“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” – David Mamet
Food has the ability to transport us like nothing else. Here are 6 recipes from around the world to fuel your wanderlust! Fill your travel dream bank and belly too! For extra immersion, I’m also suggesting some music or sounds to go along with your meal and a drink. We can discover and explore, we can travel and keep the dream alive without ever stepping foot outside.
If we take a bite, have a sip, let the music wash over us, close our eyes, we might imagine we are far, far away… You could even make a day of it and combine your food “travel day” by watching movies from your chosen country. Go the whole 9 yards and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner from your destination of choice.
I’ve done this many times. Recently I had a Japanese snack and Studio Ghibli movie day in celebration of them coming to Netflix! I ate a Japanese breakfast and dinner too. Travel by taste might possibly be the most fun way to travel without stepping outside your door. I’m not sure, but I do know that it is the most delicious.
Travel asks us to keep an open mind, travel asks us to be playful, to be child curious – to keep discovering and exploring. We want to know how others live. We can do that all those things without leaving home! There are many ways to travel without moving. We can discover and explore and never leave our homes. One of the best ways to travel is via our senses. Music can take us there, as can movies and books and more, but it’s food that really moves us.
Culture, climate, history, taste, texture, scent and sensations all collide on the plate. Food is the only art that excites all of our senses at once. The wonderful smells and taste of food can take us back instantly to another time and place – a smokey beach bbq, sipping drinks watching a tangerine dusky sun, drinking a large cold beer by on a small chair by the side of a road, a spice market rich with aromas, eating juicy seafood by a vast green and gurgling river or by the bluest of waters of an endless ocean. In an instant, we can travel through time and space.
There is no better way than to know another culture than by what food they have on their plate. There is something wonderful in knowing you are eating the same as another who is thousands of miles away. There is a bond of fellowship in that. The thought that I’m eating not only the same thing but that thing might have been eaten for hundreds or even thousands of years blows my mind. We are connected in more ways than we think.
Food binds us and bonds us all in a fellowship of the table. There would be a lot less trouble in the world if we just invited our enemies to dine with us. Food is love and always an act of kindness and generosity. Although if you get invited over to The Trumps, expect Big Macs.
So come with me and let’s travel without leaving home. Let’s cook some great food, play a little music, drink a little, daydream much, and imagine we are in another place far far away. (not in another galaxy. Too far!)
So pack your cutlery, don’t forget your
passport napkins! Let’s go. The food train is waiting to take you to delicious-ville. A taste of the world awaits…
Britain: Fish & Chips
“The only time to eat diet food is while you are waiting for the steak to cook” – Julia Child
Since I’m from the UK then let’s start with some British food. What’s more British than fish and chips?! It’s a classic. It’s actually not my favourite British meal but I’ve chosen it because of its iconic status and the ease of cooking it for yourself.
It is extremely good when done right. Thick chunks of potato, perfectly crispy on the outside, meltingly soft inside, dusted with flakes of sea salt and a little splash of tangy vinegar. Succulent fish, warm and steamy in its jacket of crunchy thick batter. The batter is as much of a star as the fish!
Fish and chips are also affordable compared to many other choices and still wildly popular. Forget chicken tikka, it’s an orange coloured usurper! According to a recent newspaper poll, it was found that it’s the UK’s most popular takeaway food choice! In 2019 Fish and chips voted UK’s favourite take away Although eaten at any time it’s the traditional meal of choice at the seaside.
Best eaten in a northern seaside town. Best devoured with the music of the sea in our ears and the gulls cry. Best munched by the sea or strolling along a Victorian pier. Just be careful of the seagulls. They will definitely try to steal your chips. It’s an absolute British tradition to eat this food when we go to the beach.
Fish & Chips Recipe ( serves 2 )
- Any white fish can be used but cod or haddock are the most traditional choices. Other popular choices in the UK are plaice, rock, and skate. Personally I like to use sea bass because I love to different. So there. Also mainly because seabass tasty.
