March 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

Vietnam, a country that seems to be primarily known for it’s wars, is the next stop.   My father was in Vietnam in the 60’s, back when the South was being supported by a UN operation.   He returned on business in the mid 90s, as Vietnam slowly returned to the world stage – at the time, it was cautiously embracing Western commerce.   He spent one evening with hosts drinking the local brew before hopping on the back of a motorcycle and cruising the city.  His companion pointed out an old French-colonial mansion, in partial ruins but blocked by an elderly guard unit.   Despite my dad’s concerns, the driver zipped past the guard and they toured around the largely empty grounds that surrounded the old building.  Upon their return, they found themselves facing a contingent of guards pointing automatic weapons at them in a high state of stress.    After 10-20 minutes of intense shouting from the guards at my dad’s host (during which time he spent facing into a wall wondering whether his not-inconsiderable experience in the Australian army would be of interest), his white-faced driver motioned for him to get on the bike and promptly zipped away.   Unbeknownst to both of them, the Vietnamese Politburo has chosen that abandoned building for a secret meeting that evening.

Despite my Dad very nearly getting shot 30 years after very nearly being shot a number of times, I’d like to go to Vietnam.   And tonight, we’ll eat there.

The Plan

The dish that attracts my attention is Phở.  This is a famous dish of Vietnam, pronouced ‘fuh’.   It’s a big soup, with lots of ‘add-your-own’ side dishes that one adds to your broth. I’m using an excellent guide from Steamy Kitchen.

2 onions, halved
4″ nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
1 kg of osso bucco
6  litres of water
1 package of Pho Spices [1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbl coriander seeds, 1 tbl fennel seeds, 5 whole star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves – in mesh bag]
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar- or 300g of regular sugar

1 kg rice noodles (dried or fresh)
cooked beef from the broth
250g  rump, sliced as thin as possible.
big handful of each: mint, cilantro, basil
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot sauce


Char: Turn the grill on high. Place ginger and onions on a baking sheet. Spray  a bit of cooking oil on the cut side of each. Cook until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.

Parboil the bones: Fill large pot (12 litre capacity) with cool water. Boil water, and then add the osso buccon, keeping the heat on high. Boil vigorously for5 minutes. Drain, rinse the meat gently (not losing the now soft-ish marrow) and rinse out the pot. Refill pot with bones and 6 litres of cool water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.

Boil broth: Add ginger, onion, spice packet, beef, sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the beef meat and set aside. Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning – this is a crucial step. If the broth’s flavor doesn’t quite shine yet, add 2 teaspoons more of fish sauce, large pinch of salt and a small nugget of rock sugar (or 1 teaspoon of regular sugar).

Prepare noodles & meat: Slice your flank/london broil/sirloin as thin as possible – try freezing for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier. Cut or shred the previously cooked  meat and set aside. Arrange all other ingredients on a platter for the table. Your guests will “assemble” their own bowls. Follow the directions on your package of noodles. For some fresh rice noodles, just a quick 5 second blanch in hot water is all that’s needed.

Ladling: Bring your broth back to a boil. Line up your soup bowls next to the stove. Fill each bowl with rice noodles, shredded cooked beef and raw meat slices. As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle into each bowl. the hot broth will cook your raw beef slices. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their own bowls as they wish.


The Event

This was a lot of fun to cook, and less trouble that it looks.  The resulting stock was simply gorgeous.  However, I did muck up the soup-to-meat-to-vegetables ratio somehow.   I think I stinged too much on the sprouts and as a result it was really watery soup with a bit of meat.  The very rare beef didn’t go down so well either with the family.

However:  I used the set as a follow-up leftovers the next night and it was awesome.

The Outcome

Chris:  “Not too bad, but not my thing”

Jacq:  “Hmm.  I don’t like the coriander”

Liam: “more meat!  more meat!”

Me:   The soup was really good, and the fresh herbs sensational.  I left out the chilli for the kids and by adding it back in it made a world of difference.



November 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

Singapore is a nation state that has one of the great inter-country feuds (with Malaysia, discussed when we went there). Its a dense state, 2nd only to Monaco in terms of people vs land. It’s exactly 1 degree North of the equator.  Its also a place with a strict sense of law and order, famously strict on chewing gum.

