September 30, 2010 at 10:33 am | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | 1 Comment

Malaysia is one of those places in Asia which is full of rich flavours.  It’s also a great place of recent history of an excellent and most trivial feud between it and Singapore.

Singapore and Malaysia were once one country, formed in 1963 – it was a brief union, with Singapore expelled in 1965. Since that time, Singapore and Malaysia’s relationship has been punctuated by lots of bickering – some of it good natured, much of it not.    Water, building heights, airspace, where Nasi Lemak originates from,  and even who owns a bird-shit-encrusted rock in the sea between them – all good neighbourly stuff.

My favourite part of this rivalry is the Crooked Bridge.  A heavily used causeway currently links Singapore and Malaysia.  This is a problem for Malaysia as it means that ships coming to it’s ports have to go the long way around, circling  Singapore to get access.   It would be far more convenient if the causeway was a bridge.   Trouble is, Singapore owns half the causeway and making it a bridge would divert trade to Malaysia’s cheaper ports – so they’re not playing ball.

So, Malaysia has an alternate plan:   they’ll build a bridge on their side and hook it up the causeway in the middle.  And here lies the problem – there’s not enough room to get the necessary height for ships to pass safely under.   So, the plan is to shoot out at an angle, soar up to the minimum height, slope back down, then bend the bridge around to it rejoins the causeway!

That’s one awesome feud if it produces this.

The Plan

Whilst in the Adelaide markets, I stumbled across a food shop that sold buffalo.   What better option than to try out a a Buffalo Rendang.

Serves 6, cooking time 4 hours

Ingredients – Rendang Paste:

• lemon grass
• onions
• galangal
• ginger
• garlic

Method – Rendang Paste: Finely chop and pound the paste ingredients to a smooth paste.

Other Ingredients:

• 2 tbsp cooking oil
• 4 star anise pods
• 8 cardamom pods
• 15 cm cinnamon stick
• 8 cloves
• 2 kg topside or lean chuck steak of beef or preferably water buffalo
• milk/cream of 1 coconut
• kafir lime leaves
• turmeric leaves
• tamarind juice
• chillies
• salt and black pepper to taste
• meat of 1 coconut, dry fried or toasted till bronze and dry


1. Heat the oil in a wok and once hot, add the whole aromatic spices – star anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and fry for 1 minute.

2. Add the rendang paste and fry till the colour darkens. Add the meat stirring well into to the paste for 3 or 4 minutes

3. Tear up the turmeric leaves and kafir lime leaves and add to the beef mixture, stirring them in.

4. Pour in the coconut milk and stir into the mixture and add 2 tablespoons of tamarind juice.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste and leave to simmer slowly for 1 or 2 hours until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.

6. Add the toasted coconut and stir into the mixture to soak up the remaining juices. The result should be quite dry and incredibly tender, flavoursome beef.

The Event

Buffalo is a tough, tough meat.  It takes a lot of cooking.  I let this go for 3 hours, but I can see how you could go for 4 or 6.

The Outcome

Jacq: “I’m now a vegetarian”

Liam:  “MmmmMMM.  Buffalo is GOOD!”

Mum:  “Nice, but I’d prefer it the curry was a bit wetter”

Dad:  “Needs another week to cook.”

Chris:  “Nice, but too dry and too chewy”

Me:   I think the rendang is extremely tasty but the dry result isn’t the best.  It would have been a lot better with a slightly more viscous paste.   Will definitely do this one again.



September 29, 2010 at 9:33 am | Posted in Southern & Western Europe | Leave a comment

Greece is famously the birthplace of modern Western civilisation, bringing democracy, the Olympic games, the roots of modern mathematics and of course, the invention of drama.   Yes, both comedy and tragedy are Greek inventions.   Who’d a thought…

Modern Greece also had a violent birth.   As part of the Ottoman empire for at least four centuries, the Greek war of independence in the 1820s lead to the formation of the First Hellenic Republic and the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.    Slightly oddly, this lead to one of the few times in history that someone received a chain of islands as a gift, which also explains why the husband of the British Monarch is Greek.

While Greece has 1400 islands, around 7 of them are particularly interesting.  The Ionian islands were the only Greek territory that was not absorbed into the Ottoman empire, instead being managed by the Venetians.   After a brief period of French rule, Britain took the islands by force and created the United States of Ionian Islands.   They hung on to them for 50 years, but then decided to make these a coronation gift  to a Danish prince who’d recently been elected as the King of Greece.

Further trivia (found while trying to understand how the hell one has an election for a monarch!):   while Greece was looking for a new king, the population very much wanted Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, to be appointed king.   Queen Victoria rejected this outright, but the Greeks held a non-binding referendum anyway.    Twenty seven choices were on the referendum, and the Greeks overwhelmingly wanted Prince Alfred.   The king who was eventually appointed garnered exactly 6 votes, or 0.0002% of the vote.  But the best news was that the previous King managed to win only 1 vote.  One solitary vote.  D’you reckon it was him or his mum?