- The turmeric and paprika are there for colour. If not using your batter will be pale and unappealing.
- Chips! Every youtube or written recipe will tell you to deep fry the potato. I’m going to suggest you not to do this! Deep frying the chips will, no argument, hands down, make you the best chips. You can totally go that route if you want to but here is why I suggest you don’t.
It’s just easier to cook them in the oven although they would now technically be called wedges. Doing it this way means that your chips will be ready, fresh, hot, and crispy exactly when your fish is done. They won’t have to sit around losing crispness while you batter and cook the fish. It’s much less mucking around.
INGREDIENTS: the batter
- 200g plain white flour
- 50g cornflour
- 300 ml of ice-cold beer or sparkling water
- 1 & 1/2 TS of turmeric
- 1 TS of paprika
- 1 TS of baking powder
- a little salt
- 250 – 300g white fish
- 600 t0 800g of white floury potatoes. Waxy potatoes won’t work. Use something such as Maris Piper, King Edward.
- 1lt Sunflower, vegetable, rapeseed, or any high temperate oil.
- salt and vinegar
- 1 lemon
- CHIPS! Preheat your oven to gas mark 6, 200.c or 400.f and fill a large roomy oven tray with plenty of oil. Around 2 ladles. Heat in the oven until it’s nice and hot. Around 10 minutes at least. While that’s heating we can sort the potatoes out.
- Peel our potatoes or leave the skin on. I like to leave the skin on for added texture. Cut the chips into thick buttons.
- When the oil is hot enough place the potatoes into the oven tray, toss liberally with sea salt, and coat evenly with the oil. Be careful. The oil is hot. You don’t want to audition for the next mummy film.
- Set the oven timer for 40 minutes.
- You’ll want to heat your oil a bit before the chips are ready to come out of the oven. Try to get the timing right so it’s all plated up together.
- Turn the chips around 3/4 of the way through cooking.
- While the oil is heating we can make the batter.
- To make the batter, mix dry ingredients together: the flours, turmeric & paprika for colour, baking powder and a little salt. When you have combined well move on to adding the liquid.
- Here you can use either sparkling water or beef. The bubbles help keep the batter light, crispy, and “bubbly” in texture. It’s really important to ensure that the liquid is ice cold. Don’t let the batter sit around or it will cool down. The very cold batter hitting the hot oil is what’s important. Mix the liquid with the batter. Don’t worry about lumps, it will help with crispy batter. The batter should be fairly thick but not overly so.
- Time to cook the fish! Make sure that your oil is around the right temperature. Too low and it will be greasy but too high and it will cook too quickly and burn. Trick! Throw in some bread and if it browns in around 30 seconds you are good to go.
- Coat the fish with flour. Drag the fish through the batter making sure you completely cover the fish. Carefully lower the fish into the oil.
- Cook for 6 minutes and turn halfway through cooking.
- Plate up your fish and chips. Sprinkle a little more salt over your chips and a splash of vinegar. Serve with condiments of your choice and a wedge of lemon.
- Place into your face hole. Enjoy!
Suggested sounds and drinks
So we now have our fish and chips. We stroll contentedly along the sunny (if we are lucky) promenade while seagulls swirl and swoop and plan their devious beaky attacks. We stop and sit in the sunshine with our freshly cooked food.
MUSIC: Not actually music but the peaceful sounds of a British seaside or the sounds of a busy seaside town, Brighton in this case. Maybe throw a beach towel down on the floor and watch the video. Pretend you’re there.
DRINKS: As for drinks? Much works but if we are at the seaside it will probably just be a bottle of water or any fizzy soft drink (soda if you are from North America) such as coke or lemonade.
Thailand: Pad grapow gai kai dow ( stir fried basil chicken with a fried egg )
“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” – Orson Welles
The next stop in our travel by taste tour is Thailand. Heat hazed exotic land of smiles and home to a world-class cuisine. Some might even say the most tastiest food on the planet. That person would be me.
