Everyone who knows me knows I am definitely anything but a vegetarian, and my fondness for cheese would definitely remove me from the vegan category. However, it doesn’t mean I won’t eat something without meat in it. From time to time I do enjoy a vegetarian dish. As I love things based on both travel and food, I was quite interested to examine Justin Moore’s new vegan cookbook based on world adventures. The Lotus and the Artichoke showed a lot of promise. When I saw some photos of his food, I immediately contacted him.
When I review a cookbook, I like to look for a few essentials: recipes that don’t require one to have formal education in the culinary arts to prepare, use of ingredients that most people are likely to have on hand or have ease finding, clear instructions, and foods I’d not only want to eat myself but meals I would like to prepare for guests.
Justin’s book has it all! He’s included both metric and imperial measurements to make it easier for people around the world to use. While I’ve become used to metrics, my cooking brain is still very American, and I struggle when reading metrics in recipes. This was a welcome finding indeed.
Consistent with the world travels theme, the book is arranged by regions. You’ll find a wide assortment of food from the Americas, Asia, Africa (although I would’ve liked to have seen more entries from this region), and Europe.
For those of us who just have to add some meat, the recipes will easily accommodate that addition. The recipes for sauces alone make the book worth buying. Many of the recipes contain instructions for substitutions and omissions as well, which I appreciate.
This is a great cookbook for people who are a bit skittish about cooking complicated dishes as well. I found almost every recipe to be something that would be relatively simple for even the most novice cook to attempt and be successful.
The Lotus and the Artichoke is available in both print and ebook versions. And with Thanksgiving (in the US) and the holidays just around the corner, now would be a great time to get a hold of it.
Brasov is one of the more popular cities in Romania. It’s a small wonder considering its absolutely charming historic section, the fact that it’s so close to other popular sites in Transylvania, and that it is a train hub for the region. It’s also no lightweight when it comes to great food.
Pastries and Pretzels
Brasov seems to have a bakery every few meters. Many of them have walk-up windows. The local covrigi is similar to a soft pretzel. They can be purchased plain, coated in baked cheese, or filled with delicious things such as chocolate. One of my favorites is the covrigi cu visine (cherry, pronounced like vee-SHE-nee). You can also get a covrigidog which is essentially a hotdog in a pretzel.
Another popular treat is gogosi, which is similar to a jelly-filled donut.
On the square
Piata Sfatului is the historical center of the town. Sometimes on weekends you’ll find vendors offering all types of local foods, as well as arts and crafts, clothing, and so on. We like to get the steamed corn on the cob, which is pretty cheap at about $1.50 USD. However, our favorite food to get on the square is the local version of what would be considered bratwurst in the US. You can buy this bit of yumminess at the brown wagon near the big fountain in the center of the square. Each one costs about $2.40, and they are very filling and delicious. I like the picanti which has a bit of spicy kick to it.
The wagon is open every day of the week, unlike the other vendors. They are open from 12-7. Most of the workers speak enough English to make things easy.
There are several restaurants and cafes on the square and down the pedestrian street. The one we’ve visited the most is Come Back, a German bakery. They serve coffee, hot chocolate, sandwiches, pastries, and some others food and drinks.
If you are needing some American-style fast food, KFC is on the square, and you’ll find McDonald’s at the end of the pedestrian street.
While there are some Italian restaurants in the town, the only place I’ve encountered cannoli is at a small place on a side path. They cost about $3 per cannolo, but they’re fairly good. At the square, identify the Chinese restaurant and head toward it. Turn left and take the 1st right. At the next intersection, you’ll find the Italian deli on your right. They also sell pasta, sauce, cheese, meats, and other goodies.
In stores, and many restaurants, beer is cheaper than bottled water. It isn’t hard to find beer for sale for less than $1 USD. There are several brands. I’m a dark beer lover and prefer Silva Strong. Ursus Brun is pretty good, too, and a bit milder. There are also some beer blends I never would’ve considered drinking in a million years (with cranberry or grapefruit juice), but they’re actually quite good. On a warm day, the grapefruit one goes down quite nicely.
Wine varies in price and quality. If you’re picky about wine, you may not be happy with Romanian wine. It tends to be sweeter (even the reds) than other European wines and not as full-bodied. If you find you don’t care for the local wines, most of the stores also have imported varieties which aren’t badly priced. The supermarket in the lower floor of the Star shopping plaza (called Piata Star) has one of the better selections.
Other liquor such as vodka and gin are quite inexpensive and found quite easily.
