The State of Qatar is the richest country in the world, thanks to it’s natural gas and oil reserves. It is surrounded by the Persian gulf and shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia. A bridge has been in the planning since 2008 to link Qatar and Bahrain, known as the Qatar Bahrain Friendship Bridge at a cost of $5 billion. Construction was due to start in 2009 but as of Jun 2015 work still hadn’t started and according to Bahrain’s foreign minister it is unlikely to complete much before Qatar host the 2022 Fifa World Cup, the first time it will be held in an Arab nation. Qatar’s football team has never qualified for the World Cup.

The legislation of Qatar is based on a mixture of civil law and Islamic Sharia Law. Blasphemy is punishable by up to seven years in prison, Homosexuality is a crime punishable by the death penalty and drinking alcohol in public may incur a sentence of between 40 and 100 lashes. In 2014 they launched a modesty campaign to remind tourists of the modest dress code. This could prove challenging for the western visitors to the World Cup in 2022.

With no income tax, Qatar’s unemployment rate as at Jun 2013 was 0.1% and approximately 14% of households are dollar millionaires. It relies heavily on foreign labour to grow the economy and 96% of the workforce are migrant workers. With annual tourist visits of 2.9m in 2015, the Qatar Tourism Authority has set an ambitious goal of 7.4 million by 2030. Lonely Planet’s highlights include the Museum of Islamic Art, Al Corniche waterfront promenade and Souq Waqif.

Popular Qatari dishes include Qashid (swordfish and rice), Margooga (vegetable stew), Mathrooba (stewed meat and beans), Machbous (rice with mutton or chicken), Om Ali or Umm Ali (bread and rice pudding) and Harees (whipped wheat). I opted to make Motabel (aubergine dip) which was pretty simple to make but I overdid it with the garlic and tahini. I’ve reduced the quantities in the recipe below.

Rating: 5/10

Serve: 2 as a snack
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 – 40 minutes

1 aubergine
1 level tbsp tahini
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small clove garlic mashed to a paste with a sprinkling of salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 green chilli pepper, seeds removed and chopped
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200c and roast the aubergine for 30~40 minutes
Let the aubergine cool for 15 minutes, then remove the charred skin and chop or mash the flesh in a bowl
In a blender, combine the garlic, tahini and chilli and blend to a coarse paste
Add the mashed aubergine, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and blend until smooth
Stir in lemon juice and drizzle a little olive oil on top
Serve as dip with toasted pitta bread

Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud, who is known within the Arab world as Abdul Aziz. As King, he presided over the discovery of petroleum in Saudi Arabia in 1938 and the beginning of large scale oil production after WWII. In accordance with the customs of his people, Abdul Aziz headed a polygamous household. He had 22 wives and almost a hundred children. Of his 45 sons, 6 went on to become king.
Saudi Arabia has since become the world’s largest oil producer and exporter, controlling the world’s second largest oil reserves. It relies on the oil industry for almost half of its GDP.

The percentage of Saudi Arabia’s population that is female is one of the lowest in the world. Women are not permitted to drive, open bank accounts, work, travel or go to school without the express permission of a male guardian. In December 2015, women were allowed to vote for the first time, and 979 women ran for office.

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines – Mecca (where the Prophet Muhammad received the word of Allah), and Medina (where Muhammad died in A.D. 632). One of the five pillars of Islam is performing Hajj, by traveling to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once. Approximately two million people a year make the pilgrimage.

The cuisine of Saudi Arabia has been influenced by Turkish, Indian, Persian, and African food. Pork is not allowed due to Islamic dietary laws. Popular dishes include Khouzi (lamb stuffed with chicken that is stuffed with rice, nuts and sultanas), Shawarma (meat kebab), Kabsa (meat and vegetables with rice), Markook or Shrak (flatbread), Saleeg (white rice cooked in broth) and Murtabak (stuffed pancake). I opted to make the simple but tasty Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken) which I served with aioli and a mixed salad.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes + 1 hour marinating
Cook time: 20 minutes

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp mild chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp olive oil

Quick aioli dip
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper

Using a mallet, flatten the chicken breasts and place them in a plastic bag
Add all the spice powders to the bag with the lime juice and olive oil
Let the chicken marinate in the fridge for about an hour
Place the chicken breasts in foil and wrap well
Cook them on a hot BBQ for 15 – 20 minutes, then remove from the foil and cook directly over the heat for 5 minutes to give them some colour
Serve hot, with aioli and mixed salad

Quick aioli dip
Mash garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt in small bowl until paste forms
Whisk in mayonnaise, olive oil, and lemon juice
Season to taste with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
Mecca Saudi Arabia
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Medina Saudi Arabia
Medina, Saudi Arabia


This is the 99th country I’ve cooked, so I’m officially half way through my challenge.

Malaysia is made up of Peninsula Malaysia and part of the island of Borneo, East Malaysia. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore, as well as Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo, joined the Federation of Malaya. Singapore withdrew from the federation in 1965. The country is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural with half the population ethnically Malay and large minorities of Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indians, and indigenous people.

The Strait of Malacca, lying between Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia, is one of the most important thoroughfares in global commerce, carrying 40 per cent of the world’s trade. Over 94,000 vessels pass through the strait each year. Piracy has been a problem with 25 attacks on vessels in 1994, 220 in 2000, and just over 150 in 2003 (a third of the global total). Regional navies stepped up their patrols of the area in July 2004 and attacks dropped to 79 in 2005 and 50 in 2006.

Sarawak contains the Mulu Caves, the largest cave system in the world, in the Gunung Mulu National Park. The Sarawak Chamber is 700 m (2,300 ft)) long, 396 m (1,299 ft) wide and at least 70 m (230 ft) high. It has been said that the chamber is so big that it could accommodate about 40 Boeing 747s, without overlapping their wings.

About two thirds of Malaysia is covered in forest, with some believed to be 130 million years old. The forests of East Malaysia are estimated to be the habitat of around 2,000 tree species, and are one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.

A few other interesting facts:
In 2015, Malaysia ranked in fourth position on the World’s Best Retirement Havens
The Borneo Island which is made up of Sabah and Sarawak, Brunei and Indonesia is the third largest island in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea
The largest roundabout in the world is located at Putrajaya, Malaysia and is 3.5km in diameter
According to a survey in 2010, Malaysians had the largest number of friends on Facebook, with an average of 233
The orang utans of Malaysia have arms that are unusually long, almost one and half times longer than their legs

Malaysian cuisine is a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens. Malaysia shares culinary ties with Singapore and Indonesia and versions of dishes such as laksa, satay and rendang are shared. These are a few recipes I came across from the huge array I researched; Asam laksa (spicy mackerel noodle soup), Char kuey teow (stir fried noodles), nasi lemak (fragrant rice), Bak Kut Teh (pork rib soup) and Kuih dadar (sweet crepe). I made Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns) which were vibrant and flavoursome.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 5-7 minutes

For the belacan sambal paste
1 tsp shrimp paste (available at tesco)
2 red jalapeno chilli peppers, seeds removed and chopped
2 red birdseye chillies, seeds removed and chopped
Juice from 1 lime

For the sambal udang
16 peeled raw king prawns
2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 & 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste (available at tesco)
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 & 1/2 cups water
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp caster sugar

For the belacan sambal paste
Put the shrimp paste and chillies into a pestle and mortar and pound to a paste or you can use a mini food processor
Put the paste in a glass jar and squeeze in the lime juice and shake well.