It’s not an understatement to say that I love Thai food. I don’t just love Thai food but I’m in love with Thai food. That giddy happy slightly off-kilter warm and fuzzy heart hug dreamy kind of love. When I am not eating Thai food, I am thinking about Thai food. When I’m eating Thai food, I am happy.
I’m always more than happy to eat Krapao! This rich and savoury stir-fried meat dish is packed with flavour. Garlicky enough to drop a vampire at a hundred paces. Spicy enough to stun a horse. Throughout, grapow, pops with minerally basil explosions. Let me present a picture of heaven in a spoon: a mound of rice, a little stir fry, a gooey drippy dollop of egg yolk. #Repeat.
I have probably cooked this a hundred times since discovering it in Thailand. It’s easy to cook and quick to make. In Thailand, they often cook this at home because it’s fast to cook and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients. This is comfort food for a lot of Thai people. It almost always comes accompanied by a crispy fried egg although you can leave it off. Great for dinner, lunch, or even breakfast.
Pad Grapow gai recipe ( serves 2 )
- Pad grapow is anglicized in many ways. You might see it spelt as Kra Pao, krapow, grapao and more. It literally means basil and is the most important element in this dish.
- The basil! In Thailand, they have more than one type of basil. For this dish, they normally use holy basil which is really really difficult to find in the west. You might find Thai basil (sweet basil) but it’s actually better to use regular western basil in this stir fry because it’s closer in taste to holy basil.
- You can either grind the meat or simply cut it into chunks. The ground version, in my opinion, is better. Don’t buy ready ground meat! The grind is too fine and ready ground meat is often not good. Simply cut your protein of choice into small chunks then simply chop at it with a very sharp knife until it’s a rough chunky grind.
- You can use any protein for this, chicken, pork, or beef are popular choices. Chicken probably being the number one followed by pork. If You can use firm tofu or mushrooms if making it vegetarian.
- Green beans are used in the recipe. They don’t always feature but often do. I like them because they add a crunchy texture. In Thailand, they would use yard long beans but green beans are a great substitution.
- Chillies and garlic! I like my grapow very hot and spicy so use 6 or 8 depending on how spicy I am feeling. If you don’t like spicy then obviously feel free to use a lot less. Use 2 if you want a gentle heat. The same goes for the garlic. Obviously feel free to tone down the garlic if you don’t want to ward off vampires. Maybe you like vampires? I’m not judging you.
- It’s very common to have a fried egg with this dish. I highly recommend it. To cook an egg Thai style you simply heat up a good amount of oil until it’s smoking hot then crack an egg into the oil. You are basically deep frying the egg. The edges should be super crispy brown and the yolk golden orange and gooey. I know you are sitting there thinking to yourself, did he say deep fry an egg? Yes. It’s awesome. Have a look at this YouTube video on how to fry an egg Thai style.
- a good bunch of basil leaves
- 350g of chicken breast (or protein of your choice)
- 6 large cloves of garlic
- 6 – 8 birds eye chillies
- 1 TBS soy sauce
- 1 TBS seasoning sauce (Maggi or healthy boy for preference)
- 1 TBS dark soy sauce
- 1 TBS fish sauce
- 1 TBS oyster sauce
- 1 TSP sugar
- 100g green beans
- 2 free range eggs
- In a mortar and pestle roughly smash together the garlic and chillies. You aren’t aiming for a paste here. Just give it a rough smash.
- Wash the basil leaves so they are ready to use.
- Mix together the sauces so they’re good to go when you need them!
- Chop the green beans into small chunks
- Chop the chicken till you have a rough chunky pile of minced meat
- EVERYTHING IS READY! Let’s GO!!!
