Argentina

Argentina occupies almost the whole of the southern part of the South American continent, sharing land borders with Chile across the Andes to the west, and extends from Bolivia to Cape Horn. It is the second largest country in South America, after Brazil, and boasts some of the Andes highest mountains. Areas such as San Miguel de Tucuman and Mendoza are subject to earthquakes and violent windstorms. Cerro Aconcagua is the Western Hemisphere’s tallest mountain, while Laguna del Carbon is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1816, the United Provinces of the Rio Plata declared their independence from Spain. After Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay went their separate ways, the area that remained became Argentina. The country’s population and culture were heavily shaped by immigrants from throughout Europe, with Italy and Spain providing the largest number of newcomers from 1860 to 1930. Up until the mid 20th century, much of Argentina’s history was dominated by periods of internal political conflict between Federalists and Unitarians and between civilian and military factions.

Juan Domingo Peron served as President from 1946-1955. He created a political movement known as Peronism where he nationalised strategic industries and services, improved wages and working conditions, paid the full external debt and achieved nearly full employment. The economy, however, began to decline in 1950 because of over expenditure. His highly popular wife, Eva Peron, played a central political role. She pushed congress to enact women’s suffrage in 1947, and developed an unprecedented social assistance to the most vulnerable sectors of society. However, her declining health did not allow her to run for vice-presidency in 1951, and she died of cancer the following year. Peron went into exile in 1955 for 18 years. In 1973 he won the election with his third wife Isabel as vice-president, he died in July 1974 and was succeeded by his wife.

Buenos Aires is the large cosmopolitan capital, with the Plaza de Mayor being the central area, lined with stately 19th-century buildings including Casa Rosada, the iconic balconied presidential palace. Iguazu National Park covers an area of subtropical rainforest in Argentina’s Misiones province, on the border with Brazil. The renowned Iguazu Falls encompass many separate cascades, including the iconic Garganta del Diablo or “Devils Throat”. The surrounding park features diverse wildlife including coatis, jaguars and toucans, plus trails and viewing platforms.

Tango is possibly Argentina’s greatest contribution to the outside world, a steamy dance that’s been described as making love in the vertical position! Football remains one of the most popular Argentinian sports, around 90% of the population would consider themselves as fans of a club. One of the most famous teams is La Boca whose home ground is in Buenos Aires, but there are several very good teams within the country. Tennis is also quite popular and Argentina has produced some of the best names in the sport – Guillermo Vilas in the 70’s and 80’s, Sabatini in the 90’s and today, the likes of David Nalbandian and Guillermo Coria, nicknamed El Mayo (The Magician in Spanish).

Steak is synonymous with Argentina and they are the fourth largest consumer of meat in the world, after Australia, the US and Israel. Asado is the name for the Argentine BBQ, meaning both the technique and the social event. An asado usually consists of beef alongside various other meats, which are cooked on a grill, called a parrilla, or an open fire. Some popular recipes I came across include Locro (meat, bean and vegetable stew), Choripán (chorizo sandwich), Empanadas (little pies), Sandwiches de miga (thin white bread with filling such as ham and cheese), Dulce de leche (their national spread used to fill cakes and pancakes) and Hojaldre (pastry covered with meringue). I made Asado de tira (BBQ short ribs) with chimichurri sauce, which we cooked on an open BBQ with hot coals. Despite buying the best ribs I could from the butchers, there were parts of the meat that were beautifully flavoured but other parts were a bit gristly.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes

900g beef short ribs
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Chimicurri sauce
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp dried oregano
25ml extra-virgin olive oil
12ml cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp chilli flakes

Take the beef ribs out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature
Light the coals on your BBQ (not gas) and leave them until they are covered with grey ash
Season the ribs very liberally all over with salt and freshly ground pepper
Place the ribs directly over coals and cook, turning frequently, until charred on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes total.
Insert a thermometer into thickest part of steak and they’re done when they register 125°F
Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes
Serve with the chimichurri sauce

Chimicurri sauce
Place parsley, garlic, and oregano in to a mini food processor and pulse until finely chopped
Transfer to a bowl and whisk in oil, vinegar, salt, and red pepper flakes

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Ingredients for Asado de tira (BBQ short ribs)
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Beef ribs
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Cooking Asado de tira (BBQ short ribs)
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sado de tira (BBQ short ribs) with chimichurri sauce
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Ingredients for Chimichurri sauce
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Chimichurri sauce
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Iguazu Falls
casa-rosada-buenos-aires
Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires
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Argentinian Tango dancers

Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands are a sprawling chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and Australia. The Islands include the Ratak (sunrise chain) and Ralik (sunset chain), two parallel chains of 29 atolls, each made up of many small islets, and five single islands. The Islands of Bikini and Enewetak are former US nuclear test sites.The Kwajalein Atoll, with a huge central lagoon, is the largest coral atoll on the planet, also famous as a WWII battleground, and the US maintains a strong military presence here with a missile testing range. The island city of Ebeye is the second largest settlement in the Marshall Islands, after Majuro which contains the capital, and is one of the most densely populated in the Pacific.

