[PDF | 30,87 Mb] Great British Food – December 2018 – Download Magazine

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    4000 ISLANDS







    CAI BE






    Vietnam is a country I have been returning to for the past ten years, to deepen my understanding of its culture and its diverse regional cuisine. On each visit I would spend my days visiting home cooks, street vendors and cottage industries, from the northern mountains of Sapa through to the cosmopolitan city of Saigon, then further south to the Mekong Delta, visiting my uncles, aunties and cousins who live right on the banks of the Mekong River.

    We would wake early in the mornings and jump straight into the river to freshen up. The women would then spend most of the day harvesting rice from the green paddies, while the men fished for mudfish, tilapia and snakehead fish, and children picked plump succulent mangoes, jackfruit, lychees and durian from the orchards. All the produce was then packed onto longboats to begin the eight-hour journey up the Mekong to the wholesale markets in Saigon.

    My family’s entire livelihood revolved around the Mekong. This abundant river irrigated their rice crops and fruit orchards, supplied hundreds of kilos of fish each day and was their main means of transport.

    I began to appreciate how many Vietnamese families along the Mekong Delta rely solely on the river to survive. It was then I realised that it isn’t simply the people of Vietnam who depend on the mighty Mekong to sustain their lives.

    The Mekong is the twelfth longest river in the world, and the heart and soul of mainland South-East Asia. Over 60 million people depend on the river and its tributaries for food, water, transport and many other aspects of their daily lives. The river also supports one of the world’s most diverse fisheries, nurturing over 1500 different species of fish within its vast ecosystem.

    I decided to embark on a journey to explore the many countries along the Mekong that use the river every day for nourishment and life. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and lifestyles of the people in the Greater Mekong region and learn of the incredibly diverse produce, ingredients and cuisines of these areas.

    My discovery of the Greater Mekong starts where the mighty river begins its flow from the Tibetan Plateau, making its way down to China’s Yunnan Province – the most ethnically diverse region in China. I explore the culinary cultures and centuries-old traditions and stories of the Yunnan, from the Naxi people of Lijiang to the Dai communities of Xishuangbanna.

    Journeying south to Myanmar, I uncover the unique flavours of the former capital, Yangon. I meet the friendliest and most hospitable people that I have ever encountered, and learn the family recipes of Inle Lake communities and cook with the hill tribes of the Shan State.

    I then cross the border into northern Thailand. Beginning in Chiang Khong, and then in Mae Salong and Chiang Mai, I learn from local fishermen, home cooks and Akha grandmothers that the mighty Mekong River is more than just a source of food – it is a way of life.

    My journey continues down the lower Mekong to Laos, where I discover unusual ingredients and unique dishes that surprise my senses. I start in the country’s capital, Vientiane, where I glean a better understanding of the cuisine, and the many influences that have shaped it to become the ‘next big flavour’ to hit the Western world. I then visit the nation’s food capital, Luang Prabang, where I experience the seven-day celebrations of the Lao New Year, and sample the wonderful street food this charming colonial town has to offer.

    I travel further south to 4000 Islands, where the Mekong River spills across and around a giant expanse of rocks, rapids and islands on its way down to Cambodia. This stunning area has some of the most unusual fish and insect dishes in the country.

    As I cross over to Cambodia, I am overwhelmed by the people’s stories, resilience, and their passion for their cuisine and culture. Throughout the country, beginning in Siem Reap, I meet inspiring cooks who are striving to bring back ancient Khmer food and put their cuisine back on the world map.

    Further south, I arrive in the capital, Phnom Penh, where in just a few moments one can see and feel the true Cambodia: the contradictory contrast of the old and new, poor and rich, harsh and kind, honest and corrupt. In Phnom Penh I sample everything from rustic street food to high-end dining, but what stays true is the authenticity of Khmer cuisine.

    The Mekong River flows further south through Cambodia to Kep and Kampot, known to have the best crab, squid and green peppercorns in all of South-East Asia.

    A simple short walk across some white lines and a boom gate, and I’m in my mother country, Vietnam. Here I travel with my parents, digging deeper, wanting to learn more about the lives of the Vietnamese people along the Mekong Delta. We start in Chau Doc, where I sample the world-class fermented fish and the country’s best roast suckling pig.

    I continue by boat to Cai Be, where river meets land, to visit the colourful vibrant floating markets, and spend time at local cottage industries learning age-old cooking techniques.

    My Greater Mekong adventure sadly ends in Ben Tre, where I am taught everything there is to know about the coconut tree. And it is in Ben Tre that I am initiated by the locals, coaxed into eating mice and live coconut worms, finally becoming a true Vietnamese man.



    Of all the countries I’ve visited in Asia, it is the people of China who have impressed me most with their knowledge of and reverence for their regional food specialties. I witnessed many passionate debates about food and ingredients, and learnt that in the story of food, you’ll also find the stories of love, war, deceit, comedy, tragedy, triumph and celebration, With such a rich and long history, it is little wonder China remains such a master of Asian cuisine.

    One of the many things I love about China is its tradition of storytelling, which holds little gems of history and memories of times past.

    By discovering a dish or item of produce, I’d often uncover with it a story dating back centuries – a wonderful way of keeping the past locked into the present, and recognising history in the everyday food that is still grown and traded.