- Heat your wok (or pan) when it’s heated add a ladle of oil
- Fry the garlic and chilli. Don’t have the temperature too hot at this point. Here you are releasing the wonderful flavours into the oil. Smells good right?! Be careful because you can burn this really easily.
- Add the meat, turn up the heat, and stir fry all of it together.
- As soon as the meat is browned you pour in the sauce. Add the beans at this point too.
- OMG. Just how good does this smell? Stir fry for around 5 minutes more or less till it’s done and most of the sauce is evaporated.
- Turn the heat off and stir through the fresh basil.
- Serve with freshly cooked jasmine rice and top with a fried egg. See notes above on how to fry a Thai style egg.
- Invite your mouth to the party. Enjoy.
- You’re welcome.
Suggested sounds and drinks
MUSIC: How about listening to a Thai radio station? It can really help transport you to Thailand. We have a delicious amazing plate of grapow, Thai music playing and a drink out our side. Surely we are sitting in a restaurant in downtown Bangkok?! Here are a couple of Thai songs I personally really like Your heart for my number and รักควายควาย – มิน เฉาก๊วย are both great songs.
DRINK: Gotta be an ice cold Chang beer! Be sure to drink your beer with plenty of ice cubes – just like they would serve it in Thailand.
“If music be the food of love, play on” – The 12th night, Shakespeare.
Next in our travel by taste tour, we are in beautiful Italy. How can we not imagine ourselves in a beautiful piazza? Every bite screams Italy. Lasagna is without a doubt my favourite Italian food. Is there anybody that can resist? This is passion on a plate. This is Ferrari red roaring on the taste buds. This stack of pasta, meat sauce, cheese and bechamel will make love to your face. We are living the dolce vita. Forget the diet. Forget your expanding waistline. Forget it all and bring me a plate of rich creamy cheesy meaty marvellous lasagna.
I can almost taste it now. I can almost hear the opera on the air as it bounces joyously around this beautiful square. Can you hear it? Look there’s a couple kissing by the fountain. In the beautiful night, in this beautiful square, surrounded by beautiful people, we have this beautiful lasagna. I can almost taste it – la dolce vita.
Lasagna recipe ( serves 4 or 2 very hungry people )
- I’ve used some grated cheddar/mozzarella cheese for my lasagna but obviously, in Italy, they wouldn’t do so. If you like simply use mozzarella only.
- Make sure you use “good” passata. It’s worth paying a little extra here.
- I used dry pasta sheets for the lasagna. I find it far easier to work with and like the results. If you are using dry then ensure it’s the ready to use type or your pasta might be too tough.
- When building the lasagna it’s traditional to go pasta/meat sauce/bechamel/cheese but personally I like to put a super thick layer of bechamel on top and then a truckload of cheese.
- 450g of pork/beef mix or simply just beef
- 2 onions
- 2 carrots
- 1 stick of celery
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1 bottle of good red wine (1/2 a glass for cooking)
- 700 of good passata
- 200g pancetta (small dice)
- 1 TBS of tomato puree
- beef stock cube
- lasagna sheets
- 50g of plain flour
- 500ml of whole milk
- 40g butter
- 200g of grated cheese (mozzarella/cheddar mix)
- 50g of grated parmesan cheese
- Play a beautiful opera in the background. Have a glass of wine.
- Finely dice the carrots, onions, and celery (sofrito)
- finely chop the garlic.
- On a medium-low heat, you should fry the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic in some butter until they start to soften and become turn translucent. Set it aside once you reach this stage.
- Fry the pancetta and then add your minced meat. Cook until it’s until nicely browned.
- Return your soffrito to the pan with the mince and add in 1 TBS of tomato puree, mix together, and cook for around 1 min.
- Pour in the red wine and reduce to about half then pour in the passata. Let the whole thing bubble away slowly until it’s a thick sauce. Making a ragu is like making
lov… Nevermind. Making a ragu is like romantic dancing. The slower the better.