There are a few choices for Chinese food, but keep in mind that most of them will be different from the Chinese food you’ve had elsewhere. If you’re craving Chinese food, they kind of help, but you may find your itch wasn’t fully scratched. The restaurant on the square is expensive. Head down Strada Muresenilor (the side of the square where there is vehicle traffic) heading toward the more modern part of town. Lotus Express had decent food at reasonable prices. Pandamania is a little further away and is more like fast-food Chinese, although if their website prices are accurate they are pretty pricey.
Brasov is located in the Transylvania region. While here you simply have to try out some of the local cuisine. Two restaurants I can highly recommend are Sergiana’s (the best) located near the historical center, and Casa Romaneasca in the old Romanian quarter, aka Piata Unirii.
One of the best things about Sergiana’s is the free welcome platter of fried pork and raw onions, usually accompanied by a large basket of delightful, fresh breads. It is quite delicious! Their menu will appease both the adventurous (grilled brains, wild boar, bear salami) and the finicky alike.
While here, why not try the traditional plum brandy called palinca. It will warm you up on a cold day for sure (it’s 50% alcohol), as well as possibly clear your sinuses.
At Casa Romaneasca, I can definitely recommend the pork ribs. We’ve had them a couple of times, and the flavor seems to vary by the cook. The first time we ate here, the ribs were absolutely the best I’ve ever had in terms of flavor. The restaurant has a lovely rustic charm to it. They may offer you some tuica. This is similar to palinc, although it tastes a bit more like paint thinner. It’s also quite expensive. In my opinion it wasn’t worth the price.
Tips on dining in Brasov
- Most restaurants are on a cash-only basis, although you will find many that will accept credit cards. It’s always better to have cash on hand.
- Tipping is common. Some restaurants will add a service fee to the bill, so make sure you check for that before you include a tip. When you do tip, the average in Romania is 10%.
- Service is very relaxed. Meals are not meant to be rushed, so unless you’re in a fast-food establishment, expect your meal to take time. As is common in Europe, servers will not pester you. They will bring your food and likely not bother you again until you wave them over. They aren’t being rude. They are allowing you and your dining companions to enjoy your meal and socializing unimpeded. It’s pretty much the European way. So when you need something, just raise your hand to get their attention. Meals can be quite luxurious in length, so have no qualms about staying at your table for hours.
- Some restaurants offer a nonsmoking section, but a lot of them don’t.
- Bread is often served, but you often will be charged extra for it. If you don’t want bread, and they don’t ask first, just let them know you don’t want it when they bring the basket by. The charge is usually minimal, around $1.50.
- Unlike some other countries in Europe, Romanian portions tend to be quite good. If you end up wanting or needing to take leftovers with you, just ask for a “packet.” They will usually know what you mean.
- Water in Romania is safe to drink. If you would rather have tap water than pay for bottled water, just ask for a carafe of water. Be aware, though, that many restaurants will tell you they only have bottled water. It’s a weird phenomenon. If you don’t want mineral water (the kind with bubbles), ask for apa plata (ah-pah plah-tah).
When you visit Brasov, prepare to either do a lot of walking, or wear loose clothes. The food here is usually prepared with farm-fresh ingredients, so it is flavorful, and it is also quite filling. Vegetarians and vegans shouldn’t have too much trouble finding good food. If you are cooking for yourself, you’ll love the selection of beautiful produce available.
Have you been to Brasov? Do you have a favorite place or dish to share with us? Please add it in the comments.
Langkawi is an island located off Malaysia’s northwest coast. Its proximity to Thailand’s border, as well as being able to easily reach the island from the tourist hotspots of Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Penang, make this island a popular destination.
While popular, however, it is surprisingly not overrun by tourists and the overdevelopment that is common to touristic locales. In some cases, one might even say Langkawi is one of Malaysia’s best-kept secrets.
As we’ve spent a couple of weeks on the island, we’ve naturally sampled much of what it has to offer in various cuisine. Here’s a review of the places we visited and felt were worth mentioning as either a suggested stop or a place to avoid.
We’ll start with the 2 superstars from our experience.
One must-eat restaurant
Out of the places we ate, one would get 5 stars from me and shouldn’t be missed. Sagar is a North Indian restaurant with several locations in Malaysia. Thankfully, one of them is located on Langkawi.
We ate some of the most amazing Indian food I’ve ever had. A friend’s son used to live in India and said the dishes he enjoyed at Sagar rivaled some of the food he had in India. His unabashed raving led to a visit that was completely enjoyable.
The menu is fairly diverse. Everything from the mango lassi on was absolutely delicious, full of flavor, and absolutely beautiful in its presentation.
Prices are mid range for SE Asia and well worth it. We spent about $50 USD for 3 people, and that included 3 separate orders of naan, special rice dishes, and drinks.
