Croatia

I have been to Croatia a number of times, most recently to Pula in the north and prior to that Dubrovnik on three occasions. It is a beautiful country with stunning coastlines, crystal blue water and impressive architecture. The walled city of Dubrovnik really is a sight to behold with windy narrow steps, Stradun (it’s limestone-paved main thoroughfare) and glimpses of brilliant blue through the gaps in the city walls. It became a Unesco world heritage site in 1979. Pula’s amphitheatre is the 6th largest amphitheatre in the world and the only one that has all three rows completely preserved.

The Republic of Croatia covers 21,851 sq miles, consisting of 21,782 sq miles of land and 49 sq miles of water. There are over a thousand islands and islets varying in size, 48 of which are permanently inhabited. The largest islands are Cres and Krk. According to Lonely Planet, the top things to see in Croatia are Plitvice Lakes National Park, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Dubrovnik’s city walls and Cres Island. Alfred Hitchcock once said “Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, Florida”. Croatia is ranked as the 18th most popular tourist destination in the world.

Croatian cuisine can be divided into regional cuisines (Istria, Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, Lika, Gorski Kotar, Zagorje, Međimurje, Podravina, Slavonija) which all have their specific cooking traditions. Popular recipes I came across were Pasticada (slow cooked beef stew), Krpice Sa Sunkom (Ham and pasta casserole), Cevapcici (meat kebabs), Punjene Paprika (stuffed peppers), Govedina s lukom (beef in onion sauce) and Fuzi (Istrian pasta commonly served with truffles). I opted to make Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew) which, for what is essentially a simple store cupboard meal, was really tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 5
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

3 tins beans (cannellini, kidney or borlotti)
500g tinned hot dog sausages
5 bay leaves
50g flour
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsps tomato puree
1 knorr chicken stock pot/cube
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Chop the sausages into small bite-size pieces and place in boiling water – turn temperature down and cook in water on a low heat.
Put the oil into a pan over a medium heat, add the flour and stir to create a roux
Add the crushed garlic cloves, tomato puree and stock pot or cube and mix well
Keep adding a ladleful of water one at a time from the sausage cooking liquid and keep stirring to remove lumps until you have a nice unctuous consistency
Add the sausages and bay leaves to the sauce and let cook for 20 minutes on medium heat, add more water if it is too thick
Add the beans and cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes, again add more water if necessary
Add salt and pepper to taste and cook for another minute
Sprinkle over the parsley and serve with warm french bread

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Ingredients for Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Empty plate says it all!
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Family and friends enjoying Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
Dubrovnik walled city, Croatia
Dubrovnik
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Cres Island, Croatia
Cres Island, Croatia
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Pula Amphitheatre, Croatia

Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago of 169 islands in the Pacific Ocean and 36 of the islands are inhabited. Spread over 500 miles from north to south, there are 3 main island groups – Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu. 70% of the population living on the main island of Tongatapu. Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and remains the only monarchy in the Pacific. King Tupou VI has reigned since 18 March 2012.

Rugby union is the national sport and they are very proud of the national team known as the Sea Eagles. Like New Zealand, Tonga performs a war-like dance before matches called the “Sipi Tau”.

Tourism is the 2nd largest source of Tongan earnings with 45,000 visitors in 2013. Highlights include Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon (the South Pacific’s stonehenge), St Joseph’s Cathedral, Mapu’a ‘a Vaea Blowholes, Ha’atafu Beach and ‘Anahulu Cave.

Tongan cuisine features taro, yams, bananas, coconuts, and fish baked in leaves. Traditionally they would have eaten one meal at lunchtime each day that had been cooked in an ‘umu’ (earth oven). Nowadays they have adopted a more western meal schedule of breakfast, light lunch and dinner. Some Tongan dishes include Faikakai topai (dumplings in sweet coconut syrup), Lo’I Feke (Octopus in coconut cream) , Lū sipi (taro leaves with lamb), Kapisi Pulu (cabbage and corned beef in coconut cream) , Keke Vai with Banana (Banana Pancakes) and Oka Ita (Tongan ceviche). I opted to make coconut bread which was a little crumbly but quite tasty.

Rating: 7/10

Makes: 8 – 10 slices
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 egg
1 & ½ cup coconut milk
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp scraped vanilla bean

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
Mix flour, baking soda, salt and grated coconut in a bowl
Whisk egg, add sugar, vanilla and coconut milk and mix well
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well
Pour into greased loaf tin
Bake for 1 hour and remove from the tin to a cooling rack

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Ingredients for Tongan coconut bread
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Tongan coconut bread
Tonga rugby team performing sipi-tau
Tonga rugby team performing sipi-tau

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Nuku Island Vava'u
Nuku Island Vava’u Tonga
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon Tonga
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon Tonga

Tuvalu

Tuvalu is the world’s fourth smallest nation. It is made up of 9 low lying atolls and reef islands in the South Pacific Ocean, with the highest point reaching only 4.6m above sea level. The name Tuvalu means “eight islands” and although there are nine islands comprising the country today, only eight were initially inhabited so the ninth is not included in its name. It previously formed part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands until 1975 when the Ellice Islands separated from the Gilbert Islands and it became Tuvalu.

