradhapura

Kuwait

Kuwait, an Arab country on the Persian Gulf, shares borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait has a population of 4.2 million people, of which 1.3 million are Kuwaitis and 2.9 million are expatriates. Kuwait City, the capital, is known for its modern architecture, ranging from skyscrapers to the striking Kuwait Water Towers, regarded as a landmark and symbol of modern Kuwait.

Oil reserves were discovered in 1938 and are now the world’s sixth largest. In the 1980s, Kuwait experienced a period of geopolitical instability and an economic crisis following the stock market crash. Petroleum accounts for half of GDP and 90% of government income. The Kuwaiti dinar is the highest valued currency in the world.

Kuwait is the only country in the world with no natural water supply from lakes or reservoirs. It uses wells and performs desalination of sea water for drinking and other purposes. It opened its first grass golf course in 2005, The Sahara Golf & Country Club.

Popular dishes in Kuwaiti cuisine include Firga’a (rice cooked with tomatoes, potatoes and aubergine), Jireesh (cooked spelt with chicken or lamb, tomatoes and spices), Mutabbaq samak (fish served over rice) and Balaleet (sweet saffron noodles). I made Gers ogaily (Kuwaiti perfume cake) which we weren’t too taken with. The ‘perfume’ factor created a bit of a strange taste. Mum and Dad thought it was quite nice.

Rating: 4/10

Serves:10 slices
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 40 – 50 minutes

2 cups plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 tbsp sesame seeds
½ tsp saffron
1 tbsp sugar
4 eggs
1 ½ cup caster sugar
½ cup (113 g) butter, melted and cooled
1 cup (250 ml) milk, room temperature
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp rosewater

Preheat oven to 180°c
Butter and flour the sides and bottom of a 9” springform cake tin and set aside
In the mortar, crush the saffron threads with 1 tsp of sugar until it’s a powder
Add 2 tablespoons milk to saffron powder and leave to soak for at least 10 minutes
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and two tablespoons sesame seeds. Set aside
In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and sugar until light and thick and frothy. The mixture should triple in the volume. About 10 – 12 minutes on medium to high speed
In a large measuring cup, combine the butter, milk, cardamom, rosewater and saffron mixture
Using a large slotted metal spoon (or a wooden spoon), gently fold in the dry and wet ingredients into the eggs, beginning and ending with flour. Fold from top to bottom until combined.
Pour into the prepared cake tin. Sprinkle with sesame seeds
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle come out clean and the cake has shrunk from the sides of the tin
Cool completely on a wire rack and serve with tea or coffee

East Timor

East Timor or Timor-Leste is in South East Asia, located approximately 640 km northwest of Darwin, Australia. It was a Portuguese colony until 1975, when it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. It gained independence in 1999 and became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century. Despite internal tensions and rebel attacks in 2006 and 2008, the UN peacekeeping mission departed in 2012 and the government are intent on sustaining peace and stability.

East Timor’s highest point is Tatamailau at 9,721ft. Much of the country is mountainous and the Paitchau Mountain Range is located in East Timor’s first national park – the Nino Konis Santana National Park, named after a former commander of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN).

After petroleum, the second largest export is coffee, which generates about $10 million a year. Starbucks is a major purchaser of East Timorese coffee. The agriculture sector employs 80% of the active population, with 67,000 households growing coffee and 11,000 growing mungbeans. According to a 2010 census, only 38.2% of households have electricity.

Relatively unexplored, East Timor offers a wealth of natural wonders for the adventurous visitor – don’t expect five star resorts or even decent roads! However what you can find are white sand beaches, mist shrouded mountains and historical landmarks.

The cuisine of East Timor has influences from Portugal and Southeast Asia. Staple foods include pork, fish, sweet potato, taro, cassava, rice and tropical fruit. A few dishes I came across were Batar Da’an (corn stew), Pepes Ikan (steamed fish in spices), K’u Yuk (steamed meat) and Tapai (fermented rice). I wasn’t overly taken by those options, so opted for a dessert (not my strong point I’ll hasten to add) – Pudim de Coco (Coconut Pudding). It was a disaster! The cream didn’t set and the caramel stuck to the bottom of the dish with all it’s might. All I can say is that desserts continue to elude me.