Chinese and Thai food
When in Thailand, I learned how to prepare my favorite green curry. I have high expectations when it comes to green curry. I went ahead and ordered it because I’m currently in a major green curry deficiency.
And I was not disappointed.
This green curry was almost as good as what I had in Bangkok. I’ve had it twice at this restaurant and would really be quite happy just taking the whole pot home with me and had to stop myself from licking the bowl clean.
In addition to great Thai dishes, Shin Mi Seafood Village offers a delicious menu of Chinese food. We’ve sampled various dishes there, and I’ve yet to find one that I was unhappy with.
Prices are about mid range here as well.
Sometimes you just want/need some pizza. A local chain called Artisans Pizza has a few locations on the island. Both times we’ve eaten at the one located in Harbour Village near Pantai Kok.
While this probably won’t be the best pizza you’ve ever tasted, they have some offerings you won’t find elsewhere, which is what makes it worth it. If you’ve bought pizza in Asia before, you’re used to seeing some rather . . . unusual toppings.
Artisans takes it a step further and teases your taste buds with selections like chicken masala and satay pizza.
I highly recommend the satay (mixed, beef and chicken) pizza, and make sure to save some for home. It’s even tastier the next day.
In addition to pizza, they have pasta dishes, and some lovely salads. I enjoy their Greek salad, but I do have to say that the Malaysian version of feta cheese is nowhere even close to the real thing. But its creamy texture is a nice competitor to the other crunchy foods.
Yeah, probably not something you expect to find on a Malaysian island. Especially one that doesn’t seem all that popular with Russian tourists. However, I had to give it a try.
In addition to being very difficult to find, the menu was extremely disappointing. Most of the offerings weren’t even Russian food (Chicken Hawaii style?). Prices were mid range, but the servings were more like snack size. My son’s side order of macaroni and cheese (elbow macaroni with cheese sprinkled on top) was larger than my main.
The flavor was satisfactory, but I don’t appreciate spending a decent amount of money and needing a snack 30 minutes after leaving a restaurant. We also ordered watermelon juice which was on the border of potable and disgusting.
Avoid the USSR Restaurant.
Local street food restaurant
We absolutely love local food, and Malaysian food is generally quite flavorful and hearty. After reading a review by a Langkawi-oriented blog, I decided to try out Seri Serai Restoran.
The food was really quite average, but the prices were extremely affordable (we had 3 mains plus 3 drinks for less than $6 USD). The chickens and cats running around your feet while you wait for your meal just add to the kampung ambience.
The servers were quite jovial, and we laughed together as we tried to make the combination of Malay and English work for both of us.
If you’re a little shy about food safety or trying new things, I’d recommend this restaurant. I did enjoy the nasi goreng ayam (chicken rice) quite a bit. It was very flavorful and had a great assortment of textures to it. They also have some Western foods for finicky kids/adults.
These markets are often where some of the best street food is found. Different villages have a different night of the week for their market. We visited the ones for Padang Matsirat and Kedawang (near Pantai Cenang). Both had similar offerings with Kedawang’s being slightly larger and having more variety.
Here you can score great deals on popiah (4 for 32 cents) and samosas (2 for 32 cents). Fried chicken is easy to find for 32 cents per piece or less. One of our favorites is to get the grilled corn on the cob. You can easily get a large ear with butter and salt for less than $1 USD.
If you only have time to visit one night market, I’d probably suggest the one at Kedawang on Tuesday nights. Although there are 5 other markets we haven’t tried.
There are several restaurants in the tourist zone of Pantai Cenang. One that was recommended to us was the Red Tomato Restaurant and Lounge. Lured by the prospect of a delicious salad and my son desperately wanting French toast, which is on their menu, we went in spite of its location in the tourist zone.
And I’d have to say it wasn’t worth the trip.
Most of their prices are fairly reasonable for a tourist restaurant, but some were a bit crazy ($8 for a salad). We spent over $21 USD for 2 drinks, 2 pitiful side dishes, and 2 equally pitiful mains.
The garlic bread entree was 4 tiny slices. My humus came in a dish that held maybe 1/4 cup of humus and was accompanied by a single small roll. The humus was delicious, but the serving size was a joke.
My salad was rather small for the money. It had a few small slivers of tuna, and 2-3 slices of avocado. We were still hungry when we left, and I don’t expect that after spending $21. Even for a tourist restaurant, that was a poor performance.
Avoid the Red Tomato
We haven’t seen a lot of actual coffee places on the island. Well, at least not one that isn’t part of a chain like Starbucks or OldTown White Coffee. With our stomachs still grumbling after our lunch at the Red Tomato, we headed to The English Tea Room for some dessert and coffee.