The country is isolated, almost entirely dependent on imports, particularly of food and fuel, and vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels, which pose significant challenges to development. At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Emele Sopoaga said “Tuvalu’s future at current warming, is already bleak, any further temperature increase will spell the total demise of Tuvalu…. For Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and many others, setting a global temperature goal of below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels is critical. I call on the people of Europe to think carefully about their obsession with 2 degrees. Surely, we must aim for the best future we can deliver and not a weak compromise. Let’s do it for Tuvalu. For if we save Tuvalu we save the world.”

The main staples of Tuvaluan cuisine are coconut, banana, taro and fish. Two popular traditional dishes are Palusami (taro leaf, onions and fish) and Laulu (taro leaf in coconut cream). Finding Tuvaluan recipes was quite a challenge however I came across a recipe for Tuvalu coconut tuna which was really simple and very tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

300g raw yellowfin tuna, cut into chunks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tbsp freshly grated ginger root
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Scotch Bonnet hot chili peppers, seeds left in, and rough chopped
1/2 tbsp medium curry powder
tin coconut milk
2 spring onions, chopped
3 tbsp light soy sauce
Fresh coriander, chopped

In a large skillet or wok, heat up some vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
Fry the onions for a few minutes, until fragrant and translucent.
Add in the Scotch Bonnet pepper, curry powder, garlic and reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes
Stir in the coconut milk, and the spring onions
Add the tuna and soy sauce and cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
Finish off by adding the coriander and serve with steamed rice

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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Ingredients for Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna
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Tuvalu coconut tuna with steamed rice
Tuvalu
Tuvalu

Vietnam

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2 (makes 6-8 spring rolls)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sapa Vietnam
Sapa, Vietnam

Mui Ne beach
Mui Ne beach, Vietnam

Lanterns in Hoi An Vietnam
Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam

Halong Bay Vietnam
Halong Bay, Vietnam

Namibia

Namibia, “Land of the Brave” according to the national anthem, is situated in southern Africa between the Namib and the Kalahari deserts. The Namib (meaning “vast place”) coastal desert is one of the oldest in the world, it’s sand dunes are the highest in the world and they are a rich source of diamonds. The Sperrgebiet (meaning “Prohibited Area”) National Park, also known as Diamond Area 1, was created by the Germans in 1908, it was then taken over by the South Africans and De Beers had full ownership until the 1990s when the Namibian government bought a fifty percent stake, forming a partnership called the Namdeb Diamond Corporation. Namibian diamonds are the highest valued in the world and were worth $550 dollars per carat in 2012 vs Russian diamonds (the world’s largest producer) at $82 per carat.

A few other interesting facts:
Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia
It has the largest number of cheetahs in the world
Namibia is one of only two countries in the world that has desert dwelling elephants
‘Hoba’, the world’s largest intact meteorite landed in Namibia weighing over 60 tonnes
It is the fifth largest producer of uranium in the world and is expected to become the second largest once the Husab mine reaches full production in 2017

Highlights for the tourist include the sand dunes at Sossusvlei, Spitzkoppe (the ‘Matterhorn of Africa’), the Skeleton Coast, Etosha National Park and the Fish River Canyon gorge. In 2010, Lonely Planet named Namibia the 5th best tourist destination in the world in terms of value.

Namibian cuisine varies by region but staple foods include pap (porridge), meat, game and fish. A few dishes I came across were Potjiekos (small pot stew), sheep’s tails, veldt bread and Namibian black eyed peas. However, I decided to have a go at ‘Kapana’ which is simply grilled meat, generally beef. It is a highly popular street food found in the Windhoek Katutura area. It can be served on its own, with spices or with vetkoeks (fat cakes). A special thanks to Chantel from the Namibian Chefs Association who gave me some advice to ensure it’s authenticity. Even though we have a fabulously large gas BBQ, I bought a disposable charcoal BBQ so it had the ‘real’ taste. We thought the vetkoeks were a little sweet and overpowered the meat, but were a very tasty treat for breakfast the next morning!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 1 – 2 hours proving time
Cook time: 15 minutes

For the kapana
2 ribeye steaks (choose chunky steaks with a good amount of fat)
coarse sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
groundnut oil
hot chilli sauce (optional)
disposable BBQ

