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
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Luxembourg City
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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
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Costa Rican Red-Eye tree frog

Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

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

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso, once named ‘Upper Volta’, was renamed “Burkina Faso” on 4 August 1984 by then President Thomas Sankara. The words “Burkina” and “Faso” both stem from different languages spoken in the country. “Burkina” comes from Mossi and means “honest” or “honest people”, while “Faso” comes from the Dyula language and means “fatherland”. The capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou, it literally means “You are welcome here at home with us”.

Gold is Burkina Faso’s main export, followed by cotton and animal products. Together gold and cotton make up 70% of the country’s exports. It is Africa’s largest producer of cotton.
However it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with around 44.5% of its population living below the poverty line and it ranks 183 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index in 2014. The World Food Programme has several projects geared towards increasing food security in Burkina Faso.

According to Lonely Planet, highlights for visitors to Burkina Faso include:
Colourfully painted fortress like houses in Tiebélé
Mud-brick mosques of Bani
Gorom Gorom market
Fespaco – Ouagadougou’s film festival and
Moro-Naba ceremony, a throwback to the Mossi’s golden age.

Burkina Faso’s cuisine is based on staple foods of sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams and okra. The most common sources of animal protein are chicken and fresh water fish. Grilled meat is also common, particularly mutton, goat and beef. Recipes I came across included Tô or Saghbo (a dough-based meal of cooked millet, served with a sauce of vegetables and mutton), Ragout d’Igname (lamb and yam stew), Gombo (okra sauce), Maan Nezim Nzedo (fish stew) and Krakro (sweet potato fritters). I opted for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat), which had a pleasant spicy warmth and good flavour.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

1 habanero or jalapeno chilli pepper
1-2 garlic cloves
1⁄2 onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1⁄4 cup oil
250g beef or chicken, cubed
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 cups water
1 maggi seasoning, cube (or chicken bouillon)
1 cup long grain white rice
salt and pepper

Put the chilli, garlic, tomatoes and onion into a food processor and pulse until you get a nice paste
Add the oil to a pan over medium heat and add the paste
Cook for 8 minutes, then remove from the heat and set asid
Use a little bit of water (about 1/2 cup) to rinse out your food processor, then put the water in a separate pot along with the meat
Bring the meat and water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes
Add the meat to the pan containing the paste, along with the tomato puree remaining water and Maggi (or stock) cube and stir
Wash the rice under the tap until the water runs clear, then add it to the pot and bring to a boil
Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes
Check it, then cook for another 10 minutes or until the water has been absorbed
Season to taste and serve

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Ingredients for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Sauce for Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Riz graz (“Fat rice” cooked with onions, tomatoes and meat)
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Gurunsi tribe houses in Tiebélé
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Ouagadougou
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Mud Mosque Bani

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

Iceland

Iceland, a land of beautiful landscapes and friendly charm. It is a Nordic Island nation with a population of just over 330,000. It is the second largest island in Europe after Great Britain.

When the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant started operating, Iceland became the world’s largest electricity producer per capita and they expect to be energy-independent by 2050. The fishing industry is a major part of Iceland’s economy, accounting for 40% of the country’s export earnings with Cod being the most important species harvested. Whale watching has also become an important part of the economy since 1997. Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually. Other than whale watching, visitors to Iceland can enjoy relaxing in Geysir and Strokkur hot springs, taking in the Jökulsárlón glaciar lagoon, the Laugavegurinn hike and of course witnessing the Northern Lights.

Staple foods of Icelandic cuisine include lamb, dairy and fish. Some dishes I came across were Lambakjot meth Graenmeti (Lamb Fricassee with Vegetables), Saltkjöt og baunir (split pea soup with salt lamb), Kartofluflatbrauth (Potato Flatbread), Steiktar Heilagfiski (Baked Halibut)  Sild meth Surum Rjoma og Graslauk (Herring in sour cream) and Sveskuterta (Prune Torte). I opted to make Plokkfiskur (fish stew) which was simple and very tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

1 tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalks, finely sliced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
250g small, waxy potatoes, cut into quarters
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
350g haddock, cod or other white fish, cube into 1 inch cubes
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup single cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heavy butter over medium heat
Add onions, celery and carrots and sweat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes
Add white wine, bring to a simmer and reduce by half, about 5 minutes
Add stock and potatoes, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft
Add cubed fish and chopped tomatoes; softly simmer for another 5 minutes
Turn heat down to low, add cream and salt and pepper to taste and heat until soup is piping hot but not boiling (otherwise the cream with curdle), about 7-8 minutes
Turn off heat, add chives and serve immediately

Israel

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 1
Prep time: 20 minutes

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

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

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

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