Islands in the archipelago were first explored by Europeans in the 1520s with Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar sighting an atoll in August 1526. Other expeditions by Spanish and English ships followed. The islands derive their name from the British explorer John Marshall, who visited in 1788. The islands were historically known by the inhabitants as “jolet jen Anij” (Gifts from the God).

In October 2011, the government declared that an area covering nearly 2,000,000 square km of ocean shall be reserved as a shark sanctuary. This is the world’s largest shark sanctuary, extending the current worldwide ocean area in which sharks are protected from 2,700,000 to 4,600,000 square km. In protected waters, all shark fishing is banned. However, some have questioned the ability of the Marshall Islands to enforce this zone.

For almost 40 years the islands were under US administration. In 1979, the Government of the Marshall Islands was officially established and the country became self-governing. In 1986, the Compact of Free Association with the United States entered into force, granting the Republic of the Marshall Islands its sovereignty. Under the terms of that agreement, the US would provide significant financial aid, that to date now exceeds $1 billion.

When it comes to recipes, this was one of the toughest I’ve found in terms of research. There’s virtually no information on the internet relating to authentic recipes from The Marshall Islands, so using common ingredients from the area and with a little help from other people doing a similar challenge, I opted to cook Coconut Fish with Roasted Sweet Potato. It was unusual in flavour, not unpleasant, but for a reason I cannot explain, I wouldn’t be rushing to have it again.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

2 pieces white fish fillets, cleaned, filleted & de-boned (I used cod)
160ml coconut cream
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced in rounds
1/3 tbsp cornflour
1/3 tbsp lemon juice
1 large tomato sliced
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbso flour
1/2 tsp salt
pinch ground white pepper
2 sweet potatoes

Mix cornflour to a paste with a little of the cold coconut cream
Put the coconut cream, chopped onion, 1 tsp salt, chilli, lemon juice, and the cornflour mix in a saucepan
Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, stirring all the time, don’t allow the sauce to boil hard as it will become lumpy
Simmer for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat
Heat oven to 160 C (300F)
Put your sweet potatoes on a baking tray and bake for 40 – 60 minutes (depending on the size)
Cut fish into even sized pieces (about 2 cm thick, 3cm wide & 6 cm long)
Mix flour, extra salt & white pepper in a sealable plastic bag
Place the fish in the bag and shake well until the fish is evenly coated with the flour mix
Heat the peanut oil in a frying pan
Brown fish rapidly & lightly on all sides in the hot oil
Place the fish in an ovenproof dish as it is browned
Evenly cover the fish with the tomato slices
Pour the coconut sauce over the top
Bake uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top begins to brown
Serve with the roasted sweet potatoes

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

Slovenia

Slovenia is a mountainous nation state in Central Europe. It is marked with significant biological diversity and is one of the most water-rich countries in Europe. Over half of the territory is covered by forest. Slovenia’s Karst Plateau is a limestone region of underground rivers, gorges, and caves, between Ljubljana and the Mediterranean. The best known caves are Postojna Cave and the UNESCO listed Škocjan Caves.

There are 24,000 animal species, among them marmots, Alpine ibex, chamois, deer, roe deer, boar, and hares. It is believed that Slovenia has one of the largest brown bear populations in Europe with around 400 bears. Among the 13 domestic animals native to Slovenia are the Karst Shepherd mountain dog, the Carniolan honeybee, and the Lipizzan horse, which is associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria.

Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city, is home to the oldest vine in the world. The grapevine of Žametovka is about 440 years old and still produce 25 litres of wine every year, however the wine is not available for public sale and has been described by the The Daily Telegraph as “virtually undrinkable”.

Ljubljana City Museum is home to the oldest wheel in the world. The Ljubljana Marshes Wheel is approximately 5,150 years old, has a radius of 70cm and is made of ash and oak.