It’s a cute little cafe with comfortable seating (especially since it is air conditioned) and an unrushed atmosphere. The dessert selection was pretty minimal, and my pear almond pie was definitely not worth talking about, but I did enjoy my iced latte. My son had a Coke float, and they did a great job with that.
The staff are quite friendly and customer service oriented.
If you’re in the Pantai Cenang area (across from Underwater World), it’s worth a visit. But come for the drinks, not the food.
It definitely isn’t possible to do a restaurant review of the entire island in just 2 weeks, but hopefully we’ve started you off with some good recommendations.
People come to New Mexico and ask where they can get Mexican food. While there are Mexican restaurants, including some really authentic ones, the cuisine to sample here is Northern New Mexican or Norteño as it’s sometimes called. While there are some similarities to Mexican food, it’s a distinct cuisine based on four foods. The first three, called the sisters—beans, corn and squash–were indigenous to the area, chile, the official New Mexico state vegetable, arrived with the first Spanish settlers in 1598. The food of New Mexico is its own cuisine.
When they ask in a restaurant if you want red or green, they’re talking about the chile they smother your food in (ask for “Christmas” and you’ll get a bit of both). Green chiles are roasted during the harvest each year and red, the more mature version of the plant, is picked and usually dried. The traditional drying method was making ristras (strings of chiles) and hanging them up to dry. Today, more modern methods are used for much of the commercial chile grown.
Here are five dishes that are distinctively New Mexican.
Sometimes called “carne adobada.” This is a New Mexican dish, made from meat, usually marinated overnight in red chile, then slow cooked until tender. The Spanish word, adovada means “marinate.” It is usually cubes of pork. Today, some chefs make adovada pork chops. The best ones we’re tried were at the Rancho Plaza Grill in Ranchos de Taos. The chile recipe comes from the chef’s grandmother. He won’t give it out – we asked.
Like carne adovada, is pure New Mexican comfort food. While it’s served at family dinners throughout the year, it’s considered a holiday dish, showing up on many family tables at Christmas and New Year’s. The dried corn and red chile dish (posole is similar to hominy), usually made with pork is rich and spicy. It’s been made by New Mexican families for generations.
This dish is a bit controversial. Some say it originated at Santa Fe’s Woolworth’s (and it’s still served at the Five and Dime, Woolworth’s former location). Others hold out for Texas. The original method (and the way it is still done at the Five and Dime today) is to take an individual portion-sized bag of Fritos slit it down the side and add red chile (some people add ground beef to the chile), pinto beans, then top with a mixture of shredded white and yellow cheddar. Lettuce, tomatoes and onions are optional. Traditionally, it’s eaten with a plastic fork. Some places serve the Fritos directly on the plate and then top. But… if you’re a purist, go for the bag!
These are a fried, puffy pastry usually made from tortilla dough. They are the answer to bread at the traditional NM table. They can be stuffed with meat or chicken and smothered with chile or eaten for dessert (mostly in southern NM). They are great when accompanied with honey—it cuts the heat of the chile or makes the dessert option sweet. My favorite way to eat a sopapailla is stuffed with shredded beef smothered with green chile. Traditionally, they put beans into the stuffed version, but I ask for the meat alone; put my beans on the side, please.
Also spelled bizcochitos, these are the official New Mexico State cookie. These anise-flavored shortbread cookies are traditionally served at Christmas, weddings and other celebrations. Traditionally, they used lard and purists still do, although these days shortening and butter are frequently substituted.
This short list is just a drop in the New Mexico culinary bucket. You’ll have to come here to see what else is on the menu. Unlike other regional cuisines from around the world that show up in foreign lands, it’s rare to find New Mexican food outside our borders. Come dine! The food of New Mexico is worth the trip.
Billie Frank is a freelance travel, food and features writer based in Santa Fe New Mexico. A former print journalist, she now writes for digital magazines and blogs. Her blog, Santa Fe Travelers, is a treasure trove of information on the oldest capital city in the USA. Billie is also co-owner of The Santa Fe Traveler, a trip-planning and tour business. You can find Billie on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
–in collaboration with Hostelbookers
Turkey is an exciting, magical, and exotic destination for most people. If you are a vegetarian though, you may be nervous at the prospect of traveling to a country whose most famous export is the greasy and meaty doner kebab. Fear not, vegetarians! The reality of Turkish food is far different. Turkey actually boasts a wealth of vegetarian dishes and treats sure to tantalize your taste buds. You just may love being a vegetarian in Turkey.