Heat up the oil in a wok. Add the sambal paste and stir-fry until aromatic, about 2 minutes
Add the prawns and continue to stir-fry for about 2-3 minutes
Add in the water, tamarind paste and bring it to a quick boil
Add in the kaffir lime leaves, salt, and sugar and continue to cook for 2 minutes
Serve with steamed rice

Ingredients for Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
Sambal paste
Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
Malaysian orang utan
Malaysia orang utans
Malacca strait
Police patrolling the Malacca strait


Bahrain, meaning ‘two seas’ in Arabic, although which two seas originally intended remains in dispute! Today, the two seas are generally taken to mean either the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. Bahrain is an archipelago of 84 islands and island groups situated in the Gulf of Bahrain between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It is 92% desert and dust storms transported by northwesterly winds from Iraq and Saudi Arabia are the main natural hazard. The King Fahd Causeway, 15 miles long, linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia was completed in 1986 at a cost of $1.2 billion.

It was the first emirate where oil was discovered in 1932. Bahrain’s economic activity, has centred on the production of crude oil and natural gas and on refining petroleum products, making the country sensitive to fluctuations in the world oil market. It has however been more successful than some other states in the gulf in developing manufacturing and commercial and financial services. Before the discovery of oil, pearling was the economic mainstay of Bahrain. The quality and the abundance of the pearls in Persian Gulf waters are unsurpassed anywhere.

Bahrain has 4 protected marine environments; Hawar Islands, Mashtan Island, Arad bay and Tubli Bay. The breeding colony of Socotra cormorant (aquatic birds) on Hawar Islands is the largest in the world. In 2003, Bahrain banned the capture of sea cows, marine turtles and dolphins within its territorial waters.

Millions of tourists visit Bahrain each year and the highlights include Qal’at Al Bahrain or the Bahrain fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bahrain National Museum, home to artefacts dating back to the island’s first human inhabitants some 9000 years ago, Beit Al Quran, meaning ‘House of Qur’an’ is a museum that holds Islamic artefacts of the Qur’an and the Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree that grows in the Sakhir desert with no nearby water and is visited by approximately 50,000 tourists every year.

The cuisine of Bahrain is a mix of Arabic, Persian, Indian, Balochi, African, Far East and European food. Popular dishes include nekheh, bajelah and loobah (trio of spicy bean soups), Qoozi (lamb with rice), Khabees (date dessert) and Muhammar (sweet rice). I opted to cook their national dish, Machboos (spicy chicken and rice). It was relatively simple and quite tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 1 hour 40 mins

1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
1 tbsp baharat (see below)
1/3 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil
400g chicken thighs, legs or breasts
1/2 hot green chilli, seeded and diced
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 large cloves or garlic, thinly sliced
5 cherry tomatoes, diced
2 green cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 tsp salt
1 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup basmati rice (soaked for at least 15 minutes, then rinsed and drained)
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Rosewater for sprinkling (optional, but recommended)

For the baharat
1/3 tbsp black peppercorns
1/3 tbsp cumin seeds
2/3 tsp coriander seeds
1/3 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
1/3 tsp whole cloves
seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
1/3 tbsp paprika powder teaspoon ground pinch nutmeg

For the Baharat:
Set the paprika and nutmeg powders aside. Place all remaining ingredients (whole seeds, cinnamon stick and cloves) in a small frying pan and dry roast over medium-high heat, tossing regularly to prevent burning, for 2 minutes or until very fragrant
Transfer to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and let cool
Add the paprika and nutmeg and grind all the ingredients to a fine powder

Heat the oil in a casserole dish over medium-high heat and fry the chicken pieces on both sides until the skin is brown and crispy
Transfer the chicken to a plate and leave the remaining oil in the casserole dish
Add the ghee (or butter), reduce the heat to medium, and fry the onions until starting to brown, about 8 – 10 minutes
Add the ginger, garlic, and green chilli and fry for another 2 minutes
Add the baharat and turmeric and cook for another minute
Return the chicken pieces to the casserole along with the tomatoes, cardamom pods, cinnamon and salt
Add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 40 minutes
Add the coriander, parsley and drained rice and stir to combine
Return it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the rice is done and has absorbed the liquid
Transfer the chicken and rice to a serving dish (either leave the chicken pieces tossed in with the rice, or place the chicken on top of the rice), and sprinkling with 1-2 tablespoons of rosewater (optional)
Serve with a green salad and yogurt raita


Hawar Islands, Bahrain
Hawar Island, Bahrain
Tree of Life Bahrain
The Tree of Life, Bahrain
Bahrain sunset
Sunset in Bahrain


The Indus Valley civilization, one of the oldest in the world and dating back at least 5,000 years, spreads over much of what now constitutes Pakistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is the only muslim country to have been created in the name of Islam. Initially a dominion, Pakistan adopted a new constitution in 1956, becoming an Islamic republic.

Pakistan is home to the 2nd largest peak in the world, K2, also known as the Savage Mountain. It reaches 8,611 metres (28,251 ft) above sea level and is the highest point of the Karakoram mountain range. There have been around 300 successful summits and 80 fatalities, about one person dies on the mountain for every four who reach the summit. The first successful summit was an Italian expedition, led by Ardito Desio and the two climbers who actually reached the summit were Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni on 31 July 1954.

Often known as the ‘Eighth wonder of the world’ the Karakoram Highway, runs through the northern areas connecting Pakistan with China and is the world’s highest paved international road at an elevation of 4,693 metres (15,397 ft) and approximately 1,300 km in length. It was started in 1959 and was completed and opened to the public in 1979. About 810 Pakistanis and about 200 Chinese workers lost their lives, while building the highway, mostly in landslides and falls.

More than 50% of the world’s footballs are made in Pakistan. Around 60 milion hand-stitched footballs are produced by small firms in Sialkot, Pakistan. In 2014, 42 million official ‘Brazuca’ footballs were exported to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup. Even NASA tested the football and declared it the best football ever made.

The cuisine of Pakistan is similar to that of Northern India with influences from Central Asia and the Middle East. The food varies across the different regions from Pashtun, Punjab, Sindh and Karachi. Some of the recipes I found were Aloo gosht (lamb with potatoes in gravy), Seekh kebab (beef kebab), Matar pulao (rice with peas) and Sindhi biryani (rice & meat). I made Chicken Lahori curry, well actually I made Butter chicken, then realised that it’s not from Pakistan. So two for the price of one! Both were very delicious and got 9/10.

Rating: 9/10

Chicken Lahori curry
Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 25 – 35 mins

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 black cardamom pods
2 green cardamom pods
1/3 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger & garlic pounded into a paste
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
1 heaped tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 or 2 green chillies, chopped (depending on how hot you like)
400g chicken breast skinless and boneless cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
140ml chicken stock or water
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala (optional)

Heat the oil in a wok and fry the whole spices with the bay leaves until they crackle
Add the onions and fry for a few minutes, until lightly browned
Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a minute, stirring well, then add the ground spices (except the garam masala), the green chillies and tomatoes
Cook for 3 minutes, stirring to blend
Add the chicken pieces with the yogurt, stock and salt to taste, and stir well
Simmer gently for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked
If the sauce is too thick, add more stock
Stir in the chopped coriander leaves and garam masala
Serve with steamed rice


Butter chicken
Serves: 2 hungry people
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 25 min

4 Tbsp oil
100g butter
2 tsp fresh ginger & garlic pounded into a paste
450g chicken, boneless cubes
300g tomatoes, blended
1 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp curry powder
Salt to taste
2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
300g fresh cream
1 piece ginger, julienne
2 tbsp green coriander, chopped

Heat oil in a wok
Add ginger-garlic paste and chicken
Fry till chicken changes colour to golden brown
Add butter to chicken in the pan and then add blended tomatoes
Cook for 2-3 minutes whilst stirring
Add red chilli powder, turmeric, curry powder, salt and stir lightly till oil separates
Add fenugreek leaves
Slowly add cream and stir
Add ginger juliennes and cover with lid and cook gently for few minutes
Garnish with coriander and serve with steamed rice




The Maldives, paradise on earth, the most beautiful place on the planet. Well it is in my opinion anyway! I’m extremely fortunate enough to have visited the Maldives several times and I hope to visit many more different islands. The Republic of Maldives is made up of a chain of 26 atolls spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres. There are 1,192 coral islands in total and the island of Gan is the largest. It is the smallest Asian country in both land area and population. It is also the planet’s lowest country with a maximum and average natural ground level of 2.4 and 1.5 metres above sea level. The UN’s environmental panel has warned that, at current rates, sea level rise would be high enough to make the Maldives uninhabitable by 2100. The government has pledged to make it carbon-neutral by 2019.