- Have a glass of wine while the ragu is cooking. Just let it do its thing. No rush. Take it easy. Relax. Enjoy the heavenly scents wafting from the kitchen. We are in Italy now. Enjoy life. Take your time.
- A little while before your meat sauce is done you should make the bechamel sauce so it can all come together at the same time.
- This would be a good time to pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6 (200.c or 400f)
- In another pan melt the butter until it’s becoming brown then stir in the flour. Cook for a few minutes. Add a little nutmeg, a little salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.
- Now you’re going to add the milk. Take the pan off the heat and add a little milk while you stir. Make sure there are no lumps. Return to heat and let thicken. Repeat the process until you have a thick and smooth bechamel sauce. Be careful not to get it too thin. If it’s thick enough you can stop adding the milk.
- Time to build our lasagna! I find a bread tin ideal but use whatever you like that suits the purpose.
- Layer your lasagna pasta sheet/meat sauce/bechamel/cheese then repeat until you’ve used up everything but ensure the last layer is bechamel then cheese. Reserve the parmesan cheese for the very top of the lasagna.
- Congratulations. You just built a brick of yum. Place your food of the gods into the oven to cook for 30 minutes.
- Enjoy another glass of wine (or two) while you wait for the lasagna to cook. Imagine a Tuscan villa set amount the rolling hills dotted with olive and lemon trees while you sip your wine.
- Remove lasagna.
- Congratulations. You now have the best most delicious lasagna and are slightly drunk!
- Serve with a simple salad (if you want to pretend this is healthy) or just on its own. Have another glass of wine. Obviously.
- Let the lasagna make slow passionate love to your face.
Suggested sounds and drinks
MUSIC: I suggest some Italian opera. Close your eyes and let it carry you away…
DRINK: I suggest a good Italian red such as Chianti but I’m no wine expert. Check out some wine and lasagna pairing suggestions
“A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountains, and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen.” – The Ramen Girl, Maesumi
Next, our tour of taste takes us to the land of the rising sun, Japan. For me, one of the greatest food cultures in the world. There might not be another nation that takes making beautiful and tasty food this seriously. There are so many well-deserved wonders of Japanese cuisine but I’ve picked Raman.
Just in case you are not familiar with ramen, I’ll very briefly explain. It’s most typically a bowl of noodles in a savoury broth along with meat and vegetables. There are actually many types of ramen (some without broth) with various types of noodles, broths, and ingredients. I got to taste quite a few of them in the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. If you are ever in the neighbourhood then I would recommend a visit.
Today we are eating tonkotsu ramen. Pork bones are boiled for hours until every molecule of goodness is extracted to leave us with a thick milky essence of pork. Bouncy thin wheat noodles nest at the centre. Chashu pork, beansprouts, Nitamago (stewed egg) join the party.
Busy Tokyo pulls us along with the tide of people. The neon lights like a million suns. We manage to dart into a tidy alleyway. Light and the scent of soup spill into the alleyway from the ramen shop. Inside the steamy little restaurant, we perch on high stars between businessmen slurping. Our own ramen awaits…
Ramen Recipe ( serves 6 )
Disclosure, this isn’t my own recipe. I’ve not cooked this recipe before and I’ve never actually cooked ramen myself. Although I am quite tempted. This looks a great recipe. However sourcing the ingredients here, the expense, and the time you need to make it is always off-putting. Maybe it’s better to let the experts make it! That said, if you like to try I present a recipe below for tonkotsu ramen by chef Takashi Miyazaki.
