Saturday 27 February 2010

Food in Bangkok

I have eaten some great food in Bangkok. However, first I just want to mention some of the weirder stuff that has challenged me in one way or another.

We're staying at Pantip Court on Sathorn Road (great hotel btw and good value for money), and every morning we have a breakfast buffet including pastries, cereal and fruit. Being me, I have been going for the odd soup in the corner that everyone seems to avoid (seriously, in 3 days I have not seen anyone, including the Thai guests, anywhere near it)

One day, that's congee with chicken (rice cooked with chicken and lots of water until it gains a gloopy consistency), spring onions, and pickled, mild, yellow chillies, with some soya sauce for flavour. And on another day, it's just boiled rice (with lots of water left in, again), with little fish bits, crispy bits of pork rind and fishy powder to add flavour. Sounds a bit disgusting, I agree, but I have really got into this savoury porridgy-type breakfast, and I'm actually looking forward to seeing what variety of rice soup they have this morning. I may even try and make it at home, as it looks really simple - boil some jasmine rice in lots of water for ages, either with bits of chicken or without, then add whatever you want to flavour it - some fish sauce, soya sauce, chillies, fishy bits, bacon bits, spring onion or chives...


Next, I have to mention the fruit - not really the fruit itself, but what they serve it with - a mixture of sugar, salt and chilli flakes. My family, being open-minded, tried it, and declared it an abomination, but I have to say I really like it! Of course, you won't like this first time round - it's weird - but if you keep eating it you begin to enjoy the balance of sweet, salty and spicy - it's really refreshing and will see if it tastes as good in the UK once the strawberry season starts...I may try it with apples in the meantime

And, finally, I tried something I have wanted to try every time I have been to Thailand (and that's quite a few times) but I could not bear to even pick up...which makes trying quite difficult as you can imagine... as you can see down below my little brother kindly helped me with the picking up part this time, and, after a moment of apprehension, I was away!


That's right, I ate bugs - the lady selling them gave us a bit of everything, even things I would have thought I didn't want to try - grasshoppers I was ready for - but larvae, maggots and fly-like-things I wasn't


However, it turned out that the grasshoppers were the most difficult to handle  (I think it's the faces), the maggots and larvaes - delicious! I had loads of 'em with my singha beer. The ones you can see up there, the fat ones, were really tasty and meaty inside

Finally, something on the more pleasant side - I have a restaurant to reccommend is you are staying anywhere near the Sathorn Road - it's certainly not very cheap - a meal for 4 with some wine cost int he region on 3000 baht, but it's modern and trendy with lots of young Bangkovians (is that what you'd call them?), as well as more the more chic types of tourists from nearby hotels. It's called "Pandanus"  and the address is 50 Soi Nunta, Sathorn 1 Rd.


The duck red curry you see up there was superb - finally something properly spicy and not watered down to Western tastes! It had grapes in it as well, which I hadn't come across before in red curry but worked really well. And above that, you see soft shelled crab with chillies and garlic - yum - and morning glory with tofu in peanut sauce - simple and delicious - I think you make do this in the UK by substituting the morning glory for something like spinach or watercress.

I really must get a new camera, as mine only has 3.2 megapixels (I have recently been informed that this is ridiculous) so can't really be expected to get accross the spirit of the food as well as I'd like it to. I was going to get one in Thailand, but it turns out they are they same price as in the UK. It's on my to-do list anyway.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

"Cookies", Haad Salad, Koh Phangan

I find blogging in Thailand slightly frustrating. Even though internet is readily available everywhere, I seem to encounter constant problems. I can't upload photos, or the wireless cuts out, or my card runs out, as happened tonight, and I lost my whole blog. So despite being in a beautiful, calm, relaxed place, and am blogging through gritted teeth, and don't feel very zen at all.

Deep breath... tonight we went to a lovely restaurant which I have to recommend to anyone going to Koh Phangan. It's on Salad (Pirate) beach, on a hill on the left hand side of the beach, if you are facing the sea. In fact, it was recommended to me by a collegue back in London. We came here two days in a row, because we realised on the first night that we needed to order to some "specials" the day before. And if you're doing that, you may as well reserve the best table too, as the place gets packed and there's not much chance of getting it otherwise


The restaurant itself has a colonial feel to it, which is unusual in Thailand (unsurprisingly, since it has never been colonised), so feels incredibly chic, while retaining the Thai relaxed, friendly attitude.