The Plan

While Singapore is known for both Laksa and Hainanese chicken, the chicken wins out this time.   I’ve adapted a number of recipes, mostly from SBS (again).


1 very fresh chicken (preferably free range)
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
6 slices fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, slightly bruised
2 shallots, chopped in a few pieces
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tsp salt

Chicken Stock
Chicken bones, such as whole chicken carcass, or a kilo of chicken wings or legs
3 pieces of ginger
2 shallots

Chicken Rice
1 cup long grain rice
2 tbsp chicken or pork fat (this tastes great, but peanut oil can be used instead)
2-3cm ginger, grated
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped very finely or grated
2  cups chicken stock according to rice instructions (or more, reserved from boiled chicken)

Chilli sauce
2 fresh birds eye chillies
1-2 cloves garlic
5cm fresh ginger

2-3 tbsp of chopped coriander
2-3 shallots, chopped
2 -4 tbsp chicken stock (from the boiled chicken)
Juice from 1  lime to taste
Salt to taste

Coriander  Sauce for Dipping
5cm of Ginger
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp lime juice
1 cup chicken stock (from the boiled chicken)
a handful of finely chopped coriander leaves
5 tbsps oyster sauce


For chicken stock, add  chicken bonest, three slices of ginger and two shallots to just enough water to cover them. Boil for one to two hours until stock has a strong chicken flavour. Discard chicken bones/pieces and strain the stock through a muslin cloth.
Bring a pot of water to the boil, adding the chicken stock, the pot being large enough to fit the whole chicken. While the water & stock is heating, rub chicken inside with rice wine and soy sauce. Roughly chop three pieces of ginger, garlic and one shallot and then blend in a food processor. Place mixture inside chicken.

When the water boils, turn heat off and place the chicken, remaining three pieces of ginger and shallot in the water. Leave the chicken to stand in the water for one hour. After the first five minutes of standing, lift up the chicken, drain the water from the stomach cavity and put chicken back in the pot. Repeat this process two or three times during the cooking period to make sure the chicken cooks inside as well as outside.

After 30 minutes, turn on the heat to bring the water back to almost boiling point, then turn heat off. The chicken, never being allowed to boil, will be very tender and juicy. At the end of the hour, remove the stock and plunge the chicken into icy water for 5 minutes.

For chicken rice, wash the rice and drain well (the more water in the rice, the less chicken flavour! Some recommend drying the rice in a tea towel). In a wok, fry chicken fat until oil is released and then add the ginger and garlic and fry well.

Remove from heat and discard the chicken fat and skin. Add the rice and salt and stir fry briskly for about 1-2 minutes. Transfer rice into an electric rice cooker or pot. Add in chicken stock and pandan leaves. Follow normal instructions for cooking rice.
While the rice cooks, remove the chicken from the ice water and rub with remaining soy sauce combined with sesame oil and salt.

For chilli sauce, roughly chop chillies, garlic, coriander, onions and ginger and then blend in a food processor. Add chicken stock, lime juice and salt to taste. Will keep in covered container in the refrigerator for a few days, but is best served fresh.

For coriander sauce, finely chop ginger, garlic and coriander.  Add chicken stock, lime juice and oyster sauce.   Stir and warm for 1 minute in a microwave.

The Event

Best comment was “you’ve outdone yourself on the mess factor”.   With a small kitchen and the requirement to turn and drain a chicken in a pot not quite big enough, I made a hellish mess to clean up.   Overall, it should have been a little simpler – I struggled to get the timing quite right.

The Outcome

Jacq: “Good.  Yeah. I’d love to have it again”

Liam:  “7 out of 10”

Chris:  “Good!  Just could have had more vegies”

Me:  I thought this was excellent.  The rice was very good, but what topped it were the two sauces I created.    Coriander was such a strong flavour, but so perfectly offset against the salty chicken.


November 7, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

Indonesia is one of the most changeable countries as its one of the most siesmically active.   Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis has made this place very changeable with new parts of the country emerging and disappearing with extreme regularity.    Indonesia has over 150 volcanoes, many of them active and causing world-wide effects –  Krakatau destroyed an island and dropped world temperatures by 2 degrees in 1883, whereas the explosion of Mt Tambora caused a famine in Europe with the Year Without Summer.    These were dwarfed by the ancient explosion of Toba, which was so violent it likely extinguished 99.8% of the human race.

