My first soufflé

Having spent 12 months of my life cooking recipes from every country in the world, I am often frustrated by the restrictions I place on my own cooking approach. I hate waste, the thought of spending hours cooking something that doesn’t taste good and my overriding obsession with tidiness hold me back from throwing caution to the wind. So with a determined and unleashed frame of mind, I decided to tackle my first ever soufflé. I’ve watched countless masterchef episodes where they have failed and succeeded in equal measure. As my palate prefers savoury, I opted to try a cheese and herb version adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe. All up it took about 45 minutes to make and was much simpler than I anticipated. I was rewarded with not only a tasty lunch, but a small sense of overcoming some of my self inflicted shackles. I felt I cooked mine a tad too much so I’ve reduced the cooking time – it should still be creamy inside.

Comte and chervil soufflé
Serves 2

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

a knob of butter
5 – 10g parmesan, grated
150ml milk
1 bay leaf
2 large eggs, separated
30g plain flour
30g butter
50g comte cheese, grated
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp dried chervil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (fan)
Butter 2 ramekin dishes and then scatter each with grated parmesan shaking to cover all sides
Bring the milk and bay leaf to boil in a small pan, turn off the heat and set aside
Melt the butter in a pan and then add the flour, stirring continuously for a couple of minutes
Remove the bay leaf from the milk and add to the butter & flour, stirring to blend
Take it off the heat and let it rest for a minute or 2 before adding the egg yolks and stirring to a smooth consistency
Stir in the comte, mustard, chervil and seasoning
Whisk the egg whites until frothy but not stiff and then gently but thoroughly fold into the mixture
Pour into the ramekin dishes and tap to even out the surface
Cook in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown on top

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My top 20 recipes

1. Taiwan – Taiwanese minced pork

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2. Chad – Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)

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3. Switzerland – Fondue

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4. Mexico – Chicken Enchiladas

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Chicken enchiladas

5. Paraguay – Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)

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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)

6. Italy – Risotto milanese

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Risotto alla Milanese (risotto with saffron)

7. Finland – Kalakeitto (fish stew)

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Kalakeitto (fish stew)

8. Luxembourg – Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)

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Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)

9. Spain – Tapas
Champinones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms)
Garbanzos con chorizo (chickpeas with chorizo)
Tortilla (Spanish omelette)
Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes)
Padron peppers

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10. Sweden – Köttbulla (Swedish meatballs)

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11. South Korea – Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef)

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South Korea – Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef)

12. Honduras – Banana bread

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Honduran banana and coconut bread

13. Nicaragua – Tres leches (Three milks cake)

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14. Guyana – Roti (flatbread)

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Guyana – Rotis (flatbreads)

15. Guatemala – Chicharrónes (crispy pork skin)

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Chicharrones

16. China – Char Sui pork (“Fork roast” – Cantonese barbecued pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

17. Comoros – Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken)

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Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken)

18. France – Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms)

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Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms)

19. Micronesia – Kelaguen Chicken (Marinated chicken with coconut, spring onion & chilli)

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20. Solomon Islands – Fish curry with tomatoes

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Fish curry with tomatoes

Palestine

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a parliamentary representative democracy with a constitutional monarch, ruled by a Grand Duke. It is the world’s only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy. The country has a highly developed economy, with the second highest GDP per capita in the world, after Qatar. Luxembourg is a founding member of the EU, NATO, United Nations, Benelux and the Western European Union, reflecting the political consensus in favour of economic, political and military integration.

Consistently ranked among the world’s top three nations in both wealth and wine consumption. Luxembourg’s prosperity was formerly based on steel manufacturing, however with the decline of that industry, Luxembourg diversified and is now best known for its status as Europe’s most powerful investment management centre.

The country is mostly rural, featuring dense Ardennes forest, nature parks in the north rocky gorges in the east and the Moselle river valley in the southeast. Its capital, Luxembourg city, is famed for its medieval old town perched on sheer cliffs. A popular tourist attraction is the vast Bock Casemates tunnel encompassing a dungeon, prison and the Archaeological Crypt. These subterranean tunnels and passageways were first built in 1644, in the era of the Spanish domination, and in 1933 they were opened to the public. Luxembourg is also home to “Europes most beautiful balcony” – Le Chemin de la Corniche, a cobbled promenade along the side of a cliff, with views across the river canyon, the Alzette valley and the viaduct.