We had a few great dishes here, but first I must mention this really simple drink that I wll be making all summer in the UK, when it finally arrives

It's yoghurt with honey and mint blended together with some crushed ice (Yoghurt Fizz)- heaven on earth

That there is one of the "specials" I mentionned earlier - chicken wrapped in (pandan?) leaves, which you need to order a day before. It has an unsual flavour that I wouldn't necessarily  think was Thai if I had eaten it somewhere else - it is earthy rather than fragrant. Would strongly recommend trying it though!
Other things that stood out were Thai-style sweet and sour fish, crab in curry powder and BBQ fish. All the food is lovely and fresh and I wouldn't say anything is actually bad, but the Moo Manao (pork salad) wasn't so special and it was the only thing that didn't get scraped off the plate. So, to sum up, if you're ever in Koh Phangan, be sure to visit!

Thursday 18 February 2010

Some lovely food in Thailand

I am lucky to even be writing this today - many complications had to be overcome and even as I am writing this I am being attacked by mosquitoes and flies and worried that the power could cut off any minute (we literally had to force the plug into the socket). I write in haste.

It's great to be here, Thailand has a special place in my heart, I feel warm and content here (most of the time) and the cuisine is definitely one of my favourites, if not my very favourite - if I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be a strong contender.

So, these are the highlights of the Thai cuisine so far - we start off with baked mussels Thai style


We had these on our first night in Thailand - it was in Koh Samui, in a little place on Lamai beach that wasn't especially amazing. Apart from these mussels that is - which were baked in a sweet chilli sauce, thai basil adding a fragrant quality to the dish. I woke up at 5am the next morning, kicking myself that I hadn't taken a photo of them.  So we went back and had them again and they were just as good the second time round

That is a spicy duck salad - shredded duck with red onion and green chilli, with a tangy lime and chilli dressing. This is what I'm guessing anyway - it was a very simple dish and yet I couldn't get enough of it! We had this in a lovely restaurant overlooking Bophut beach in Koh Samui, it was called something like "Starfish"... they also did an interesting seafood soufle served in a coconut shell. I hadn't been to Bophut fisherman's village before - it is one of the most charming places in Thailand in my eyes

And voila - le Barracuda flambe! This was served is a sweet sauce that, weirly enough, reminded me of a Polish fish dish - ryba po grecku - which is served cold. It had that same oniony sweetness. I expect it also had some kind of tomato sauce in there, and perhpas some mango, as it was quite fruity. Sorry I didn't ask what was in it, but I was too busy putting it away and I forgot

So here, it is, I am worried that I will loose internet connection again, so I am signing off now - wish me luck pulling the plug out of the socket again!

Friday 12 February 2010

"Bigos" recipe - 3 day sauerkraut stew

There's as many bigos recipes in Poland as there are households I imagine, and mine changes from year to year. But some things never change - you only eat bigos when it's cold and in a group of family or friends. It's perfect for sharing, as it takes ages to make and you may as well make a huge amount.

Ingredients (for 6 people)

2 jars of sauerkraut
2 onions
Aprox. 300 grams stewing beef
Aprox. 300 grams cubed pork belly
About 3 packets mixed dried wild mushrooms
About a handful of closed cup mushrooms
500 grams prunes
About 4 dried Polish sausages (I used "Mysliwska" - hunters' sausage)
2 Glasses red wine
1 stock cube (lamb works well)
Dried herbs (I used dried sage and rosemary - juniper berries work well too)
3 bay leaves
Olive oil
Maggi liquid seasoning (optional)

Serve with mashed potato or crusty bread

Now, my mum always uses sauerkraut that comes in soft plastic packets, which does not need much extra liquid - she doesn't use any stock at all in fact - but the stuff you get in all supermarkets, in jars, is quite dry and you need to keep adding water so that it stays moist and doesn't burn.

Day 1

Soaked the dried mushrooms for half an hour, according to packet instructions. Fried the pork belly in the olive oil for a couple of minutes, before adding the beef and chopped onion. After another couple of minutes, I added the drained sauerkraut and a glass of wine, seasoning with salt and peppercorns

You bring to the boil and then turn the heat down. Once they mushrooms have rehydrated, add them and the water they have been rehydrating in, to the pan. As long as they are bought mushrooms, of course, if you picked them yourself, you would need to rehydrate them for longer and change the water more than once. But if you picked them yourself, like most people in Poland do, then I'm sure you would know that already ;o)

I cooked this for at about 1 hour today. It was still be light in colour but the should be no liquid in the stew by the time you turn the heat off. You can let this cool and put it in the fridge overnight, but my pot is always to big so I just leave it, covered in the cold kitchen (we always turn our heat off at night).

Day 2

I put this on a low heat as soon as I got home. I covered the bigos with about a pint of lamb stock and let it simmer, while frying the Polish sausage and closed cup mushrooms separately.