The waters of the Maldives are home to 1100 species of fish, 5 species of sea turtles, 21 species of whales and dolphins, 187 species of corals, 400 species of molluscs as well as over 145 crab and 48 shrimp species.
Only 185 islands are home to its 300,000 inhabitants. The other islands are used entirely for economic purposes, of which tourism and agriculture are the most dominant.
On 26th December, 2004 the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami. Only 9 islands were reported to have escaped any flooding, 14 had to be entirely evacuated and 6 were destroyed. It left more than 100 people dead, 12,000 displaced, and property damage exceeding $400 million. The 2004 tsunami is the deadliest in recorded history.

In terms of Maldivian cuisine, the local staple is fish, usually combined with coconut and rice. Popular dishes include Mas Riha (traditional Maldivian tuna curry), Hanaakuri Beef Hiki Riha (roasted beef dry curry), Kukulhu Riha (chicken curry), Mashuni (smoked tuna with coconut served for breakfast) and Kavaabu (fish fritters). I decided to make Dhon Riha (tuna curry) which we had with steamed rice. It had a delicate and tasty flavour.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 15 mins

300g diced yellowfin tuna
¼ tbsp turmeric powder
1 inch finely grated ginger
1 tin coconut milk (don’t shake it!)
1 cup finely grated fresh coconut (either from a whole coconut or you can buy a small tub of coconut pieces which you can grate)
1 finely sliced onion
½ tbsp cinnamon powder
7 tsp mild or medium curry powder
2 pieces of raw mango skinned
½ red chilli pepper

Blend the turmeric powder, salt and grated coconut into a smooth paste
Carefully open your tin of coconut milk and separate the thick cream from the thin juice into different containers
Pour one cup of thick coconut milk and one cup of thin coconut milk into a small saucepan, keeping another cup of thick coconut milk aside
Mix together the cinnamon, ginger and onion in a bowl, then put half of this in the pan with the blended coconut milk
Bring this to boil on a low heat
In a separate bowl, mix the blended grated coconut with the rest of the cinnamon onion mix and stir in the diced tuna
When the coconut milk begins to boil, add the tuna mix, curry powder, chilli pepper, mango and salt
Stir while cooking over a low heat
When it begins to boil, add the other cup of thick coconut milk and let it cook for a few more minutes
Serve with steamed rice

Ingredients for Maldivian Dhon Riha (tuna curry)
Maldivian Dhon Riha (tuna curry) with steamed rice
Maldivian Dhon Riha (tuna curry) with steamed rice


Approaching Lily Beach resort
Bern and I at Lily Beach resort
Lily Beach resort
View from the seaplane
Maldivian sunset
black tip shark, Maldives
Black tip sharks
sea turtle
Sea turtle
Maldivian beach


I’ve always wanted to go to Oman, well actually, I’ve always wanted to go the Chedi hotel in Muscat. Pouring over glossy travel magazines, as is my want, I came across it’s magnificent white Omani architecture and calming pools many years ago. It just oozes luxury and zen like serenity. However at £230 per night for a sea view room or £450 for a club suite, I’ve not quite got there yet.

The Sultanate of Oman is a nation on the Arabian Peninsula, it is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the south and southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. Oman is an absolute monarchy, meaning the monarch has unrestricted political power over the sovereign state and its people. The Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has been the hereditary leader of the country since 1970.

The largest dagger measured 91.50 cm (36.02 in) in length and 21.60 cm (8.50 in) at its widest point and was achieved by Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel) in Muscat, Oman, on 12 November 2011. The dagger was produced as a gift to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, to celebrate his 40 years of accession. The dagger was a Khanja- a traditional Omani dagger and Oman’s national symbol. The dagger was made from wood and silver, with ornate carvings and mouldings.

Some of the top highlights for the visitor are Nizwa’s 17th century fort, Wadi Shab gorge, the port and capital city of Muscat, Sharqiya (Wahiba) sand dunes, Masirah’s picture perfect beaches and the Empty Quarter, the largest contiguous sand desert (erg) in the world.

Omani cuisine is rooted in a Bedouin culture of hospitality, using whatever is on hand to feed a wandering stranger or a crowd of friends. Dishes are often based on chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as the staple of rice. Common dishes include Machboos (rice flavored with saffron and cooked over spicy meat), Sakhana (thick soup), Djaj Fouq El-Eish (spiced chicken and rice) and Mishkak (skewered meat cooked over charcoal). I decided to cook the festival meal of Shuwa, which traditionally is covered with banana leaves and cooked in an underground sand oven for up to 2 days. As my husband wasn’t too keen on me digging a fire pit in our garden, I opted to cook it in the oven! It is served over a fragrant rice and we really enjoyed it.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 mins + 24 hours marinating
Cook time: 3 hours 50 mins

1/2 leg of lamb, pierced in a few places with a sharp knife

For the marinade:
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground pepper
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp red chili powder
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon

For the rice:
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp pepper corns
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt

Thoroughly combine all the marinade ingredients
Put the lamb in a bag and pour the spice mix over the lamb leg, massaging it well inside the bag so it’s fully coated and the liquids get into the pierced holes
Place in the fridge for 24 hours

Preheat the oven to 150c
Put the lamb in a roasting tray and cover tightly with foil
Cook for 3 and a 1/2 hours, basting every hour
Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 mins
Put the lamb on a carving board, rest for 5 mins then carve

For the rice (start 20 – 30 mins before lamb is ready)
Soak the rice for 10 mins in water, drain and rinse
Heat a heavy bottom pan to a medium – high heat
Add oil
Add all the spices and fry for 30 seconds
Add the water
When water is boiling, add the rice
Cook until the water has all been absorbed, stir gently, then turn off the heat and cover with a lid
Let it steam until the lamb is ready


Wadi Shab, Oman
Wadi Shab gorge, Oman
Muscat Oman
Muscat, Oman
Chedi hotel Muscat
Chedi hotel, Muscat
Masirah beach Oman
Masirah beach, Oman


Jordan is situated in the heart of the Middle East, almost land locked but for a for a short coast on the Gulf of Aqaba. Officially The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan since independence from Britain in 1946. King Hussein ruled Jordan from 1953 until his death in 1999, when his son King Abdallah II assumed the throne. Since 1989, all elements of the Jordanian political system have been on a road to greater democracy, liberalisation and consensus building.

The population of Jordan is estimated at 9.5 million as of 2016. Jordan plays host to enormous numbers of refugees, with 2 million Palestinians, 1.4 million Syrians, 700,000 Iraqis and 15,000 Lebanese. Archaeological evidence shows that humans have lived in what is now Jordan for at least 90,000 years through the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. It has been ruled by the Mongols, the Crusaders, the Ayyubids, the Mamluks and the Ottoman empire.

Tourism in Jordan is affected by regional turbulence but despite this it is still considered to be a major influence on the economy. The most popular tourist attractions are the historical cities of Petra and Jerash. Other highlights include Madaba’s Byzantine era mosaics, the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Wadi Rum, Al-Maghtas and the Dead Sea.