Rating: 2/10

Serves: 6 (arguably nobody if it’s inedible!)
Cook time: 30 minutes + 3 hours cooling time

1 can of coconut milk
1 can of milk (use the can from the coconut milk to measure the milk)
3 cups caster sugar
3 tbsp of cornflour
3 tbsp of coconut flakes

Heat 1 cup of sugar, slowly, in a heavy skillet until sugar melts
When the sugar turns a caramel colour, remove it from the heat and pour it into 6 ramekins and set aside
Put all the remaining ingredients in a pan and mix well
Let the mixture cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring it constantly until the mixture loosens from the bottom of the pan and it is thick like cream
Pour the cream in to each ramekin on top of the caramel and allow them to cool for 10 minutes
Put the ramekins in the fridge for a few hours
Once chilled place each ramekin upside down on to a plate (Good luck with this! We ended up trying to scrape the hardened caramel with teaspoons very little joy!)

Iran

Iran, known as Persia until 1935, became an Islamic republic in 1979, after the ruling monarchy, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown and forced into exile. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had previously been in exile, returned to form a new government and became the country’s Supreme Leader until his death in 1989. He was named Man of the Year in 1979 by American news magazine TIME for his international influence, however he remains a controversial figure and was criticised for human rights violations of Iranians.

Iran is one of the world’s most mountainous countries with ranges such as the Caucasus, Zagros and Alborz Mountains. The northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal or the Jungles of Iran. One of the most famous members of Iranian wildlife is the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, also known as the Iranian cheetah, whose numbers were greatly reduced after the 1979 Revolution.

Iran ranks seventh among countries in the world, in terms of the number of World Heritage Sites recognised by Unesco. These include the Persepolis ruins, Golestan Palace, The Persian Garden, Susa (Archaeological mounds) and Meidan Emam, Esfahan public square.

Popular dishes in Iranian cuisine include Luleh Kabob (lamb kebab), Chelo (plain rice), Āsh-e anār (soup made with split peas and pomegranate juice), Gormeh Sabzi (Green Herb Stew), Bademjan (Eggplant And Tomato Stew), Baghali Polo ba Morgh (chicken with fava bean and rice) and Sohān-e-Asali (honey toffee). I decided to cook Khoresht-e Karafs (lamb and celery stew) which I served with saffron infused rice. It had a sweet flavour and the lamb was really succulent.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr 15 minutes

500 g lamb or beef, cut into cubes
5 celery stalks
1 bunch fresh mint
1 bunch fresh parsley
3 medium onions
1 cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup of cooking oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black pepper

Peel and thinly slice onions
Fry in oil until slightly golden
Add the meat to the onions with turmeric and black pepper until color changes
Add 2-3 glasses of hot water and bring to boil
Cook over medium heat for about 45 minutes, adding more hot water during cooking if needed.
Wash celery and cut into 3 cm pieces
Finely chop mint and parsley and fry slightly in oil
Add celery, mint, parsley, salt to the meat and continue cooking for about 20 minutes (celery should not become too soft).
Add lime juice and sugar to taste and cook for another 3-4 minutes
Serve with saffron infused rice

Persepolis, Iran
Persepolis ruins, Iran
Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace, Iran
Mountains in Iran
Mountains in Iran
Iranian_Cheetah_roars
Asiatic cheetah

Israel

Israel is located in the Middle East, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and borders with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. The state of Israel was declared in 1948 after Britain withdrew it’s mandate of Palestine. Since then Israel has fought several wars with neighbouring Arab states. Peace treaties between Israel and both Egypt and Jordan have now successfully been signed. Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem is the world’s longest military occupation in modern times.

Famed as ‘The Holy Land’, Israel has many significant sights including Jerusalem’s old city with the Western (wailing) Wall and Temple Mount, the Sea of Galilee (the lowest freshwater lake in the world), the City of David, the Dome of the Rock (from which it is said Mohammed began his ascension to heaven) and the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

A few other interesting facts about Israel:
They have won the Eurovision song contest 3 times, despite it is actually located in Asia.
The oldest living male, Israel Kristal, was born in Poland in 1903, moved to Israel in 1950 and is also the oldest Holocaust survivor, having been freed from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Israel is one of only three democracies in the world without a codified constitution. The other two are New Zealand and Britain.
Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives is the world’s oldest continuously used cemetery.

