January 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

Tonight we eat in China.  Oh man, I’ve been looking forward to this.   I was lucky enough to visit Hangzhou last year and the very first meal I had there was spectacularly different, interesting, weird and mostly tasty.   I went to a restaurant on the banks of West Lake that was famed for serving food that had particularly good effects on your health.  Unfortunately the exact effect was extraordinarily hard to translate for my host so we just tucked in – chilled chillied chicken feet, pig liver pate, boiled bacon and potato, candied ginseng root, cow tail.   It was all awesome – apart from contemplating how far up the cow tail the segment one was eating, and where it had spent it’s life.

There was little to no chance of me being to even remotely source or cook that kind of authentic Chinese food.   Instead, I choose to make Peking Duck.

The Plan

Peking Duck is made classically by blowing air into the duck cavity to separate the skin from the fat, and then air drying the duck for 24 hours before roasting. Jamie Oliver has a far simpler method

  • A packet of pre-made pancakes.  These are any Asian food shop (and get a bamboo steamer too)
  • A duck
  • Chinese five-spice
  • A knob of ginger
  • A handful of spring onions
  • A cucumber
  • 10 plums
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Half teaspoon chilli powder


  1. Heat the oven to 170c
  2. Wash the duck, pat dry and liberally cover with five spice.   Grate up the ginger and rub around the inside of the duck.   Place the duck in a roasting pan, ideally on a roasting rack – there’ll be heaps of fat coming off – and slide into the oven for around 2 hours.   Check every 20 minutes and baste the skin with the rendered fat.
  3. Make the plum sauce by adding the destoned plums,  sugar, soy sauce, the chilli powder and a splash of water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 or so minutes
  4. Thinly slice the cucumber and the spring onion
  5. When the duck is ready, use two forks to  shred the meat off the bone.  put aside and keep warm
  6. Steam the pancakes

Server on a platter, allowing every to pick a pancake, add some duck, cucumber, onion and pour over some plum sauce – roll up the pancake and you’re done.  Repeat.

The Event

The cooking of this was really simple.  Plums weren’t in season so I had to resort to a pre-made plum sauce.   Still tasted great!   I didn’t add any chilli but the natural bite of the plums put the kids off just a bit.

The Outcome

Chris:  “Looked like a lot of work but fantastic!”

Liam:  “awesome!  I love the plum sauce….actually, I hate the plum sauce”

Jacq:  “Yum!”

Me:  This was a great meal, eating out in the garden.  Seriously good finger food.



November 13, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

Korea’s a country torn in two since 1950.   North Korea remains fundamentally in the dark ages under the command of a despotic family that preaches a weird mixture of Communism and Divine Right.  South Korea, however, has gone through a major transformation and is now a major economic force in the world.

Trivia point 1:  The ceasefire occured in 1953,  positioning the  borders at roughly the same point the war started.   However, the countries are technically still at war, having not yet signed an armistice.

Trivia point 2:   my favourite part of this ludicrous hostility between the two countries is the Axe Murder Incident.   In 1976, a bunch of South Koreans and a US military attachment moved into the demilitarized zone to trim a poplar tree.   These sort of incursions happened from time-to-time, but in the case the North Koreans attacked out of the blue, killing the American gardeners and a few of their South Korean mates.    The event was played up by North Koreans, who used this to again call for the removal of US forces from the South Korean penisula (er, so he could have it).

The Americans responded with truly stupifyingly overwhelming force.   Three days later they sent in 23 vehicles, two 30-man platoons, 16 engineers with chain saws, a 64-person special forces team from South Korea, 20 utility helicopters, 7 gunships, a number of B52 bombers, F4 fighters and F5 fighters.   In the event this wasn’t enough, 12,000 men were moved into bases just behind the DMZ.    They drove in….and cut down the tree.


The Plan

While  I was sorely tempted to cook Korean, there’s a new Korean restaurant locally, the Soban Korean – a bunch of friends wanted to try it out, so we all hired babysitters and parked ourselves at Soban.