The cuisine of Jordan has developed over the centuries. Popular ingredients include olive oil (they are one of the largest olive producers in the world), herbs, garlic, lemon, tomato sauce and yoghurt. Mansaf is the national dish (lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt called Jameed). Other dishes I came across were Mujaddara (lentil and rice casserole), Freekeh (poultry or meat fried in oil and braised with water, salt, and cinnamon bark) and Kousa Mahshi (meat stuffed courgettes). We had friends visiting for the weekend so I decided to do Mezze, which is a highly popular style of eating in Jordan. I made Kefta (spiced ground meat), Falafel (fried chickpea balls), Tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad) and Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip. I served it all with flatbreads and pitta breads. It divided the group a little, but overall we enjoyed it.

Rating: (a high) 7/10

Serves 4 with leftovers
Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 1 hour

½ kg tomatoes
½ cup olive oil
½ cup lemon joice
1 cup cooked bulgar wheat (follow instructions on pack)
2 large onions
3 ¾ cups of finely chopped parsley
3 ¾ cups finely chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp salt

Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip
½ cucumber
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
500g plain yoghurt
1 tbsp salt

Beef Keftas
750g ground beef
2 onions
2 tsp minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tsps salt
2 tsps black pepper
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp oil
½ cup passata

2 cups dried chickpeas
1 cup dried broad beans
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
½ cup of chopped parsley and/or coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 tsp black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tsp baking soda

Cook the bulgar wheat according to the pack instructions
Chop tomatoes very fine and sprinkle with salt
Chop onions very fine and add to tomatoes
Add parsley and mint leaves
Stir together with the bulgar wheat
Add lemon juice and olive oil and mix well

Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip
Dice the cucumbers
Crush the garlic with salt & mint; stir into yoghurt
Add cucumbers and serve with mint garnish

Preheat oven to 175c
Half the onion and cut about 1/4 of that half into thin slices, then the rest of the onion shred with a hand vegetable shredder OR chop, mince garlic and chop parsley, then add it to the meat
Add seasoning to the meat, salt, ground black pepper and allspice
Drizzle oil on top of the meat mixture and mix with your hands (you can put the mixture in a bag and massage it to avoid getting tpp messy).
Brush oil on the bottom of the baking pan, then press down the meat mixture, from one corner to the other until it is equally spread.
With two fingers, (index and middle) make little lines, from one end to the other. This will speed cooking process and in a way looks like boneless riblets.
Spoon over the passata, and spread equally on the top of the meat mixture, then place those thin onion slices on top, a sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little more parsley
Bake for about 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven. It will shrink from all the sides of the pan

Soak the chickpeas and fava beans for at least six hours or overnight
Blend the soaked chickpeas and fava beans, onion, garlic, and chopped parsley into the food processor until all the ingredients are combined into a nice, thick paste
Empty the mixture into a bowl, add the salt and spices, and mix them well with a spatula
Add baking soda to the mixture and mix well
Scoop the mixture with a spoon or your hands to form ball shapes and deep fry them in vegetable oil until they are a nice golden brown colour



Before this challenge, I’ll be honest and say that I thought of Turkmenistan as ‘just another stan’, how wrong could I possibly have been! Until it’s independence from the USSR in 1990 it was isolated from the rest of the world and it is still pretty weird today. Turkmenistan became famous for the strange dictatorship of the eccentric late president, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi’ (Leader of the Turkmen).

A few facts
Turkmenbashi re-named the days of the week after himself and his mother and banned opera, ballet and the circus.
Turkmenistan ranks 3rd worst for press freedom conditions in the world, just before North Korea and Eritrea.
The current leader, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has written several books, the latest one is called “Tea: Medicine and Inspiration”.
Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources and since 1993 citizens have received free of charge natural gas, electricity and water.
Ashgabat, the capital, meaning ‘the city of love’ has been rebuilt, after it was levelled by an earthquake in 1948, that killed more than 110,000 people (two-thirds of the then population). It now has the world’s highest concentration of white marble buildings and the largest indoor Ferris Wheel at 47.60 metres.

Many of the popular dishes in Turkmenistan today are from Soviet influence such as Pelmani (meat dumplings), Peroshki (rice, meat, or vegetables cooked in dough) and Borsch (beet soup). I also came across Borek (dumplings in soup), Plov (fried rice with lamb and carrots) , Gelin Budu – Bride’s Thighs (Rice Croquettes) and Palaw (Turkmen Pilaf). I decided to make Gutap (savoury filled dumplings) that are like a flattened pasty. They were somewhat fiddly to make and sadly, didn’t really hit the mark on flavour. The first couple I made were too big, so it’s easier the smaller you make them.

Rating: 5/10

Makes 6-8 gutaps (enough for a main meal for 2)
Prep time: 45 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
200ml hand hot water
1 tbsp olive oil

450g ground beef
1 onion
½ red pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Mix the dough ingredients together in a bowl until it forms a smooth texture but not too wet (add more flour if necessary). Cover it with clingfilm and set aside.
In a food processor, chop the onions and red pepper.
Mix the chopped vegetables in a bowl with the meat, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
Heat 3 tbsp vegetable oil in skillet over medium high heat.
Divide the dough and roll it out thinly in small rounds (10cm max). Fill half the rounds with the filling, and cover with the other half, pressing down with a fork to seal them. Brush the gutaps with oil on both sides.
Cook them in a pan one by one, turning them once until they brown on both sides, add more oil to the pan if needed.

Serve hot.

South Korea

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea is situated in East Asia in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. The Seoul Capital area is the world’s sixth leading global city, with the fourth largest economy. 75% of South Korea is mountainous, making it a popular winter sport destination. They are to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

President PARK Geun-hye, daughter of former ROK President PARK Chung-hee, took office in February 2013 and is South Korea’s first female leader. Her father PARK Chung-hee took over leadership of the country in a 1961 coup. During his regime, from 1961 to 1979, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth, with per capita income rising to roughly 17 times the level of North Korea.

Some interesting facts about South Korea
South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world.
They have a very unusual approach to age. Every South Korean child is considered to be one year old when it is born and it will turn two on the next Lunar New Year.
The iconic song “Gangnam Style” by the South Korean musician Psy became the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views (The phrase “Gangnam Style” refers to a luxury lifestyle associated with the Gangnam District of Seoul).
It has the world’s fastest Internet speed and highest smartphone ownership, with half of Koreans paying all their bills using their mobile phones.
Although South Korea has very high living standards, suicide is a serious and widespread problem. It has the second-highest suicide rate in the world according to the World Health Organization.
Since 1997, every July the nine-day Boryeong Mud Festival takes place, attracting 1.5 million attendees. It was started to promote the health benefits of mud.

South Korea has 12 world heritage sites including Changdeokgung Palace Complex in Seoul, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. In 2012, 11.1 million foreign tourists visited South Korea, making it the 20th most visited country in the world. The South Korean government has set a target of attracting 20 million foreign tourists a year by 2017.

Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, vegetables, and meats. Ingredients and dishes vary by province. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes that accompany steam-cooked rice. Recipes I came across include Kalbi Jim (stewed korean short ribs), Dak Galbi (spicy stir fried chicken) and Mi Yeok Gu (seaweed soup). I opted to cook Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) which was absolutely delicious.

Rating: 10/10

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 mins + 2 hours marinating
Cook time: 6 mins

450g thinly sliced beef (sirloin or rib eye)
5 tbsp sugar
½ cup soy sauce
2 garlic cloves (bashed)
¼ tsp salt
5 tbsp Mirin (sweet sake, optional)
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 cup spring onions, chopped
2 cups thinly sliced carrots

Mix together all ingredients except carrots.
Marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Griddle the beef slices on a medium to high heat for a few minutes.
Add the marinating juice and carrots and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Serve with steamed rice.