Luxembourgish cuisine is influenced by the cuisines of neighbouring France, Belgium and Germany. It’s certainly not a cuisine for those on a diet, but it’s definitely tasty with lots of meat, fish, potatoes, beans, and dashes of cream and wine. Some of the tasty recipes I considered were Judd mat Gaardebounen (smoked neck of pork with broad beans), F’rell Am Rèisleck (fried trout in a rich Riesling wine and cream sauce) Stäerzelen (a dish made of buckwheat flour with smoked bacon and cream), Friture (fried fish from Luxembourg’s part of the Moselle river), Gromperekichelcher (crispy fried potato cakes or fritters), Huesenziwwi (hare stew) and Paschtéit or bouchée à la reine (like vol aux vents). I opted for Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon) which was exceptional.

Rating: 10/10

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

400g green beans, sliced in 1 cm pieces
100g onions, chopped
150g potatoes, cubed
100g smoked bacon
25g butter
1500ml chicken or vegetable stock
75ml double cream or crème fraiche
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and fry the bacon for 5 minutes
Add the chopped onions and fry for 5 minutes
Add salt, pepper and mint, beans and stock
Cook for 45 minutes
Add diced potatoes and cook for 20 minutes until they are just soft
Add cream
Check seasoning and serve

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Ingredients for Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
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Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
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Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
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Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
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Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
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Vianden Castle
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Le Chemin de la Corniche
luxembourg-city
Luxembourg City

Mozambique

Mozambique is a southern African nation whose coastline stretches 2,470 km and is dotted with popular beaches like Tofo, as well as offshore marine parks. Tanzania is to the north; Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to the west, and South Africa and Swaziland to the south. The country is generally a low-lying plateau broken up by 25 sizeable rivers that flow into the Indian Ocean. The largest is the Zambezi which provides access to central Africa. Mozambique has several Indian Ocean Islands which attract tourists.

Mozambique was explored by Vasco de Gama in 1498 and first colonised by Portugal in 1505. The Portuguese had control of all of the former Arab sultanates on the east African coast. Guerilla activity began in 1963 and became so effective by 1973, that Portugal was forced to dispatch 40,000 troops to fight the rebels. A cease-fire was signed in September 1974 and after having been under Portuguese colonial rule for 470 years Mozambique became independent on 25 June 1975. The first President Samora Moises Machel, had been the head of the National Front for the liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in its 10 year guerilla war for independence. He died in a plane crash in 1986, and was succeeded by his foreign minister Joaquim Chissano. In 2004 President Joaquim Chissano stepped down after 18 years in office, he was succeeded by Armando Guebuza.
Current Leader Filipe Nyusi, of the ruling party Frelimo party, was sworn in as president in January 2015. Two months later he succeeded former president Armando Guebuza as party leader, representing a change in Frelimo which has dominated politics in Mozambique since it won independence. During his election campaign, Mr Nyusi pledged to transform Mozambique, one of Africa’s poorest nations. He now presides over a country on the cusp of tapping newly discovered offshore gas fields, set to transform Mozambique’s economy. Despite recent economic growth, more than half of Mozambique’s 24 million people continue to live below the poverty line.

Maputo, known as Lourenco Marques before independence, is the capital and largest city of Mozambique. Today it is a port city with its economy centred on the harbour. It is known as the City of Acacias, in reference to acacia trees commonly found along its avenues. Highlights for the visitor include The Quirimbas Archipelago, Gorongosa National Park, Lake Niassa and the Chimanimani Mountains.

