Tastes of Asia: recipes from our adventures

COVID-19 may have confined us to our homes for the foreseeable future, but it doesn’t mean we can’t travel through our taste buds! One of our favourite activities whenever we visit a new country is to go on a food tour. Not only do we find it a great way to immerse ourselves in the culture, but we get to try dishes we would otherwise never try (and we learn the do’s and don’ts!).

Just because we are confined to our homes doesn’t mean we need to stop exploring which is why I have decided to write a number of blogs dedicated to my favourite dishes from around the world.  

First stop: Asia!

Thailand

Photo of red chillies
Fiery chillies are a staple ingredient in all Thai food, unfortunately, they are used to Westerners finding it too hot so they often made the dishes too mild for us.

Thailand is famous for its mouth-watering cuisine characterised by aromatic fresh ingredients and spice. Thai recipes use a unique blend of all 5 tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy and if any of those are missing then it’s deemed to be no good!

Throughout our two weeks travelling through Thailand we came to love many dishes but my favourite without a doubt was the Massaman Curry.

This recipe is originally from the Muslim southern area of Thailand and is mostly eaten on special occasions (most nights for us?!). It is one of the more complicated (apparently) Thai dishes, however we did learn to make it whilst there, and as the worlds worst cook even I managed to make it taste good, so you won’t have any problems!

Photo of Doug and me with Poo, wearing an apron that says "I cooked with Poo and I liked it"
What more can I say… it was tasty!

It is worth mentioning that we did one of the most amazing cookery classes when in Bangkok. We cooked with Poo!! No, not with excrement! The ladies name was Poo! Cooking with Poo is a cooking tour organised by a charity based in Bangkok’s largest slum: Klong Toey. The tour includes a visit to the wet market to buy food before returning to the cooking school, which is nestled in the slum, for a grass roots induction to Thai cuisine. The project helps provide food for the slum residents as well as employment opportunities through a number of other businesses that have been established as a result. You can read more about the experience here.

Massaman Curry Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500 ml coconut milk
  • 400g chicken or pork or beef (cubed)
  • 100g dry roasted peanuts
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup tamarind paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 potatoes (cut into big cubes)
  • 2 brown onions (cut into big cubes)
  • 4 tsp oil
  • Massaman Curry pates (unless you want to make your own of course!)
  • 10 dried red chillies (large)
  • 2 tsp galangal (cut into small pieces)
  • 4 tsp lemongrass (cut into small pieces)
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp red onion
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp fennel
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 tsp cardamom powder

Preparation

  1. Dry stir-fry chillies, galangal, lemongrass, pepper, garlic, red onion, coriander seeds, cinnamon stick, fennel, cloves and carcadom until there is a change in colour (usually 5 minutes)
  2. Put into a pestle and mortar and grind to a paste (or use a food processor)
  3. Heat oil in a wok
  4. Add paste and stir fry for 3-4 minutes
  5. Put in a bowl and set aside
  6. Heat 250 ml coconut milk in a saucepan until boiling
  7. Add curry paste and meat and cook for 5 minutes whilst stirring
  8. Chuck in the peanuts, sugar, salt, tamarind, bay leaves, remaining 250 ml coconut milk, water and potatoes and simmer for 30 minutes
  9. When potatoes and meat are soft add brown onion and simmer for 5 minutes
  10. Serve with rice and/ or roti bread

The above recipe is taken from the Cookery Book – Cooking with Poo. If you enjoy cooking then I certainly recommend this book as it is easy to follow and has all the best Thai recipes (and you can freak your friends out when you tell them you cooked with Poo!).

Photo of the Massaman curry I created whilst following the recipe on this blog
And that is my attempt at Massaman Curry, created during the “Cooking with Poo” cookery class

Hong Kong

Photo of Hong Kong Skyline
Hong Kong, the city that never sleeps! Whatever time of day or night you are guaranteed to find delicious food!