Bangladesh is located at the apex of the Bay of Bengal and shares borders with India and Myanmar. It is the world’s eighth-most populous country. Three of Asia’s largest rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna flow through Bangladesh forming the fertile Bengal delta, the largest delta in the world.  At 2,172,000 square kilometers, the Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world. Poverty is widespread with many Bangladeshis living on less than $1 a day, however, promisingly the poverty rate has reduced from 57% in 1990 to 25.6% in 2014.

The country is the world’s largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping. In 2006, Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Prize in Peace “for efforts to create economic and social development from below”.

Bangladesh is home to much of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other highlights include the Buddhist remains at Paharpur and the 15th-century mosques and mausoleums of Bagerhat, both of which are also Unesco World Heritage Sites. Cox’s Bazar is home to the world’s longest natural sea beaches, which are 75 miles long including mud flats. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populated cities, with a population of nearly 17 million people. It is known as the rickshaw capital of the world, with daily traffic of over 600,000 cycle rickshaws.

The Royal Bengal Tiger is Bangladesh’s national animal. This majestic creature has a roar that can be heard up to 3 kilometers away. Sadly, it is now an endangered species. Bangladesh has an abundance of wildlife including clouded leopards, saltwater crocodiles, black panthers and fishing cats. It also has one of the largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins and Ganges dolphins.

Rice is the main staple of Bangladesh cuisine and is served with a wide range of curries. There are regional differences in the cuisine, the Western region is known for authentic Bengali recipes while the Central region including Dhaka, favours fresh water fish. Dishes include Murgir Jhol (chicken curry), Chirer Polao (flattened rice with vegetables), Rui maacher kaalia (fish curry), Doi Maach (fish in yoghurt sauce), Sandesh Mishti (milk based sweet), Bandhakopir Torkari (Bengali Cabbage, Potato and Pea Curry) and Cholar daal (lentils). I opted to cook Dhaka Chicken Karahi (chicken curry) which was particularly spicy and tasty. I added lime juice and creme fraiche to tone it down a little.

Rating: 8/10 (although Bern said it was 9/10 with the additions I made to the dish!)

Serves 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins

2 tbsp oil
1 & 1/2 ginger & garlic paste
2 large chicken breasts cut into chunks
1 medium piece ginger, sliced
1/2 tbsp crushed cumin seeds
1/2 tbsp crushed coriander seeds
1 tbsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 green chillies
Fresh coriander
1/2 tsp all spice powder

Heat the oil in a pan to a medium heat and fry the ginger and garlic paste for a few seconds.
Add the chicken and stir well to coat.
When the chicken changes colour (after a few minutes), add sliced ginger, cumin, coriander, red chilli flakes and salt and mix.
Add the water, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add sliced green chillies, onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander, stir well and cook for 15 minutes. Add more water if it starts to dry out.
Add the all spice powder, stir well and cook for a minute.
Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve with cooked basmati rice.


India, the seventh largest country by area and second largest by population with over 1.2 billion people.

India was once a continent. More than 100 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, most of what is now India was an island.  It had broken off from an ancient supercontinent, referred to as Gondwanaland by paleogeographers and was moving slowly northwards.  About 50 million years ago, the India continental plate collided with Asia, buckling the coastal area of both continents and creating the Himalayas.   Evidence of this ancient history is provided by fossilised sea shells that can still be found high in the mountains. The plate on which the subcontinent rests continues to press slowly northwards, and is the reason why the height of Mount Everest increases slightly every year.

India has three of the world’s top ten megacities – one more than China. According to the UN, Delhi is now the second-largest urban agglomeration in the world, with Mumbai ranked seventh and Calcutta tenth.  The population of Delhi and its immediate urban hinterland is now over 22.65 million, and is only surpassed by Tokyo.  The 486.6-million worker Indian labour force is the world’s second-largest, as of 2011.  The service sector makes up 55.6% of GDP, the industrial sector 26.3% and the agricultural sector 18.1%.

India’s telecommunication industry, the world’s fastest-growing, added 227 million subscribers during the period 2010–11, and after the first quarter of 2013, India surpassed Japan to become the third largest smartphone market in the world after China and the U.S.

There are more road deaths in India than any other country in the world.  Officially about 115,000 people die on Indian roads each year – though a recent British Medical Journal study suggests that the true number of fatalities is closer to 200,000.

India has the world’s largest film industry.  More than 1,100 movies are produced, on average, each year – that’s slightly ahead of Nigeria, twice as many as the American film industry and ten times as many as Britain produces.

Some interesting facts about the Taj Mahal:

– It took 22 years to build from 1631 to 1653.
– 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants were involved in the build.
– Today’s value of the Taj Mahal is estimated to be around $10 billion dollars.
– It was built by Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram) for his wife – Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Bano Begum).
– Between 2 – 4 million people visit every year.

Indian cuisine is hugely diverse and is known the world over.  Indian food differs across the various regions and is also heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices and traditions.  Thankfully with a little help from my friend Aditi, I chose to cook 3 dishes – Murgh Punjabi (chicken curry from Punjab), Peas Pulao (peas with rice) and Chana Saag (chickpeas with spinach).

Overall rating: 8/10.  The chana saag was a little too watery, so I have adjusted the recipe below with reduced water.
For the Murgh Punjabi:

500g chicken with bones or boneless (based on preference)
2-3 medium sized onion
3 tomatoes on the vine
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp chopped ginger
2-3 tbsp oil
1 bay leaf
4 – 5 whole peppercorns
2-3 whole cloves
Half a cinnamon stick broken into smaller pieces
2-3 black cardamom
1/2 heaped tsp cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder – to taste
4-5 teaspoons chicken curry masala powder
Fresh coriander, chopped

Sauté chopped onions till dark brown in the oil

Add chopped tomatoes
Keep sautéing mixture till the tomatoes and onions are well cooked and start releasing the oil
This should take 15-20 mins
Wait for mixture to cool and grind to paste consistency in a mixer
In a deep bottom pan, take some oil, add chopped ginger and chopped garlic
Once golden brown add bay leaf, peppercorns, black cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves and the cumin seeds
Once the cumin seeds are sizzling, add the onion tomato paste that you made earlier
Let it all cool together for 2 mins and then add red chilly powder, chicken curry powder, freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
Sauté mixture for 3-4 minutes
Add washed chicken pieces to the pan now
Sauté for 7-8 minutes till all the pieces are nicely covered with the masala and are sealed
Now add water (half a cup of water if you want the curry to have a thick consistency and want to serve it with Indian bread or 2 cups of water (approx) if you want to serve it with rice and want it to be more liquids)
Now bring to boil and once it’s boiling, put a lid on and reduce the flame to low for the chicken to simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.
Keep stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan16. Once cooked, garnish with chopped coriander and juliennes of ginger

For the Peas Pulao:

1 1/2 cups of basmati white rice
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 cups water (double the rice)
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
2 -3 pinches garam masala powder

In a deep bottom pan, heat the oil

Add the cumin seeds, once they start to sizzle, add the peas
Sauté for 2 minutes and add the rice
Add salt to taste and sauté the peas and rice to mix together
Add the water, bring to a boil
Let all the water get absorbed by the rice and peas and once you start to see holes in the rice, cover it with a lid and turn the flame off
Let it cook in its own steam for 7-10 mins, open the lid and spread the rice gently and turn it from top to bottom so that every rice particle can stand out separately and no lumps are formed
Put the lid again for another 4-5 mins
Your rice is ready, garnish with garam masala powder for aroma and flavour

For the Chana Saag:

250g spinach, washed
1/3 tsp cumin seeds
400g can of chickpeas
1/2 tsp dry ginger powder
3/4 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp tomato puree
400g can chopped tomatoes or passata
Salt to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a tall stockpot.