(To add injury to insult, Prince Alfred followed up missing out on becoming a king by getting shot at Clontarf beach in Sydney a few years later.  Small world.)

The Plan

I really really wanted to cook Greek food….but I also really really wanted to eat Greek food.  When an opportunity came up to pop out for dinner in Adelaide, I couldn’t resist going to Eros Ouzeri.   Glorious food, including:

For entree we had a series of dips with pita bread:

  • Melitzanosalata (Roasted eggplant, roasted pepper,red onion, parsley, garlic, tahini and olive oil)
  • Tzatziki
  • Skordalia (Potato puree, garlic and olive oil, with vinegar and lemon)
  • Taramosalata (Cod roe with lemon juice and olive oil)

Mains were fantastic:

  • Saganaki Thalasino (Handmade festoni ribbons, bug tails, local prawns, king scallops. cherry tomato flambéed with ouzo, fetta, garlic, chilli)
  • Arni Souvlakia (Prime Lamb loin marinated & Char-grilled. Mediterranean compote, tzatziki & gremolata)

Finishing everything off was desert for one

  • Cream Kataifi (Layered toasted shredded pastry and almond flakes soaked in vanilla syrup Greek custard. liquored chantilly cream)

The Event

Eros is a fantastic place – nice ambiance, great staff, good selection of wine and food.   5 stars, well worth a look in if you’re in Adelaide.

The Outcome

Chris:  “Really nice food!   The dips were OK, the lamb fantastic and the desert:  not what I expected but still good.”

Me:  One of the dips was tremendously good, the other three paled into insignificance.  I will definitely seek out Taramosalata to have again.  My main course – Saganaki Thalasino – was just hands down the best seafood dish I’ve had.  It was excellent.    In fact, I tasted some of Chris’ souvlakia and while I love lamb, it was boring by comparison.


September 20, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

Pakistan is, I learnt today, a portmanteau:  the combination of the first letters of Punjabi, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.   From these five provinces comes the name Pakistan, a country that coalesced out of the embers of the British Raj at the same time India formed.   Today Pakistan is the 6th most populous country on earth, a nuclear state, the worlds first and largest Islamic state,  and has a solid economy that sells the world rice, apricots, chick-peas, mangoes, onions, tangerines, and – apparently – preferred results for cricket matches.

On a more sombre note, Pakistan currently is largely  underwater.  For three days in late July 2010, the country got a bucketing of rain that  submerged  an area the size of Tasmania.  Over 21 million people are severely affected.

The Plan

Pakistan cuisine is a meld of food from across the region, reflective of it’s origins.  Punjabi is one cuisine that is common to both Western India and Eastern Pakistan.  Tonight I’m picking a Saag Gosht, or lamb with spinach.

Saag Gosht

  • 1 kilo lamb, cubed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 green chillies, chopped
  • 3  garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons  mustard seeds
  • 4 tablespoons ghee
  • 1 pack of frozen spinach
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of green cardamom powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar.
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper
  • 3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  1. Take a heavy pan and put on a high heat.   Add the ghee and fry the mustard seeds until they begin to pop.  Add the garlic and fry for one minute.
  2. Add the lamb and fry for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the ginger paste, the chillies and the salt.
  4. Stir in the onions and add the tumeric.
  5. Once the onions are brown, add the sugar, garam masala and spinach.  Stir vigorously and then add the cardamom and coriander powder.
  6. Stir in the yoghurt.
  7. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes

Serve with rice and papadums.

The  Event

This was really easy to cook, although there’s a large number of spices.  Cooking with de-boned lamb was great – easy to cube.

The  Outcome

Liam:  ”Not bad!”

Jacq:  ”Too spicy!”

Chris:  “Not bad, but you needed to cook the spices for longer”

Me:  This was a great base but I was let down by not enough time (Chris was right), and not enough yoghurt.  However, the flavour showed great promise and I’ll do this again.



September 12, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

Bangladesh is a country that evolved out of the devolution of first the British Raj – where it became known as East Pakistan – and then after a violent secession, it became it’s own country.   The rebellion came on the heels of the world’s worst ever cyclone, killing half a million people.    Bangladesh is one of the world’s flattest, lowest-lying countries on earth, with the majority of the land at or below 12 metres.

Bangladesh is also extremely full – if you discount city states and tiny islands, Bangladesh has the highest population density in the world.    However, coups and flooding notwithstanding it does appear on “the next 11” list of c0untries with potential to become one of the worlds’ largest economies in the 21st century.

The Plan

Main course has to be a biriyani, accompanied by a dal:  both are classic Bangladeshi dishes.   For desert, I tried Rasgulla, a Bengali favourite.

Inspired by a blog or two, I came up with this;

First phase

  • 600g of chicken
  • 2 cups of yoghurt
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespooons coriander powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic ginger paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ginger
  • 1/2 a teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 a teaspoon black cumin
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of mace
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Second phase

  • 2 cups of rice
  • one onion, chopped
  • 2-3 tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons garlic ginger paste
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of black cumin
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of garam masala
  • 2-3 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1/2 a cup of mint leaves
  • 1/2 a cup of coriander leaves
  • 1/2 a cup of chopped carrot
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced

1.  For the first phase, fry the onion until translucent and then add the spice and yoghurt.   Stir well and then simmer for very slowly for one hour.