The Event

Soban has the classic Korean BBQ style, gogi gui.  We supped on seafood pizza, bulgogi, kimchi, sundubu jji-gae, while grilling various meats and vegetables on an in-table bbq setting.    This was fantastic as we were outdoors, sipping lots of white wine in an open courtyard.   In fact, it was only when they turned out the lights that we realised we’d outstayed our welcome a tad.

The Outcome

Chris:   “My third time here, I love it”

Kai:  “Fantastic”

Pete:  “reallygood”

Sharon:  “Seafood pizza is excellent”

Belinda:  “Brilliant”

Stu:  “No BYO beer?”

Me:   Nice place, good food.  I was surprised just how little chilli was added to the dishes.    The BBQ food was extremely good – actually, it was a full-on meat fest.



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.


August 29, 2010 at 9:52 am | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

The home of Borat.   I can’t think of a single other thing about Kazahkstan.     However, as this cooking event is fundamentally about educating the kids about other countries, I can’t really lead with a parody.

Kazakhstan is another ex-Soviet republic, but one that’s not in the doldrums.  They’ve got an economy that works and a political system that sort of works (a democracy is generally unlikely to return a leader with 90% of the vote).  They’re considered the dominant nation of Central Asia.    Remarkably, the land is larger in area than Western Europe but is only populated by 16m people.     It’s also one of those slightly odd countries where the ‘official’ language is  spoken by less than 2/3 of the population – Russian is the common language.

Kazakhstan is also notable in that it has a rich demographic breakdown.  The population includes dozens of ethnic groups – Tatars, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Belarusians, Uyghurs, Azerbaijanis, Poles, Lithuanians, Koreans, Germans all live peacefully in the country.    A slightly uncomfortable reason for this cultural diversity is that Kazakhstan was also home to many of the Russian Gulags, and lots of people were deported to Khazakstan.

The  Plan

Beshbarmak is the national dish of Kazakhstan, which means ‘5 fingers’.   It’s essentially a plate of lots of varied types of boiled meat, and horse feature features prominently.   I started a variation which was mostly boiled lamb in stock with noodles but it looked too unappetising so I turned that experiment into a curry.

Instead, I’ve gone for shashlyk, something that  may not be strictly Kazakhstani, but certainly is favoured by the Khazaks and certainly comes from the region.   When you select the meat for this, it’s important that you don’t have lean meat:  as the marinade is dry, you’ll need some fat for the meat to remain moist.


  • 400g beef, cubed
  • 400g lamb (cut from the leg or shoulder), cubed
  • 2 diced onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • lemon juice
  1. Place the meat in separate bowls.  Divide the onions and garlic and lemon juice evenly between each bowl and mix well.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight
  2. Soak some wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes.
  3. Thread the meat onto the skewers.  Don’t mix the meats up.
  4. Grill for around 12-20 minutes.    Remove from the heat and slice the meat from the skewers.   Serve over boiled rice.

The  Event

This is not exactly a novelty – skewered meat is a common BBQ event for us.  However, I’d not used lamb from a leg before and it was markedly better than the average skewer.

The  Outcome

Liam:  “I would beg and beg to have this again”

Jacq:  “I loved the whole dish”

Chris:  “Lamb is good”

Me:  I’ll do this again, but with lamb.   Thicker pieces of meat is best.


August 28, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

The 3rd stan in a row!  We’re in Turkmenistan now – a country which, well, doesn’t spring to mind too often.   Mostly because it’s more-or-less a completely closed nation, ranking 3rd worst in terms of press freedom only after North Korea and Burma.   A former part of the Soviet Union, it was one of the last Asian territories  to secede.   It seems that possibly the reason for secession – apart from the crumbling USSR – was the fear of glasnost:  the country is fundamentally backward, inward looking and prehistoric in it’s thinking.    The former leader banned:

  • Beards
  • Opera
  • Recorded music
  • Libraries
  • Playing video games
  • Ballet
  • Long hair
  • The Hippocratic Oath
  • Makeup on TV presenters
  • Circuses

He had me with opera but what cruel barbarous dictator bans the circus!