Add the spinach leaves and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Cook for about 5 minutes breaking down the spinach leaves until wilted and pulped but some liquid remains.
Remove to a separate bowl.
Heat 1 more tablespoon of olive oil in the same stockpot. Add the cumin seeds and fry for 1-2 minutes until they sizzle.
Add the chickpeas and 1 tsp salt.
Remove from heat and add the ground spices.
Return to heat and mix in the tomato puree and canned tomatoes.
Cook for 1-2 minutes and then add 1 cup water.
Cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes.
Add the spinach with its liquid and cook for another 5-10 minutes on low heat.
Taste and adjust salt and chili as needed.






Japan is a place I’ve always wanted to go to, but I haven’t quite made it yet.  A quote from Chris Rowthorn on the Lonely Planet website sums it up beautifully;
“I’ve spent most of my adult life in Japan and now it feels like home to me. I love the food: it’s incredibly varied and nourishing and there seems to be no end to the culinary discoveries one can make. I love the combination of a hike in the mountains followed by a long soak in an onsen. But, most of all, I love the meticulous and careful nature of the Japanese people, reflected in every aspect of Japanese life, from trains that run right on time to sublime works of art. Put it all together and you come away with a country that still intrigues me even after two decades of living there.”


Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago of 6,852 islands. The four largest are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, which make up about ninety-seven percent of Japan’s land area.  Over 70% of Japan is mountainous and there are over 100 active volcanoes.  The population of 126 million is the world’s tenth largest.  It has the world’s third-largest economy by nominal GDP and the world’s fourth-largest economy by purchasing power parity.  Japan has the highest life expectancy ranking in the world with an overall life expectancy of 84 (vs 81 in the UK, which is ranked no.20).


Some quick facts …
Coffee is very popular and Japan imports approximately 85% of Jamaica’s annual coffee production.
On average there are around 1,500 earthquakes every year in Japan.
Japan is the largest automobile producer in the world.
It is home to the world’s longest railroad tunnel at 54 kilometers (33 miles) – the Seikan Tunnel linking Honshu to Hokkaido.
As of 2011, Japan overtook France in the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants and has maintained the title since.


I received a few suggestions from friends for Japanese recipes including Shabu shabu (hotpot of meat & vegetables), Katsu curry (deep fried pork or chicken in curry sauce) and Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake).  Other traditional dishes include miso soup, soba or udon noodles, sashimi (raw fish), chahan (fried rice), tempura (deep fried fish or vegetables), gyoza (dumplings) and teriyaki (grilled meat, fish or vegetables).


As I was having a little get together with friends I decided to make Maki-zushi (sushi rolls) with salmon & avocado to serve as a nibble with drinks.  It seemed the jury is still out for some of my guests when it comes to raw fish.


Rating: 8/10

Makes 32 sushi rolls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

300g sushi rice
2 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
1 large avocado
juice ½ lemon
4 sheets nori seaweed
2 previously frozen salmon fillets thawed
1 bunch chives
Soy sauce & wasabi to serve

Put the rice in a small pan with 600ml water. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 mins until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Stir through the vinegar and sugar, cover and cool.
Skin, stone and slice the avocado. Put in a bowl and squeeze over the lemon juice, turning the avocado to ensure the pieces are covered.
Divide the rice between the nori sheets and spread it out evenly, leaving a 1cm border at the top and bottom. Lay the salmon over the rice, followed by the chives and finally position the avocado across the centre.
Fold the bottom edge of the seaweed over the filling, then roll it up firmly. Dampen the top border with a little water to help it seal the roll. Repeat to make 4 rolls. At this stage, the rolls can be wrapped individually in cling film and chilled until ready to serve.
Using a serrated knife, cut each roll into 8 rounds. Serve with sweet soy sauce for dipping.

North Korea

The world’s most secretive country is situated in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.  Early European visitors to Korea remarked that the country resembled “a sea in a heavy gale” because of the many successive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula.


After the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was divided into two zones by the United States and the Soviet Union, with the north occupied by the Soviets and the south by the Americans. Negotiations on reunification failed, and in 1948 two separate governments were formed: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the Republic of Korea in the south. An invasion initiated by North Korea led to the Korean War (1950–53). Although the Korean Armistice Agreement brought about a ceasefire, no official peace treaty was ever signed.  Both states were accepted into the United Nations in 1991.
North Korea has the highest number of military and paramilitary personnel in the world, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel.


It isn’t impossible to visit North Korea, however it isn’t straightforward.  Koryo Group offer group or independent tours to North Korea from China.
You can expect to pay from €1,800 for a 3 night basic tour departing from Beijing, including round-trip tickets to Pyongyang on Air Koryo, accommodation, guide fee, private transport, meals, and entry fees.  You cannot travel alone at any time, you must always be accompanied by 2 state employed guides.


A few of the highlights according to Lonely Planet include Paekdu (the country’s highest mountain and an extinct volcano with a vast crater lake at its centre), Pyongyang’s Juche Tower and the Arirang Mass Games annual event in May.


Korea cuisine is based on rice, meat & vegetables. Some of the recipes I came across include Dae Ji Bool Gogi (spicy marinated pork) , Chap Chee or Japchae Noodles (mixed vegetables with noodles) , Bulgogi (Korean grilled meat on skewers) and Naengguk (cold soup).  I decided to cook Kalbi (BBQ short ribs).  The recipe called for short cooking time, although the beef short ribs I bought stated they should be slow cooked.  The marinade was really tasty but our palates would’ve preferred the meat to be slow cooked.


Rating: 6/10


Serves 2 – 3
Prep time: 10 minutes + 3 hours or overnight marinating
Cook time: 25 minutes


1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 garlic clove, minced
2 spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
700g beef short ribs


In a bowl, stir together the soy sauce, brown sugar, water, garlic, green onions, and sesame oil until the sugar has dissolved.
Place the ribs in a large plastic zipper bag. Pour the marinade over the ribs, squeeze out all the air, and refrigerate the bag for 3 hours to overnight.
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat, and lightly oil the grate.
Remove the ribs from the bag, shake off the excess marinade, and discard the marinade.
Grill the ribs on the preheated grill until the meat is still pink but not bloody nearest the bone about 10 – 12 minutes per side.
Serve with boiled rice.



Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, is an island of approximately 36,000 square kilometers.  It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with 649 people per km2.  The island was given the name “Formosa” (meaning “beautiful”) by the Portuguese in the 16th century.  The political situation of Taiwan is still up in the air and the question remains as to whether it should stay independent as territory of the Republic of China (ROC); become unified with the territories now governed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or formally declare independence and become the Republic of Taiwan.  In July 2009 the leaders of China and Taiwan exchanged direct messages for the first time in more than 60 years, albeit in their respective party functions, and not as national leaders.  In June 2010, the two countries signed an historic trade pact that was described by some analysts as the most significant agreement in 60 years of separation.


Taiwan blends scenic mountains, hidden waterfalls, historic temples and technology driven skyscrapers.  The five famous tourist magnets outside Taipei are the Taroko Gorge, Alishan (mountain resort), Sun Moon Lake, Lukang (urban township) and Kenting (national park known for its white-sand beaches, caves, coral reefs & northern mountains).  Taipei is Asia’s 2nd most richest city and features the 3rd tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower.


Popular ingredients in Taiwanese cuisine are pork, seafood, chicken, rice & soy.  Some of the recipes I came across include Pork chops with noodle soup , Bah-Tzang (Taiwanese rice dumpling), Gu Bah Mi (beef noodle soup) and Cuttlefish geng (soup).  Chou Doufu ‘stinky tofu’ which is marinated in brine made from decomposing vegetables and shrimps wasn’t high of my choices to cook but is a popular street food.  I opted to cook Ló͘-bah-pn̄g (minced pork rice), which we thoroughly enjoyed.