Vegetarian Turkish Delights
You should not go to Turkey and miss out on the yaprak dolmasi, known in English as the stuffed grapevine leaves. When these are served cold, they are vegetarian. Inside you will find delicious stuffing such as seasoned rice and vegetables. Other stuffed dolma are vegetables filled with rice, dried or fresh chopped onions, several kinds of chopped up herbs, and cinnamon and black pepper. Sometimes pinnola nuts and currants are mixed with olive oil and made into a paste that is rolled with or stuffed inside of vegetables. These vegetables are simmered over a gentle fire to ensure that the rice is properly cooked.
Other treats in vegetarian Turkey are borek main dishes. These pastries are quite typically vegetarian delights filled with chopped leaves such as spinach, beet leaves, and chard combined with soft white cheese and raw eggs. The fillings might also be pureed mixtures of potatoes, chick peas, or grains like lentils.
Meze appetizers in Turkey are often meatless as well. Like in Greece, these are commonly served cold. Such appetizers typically have tomatoes, eggplant, beans, rice, or some combination thereof inside. Sigara borek is a popular vegetarian meze delight. This tasty treat is made of filo-pastry rolls that are cigar shaped. Inside are parsley and white cheese.
Potato jackets are vegetarian snacks called kumpir that you will find on practically every street corner. You can top these with cheese, olives, sweet corn, or onions. Mayo goes particularly well on these Turkish snack or lunchtime foods.
Delicious soups are another great hallmark of vegetarian Turkish food. A favorite mercimek is lentil soup. ezo gelin is a lovely mixture of lentils and tomatoes. Domatoes soup is tomato soup on top of which you melt grated yellow cheese.
The Turks did not forget about wonderful desserts for vegetarians either. Everyone has at least heard of baklava, even if they have never had the pleasure of trying it. This wonderful pastry comes with fillings of either ground hazel nuts, pistachio nuts, or walnuts. Another standard are the well known Turkish custards. These are frequently topped with a ground up pistachio or almond nut.
Accommodation in Turkey
Turkey offers a wide range of interesting and unique accommodations to suit every taste and budget. Naturally they have hotels that the government organizes from no stars to five stars. They also feature interesting options such as luxurious palace hotels, historic and quaint Ottoman mansion inns, rental villas, historic houses, boutique hotels, rental flats or apartments, and even cave dwellings in Cappadocia. Many of these are simply bursting at the seams with character, and all provide at least some level of modern-day comforts.
Kadir’s Tree House
One such unique choice of lodging that specifically caters to vegetarians is Kadir’s Tree House in Olympos, and you can find this property on the Hostelbookers Vegetarian page. This property features a real life tree house for the young or young at heart. It also offers options ranging from camping sites to comfortably equipped bungalows with modern conveniences.
There is no shortage of activities to suit all tastes and interests at Kadir’s Tree House. Adventure lovers will find a wide and beautiful range of plants and animals, such as loggerhead turtles that breed on the nearby beach. This part of coastal Lycia has much history to see and enjoy. The on-site night life includes two bars and a night club. Pizza House is the late-night restaurant here that never closes until after the last party animal goes home.
The staff are the icing on the vegetarian cake at Kadir’s. The foreign-recruited staff first had to stay at Kadir’s Tree House as guests before they could remain for the summer. They speak a wide variety of languages including English, Spanish, German, Russian, and Turkish fluently. Kadir’sstaff know the Olympos local area well, and all count themselves as well-traveled individuals.
I was recently in Saigon and had the pleasure of staying with some friends, an Australian woman and her Vietnamese partner.
Barbara has a healthy obsession with Vietnamese cuisine and has spent the past five years living in Saigon. Vu has essentially grown up in this wonderful city and being the son of restaurateurs has a particular affinity for this delicious food as well.
Together they form the dynamic, knowledgeable, and extremely fun duo behind Saigon Street Eats. You can tell when someone loves what they do, and Barbara so obviously enjoys showing off her adopted home city that it’s infectious.
Not that you’ll likely need convincing to love Saigon!
They have different tours, including the interestingly named Snail Street tour. (It isn’t what you think.)
I got to experience their daytime street food tour and had a lot of fun. I had high expectations after my wonderful experience in Malaysia, and I wasn’t disappointed.
One of the things I love about food tours is getting an insight into cultures. You get that in spades with Barbara and Vu!
Our tour began with visiting their favorite pho place. Their particular recipe for this delicious soup is a closely guarded secret. Only two people know it, and one of them lives in the US!
While I sipped on my delightful glass of iced Vietnamese coffee, Barbara gave me an introduction to the various herbs sitting in the bright pink basket on our table. I had been warned beforehand that the Saigon version of pho is often considered superior to that from the northern Hanoi style.
The rumors are true!
