Posts tagged Asia
The Happy Meal

Exploring | Rasdu Atoll, Maldives

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Paradise (definition):

- a very beautiful, pleasant, or peaceful place that seems to be perfect

- a place that is perfect for a particular activity or for a person who enjoys that activity

- a state of complete happiness

 

"...what about Maldivians who live here? Are they always happy? What do they dream about? What is their idea of paradise on earth?..." 

 

 
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The water is crystal clear. I see my footprints fading in the sand. I look around. The breeze is blowing through the palm trees. The air is warm and humid and there is a delicious smell of fresh, charcoal-grilled fish. I want to try every single Maldivian seafood dish. It´s all just too perfect here. Am I dreaming? 

But what about Maldivians who live here? Are they always happy? What do they dream about? What is their idea of paradise on earth? 

 
 
Faraha and Anha

Faraha and Anha

 
 

Faraha, Anha and Ahusan.

Later on I met Faraha and Anha on a neighbouring island where locals live. The two little girls were going to see their older cousin Ahusam play soccer and they invited me to follow them.

Ahusan was wearing an old Real Madrid T-shirt. He came to greet us and I took the chance to introduce myself.

Ahusan, may I ask you something? If you imagined yourself in a paradise, what would it look like and what would you like to eat there?

- Chicken McNuggets.

Sorry?

 
 

"...Ahusan, may I ask you something? If you imagined yourself in a paradise, what would it look like and what would you like to eat there?

- Chicken McNuggets.

Sorry!?..."

 

- Chicken McNuggets, says Ahusan again.

Are you serious? Is this your idea of Paradise?

- Yes. My idea of Paradise is to eat a box of Chicken McNuggets while watching a game between Real Madrid and another team at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. That would be my dream.

- Yeeeeees, Chicken Mc Nuggets! - yelled the two cousins.

But why??

- We saw these Chicken McNuggets yesterday on tv!

***k globalisation.

 
 

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
 
 
 
Tom Yum Ice Tea Cocktail with grilled Prawn

That Recipe on my Mind  | Inspired, Thailand

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Tom Yum Ice Tea Cocktail with grilled Prawn Recipe

Ingredients:
a. 30 ml lime juice
b. 1 cup finely chopped lemon grass
c. 1 tsps palm sugar
d. 2 Kaffir lime leaves
e. 4 galangal slices
f. 1 red chili, sliced
g. 2 to 3 ice-cubes, to serve
h. 1 prawn (grilled)

How to prepare:
Combine the lemon grass, 2 slices of galangal and sugar with 2 cups of water in a pan and bring it to a boil.
Remove from the fire, allow to cool overnight (or 8 hours). Strain through a muslin cloth to get an infusion.

In the serving glass, put kaffir lime leaves, galangal and chili and 2 to 3 ice-cubes and pour ¼ cup of the cold infusion.
Top with the lime juice, stir gently, and garnish with a grilled prawn (skewer the shrimp with satay or wood sticks and place on top.)

Serve immediately.

 
 
Good Morning from Bali

That Recipe on my Mind | Bali, Indonesia

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Nasi Goreng with Spinach Omelette (Indonesian fried Rice)

Makes 4 Servings

 

Ingredients:

a. 6 shallots
b. 3 garlic
c. 5 g shrimp paste, toasted
d. 10 g red chili
e. 3 eggs
g. 150 g chicken breast, deep-fried and shredded
h. 1/4 cup cooking oil
i. 600 g rice, cold
j. 1 tsp pepper
k. 1 tbsp soy sauce
l. 1 spring onion, chopped
m. 2 eggs for the spinach omelette
n. kecap manis
o. 1 cup baby spinach

How to prepare:

Spinach omelette: In a bowl, beat the eggs, and stir in one shallot and the baby spinach
Season with salt, and pepper.
In a small skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat, cook the egg mixture about 3 minutes, until partially set. Flip with a spatula, and continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low, and continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes, or to desired doneness.
Cut the omelette in pieces like in the picture above (just an example).