Rating 10/10


Serves 3-4
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 45 mins


1 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tbsp oil
500g organic minced pork
4 tbsp white wine
60ml soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar or honey
2 cups water
1 tsp black pepper
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 tsp five spice powder
salt to taste
2 spring onions


Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat with 1 tbsp of the oil.
Once the oil is hot add the shallots and fry until they turn light golden in color – about 5 minutes.
Remove the shallots from the pan, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.
In the same skillet add the remaining oil and the minced pork on a high heat.
Break up the mince and stir until the pork starts to brown.
Add the wine, soy sauce, sugar or honey, water, pepper, star anise, bay leaf, and five spice.
Stir to combine, bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a low heat.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
While the pork is simmering, take the fried shallots and crush them with a mortar and pestle to a paste or blend them in a mini mixer.
After the pork has simmered for 30 minutes, stir in the crushed shallots and let everything simmer for another 10 minutes.
Salt to taste.
Remove from the heat, garnish with sliced spring onions and serve over boiled rice.
Ingredients for Taiwanese minced pork

In the same skillet add the remaining oil and the minced pork on a high heat.
Break up the mince and stir until the pork starts to brown.
Add the wine, soy sauce, sugar or honey, water, pepper, star anise, bay leaf, and five spice.
Stir to combine, bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a low heat.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
While the pork is simmering, take the fried shallots and crush them with a mortar and pestle to a paste or blend them in a mini mixer.
After the pork has simmered for 30 minutes, stir in the crushed shallots and let everything simmer for another 10 minutes.
Salt to taste.
Remove from the heat, garnish with sliced spring onions and serve over boiled rice.

Taiwanese minced pork


Ló͘-bah-pn̄g (minced pork rice)


Taiwanese monk


United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates established in 1971 – Abu Dhabi (the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwai.
Once a quiet Bedouin backwater, now an astonishing blend of Arabian tradition and economic innovation.  The UAE’s oil reserves are the seventh-largest in the world and as such is one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East.
In 2013, the UAE’s total population was 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million are Emirati citizens and 7.8 million are expatriates.   Dubai is the most populated Emirate with about 36% of the UAE population.
The climate of the U.A.E is subtropical-arid with hot summers and warm winters. The hottest months are July and August, when average maximum temperatures reach above 45 °C on the coastal plain.  In 2004, there was snow in the UAE for the very first time.
According to Lonely Planet there are 186 sights in the UAE.  The top picks include Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, Dubai museum, Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain, Deira Souqs and Emirates Palace.  The Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, was completed in January 2010 and became the world’s tallest building at 2,716 feet (828 meters) and 160 stories. It contains the world’s fastest elevators and 20.7 acres of glass.
The Telegraph states that the most expensive hotel room in Dubai is the Royal Suite in Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, priced at up to £12,000 per night.  This is a snip in comparison to the Royal Penthouse Suite at the President Wilson Hotel in Geneva which would set you back £53,000 per night!!
When it comes to the food, they have adopted most of their foods from other West and South Asian countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India and Oman.  Seafood is popular along with meat and rice.  Alcohol is only allowed to be served in hotel restaurants, bars and nightclubs.  Although one may consume alcohol, it is illegal to be intoxicated in public.  Recipes I came across include Machboos (spicy stew with rice) , Harees (dumplings) , Shawarma (kebab) , Khanfaroush (cookies) , Chicken Salona (stew) and Chabab (bread).  I opted to make Khameer bread, which is traditionally served at breakfast with cottage cheese or fruit, however I served it as a starter with dips.  It was a little sweet, but enjoyable none the less.
Rating: 7/10
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tbsp instant yeast
1/4 cup milk powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
3/4 cup warm water
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Add both flours, yeast, milk powder, saffron, cardamon powder and sugar in a large bowl and whisk well to combine.
Slowly add water and knead to make a soft dough. When the flour holds together as a dough (you may not need to use all the water), place it on a flat surface and knead for 5 minutes to get a smooth dough.
Let the dough rest for 1 hour in a warm place.
Divide the dough into 6-7 portions. Roll each portion into a disc of 4-5 inches.
Heat a non stick fying pan or griddle and when it is medium hot, place one of the rolled out discs into the pan.
It will start to puff up, flip after a minute and cook the other side, spread a tsp of oil on top, sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and flip and cook for a few seconds.
Remove it on serving plate and repeat with the other discs.
Serve warm.


Dominated by the Qizilqum desert, Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous country.  About 80 percent of the country is flat desert, with mountain ranges rising in the far southeast and northeast.  The world’s largest open-pit gold mine is at Muruntau in the Qizilqum desert.
The oldest cities of Uzbekistan are more than 2,750 years old, and the most famous of them – Samarkand, is one of the oldest cities in the world.
Uzbekistan, along with Liechtenstein, is one of the only two doubly landlocked countries in the world.
Tashkent, the capital, has a metro station featuring chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.  Along with Tashkent, some of the key highlights of Uzbekistan include The Ark at Bukhara (a royal town within a town dating back to the 5th century), the turquoise-tiled Kalta Minor Minaret, the desert citadels of Khorezm and Samarkand’s Registan Square, one of the world’s great architectural feats.
Under Soviet rule there was intensive production of cotton and grain leading to overuse of agrochemicals and depleted water supplies.  The land has been left degraded and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry.  Since it’s independence in 1991 the country is seeking to gradually lessen it’s dependency on cotton, while developing mineral and petroleum reserves.
Bread and noodles are of significant importance in the cuisine of Uzbekistan, thanks to much grain farming.  Mutton is the most popular meat choice due to a large sheep population.  Recipes I came across include Plov (pilaf of rice, meat, carrots & onions), shorpa (soup of mutton & vegetables), dimlama (stew) and manty (dumplings).  I opted to cook Samsas (savoury filled pastry, similar to samosas).
Rating: 7/10 – even though I thought I’d filled them well, I might be tempted to make less and fill them more!
Makes 8 small samsas
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
225g ground meat (I used ground lamb, but you can use a mixture of beef & lamb)
1 medium sized onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
1 sheet of ready rolled puff pastry dough
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a medium frying pan, cook the onion and garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a low heat until the onion is soft.
Add the ground meat to the frying pan, and cook the meat until browned about 5 minutes and take it off the heat.
Add the coriander, salt, ground cumin, and rub the cumin seeds between your fingers.
Let the meat & spices cool for 30 minutes (or more) before forming the samsas.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll the puff pastry so it is slightly thinner and cut into 8 equally sized pieces.
Mix the egg yolk with a few drops of water in a bowl.
Divide the meat into 8 portions.
Put one portion of the meat onto half of each piece of pastry. Brush the edges with the beaten egg mix.
Fold the dough in half and push the ends of the dough together to close the pastry.
Coat the tops of the pastry with beaten egg mix.
Cook for about 25-30 minutes until the dough is brown.
Let them cool a little and serve warm.


Lebanon, officially the Lebanese Republic is a sovereign state in Asia.  It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south

The earliest evidence of civilisation in Lebanon dates back more than seven thousand years in Byblos, where it is said the first alphabet was created.  The country’s name is known to be the oldest in the world and has remained unchanged for over 4000 years.  There are 4.5 million Lebanese in Lebanon and around 18 million living outside Lebanon.

Lebanon’s recent history is one of conflict and suffering. In 1975 civil war broke out, lasting 16 years, eventually ended by a Syrian backed initiative. During the civil war, in 1982 Israel invaded following PLO attacks. Hezbollah (The Party of God), a pro-Syrian Shia military/political movement, with financial backing from Iran, was formed in the 80s to primarily harass the Israeli occupation. It has significantly grown in strength over the years.  Tensions still continue and Lebanon’s borders with Syria and Israel remain unresolved.

Despite the decades of civil war, invasions and terrorist attacks, it is a country that is home to stunning ancient ruins, beautiful mountain vistas and Mediterranean coastline beaches.  Top things to see according to Trip Advisor include the Temples of Baalbek, National Museum of Beirut and the Crusader Castle in Byblos.