Slovenian cuisine is a mixture of the Central European cuisine (especially Austrian and Hungarian), Mediterranean cuisine and Balkan cuisine. Recipes I came across include Jota (meat and vegetable hot pot), Ričet (Slovenian Barley soup), Idrija Žlikrofi (dumplings), Čompe s skuto (potatoes with cottage cheese), Prekmurska gibanica (layered cake), Potica (nut bread), baked mushroom with cheese and Kranjske Klobasa (sausages). I opted to make Belokranjska pogača (salted cake), which although quite doughy it was really tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: Makes 28 small squares
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

500g flour
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp oil
7g (1 pack) of dried yeast
Approx 300ml warm water
1 egg

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C
Mix all the ingredients and form a dough
Leave to rise for 30 minutes
Spread the dough evenly onto a baking tray, slice it into squares and glaze it with the beaten egg
Sprinkled with sea salt and bake for approximately 40 minutes
Let it cool on a rack before cutting

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Ingredients for Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
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Lake Bled, Slovenia
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Slovenian mountains
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Ljubljana City, Slovenia
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Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)

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

Djibouti

Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, is a country of dry shrublands, volcanic formations and Gulf of Aden beaches. It is a small country, occupying a total area of just 8,958 sq m. Djibouti is strategically located near some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, controlling access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, serving as a key refueling and transshipment centre. It is home to one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, the low-lying Lake Assal, in the Danakil Desert. The Djibouti firm Salt Investment (SIS) began a large-scale operation to industrialise the lake, with an annual capacity of 4 million tons, the desalination project has lifted export revenues, created more job opportunities, and provided more fresh water for the area’s residents.

76% of the population live in the capital, Djibouti City, which is also the principal tourist destination for visitors. Places to explore in the city include Place Ménélik in the European Quarter, Place Mahmoud Harbi (Place Rimbaud) in the African Quarter, L’Escale marina, Église Éthiopienne Orthodoxe Tewahido St Gabriel du Soleil and Les Caisses Market.

Despite it’s small size, there are plenty more highlights for the visitor. From the ancient Juniper forests in the Day Forest National Park to snorkelling alongside whale sharks in the Gulf of Tadjoura, feeling the eerie atmosphere at Obock’s Ras Bir Lighthouse and the calmness of Moucha coral Island. It is a melting pot of weird landscapes.

Djiboutian cuisine consists of a mixture of Somali, Afar, Yemeni, and French cuisine, with some additional South Asian influences. Popular dishes include Sambusa (Samosas), Fah-Fah (Soupe Djiboutienne), Yetakelt W’et (Spiced Vegetable Stew), Lahoh (pancake like bread), Garoobey (porridge), Xalwo (halva confection) and Banana fritters. I made Djibouti’s national dish – Skoudehkaris (spiced lamb stew) which was very simple and full of interesting flavours.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

300g lamb, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin
4 cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 /214 oz can diced tomatoes
1 /2 cup water, plus extra as needed
1/4 cup long-grain rice
salt & pepper

Add the vegetable oil, onions, cumin, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, and cinnamon to a medium pan with lid and cook until soft and fragrant
Add the lamb and brown it a little
Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup of water, salt & pepper
Cover and simmer for 45 minutes
Add the rice to pan and 1/4 cup of water
Cover and simmer for a further 15 – 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked

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

Nicaragua

Officially the Republic of Nicaragua is the largest and most densely populated country in Central American. It is set between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and is bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica. The capital Managua is the country’s largest city and third largest city in Central America. On the Pacific side of Nicaragua are the 2 largest fresh water lakes of Central America – Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua.

The multi-ethnic population of 6 million includes indigenous people, Europeans, Africans and Asians. Spanish is the official language in Nicaragua, 95% of the population are Roman Catholic, and 5% are Protestant.

The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, dictatorship and fiscal crisis and are the most notable causes that led to the Nicaraguan revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In Nicaragua a mixture of cultural traditions has generated substantial diversity in art and literature, particularly the latter, given the literary contributions of Nicaraguan poets and writers including Ruben Dario, Pablo Antonio Cuadra and Ernesto Cardenal. “El Gueguense” also known as Macho Raton is a satirical drama, and was the first literary work of post-Columbian Nicaragua. It is regarded as one of Latin America’s most distinctive colonial-era expressions and Nicaragua’s signature folklore masterpieces combining music, dance and theatre.

Nicaraguan cuisine includes a mixture of the indigenous Miskito people, Spanish cuisine and Creole cuisine. Typical Nicaraguan dishes include Gallo pinto (rice & beans), Vigoron (snack food of vegetables and pork rind) , Ensalada Repollo (cabbage salad), Sopa de queso (cheese soup), Nacatamales (corn dough filled with pork, rice and tomatoes wrapped in plantain leaves) and Quesillo (cheese filled tortilla with onions & cream). I opted to bake the Tres leches (Three milks cake). It was a confectionery masterpiece!