The cuisine of Mozambique has been deeply influenced by the Portuguese, who introduced new crops, flavourings, and cooking methods. The staple food for many Mozambicans is ncima, a thick porridge made from maize/corn flour. Other dishes I came across include Matata (clam and peanut stew), Xima (maize porridge), Frango a calrial (piri piri chicken over charcoal), Sandes de Queijo (Baked Cheese Sandwich), Chamusas (savoury triangular pastries), Ananas con vihno do porto (pineapple in port), Mozambican Peri-Peri Prawns and Malasadas (Doughnuts). I opted for a healthy dish of Salada Pera de Abacate (Tomato and Avocado Salad) which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2 as a starter or light lunch

Prep time: 15 minutes
1/2 head iceberg lettuce or salad leaves
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 avocado, sliced
6 peach slices, chopped
Lemon Dressing:
4 tsp lemon juice
4 tsp olive oil
4 tsp syrup from peaches (you can use any fruit syrup or a teaspoon of honey)
salt & pepper
1/2 tsp dried herbs de Provence
1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves

Mix lemon juice with olive oil, syrup, salt, pepper and herbs
Cut the lettuce and lay out on a plate
Lay the avocado on top of the lettuce
Top with the tomatoes and peaches
Sprinkle the dressing over the salad

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Ingredients for Salada Pera de Abacate (Tomato and Avocado Salad)
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Salada Pera de Abacate (Tomato and Avocado Salad)
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Salada Pera de Abacate (Tomato and Avocado Salad)
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Northern Mozambique
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Gorongosa National Park
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Lake Niassa

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Central American country known for its beaches, volcanoes and biodiversity. More than 25% of Costa Rican land is protected national parks and refuges. There are over 130 species of fish, 220 of reptiles, 1,000 butterflies (10% of the world’s butterflies), 9,000 plants, 20,000 species of spiders and 34,000 species of insects. Costa Rica has successfully managed to diminish deforestation from some of the worst rates in the world from 1973 to 1989, to almost zero by 2005. It was identified by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) as the greenest country in the world in 2009.

Costa Rica stands as the most visited nation in the Central American region, with 2.66 million foreign visitors in 2015. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than bananas, pineapples and coffee exports combined. Elected in 2007 by Costa Ricans through an open contest in a leading newspaper, the 7 natural wonders of Costa Rica are:
1. Cocos Island
2. Arenal Volcano
3. Chirripo Mountain
4. Celeste River
5. Tortuguero Canals
6. Poás Volcano
7. Monteverde Reserve

Costa Rican fare is nutritionally well rounded, and nearly always cooked from scratch from fresh ingredients. Rice and black beans are a staple of most traditional Costa Rican meals. Recipes I came across included Olla de carne or “pot of beef” (beef stew with potatoes and vegetables), Casado (rice, black beans, plantains, salad served with tortilla and meat), Gallo pinto (spotted chicken with rice and beans), Patacones (fried plantains), Arroz con Pollo (chicken and fried rice), Sodas (savoury pastries), Ceviche (raw seafood salad) and Arepas (crepes). I made Sopa Negra (black bean soup) which was simple to make, healthy and flavoursome.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2 as a starter or light lunch
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours (if cooking the beans)

1 can of cooked black beans drained or 100g dried black beans
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup oil
350 ml water
1 hard boiled egg per portion (optional)

If using dried black beans, cook according to packet instructions
Fry the onion and coriander until onion is softened
Add the beans and the remaining ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth
Put it back in the pan and heat for 5 minutes but don’t boil
It is a hearty soup and can be served with a hard boiled egg in it

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Ingredients for Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Tortuguero Canals, Costa Rica
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Costa Rican beach sunset
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Poás Volcano, Costa Rica
costa-rican-red-eyed-tree-frog
Costa Rican Red-Eye tree frog

Rwanda

Rwanda is a small landlocked country in Central East Africa. It is in the African Great Lakes region and its geography is dominated by mountains in the west and savanna to the east. The highest peaks are found in the Virunga volcano chain in the northwest including Mount Karisimbi, Rwanda’s highest point, at 4,507 metres. Volcanoes National Park is home to an estimated one third of the worldwide mountain gorilla population and it is one of only two countries where mountain gorillas can be visited safely.