Indonesian fried Rice: Grind shallots, garlic, shrimp paste and chili to fine paste.
Heat cooking oil in a wok and stir-fry spice paste for 2 minutes, till brownish and fragrant, medium heat.
Push spices to side of wok and pour egg into the wok.
Quickly scramble the egg for a minute. Mix egg with spices, break them into smaller pieces.
Add rice, pepper and soy sauce. Stir-fry everything quickly over high heat, for 6-7 minutes.
Add spring onion and kecap manis. Mix well and reserve.

Plating: Place the first omelette piece on a plate and add carefully the fried rice on it. Place the second omelette piece on the fried rice and add carefully the fried rice on the spinach omelette. Repeat. Garnish with some herbs, greens and some drops of sambal oelek (an Indonesian hot sauce).

 

 
The Chinese Darth Vader
 

Jet lag

It's late at night in Shanghai and I cannot sleep. My hotel, not far from the colonial Grand Boulevard “The Bund", is only 100 metres from the "House of Jazz & Blues”, where according to the receptionist, they play good music every evening. I decided I wanted to find out for myself and so made my way there... 

 
 
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The Metropole Hotel at the Bund

The Metropole Hotel at the Bund

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Fearless watermelon vendor

Fearless watermelon vendor

 

...Red lanterns lined the neighbouring alleys where sellers manned their makeshift food stalls until late into the night...

 
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Entrace to a Club at The Bund

Entrace to a Club at The Bund

 
 

Red lanterns lined the neighbouring alleys where sellers manned their makeshift food stalls until late into the night. Upon opening the door to the jazz club, I felt that I'd stepped back in time to the Shanghai of the 1930s. A band was already playing. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a cocktail. A thick cloud of smoke drifted towards me; I heard a deep, dark voice and turned around. Next to me sat a Chinese man wearing a light-coloured suit, white leather shoes and an Al Capone style hat. He was puffing away on his pipe and conversing with the bartender. I must have looked pretty baffled for he looked at me and smiled briefly; lifting his wineglass, he said, “Cheers… where are you from”?

 

 
The House of Blues & Jazz Ba. At the left side: Mr Lin Dong Fu.

The House of Blues & Jazz Ba. At the left side: Mr Lin Dong Fu.

 

A handshake later and I discovered more about this man with his strange, yet impeccable look… he was the owner of the club. In addition to his impressive voice, Lin Dong Fu also has incredible charisma, the kind that you can’t quite put your finger on. In fact, this diverse dandy has countless hidden depths and facets and for this evening, Lin Dong Fu acted like a bridge between the West and the otherwise sometimes impenetrable Chinese culture. Quite simply, it was fascinating listening to him as he started explaining about his world, China and the Shanghai of his memories that no longer exists. Lin Dong Fu, however, loves Europe and in particular Hamburg. He often goes there to meet his old and good friend Undo Lindenberg – everyone on the streets had better watch out then if they decide to go out for the evening together. He explains, “I especially like to go to wicked bars with good music when I'm in Europe. We don't do that so well in Shanghai. Everything moves too quickly here. The Bohème, as it’s known in Europe, does not exist in the same way here. There is so much that we Chinese cannot understand of the Western world, and it's the same the other way round. Many Westerners just can't get to grips with our culture. Much of it is pure imitation. But then there are still some things that we can learn from, because new paths and interpretations can always open up and that is a good thing.” As has long been the case, a good starting point is really getting to know the traditional aspects so that you can then create something new from a foreign culture, like from art or cuisine.” “By the way”, he asks me, “are you interested in dining? Chinese food… I mean real Chinese food?” Then I told him my story. 

 
Lin Dong Fu

Lin Dong Fu

 

Lin Dong Fu is multi-talented and very well known throughout China. He makes music, paints pictures, owns a jazz club, is a TV presenter and actor, and also lends his Chinese voice to Darth Vader and Sean Connery in films.

 
 

The next day, a limousine sent by Lin Dong Fu was standing outside my hotel. His chauffeur opened the door and Lin Dong Fu got out of the car and came towards me. A passer-by recognised him, and bowing nervously, she handed him a card, requesting an autograph. Lin Dong Fu smiled kindly and wrote something on the card. All of a sudden, the woman seemed to be very excited and said goodbye to him, moving backwards all the time while bowing even more.