Rating: 10/10

Makes 24 slices
Prep time: 40 minutes + cooling time and overnight refrigeration
Cook time: 30 minutes

1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
5 eggs
1 1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 can evaporated milk
1 1⁄2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C
Grease and flour one 9×13 inch baking pan
Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside
Cream butter and 1 cup sugar together until fluffy
Add eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and beat well
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture 2 tablespoons at a time and mix until well blended
Pour the batter into prepared pan
Bake for 30 minutes then pierce cake all over with a fork and let it cool
Combine the whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk together
Pour over the top of the cooled cake
Place the cake in the fridge for one hour and let it soak up the milk
Whip the cream with the remaining cup of the sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract together until thick
Spread over the top of cake and refrigerate overnight
Garnish with strawberries and raspberries and enjoy!

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

Finland

Finland, the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, is situated on a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. It is one of the world’s northernmost countries. Of world capitals, only Reykjavík lies more to the north than Helsinki. Known as ‘a country of thousand lakes’, it has the most of any country in the world, with around 188,000. A quarter of Finland’s territory lies within the Arctic Circle and the midnight sun can be experienced for more days the farther north one travels. At Finland’s northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.

A few interesting facts:
Finland’s press has been rated the freest in the world

In Finland, 9 out of 10 plastic bottles are returned for recycling and almost 100% of glass bottles are also recycled
In Finland traffic fines are calculated by the severity of the offence and the offending driver’s annual income
There are around 2.2 million saunas in Finland, 1 for every 2.5 people
At the ‘Wife Carrying World Championships’ in Finland, first prize is the wife’s weight in beer

If you’re planning a visit, Lonely Planet’s highlights include learning about the indigenous Sami people and their environment at the Siida museum, relaxing in the giant smoke sauna at Jätkänkämppä, cruising through the canals of Helsinki and trekking the Karhunkierros Trail in Oulanka National Park.

The Finns are passionate about their food and are fiercely loyal to their culinary roots. In 2000, when Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary as the European Capital of Culture the city initiated a project called the HelsinkiMenu. The aim of the project was to bring global awareness to Finnish cuisine. The HelsinkiMenu featured fish from the thousand lakes, berries, mushrooms and game from the forests as well as special produce from small farms. A few traditional Finnish recipes I came across; Lohikeitto (salmon soup) , Kalakukko (fish pie) , Perunarieska (potato flatbread) , Silakat (pickled fried herring), Korvapuusti (cinnamon and cardamon buns) , Ruisleipä (rye bread), Laskiaispulla (sweet buns filled with jam and cream) and Vispipuuro (whipped lingonberry porridge). I made Kalakeitto (fish stew) which was velvety smooth and had a beautiful flavour. Finishing it off with fresh dill is key, so a big thanks to my local The Rose and Crown for coming to the rescue.

Rating: 10/10

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

2 good quality salmon fillets
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 tsp dried dill
2 cups water
1 fish stock pot/cube
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 cup whole milk or cream (I used cream which gave it an unctuous finish)
1 tbsp butter
Fresh dill for garnish

Cut the fish into 2 inch pieces and set aside
In a saucepan add salt, onion, dried dill, water, stock pot and potatoes
Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender
Add the fish and cook until the fish just starts to flake, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of your fish chunks
Pour in the milk or cream and heat gently for 5 minutes
Add the butter and sprinkle with fresh dill
Enjoy!

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Ingredients for Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Kalakeitto (fish stew)
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Wood houses in the city of Porvoo, Finland
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Oulanka National Park
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Helsinki

Fiji

A loud and enthusiastic ‘Bula’ (meaning Hello) was how all the Resort staff welcomed me when I visited Fiji a number of years ago. Famed for exquisite beaches, undersea marvels, lush interiors and fascinating culture, Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean. The two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for 87% of the population of almost 900,000. Viti Levu is home to the capital, Suva, a port city with British Colonial architecture.

Fiji became independent in 1970 after nearly a century as a British Colony. Fijian life revolves around the church, the village, the rugby field and the garden. While this may sound insular you would be hard pressed to find a more open and welcoming population. Though the realities of local life are less sunny than the country’s skies, many regions are poor and lack basic services. Fijians are famous for their hospitality and warmth.

Fiji has one of the most developed economies in the Pacific due to an abundance of forest, mineral, and fish resources. Today, the main sources of foreign exchange are its tourist industry and sugar exports. The country’s currency is Fijian dollar, the official languages are English, Fijian and Hindi.

Rugby Union is the most-popular sport played in Fiji. The Fiji national sevens side is one of the most popular and successful rugby sevens teams in the world, and has won the Hong Kong Sevens a record fifteen times, and they have also won the Rugby World Cup Sevens twice in 1997 and 2005. In 2016 they won Fiji’s first ever Olympic medal in the Rugby sevens at the Summer Olympics, winning gold by comprehensively defeating Great Britain 43-7 in the final.