The food in our bowls didn’t last long, and we were soon our way to the next delight. One of the nice things about this particular street food tour is that you get to do a lot of walking. With all the food you’ll be eating, it’s a plus. Trust me.
I had been in Vietnamese markets before, and elsewhere in the world, but I have to say the local market in Saigon wears the crown! Naturally, the couple seem to know just about everyone and their stories. It’s really enjoyable to be at someone’s stand and learn about the foods, but also learn about the personal side of their stories as well.
I gained a deeper appreciation for the people behind the stacks of shredded vegetables and bottles of pickled everything that day.
After exploring more of the market and seeing piles of things I had never dreamed of eating, it was time to sit down in front of a fan and drink coconut water from a young coconut. Local style. Which means sitting on a bench while scooters whizz past you seemingly only a hair’s width away.
As you continue to eat your way through Saigon’s streets, you also pick up food to enjoy as part of a picnic lunch in a local temple’s grounds. Vu gave a very interesting history lesson about the temple’s origins and the man it is dedicated to.
At the end of the tour, you have the opportunity to get your fortune read. Vu walks you through the multistep process. While he was giving me the background, I watched several women come up and cast their lots, so to speak.
The gods granted my wish on the first request. It’s valid for 1 year. One of the temple workers reads your fortune, and you get some direction about what you need to do throughout the year for the most favored outcome in your endeavor.
You really can’t beat this cultural and street food experience. Barbara and Vu know how to do it right. I’m not surprised.
*All images courtesy of Saigon Street Eats
The first time I visited Thailand’s modern capital, I was not impressed. Actually, I couldn’t get away quick enough. I decided to give it a second chance and was so glad I did! During my second visit to Bangkok, I decided to try cooking Thai food.
I had previously tried making my favorite green curry at home, but I wasn’t impressed with the pre-prepared curry paste. One of the big factors for me in selecting a cooking class was a course that included both making the paste from scratch as well as cooking the dish. Many of the courses teach one or the other.
Setting up the class was easy. They sent me a lot of information about where to find the meeting place, including the address in Thai and photos of the meeting spot and surrounding landmarks. Nice way to begin!
We met up with our instructor and took a short walk to the market. First thing I noticed is we were the only foreigners in the market. That’s my kind of place! We had a nice introduction to the common ingredients in Thai food and how to distinguish between the different kinds of basil, as well as other Thai produce. I learned a lot in this portion of the class alone.
At the school, things were very organized. We set out stuff down, and they had lockers for valuables. The instructor was really entertaining and taught us a lot about the hows and whys of Thai cooking. I had never really appreciated just how many ingredients go into a Thai dish!
We began with a soup (tom yum gung) that quickly became my favorite Thai soup. When it came time to prepare the curry paste, we each got into the act. She had us all laughing when she explained that a woman would impress her future mother-in-law by making a lot of noise when pounding the ingredients to make the curry paste. “It shows her you’ll make a good wife.”
If only things were really so simple.
In addition to pounding the hell out of the curry paste ingredients, we also got to make fresh coconut milk! During the market tour, we were able to see how they make it in larger quantities, but it was really fun to get to do it ourselves.
For each dish, she would explain the essential ingredients, the “filler” or optional ingredients that we could play around with, as well as what to use for substitutes if we couldn’t find certain ingredients in other countries. I was especially appreciative for this extra touch since we travel full time, and some of these ingredients are just not that common outside of southeast Asia.
The food was great, and she kept things lively and entertaining. I was also impressed at the end of class when we were presented with a nice booklet of the recipes they teach throughout all but the professional courses.
If you’re interesting in cooking Thai food, I definitely recommend you check this school out when you’re in Bangkok. It was really easy to get to via the BTS system (Bangkok’s monorail system), and I felt the price was very reasonable. Just don’t eat breakfast before class. You’ll need the extra space in your tummy.
What’s your favorite Thai dish? Do you know how to prepare it?
I had my first taste of Indonesian food while I was in Bangkok, oddly enough. It had some decent flavor, and I was excited to try more when I finally made it to Indonesia. While there are some similarities to Malay food, well, Indonesian cuisine can’t really compete. Nevertheless, it’s worth sampling when you visit Indonesia. Here are some tips for your visit.
Indonesian food is very similar on the islands of Java and Bali. If you love pork, you’ll have a harder time finding it on Java, though. This part of Indonesia is the largest Muslim state in the world, and they don’t do pork. However, Bali has more of a Hindu base, and pork is not a no-no.
There is a large Indian influence on some of the food, and there are a variety of Indian restaurants (mostly southern) on both of these islands. However, I did find more vegetarian restaurants on Bali than on the big island.