We may have only been in Hong Kong for 24 hours but we made the most of it! Not only did we visit the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant for some Dim Sum (which was brilliant!), we also enjoyed a lively night out with one of our friends, and local resident. We sat outside in a bustling curb side restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious meal. It was 7 years ago as I write this and I can’t recall what any of the other dishes were, but I clearly remember a beautiful chilli and garlic prawn dish. My mouth is watering just remembering it! The prawns were butterflied and were topped with generous amounts of butter, garlic, chilli and spring onions. Yum yum yum!

This recipe is taken from the cookery book – Chinese Food Made Easy by Ching-He Huang.

Zesty Chilli and Garlic Tiger Prawns Recipe

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs groundnut oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 200g raw large tiger prawns, shelled and deveined
  • 1 tbs Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 75g French beans, chopped into 1 cm lengths
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes

Preparation

  1. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the groundnut oil.
  2. Add the garlic and chopped chilli and stir fry for a few seconds
  3. Then add the prawns, rice wine or sherry and the lime juice and stir-fry until the prawns start to turn pink
  4. Add the French beans and mix together
  5. When the prawns have all turned pink, season with the salt and chilli flakes and serve immediately.
Photo of our home made attempt at the recipe
Home made Zesty Chilli and Garlic Prawn using the above recipe… delicious!

China

Image of bugs on sticks
Rich protein meal?

No bats needed for this recipe!

China was the first Asian country we ever travelled to and we were certainly in for a culture shock! The streets were lined with street vendors selling everything from meat on sticks to insects, from noodles to ligaments and even fetuses! Add to that the fact we didn’t speak the language and we like eating with the locals means we haven’t got a clue what we tried! However, that being said, we ate some amazing food.

It is hard to narrow down what my favourite dish or meal was (there were so many!), however, there was one dish I had ever single day. Egg fried rice! Not very original I know, however when done well it is impossible to beat. Especially when you are eating said rice whilst watching the sun set over the rice paddies of Ping’an, it doesn’t get much more local than that!

Image of rice paddies in Ping'an
With a view like that you it’s impossible not to enjoy rice!

The Egg Fried Rice listed below is taken from Lisa’s Healthy Nibbles and Bits blog, do check it out!

Egg Fried Rice Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 stalks of scallions, sliced (keep the dark green parts for garnish)
  • 4 cups of cooked brown jasmine rice (ideally cooked and allowed to cool)
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Preparation

  1. Crack 3 eggs into a bowl and beat them together. Beat the 4th egg in a separate bowl
  2. Heat a large wok with ½ tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.
  3. Once the pan is hot add the three eggs and scramble them for about a minute.
  4. Transfer the eggs to a dish. Wipe off the wok with a kitchen towel (don’t wash it!).
  5. Drizzle the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil in the wok.
  6. Add the onions and cook them for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  7. Chuck the mixed vegetables and scallions in and cook for another minute.
  8. Add the cooked rice to the wok and cook for a couple of minutes, until the rice is heated through.
  9. Pour the single beaten egg over the rice and stir to coat the rice. Cook for another minute.
  10. Add soy sauce and sesame oil and stir to distribute the sauces.
  11. Finally, add the scrambled eggs and stir to mix again.
  12. Serve immediately.
Stock photo of a lady holding a bowl of fried rice
Photo by Pixzolo Photography

Vietnam

It is often said that life in Vietnam happens on its streets. Families use the pavement in front of their homes as a sort of extension and use it for anything from brushing their teeth, cooking, cleaning dishes, letting the chickens roam and even having their family meals! Street food also plays an important part of daily life. Everywhere, something is cooking. You can’t walk the length of a street without spotting a pop up food vendor (or mobile one!). That is why it only seems fair to choose our favourite street food recipe to take us back to Vietnam.

Photo of a lady sitting outside her home cooking lunch
The pavement certainly is an extension of their home…. in this case her kitchen!

Our favourite street food snack (mainly for brunch or lunch) was Banh mi, a baguette filled with pate and cold cute of meet. But this is no ordinary baguette! Try it and see!

The recipe is taken from the book Vietnamese Street Food, by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl.

