A taste of things to come...
As a chef, but more importantly as a foodie, my career has been varied. I’ve worked in excellent restaurants, toured with Pink as her touring chef and invited to tour with Green Day on their world tour. I’ve catered for the Beckham's, worked in Switzerland and was the catering venue manager at the London 2012 Olympics for the aquatics water park, to name a few. Beyond this, I’ve immersed my self in the world of food and developed a vast knowledge.
Throughout this adventure and with this knowledge and avidity, I’m going to share as much of this incredible food experience with you as possible. Street food a plenty, cookery classes throughout and visits to some of the biggest farms in Southeast Asia, I can’t wait to learn and develop my knowledge further, whilst hopefully giving you an incite into SE Asian food and the inspiration to cook recipes from one of the worlds food meccas.
Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Malay, Indonesian, and Peranakan/ Nyonyan food; to the everyday palette and eye, these cuisines may be hard to differentiate between but go a little further in understanding them and these cuisines are all unique with their subtleties and ingredient availability, which I’ll be exploring in full on route.
One that you may not be familiar with is Peranakan cuisine, Nyonya or Baba, which, in short, is a blend of Chinese and Malay flavours teamed with hints of Indian and Thai. The only reason I know about this cuisine is because when training at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, I was living in Notting Hill (thanks Matt and Monkey) and the local takeaway just so happened to be called Nyonya and served Nyonya food.
Bike touring or bike packing as it’s commonly called, is a completely unique form of travel and the experience and rewards are endless. The beauty of this adventure by bike is the opportunity to experience food and culture in different regions, subcultures and in it’s most intimate guise.
You know the saying “when in Rome”? Well I’m going to be taking this approach to food, as I always do, and really live like the locals do. That said, there’s going to be a few frowned upon things on the menu. Will I disrespect a local village in Northern Vietnam and turn down a bit of Lassie if offered? I’ll face that moral dilemma if and when it presents itself; but animal abuse or cultural gap, who would I be if I didn’t fully succumb to the cultural ways of the largest continent in the world. I am a firm believer of the quote “ Be the change you wish to see in the world”, but in this case, we’ll see.
Starting in Bangkok, and choosing China Town to get my head down, I’ll be starting with a couple of cookery courses by day at Chef Leez & Silom Thai Cooking School and a street food odyssey by night. Whilst these 2 cookery courses will be very similar, it’ll be very interesting to see and taste the small differences in different chefs approaches to local dishes. Every chef has their own little twist on a dish, whether inspired by a relative or by another chef and it’ll be great to understand why and what tastes best.
During my time spent in cities I’ll be partaking in cookery classes, wandering the streets in search of the finest street food and heading out on adventures. Between cities and on the road, sustenance is going to be key, so it’ll be street food and local delicacies, where I’ll do my best to find out the ingredients and the cooking methods.
After the heat wave of Thailand (they put chilli in everything) and with my metabolism soaring, it’s onto Laos. Laos cuisine is pretty unique to it’s neighbours. Steamed sticky rice, which is eaten by hand, is considered the essence of what it means to be Lao. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world, fact! That’s great news for me as I bloomin love sticky rice and it’s great news for you as you’ll have some incredible recipes coming your way! I’m planning to spend Christmas and possibly New Year in Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage City north of Loas capital Vientiane by some 450km.
I can’t really think of any better way to start 2018 than heading into Vietnam from Laos! The difference a year makes hey?! The longest part of this adventure will be in Vietnam! Starting in the north I’ll say a big xin chào, hello, to arguably the freshest food in the world. The north and south differ in their climates and growing seasons, and consequently their dishes, with the north in favour of slow cooking and stir-fries and the south for grilled or raw. Awesome.
From Vietnam it's in to Cambodia. Now of all of Southeast Asia, Cambodia probably has the most sacred and photographed Wat, Angkor Wat. Angkor was once a megacity supporting at least 0.1% of the global population during 1010-1220 and the Khmer empire was the largest continuous empire of Southeast Asia, based in what is now Cambodia , yet I know very little about this country which borders all 3 of it's neighbours, except that parts of it’s not so distant history are very dark indeed. Siem Reap, Cambodia's capital is said to be the ‘life-support system and gateway for the temples of Angkor’ and I can’t wait to see why.