If you enjoy spicy food, you’ll want to look for restaurants displaying the word padang in their name or on a sign. This refers to a region of Indonesia that is known for its spicy food. It wasn’t that spicy to me, but my taste buds are already set for fiery Thai. Padang food, however, is much more spicy than the other fare in the island country.
Beef tends to be overcooked in every dish I’ve tasted. I’m not sure why that is. Chicken and seafood are probably the most common meats you’ll find. Likewise, they tend to be cooked pretty thoroughly. Perhaps a bit too thoroughly. You will occasionally find mutton as well, but usually only in restaurants.
Some foods, like nasi goreng and bakmi goreng are served any time of the day. When ordered for breakfast, they will often include a fried egg on top. Sometimes it’s served “over hard.” I’ve eaten a lot of nasi goreng for breakfast during my stay in Indonesia. It’s quite tasty and a great way to start the day. It’s also a dish that’s easy to get vegetarian (as is bakmi goreng).
Here are some words to help you navigate the menus in Indonesia.
- Warung is a restaurant or place serving food.
- Nasi means cooked rice.
- Goreng refers to food that is fried, but not necessarily deep fried. It usually means more like pan or stir fried. Nasi goreng, therefore, is fried rice.
- Ayam is chicken.
- Bebek means duck.
- Daging babi is pork and daging sapi is beef.
- Mie, mi, or bakmi is a dish that includes noodles, which are usually served fried.
- Bakso refers to meatballs. Quite often they are made from fish, but they can also be prepared from mutton, beef, etc.
- Gado-gado is a traditional soup made with vegetables, potatoes, and peanut sauce.
- You will occasionally see skewers of meat reminiscent of what you’d find in Thailand. They are pronounced the same, but in Indonesia it is written as sate.
- If you like fried spring rolls, you’ll want to keep an eye out for lumpia.
- Kopi is coffee. Indonesian and Balinese coffee is pretty good, but please stay away from kopi luwak (civet coffee). While this legendary coffee is supposed to have an unmatchable flavor, the animals used in its production are kept in horrible conditions, and the process can be abusive. Please don’t support this level of cruelty by buying this type of coffee.
- Be aware that lemon juice is really lime juice. It’s quite refreshing and is fairly healthy as they often don’t sweeten it very much. A great way to get a dose of vitamin C.
- Juices are generally freshly made and are quite tasty, and almost every eating establishment serves them.
- If you need sugar, ask for gula.
- Beer is pretty cheap in Indonesia, which is interesting since other forms of alcohol can be taxed quite heavily.
- If you’ve had coconut water in Mexico and other areas of the Caribbean and didn’t like it, still try the young coconut they offer here. It is absolutely delicious and tastes much better than the coconut water I’ve had in Latin America. Not only does it taste good, but it’s great for rehydrating, and with as much as you’ll be sweating in Indonesia, you’ll need it!
Have you tried Indonesian food before? If so, what’s your favorite?
People who don’t eat meat often struggle finding good street food for vegetarians when traveling. Kate of Vegetarians Abroad was kind enough to write a guest post for my vegetarian and vegan readers with some of her tried and tested tips.
Since I’m vegan, these tips are for finding street food that’s pure vegetarian.
1. Naturally vegan local specialties.
Find out what’s naturally vegan.
- Mango sticky rice
- Coconut milk ice-cream
- Tropical fruits
- Bánh xèo (A crepe made with rice flour and no egg. Only the crepe itself is vegetarian, not the fillings)
2. Ask for recommendations on the Post Punk Kitchen forum.
The Post Punk Kitchen is the best vegan forum online. There are quite a few international and well-traveled members, and it’s a wonderfully friendly and helpful community. Use the search, then ask your question if you can’t find the info you need. Be aware that it’s a vegan forum.
For vegetarian food trucks in the US, Yelp (website or iphone app) is your best source of reviews. If you use the iPhone app, plug in vegetarian or vegan, allow it to access you location info, and it will spit out great recommendations of what’s just around the corner.
Chowhound can also be very useful, but is more restaurant focused.
4. Ask a blogger based in the city.
Even if a blogger isn’t vegetarian, if they’re based in a particular city, chances are they sometimes eat vegetarian or can point you in the direction of a vegetarian friend or local forum. Ask them about food trucks, late night eats, etc.
In cities that aren’t particularly vegetarian friendly, like Paris, you will still find falafel vendors, etc.
5. Pick vegetarian-friendly destinations.
Chiang Mai is the best city in Southeast Asia for finding food for vegetarians. India is going to be heaven for you if you’re a vegetarian who eats dairy.
If you’re short on options, you can also visit Indian restaurants anywhere and just ask them to prepare a “to go” snack for you, e.g., just bread or bread and dal.
