Tag Archives: food

Harvest Time in the Spice Islands

22 Sep Sun-drying cloves on blue tarpaulin by the roadside. Pulau Ternate, Maluku, Indonesia.

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Ever wondered where cloves come from?

Well. They come from many places now. But in the beginning, they came only from the Moluccas, the mysterious Spice Islands, a spattering of tiny volcanic islets which spawned unimaginable riches for their rulers and sparked the European powers’ race to the East.

It’s harvest time on Pulau Ternate, once the heart of an empire that stretched as far as Papua, Sulawesi and Mindanao in the Philippines, now just one more tiny volcanic peak breaking out of the Maluku Sea. So we jumped a bike up the slopes of the Gamalama volcano at the core of the island to see the cloves being harvested near the village of Air Tege Tege. Continue reading

Smells Like Drains, Tastes Like Syllabub

15 Jul

Sign with crossed picture of durian fruit and text No Durians Allowed, Penang, Malaysia[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Ahhh… The sweet scent of durian. Known across South-East Asia as “the king of fruits”. Celebrated at festivals across Malaysia and Indonesia. Freighted cross-continents by fans of the delicacy.

Yet routinely barred from public places, as this sign at a Penang hotel shows.

There are reasons, of course, for this lethal weapon’s unpopularity. It’s not just the aesthetics. Savagely spiked, with a cannonball heft, the durian won’t be winning any beauty contests any time soon.

It is, to be honest, the smell. Continue reading

Cornucopia (Dinner Friday)

5 Jun

View into fruit store in alleyway, Hanoi, with bananas, eggs, litchis in foreground.

The fruit stall on our alleyway, in Hanoi, Vietnam

This is the fruit stall in the alleyway next to our guesthouse, in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Friday evening. It’s just an ordinary store. Nothing fancy. No posher than the laundry, the menders, the barbers, the old lady who wheels her cart of lurid plastic sandals here every morning and home every night, or the five separate cottage industries selling street-fried spring rolls side by side in the cross-alley.

Yet these ladies don’t just sell the obvious — melons, watermelons, bananas, apples, oranges, limes, fresh mango, eggs. They’ve got rambutans, litchis so fresh they still have their leaves on, passion fruit the size of your fist (one dollar a kilo), those succulent sour plums you dip in salt and chilli, custard apples, great cannonballs of pomelos, bigger than a man’s head.

Oh, and mangosteens. The succulent, tough-shelled, very perishable fruit known as the Queen of Fruit. In the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria offered a reward to anyone who could manage to bring her a ripe mangosteen to try. Continue reading

Calamansi Butter

22 Apr

Cut and uncut calamansi fruit on chopping board

Good things come in small packages

So these little fellas are calamansi, Filipino style, tiny, spherical citrus fruit which experts believe originated as a cross between a mandarin and a lime. They are, along with ube (purple yam), probably one of the defining flavours of the Philippines.

What makes the Filipino calamansi (or kalamansi) so fantastic is the absence of bitterness. They have a tang even more sour than a lime, but without the bitterness, so the hit is like essence of citrus. You can mix them with soy and chilli for a dipping sauce, or sprinkle them on just about anything to cut sweetness, salt or fat.

But today, after a trip to the market in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, we ripped off a recipe from Theo at the Tabon Village Resort down south, and used them for the ultimate “lemon”-butter sauce.

I went a little stir-crazy at the market, in fact. Continue reading

Eating the Philippines

17 Apr

Dish of kilawin na lato -- Filipino ceviche-style tuna with sea grapes

Kilawin na lato: ceviche-style tuna with sea-grapes

Much to both of our surprise, Z and I last night enjoyed a healthy Filipino meal. And discovered the most amazing seaweed: lato.

A type of Caulerpa which sprouts succulent, grapey, bubbles in long tendrils like fresh green peppercorns, lato has all the translucent gorgeousness of fresh salmon roe. And it’s probably the closest a vegetarian will ever get to caviar. Even better than the Mekong riverweed, served nori-style, that we ate in Luang Prabang.