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During the journey, Lin Dong Fu told me more about our destination, Restaurant Fu 1088 in the Shanghai French Concession. Fu 1088 is located in an extravagant villa with 17 private dining salons in the style of the 1920s, so private that even the staff wait outside the closed door. 

 
 
 

Fu 1088 is located in an extravagant villa with 17 private dining salons in the style of the 1920s

 
 
 

A good half an hour later we're sitting in a dining room. Lin Dong Fu looks critically at the menu and orders a number of dishes, while giving additional instructions to the staff. It's almost scary the way in which they obey, as if they were actually receiving orders from the real Darth Vader. "By the way, I'm a big fan of Star Wars," I confess, "but only of the first and second series". "I agree", Lin Dong Fu says thoughtfully. "Have I messed up? Oh no! It’s certainly nothing to do with the dubbing work that he has done. Shhhh...”, I tell myself, and feel like I'm turning a deep shade of red.

...By the way, I'm a big fan of Star Wars," I confess, "but only of the first and second series". "I agree", Lin Dong Fu says thoughtfully. "Have I messed up? Oh no!...

After a while, the door opens and several waiters enter. The dishes that we have ordered all arrive at the same time. Lin Dong Fu stands up. He crosses his arms behind his back. He bows forward as if he were a general in front of a model of a battlefield, and he carefully looks at the food on the round glass table. He asks the waiters several questions and without exception, the waiters all nod. He appears to be satisfied, and with a subtle wink, he lets them march back outside. The doors are closed and the feast can begin. We eat Hua Jiao Luo Bo Pi, which is a crispy radish, marinated in a Szechuan-pepper sauce, Chen Cu Hai Zeh Tou, a salad of pickled jellyfish, which have roughly the consistency of gummy bears, and Hong Sao Rou, which is cubes of pork belly cooked in several spices, soy sauce and rice wine – it has been cooked for so long that the meat has reached a jelly-like consistency. This dish was Mao Zedong's favourite dish and still there are yet more dishes, each as good as the first. Lao Shang Hai Xun Yu, a fish fried in nugget form, could well be the culinary and somewhat more lethal incarnation of the famous carrot and stick saying. This is because if you eat the fish carefully, then you will be rewarded with an incredibly delicate taste. And if you don't pay careful attention, the X-shaped bones can lodge themselves in your neck, putting you at risk of suffocation and death. 

 
 
Sesame Jellyfish Salad

Sesame Jellyfish Salad

 
Lao Shang hai xun y - Shanghai "smoked" fish and Hua Jiao Luo Bo Pi- a crispy radish, marinated in a Szechuan-pepper sauce.

Lao Shang hai xun y - Shanghai "smoked" fish and Hua Jiao Luo Bo Pi- a crispy radish, marinated in a Szechuan-pepper sauce.

 

"Do you know why chinese people eat with chopsticks?" asks Lin Dong Fu. "I know that there are apparently different theories," I reply, as I taste a mouthful of all of the dishes. He told me that "these theories are most certainly all rubbish. Look, I will show you my own theory". He lit a cigarette, took a puff, and then at the same time, picked something from his plate with the chopsticks. "Did you see that? Eating and smoking, both at once. Twice the pleasure and yet it still appears elegant.  Besides, it's practical isn't it?"

"Ok, but you can do that with a fork too" I say. "Yes, but not that elegant!" he replies.

We laugh, and I realise that at long last I have the opportunity for which I've been waiting since yesterday.  "Mr. Lin Dong Fu, could you please say something in your Darth Vader voice?" I mutter shyly.

 

...Mr. Lin Dong Fu, could you please say something in your Darth Vader voice?" I mutter shyly...

 

"What for?" Lin Dong Fu asks curiously. "Luke, the fork will be with you, and that’s the same in English and Chinese".  "Darth Vader never said that, it was Obi Wan Kenobi!" he replies. "Yes, I know, but it works just as well". “OK, great", he says. He does a little warm-up, and his deep voice echoes through the room. "LUKE; THE FORK WILL BE WITH YOU", I hear in English and then the same expression in Chinese, which sounds to me just like the sound of mewing with a smoke-filled, drunken hangover. I would like to laugh, but there’s no air. I clutch at my neck, frightened. “Very good youngster, very good! You don't need to give any kind of Star Wars performance here, though” he said.