For the vetkoeks (makes 4)
2 cups flour
7g instant dry yeast
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp oil
1 cup warm water
vegetable oil for deep frying

For the vetkoeks
Sieve flour and combine all the dry ingredients in a big bowl
Add the oil and then water bit by bit until you get the consistency of a soft bread dough. The mixture must still be quite sticky.
Place the dough on a floured surface and gently knead for 5-10 minutes
You may need to add a little more flour to the dough to prevent it sticking to your fingers
Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a cloth and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 – 2 hours
Divide the dough into 4 portions and mould into balls
Deep fry a few vetkoek at a time over a medium/low heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes

For the kapana
Light the disposable BBQ 20 minutes before you want to use it
Generously season the steaks and rub a little groundnut oil all over
Grill the steaks on the BBQ for 5 minutes on each side for medium rare steaks and then rest for 2 minutes
Serve with the vetkoeks and hot chilli sauce

Spitzkoppe Namibia
Spitzkoppe Namibia

Sossusvlei Namibia
Sossusvlei Namibia

Desert dwelling elephants Namibia
Desert dwelling elephants Namibia

Sperrgebiet National Park
Sperrgebiet National Park Namibia

Sudan

Sudan is dominated by the River Nile with the main tributaries, the Blue and the White Nile, merging at Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum. The Republic of Sudan was the largest country in Africa until 2011, when South Sudan separated to become the world’s newest independent country. Two rounds of north-south civil war have cost the lives of almost 2 million people, and continuing conflict in the western region of Darfur has driven two million people from their homes and killed more than 200,000.

There are more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt. Approximately 255 pyramids were constructed at three sites in Nubia, Sudan over a period of a few hundred years to serve as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and Meroë. The royal cemetery at Begrawiya is one of the most amazing sites in Sudan, where you’ll see two main groups of pyramids separated by several hundred metres of sandy desert. The archeological sites of Meroë were listed by Unesco as World Heritage Sites in 2011.

The merging of the Blue and White Niles are best seen from the White Nile bridge in Khartoum. You can actually see the different colours of each Nile flowing side by side before blending further downstream, although neither are blue or white.

Popular Sudanese cuisine includes Kissra (bread) , Tamia (fried chickpea balls), Gorraasa (flatbread) , Fuul (stewed beans) , Fasulia (haricot bean stew) Bamya (okra stew) and Taheena (sesame seed dip). As it was a sunny day and we were keen for something healthy, I opted to make Salata jibna (salad with cheese). It was simple yet delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes

1/2 cup onions, cut into slivers or thin slices
1/2 cup cabbage, cut into slivers or thin slices
1/4 cup carrots, cut into very thin slices
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
pinch black pepper
1 small clove garlic, minced
25g parmesan cheese, grated

In a salad bowl, combine onions, cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes
Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl
Pour dressing and parmesan over salad and toss well

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Ingredients for Salata jibna
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Salata jibna
Pyramids Sudan
Meroe pyramids Sudan
White Nile bridge, Khartoum Sudan
White Nile bridge, Khartoum, Sudan

Ecuador

Ecuador or “the Republic of the Equator” is in northwest South America and includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles west of the mainland. It is known for its rich ecology, hosting many endemic plants and animals. There are 18 main islands in the Galápagos home to many unique species, most famous are the giant tortoises after which the islands are named (‘galapago’ means tortoise in Spanish), the marine iguana lizard and the Galapagos penguin, one of the smallest penguins in the world.

A few other interesting facts:
According to the CIA factbook because the earth is not a perfect sphere and has an equatorial bulge, the highest point on the planet closest to the sun is Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, not Mount Everest, which is merely the highest peak above sea level. It is 1.5 miles higher than Everest.
Quito is the highest capital on Earth at 2,850m above sea level
The Galapagos Islands and the city of Quito were the first 2 sites on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites
Ecuador is the leading exporter of Bananas accounting for approximately 29%
Oil accounts for over half of Ecuador’s export earnings

Some popular Ecuadorian dishes include Locro de Papas (potato soup), Llapingachos (Potato cakes served with eggs, avocado, chorizo), Seco de Chivo (goat stew), Hornado (roast pig), Encocado de Camarones (prawns in coconut milk) and Patacone (fried green plantains stuffed in pancake). I made Cebiche Guayaquileño (raw prawns cured with lemon) which had a wonderfully sweet and zingy flavour. Lovely on a hot summer’s day!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes

200g raw prawns with shells and no heads
2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
1 clove of garlic
1 spring onion, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 large tomato, deseeded and diced
1/2 small red onion, sliced in half moons
Juice of 1/2 lemon for the onions
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1& 1/2 lemons
1/3 cup of prawn stock (see below for preparation) or 1/2 fish stock cube
1/4 cup ketchup
fresh coriander, chopped