Israeli cuisine has adopted various styles of Jewish cuisine and since the late 1970s an Israeli Jewish fusion cuisine has developed. Popular dishes include falafel, hummus, eggplant salad, ptitim (Israeli couscous), mangal (Israeli BBQ), Mujadara (rice and lentils) and Matzah balls (dumplings). I made Salat Yerakot (Israeli salad) which was pretty quick and easy to make and thoroughly enjoyable.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 1
Prep time: 20 minutes

1 tomato
1/3 red onion
1/3 green pepper
1/4 cucumber
1/2 lemon – juice and zest
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped mint
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Remove the seeds from the tomatoes
Finely dice the onion, green pepper, cucumber and tomatoes (this is what makes it Israeli)
Put the ingredients in a bowl
Add the lemon juice, the chopped herbs, a good glug of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, mix well
Sprinkle the lemon zest over the top
Put in the fridge for 10 minutes and then serve

IMG_1540
Ingredients for Salat Yerakot (Israeli salad)
IMG_1542
Ingredients for Salat Yerakot (Israeli salad)
Sea of Galilee, Israel
Sea of Galilee, Israel
Jerusalem’s Western (wailing) Wall and Temple Mount
Jerusalem’s Western (wailing) Wall, Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount
IMG_1547
Salat Yerakot (Israeli salad)
IMG_1550
Salat Yerakot (Israeli salad)

Yemen

The Republic of Yemen is in the Arabian peninsular and shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. The Houthis, a Shiite tribal militia from northwest Yemen, have been at war with the central government for the best part of a decade. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Yemen.

A few facts
In ancient times Yemen was known as Arabia Felix, Latin for “happy” or “fortunate. Today, Yemen is neither happy nor fortunate, but it acquired the name because its high mountains attracted rain, making it more fertile than most of the Arabian peninsula.
Shibam, in Hadramaut province, is sometimes known as “the Manhattan of the desert”. It consists of some 500 mud-built tower houses resembling skyscrapers, some of them as many as 11 storeys high. Shibam is a Unesco world heritage site.
Yemen claims to be the ancient homeland of the Queen of Sheba (Balqis or Bilqis in Arabic).
Camel jumping is a traditional sport that is becoming increasingly popular among the Zaraniq tribe on the west coast of Yemen in a desert plain by the Red Sea. Camels are placed side to side and victory goes to the competitor who leaps, from a running start, over the most camels.

Popular Yememi dishes include Saltah (meat stew), Laxoox (flatbread), Aseed (dried fish served with local cheese, salad of garlic and spring onions with meat and sauce), Fatoot (fried bread with eggs), Bint Al-Sahn (sweet honey cake). I made Chicken Mandi (slow cooked spiced chicken over rice). It was quite tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 45 minutes + 4 hours – overnight marinating
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes

For making Hawaij Spice
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1/4 tsp whole cloves
1 inch whole cinnamon

For marinating chicken
1½ kg chicken
2 tbsp hawaij spice
40g butter, melted
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3 tsp salt

For making Rice
2 cups basmati rice
1½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 whole cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 inch whole cinnamon
2 bay leaves
2 green chilies
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp soaked in 1½ tbsp water saffron strands
4 cups water
Salt to taste

In a small frying pan, roast all the ingredients for making the hawaij over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or till aromatic. Do not burn the spices.
Let the roasted spices cool down and grind to a fine powder
In a bowl, combine 2 tbsp hawaij with ½ tsp turmeric powder, ground pepper, salt and melted butter
Using a brush, spread the spice rub inside the skin, over the chicken and also inside the cavity
Place the chicken in a bag and marinate in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight
Making rice
In a small bowl, soak the saffron in water for an hour. Keep aside
Place a large pot over medium heat, add oil
Add onion, season with salt and cook till translucent
Remove the pot from the heat
Add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, pepper corns, green chilies, turmeric powder, rice, water and enough salt. Combine well