The  Plan

There’s not a lot of unique recipes floating around:  I discovered that the Ishlekly has some notoriety as a national dish, which is essentially a pie. I took this from the World Cookbook for Students.



  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of sour cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 200g of mince
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • melted butter
  1. Mix the flour, butter, milk, sour cream, egg, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.    Once you have a thick dough, knead for 15 minutes on a floured surface.
  2. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth and leave for 15 minutes.
  3. Mix the onions, mince and tomatoes.
  4. Take 2/3 of the dough and roll flat.   Lay on an oiled pizza dish
  5. Spread the meat mixture on the dough, leaving a 2cm gap from the edge.
  6. Roll out the remain dough flat and place over the top.
  7. Cook for 30 minutes at 200c.
  8. Remove from the oven and spread soft butter over the top.

The  Event

Very easy to make – lots of fun making dough with the kids.  I was a bit worried about how plain and tomato-y the mixture was going to be.  Also worried that we had no spices to add.

The  Outcomes

Liam: “This is gross”

Jacqueline:  ”Yep.  Horrible”

Chris:  ”It’s er, well, pastry with some filling.”

Me:  Turkmenistan’s tight political control over their country has meant little of their culture has left the country.   From a cuisine point of view, I think that’s a good thing.


August 22, 2010 at 9:18 am | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

Our next ‘stan’ is Uzbekistan.    The Uzbeks, right next door to the Tajiks, the Kyrgyz, the Turkmen and the Afghanis, hold the dubious honour of being one of only two doubly-land-locked nations in the world:  these guys need at least two visas to go see a beach.

Uzbekistan, while historically dominated by nomadic cultures, became a significant agricultural contributor after it effectively drained the world’s four largest lake and poured it on the desert.  Today, it’s the second largest cotton producers in the world, and also owns one of the worst environmental disasters in the world:  the Aral sea is less than 10% of it’s original size, with the ‘port’ of  Muynak now 100km away from the water’s edge.

The  Plan

Uzbekistan is fundamentally about meat and pilaf, or plov.  We did a plov for Tajikstan so we’re going for a Shurpa – lamb broth or mutton soup.

Qovurma Shurva – Mutton Soup


  • 500g of lamb
  • 1/4 of a cup of oil, or a number of pieces of lamb fat
  • 500g potatoes
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 4 onions
  • 1 bunch of coriander
  • 1 apple
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. Fry the lamb fat until you have a thin layer of melted fat in the pan.  Remove the unmelted fat – you should have around 1/2 cm deep fat at most.
  2. Fry the diced lamb meat
  3. Add the onions and tomatoes and saute for 5 minutes
  4. Add the diced potatoes
  5. Add 2 litres of water and bring to a boil
  6. Add the coriander, bay leaf and salt
  7. Add a peeled and cored apple.
  8. Simmer for an hour.

The  Event

I actually wanted to use a stock as a starter,  but unfortunately while the stock and pan was in the sink cooling, Jacq washed her hands over the top of it.

The Uzbek’s clearly have very little spices, more the shame.

The  Outcomes

Liam: “”

Jacqueline:  ”I don’t like the meat”

Chris:  ”It’s not bad but I wouldn’t seek it out.   Too fatty”

Me:  This needed to be made with a stock first.   And Chris was right about the excessive fat.


August 15, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

Moving to Eastern and Central Asia, we’re into a tough stretch:  8 meals from a meagre 12 countries, five of them ending in “stan”.    Tajikstan is our first spot.

I must admit knowing little about ‘the stans”.   Turns out Tajikstan is one of the more unusual countries in central Asia.  The language is very similar to Persian (spoken in Iran) yet the national language for a long time was Russian (due to the less-than-spectacular period of alignment with the USSR).    It’s another significantly impoverished countries, mostly due to said Russian ‘help’ but also because of civil war, an absence of natural resources and just being a long way away from anywhere.