In a pan combine the water, bay leaf, garlic, spring onions and prawns. Turn the heat to medium and cook the prawns until you see them beginning to turn pink, about 3 minutes
Turn off the heat and remove the prawns from the water. Keep this water
Peel and devein the prawns saving the prawns shells.
(I used raw prawns that didn’t have shells on so I added 1/2 fish stock cube to the water instead of the shells)
Put the prawn shells back in the water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain the prawn stock
In a small bowl, combine the onions with juice of 1/2 lemon and a pinch of salt. Marinate for 15 minutes
In medium bowl combine the diced tomatoes, prawns, onions, ketchup, lemon and orange juices and 1/3 cup of prawn stock
Mix all the ingredients and adjust seasonings as necessary. Add the chopped cilantro and stir it into the ceviche
Chill for about an hour in the fridge and serve

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Ingredients for Cebiche Guayaquileño
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Cebiche Guayaquileño
Quito Ecuador
Quito Ecuador
Chimborazo Ecuador
Chimborazo Ecuador
Sunset in the Galapagos
Sunset in the Galapagos
Marine iguana lizard Galapagos
Marine iguanas Galapagos
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Cebiche Guayaquileño

Montenegro

Montenegro – Crna Gora or Black Mountain, allegedly named by the Venetians when they saw the pine forests on Mount Lovćen which were apparently so dense that from far away the mountain looked black. 60 percent of the country is more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high, with the tallest peak, Zla Kolata, reaching to 2,534 metres (8,314 ft) which is located on the border of Montenegro and Albania. It became an independent nation in 2006, after 55% voted for independence in a referendum.

In Montenegro, ‘Krvna Osveta’ (blood feud) is a law of vendetta which has been practised since medieval times and still occurs today. It is an oath of revenge for vendetta, meaning that a person must take revenge on whoever killed his relative by killing the murderer or one of the murderer’s close relatives.

Montenegro is considered one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations with 1.7 million visitors in 2015. National Geographic Traveler features Montenegro among the “50 Places of a Lifetime”. It has a coastline of 293 km with over 120 beaches and 3 Unesco world heritage sites; the Historical Region of Kotor, Stećci Medieval Tombstones Graveyards and Durmitor National Park.

Traditional Montenegrin cuisine has influences from Italian, Turkey, Serbia and Croatia. Popular dishes include Jagnjeća Supa (Lamb broth), Brav u miljeku (lamb cooked in milk), Čorbast Pasulj (bean stew with smoked ribs), Priganice (fritters or flat doughnuts) and Sac (meat slow roasted in ashes under an iron dome). I opted to cook Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce). Randomly, we had this for breakfast, I’m not entirely sure why we thought it would be a good idea, perhaps because it has eggs in it and some recipes suggested it was like an omelette! Had we walked some of the Montenegrin mountains and worked up an appetite, I think this dish would be a pleasant reward, however the watery texture wasn’t really our cup of tea.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 1 as a main, 2 as a light snack
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

50g carrot, chopped
50g onion, chopped
160g veal fillet
30g. butter, melted
1 bayleaf
salt, to taste
2 eggs
100ml sour cream
100ml whole milk
fresh parsley, chopped finely

Pre heat the oven to 200°C
Cut the veal into approximately 50g chunks, add to a saucepan along with the vegetables and bayleaf
Cover the contents of the pan with water and add 1/2 tsp salt
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then cook for about 15 minutes
Drain through a sieve, then place in a small oven proof pan and drizzle the melted butter over the top
Place in the oven and roast for about 8 minutes
Meanwhile, make the “royal sauce” by whisking together the eggs, milk and cream
Pour over the meat, until completely covered then return to the oven and cook for 7 minutes
Finish it under the grill for a few minutes to give it colour
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve

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Ingredients for Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
Kotor Montenegro
Kotor Montenegro
Durmitor National Park Montenegro
Durmitor National Park Montenegro
Budva Montenegro
Budva Montenegro

Gabon

Gabon, independent from France since 1960 is a country on the west coast of Central Africa. It was politically dominated by one of the longest serving heads of state in the world, President Omar Bongo who led the country from 1967 until his death in 2009 when his son, Ali Bongo, took power. The economy, which was dependent on timber and manganese, until oil was discovered in the 1970s, is one of the highest in Africa.

In 2002, President Omar Bongo designated that roughly 10% of the nation’s territory was to be part of its national park system (with 13 parks in total), one of the largest proportions of nature parkland in the world. The largest of the parks is Minkébé National Park in the northeast, which the WWF have been actively working to protect since 1997. The forest elephant is particularly important to the park and is believed by the WWF to contain one of the largest populations in Africa. It has been proposed as a World Heritage Site. Another of Gabon’s parks is Loango National Park, part of the African lagoon system and considered the jewel of Africa’s west coast. After South Africa, the world’s largest concentration and variety of whales and dolphins can be found off the Loango coast.

