Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Maggi Noodles at 13,000 feet

Just to mention the word Maggi noodles and most people will look at you with either total disgust or a complete look of pity. Well, I would, as they are pretty crap. Not a foodies idea of a good meal. But believe me, when you are freezing cold and wet you will woof down a bowl of them.
Maggi noodles are a part of travelling in the Himalayas. At one point everyone has eaten a bowl of them, especially in the more remote regions of northern India. No one likes to admit it but we all have done it. I have met people who whilst eating maggi noodles actually denied that they have ever eaten them.

My most recent jaunt with a bowl of noodles happened just below the Se La pass in Arunachal Pradesh. After driving up to 13700 feet, and thoroughly freezing our arses off. We were in desperate need of some warming up.
We never even stopped at the pass, as after being stuck in the mud on the way up, and having to push our way out in the rain. We were pretty damn cold. There were moments in that trip that I thought the end was nigh. Maybe something to do with those long drops to my left.

So just below the pass we noticed a small truck stop. Chai time. Unfortunately this particular stop never had chai. I know. A truck stop without chai. What is the world coming to?
The owner did however have maggi noodles on the menu. Well that was all she had. So 5 bowls of noodles with extra chilli were ordered.
She ushered us into the dining room, where small plastic stools were set around a wooden stove, with a 32” flat screen tv was playing the latest Indian soap operas. Damn that fire was good. My feet were pretty cold by this point. Actually my whole body was slowly freezing up.

These were probably the best bowl of maggi noodles I had ever eaten. She made some mean ones. The amount of liquid was perfect with the cut noodles. The extra chilli made the bland “masala” powder a little bit more spicy, and perked me up quite a bit. The hot liquid warmed us up no end.
The added bonus of a glass of hot water at the end of the meal, just made us warm up that little bit more. Yes, we were that high.

We did stop an hour or so later on, but that Yak Thukpa was good, but somehow that bowl of maggi noodles has now reached heavenly highs, that I am sure no bowl of noodles will reach in a long time. 

Sunday, 29 August 2010

I'm Back and a Sunday Roast at The Albion (Again)

After 10 weeks of travelling through 5 countries, spending countless hours couped up in a Toyota Innova on a daily basis. Inspecting around 200 hotels, doing more sight seeing than a Japanese tour group, and eating at more hotel restaurants than a Michelin Guide. My mad trip has finally come to an end. Phew. I'm kind of amazed I lasted the full distance. There were moments in Burma that suggested I wasn't going to make it. But somehow I rallied on and pushed on through to the bitter end.

My final day on this exotic trip consisted of eating steamed idili's inside the brand spanking new Terminal 3 at Delhi airport. A great south Indian breakfast dish, which came with all the trimmings. A coriander, coconut and a chilli chutneys, plus a lovely sambhar that struck all the notes for a goodbye meal to India at 6am. 

I resisted the temptation to eat bad burgers or subway sandwiches at Muscat airport, knowing full well the delicious food that was going to be put in front of me on Oman Air. I can not remember what I had, but it sure soaked up the 2 double rum and cokes I had beforehand. 
As I probably won't be eating any form of Indian food for at least a few days till I start work on Wednesday. I was in the need of something completely different from the last 10 weeks. Hey as it was Sunday, so why not do a roast. Now, where was the best roast we had eaten in the last year. 
For some reason, Islington was mighty quiet on this Sunday lunchtime. Maybe the media types had escaped town on this Bank Holiday weekend. Thankfully they had, as a reservation at the Albion was easy to come by. Phew.
Today was not the best day for eating outside, especially as it was not steaming hot, with humidity hitting 90%, so everyone was chowing inside. Another phew, as I was not sure I would have lasted the entire meal outside in the cold.
It was a no brainer as to what I was having. Rare Roast Beef with all the trimmings. Lina had the Belly of Pork. Now something has happened since my last visit earlier this year. The portion sizes have increased somewhat. Excellent news. I mean they were not small in the first place, but now they are more in keeping with my size of belly.