© Lucasfilm

© Lucasfilm

It really did feel as if there was no air. "Don't joke!" he tells me in a severe tone. I shake my head desperately, willing him to understand that I'm really not the type of person who would pretend to be strangled by Darth Vader. “Oh my God, was that a fish bone?" asks Lin Dong Fu, pointing to the fish. Lin Dong Fu's eyes widen as I cannot give an answer. For a brief moment, time stands still but suddenly I can breathe again and everything seems to be fine. Either I just swallowed it, or it really was the stupid fishbones. "I think I’d best leave the fish", I remark, gulping in large quantities of air. We laugh.

 

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
 
 
 
 
Kinky Tekka Maki

That Recipe on my Mind

 
 

Tekka Maki Recipe


Ingredients:
6 cups prepared sushi rice
4 sheets of nori (dried seaweed), cut in half
150 gramm / 4 oz. sashimi sushi-grade tuna

How to prepare:
Cut the nori in half (10 x 19cm or 4 x 7 1/2"). 
Cut tuna into thin and long sticks 1cm (1/2“) thick and 19cm  (7 1/2“)long.
Put the bamboo sushi mat flat on your work surface with the bamboo slats left to right, so you can roll the mat away from you. 
Put a nori sheet on top of the bamboo mat (makisu) with one of the seaweed's long sides close to the front edge of the sushi mat (the edge near you).
Spread about 3/4 cup of sushi rice on top of the nori sheet.
Place tuna horizontally on the rice.
Roll up the bamboo mat, pressing forward to shape the sushi into a cylinder. Roll from the front end of the mat guiding with the sushi mat toward the other end. Tighten the rolls like roll cakes, pulling the mat to tighten. 
Press the bamboo mat firmly and remove the roll from the mat.
Make more rolls.
Wipe a knife with a wet cloth before slicing sushi.
Cut the rolled sushi into bite-size pieces. Serve right away with soy and wasabi.

 
 
 
Ginger, the Crab

That Recipe on my Mind | Inspired, Laos

 
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Ginger Crab Cakes Recipe

Ingredients:
6 cups crabmeat
1/4 cup minced green onions
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 eggs
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

How to prepare:
In large bowl, mix together crabmeat, green onions, cilantro, lime juice, ginger, hot pepper sauce, and salt and pepper. Shape into 12 patties.
In a shallow dish, lightly beat eggs. Place bread crumbs in another shallow dish. Dip patties into egg, then press into bread crumbs to coat all over.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Cook crab cakes in oil, adding remaining oil as needed, for 2 minutes per side or until golden.

 
 
 
 
Lotus Woman

That Recipe on my Mind | India

 
 

Palak Makhana Recipe | Puffed Lotus Seeds in Spinach Gravy

Ingredients
1 bunch spinach
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup Phool Makhana (puffed lotus seeds)
1 tspn Cumin
1 tspn Garam Masala
0.5 tspn chilli powder
1 Cinnamon stick
0.5 tspn Turmeric
0.25 cup Milk
1 Tblspn Ghee
Salt to taste

How to prepare
Roughly chop the spinach and rinse it carefully in a bowl of water. Place into a saucepan with the turmeric. The water left on the spinach will be sufficient for cooking it. Cover and cook until the spinach is wilted and almost cooked. Using the immersion blender, blend until semi smooth.

In a pan, toast the phool makhana in a pan with a little ghee until lightly brown (you can toast them in a dry pan if you prefer). Remove and keep aside.

In the same pan with the remaining ghee, toast the cumin until brown. Add the onions and cook until transparent.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they lose most of their liquid. Then add the spices – the turmeric, garam masala, Cinnamon stick, chilli powder and salt to taste – and the water. Mix and allow to simmer for 1 – 2 minutes.

Add the spinach and the milk and simmer for another 3 minutes. Add the toasted Phool Makhana to the spinach gravy. Bring to the boil, simmer for a moment, remove from heat and serve.

 
 
 
 
How to convert to buddhism in ten seconds

+++Exploring | Bangkok, Thailand

eatnologist
 
 

 

 

The Chao Phraya River is the lifeline of Bangkok and quite the simplest way to cross it, is by taking one of the water buses that travel up and down the river. All you do is jump on and pay on board. 