Gabonese cuisine includes food staples of cassava, rice and yams and there are notable French influences. Recipes I came across were Gabon mustard chicken, Cucumber salad, Baked bananas, Gari (manioc porridge) and Dongo dongo (vegetable and smoke-dried fish stew). I made the popular dish of Chicken Nyembwe (chicken with palm oil), which I served with rice. I was slightly alarmed by one recipe I found which suggested ‘some people may need to take a diarrhoea tablet after consuming this dish’, but thankfully we weren’t affected! It had quite a sweet tasty flavour.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

4-6 chicken pieces (bone in)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp or 40g palm oil (available from African/Asian supermarkets)
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 large yellow pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, sliced
2 Maggi cubes or vegetable stock cubes
3/4 cup water
salt and pepper (to taste)
1 bay leaf

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper
Fry the chicken in the vegetable oil in a casserole dish until brown all over, about 6 – 8 minutes, then set aside and cover
In the same dish fry the onion and garlic in the palm oil for a few minutes
Add peppers, tomato, salt, Maggi cubes and water
Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes
Add the chicken pieces to the dish cover and continue to simmer for 15 – 20 minutes
Serve with steamed rice

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Ingredients for Chicken Nyembwe
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Chicken Nyembwe
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Chicken Nyembwe
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Chicken Nyembwe with rice
Loango National Park Gabon
Loango National Park Gabon

Qatar

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/10

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

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

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

Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0828
Ingredients for Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
IMG_0831
Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
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Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
IMG_0840
Dajaj Mashwi (Arabian grilled chicken)
Mecca Saudi Arabia
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Medina Saudi Arabia
Medina, Saudi Arabia

Kenya

I visited Kenya for a holiday over 20 years ago and was fortunate to enjoy a 2 day safari in Tsavo East National Park. It was my first experience of seeing elephants, giraffe and lions in their natural habitat and it took my breath away. I remember staying overnight in a little round hut on stilts in the middle of the park, listening to the intriguing sounds of the animals during the night. It was a truly wonderful experience.
Tsavo East is the oldest and largest of Kenya’s national parks, open since 1948. Famous for the Tsavo lions, a population of lions, where adult males often lack manes entirely.

Other highlights of Kenya include the annual migration of wildebeest across the Masai Mara, views of Mount Kenya, sipping a cold Tusker beer watching the sunset, beautiful beaches at Kikambala (where my mum has always wanted to go), Lamu and Watamu.

The Kenyan food staple is ugali (cornmeal paste) usually served with stewed meat and/or vegetables. There are different varieties of cuisine based on the region. In Central Kenya popular ingredients are ngwaci (sweet potatoes), ndũma (taro root, known in Kenya as arrowroot), ikwa (yams), and mianga (cassava). In the western area near Lake Victoria favourites are Gweno (chicken), Aliya (sun dried meat), Onyoso (a type of ant), and Dede (grasshoppers). Other recipes I came across include Ingoho (luhya-style chicken), Githeri (beans and corn), Sukuma Wiki (collard greens or kale) and Mutura (Kenyan sausage). I decided to cook Nyama Choma (grilled meat) which I served with Kachumbari (Tomatoes and Onions) as is tradition. It is a very popular dish across Kenya and it seems there is usually someone in the family who is ’the grill pro’ and is in charge of ensuring it doesn’t burn. We also had some roasted potatoes too. It went down a storm, particularly the Kachumbari, which I had made before for Chad so twice it has scored 10/10!

Rating overall: 9/10

Serves: 4 hungry people
Prep time: 30 – 40 minutes + 3 hours marinating
Cook time: 40 minutes

For the Nyama Choma
2 chicken breasts on the bone, cut in half
4 small chicken thighs on the bone
800g beef short ribs
juice of 1 large lemon – approx 100ml
100ml light soy sauce
150ml olive oil
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
2 large garlic cloves, bashed
A few fresh rosemary sprigs, roughly chopped
A few fresh thyme sprigs, roughly chopped

For the Kachumbari
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
3 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 ripe avocado, sliced

For the Nyama Choma
Add the lemon juice, soy sauce, olive oil, fresh ginger, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper to a bowl and whisk until well blended
Put your chicken into a sealable bag and your beef ribs into a separate sealable bag
Divide the marinade equally between the chicken and the beef and place the sealed bags in the fridge for 3 hours
When ready to cook, light your bbq and cook the meat until it is gently charred but not black!! Approximately 5 – 10 minutes
Wrap the beef and chicken pieces in separate pieces of foil along with any marinade mix that’s left and leave them in the foil on the bbq for 25 minutes
Take them out of the foil and place them directly on the heat for a few minutes to give them a good colour
Let the meat rest for 5 minutes and then serve with the Kachumbari and roasted potatoes