A few facts
Rwanda has the world’s highest representation of women in parliament. 64% of Rwanda’s members of parliament are women
In 2007, Rwanda became the first country in the world to legislate an outright ban on plastic bags
Rwanda the most densely populated country in Africa with 445 inhabitants per square km
A dramatic improvement in healthcare delivery and health outcomes has seen life expectancy in Rwanda rise by 10 years in the last decade
Rwanda has two public holidays mourning the 1994 genocide. The national mourning period begins with Kwibuka, the national commemoration, on April 7 and concludes with Liberation Day on July 4

The cuisine of Rwanda is based on local staple foods produced by subsistence agriculture such as bananas, plantains, pulses, sweet potatoes, beans, and cassava. Recipes I came across during my research Rwandan Fruit Salad, Umutsima (a dish of cassava and corn), Isombe (cassava leaves with aubergine and spinach), Mizuzu (fried plantains), Rwandan Beef Stew, Ugali (African Cornmeal Mush) and Pinto Beans and Vegetables. I opted for Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad) which made a very tasty lunch.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 1 as a starter or light lunch
Prep time: 15 minutes

1/2 onion, very thinly sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 baby avocado, sliced
1/2 red chilli, sliced
1/2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Layer the tomatoes, chilli coriander, avocado and sliced onions in a dish
Mix together the lime juice and olive oil then season with salt and black pepper
Pour the dressing over the salad and serve

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Ingredients for Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad)
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Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad)
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Kachumbari (tomato, onion and avocado salad)
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Rwandan countryside
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Lake Kivu, Rwanda
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Traditional Rwandan intore dancers

Belgium

The Kingdom of Belgium is located in Western Europe and the capital, Brussels, is home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

The Belgian coastal tram Kusttram is the longest tram line in the world at 68km long. It opened in 1885 and operates between De Panne and Knokke-Heist, from the French border to the Dutch border.

The Law Courts of Brussels is the largest court of justice in the world. It has a built land area of 26,000 m² at ground level, which makes it bigger than the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome (21,000 m²).

Belgium has been producing chocolate for almost 400 years, with the first evidence of chocolate production dating back to 1635. Today Belgium produces over 220,000 tons of chocolate per year, and there are an estimated 2,000 chocolate shops.

Belgium holds the world record for the most lights lit simultaneously on a Christmas tree at 194,672 and was achieved by Kiwanis Malmedy / Haute Fagnes Belgium in Malmedy, Belgium, on 10 December 2010.

For the small country that Belgium is, there’s a surprising amount of regional diversity when it comes to the cuisine. Pork, beef, game, fish and seafood are staple items, often cooked with butter, cream and herbs, or sometimes beer which is Belgium’s national drink. Popular recipes include Carbonade flamande (steak and ale stew), Boulets à la liégeoise (rabbit meatballs in sweet sauce), Waterzooi (creamy fish or chicken stew with vegetables), Lapin à la gueuze (rabbit & beer stew), Chicon au gratin (ham and endive gratin), Flamiche (savoury tart), Waffles, Couque de Dinant (hard sweet biscuit) and Tarte au riz (rice pudding pie). I decided to make the Belgian classic dish – Moules frites (steamed mussels and chips) and it didn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1 cup canola oil, plus more for frying
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 lb old potatoes, peeled and cut into 1⁄4″thick sticks (use a mandolin if you have one)
2 1⁄2 lb mussels, debearded and scrubbed
2⁄3 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
3 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 1⁄2 leeks, light green and white parts, cut into 1⁄4″thick slices
1⁄2 large yellow onion, finely chopped

To make the mayonnaise:
In a large bowl, whisk mustard and egg yolk
Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in oil in a thin stream until it begins to emulsify
Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper
Set aside

To make the fries
Pour oil into a deep pan to a depth of 2″, and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375°
Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 8 minutes
Using a slotted spoon, transfer fries to a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet; chill
Increase oil temperature to 385°.
Working in batches, add chilled potatoes and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes
Using a slotted spoon, return fries to rack and season with salt

To make the mussels:
Heat a 12″ high-sided skillet over high heat
Add mussels, wine, butter, celery, leeks, and onions
Season with salt and pepper, and cover skillet
Cook, shaking occasionally, until all mussels are opened, about 5 minutes
Divide mussels between 2 large bowls
Serve with fries and mayonnaise

Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

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

Mongolia

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

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

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

Rating: 6/10

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

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

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

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

Italy

Italy is one of my favourite places in the world! I’ve been lucky enough to visit many stunning places in Italy – Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Milan, Sardinia and of course, Rome. All distinctly different with their own style and features. My highlights would include driving the mountainous coast road in Sardinia, the amazing fresh produce in a local Tuscan village market, feasting on Risotto Milanese in the beautiful Locanda Del Gatto Rosso restaurant, Milan and lazing by the pool, basking in the Italian sunshine at the wonderful Aldrovandi Villa Borghese hotel, Rome.  Still on my bucket list are Sorrento, Verona, Palermo and Puglia.