The relatively short distance to the opposite side of the riverbank is deceptive. The assumption might be on the western side that you are delving further into chaos stricken Bangkok, but when you get off at That Phrammok station, you find yourself arriving in a true oasis of tranquillity. Within minutes, it is as if you have entered another world.

 
 

After a short walk, I discovered the Buddhist Temple of Wat Khrua Wan quite by chance, as I was actually looking for something totally different on the other side of the river. My intention had been to discover a beautiful view of the Grand Palace, preferably from the terrace of a nice restaurant. 

And then all of a sudden, this temple stood before me. Immediately after the entrance I came across two bald-shaven monks behind a table. They were selling transparent bags packed with colourful balls, probably made from puffed rice, which were then dipped in delicious exotic fruit juices to give them a glowing appearance. In any case, these balls went like hot cakes because everyone who went into the temple bought at least one bag. Of course, I couldn't restrain myself either and so I bought two packs, greedily ripped into one of them and then popped several of these mysterious balls straight into my mouth. I was very excited. Were they perhaps a new culinary discovery? Or perhaps they were unknown pioneers of molecular gastronomy?

 
 

The two priests were wide-eyed when they saw me chewing. The small balls, which had both the consistency of Styrofoam and tasted like it, suddenly transformed into foamy liquid and stuck to my teeth. Oh no! It was such a disappointment. I needed to spit them out and then I saw that the priests, who were doubled over laughing, were not male priests at all...  they were women! What's going on here, I thought to myself.  As far as I knew, there were no female Buddhist monks or novices in Thailand. Using sign language, the two ladies directed me to the river where I could then spit out the balls. 

The small balls, which had both the consistency of Styrofoam and tasted like it, suddenly transformed into foamy liquid and stuck to my teeth. Oh no! It was such a disappointment.

 
 

A very pale thai student who was passing by tapped me on the arm, instructing me to follow her. While we were on the way to the riverbank, she explained what was going on. The balls were not intended for people, but for fish –  because the balls were good for the fish, they would also therefore be good for my karma. Giving me a quick crash course in Buddhism, the student enlightened me and explained that donations were commonplace. Normally, the monks received these donations. A donation of candles comes with the expectation of enlightenment, a donation of money should lead to prosperity, whereas a donation of books would result in wisdom, etc. 

Arriving at the shore, it took me ten seconds to empty the packet into the river. Fish immediately began nibbling at the contents. How on earth did that happen so quickly? Should I wish for something now? Just to be on the safe side, that's exactly what I did. The second packet, however, I kept for myself. My companion, who also emptied out her packet, ended her prayer with a small gesture and I did the same.

 
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Following my new friend, we left the temple and we had barely gone any distance before my wish came true. Grilled fish. They were being prepared by a street vendor. “That worked quickly! Whatever you give comes right back at you!" I said, feeling convinced of this fact. I ordered one for myself and then asked my friend, Nok, if she -or was she a he?- would like one as well. Nok ordered also a Tom Kha Gai (a coconut chicken soup) but I did not the same. "You don´t like?"  she said. "Tom Yum Goong is my favourite, I ate it the first time in Kho Phi Phi and I love it, but It's just too hot. I cannot eat a soup now. Anyway, you have given me an idea, thank you!, I said .

I was very grateful to her, because who knows, I might just have found not only a new recipe and also my new "spiritual" home. And so we sat with our two fish on the banks of the river. The fish was delicious, a tasty meaty flesh flavoured with a filling of lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaf, all finished off with a crispy, salty skin. There was also a small beaker containing a marinade of chilli, lime juice, fish sauce and coriander, perfect for dunking or pouring over the fish. I felt as if my next stop would be Nirvana.

In Thailand, women are not allowed to be official priests or monks. They are also not allowed to wear orange clothing as that is only permitted for male priests, monks and novices. In this way, even the youngest of male novices is more important in the scale of values than a female novice.