The food of Lebanon is considered some of the Mediterranean’s best food – mezze (small dishes), kibbeh (spiced minced lamb in a fried bulgar wheat shell), dhourba bi kousa (courgette & milk soup), daoud Pasha (meatballs with pine nuts).  I decided to make one of their most famous dishes – tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad).

Rating: 8/10
Prep time: 15 minutes + 40 min for bulgar to soak
Serves: 2-3

1/2 cup bulgar wheat
1 cup boiling water
220g tomatoes roughly chopped
1/2 medium onion finely sliced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 tbsps olive oil
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup black or green olives (optional)

Put the bulgar wheat in a bowl with the boiling water and a little salt. Leave to soak for 40 minutes, then drain.
Take a salad bowl and add the bulgar wheat, tomatoes, onion, parsley & mint. Mix well.
In a separate bowl or jug, beat the oil with the lemon juice and season with salt & pepper.
Pour it over the salad & mix thoroughly.
Put the olives on top and then chill the salad in the fridge for 2 hours.
Add a sprinkling of parsley to garnish and serve.

Ingredients for tabbouleh
Temples of Baalbek

Burma / Myanmar

Well is it Burma or is it Myanmar?

That’s a tricky question … so we’ll start with the basics.  It is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, and the 40th-largest in the world.  It has a population of over 55,000 with the majority being Buddhist.  The capital is Yangon.

There has been a hell of a lot going on here so I’ve tried to do my best to summarise (very badly).  There’s a bit more info here than I would usually go into, which is at the request of one of my intellectual readers!

The country has been called “Burma” in English since the 18th century.
General Aung San, who was generally considered the father of independent Burma was assassinated in 1947.
Burma became independent from the UK in 1948.
In 1962, left-wing general Ne Win staged a coup, banned political opposition, suspended the constitution, and introduced the “Burmese way of socialism.”
In 1987, Ne Win suddenly cancelled certain currency notes which caused a great down-turn in the economy as it wiped out the savings of the vast majority of people. The main reason for the cancellation of these notes was superstition on Ne Win’s part, as he considered the number nine his lucky number—he only allowed 45 and 90 kyat notes, because these were divisible by nine.
After 25 years of economic hardship and repression, the Burmese people held massive demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. These were brutally quashed by the State Law and Order Council (SLORC).
In 1989, the military government officially changed the name of the country to Myanmar.  At the same time, they changed the name of Rangoon, the former capital, to Yangon.
Daughter of the assassinated general Aung San and leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which focused world attention on SLORC’s repressive policies.
In Nov 2005, the military junta, in a massive and secretive move, relocated the seat of government from the capital Yangon to a mountain compound called Pyinmanaa in Naypyidaw. The move perplexed many, and the junta was vague in its explanation, saying, “Due to changed circumstances, where Myanmar is trying to develop a modern nation, a more centrally located government seat has become a necessity.”
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Irrawaddy Delta and Yangon, killing 22,500 people and leaving up to a million homeless. Another 41,000 people were reported missing and feared dead. Most of the death and destruction were caused by a 12-foot high tidal wave that formed during the storm.
Days after elections in Oct 2010, the country’s first elections in 20 years, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed after nearly 20 years under house arrest, she won a seat in parliament and took office in May.  Thousands of supporters gathered outside her home, where she gave a speech calling for a “peaceful revolution”.
The country’s first Parliament in 20 years convened in Jan. 2011 and elected Prime Minister Thein Sein as president. The military junta officially disbanded in March 2011. However, Parliament is civilian largely in name only. The military won about 60% of the seats in October 2010 elections, and another 25% are reserved for members of the military
In his first year as president, Thein Sein initiated stunning changes in political and economic philosophy that saw a loosening of the tight grip the authoritarian junta held on the country. He initiated talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, allowed her and her party, the NLD, to run in upcoming parliamentary elections, freed more than 800 political prisoners and signed a cease-fire with ethnic Karen rebels.
In Jan. 2012 the U.S. restored full diplomatic relations with Myanmar following a visit from Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State in Dec 2011.
In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), would take part in the election after boycotting the previous one in 2010, which was condemned for irregularities by international organisations.
In Feb 2016 Aung San Suu Kyi won the election in a landslide victory, but she cannot become president due to the constitution, which among other things:
i) prevents leaders having foreign relatives, her two sons are both British citizens; and
ii) demands the president has military experience, of which she has none.
According to Transparency International, Burma ranked 157 out of 177 countries in terms of perceived corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions
And on to the cooking.  Through my research I came across Mohinga (rice vermicelli with fish soup), which is the traditional breakfast dish and Burma’s national dish, Sanwinmakin (Semonlina cake) and Laphet Thohk (pickled tea leaf salad).  Also popular are curries of many varieties.  I chose Kyetha hin (chicken curry).
Rating: 9/10
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
390g chicken breast cut into bite size
1/2 med onion, chopped roughly
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 strip of lemon peel, sliced
1/2 tsp ginger, grated
Vegetable oil
3/4 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 cups water
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp tamarind paste or use tbsp lemon juice
Fresh coriander, chopped
Pinch ground cardamom
Blend the onion, garlic, lemon peel and ginger with a little oil to make a smooth paste.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and when hot add the paste, salt, turmeric & chilli powder.
Fry over a med heat for a few minutes stirring regularly and add a few drops of water if it starts to stick to the pan.
Reduce to a low heat and simmer for 10 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and its turned deep brown.
Add the chicken pieces, stirring well to coat with the paste.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. T
hen add the water, potato, tomato puree, fish sauce, tamarind or lemon juice and stir to mix well.
Cover and continue to simmer for another 20 – 25 minutes, until the potato is soft.
Turn the heat off, sprinkle over the coriander & cardamom.
Serve with boiled rice.



South of Russia, Azerbaijan is on the west coast of the Caspian Sea with the Caucasus Mountains in the northwestern border of this republic. The oil rich capital is Baku, with a population of c. 2m. Marco Polo visited Baku in 1264 and witnessed the oil being collected, he said “there is a fountain from which oil springs in great abundance”. Azerbaijan gets its name from Atropates, a Persian nobleman. He ruled over the present-day Azerbaijan. His name evolved over a millennia, and in modern Persian translates to “The Treasury” and “The Treasurer” of fire or “The Land of the Fire”.
Azerbaijan is home to the first known fireplace, discovered in Azikh Cave, the largest cave in Azerbaijan, and also one of the ancient proto-human habitations in human history, that dates back to 700,000 – 500,000 years ago.
In 1879, the Nobel brothers, founders of Nobel Prize, set up their oil company in Azerbaijan; The Nobel Brothers Petroleum country. The Nobel brothers from Sweden acquired much of their wealth from Azerbaijan’s oil industry.
The former world chess champion Garry Kasparov hails from Baku.
Tea is the most popular drink in Azerbaijan. Traditionally served in a pear shaped glass, the drink is often consumed through lumps of sugar or jam, held in the mouth.
A few of the popular dishes in Azerbaijan cuisine include Plov (saffron covered rice), Dolma (minced and spiced lamb wrapped in vine leaves), and Dyushbara (meat dumplings). Also very popular are kebabs, which is what I opted to cook – Lyulya (lamb kebab). There is an Azerbaijan restaurant near Ravencourt Park, where they serve ‘Lulle’ kebab for £9.49.
Rating: 8/10

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Serves 2 as a large starter

220g lamb neck fillet
20g suet
1/2 onion chopped
Salt & pepper

Blend the lamb, suet and onions in food processor. Add salt, pepper and then leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Rinse your hands in salted water, mould into 6 sausages and skewer.
Preheat the grill and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning so they are brown on all sides.
Serve with flatbread and chutneys.