Famed for pizza, pasta, ice cream, espresso, mad drivers, Renaissance art and ancient architecture. It definitely has something to offer everyone. It has the most Unesco World Heritage sites in the world with 51 sites and it has another 41 on the tentative list.

Some facts you may not know about Italy:
It has the eighth largest economy in the world
The Italian mafia accounts for 7% of Italy’s GDP
One third of Italians have never used the Internet
The average employee in Italy works just 20 hours per week, one of the lowest amount in Europe
The name Italy comes from the word italia, meaning “calf land,” perhaps because the bull was a symbol of the Southern Italian tribes
From 1861 to 1985, more than 26 million people left Italy (mostly from the overcrowded south) to seek a better life. Only one in four came home again

Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is one of the most popular in the world. Italian cuisine is characterised by its simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. As you can imagine I was spoilt for choice in terms of recipes, making it extremely difficult to decide what to cook for this challenge. I considered Gnocchi, Pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta), Tortellini (filled pasta), Spaghetti Carbonara Ribollita (Tuscan soup with bread, beans and vegetables), Pizza alla napoletana (tomato, mozzarella & anchovy), Ossobucco (veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth), Arancini (deep-fried rice croquettes). However after our first visit to Milan in February this year and experiencing Risotto alla Milanese (risotto with saffron) – it had to be that! I also made my first ever Tiramisu, which even though I’m not known for my desserts, it was yum. We shared the evening with my sister and brother-in-law and we all loved the Risotto alla Milanese served in Parmesan baskets.

Rating: 10/10 for the Risotto & 9/10 for the Tiramisu

Risotto alla Milanese (served in Parmesan baskets)
Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
1 litre chicken stock
sea salt & ground black pepper
150g butter at room temperature
40g beef bone marrow or 2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, very finely chopped
300g risotto rice
1 tsp saffron threads soaked in a little stock
75ml extra dry white vermouth
175 Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Parmesan baskets
4 cups of grated parmesan cheese

Heat a non stick frying pan over a medium – high heat
When it’s hot, sprinkle 1 cup of parmesan evenly over the pan
After 3 minutes, check the sides to ensure it’s melted
Using a slice, very carefully flip the cheese over and cook for a further minutes
Then place a small bowl in the centre of the cheese and turn it out upside down
Leave it on top of the bowl for 10- 20 seconds, using a kitchen towel to shape it, then turn it out on to a kitchen towel
Continue making the remaining 3 in the same way

To make the risotto
Heat the stock in a saucepan gently and check for seasoning, don’t let it boil
Melt 75g of butter and the beef bone marrow in a large heavy bottomed pan
Gently fry the onion until soft, 15 – 20 minutes
Add the rice and remove it from the heat, stirring so the rice is fully coated, it only takes a minute
Return to the heat, add 2 ladlefuls of hot stock and simmer, stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed
Add the saffron
Continue to add the stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time, until it is aborbed
Each grain should have a creamy coating and be just al dente
Add the remaining butter in small pieces, the vermouth and parmesan
Stir very gently and serve immediately in the parmesan baskets

Tiramisu
Serves: 6-8
Prep time: 30 minutes + at least 4 hours chilling

568ml pot double cream
250g tub mascarpone
75ml marsala
5 tbsp golden caster sugar
300ml strong coffee, made with 2 tbsp coffee granules and 300ml boiling water
175g pack sponge fingers
25g good quality dark chocolate, chopped quite roughly
2 tsp cocoa powder

Put the cream, mascarpone, Marsala and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until the cream and mascarpone have completely combined and have the consistency of thickly whipped cream
Get your serving dish ready
Put the coffee into a shallow dish and dip in a few sponge fingers at a time, turning for a few secs until they are nicely soaked, but not soggy
Layer these into your dish until you have used half the biscuits, then spread over half of the creamy mixture
Sprinkle over half of the chocolate
Repeat the layers (you should use up all the coffee), finishing with the creamy layer
Cover and chill for a few hrs or overnight
To serve, dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle over the remainder of the chocolate

 

Armenia

Armenia is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia in Western Asia. It has a population of approximately 3.2m, but there are more Armenians living abroad than in Armenia, estimated at around 5.6m.