Fijian food has traditionally been very healthy. Staple foods would include taro (a root crop similar to artichoke), coconut, cassava, seafood, breadfruit and rice. Recipes I came across include Palusami (Taro leaves filled with corned beef and onion), Lovo (marinated fish or meat wrapped in foil and cooked underground), Cassava cake and Coconut fish soup. I was recommended the dish Kokoda (raw fish salad), which is marinated fresh fish with coconut milk. I had it for my lunch and I really enjoyed the fresh zingy flavour. And with Fiji done, that means I’m 75% of the way through my challenge.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 1
Prep time: 15 minutes + 6 hours marinating

1 fish fillet (I used red mullet but cod or halibut will work. Mahi Mahi is traditionally used)
Juice of 1 large lime
pinch salt
80ml coconut cream
1/4 red onion, very finely chopped or minced
1/2 green chilli pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
Salad leaves to serve

Cut the fish into bite-size pieces and place in a bag together with the lime juice and salt
Mix well, then refrigerate and leave to marinate for 6 hours
When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator, add the coconut cream, chopped onion, and chilli and mix well
Place the salad leaves on a plate, top with the fish mixture and garnish with the chopped tomato

Dominica

The volcanic island of Dominica is located in the eastern Caribbean Sea and is a sovereign Island country. Much of the island is blanketed by untamed rainforest. There are very few beaches, no flashy resorts and no direct international flights, which is probably the reason it has been spared mass tourism, with the exception of cruise ships, which dock in the capital, Roseau. This mountainous island has been nicknamed the “Nature Island of the Caribbean” for its unspoiled natural beauty. Dominica is home to many rare plants, animals and bird species. The Sisserou Parrot, the Island’s national bird, is found only in Dominica.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park is home to the world’s second largest hot lake, aptly named ‘Boiling Lake’. On 6 July 2007, adventure-film maker George Kourounis became the first person to ever cross the boiling lake from above, suspended by ropes over the most violently boiling section. One of the most impressive and photogenic waterfalls on the island, the Victoria Waterfall is also in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. It is formed by the White River cascading over a cliff into a warm pool below and minerals give the water a milky white color.

Music and dance are important facets of Dominica’s culture. Since 1997 there have been many Creole Festivals such as “Creole in the Park” and the “World Creole Music Festival” which is held annually over 3 days.

The cuisine is rooted in creole techniques with local produce flavoured by spices found on the island. Dishes include Domplines (Dominican-Style Dumplings), Sancocho (Meat stew), Mangú (Plantain Mash), Moro-Locrio (Rice with Pork and Black Beans), Queso Frito (Fried Cheese) and Suspiritos (Meringue Kisses). I decided to make the very simple, yet soothing Pollo Guisado (Braised chicken).

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 30 minutes marinating
Cook time: 45 minutes

2 chicken breasts on the bone, cut in half
1 lime
Pinch of oregano
1/2 small red onion chopped into fine strips or eighths
1/4 cup of chopped celery (optional)
1 tsp salt (more may be necessary)
½ tsp mashed garlic
1 tbsp oil (groundnut)
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tomatoes cut into quarters
1 green pepper, roughly cut
1/2 cup chopped tomatos
Fresh coriander leaves
pinch freshly ground black pepper

Rub the chicken with the lime, getting lime juice into all the crevices
In a bag, add the chicken, oregano, onion, celery, salt and garlic and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes
In a pot heat the oil over medium heat, add sugar and wait until it browns
Add the chicken (reserve all the other things in the marinade) and fry until the meat is light brown
Add 2 tablespoons of water, then cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring and adding water by the tablespoon every 5 minutes
Add the remaining marinated vegetables along with the tomatoes and green pepper
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, adding water by the tablespoon and stirring every 5 minutes
Add the chopped tomatos and half a cup of water, simmer over low heat for 15 minutes
Remove from the heat, sprinkle with fresh coriander and season with salt and pepper to taste
Serve with steamed rice or green salad

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is in the southwestern Pacific, encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore Islands. The country is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the point of collision of several tectonic plates. There are a number of active Volcanoes and eruptions are frequent. Earthquakes are relatively common sometimes accompanied by Tsunamis. It is a country of immense cultural and biological diversity. It’s known for its beaches and coral reefs and is one of the world’s least explored countries both culturally and geographically.

Madang on the western coast was once dubbed the prettiest town in the Pacific, surrounded by azure waters sprinkled with picturesque islands. Madang was virtually destroyed during the Japanese occupation and subsequent fighting in world war II, so much of what you see today was built after the war.