– Ramen egg noodles
– 1kg pig hock bones, ask the butcher cut into the smallest pieces possible
– 1kg trotter
– 1 large onion, with skin sliced in 4
– 50g ginger sliced
– 1 leek, cut in half
– 1 clove garlic, with skin sliced in half
– 1 (30g) kombu
– 5 litres water
– 3 litres water
– 500g boneless pork belly
– 1 litre water
– 50ml Kikkoman dark soy sauce
– 50ml sake
– 50ml mirin
– 100g brown sugar
– 50g ginger
Nitamago (stewed egg)
– Sauce from chashu
– 6 eggs
– 450ml Kikkoman light soy sauce
– 50ml mirin
– 40g brown sugar
– 1 scallion, thinly sliced
– A pinch white toasted sesame seeds
– A pinch beni shoga (red pickled ginger)
– 1/6 sushi nori seaweed
1. Place the eggs into medium heat boiling water and then let it simmer for 6 minutes.
2. Drain the water and carefully peel the eggs in cold water. The eggs are very soft and delicate.
3. Place the eggs into the cold chashu sauce for 1 night.
1. Place pork belly and all the ingredients for chashu in a pot. Add water to fully cover all ingredients.
2. Once boiled, remove the scum.
3. Continue to cook for five hours.
4. Rest them in the juice overnight.
1. Place all ingredients for broth in a pot with 5 litres of water.
2. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Once boiled, remove the scum.
3. When broth turns to creamy white strain it.
4. Place only boiled bones into the pot and then add 3 litres of water
5. Continue to boil for 3 hours.
6. Add “ramen tare” to taste.
1. Cook ramen noodle in boiling water and bring the broth to boil.
2. Pour the broth into a bowl and arrange the noodles, chashu, egg and garnish.
Suggested sounds and food
MUSIC: Obviously we want some Japanese music to go with our Japanese food. The owner of the little restaurant in the alleyway has a small retro-looking radio set in the corner. Try this playlist from the band New World Order.
DRINK: Personally I enjoy a nice cold Asahi super dry. It’s a very popular Japanese beer and this goes well with the rich tonkotsu ramen.
Mexico: Huvos Rancheros
“COOKING IS LIKE LOVE. IT SHOULD BE ENTERED INTO WITH ABANDON OR NOT AT ALL.” – Harriet Van Horne
Now on to the food of Mexico with what is arguably the most delicious breakfast in the whole world. It’s been all about the dinners but we forgot about breakfast! OK so now we are making up for it with this colourful plate of pure yum: 2 warmed tortillas smothered with refried beans, topped with fried eggs, and drenched with spicy tomato sauce. This. Is. Breakfast. Traditionally a large calorie-dense breakfast for the workers on a ranch. Huevos rancheros translates as ranch eggs in Spanish.
Imagine a sun baked fresh as bread morning in Mexico. You’re sitting in a cantina with walls painted the colour of the eggs you are about to eat. Sunnyside up bright orange-yellow walls. You’re sitting at a table painted the colour of the cloudless blue sky. Laughter rings around you as children play and families banter over beans and eggs. Let your mind go and wander there. Let it drift away in a Mexican fever dream of breakfasts and wrestlers… On the radio, a mariachi band sings. Your breakfast arrives…
Huevos rancheros recipe ( serves 2 )
- I sometimes like to fry some small diced chorizo sausage and add them on top of my huevous rancheros. This is a nice optional topping if you want to make this a little more decadent and who doesn’t like a little bit of decadence?
- Also optionally you can out a little bit of cheese on top. If you can find it use queso fresco but I can’t easily get that here in London. I find a good substitute is something very mild like mozzarella or cottage cheese. No, it’s not quite the same but does nicely.
- If you want to be hardcore you can actually make your own queso very easily. I’ve linked to a recipe for homemade queso fresco
- You can make the refried beans (it will be better) but in the morning I just can’t be bothered with it. I’m not a food snob. Short cuts are fine. If however, you want to make it, here is a decent recipe for refritos
- Warning, the salsa will be spicy! So obviously feel free to tone it down as you desire!