Baking the chicken and rice
Preheat oven to 210 C
Place a wire rack over the pot with rice, and place the marinated chicken breast side down on the wire rack to allow the drippings from the chicken to fall into the rice. Make sure the pot is larger than the chicken
Place the pot along with chicken on the lower rack in the preheated oven
Cook for 15 minutes at 210 C
After 15 minutes, lower the heat to 180 C and cook the chicken and rice for 45 minutes
After an hour, gently flip the chicken (breast side up) and again cook for another 30 minutes or till the chicken has browned and cooked well inside.
Take the rice and chicken from the oven. Remove the wire rack from the pot, let the chicken rest for 5 minutes
Add the soaked saffron into the rice and combine well. Adding saffron is a must as this is what makes the rice aromatic and flavorful
Place the rice on a platter and put the chicken on top and serve

Vietnam

I visited Vietnam in 2002 during my world tour and it was one of my favourite places, despite probably the longest, most uncomfortable journey I endured getting there. We left Vientiane in Laos at around 8pm, in a crammed full bus with no air con and tiny bench seats, and arrived in Hanoi 34 hours later. The roads were bumpy to start and got progressively worse, so much so you had to stand up every 10 minutes or so to help ease the bone shaking. Thanks to a landslide at the usual border crossing, we had to take a 10 hour detour and after a 3 hour wait at the Vietnamese border and changing to an even smaller, more crammed bus we eventually arrived. Travelling around Vietnam back then was generally best organised through tour operators via set routes and site seeing landmarks. It was possible to travel independently however it was much more expensive so I had booked a full 3 week tour taking in the key highlights.

There is so much to see and do in Vietnam but among my favourites were Halong Bay (a stunning area of limestone karsts and scattered isles), the hill tribe villages of Sapa, Ho Chi Minh’s Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes (now called the War Remnants Museum), shopping in Hue and Hoi An and Mui Ne beach.

I was spoilt for choice with the huge array of Vietnamese dishes available. It is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. A typical family meal would include bowls of rice, meat, fish or seafood, a clear broth or soup and dipping sauces. Recipes I considered were Pho Bo or Ga (noodle soup with beef or chicken), Bánh canh (thick rice noodle soup), Bánh bao (steamed bun dumpling), Gà nướng sả (grilled chicken with lemongrass), Súp măng cua (asparagus and crab soup) and Bánh mì (vietnamese baguette). Having tasted them many times in Vietnam, I decided to make Goi Cuon (salad rolls) which had a lovely fresh taste.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2 (makes 6-8 spring rolls)

Prep time: 45 minutes + 20 minutes marinating
Cook time: 5-6 minutes

280g pork shoulder or loin steaks, thinly sliced
1 garlic cloves, crushed
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Hoisin Peanut Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (if sauce is thick, add about 1/4 cup warm water to reach desired consistency)
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 red chilli, finely chopped (or more if you want more heat)

To assemble the salad rolls
6 – 8 rice paper wrappers
Lettuce
Cucumber, cut into long slices
Fresh coriander
Bean sprouts

In a plastic bag combine the pork, garlic, shallot, fish sauce, sugar, pepper and oil and marinate in the fridge for 20 minutes or more
On a grill or BBQ cook the pork for about 2-3 minutes on each side
In blender, combine all the ingredients for the hoisin peanut dipping sauce
In bowl of warm water, dip each rice paper wrapper for about 3-5 seconds (depending on rice paper thickness). Take care not to over soak your rice paper wrapper
Place on work surface and allow rice paper to soak up water and become gelatinous and pliable (about 30 seconds to 1 minute, again, depending on the thickness rice paper)
On the top 1/3 side closest to you, lay lettuce on the bottom for added strength to the wrapper, then place meat, coriander, cucumber and beansprouts
Roll up the salad roll about 1/3 way through, then fold in the sides before rolling up fully
Serve with hoisin peanut dip

 

Sapa Vietnam
Sapa, Vietnam

Mui Ne beach
Mui Ne beach, Vietnam

Lanterns in Hoi An Vietnam
Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam

Halong Bay Vietnam
Halong Bay, Vietnam