Papua New Guinea has more languages than any other country – 852 languages are listed, of which 12 have no known living speakers. The most widely spoken indigenous language is Enga with about 200,000 speakers. English is the language of government and the education system but it is not spoken widely. The country established its sovereignty in 1975, following nearly 60 years of Australian administration. It became a separate Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in its own right.

Sport is an important part of Papua New Guinea culture and Rugby League is by far the most popular sport. Other major sports which have a part in the countries sporting landscape are Australian rules Football, Association Football, rugby union and, in Eastern Papua cricket. The capital and largest city Port Moresby hosted the Pacific Games in 2015.

Popular recipes from Papua New Guinea include Kaukau (baked sweet potato) , Chicken and greens in coconut milk , Mumu (roasted pork with root vegetables, greens, fruit and coconut milk) , Chicken pot (chicken stew with coconut milk), Sago (sago palm is the starch used for making bread and puddings), Dia (sago and bananas cooked with coconut cream) and Yam patties. I opted to make Banana cake which was simple and quite tasty, although not overly sweet.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 10 – 12 slices
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 – 50 minutes

1⁄2 cup margarine or butter
1⁄2 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large bananas (mashed)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 1⁄2 cup of self-raising flour
1/3 cup of milk (enough to give it a wet texture, but not runny)

Pre heat oven to 180 degrees
Beat butter, sugar and vanilla essence until creamy
Gradually beat in eggs and add mashed bananas
Mix milk and bicarbonate of soda and blend into banana mixture with flour (note – the amount of milk will vary depending on the mushiness of the bananas)
Pour the batter into a round greased 20 cm deep-sided cake pan
Bake for 45-50 minutes in a hot oven

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Ingredients for Banana cake
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Papua New Guinean Banana cake
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Family enjoying Papua New Guinean Banana cake
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Dancing warriors in Papua New Guinea
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Tribal resident of Papua New Guinea

Belize

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is a country on the eastern coast of Central America. With a population of around 368,000 it has the least population density in Central America. Mayan culture persists despite nearly 500 years of European domination. The area that is now Belize included three distinct Maya territories: Chetumal province, Dzuluinicob province and a southern territory controlled by the Manche Ch’ol Maya. Impressive Mayan archaeological ruins can be found in the forms of “El Castillo” at Xunantunich and “Caana” at Caracol.

Belize has the longest barrier reef system in the Western hemisphere. At 190 miles long it is the second longest in the world and home to 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral species and 500 species of fish. 60% of Belize’s land surface is covered by forest and 37% of it’s territory falls under some form of official protection. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a nature reserve, founded in 1990 as the first wilderness sanctuary for the jaguar.

Popular recipes in Belizean cuisine include Stew chicken, Stewed Rice and Beans, Panades (corn dough stuffed with fish, chicken or beans), Chimole (‘black dinner’ or chicken soup), Sere (fish soup), Shrimp fritters and the rather unpleasantly named Bile up or boil up (boiled eggs, fish and/or pig tail, with cassava, sweet potatoes, plantains and tomato sauce). I opted to make Fry Jacks (deep fried dough) which are a traditional Belize breakfast food. The kids enjoyed them with icing sugar and chocolate spread. I had them with sausages and even though they were sweet, the combination of flavours was really good.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 14 – 16
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 – 20 minutes

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ – ¾ tsp salt
2 tbsp shortening/butter
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
¾ cup whole milk
Oil for deep-frying

In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add shortening
Then make a well then add milk, knead dough for about 30 seconds to 1 minute to form soft dough
Divide dough into 7-8 equal pieces and set aside for about 10 mins
Place each one piece on a heavily floured board and roll out dough into a rough circle
Divide the circles in half and then cut a slit through the middle of the rolled out dough
In a large saucepan pour vegetable oil, until it is at least 3 inches or use a deep fat fryer and heat until oil is 350 degrees
Fry until golden brown about 3-5 minutes depending on size
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper napkin. Let them cool
Serve with your choice of spreads. They also go well with sausages and bacon.

Hungary

Hungary is a landlocked central European country founded in 897, making it one of the oldest countries in Europe. Hungary is home to the largest thermal water cave system, the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe (the Hortobágy National Park). In 2014, 13.2 million tourists visited Hungary with the majority going to Budapest, Central Danube, Lake Balaton and the Western Transdanubia tourist regions.