6. Farmer markets.
In Western countries, farmers’ markets are usually a good place to find vegetarian street food options. Most seem to have raw vegan stalls (personally I’m not into raw, but they all seem to be raw vegan rather than just normal vegan.)
7. Ask locals and find the right wording.
One of the best vegetarian meals I’ve had while traveling was when I went to visit the home village of the receptionist who worked at the guest house I was staying at in Vietnam. She arranged for a local vegetarian family to make lunch for me, and it was delish.
Ask around as much as you can. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting the wording right, e.g., in Southeast Asia you can try “I only eat Buddhist food” if you’re vegan. Unfortunately Buddhist food tends to be a bit tasteless because they don’t use garlic and onion, etc.
In Italy, you might have more luck asking for “dairy free” rather than vegan e.g., if you’re on the hunt for vegan gelato.
It isn’t uncommon for food to vary by region in a country, but Malaysian food is a bit more of an adventure as its culture is dominated by three major ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese, and Tamil.
Of course, you could easily eat your way through the country, but there are a couple of great ways to get exposed to Malaysian culture and food: Take a cooking class and do a street food tour.
Penang is often called the food capital of Malaysia, and it’s easy to see why. I still drool whenever I think of Long Beach and all the incredibly delicious food readily accessible there. While there, I also was connected with Pearly, a powerhouse of a woman who is very proud of her Nyonya heritage. Part of that heritage includes some of the most amazing food I’ve ever tasted.
I’ve taken several cooking classes while traveling, and Pearly’s easily stands out as the best of all of them.
As is common, the day begins with the local market. Pearly not only goes through the names and uses of various items used in Nyonya cooking, but you will learn a lot about Malaysian culture. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and her knowledge is vast.
As you meander through the market, you’ll also stop to sample some foods, including Nyonya desserts. After the tour, the group stops for a refreshing local beverage before heading to her home to begin the class.
While other classes give you brief introductions to some of the ingredients, Pearly goes through cultural reasons certain items are used in the food. She also covers how to wash and prepare some of the vegetables that may be less known to Westerners. Next, you’ll prepare your first dish. Nyonya cooking requires that many of the ingredients be finely chopped, and chances are you’ll pick up some new techniques from her.
Naturally, after preparing your dish, you’ll enjoy the best part—eating it. Cleanup is taken care of for you so that once you’re done eating one round, you’re ready to do the next.
As is typical, you’ll be given copies of the recipes so you can prepare them at home. Pearly has also written a cookbook that gives more information about Nyonya culture and traditions.
My time in the cooking class was very memorable, and if I return to Penang, I’ll be taking more classes from her.
Pearly offers other cooking classes, including Indian dishes, so make sure to check out her class website for more information. If you’ve never experienced Nyonya food, I really encourage you to take this course. It’s absolutely some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.
Street Food Tour
When we headed to Kuala Lumpur, I wanted to tap into the street food situation. It’s pretty easy in Penang, but it proved to be a bit more complicated to find the really good locations in KL. So, I turned to Food Tour Malaysia for their “off the eaten track” tour.
Because of the cultural makeup of Malaysia, the food is quite varied. The street food tour does an excellent job of exposing you to the three different cultures and how they’ve melded into today’s Malaysia.
We meet up with Farah, one of their outstanding guides, and began our food journey by experiencing a typical Malay gathering place. We first sampled nasi lemak, a wonderful dish served in a banana leaf containing rice, an egg, and a wonderful sauce.
We also had a dish called otak-otak which proved to be a bit interesting.
Farah had brought along some typical Malay desserts, including one that apparently contained dried shrimp. Not your everyday dessert.
After a brief tour where we saw how they prepare the nasi lemak packs and the otak-otak, we headed to the Chinese night market for the next part of our tour. It was really fun to see some of the more unusual foods (from a Western perspective) and to learn more about the Malaysian Chinese culture. Next, it was time to sample various drinks and dishes!
With full bellies, we got back in her car and headed to a mamak for the Indian part of the experience. Mamaks are to Malaysians what pubs are to the Brits and Aussies. This is where you meet your friends to visit, catch-up, and watch footie (aka soccer). Knowing we were all about to burst, she ordered us some tea, which is “pulled” so it is frothy, a little bit of curry, and different types of roti, including the wonderful dessert of roti tisu.
As the street food tour can go until late night, I wouldn’t save this for your last day in KL. Besides, you’ll see some areas of the city where tourists don’t go, and that could inspire the rest of your stay.
Malaysian food is full of flavor, variety, and is rather inexpensive. If you plan on eating your way around Malaysia, I’ll completely understand.