The roast beef was bloody juicy and rare, although slightly to thickly cut for my liking, but it ate very very well. The pork, of what I was allowed to eat was soft and tender. The trimmings were as I would expect form the winner of the Observer Best Sunday Roast Award 2009 were plentiful and great. It's been a long time since I'd eaten parsnip and I cherished every moment of it. 
All this was washed down with a lovely pint or two of Black Sheep bitter. Again something I had missed over the last 70 days. I am going to make up for this lack of bitter that is for sure. 
I really must visit the Albion more for Sunday lunch, as it ticks all the boxes on what I expect from a great lazy Sunday afternoon meal.

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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Tibetan Thukpa

Thukpa is Tibetan noodle soup. Very similar to other noodle soups, that you may find in other parts of Asia. But this is from Tibet, and when you are up in the mountains over 3000 metres, this becomes the best noodle soup ever.
What makes a truly great noodle soup is the stock base. Nearly all the thukpas I have eaten have had an amazing base to them. Not quite up to the standard of Hanoi’s infamous Pho. But it comes a pretty damn good second place.
Sometimes you get fresh noodles, other times it is those pre made egg noodles. Sometimes, and god forbid you even get maggi noodles. Although saying that, eating a hot bowl of maggi noodles at over 4000 metres when your feet and body are soooo cold. All thoughts of how crap they are go out the window.

You always get a small selection of vegetables inside your thukpa, this depends on where you are and on what season, but normally it is either bok choi or cabbage.
The meat is very dependant on where you are also. Chicken or beef are the norm, although in Nepal they use buffalo a lot. We found one place in Arunachal Pradesh, just down form the Se La Pass on the way towards Tawang that was selling Yak Thukpa. A new one for me.
A very flavorsome meat, but not the best in the world. Very chewy, but that maybe just the bad cut we were given. Who knows. But the yak momos were not that good either. A nice animal to look at, but not so good to eat.

I remember almost living on Thukpa on my first trip through northern India and Nepal. It is such a filling and warming meal that gives you some stamina to brave those dark, cold winters nights up in the mountains. Plus for me it is a soup full of good memories, some of the best times I had travelling have been in Ladakh and Nepal.
So on this short trip through the Himalayas I ate as much thukpa as I could. Unfortunately it was not enough, as my schedule did not allow me more than a few days in Nepal, and about the same in Arunachal Pradesh. But it was good whilst it lasted.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Foto Friday # 14

This wood burning stove produced some of the finest Thukpa we had in northern India. The same simple eatery also hand made their own noodles and momos, which were pretty damn fine also.
Amazing things come from simple places sometimes.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Momos are little crescent shaped pieces of heaven. Those little delights that I have been eating since I first hit northern India and Nepal back in the late 90’s. Yes I am that old.

They are made of very simple flour and water dough, not too dissimilar to making raviolis really. The dough is rolled as thin as possible, but not to thin that it will split in the cooking process. The filling is spooned into the centre then they are either made into the more traditional half moon shape or a more round dumpling type shape. They are then steamed over a soup or a stock base, which is served along side the momos in small bowls. A very hearty and delicious snack. It’s never a meal for me, just a starter or a snack.

They are really popular in Nepal and anywhere that Nepalese or even Tibetans hang out. But they can be found all over the Himalayas from Ladakh in the west to Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh in the west.
Pork filling is really popular, but anything can be put inside. I’ve even tasted momos with a vegetable samosa filling. Controversial I know.

They are normally made as a crescent shape but in Bhutan they make them more as a dumpling, in the Chinese style of dumplings. The ones in Bhutan were not the best in the world as the dough was slightly too thick, and sometimes not cooked properly. Potbelly stickers.
The best ones I had on this trip was at a house in Kathmandu. The lady of the house made the most delicious ones I have tasted in an age. The filling was pork, but subtly spiced and with a touch of coriander to give them that freshness. Lovely.
To make momos, you need to fashion the dough into small circular flat pieces. The filling is then enclosed either in a round pocket or in a half moon shape or crescent. The dumplings are then steamed over a soup or stock, this is in turn served with the dumplings, as well as a chilli sauce or even soy sauce if you like.

