Monthly Archives: March 2012

These are the times to remember

I want to bottle this moment.  I’m sitting on the white blanket that covers our bed here in Hue, Vietnam.  It’s a warm day and the curtains are dancing around in a breeze that smells like sunshine and garlic.  I can hear boys chatting in the lane out front, the warbling Vietnamese music from the cafe next door and the sounds of hammers from the construction site down the alley.  Andy is napping next to me.  I’ve got a cold Coca Light in the fridge.

Boys from around the neighbourhood gather in front of our hotel to chat and play "kick the plastic cup"

When our year of travel is over, when we zip up our bulging suitcase and get on a flight home to Sydney, these are the moments that will stay with me.  Not the scorching hot days wandering around temples or the 45 bug bites on my feet and ankles.  These quiet moments of contemplation, of peace and simple pleasures are what I will look back on… and what I’ll miss.

So happy to be in Hue

It’s beginning to look like our time on the road will be drawing to an end soon.  We were really hoping to travel for a whole year, but we’ve had a few offers that we can’t refuse.  Some exciting prospects have popped up and we’re thinking that 9 months might have to be good enough.

After the vibrant streets of Vietnam, the rest of the world will seem quiet indeed

And that’s ok.  Because, once you’ve traveled like this, you never really leave the road.  You incorporate pieces of your travel experiences into your life.  We’ll be returning with memories of moments, new bits of art and photography to hang on the walls and new recipes to try.

Don’t you love doing that?  Coming home from your travels and recreating some of the wonderful meals you had on the road?  I like to make it a whole themed meal… serving the same drinks that we had, playing some music that we heard and cooking a dinner to remind us of those carefree holidays, those days when our biggest decision was whether to have an orange-papaya juice or a passionfruit-pineapple juice with our mango and prawn salads at lunch.

Vietnamese chicken salad

So, once we’ve settled back into life in Sydney, I’ll be whipping up this recipe for Vietnamese chicken salad.  It’s an old favourite and the bright, tangy flavours will remind us of the hours we spent eating our way around this amazing country.  And maybe, for the length of a dinner, I will be right back where I am now.

Vietnamese chicken salad

Serves 2

2 small, cooked chicken breasts, shredded- or you can use the meat from a roasted chicken
1/2 cucumber, cut into thin ribbons
1 carrot, cut into long thin slices
several handfuls of torn lettuce leaves
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 large handful of coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
1 red chili, thinly sliced
the juice of 3 limes
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs soft brown sugar
2 tbs roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

Combine all the chicken with the cucumber, carrots, lettuce, spring onions, coriander and chilli in a large bowl.

In a jar with a lid, combine the lime juice, fish sauce and brown sugar.  Shake the jar well for 20-30 seconds.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss.  Serve sprinkled with the roasted peanuts.

Dinner with friends… and hotel staff

Thanks everyone!  Your suggestions for simple dinners that I could make in the kitchen of our hotel here in Vietnam were brilliant… y’all are a bunch of one-pot wonders!

I was VERY tempted by the idea of a paella, which several people suggested.  But, I couldn’t see how it would work without any saffron or paprika or chorizo.  I was afraid it would turn into “Here’s-a-Plate-of-Rice-and-Chicken.”  I was also super keen on the idea of a risotto, but I could only find glutinous rice at the grocery store and I didn’t think that would make a good substitution for arborio rice.

The two courses I settled on were:

1.  A Spanish-inspired dish of garlic prawns over spicy chickpeas and caramelised onions with a chili aioli.

Garlic prawns with spicy chickpeas, caramelised onions and chili aioli

2.  A take on Fish and Chips- pan fried fish fillets over potato salad with a tartar sauce dressing. (Thanks for idea of combining fish and potatoes, Becca!)

Pan fried fish with potatoes and a tartar sauce dressing

I had SO much fun cooking these dishes.  I didn’t have any recipes, just the ideas in my head of what I wanted these to taste like.  So, I had to pour myself a glass of wine and just wing it!

Action shot! Cooking the prawns.

Action shot! Chopping the gherkins for the tartar sauce.

Andy and Russell and Asia joined me in the kitchen for moral support, photo-taking and  wine drinking.  We chatted and I cooked and we ate until we felt like we might actually burst… and then we ate a little bit more. It was a fantastic evening!

Asia and Trang having a chat at the front desk

I'm feeling very proud of my take on Fish and Chips!

I made extra plates to share with the staff at the hotel here.  They were such good sports!  I think they liked the first dish, pronouncing it “Spicy!” but they left a lot of the potatoes in the second dish.  Lesson of the day, Vietnamese people don’t like potato salad.  Good to know!