- 4 fresh free range eggs
- 4 corn tortillas
- 10g of dried chilli (I like chipotle or ancho)
- 2 birds eye chillies
- 300g ripe red tomatoes
- 4 large cloves of garlic
- 1 largish medium onion cut into quarters
- 200ml liquid stock/reserved chilli water
- 1 can of huevos rancheros
- bunch of coriander (cilantro) roughly chopped
- 150g finely diced chorizo sausage
- Mexican queso fresco. If you don’t have then either cottage cheese or some mozzarella.
- OK. Let’s make an amazing breakfast worthy of a Lucha Libre wrestler! Are you ready? Are you a Mexican or a Mexi-can’t? Crank up those Mexican tunes and let’s go!
- Soak the dried chilli in boiling water for at least 20 mins. Remove from the water.
- Heat a pot to just under medium and toast (without oil) the fresh chilli, garlic, and onion. Toast until nicely toasty brown and slightly charred.
- Add chopped tomato along with the fresh and dried chilli, garlic, and onion and blitz with a blender! Add the stock and combine well. Add a pinch of salt and you are ready to cook.
- Bring the salsa to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. You want a fairly thin sauce.
- Take a moment to enjoy the wonderful fresh smell of the tomatoes and nose tickle of chilli.
- When your salsa is done you can turn off the heat and keep warm. It’s time to turn our attention to other matters! By now you should be getting hungry!
- Microwave the refried beans or fry in a pan. I like to add some butter.
- Fill deep-sided cast iron frying pan (skillet) with plenty of oil and bring to temperature. Trick: add in a bit of bread or spare tortilla to check your temp.
- Fry 4 tortillas (1 or 2 at a time) then remove. Keep them warm with some paper towel.
- Turn up the heat a little and fry 2 eggs per person. Set aside and keep warm.
- Lets put it all together!
- On a plate place the tortillas, smother with beans, top with egg and salsa. If you are using now add the cheese and or chorizo. Lastly, sprinkle some coriander over the plate.
- Put this in your face! Enjoy!
- De nada!
Suggested sounds and drink
MUSIC: Traditional Mariachi, Rancheras, and Corridos will be a great choice to accompany your breakfast. You can almost imagine you are in Mexico… right… now.
DRINK: I have no idea what they would drink in Mexico with this. If I was a hardcore Mexican wrestler I would probably drink 2 shots of tequila and smoke a cigar. I’m not, so I personally like a strong black coffee or some fruit juice.
“Food glorious food, please get in my belly” – Me.
Last stop on our world tour by taste.
Soup seems to be a food we hold dearly in our cultural hearts. There’s something special about soup. We make it to give to those we love when they are feeling unwell. It comforts us like nothing else when we are cold or despondent. Almost every culture has a special prized soup. Around the world many soups are famous for good reason, tom yum, ramen, french onion, gazpacho, and among the greats stands laksa.
Laksa hails from Malaysia and Singapore. Like ramen, actually exists in many forms rather than being just one thing. Its ingredients can differ wildly depending on where it’s made. The version most people know features the creamy coconut broth that’s rich but at the same time vibrant and herbaceous with a touch of heat. It features prawns, tofu puffs, and fish balls. It’s also absolutely amazing.
I had many laksas while travelling through Malaysia. I remember my first time. It was a simple little restaurant in a shopping mall of all places. I was looking for a new power bank to charge up my phone. Taking a break from my search I decided to have lunch.
I wasn’t expecting anything special because of the location and the place gave me no hints. It certainly didn’t seem to be overly popular. I joined my few other diners in the brightly lit unfussy little restaurant. It was love at first bite. The deep coconut flavours and spices seemed to wash over me endlessly. Light puffs of fried tofu soaked up the delicious broth and released them like a sponge into my mouth. The prawns and fish balls tasted ocean fresh. I knew I loved laksa then and there. I went back again the same day for dinner!