I asked Nok why the women wore white dresses at the temple. “They are novices. In Thailand, women are not allowed to be official priests or monks. They are also not allowed to wear orange clothing as that is only permitted for male priests, monks and novices. In this way, even the youngest of male novices is more important in the scale of values than a female novice. Far more than those who maintain their relationship with God for years through prayer and working in the temple.  The only female monk in Thailand is a former university professor for Buddhist philosophy but even she is not really recognised as such, although she does make a point of wearing orange. She has been ordained abroad and is called Dhammananda Bhikkhuni. She leads a monastery in northern Thailand and has already been nominated for the Nobel Prize. 

Quickly, Nok finished eating her fish, thanked me and then left, needing to return home. She had still to work tonight and wanted to rest a little bit before.  I remained a while. I wanted to take a little look around the area, observe the hustle and bustle of the people on the nearby canals, and make some notes. It seemed quite right to me that Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East. 

 
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Salt-roasted whole fish with herbs

Salt-roasted whole fish with herbs

Sweet, crispy and delicious: Flower Tempura

Sweet, crispy and delicious: Flower Tempura

Sweet Sticky Rice wrapped in Banana Leaves

Sweet Sticky Rice wrapped in Banana Leaves

 

I was still hungry and wanted more fish – should I throw my second packet into the river for this? But no, I wanted to keep my colourful balls a little while longer for myself. I went back towards the exit of the Temple in the hope that my street fish vendor was still there. Fortunately, he was still there and I bought a big juicy fish, which tasted just as good as the first. I bought also a delicious, sweet and crispy flower tempura

On the way back to my guest house in the Taewez quarter, I travelled up the river on the water bus. This time it was so full that I had to stand at the front. The boats are open at the front, and so what normally happens is that you end up really quite wet. The sun was setting, and it was a beautiful day. 

Feeling like the King of the World, at least for a short moment.

Feeling like the King of the World, at least for a short moment.

Standing there, I felt a Titanic moment coming on. When we passed the Royal Palace I had a daft grin on my face and shouted "I'm the King of the world". But it was at this very moment that a passing ship sprayed me and I almost choked.

I woke up in the middle of the night. I had severe abdominal pain and wondered, "Was it those colourful balls? Or maybe the flowers or the fish that I ate?

I woke up in the middle of the night. I had severe abdominal pain and wondered, "Was it those colourful balls? Or maybe the flowers or the fish that I ate? Yes, the fish, that must have been it", I said to myself. Buddha has surely punished me. I should have wished something else, something more profound when I threw those coloured balls in the river. After numerous trips to the toilet, I went to reception, thinking that perhaps the receptionist could give me some tablets. I told him what had happened.

Unusually bad-tempered for a Thai, I had just woken him up and he explained to me in broken English that first of all, Buddha would not punish anybody – maybe my God would, but not Buddha. Secondly, I didn't understand his religion, something that I had already suspected, and thirdly, I should never swallow water from the river. This is because it is so heavily contaminated it can really make you ill. "Just in case, take this pills" he said "With a bit of luck, it will be over tomorrow". I thanked him and ran once more in the direction of the toilet.

 
On the way back to my guest house

On the way back to my guest house

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© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
Tom Kha Gai Soup

That Recipe on my Mind | Thailand

 

Tom Kha Gai Soup recipe

Ingredients:

2 pieces Dried Galangal Slices    
2 pieces Lemon Grass (fresh)    
1 clove  Garlic    
1 pinch Tamarind Paste   
3 Fresh Chilies  
2 Table spoons Fish Sauce
1 cups chocken stock
½ lb Chicken   
Coconut milk can
5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
2 Table spoons lime juice
brown sugar to taste

How to prepare:

1. Boil 1 cup of chicken stock with galangal, lemon grass, garlic, and tamarind for 2-3 minutes.
2. Add chicken (pre-cut into 2” pieces) to boiling chicken stock and cook for 8-10 minutes.
3. Add coconut milk and return to boil. Boil for 3 minutes.
4. Add fish sauce (1tbsp), lime juice, sugar and herbs. Boil for one minute. 
5. Remove from heat, add chilies and serve with rice.

