Friday, 30 December 2011

Foto Friday # 83

Snake Rice Wine for sale in Luang Prabang, Laos. We were told it cures all ailments. I'm sure.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Hunan Province – Part Two - Dehang and Egg and Tomatoes

Not a lot happens in Dehang, and I think nothing should. The locals live a very simple life. It’s mostly an agricultural area with everything from rice to pumpkin are grown in the surrounding terraced fields that surround the village.
The tourists who visit rarely stay longer than it takes then to wander around this small village and to do some of the walks that this area is famed for.
The centre of the village is used for drying the rice as it is cut in the fields around. At night after the tourists have gone, some of the locals come out onto the streets and well do nothing. An odd mah-jong table gets set up and a few people play with some others standing around watching. But generally nothing happens.

This is one of the most peaceful minority villages we have ever been to.
The countryside around the town is where it’s at. There are several walks to some beautiful scenic spots and they are really beautiful.
Strolling through the rice fields, watching the young and old toiling together cutting the rice plants and thrashing them to get the rice kernels out so the old can put them out to dry on mats in the village center.

The walks are anything from an hour upwards depending on which one you do. They are all easy, unless you are amazingly unfit and suffer a lot under the scorching midday sun.
The food in Dehang was not brilliant, in fact it was pretty average, but our landlady (who only seemed to cook for us and watch TV all day) cooked the best egg and tomato I’ve ever had.

I’ve no idea what she did, as the dining room was out back overlooking the river, whilst the wok was at the front on the street, so we never got to see how she made it. But it was bloody brilliant. So good in fact that it was one of the highlights of this trip to China.
We had it for breakfast almost everyday in China there afterwards. Some were good, some were average. None were bad, and not one was as good as the one made by our landlady in Dehang.
This dish I first had a very long time ago in Chengyang cooked for us by a couple of fellow travellers we met from Guangzhou.
We were both staying at the same hostel overlooking the famous Wind and Rain bridge, but they were less than impressed with the cooking of the hostel, that they ended up cooking all their own meals and ours as well in the end.
This dish they cooked lovingly and with great care, making sure not to over whisk the eggs and making sure the tomatoes were of a certain size and cooked to the right tenderness.
I thought at the time as I was watching them take so much care and effort over such a simple dish did kinda baffle me, but now many years later, yeah they were right.
This dish is quick simple and I have it now at least once a week. It’s best served with leftover rice to soak up that lovely sauce.
It’s the simplest recipe ever. All you need is some tomatoes, eggs and some seasoning to get yourself going. From then onwards you can add whatever you like to it, I prefer a tad of Shaoxing rice wine just to give it a little bit more flavour.
Here are a few links to some other people’s recipes and thoughts on this simple but very very tasty dish. Tamarind and Thyme, Rasa Malaysia, Wandering Chopsticks, Appetite for China and Mijo Recipes. You can also watch the video below or go to the youtube page here
However you cook your tomato and eggs i hope you enjoy them as much as I do. If you do have a particular favourite way of cooking them, please let me know.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Foto Friday # 82

The Mercado Del Puerto in Montevideo should be on anyones list of places to eat at. Well as long as you are in Uruguay and are in fact a meat eater. Veggies beware.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tayyabs – A disappointing Return

I do not know what has happened to Tayyabs, maybe it was just a one off or maybe this is how a stalwart has lost its magic and sadly gone downhill.
I must be the only person in London who has never actually had to queue up to get a table here.
As we entered the restaurant the warmth met our poor freezing bodies and I was content to stand under the heater for a while. Sadly this wasn’t to be as we were shown our table more or less straight away.
Newly printed and vinyl menus were laid on our table with some papadums and chutneys. I like that these are offered free of charge, no the norm in most Indian restaurants.
The chutneys I have to admit though were not very good. The obligatory mango chutney was as if it had been passed through a chinoise and it lacked any real depth of flavour.
The raita was ok, nicely seasoned. The other I am not sure what it was. I only tried it once as it left a not to nice taste in my mouth.
As always with Tayyabs you have to have the lamb chops. I’ve not had better anywhere in London and one day I promised myself just to eat about 10 plates of them just for me.
This visit however, they were of a particular bad quality. I am used to the meat falling off the bone, this time it was actually chewy. What happened. Had they not marinated them long enough, was it low quality meat or had the chef really not given a fuck that day and couldn’t be arsed to do them properly.
I was gutted. It was like going to a Michelin starred restaurant and being served a burger still in its golden arched wrapper. They had slapped me in the face and called me Shirley.
Our mains of a Karahi Ghost (lamb), saag allo and my old favourite Keema Naan. All were good except the saag allo, the spinach was very grainy and had an odd texture to it. The lamb was melt in the mouth soft and the gravy had a piquancy to it. Still good.
I’m glad we never ordered more, as the tables seemed to have shrunk in size and were more or less attaché to the tables adjacent. We were more or less eating off our neighbour’s plates.
I also noticed the service was a tad quicker now. All the waiters running around handing out menus, taking orders, delivering food, clearing tables, putting bills in front of you, dispensing change and waving goodbye to you as you left.
I felt as if we had just been in a revolving restaurant, as we walked out it felt like we had just walked in.
Was this just me or has Tayyabs changed. Are they trying to keep to how they have always been, but now employing a more business like mentality, in, out, in, out, eat, pay, leave.
I’m really hoping this was just a one off, but I’ve heard rumours that this is how it is now. A shame as those lamb chops were always so bloody good.

Tayyabs on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 10 December 2011

China Videos - Part One - Fenghuang (Phoenix Town)

Finally I got around to putting this video together. So for you have been anticipating it, the wait is over. The ancient town of Fenghuang in all it's glory.
More videos can be found here on youtube.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Foto Friday # 80

This was one of the bills we were presented with from the night market in Fenguang, Hunan Province, China. No idea what is says, but we were more than happy with the price.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Hunan Province – Part One - Fenghuang

Hunan Province is famed for many things, but the most famous is being the birthplace of Mao Zedong. I did think about writing something about him, but decided against it, as the subject is just too complicated with too many people knowing a hell of a lot more about him and the history around him than me, So I decided no.
But whatever you think about the man and what history says about him. He has one major claim to fame. His favourite dish of Red Cooked Pork has been renamed in his honour. Mao Shi Hong Shao Rou. 毛氏红烧肉 ….
How cool is that not only to have a dish named after you, but it’s also a bloody good plate of food at that.
Sadly we never had time to visit his hometown of Shaoshan. Which is a shame, because not only could we have visited the house he once lived in, wow, thankfully now preserved as a museum, but we also missed eating at Mao’s Family Restaurant. A small chain selling all of Mao’s favourite dishes, including smoked fish with dried red chilli (ban hou bei yu). But sadly it wasn’t meant to be, as we were in Changsa for only 1 night and itching to start heading west.

I’m pretty sure Changsa doesn’t get that many foreign tourists as we were looked upon with friendly curiosity, especially down some of the back alleys, where old ladies sitting outside gossiping looked at us with surprise, before their faces broke out in large warm smiles.
I didn’t know anything about the food of Hunan, except it was supposed to be hot. Excellent. Hunan and Sichuan foods are compared with each other, but where as Sichuan uses those ohh so lovely palette numbing peppercorns, in Hunan it is just straightforward chilli they use and they use it so well.

One of the major sights of Hunan Province is Fenghuang (Phoenix). A beautiful well preserved ancient town with a history dating back over a thousand years.
The ancient part of the town adjacent to the river that splits the town in two has been spruced up and a lot of the stilted houses have also been renovated.
Domestic tourism in China has exploded since we were last on the mainland 7 years ago, and these old towns that gives a glimpse into China’s wealthy history are inundated with eager tourists wanting to learn more about their history first hand.
Fenghuang is definitely a place for this. It really has everything. Lot’s of history, minority groups, ancient buildings, a lovely river to take boat rides on, and plenty of places to eat and drink.

We had no problem finding food to eat and eat well we did. A lot of it was down to potluck though with a lot of pointing at what other people were eating and what looked good coming out of the kitchen.
This way of ordering never let us down, but I know for certain we definitely missed out on a lot of food we would have wanted to eat.

But this is the problem with not be able to speak or read the language, and not finding any menus in English, and no one to hand to translate. But this is why I love travelling so much.
This is something we would love to change, but it would mean some serious studying and/or moving to China. Now that is one thing we would love to do. One day.
The eating highlight was definitely to be had at the night market. A wondrous sight just outside of the old town. Row upon row of stalls selling everything known to man that can be cooked on an open grill.

The sounds and those smells were a sight to behold. Thankfully in my old age, dementia has not set in just yet and I can still picture the scene, smell the food being cooked, the sounds of those musicians coming around and playing your favourite Chinese tunes for 10 Yuan a pop. I want to go back.
I have a way of choosing where to eat when it comes to street food. Generally its best to choose a stall that is jammed pack with a steady stream of customers, as it means the food is freshly cooked and turned over pretty fast. So nothing hanging around for a long time going off.
Here, every stall was packed. A really good sign. We were waiting for a while for a couple of seats to come free. Thankfully the seats were at the stall of the best grill master at the night market.

We could have stayed there all night choosing a few of these, some of that, a couple of skewers of those, oh definitely gotta have some of them. 3 of the pork skewers. A whole fish, some veggies as well. Choosing was mad.
There was a wide range of food on offer at the night market from fish to vegetables, meat and even pig’s head. We were really tempted to see how they were going to serve it, but we never saw anyone having it. Shame.

Over the 3 nights there we ate at quite a few different stalls, but the best dish we had was a whole aubergine cooked on the hot plate. The Grill Master rubbed it all over in oil, and then ever so gently made little cuts to open it out as it softened and cooked.

After several minutes of this, it was opened up as flat as a fish, and with some chilli oil and chilli powder liberally sprinkled on top, it actually ended up coming to our table looking like a nice fish. It was amazing.
Our other favourite place to eat was a small hole in the wall away from the tourist hordes. For breakfast everyday this lovely lady made us feel so welcome and had a large smile as she cooked our simple rice noodle stir fries. Simple food but cooked ohh so well.

This side of the Fenghuang we were mini stars, with all the locals who were dropping their kids or grandchildren off at the adjacent school, would all said hello to us with their big toothless grins.
We did try and speak to all and sundry, even if it was just a few words and badly pronounced, but people seemed to be patient with us and were pleased that we were making an effort.
The problem was when people tried to speak to us. Those blank looks in our faces must have been a sight to behold.

One thing I regret was not persuading the wife to dress up in traditional minority costume and have her photo taken like everyone else was.
It would have given us memories for a lifetime, even though Fenghuang has given us that already. 

Friday, 2 December 2011

Sunday, 27 November 2011

J is for Japanese @ Tosa

I cannot even remember what year it was when my one and only visit to Tosa was. Maybe it was in 2006 or 2007? Who knows? But ever since then I have constantly said “I have to return”. But alas I never ever did.
But ever since we began this A – Z of London restaurants J was always going to be Japanese and Tosa was always going to get a mention.
I was thinking that it would have been pretty predictable to go for your normal sushi bar. I am really wanting to try Atari, but kinda nervous as Sushi Hiro could be a hard act to follow. But this time I wanted something different.
I kind of stacked Tosa in my favour as I wrote a gleaming email about it, whilst the other options didn’t quite get a glowing report.

Tosa specialises in grilled meats on sticks over charcoal. This we had many a time in bars in Japan, especially Tokyo, which after dark were full of salary men relaxing after a hard days work with a few beers with some co workers and a few grilled sticks of meat. Hey that I think should be everyone’s after work chill out.
Tosa’s menu is pretty vast, and where the grilled skewers take centre stage, there are some of the favourites that will satisfy all tastes if the skewers do not float your boat.
I wanted one thing and one thing only. Yes, what they are famous for.
I think between the four of us we ordered a vast amount of food that just kept coming and coming. Yes this was dangerous territory as if I have had another beer or two we would have at least doubled the bill. But it would have been worth it.

As Tosa does not really do main meals as such, it’s best to order a bit of everything, which I think we did.
There are too many dishes that we ordered to go over, so my favourites were the Chicken Liver, Ox Tongue, Uzura (Quails eggs), Tebasaki (Grilled Chicken Tips). Sadly the Torikawa (Grilled Chicken Skin) was unavailable.
There is something I love about grilled offal. Ever since my first trip to Argentina and eating grilled innards, I have become addicted.

The Grill Master cooked everything I tasted to perfection, and the liver was perfectly juicy. Delish, really delish.
I was really tempted to have the Zaru Soba (Cold Soba Noodles with a Bonito based Special Sauce), but I think I had ordered enough for this time and the noodles may have pushed me over the edge.

I noticed on the website afterwards that if you send them your email address, there are promotions to be had, like 15% off the food bill this month for Sunday to Thursday evenings. Nice. That means you can order extra skewers.
Next time I’m going all out on the grilled fish. Let’s just hope it isn’t another 5 or 6 years till my next visit.
Tosa is definitely worth a special visit to this part of West London.

Tosa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Swing Dancing and the Victoria Tandoori

A few weeks ago we went to watch some friends perform at a Swing Dance performance in Hackney.
To be honest if they were not performing I would not have given it a second thought about going. In fact it’s very unlikely I would even have known this all existed.
It’s a big thing in London it seems. Regular dancehall meet ups and lots of groups in all parts of London were there showing off their routines.
It was an enjoyable night and the performances were really good, and some were exceptional.
I can say that I have absolutely no rhythm at all, and am probably the worst dancer in the world. Well I can’t, so I was very impressed with those folks who had the bravery to go and dance in front of an audience of at least a few hundred.
The video was taken on my old flip camera, sadly now lost somewhere on the London underground I thinks. But I’m slowly getting more Amazon vouchers so I can buy another one.

After watching a ton of groups we decided we were all hungry and wandered through Victoria Park to get some food. The Littlest One knew of a really good and cheap Indian restaurant near to where she lived. So food sorted.
The Victoria Tandoori is your old skool Indian restaurant, basic furniture with very friendly chatty staff who were more than happy to accommodate our table of 10 with out a pause for breath.
I’m sure that chef must have shat himself with the amount of food we ordered. We literally ordered everything off the menu. OK slight over exaggeration but it was a lot and all was liberally shared between us.
High fives goto the Tandoori Chicken, even with it’s red coloring, but the taste was superb and unlike most places, damn juicy as well.
The Dal Makhani was rich and creamy, it was only missing that smoky taste of being cooked for an age over burning embers..
A Beef Madras and a Chicken Korma headed up the curry section and all with flying colours, as did the wide assortment of naans we ordered as well.
It was a good feast all washed down liberally with large glasses of Cobra Beer. I wished I lived closer to the Victoria Tandoori as it is a great and very economical place to eat and I’m sure I would be a serious regular.

Victoria Tandoori on Urbanspoon

Friday, 18 November 2011

Foto Friday # 77

Taken on a road side in Costa Rica by my Costa Rican uncle. I'm hoping he wasn't talking about my food.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Post Holiday Blues

We’ve been home for about 5 weeks now from our rather too short a trip to China. If the truth be told we are still suffering from those dreaded holiday blues. I’m still down and I don’t want to be here, I want to be back in China. I really do. I’ve never been affected like before after a trip.
This holiday was never going to be a wondrous culinary adventure as most trips to China are, no this was just going to be about the people and the places.

We both had our own agendas for this jaunt around China. I wanted to see some old villages that probably would not be around in a few years time. Lina wanted to see the minority tribes that she hadn’t visited before. Strangely enough 9 times out of ten these two wishes both went together. We were both winners.
This trip was going to be kept to a small area, mainly because we only had 3 weeks. I wanted 3 months, but sadly my company wouldn’t pay me for 3 months paid leave. Damn them.

After weeks of us toing and froing between different regions of China. We finally made a decision and narrowed it down to Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces, plus a start and finish in Guangzhou to see if the city is similar to Hong Kong.
Amazingly it had been 7 years since our last visit to the Mainland, and I missed it so. I cannot count Hong Kong really, as that is a whole different kettle of fish altogether. But 7 years, that is too long a time. Why did we wait so long?
So after a long China Southern flight into Guangzhou and a quick transfer to one of the high speed railway stations we were on a T Class train hurtling at just over 300 kilometres an hour north to Changsha. The capital of Hunan province.

I’ve only ever been on a train that can go this fast a few times before and they were in Japan. It’s amazing how smooth they run. Certainly beats the British Rail.
I’m not sure how many Guizi or Gweilo travel to Changsha, but I’m sure it’s not many. Unlike in the city of Guangzhou with its countless migrant workers from small rural areas, we were not met with stares of mistrust. Instead we were met with smiles of welcome. This carried all the way through our trip until we hit Guangzhou, where as in all big cities the population are far too busy to even think about smiling.
So this is going to be a long drawn out process of me waffling on about a fantastic trip that we had to China, and hopefully it will make you plan a trip there and enjoy it as much as we did.
More on Hunan next time.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

An Underwhelming Feeling @ Meat Liquor

To say we were underwhelmed by our first impression of Meat Liquor would be an understatement. After reading for such a long time about the God like status of the Meat Wagon in South London, I was expecting some really good stuff from the now stationary place in Marylebone.

Unfortunately we left with a feeling of “What is all the fuss about”. But on the other hand there were many plus points and really only a couple of negative things I have about the place. This are to get them out of the way now.

  1. The lighting is too low and the menu is in such fine print that it is really very difficult to read. There is sometimes being cool is just not practical.
  2. The hour wait for 2 burgers, fries and onions rings is taking the piss a bit. In Spanish they say “El Chef esta rascandose las pelotas” I think they were doing that here also. Although I hope not.
I understand that the reputation of the Meat Wagon was built around this long fabled wait, but really, it does not take an hour to cook a burger. I hope to god he sorts this out, otherwise people in this part of London are gonna get pissed off pretty quickly. Once they may let it slide, twice, they will be having second thoughts about returning. Anyhows onto the food. We ordered a cheese, bacon burger and a chilli burger, chilli fries and onion rings and 4 Meatjitos. I think we would have ordered some more food, but we had trouble reading the non readable menu over a small candle.

The burgers were good, but not the best I’ve had in London. That so far still goes to the Lucky Chip Burger Van close to Broadway Market. 

They were both were well cooked, but I don’t think they warrant the mythical status they have achieved in the London blogosphere. But then again after 2 hours of waiting for a burger, and drinking a lot of booze in between, its understandable that the food will taste unbelievable.

The chilli fries needed a bit more heat in the chilli, and a tad more seasoning. But thankfully they never contained beans. Phew. That would have sent me over the edge.
The onion rings were damn fine large fluffy rings of battered sweet onions. This is how an onion ring should be. Large, crispy on the outside with the sweet onion on the inside. I wish I’d had ordered more of these beauties. They were a delight.
The Meatjitos were served in jam jars and I kinda like that. Actually all the drinks we saw were served in these jars. They were a good balance of sweet from the sugar, sour from the lime and a knockout punch from the rum. Just how I like it.

If I could have read the menu in depth I would have ordered the House Grog as well. Reading it now it reads so well. Although I’m more keen on it because they say only 2 servings per person. May have to take them up on that next time.

The interior as I may have mentioned is dark. The interior designers have gone to town on the artwork. It resembles a 1980’s hard rock club, but without the filth and grime. The music is a good mix as well. I was particularly glad to hear Lemmy blaring out The Ace of Spades.

All in all Meat Liquor was a tad disappointing, but it had some plus points going for it. I will return to see if they were a one off, but if I have to wait an hour again for a burger then it will be shelved forever. C'mon guys sort it out. 

Meat Liquor on Urbanspoon

Friday, 11 November 2011

Foto Friday # 76

The heat and humidity of Guangzhou even at 7 in the morning was to much for my camera. This simple restaurant opposite Guangzhou North Railway Station served up simple noodle soup and mixed meat congee for about 60p.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Banana Tree Soho – The Blandest Meal of the Century

I seem to be getting a lot of invites to try out new restaurants recently. Most of then I turn down because even though they are free I don’t want to eat at those establishments.
I was in two minds whether or not to accept the invitation to eat at the new Banana Tree in Soho.
I’d tried the branch in Angel on one of the Tube Strike Mondays. Ahhhh I miss those days, the only good thing of working over the other side of London. C’mon you greedy tube drivers, I think it’s time for some more pointless strikes so I can have some more days off work.

I was not impressed with the concept nor the food at the Angel branch. I thought it was for people who were shit scared of Asian food and wanted a dumbed down version to get their chops around it.
Finally I relented and mid week we wandered down to the Soho branch with our £60 voucher expecting to get through about half of it. How wrong I was.

The neo industrial look is the matter of course these days, everyone including shops are jumping on the band wagon. I’ll be delighted when someone finally doesn’t do it.
We ordered a beer and a cocktail and 6 of the satay sticks to get us going. The sticks were ok. Nice charring, but really not much taste on the chicken itself. The peanut sauce was pretty good, and I wished I had kept it on the table for the following courses.

We began ordering. Well we had £60 to get through. The Papaya Salad came first and after trying it made me remember why I should not have relented to this freebie offer. Unbelievable it actually had no taste at all. The dressing was non existent and the papaya had no crunch to it. Soft and floopy. I felt really sorry for the fruit to end its life on a plate as part of a poor excuse for a salad.

The Roasted Duck in Hoisin Sauce actually wasn’t that bad. The meat was juicy enough, but the sauce was too loose and a bit over powering.

Next up was the Char Grilled Chicken Bakar Java. The menu said the chicken was marinated in an array of Javanese aromatic spices, grilled slowly to perfection. I’ve no idea what their idea of perfection is, but it was far from mine. The chicken had some nice charring on it, but it was dry and a tad tough. I’ve no idea how long it had been marinating for, but it obviously was not long enough. Those Javanese spices failed to shine through.

I had this served with a Nasi Goreng, which turned out to be a bland egg fried rice. That’s two dull Nasi Gorengs I’ve tasted recently, and both have been a poor substitute for the real deal.
Amazingly in the end we managed to spend £59 on really not much food and a few drinks. But then again we are in Soho.

Banana Tree is what it is really. A pan Asian chain restaurant serving up watered down and bland food to the masses in neo industrial surroundings. It’s gonna make its owners a hell of a lot of money.

Banana Tree on Urbanspoon