Banh mi Pate Recipe

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 6 small baguettes
  • 120g mayonnaise
  • 180g chicken liver pate
  • 12 slices of your favourite cut meat (particularly nice with char su which is barbequed pork)
  • 3 long red chillies, thinly sliced
  • 60g coriander sprigs
  • 3 cucumbers sliced
  • 200g carrot and daikon pickle (you can make you own or use Kimchi instead which is widely available in supermarkets or online)
  • 1 ½ tbs sweet chilli sauce

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C.
  2. Heat the baguettes in the oven for 1 minute.
  3. Cut the baguettes in half lengthways and remove some of the soft centre
  4. Spread the mayonnaise on the top half and the pate on the bottom half.
  5. Fill the centre with the cooked meat, chilli, coriander, cucumber and pickle.
  6. Drizzle the sweet chilli sauce over the baguette filling
  7. Tuck in and enjoy!
Photo of the Bahn Mi recipe
Photo by Flo Dahm 

Cambodia

Photo of a monk with the smoke in the background as he prepares their daily meal
One of the most magical moments of our trip, cooking with monks

Many people overlook Cambodia cuisine expecting it to be the same as Thai or Vietnamese food. In fact, I didn’t have a clue what to expect before going to Cambodia, what did they even eat?

Khmer food is similar in concept to it’s neighbours, for example, rice is a staple of every meal, however, it is distinctly milder with the chilli left on the side leaving it up to personal preference. They also use a lot more pickled and tangy flavours.

My favourite dish whilst travelling through Cambodia was Fish Amok, a rich and creamy curry made with ginger, lemongrass, turmeric and coconut milk (and fish obviously). They generally serve it in a banana leaf. Not particularly spicy so you get the opportunity to taste all the ingredients.

This recipe is taken from Gousto which helpfully has images of all the ingredients as well as the process if you want to check it out.

Fish Amok Recipe

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 shallot, finely sliced
  • 1 lime
  • 15 g fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 fresh lemongrass
  • 10 g basil
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 200g haddock bites
  • 130g basmati rice
  • 15 ml fish sauce
  • 50 g solid coconut cream, chopped roughly
  • 2 tsp sugar

Preparation

  1. Slice some of the chilli into rounds for garnish, cut the remaining chilli in half lengthways, deseed and chop finely
  2. Bash the lemongrass with a rolling pin, cut it down the middle lengthways, remove the tough outer layers (save them for later), and chop the soft inner core finely
  3. Boil the kettle
  4. Dissolve the chopped coconut cream in 250 ml of boiling water and add the fish sauce – this is your coconut stock
  5. Heat a wide based pan, with a drizzle of vegetable oil, over a medium heat
  6. Once hot add the sliced shallot with a pinch of salt and cook for 3 minutes until softened
  7. Once the shallot is soft add, add the chopped ginger, chopped lemongrass inner core, and remaining chopped chilli and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant
  8. Add the turmeric and cook for 30 seconds
  9. Pour the coconut stock with 2 tsp of sugar and squeeze in the juice of half a lime (cut the rest of the lime into wedges)
  10. Cook for 3-5 minutes until thickened to curry sauce like consistency
  11. Meanwhile, pat the haddock bites down with paper and season them lightly with salt
  12. Once the sauce has thickened, sit the haddock bites on top of the sauce and cook with the lid on for 1-2 minutes (or until the fish is cooked though)

If you fancy completing the dish with lemongrass rice then:

  1. Add the basmati rice, tough outer lemongrass layer and 300 ml cold water to a pot with a lid and bring to the boil over a high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to very low and cook for 10-15 minutes until the rice has absorbed all the water – this is your lemongrass rice
Photo of Fish Amok (which resembles a curry) served in a banana leaf
Fish Amok is traditional served in banana leaf

I hope the above recipes take you on an adventure to a far flung exotic land. Do let me know what you think once you have tried them and share photos!

And if you fancy something exotic but want it to be mega easy then why not try out Simply Cook? They send you the sauces and spices to make delicious meals and currently are running a promo which involves sending you the necessary ingredients for 4 meals!! To claim your free box (with free delivery!) you just need to follow this link https://simplycook.com/invite/DQRQC5. Disclaimer, I will also get a free box! And in case you are worried about being trapped into an agreement, don’t. You can cancel at any time without incurring any charges. However, be prepared to fall in love and want to keep trying more!

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