I added them in one by one along with the prunes and cooked for a further hour or so

Day 3

Cooked the bigos for a final hour with a glass of wine. When this evaporated I kept adding a splash of water every now and again, when it was looking a bit dry. The final magic ingredient was maggi sauce

A proper bigos is dark brown in colour with a deep, intense flavour. However, if you'd like to try sauerkraut stew without the hassle, you can cook one in about half an hour. It tastes completely different to this stew, but definitely has it's own appeal. Check out my recipe here

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Thai Vista on Roman Road

Just a quick nod to my favourite local restaurant today- it's Thai Vista on Roman Road in Bethnal Green (just round the corner). Now, in my opinion the three most important factors of a good local are: lovely, fresh food, friendly service and good value for money. As Thai Vista has all three in bucket loads, we come here at least once a fortnight. And as I am off to Thailand in three days time, what better place to get in the mood, and go for a relaxed, premature Valentine's day dinner...

We always just order lots of dishes and ask for them to come out whenever they are ready, rather than let them stand around in the kitchen. As with most Thai restaurants, even in Thailand, there are some dishes that are superior to others. The dishes I recommend here are: Tom Yung Kung (Tom Yum soup with prawns basically), Weeping Tiger, Som Tam salad, Duck Red Curry, Thai fish cake and Dragon Chilli Basil and Spicy Nemo...

The Weeping Tiger (up there) is a sizzling steak that comes with a really interesting and highly addictive sauce. We were trying to guess what was in it today- tamarind? nuts? crack cocaine? We finally found out it's ground rice!  I guess there's plenty yet to learn about Thai cuisine.

Sunday 7 February 2010

A cold day and a hot bread and butter pudding (without raisins)

I'm not really a "pudding person". Perhaps this is because I struggle with self control at times. However, at this time of year, cold Sundays are crying out for a warming traditional English pud. And bread and butter is an old classic (it was invented in the 17th Century, you know). So I made it for lunch. Jamie thought this was really odd, as a pudding should be had for actual pudding apparently, but why would I want to eat a massive pudding after eating a massive dinner? That just doesn't make any sense to me, so bread and butter pudding for lunch it was. There are many variations of bread and butter pudding, this is my own version - it does not contain raisins, because my experimental breakfast (see The Breakfast Experiment) has categorically put me off the little blighters.


Loaf of brioche
3 eggs
50 grams caster sugar
1/2 pint of milk
200ml whipping cream
rind of 1 orange
teaspoon good vanilla essence
Mixed spice 

First, I heat the oven to 150  degrees celsius. I started off by slicing the brioche, buttering on both sides and cutting into two again, and lining a buttered dish with it, making sure there were no gaps, kind of like a jigsaw

The second layer was very thin slices layered on top of this

Then it's time to make the custard - I beat the eggs in one bowl, and the milk, whipping cream, sugar, orange zest and vanilla essence in another. I then combined the two and beat them together for ages, before pouring over the bread... and sprinkling with the mixed spice

Then into the oven it goes for 25mins - when it comes out, it is soft and creamy in the middle and brown on the outside. Cut into slices and eat immediately!

And then eat again cold later!

Thursday 4 February 2010

Mes Amis in Hammersmith

Mes Amis is where I go when I stay at my friend Anna's house in Hammersmith. It may be close to impossible to find if you don't live in the area. For those who do, it's a well loved little restaurant, and always full to the brim. Going there for dinner is like going to visit your eccentric uncle. Who lives somewhere in the Turkish/Greek mountains (I imagine). The owner James has decorated it in his own eclectic style and cooks the food behind the counter while happily chatting to his customers.

You can order from a menu, however, whenever we have been, he offers us a selection of starters to begin with, and then asks whether we would like lamb, chicken or fish for main. Last night, we had smoky aubergine dip, hummus, tangy, crunchy cauliflower florets, feta pastries, tabbuleh salad... the most surprising for me out of the starters were the meatballs, which didn't look like much, and I didn't think I was going like particularly, but they were amazing - tender and flavoured strongly with cinamon.

For mains, I had chicken, Anna had lamb, and we shared. I wouldn't normally order chicken in a restaurant, but James persuaded me, saying his chicken was like no other.. and he was right. It was chargrilled and yet not at all dry, covered in a refreshing cucumber and mint salad and some kind a yoghurty sauce. The lamb in a tomato and cinamon sauce was fantastic as usual. Both were served with a blend of chickpeas and couscous. I have no idea what James does to his couscous, but it's better than any I have ever tasted!

For desert: a selection of baklavas, which were ate only through complete and utter greed, as we were already stuffed! We went home feeling happy and relaxed, if a little over full. Everyone should have an uncle like this, and because most of us don't, coming to Mes Amis is a close second, and much cheaper than a flight to Turkey/Greece.