One interesting trivia is that when Mount Tambora caused the Year Without Summer, it forced a bunch of poncy writers on holiday in Switzerland to spend most of their time in doors.   Bored, they had a competition who could write the scariest story.    One of them wrote Frankenstein, and the other The Vampyre.

The upside to all of these volcanoes is that Indonesia is an extremely fertile land – heaps of volcanoes = lots of ash, which means lots of fresh top soil.  This, coupled with the tropical environment means these tiny islands are able to sustain such a large number of people – despite having over 17,500 islands, one of them (Java) is the most densely populated island in the world.

One great thing the soil has produced is a rich array of spices – these are, of course, the spice islands.

The Plan

Indonesia has so much good food, but given a lot has chilli, we’re going to stick to the obvious choice – Nasi Goreng.  I grabbed this one from a range of different places.


  • 3-4 cups of rice, cooked
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 (about 275g) chicken thigh fillets, excess fat trimmed, cut into 2cm pieces
  • 1 175g pkt shortcut bacon thinly sliced
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves,  sliced
  • 1 carrot,  diced
  • 60g (1  cup)  finely shredded Chinese cabbage
  • 100g bean sprouts
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp shao hsing rice wine
  • 4 eggs
  • A bunch of coriander


  1. Fry the chicken, bacon and half the onion until cooked.  Remove
  2. Fry the remaining onion, garlic and carrot for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the cabbage, stir until it starts to wilt.
  4. Add the rice, stirring rapidly to loosen it.
  5. Add back the chicken and bacon and turn down the heat.
  6. Add the bean sprouts
  7. Add soy sauce and shao hsing wine, and a handful of chopped coriander
  8. In a separate frying pan, fry each of the eggs.  Leave them runny and serve them over the top of each plateful of rice.

The Event

I prefer runny fried eggs on my rice – and, now, so to does my family.

The Outcome

Liam:  “Yum!”

Jacq: “Great!”

Chris: “not bad”

Me:  not bad.     At the end of the day, this is fried rice.   Adding shrimp paste and prawns would have been a better choice.


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 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.


March 6, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

Thailand is a great place with some of the most sensational flavours on the planet.  I love cooking Thai but in this particular case I need to use a restaurant pass.

As we’re selling out house, cooking is temporarily on hold in the now shiny showroom kitchen.  Takeaway is the new black.  So, for this week, we’re dining when we can, out.

There’s a Thai place around the corner we’ve not tried  – Baan Bua Thai.

The jungle curry is one of my favourite Thai dishes (but garlic prawns, massaman curry, green chicken curry, there’s so many classics).   The jungle curry is very hot but also isn’t made from coconuts – allegedly it comes from the jungles in  north of Thailand where there’s no coconuts.      Apparently normally made with wild boar.  More’s the pity one can’t easily source that.


February 13, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Posted in South Asia & South-East Asia | Leave a comment

India is one of those countries that really should be a continent rather than a country.  There’s just so much food diversity in the country that I would dearly love to treat it as a region all of it’s own.   One of most favourite recipe books is a rich description of 50 curries of India, detailing all the variations of the cuisine by the regions.    In addition, when a recent curry night at camping showed off the very best of Matthew’s concoctions (the Chicken Tikka Masala, although arguably British) and Pete’s superb  prawn & spinach dish, I just want to go back and eat everything the country has to offer.

However:   we must settle on one meal per country.    As well, there’s a  doozy of a problem:  in addition to being great food, Indian meals are a great outing too.    And while there are many great Indian restaurants in Sydney – Nilgiris, The Clove – the local one is a huge favourite with us and our local mates.   Tommy’s Curry and Tandoori club.

Tommy’s is legendary with our locals.   It’s not particularly exotic or even that spicy but their menu hasn’t changed in 15 years and it’s littered with favourites.   This evening the four of us had one set of our favourites:   Tandoori prawns, butter chicken, daal, Palak Gosht.     Had we had the stomachs of elephants, we also would have had Palak Paneer, Tandoori lamb, Bhuna Gosht and Madras Chicken.

The food is great, familiar and a reliable hit with everyone.  Just don’t bring someone who likes things vigorously hot – nothing’s too spicy.  Cheap and cheerful at it’s best.

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