Common ingredients in Khmer cuisine are similar to those found in other Southeast Asian culinary traditions – rice and sticky rice, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime, garlic, chilies, coconut milk, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime and shallots. I'm in! This said, traditional Khmer cuisine is hard to find now with influences more of Thai and some Indian. Khmer cuisine is noted for the use of prahok, a type of fermented fish paste, in many dishes as a distinctive flavouring. Like fish sauce, you wouldn’t want to go near it on it’s own, but with the balance of sweet, sour and spicy, you’ve got a mouth orgasm going on.
Myanmar borders Thailand, India and China so I expect the food to be very regional.Apparently, to get the attention of waiting staff, the custom is to make a loud kissing sound. Saying ‘excuse me’ or ‘hello’ is unlikely to get you very far. Ha, a like the etiquette already. Oily food and salty food is common in Myanmar and lentils feature mainly in soups with influence from Indian cuisine. I’m not entirely sure what to expect of the dining experience of Myanmar from what I’ve described above, but all I know is, until I try it, I shall not judge!
With a quick stop in Bangkok again and a cookery class at Baipai Thai Cooking, I’m off to spend a few days in Kanchanaburi with one of the largest farmers in Thailand, Soonthorn, who runs Red Rocket Farm and Blue River International who supply M&S with mangoes and other Thai fruit. Soonthorn grows a plethora of different produce at Red Rocket Farm, but Mango’s are what I am going to see and help pick and mango’s are what I am going to eat and cook!
As I move further into southern Thailand, the Malay and Indonesia influence is apparent, even just in colour of dishes. They say that the dishes in Southern Thailand are much hotter than in other regions, so I look forward to my metabolism rocketing again and profusely sweating during and hours after eating! By this time in my adventure, I’ll be surprised if I’m not at least 1.5 - 2 stone lighter than when I left. Of course, seafood is also a prominent feature in Southern Thailand and Malaysia due to it’s proximity to the ocean either side. This will be an extraordinary food experience around this part! At this point, expect a bit of post diving fishing, on the beach, with a BBQ, beer, and an incredible sunset and some envy inducing, vicarious pleasure.
I find it hard to identify Malaysian food as it’s own cuisine as there are so many culinary traditions colliding at once; Malay, Chinese, Indian, Chettinad, Peranakan and the list goes on. That’s not to say that that the over all cuisine doesn’t offer it’s own unique taste and flavour; on the contrary, I’d just call it Pan Asian! For me, with my very little knowledge of Malay food, there isn’t a dish that really springs to mind when thinking about true Malay food. Laksa’s and satay come to mind but these are influences from Peranakan, as mentioned in the opening few paragraphs and Indonesia for the satay. Beef Rendang and Sambal also, but non originating from Malaysia as far as I’m aware.
We haven’t adopted Malay food in the West as we have Thai and Vietnamese but I’m sure there is a treasure trove of culinary delights among the amalgamation of cuisines ready to get the taste buds going and I can’t wait, as a bet the repertoire is huge!
Indonesia, as an archipelago of 6,000 populated islands, offers a rich, vibrant and diverse food offering, taking influences from all of it’s subcultures. Expect Savory, hot and spicy with the customary tastes of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Oh, and a lot of coffee! Indonesia was the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world in 2014. Fact.
For me, Rendang, Satay and Sambal top the list for the most recognised of dishes in Indonesian cuisines, however, these are favoured more in Singapore and Malaysia.
Due to the amount of time I have to spend in Indonesia, I’ll be starting my last country of this adventure in Jakarta and missing out one of the largest parts of Indonesia, Sumatra. This is also due in part, to my desire to visit some of the remotest islands in Indonesia and in the world; North Maluku being one of them, historically known as Spice Island, known as such for its famous mace, nutmeg and cloves. Mace and nutmeg are both from the the nutmeg pit and are awesome spices used in the right way! Bechamel sauces and creamed/mashed potatoes work a treat! Steady on the quantity though; 1) it can be very over powering and 2) Nutmeg is hallucinogenic in large doses, but if you want shock your taste buds and to see Mash Potato Mick fighting Béchamel Bill, then be my guest. I don’t condone this, but I would be interested in hearing about it.
So, that’s a very small overview of what to expect from this food adventure and to be honest, I don’t know what to expect. 1 thing is for sure though, it’s going to taste so so sweet.
I leave you with this:
Until next time.
Andy ETC X