For the Kachumbari
Slice the onions thinly and put them in a small bowl of salted water for 15 minutes, then rinse through with cold water
Put the onions into a salad bowl, along with the tomatoes, chilli and coriander
In a jug mix together the lime juice and olive oil with some salt and pepper
When ready to serve, garnish with the slice avocado and pour over the dressing

 

 

Macedonia

The Republic of Macedonia or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as it is classified by the UN, is a landlocked country in the Balkan peninsula. There is an ongoing dispute with Greece about it’s name due to the northern part of Greece being called by the same name.

Archaeological evidence shows that old European civilization flourished in Macedonia between 7000 and 3500 BC. Alexander the Great, who was king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, extended his empire across Greece and Persia to India and Egypt. During his time, the Kingdom of Macedonia was the most powerful state in the world; but after his death, the empire fell apart and it became the first Roman province in 146 BC.

Macedonia has three large lakes – Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa and Dojran Lake. Lake Ohrid is considered to be one of the oldest lakes in the world, estimated at 4 million years old. It is a mountainous country with two different ranges – the younger and higher Šar Mountains and the older mountain chain of Osogovo–Belasica. Other tourist highlights include exploring the capital Skopje’s bazaar, the Roman remains at Treskavec Monastery, the 13th century Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo and wine tasting in Tikveš Wine Region.

Notable Macedonian dishes include Tavče Gravče (Bean Stew), Šopska salad, Pastrmajlija (Macedonian Pizza), Burek (savoury filled pastry), Sarma (cabbage rolls), Selsko Meso (roast meat with mushrooms, wine and cheese) and Kifli (bread rolls). I opted to make Kjoftinja (meatballs) with aioli dip which I served as a snack to accompany drinks to celebrate my birthday! My family all really enjoyed them and the only criticism (from my nephew) was that they weren’t uniformly round!

Rating: 9/10

Makes 44
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

500g ground beef
300g ground pork
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 slices white bread
1/2 cup white wine
1 egg
flour for rolling
vegetable oil for frying
chopped parsley

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

Remove crusts from bread slices and soak them in a bowl with the wine
Mix together the beef and pork mince, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and mint
Add the bread and egg and knead the mixture to blend well together (you can put the mix in the fridge if you’re not ready to cook them yet)
Preheat the oven to 160
Shape into 1-inch balls, dust with flour, and fry in hot vegetable oil for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to burn them
When meatballs are browned on all sides, place in them in the oven on a covered tray for 10 minutes
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with aioli dip

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

Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, Macedonia
Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo overlooking Lake Ohrid
Skopje square
Skopje square

Comoros

A volcanic archipelago off Africa’s east coast, the Comoros are situated in the Indian Ocean and consists of three major islands – Grande Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan as well as numerous smaller islands. It has a claim on a fourth major island, Mayotte (Maore), though Mayotte voted against independence from France in 1974, it has never been administered by an independent Comoros government, and continues to be administered by France. The Comoros have been called the “perfumed islands” for their fragrant plant life including frangipani, jasmine, and lemongrass and they are also known for their great scenic beauty.

Agriculture, including fishing, hunting, and forestry, is the leading sector of the economy. It contributes 40% to GDP, employs 80% of the labor force, and provides most of the country’s exports. Economic growth and poverty reduction are major priorities for the government. Customary oral law includes sanctions against disrespect toward elders, disobedience, theft, and adultery. Until a fine is paid in money or cattle, a convicted person is banished, and he and his family are cut off from the village’s social life.

Since independence there have been a number of coups and attempted coups with various heads of state assassinated. In 1997 the islands of Anjouan and Mohéli declared independence, but a new federal constitution in 2001 brought the islands back together.

Despite it’s beautiful beaches, virgin rainforests and historical architecture, a holiday in the Comoros isn’t for everyone. Everything moves ‘mora mora’ (slowly slowly), tourist facilities aren’t plush, women are expected to cover up and alcohol is a no no, but if you’re feeling brave and up for somewhere exotic it may be for you.