2.  Wash the rice and put to one side to soak.

3.  Stir fry the onion from the second set until translucent and add the garlic paste and cumin.

4.  Add the chopped tomatoes and stir until soft.

5.  Add the mint, coriander, carrot and potato, and the chicken from the first phase.   Add the four cups of water and bring to a boil.

6. Add the rice and simmer for 20 minutes.

As a side, I made a red lentil dal from

1 1/2 cup red lentils
3 1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric; or more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon ghee; butter or vegetable oil
1 cup minced onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic

1. Rinse lentils well, add water, turmeric and salt. Bring carefully to boil and cook over low to medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Adjust salt.

2. While lentils are cooking, fry the  onions until  golden brown (approximately 10 minutes), stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and ginger and continue cooking until the tomatoes decompose into a  mush (approximately 8 minutes.)  Add garlic.

3. Scrape out this mixture into the lentils and stir it in.


  • 1/2 Litre milk
  • 3 tbsp Lemon juice
  • 2 tsp All Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 tsp Rose essence or cardamom powder
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Sugar
Take a pan and heat milk in it. Bring it to a boil.
Add lemon juice, stirring slowly and gently till cheese separates from the milk.
Turn off the heat and strain it through a strainer.
Make sure all the water from the cheese is drained.
Now knead it to make soft dough.
Combine flour with it and knead again.
Make small rounded balls from the dough, keep aside.
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and boil it.
Add cheese balls to the syrup and cook it for about 30 minutes with lid partially covered.
Add rose essence or cardamom powder and turn the heat off.
Allow to cool and serve .

The Event

We had Andy and Sophie pop over and ended up staying for dinner.   This was good as I cooked far too much food (although Sophie had just had a party so could only squeeze in desert)

The Outcome

Jacqueline:  ”Yum!   And I love the desert!”

Sophie:  “I’m full from my party”

Liam:  “too spicy but I did finish it.  The desert was not good”

Chris:  “This is good, you should bring this camping.  ”  On the desert: “Nope.  suger and cheese. yergh”

Andy:  “Awesome.  Now I’m so full….but I will eat the desert”

The biriyani was excellent, as was the dal. The desert was interesting but hit and miss with audience.


September 5, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

We’re at Japan, otherwise known as not-a-stan (after our last four countries).  Japan is a tiny country that has been so hugely influential on the world but in many ways remains still a novelty.   A country that invaded most of Asia in the 40s and now has pacifism enshrined in its constitution.   It left the war a complete ruin, but in the space of four decades  become a huge economic powerhouse that, even after some recent years of deflation, is still the 2nd largest economy in the world.

For a long time, Japan was a closed country: for over 200 years the legal concept of Sakoku calling for the death of any foreigner to enter Japan or any Japanese who left.    While today Japan is clearly on the world stage, it remains different, fresh, odd, unique, persistently non-Western.

The  Plan

Miso soup is quintessentially Japanese – I’ve never made it and wanted to.   There’s so many recipes, but I used this one as a base.   For the main, it was a hard to pick:  I settled on Yaki Udon, adapted from Taste.

Simple Miso Soup


  • 8 cups of water
  • 6 tablespoons of miso paste
  • 1 sliced spring onion
  • 200g tofu, sliced
  • 5-6 mushrooms, sliced
  • half a dozen spinach leaves, sliced into shards
  1. Mix the water and miso paste and bring to a simmer
  2. Add the tofu and mushrooms and simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the spring onions and spinach and simmer for a further 2 minutes.

Yaki Udon


  • 250g udon noodles
  • 400g chicken, very thinly sliced
  • 100ml of soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons of caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons of peanut oil
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • half a red capsicum, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 cup beansprouts
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin wine
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • sesame seeds
  1. Boil the noodles for 3 minutes then drain and set aside
  2. Mix the soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil and microwave for 1 minute
  3. Stir fry the chicken in oil.  Once the chicken has browned, add the capsicum, carrots, beansprouts and spring onion and the soy mixture.  Fry for a further 2-3 minutes, adding the mirin wine.
  4. Add the noodles and mix through thoroughly.
  5. Pour the mixed egg over the noodles and stir through
  6. Heap noodles into individual bowls and sprinkle with sesame seeds

The  Event

The soup was overly salty and not particularly a hit.  I made far too much for 3 people – needed to drop this by at least half.   The noodles were fine but I completely forgot the eggs and sesame seeds.

The  Outcome

Liam:  ”I hated the soup.  But the noodles were the best dish ever!!”

Jacq:  ”Can we do a country twice?  ‘Cause I want this one again”

Me:   Even with forgetting  the eggs and the sesame seeds this really was excellent.  It was also simple with hardly any spices but just was so mor-ish.  A winner.

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