A few facts
Budapest’s metro line is the second oldest in the world after London’s Tube, its Line 1 dates from 1896 and is a World Heritage Site
Hungarians are the most heavily taxed people in the world at an average 38.3% of their annual income
13 Hungarian scientists have received the Nobel Prize
Hungary has the third highest number of Olympic medals per capita and second highest number of gold medals per capita in the world
The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest is the second largest in the world (after one in New York City) and it seats up to 3,000 people
Hungary is the world’s second leading producer of foie gras (goose liver), after France

Traditional Hungarian dishes are primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, dairy products and cheese. Popular dishes include Paprikás (paprika stew with meat), Palacsinta (filled crepe), Húsleves (clear chicken soup), Rántott sajt (deep fried cheese croquette), Paprikás krumpli (paprika potato sausage stew) and Töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage). There was only really one option for me to cook and that was Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash). It was everything we hoped for – comforting, fulfilling and incredibly tasty.

Rating: 9/10

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

450g rump steak, cubed
60g seasoned flour
3 tbsp veg oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp tomato puree
pinch grated nutmeg
3 tsp mixed herbs
salt and pepper
300ml good quality beef stock (I used a tin of beef consommé)
200g tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml red wine
3 tbsp worcestershire sauce

Coat the meat in the seasoned flour
Heat the oil over a medium heat in a frying pan and add the meat in batches frying until browned, remove to a plate
Add a little more oil and fry the onion, garlic, carrot and celery for 5 minutes
Add the paprika, tomato puree, nutmeg, mixed herbs, salt and pepper and cook for a further 2 mins
Add the stock, chopped tomatoes, red wine and worcestershire sauce
Reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook for 2 hours, stirring every so often
Serve with crusty bread

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Ingredients for Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
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Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
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Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
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Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
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Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
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Budapest Parliamentary building
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Lake Hévíz thermal spa
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Lake Balaton
budapest-architecture
Budapest architecture

Mauritius

We spent New Year’s Eve 2015 on the beautiful island of Mauritius, gorging on delicious seafood, sipping champagne on the beach and dancing the night away with new found friends! The Republic of Mauritius is situated in the Indian Ocean and with a population of 1.2 million, it has the highest population density in Africa. It is known for its beaches, lagoons and reefs, as well as it’s mountainous interior featuring Black River Gorges National Park, rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails and abundant wildlife. Mauritius was the only known habitat of the now extinct dodo bird and the dodo is prominently featured as a supporter of the national coat of arms of Mauritius.

Mauritius has been ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British. It became an independent state in 1968, following the adoption of a new constitution. There isn’t an official language but English and French are generally used by government administration and business.

Mauritius received the world leading island destination award for the third time and world’s best beach at the World Travel Awards in January 2012. Around 1 million tourists visit each year. Lonely Planet’s highlights include Pointe d’Esny and Blue Bay, the capital – Port Louis, Chamarel, Rodrigues coastal walk and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens.

The cuisine of Mauritius is a blend of Chinese, European and Indian influences. French cuisine has also grown very popular. Recipes I came across included Gajak (deep fried snacks), Fish vindaye (spiced fish served with rice, lentils and chutneys), Gateau patat douce (sweet potato cakes), Dholl puris (fried thin bread stuffed with ground yellow split peas), Cari Mutton (Mauritian mutton curry) and Chicken daube (chicken stew). I decided to make Cari Poisson (fish curry) which was pleasantly flavoursome.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

2 fish fillets
1/2 aubergine, cut into strips or batons
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 tsp ginger and garlic paste, heaped
1/2 tbsp thyme leaves, fresh or dried
3 curry leaves, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 tbsp medium curry powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped
water
vegetable oil, for frying the fish and for cooking
1 & 1/2 tbsp cornflour

Pat fish dry, season with salt and pepper then coat in your corn flour evenly and fry in a pan with vegetable oil on medium heat till they turn a golden brown colour
Drain the fried fish slices on a paper towel to remove all the excess oil and put aside
Season the aubergine with some salt and pepper then fry in the same oil, drain the fried aubergine on a paper towel and put aside
In the same pan, add more oil if needed, and on a medium heat add in your sliced onions, thyme leaves, curry leaves and stir fry for 2 minutes, then add in the garlic and ginger paste, give it a stir
Mix the curry powder, tumeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander with a little warm water so that it forms a paste and add to the pan and stir well
Add the chopped tomato and 50ml of water to start cooking the sauce, cover and cook on medium heat till tomatoes are done Progressively add 50ml of water in intervals if the sauce starts to dry out
The sauce should be creamy in texture, add in the fried fish with the aubergine and add warm water to preferred consistency, take care not to move the fish around too much or it will break
Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with coriander leaves and spring onions
Serve with steamed basmati rice

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Ingredients for Cari Poisson (fish curry)
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Cari Poisson (fish curry)
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Cari Poisson (fish curry)
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Cari Poisson (fish curry)
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Mauritius mountain
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Mauritius beach
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Chamarel waterfall

New Zealand

New Zealand was first explored by the Maori known as Kupe around 1,000 years ago. He came across the Pacific from his Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Then in 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted a ‘large high-lying land’ off the West Coast of the South Island and named it ‘Staten Landt’. It was later changed to New Zealand by Dutch mapmakers. Tasman never actually set foot on New Zealand and ended up settling in Indonesia.