Rice is the staple daily diet with manioc, root vegetables, plantains, fish and coconut milk. It was quite tricky finding authentic Comorian recipes but these were a few I came across; Langouste a la vanilla (Lobster with Vanilla Sauce), M’tsolola (Green plantains with fish in coconut milk), Donas (doughnuts) and Mkatra siniya (rice and coconut cake). I made Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken) which was really simple to make, had a great flavour and went well with the Zimbabwean peanut butter rice. Steamed rice would work equally well.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + 2 hours marinating time
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

2 chicken breasts cubed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 cherry tomatoes, peeled and chopped
160ml can of coconut cream
1/4 cup water
fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Mix lemon juice, turmeric and cumin, salt and pepper together in a plastic bag with the chicken cubes and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours
In a frying pan, add a little oil and fry the chicken gently without browning for about 5 – 7 minutes
Add the onion, garlic and tomato, stir well and cook for a few minutes
Add the coconut cream and 1/4 cup of water and bring it to a rolling simmer
Let it simmer away until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has reduced, about 15 – 20 minutes.
If the sauce has thickened too much, you can add a little more water
Sprinkle with coriander and serve with rice

 

Comoros beach
Comoros beach
Comoros
Comoros
Summit crater and crater lake of Kasatochi volcano, August 6, 20
Volcanic crater, Comoros

 

Zimbabwe

The Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked sovereign state located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. The country is mostly savannah, although the moist and mountainous eastern highlands support areas of tropical evergreen and hardwood forests. There are around 350 species of mammals that can be found in Zimbabwe. There are also many snakes and lizards, over 500 bird species, and 131 fish species.

The interestingly named Canaan Banana was the first President of Zimbabwe from 1980 until 1987, in a mostly ceremonial role. Robert Mugabe was the country’s first Prime Minister and Head of Government. In 1987, Mugabe succeeded Banana as President after he revised the Constitution to make himself Executive President. In 2008, Zimbabwe held a presidential election along with a parliamentary election. The results of this election were withheld for two weeks, after which it was generally acknowledged that the opposition party ‘Movement for Democratic Change’ – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) had achieved a majority of one seat in the lower house of parliament. However at the ZANU-PF congress in December 2014, President Robert Mugabe accidentally let slip that the opposition had in fact won the contentious 2008 polls by an astounding 73%. On 6th July, 2016 a national strike, named “stay-away day,” took place with thousands of Zimbabweans protesting government repression, poor public services, 85 percent unemployment, widespread corruption and delays in getting state salaries.

Since the downward spiral of the economy in 2000, tourism in Zimbabwe has steadily declined, however according to Lonely Planet it is back on the rise. It’s major tourist attractions include Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, Mount Nyangani and the Nyanga National Park, the Great Zimbabwe ruins in Masvingo, the ancient Matobo Hills and Lake Kariba on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, the world’s largest reservoir by volume.

Some traditional Zimbabwean recipes include Covo neDovi (Greens in Peanut Butter sauce), Sadza (cooked cornmeal), Biltong (cured beef), Bota (breakfast porridge) and Mutakura (boiled corn, peanuts and beans). I opted to cook a favourite dish in Zimbabwe – Peanut butter rice, which was very simple to make. Although it is usually served with meat, vegetables and a thick gravy, I paired it with Poulet Coco from Comoros and we thought they complemented each other well.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

1 cup long grain rice or brown rice
1 1/2 cups water
Salt to taste
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp peanut butter

Put rice in a pan with the water, add salt and oil and bring to the boil, then simmer until all the water is absorbed (or you can cook the rice in the microwave as I usually do with a drizzle of oil and salt)
Fluff the rice with a fork
Add peanut butter and mix with a spoon. The rice should be a bit sticky in appearance
Add more peanut butter according to your taste as needed

IMG_0651
Ingredients for peanut butter rice
IMG_0673
Zimbabwean peanut butter rice
IMG_0680
Zimbabwean peanut butter rice with Comorian poulet au coco
Victoria falls2
Victoria Falls
Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe
Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe ruins, Masvingo
Great Zimbabwe ruins, Masvingo
Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe
Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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Ingredients for Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
IMG_0636
Sambal paste
IMG_0638
Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
IMG_0643
Sambal Udang (Sambal Prawns)
Malaysian orang utan
Malaysia orang utans
Malacca strait
Police patrolling the Malacca strait

Bahrain

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Senegal

Senegal is in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. It remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa and has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation. The landscape consists of mainly rolling sandy plains. It’s highest peak at 584m is found southwest of Kedougou and is unnamed. Senegal has a population of over 13.5 million with a wide variety of ethnic groups including the Wolof, Fula, Toucouleur and Serer.

The lively capital of Dakar was once the finishing point of the Paris-Dakar rally, which originated in 1978 when motorcycle racer Thierry Sabine got lost in the Ténéré desert whilst competing in the Abidjan-Nice rally. He realised that the desert would be a good location for a regular rally where amateurs could test their ability. In 1979, 182 vehicles started the inaugural race from Paris with 74 surviving the 10,000km trip to Dakar, Senegal. Cyril Neveu won the race on a Yamaha XT500. Due to security threats in Mauritania, which led to the cancellation of the 2008 rally, races since 2009 have been held in South America.