I’ve never personally made this myself at home. If you would like to give it a go then do please try this recipe for Prawn Laksa by respected cook chef, restaurateur, and food writer, Mandy Ying
Laksa recipe ( serves 6 )
- LAKSA SPICE PASTE
- 80g of vegetable oil
- 300g of onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 knob of ginger, approx. 7.5cm in length, peeled and roughly chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 red chillies, stalks removed, roughly chopped
- 15 dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes before using
- 1 1/2 tbsp of ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tbsp of ground turmeric
- 3 tbsp of ground coriander
- 3 tbsp of chilli powder
- 50g of shrimp paste, (the Malaysian/Indonesian blocks of shrimp paste are best, otherwise use Thai gapi shrimp paste)
- HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK
- 2l water
- 1 chicken carcass
- 1 star anise
- 1 knob of ginger, 5cm long, peeled and roughly sliced
- 3 spring onions
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 2 garlic cloves
- LAKSA BROTH
- 1.5l chicken stock, preferably homemade (see above)
- 800g of coconut milk
- 90g of palm sugar, or dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp of salt, or less to taste
- 3 tbsp of tamarind paste
- 50g of hot mint, also known as laksa leaves, or coriander
- 2 lemongrass stalks, pounded with a pestle to release the juices
- 24 king prawns, raw, shelled, deveined and cooked in boiling water for 2 minutes
- 12 deep-fried tofu puffs, halved
- 120g of green beans, cut into 5cm pieces
- 120g of beansprouts
- 400g of fresh egg noodles
- 3 medium eggs, simmered in water for 6 minutes 25 seconds then cooled in ice water, peeled and halved
- 50g of hot mint, also known as laksa leaves, or coriander, finely sliced
- To make the laksa paste, blend all of the ingredients in a food processor until they form the consistency of a smooth, fine paste
- In a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, add a dash of oil and the spice paste, continuously stirring for 30 minutes, until it is a rich dark red/brown colour and the oil separates from the paste. Ideally, leave for at least 24 hours in the fridge for the fried paste to develop maximum flavour before using it to make the broth
- If making your own chicken stock, add all of the ingredients to a large pan and bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Simmer on a low heat for 90 minutes before straining (you will need 1.5l of stock to make the broth)
- Add the laksa broth ingredients to a large saucepan with the fried spice paste. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 30 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the hot mint (or coriander) and the lemongrass, and adjust the seasoning with salt and sugar to taste
- Add the tofu puffs to the broth so that they soak up the flavour for 10 minutes
- While the laksa broth is simmering, blanch the following in boiling water one after the other: the beansprouts for 30 seconds, the green beans for 3 minutes and the prawns for 90 seconds. Refresh each ingredient in iced water to halt the cooking process, then drain
- Blanch each portion of egg noodles in boiling water for 10 seconds before dividing between 6 bowls
- Top the noodles with the beansprouts, green beans and prawns, then pour the hot laksa broth into each of the bowls with 4 halved tofu puffs per serving. Finish with a pinch of the shredded hot mint on top and half a soft-boiled egg.
Suggested sounds and drinks
SOUNDS: For a feel of exotic Malaysia while you eat your wonderful soup, you could try listening to some traditional Malay music.
DRINK: I want to suggest something a bit left field. I suggest drinking some iced milo which is a chocolate drink. It’s popular in many countries and across SE Asia but seemed especially widely popular in Malaysia. I’m uncertain if chocolate goes well with laksa but maybe drink as a dessert? Of course, if you are a wild manic hell-bent of breaking the rules then don’t let me stand in your way! Drink soup and chocolate at the same time. Let me know in the comments…
Our travel by taste tour is over. What delicious journey! A sense of fun, playfulness, and even imagination is key to really enjoying travel. With these things, we can travel without leaving home. Good food, some music, imagination and a sense of fun can carry us far. When we travel, we do it with our hearts and minds as much as with our legs. Sometimes legs are not even required.
I hope that you enjoyed the ideas and recipes. You can use them as presented, elaborate them or come up with new ones of your own. I would love to have inspired you to come up with fun travel by food ideas of your own!
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