Some interesting facts
Wellington is the southernmost capital in the world
The first commercial bungee jump was made by AJ Hackett in the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown in 1988
Of all the population in New Zealand, only 5% are humans, the rest are animals, making it the highest animal to human ratio in the world
It has the 9th longest coastline in the world, with a length of 15,134 km
According to the Corruptions Perception Index, New Zealand is the least corrupt nation in the world (tied with Denmark)

I had the pleasure of spending 6 weeks travelling around New Zealand during my round the world trip. It has so much to offer the visitor. My highlights were sailing around the stunning Milford Sound, wine tasting in Havelock North, skiing in Queenstown, taking in the views from Waiheke Island and strolling along the beach in The Bay of Islands.

When it came to researching New Zealand recipes, I sought advice from my dear friend Pauline who had a plethora of options ranging from lamb, bacon and egg pie, afghan biscuits, lamingtons and apple and bran muffins. I opted to make Louise Cake, which I took to my sisters for her Macmillan Champagne evening. They were pretty well received, despite very good competition!!

Rating: 9/10

Makes 12 – 24 pieces
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

Base:
75g butter, softened
55g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1¼ cups plain flour
½ tsp baking powder

Topping:
¼ cup raspberry, plum or blackcurrant jam
2 egg whites
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup fine desiccated coconut

Preheat the oven to 180ºC
Lightly grease a 20cm x 30cm shallow tin and line the base and sides with baking paper
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly
Add the lemon juice and then sift in the flour and baking powder and mix to a firm dough
Press the dough evenly into the prepared tin, and spread over the jam. You don’t need a thick layer
Beat the egg whites until stiff then gently fold in the caster sugar and the coconut using a metal spoon. Spread carefully over the jam, again trying to keep an even thickness. Sprinkle with a little more coconut
Bake for about 25 minutes until the coconut is just turning golden brown
Remove from the oven, and cut into squares or fingers while it is still warm
Cool in the tin on a wire rack

Vatican State City

The Vatican State City is a walled enclave of approximately 110 acres, within the city of Rome and is the smallest sovereign state in the world, by both area and population. It is ruled by the Bishop of Rome – The Pope. Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now the Vatican City. Almost all of the Vatican City’s 839 (as at 2013) citizens either live inside the Vatican’s walls or serve in the Holy See’s diplomatic service in embassies. “Vatican” is derived from the name of an Etruscan settlement, Vatica or Vaticum meaning garden. The Vatican Gardens account for more than half of it’s territory. They were established during the Renaissance and Baroque era and are decorated with fountains and sculptures.

A few interesting facts
Italians are allowed to donate 8% of their yearly taxes to the Vatican (instead of paying it to the Italian Government).
John Anglicus, born in Mainz, was recorded as being pope for two years, seven months and four days. It is is claimed that John was in fact female.
The Vatican’s postal service has been operating since 1929, with it’s own postage stamps and is described as one of the world’s best.
Italy has more UNESCO listings than any other country in the world (51 as at 2014). The Vatican City is the only entire country designated as a UNESCO site.
5 million people visit the Sistine chapel each year. With an entry fee of €16, the Vatican earns an annual revenue of around €80 million a year.

There is no specific cuisine for The Vatican City that I could find, the main food style is that of Rome. In 2014 a cookbook was published featuring the favourite dishes of the last few Popes with some delights from Argentina, Poland and of course Italy. I opted to make the simple but delicious Fettuccine alla Papalina (literally translated ‘Fettuccine to skullcap’). It was created specially for Pope Pius XII, who wore a skullcap.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

250g fettuccine (ideally fresh) or tagliatelle
110g unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 slices prosciutto, cut in thin strips
4 eggs
3/4 cup cream
1/2 cup pecorrino
salt
black pepper

In a large pan boil some salted water and cook the fettuccine according to the instructions
Meanwhile melt the butter on a low hear in a deep sided frying pan
Add onion and cook until soft, but not brown
Add prosciutto, stir and cook for a minute or two without browning
In the meantime, in a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the cream and pecorrino
Toss the drained fettuccine in the pan with onion and prosciutto and mix well for a minute or two
Then turn heat off and pour the eggs, cream and pecorrino mixture into the pan and mix rapidly
Add some black pepper and a little salt
Mix again and serve immediately

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View of St. Peter’s Square from the top of Michelangelo’s dome
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In the Sistine Chapel – Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam

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