Saint Louis, founded in 1659 on an island in the River Senegal, this port town was once the capital of French West Africa. It is now host to the annual Saint Louis jazz festival, the biggest of its kind in Africa, bringing 500 musicians together to play in the central square of the historic quarter. In 2000 it was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Wrestling is Senegal’s most popular sport and has become a national obsession. A type of folk wrestling traditionally performed by the Serer people, it is now the national sport. Adama Diatta and Isabelle Sambou will be competing in the freestyle wrestling category at the 2016 Olympics.

Sengalese cuisine takes influence from North Africa, France and Portugal, as well as its ethnic groups. Sengalese recipes I came across include Mafe (fish, chicken or lamb stewed with peanut butter sauce and vegetables), Thieboudienne (rice & fish), Sombi (sweet milk rice soup), Chere (cous cous) and Ndambé (spicy beans). I cooked Poulet Yassa (chicken marinated with onions and lemons), which is now popular across all of West Africa but it originated in Senegal. It was delicious! Traditionally it is served with rice or sweet potato, however I served it with a green salad of leaves, avocado and soya beans which complemented it very well.

Rating: 9/10
Serve: 4
Prep time: 20 mins + overnight marinating
Cook time: 1 hour

1 small chicken (1-2 kg) or 8 – 10 chicken pieces on the bone
French mustard
Lemon juice or 4 squished lemons
2 cubes of chicken stock
peanut or groundnut oil
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
4 onions
Salt and pepper
1 cup of water

Make the marinade sauce by mixing 2 tablespoons french mustard with 4 tablespoons of peanut or groundnut oil and 6 tablespoons of lemon juice
Cut the chicken into smaller pieces
Pour ¾ of the mix into a plastic bag with the chicken pieces and let it marinate in the fridge overnight or for at least 3 hours
Keep the rest of the marinade for the next day
Cut the onions in to large pieces and mix them with the rest of the marinade
Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or groundnut oil in a large pan
Fry the chicken on high heat for 5 minutes so it browns, then remove from the pan and set aside
Reduce the heat, add the onions and the rest of the marinade and cook for around 10 minutes
Scrap any burnt bits from the bottom of the pan and stir well to blend in
Once the onions are soft, add the chicken pieces back into the pan, then add the chicken stock cubes, 2 cups of water, salt & pepper and chilli flakes
Let it cook for around 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
Taste to check if extra salt or pepper are needed
Serve with rice, sweet potato or a green salad with avocado and soya beans

Barbados

Barbados is situated in the Lesser Antilles. The west coast has white sandy beaches and calm waters and the east coast faces the Atlantic. Its location in the south east of the Caribbean region puts the country just outside the principal hurricane strike zone. On average, a major hurricane strikes about once every 26 years. The last significant hurricane to cause severe damage to Barbados was Hurricane Janet in 1955.

The Portuguese visited the island in 1536, but they left it unclaimed, with their only remnants being an introduction of wild hogs for a good supply of meat whenever the island was visited. Barbadians are extremely fond of pork.

Barbados has produced many great cricketers including Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott. Also, Rihanna, the eight time Grammy Award winner was born here and in 2009 she was appointed as an Honorary Ambassador of youth and culture for Barbados by the late Prime Minister, David Thompson.

Barbados welcomes more than a million tourists including land based and cruise ship visitors annually. Highlights include Accra Beach, Barbados Wildlife reserve, Hunte’s Gardens, Harrison’s Cave and Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, a Unesco world heritage site since 2011.

Popular dishes from Bajan cuisine include Pudding and Souse (pickled pork with spiced sweet potatoes) , the national dish of fried flying fish served with cou-cou (cornmeal and okra), Bajan black cake , Black Eye Peas and Rice and Samosas often made with Conch. I opted to cook a favourite of mine, Macaroni cheese, which they refer to as Macaroni pie. Whilst it had a good flavour, it was a little dry.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins

150g macaroni
1 and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp ketchup
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 onion, sliced
pinch black pepper
2 tbsp double cream
Grated cheese for top

Bring some salted water to the boil, add macaroni and the onion to the boiling water and cook until the pasta is al dente
Preheat oven to 180c
Drain macaroni and onion quickly and put straight back into the pan, add 1 cup of cheese and put the lid on for 2 mins
Then add the evaporated milk, mustard, ketchup, pepper and cream and stir well to blend everything together
Transfer to 4 buttered ramekins and top each one with grated cheese
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown

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Ingredients for Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
Barbados beach
Barbados beach
Bridgetown, Barbados
Bridgetown, Barbados
Barbados waterfall
Barbados waterfall

Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

 

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

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

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