A few interesting facts
Armenians have their own distinctive alphabet and language. The alphabet was invented in AD 405 by Mesrop Mashtots and consists of thirty nine letters
The Armenian capital, Yerevan, is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, constructed 29 years before Rome
It is home to the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car, the Tatev Aerial Tramway, which is 5,752 m (18,871ft) long
Chess is a compulsory subject in schools
It was the first nation to accept Christianity as a state religion, converting en masse in AD 301

Armenian cuisine belongs to the family of Caucasian cuisines, and has strong ties with Turkish cuisine, Georgian cuisine, Persian cuisine, and Levantine cuisine. The flavour of the food relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on excessive use of spices. Typical dishes of Armenian cuisine include Khash (slow cooked beef or lamb feet), Harissa (porridge made with wheat and meat), Bozbash (mutton or lamb soup), Khorovats (grilled meat), Dzhash (meat and vegetable stew), Eetch (cracked wheat salad) and Yospov Apur (Lentil soup).
Soups are very popular so I decided to make Snkapur (mushroom soup), which was simple and had a good mushroomy taste!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

100g dried mushrooms (porcini, ceps etc)
200g fresh mushrooms, chopped finely
2 small onion, quartered
3 potatoes, peeled & chopped into cubes
2 tbsp oil
800ml water
1 vegetable or chicken knorr stock pot
50g butter, cut into small pieces
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 190c
Roast the onion for 15 – 20 minutes
Soak the dried mushrooms in a little warm water for 10 minutes
Meanwhile heat the oil in a pan and fry the potatoes over a low heat for 15 minutes
Put the soaked mushrooms in a saucepan with the soaking liquid, remaining water, stock pot and bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes
Using a slotted spoon lift the out dried mushrooms and finely chop them
Add them back in the saucepan with the fresh mushrooms and season to taste
Chop the roasted onion and add to the pan with the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes
Add the butter, stir in and season again to taste
Remove from the heat and serve in hot bowls

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Ingredients for Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Family enjoying Snkapur (mushroom soup)
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Ruins of Zvartnots Temple, Armenia
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Khor Virap monastery, Ararat, Armenia
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Yerevan, Armenia

Laos

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

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

Tanzania

Tanzania is a large country in East Africa which includes the spice islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia and also contains Africa’s highest point—Kilimanjaro, at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet).

A few facts
Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is home to the world’s densest population of lions, wildebeest, elephants, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, zebra, leopards, and hyenas. There are approximately 25,000 animals in the crater of just 100 square miles
Lake Manyara National Park is home to the world’s only tree-climbing lions
The largest crab in the world – the coconut crab, can be found on Chumbe Island of Zanzibar
The world’s earliest human skull was found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania by Louis and Mary Leakey
Freddie Mercury was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar

The cuisine of Tanzania has been influenced by Portuguese as well as Indian cuisine. The national dish of Tanzania is the humble Ugali, a simple porridge made with either maize, millet, or sorghum flour. Other dishes include Mandazi (deep-fried doughnut-like cakes), Kashata (coconut bars), Mkate wa kumimina (Zanzibari rice bread), Vitumbua (rice patties), Wali wa Nazi (rice in coconut milk) and coconut bean soup. I opted to cook Mshikaki (marinated meat) which was quite tasty, thanks to the overnight marinating.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + overnight marinating
Cook time: 8 minutes

350g steak, cut into cubes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, mashed
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Black pepper & salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and marinate meat overnight or for at least 4 hrs in the fridge
Skewer the meat on water soaked wooden skewers
Grill the meat skewers on an open coal BBQ, basting with marinate until cooked
Serve with pitta or wraps and salad leaves

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Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
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Serengeti National Park
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Zanzibar
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Elephants in the wild, Tanzania

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
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Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires
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Argentinian Tango dancers

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

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

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

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