Trang samples the prawns with chickpeas. She liked the spice!

Trang samples the fish. Not sure she liked the potatoes.

We stayed up so late chatting and sharing travel stories that the night-guard came on duty and closed the gate to the hotel!  We took that as our cue to call it a night.  And what a great night it was…

Inspiration needed…

We’re still in Hue, Vietnam.  We’ve kind of fallen in love with this little city and we’ve ended up staying here far longer than we thought we would.  The fact that we’re paying about US$8 per night for a private room with a bathroom, fridge, air con, TV, hot water and brekkie hasn’t hurt.

Since we’ve been here so long we’ve gotten to know most of the lovely staff members here at the hotel.  On Thursday of last week we cooked them breakfast, which was great fun.  And, now that I know they’ll let me use the kitchen… it’s game on!

The lovely staff at our hotel in Hue

So, I need some help.  Tomorrow night I’m planning to cook a two course meal (skipping dessert) for Andy and myself and a few friends.  I’ll also make a few extra plates for the staff.  The goal is to make a meal that ISN’T Vietnamese food, which we could get tastier and cheaper versions of just outside our front door.  I want to make something that the staff has maybe never tried and something that makes a nice change for us four Americans.

To review, here’s the kitchen I’ll be working in:

The two burner kitchen in the hotel

That’s two gas burners, a frying pan, a kettle, two saucepans, one chopping board and one knife.  That’s it.

And, to further complicate things I can’t use pork.  We’ve got a pork-adverse person dining with us.  I can get ahold of most vegetables and a limited selection of fruit.  I can also get rice, pasta, chickpeas or potatoes for a starch.  I can easily get prawns and fresh fish, but chicken seems to be prohibitively expensive.  There are no spices (like cumin, paprika) to choose from, but I can find a great array of fresh herbs.

A typical fruit and veg "mart" here in Hue

So, help me out!  Considering the above parameters, what can I make?  What dishes would be tasty, but simple enough to make using that limited equipment?  Any thoughts would be appreciated!

A backpack full of cheese?

We’ve been on the road for about nine months now.  Most of that time has been spent in either South America or South East Asia.  Two brilliant parts of the world with amazing food and drink to be discovered.  We do really well with the local food.  We never go to restaurants catering to tourists.  We eat at street-side stalls and holes in the wall where no one speaks English and the food is divinely un-Westernised.

But, sometimes it doesn’t matter how many Argentinian steaks you eat or bowls of pho you slurp… you still miss your comfort foods from home.  And this week I have definitely been having some homesick hunger pains.

So, here’s my list of the Top Five Foods I Miss Most When I’m on the Road.

1.  Cheese.  Cheese is easily at the top of this list, the stinkier the better!  We got so spoiled living in Sydney and in the UK… there are so many amazing locally produced cheeses to enjoy.  But in Peru or Bolivia or Vietnam… not so much.  I’ve been craving sharp cheddar on a cracker with a squeeze of horseradish mustard.

2. Hummus.  I think that before we went on the road, I took hummus for granted.  I pretty much always had a tub of hummus in the fridge.  It was my go-to snack when I came home from work ready to eat my own fingers I was so hungry.  Now, I’m in a hummus wasteland and it’s sad.

3.  Diet Coke.  I know.  I’m sorry.  Every time I admit that I’m a Diet Coke Fiend I feel like I should have my Food-Lover card revoked.  But, it’s who I am.  I love a really cold can of Diet Coke.  Not regular Coke (thanks anyway, Ecuador) or Coke Zero (no way, Brazil) or even Coca Light (nice try, Vietnam!)  I miss proper, brain-tumor causing Diet Coke.

4.  Crispy bacon.  Here’s where my American-ness really shows.  Bacon should be crispy.  In fact, for me, it should be almost burnt… preferably sandwiched between two slices of toasted and buttered white bread.  I literally cannot think of one time when I’ve had nice bacon in either South America or South East Asia.  It just doesn’t happen.  And that’s ok.  But, I still miss it.

5.  Sweet potatoes.  And here’s where my Southern-ness really shows.  I could eat sweet potatoes every single day.  Sweet potato fries, sweet potato mash, sweet potatoes in a curry, sweet potatoes in a pie.  There’s something homey and comforting about these deep orange tubers and I “wish they were here.”

I asked Andy what he misses the most when we’re on the road.  His Top Five are: “jambalaya, Mexican food from Monterrey’s, my wife’s spaghetti and meatballs, juicy burgers with fries, sushi.”  An excellent list and now I’m craving sushi.  Thanks, Andy!

What about you?  What home comforts on a plate do you miss when you travel?