 

 
 
 
 
FO 011
 
 

Food Object  011 Karaoke Snack. Jelly with fruit. Shanghai | China

 
 
 
 
 
 
About Thaification and Whiskyfication

Exploring | Luang Pragang, Laos

 
 
 
 

+++Exploring

Luang Prabang | Laos

 

The small, charming Buddhist temple city of Luang Prabang is located in the mountainous north of Laos. I'm about thirty steps from my guesthouse, which is on the banks of the Nam Khan, a tributary that flows into the Mekong River a few hundred metres further on.

It’s quiet, almost unusually quiet and peaceful in comparison to other Asian cities. I draw in my sketchbook. The landscape on the opposite bank shimmers in the still bluish morning light. A group of Buddhist monks and novices cross the river in small boats. Some of the ones who go past me, especially the younger ones, stop for a second and look at me silently over their shoulder. 

 
 

I get hungry and want to eat something… local cuisine, of course. I arrived last night and I want to immerse myself in the cuisine of Laos. There are many small restaurants along the banks of the river and so I choose one with a beautiful terrace. The restaurant is almost empty and there don't appear to be any menus. Further ahead, on the table diagonally opposite to me, a couple sit quietly, waiting for their meal to arrive. I told the waiter that I wanted to eat the same as them. After a while, the dishes arrived, including a Som Tam salad and Laarb. Aren't these classic Thai dishes from the Isan region? I think to myself "Hmmm… this is Thai food, isn’t it?” I ask the waiter, somewhat disappointed. "Noooo, this is original Lao food!" he responds, placing an emphasis on "original" and sporting a broad grin.

Som Tam, the famous spicy papaya salad is actually, as I later learn, not from Thailand but from Laos and the locals call it Tam Mak Hoong. Also Laarb, the salad with its marinated meats and various herbs is one of Laos national dishes.

So how is it that these Laos dishes can be found on menus throughout the world posing as classic dishes from Thailand?  

 
Papaya Salad: Tam Mak Hoong

Papaya Salad: Tam Mak Hoong

Lao National dish Laarb

Lao National dish Laarb

 

Of the approximately 25 million people born in Lao, only about 6 million live in Laos, with the rest living abroad, mainly in Thailand.

Sun Dried Sticky Rice on bamboo panel at Luang Prabang

Sun Dried Sticky Rice on bamboo panel at Luang Prabang

 
 

Of the approximately 25 million people born in Lao, only about 6 million live in Laos, with the rest living abroad, mainly in Thailand. Many of them live in the northeast of the country in the Isan region or have migrated from there to Bangkok. Over the course of the forced and aggressive Thaification policy employed by Thailand to ensure expats from Laos were assimilated in the country, the culture and language were repressed and even became taboo. Quite a few people from Laos/Isan was so ashamed of their heritage and language that they began to feel inferior. As a consequence, those involved in gastronomy preferred to identify themselves for branding and marketing purposes with Thailand rather than Laos. When it comes to Thailand, everyone has a basic image of the country, moulded and shaped by the tourism industry, films and culture. But how many people are able to make a connection with Laos? In all honesty, the Isan-inspired Thai restaurant around the corner is probably a Lao Restaurant.

 
 
 
 

A day later, I'm sitting in a boat travelling up the Mekong to Pak Ou Caves. Along the way, the driver of the boat asks me whether I want to visit a whisky village. In the whisky village, they make a whisky distilled from sticky rice. The question is, of course, whether whisky aficionados would define this as whisky – I politely refuse.

The taste is reminiscent of a cheap and strong rice wine, but it seems to work.

 

 
Landscape with Aubergines

Landscape with Aubergines

 
 
 
 
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The Isan-inspired Thai restaurant around your corner is probably a Lao Restaurant.

 
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That evening, wandering through the night market at Luang Prabang, a number of shelves on stalls are full of whisky-filled bottles, just waiting to be whisked away by tourists. Sometimes they're also filled with snakes and scorpions.

The sellers call out, “whisky, whisky” instead of using their own language of “Lao Lao”, meaning “alcohol” (the first ‘Lao’), “from Laos” (the second ‘Lao’). Although they are written the same, the “Laos” are pronounced differently. It’s actually a bit of a shame, because “Lao Lao” just sounds catchier and that little bit more authentic and cute on its own than having a “Scotch”. But maybe, just like their cuisine, it simply needs a good dose of self-confidence and some time to establish itself as Lao Lao.

 

© Text and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist