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