They can also be steamed and part fried, or even deep fried, not my favorite way of eating momos but some like the crispy coating.
They are very similar in a way to the Chinese Jiaozi. But it is really in Nepal that they are shown to their highest grade.
I’ve never found a decent momo in London, although I always meet someone who knows someone whose friend ate some as good as in Nepal. An urban myth if you ask me.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A Small Taste of the Delights of Bhutan

I never really dreamed I would ever goto Bhutan. It had something to do with the pre paid tour fee of $200 a day plus visa fees and only doing a set itinerary and not travelling freely as I always do. I’m hard to please I know.
But with my new job I was told that I am going to Bhutan for 10 days. It’s not the schedule I would have planned, as double backing on ones self is not the best plan, but it’s free and that counts a lot. So who cares.

So as I had a leisurely trip through Oman, and a mental one through Rajasthan and northern India and Nepal done in a ridiculous amount of time. I had not looked at anything about Bhutan. Never really had time to.
So when we arrived in Bhutan we literally at gunpoint had to force our guide and driver to take us to where the locals eat, and eat typical Bhutanese food. It turns out they were not that willing, as if we eat in a hotel, they eat for free. If you have been reading my previous blog posts about India, I was up to here with hotel food. So their plan went out the window on day one. It is like or lump it boys. We broke them in early and it was for the best.

The Bhutanese are very fond of chillis, and not just any old chilli, a fiery bloody one as well. Their idea of a snack is to eat a raw green chilli with salt. Although saying this, I heard a lot about this habit, but never actually saw anyone eating it.
I reckon the national dish of Bhutan is ema datshi. Which basically is chilli and cheese sauce. Yes, I know. Chilli and cheese sauce. It sounds rank, but somehow it works. Plus you need rice with this, to diffuse the smack in the face of the chillies. They can be a bitch sometimes. They are pre boiled for a time to take out some of the heat, but after eating about 20 of them, no boiling can diffuse the pain you start to feel.
They also serve mushrooms with cheese sauce and also potatoes. Now depending on where you are, you may or may not get the sauce with a slight tangy chilli flavour. It’s good.
Their curries and dhal are pretty watery and not that good. They need to employ someone from India to teach how to make dhal fry or dhal makni, as we never had a decent one. Always like a bad watery lentil soup. Yuck, plus no matter how much we said no, we would always get it.

The other odd thing in the Bhutanese diet is paa. This I think means dried. Well I assume this as I tried pork and beef paa and both were dried. Beef paa is basically strips of beef left out to dry in the sun. It is similar to jerky or biltong, but not left as long, then served with a tiny bit of gravy and some local radish. It’s yum.
The pork paa is a whole different kettle of fish. This mainly consists of dried pork fat and served with a spicy red chilli sauce. It tastes divine as I am a big big big fan of pork fat. But boy did I always pay for it the next day, and pay for it I mean in a big way.
The other treat I had on a daily basis was red rice. This is with out doubt the best tasting rice I have ever eaten. It beats basmati rice with its hands tied behind its back. So much ricey flavour, it is unreal. I have never seen it in London, but I have been told it is available in Southall and Alperton, so we will see. If it is there, I am buying it by the kilo, or several kilos at least.

In and around Bumthang, they grow buckwheat flour, to which they make into noodles, and serve as a cold buckwheat noodle salad called puta. Quite funny if you understand Spanish. I thought so anyhows.
All in all Bhutanese food is pretty good, but eating it on a daily basis would drive you nuts, especially as they cannot cook dhal properly. Maybe I should move there and open up a small café serving decent dhal fry. It’s not that hard.
It’s unlikely that I will ever return to Bhutan, so I will have to cherish the memories of my time there. Bit I will be making a version of ema datshi one day soon and posting it here. Not sure if drying pork fat outside my flat for a few days will be a good idea. But we’ll see.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Foto Friday # 13

A Yak living a tranquil life up near Se La Pass at 4175 metres (13700 feet). Strangely enough I had some Yak momo's and Yak Thukpa about an hour or so later. Interesting meat.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Foto Friday # 12

The best beer in Bhutan, made in the funky town of Bumthang. It's unfiltered and lasts a month from bottling.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Goodbye to Bhutan

This should have read Hello Bhutan, but it has been a really busy 10 days, what with hotel visits, trekking, eating and drinking. I have not had time to do anything. 
So sadly as you read this we are on our way to Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India. No idea what to expect, but I am leaving behind a great unspoilt country that I am going to miss.