Even before you get onto the fast food trail, so many iconic Filipino dishes are just plain wrong. Take halo halo. This is a “fruit” salad, made with chunks of jelly and tapioca pearls, mixed with shaved ice, ice-cream, puffed rice, soy beans and oodles of condensed milk.

Or knockout knuckle (pata), Pampanga style. An entire pig’s leg, slow-cooked until the crackling is crispy and the meat below is succulent, fatty, deep red and falling off the bone, topped with crispy, deep-fried garlic. We ate this — along with soft-shell crabs tempura style — at Bistro Remedios in Manila, and my arteries are hardening just thinking about it. Continue reading


15 Apr

Yesterday we said goodbye to Granny and Grandpa, who are off to Hong Kong for a week of sybaritic luxury with an old friend, then back to sunny England.

To ease the parting, Z and I made like Manileños. That is, we spent the day at the mall, shopping, scoffing junk food and abusing the free aircon.

Though I guess if I were really going native, I’d have stocked up on diet potions — enriched with L-Carnitine to help burn fat! — too. Or perhaps a diet coffee to accompany my chocolate brownie? That is, a calorie-burning coffee. Not a coffee with low-fat milk.

The Philippines is a nation where Kraft Cheez Whiz can feature on the health pages of a major newspaper –- as a recommendation.

And where Kraft’s chief nutritionist for Asia can tell a hack, presumably with a straight face, that said product, though packed with calcium and undoubtedly beneficial, does not quite contain every single ingredient required for a healthy diet. Continue reading

The Best-Laid Plans…

26 Mar

<a Cake display, Scandinavian Bakery, Vientiane, Laos

Not, actually, a piece of cake, after all

We have hot-footed it — well, night-bused it — back from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, with a sleeper train to Bangkok ahead of us tonight, in quest of the elusive Myanmar visa.

Whether because of Z’s performance in the embassy last time around (unlikely) or a verifiable and undeclared, though undistinguished and utterly apolitical, track record in UK journalism (likely), politically undesirable Facebook friends (possible), trigger-happy blogging (unlikely, but you never know), or the latest junta-unfriendly act of our own dear government (highly likely) our visa applications have been kicked upstairs. Or, rather, back home. Continue reading

Bang Bang, Vang Vieng

21 Mar

View of huts and karsts, Vang Vieng, Laos

The View From Here

Vang Vieng, Laos. Sullied paradise. Stoner playground. Backpacker hell. Apparently not the ideal destination to explore with child in tow, silkscreen landscape, gorgeous river and tubing paradise notwithstanding.

My son, however, is loving the place, from our hippyesque hut on the river to the identikit TV bars, international restaurants, pancake stands and, err, brownie stores which line the main drag, producing a sense of total dislocation, even without any herbal assistance. Continue reading

On Eating Insects

19 Mar

Not the Most Drinkable...

So Z and I have eaten our first round of insects on this journey — in Vientiane, Laos. Baby crickets, deep-fried to a quite delectable crunchiness, flavoured with lashings of fish sauce, accompanied by crispy kaffir lime leaves and curls of frazzled lemongrass.

They are, in his words, “Quite nice, actually.” I’d go one better. Like crispy baby shrimp, with notes of chicken and pork crackling, they are, honestly, rather moreish.

If only I could switch off the cultural taboos about the way they look. For Z, they are just another thing you eat. To me, they are bugs. Ergo taboo. Continue reading

Our Friend Pho

8 Mar

Red kindergarten table and chairs on pavement, Vietnam

Clearly a Good Place to Eat

Vietnamese is now officially Z’s favourite cuisine — second only to Italian, ahead of Thai and English — and, as noodle soup obsessives, we will really miss our (almost) daily pho.

Pho is one of those dishes, like the classic English fry-up, that only seems to work when served in a grubby, streetside place lined with red plastic kindergarten chairs and populated by troughing locals.

Pho comes in three main varieties. Pork (heo), well-done beef (bo) and rare beef (bo tai), though they will make it with anything in the tourist joints. Most places do one type of meat per day, full stop. Continue reading