Interestingly though, Tajikstan is on the Silk Road, so benefited greatly during the Silk Road (which explains it’s adoption of Indian spices).   It’s proximity to the the Eastern and out-of-way-ness was also clearly benefit to  spy writers – if you’re watching an awful 80’s Cold War film chances are that the drop is being made in Tajikstan.

Oh, and Tajikstan’s also bloody high – half the country is over 3,000m (50% further up than Kosciuszko).

The  Plan

Tajikstan favours mutton as a principal ingredient, cumin as the principal spice, rice as the stable and tea as the drink.  The national dish is qurutob, which is a concoction of flat bread, yoghurt, onions and tomato and eaten with one’s fingers.   However, I went for Tajik Osh, the Tajik version of pilaf – apparently served at weddings.


  • 2 cups of rice
  • Oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Beef stock
  • 1 kg of beef, preferably chuck, or mutton
  • 2 or 3 teaspoons of cumin
  • a bag of carrots, julienned
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 onions


  1. Slice the meat into big chunks, and fry in oil in a large saucepan.
  2. Once the meat is browned, add garlic and onion and stir vigorously.   Add the cumin
  3. Add the carrots.  At this point, turn down the heat a bit as you don’t the meat to burn
  4. Once the carrots have softened, add the stock and enough water to just cover meat.  Simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Wash and soak the rice
  6. After 30 minutes of the meat simmering, add the chickpeas and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Add the cumin and salt as required.
  7. Remove the meat and dice.  Return to the pot
  8. Drain the rice and add to the pot.  Stir into the mix and add enough water to cover the mixture by about one inch.  The rice will absorb the remaining water.
  9. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Serves at least 6.

The  Event

For the first time in my life, I ran out of carrots.  I substituted with two scoops of red lentils.   I also ran out of cumin, so garam masala had to be a last minute substitute

The  Outcomes

Liam: “its good!  But I want to know if this is near the country that worships cows?”

Jacqueline:  “Great food dad.”

Chris:  “This is good!  But I’m quite glad you didn’t garnish this with strips of lamb fat”

Me:  Good, nice, if somewhat predictable pilaf.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China

January 18, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Eastern & Central Asia | Leave a comment

Ok, so Hong Kong skirts our definition of a country. Is it or is not technically really just another part of China?

A significant portion of the much better off 7m Hong Kong residents would firmly agree that yes, it is its own country. Crucially, it has both it’s own currency and government (of sorts) which qualifies it as a country.

This is important as it allows me to choose Cantonese cuisine – China’s one of those countries which we should really divide into multiple countries. However, they’re not particularly big fans of this approach anyway, so rather than disturb the notions of the Chinese Communist Party, I’ll accept the widely held belief that Hong Kong is a separate country and not talk about the other one.

Hong Kong, being close to the South of China, means they have inherited a lot of the Cantonese culture and cuisine. The exciting news for us is that we can use Hong Kong as a pit stop for Yum Cha!

Now, Yum Cha is clearly not something one does at home. Not only is a blizzard of complicated & delicate dishes, it’s an experience one has to share. Yum Cha without a trolley dolly barking a single heavily accented word or two (“Porcbaan!” or “noooodal!”, “prawndumpin!”) or without a constant flow of tea: Not on.

Hence, we’re using a restaurant path for this one. We met Andy, Claire and Sophie @ Taxims, and had an enormous assortment of dim sum, dumplings, you name it. Spectacular and Taxims will remain a local fixture for some time.

Andy:  “These things are new and are like meat within a chip.  How can that be bad?”

Claire: “Stick to the dumplings Andrew, your cholesterol is through the roof”

Sophie:  “I’m not eating octopus!”

Liam: “Hey, this is the first time I’ve not knocked over my lemonade!”

Jacq:  “Yuuuum, salt and pepper squid”

Chris: “No, we not had enough.  Keep it coming!”

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