    I’d felt a lot of pressure starting to film this new cooking series in China, as I couldn’t speak the language, and the ethnic cuisines in this vast country are so different from what we know of in the West as ‘Chinese’ – a huge contrast for me to Vietnam where, in comparison, I’d felt protected and comfortable within my own heritage and language.

    China, to me, is the grandmother of all Asian cuisines, and the source of so many other Asian ‘ways’ and authenticities.

    Every day in China, I would learn of new medicinal herbs, spices, green vegetables, oils, cooking techniques and flavours. Meeting the people and wandering through the markets would take me on an exciting culinary journey, educating me about ‘real’ Chinese cooking and ingredients. I immersed myself so deeply in the culture, eating everything on offer and doing my best to speak the language, that I began to feel like a local.

    I started my journey in the Yunnan capital, Kunming, affectionately known as the City of Eternal Spring, where I discovered the iconic dishes and old-world stories of this great metropolis.

    Yunnan province in southern China is the most ethnically diverse area in the country. It is also the region that has long been known as ‘Shangri La’ – the remote, mythical long-lost paradise on earth. The landscape here is dramatic and beautiful, and home to interesting and sometimes rare ingredients.

    I then made my way to the Dali and Shaxi regions, where I discovered the unique culinary flavours and traditions of the Bai and Yi people, and spent time along the historic ‘Tea Horse Trail’.

    From there I took a long drive to the fabled old town of Lijiang, where I met up with a Naxi family who kindly taught me their local specialties.

    My trip in China wound up in Xishuangbanna, the gateway to South-East Asia, where I experienced the Dai culture and cuisine.

    It was a fascinating journey indeed.


    Kunming is known as the City of Eternal Spring, as the air is clean and crisp, and the soil is very fertile, Most of China’s flowers, fresh herbs and vegetables are grown here, and that’s what I’d come to explore, Kunming feels at ease merging the new with the old, perhaps because of its youthful population of university students, who are ever adapting and evolving with all the new fashions and technology.

    Since my first visit to Kunming, over seven years ago, the city has become modernised: electric motorbikes and cars fill the streets and, for the first time ever, the road rules are actually obeyed, and street-food vendors, who once offered delicious Muslim and Chinese snacks, can no longer trade wherever they feel like on the streets.

    My flight arrived early in the morning, so I made my way to the Golden Horse Gates in the centre of town, where I watched hundreds of elderly ladies exercising and dancing in the public square, following traditional old moves set to contemporary music. I couldn’t help but join in.

    Afterwards, the ladies told me of a favourite local dish called ‘crossing the bridge noodles’. Like so many dishes in China, this noodle soup had history. They pointed out a restaurant called Brothers Jiang that had been serving this dish for 60 years. When a dish has a great story behind it, I have to say it adds so much more to the dining experience.

    After breakfast I was already thinking about lunch, so I asked people on the streets what I should eat and where. A university student told me of a hidden laneway where I could find the best chargrilled halal beef skewers, cooked by a guy named Mr Shwee. He is part of the largest minority group in China, the Uyghur people – also known as Muslim Chinese. They are famous for their skewers, but because this popular street food is now illegal, only the best cooks remain, hidden from public sight.

    The next day, I drove to the Stone Forest, where 400,000 square kilometres of limestone karsts have been skilfully sculpted by nature over the past 200 million years. But first I had to visit one of the best roast duck restaurants in China, in the town of Yiliang, where master chef Pan has been roasting duck for 25 years. He marinates the ducks, then air-dries them for 24 hours, ensuring a lovely crisp skin. They are then cooked over burning dried pine needles, giving them an amazing smoky rosemary aroma. It was better than the roast duck in Beijing everyone raves about!



    SERVES 4 as part of a shared meal

    Eating in Kunming was such an incredible learning experience. Every day, I sampled something new and unique, On my very first day I was introduced to an unusual ingredient called ‘zheergen’, which is the root of the fish mint, Its name comes from its flavour, which is definitely an acquired taste, It’s a bit fishy and quite astringent, but I loved it, Locals say this pale, spindly, crunchy root was their natural prevention against severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. If you can’t get your hands on fish mint root, use cooked, julienned young bamboo shoots or lotus stems instead.


    250 g (9 oz) firm tofu, drained

    60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) vegetable oil

    200 g (7 oz) fish mint root (glossary), cut into 3 cm (1¼ inch) lengths

    1 handful fish mint leaves (glossary)

    1 large handful mint leaves

    1 small handful roughly chopped coriander (cilantro)

    8 garlic chives, roughly chopped

    ¼ red capsicum (pepper), finely sliced


    2 teaspoons brown sugar

    1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar

    1½ tablespoons light soy sauce

    ½ teaspoon sesame oil

    pinch of chilli flakes

    2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped

    2.5 cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, finely sliced

    1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced


    Combine the dressing ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and allow the flavours to infuse for 10 minutes.

    Meanwhile, cut the tofu into large cubes. Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan and fry the tofu over medium heat for 4–5 minutes, turning until browned on all sides.

    Remove the tofu with a slotted spoon and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining salad ingredients and the dressing and toss well.

    Transfer to a platter and serve.



    SERVES 4

    Kunming’s most renowned dish has its origins in a beautiful Chinese story. Centuries ago, a scholar would go to a small island to study for the Imperial exams, Every day, his loving wife would bring him lunch, but to reach him she had to cross a bridge, so her soups were always cold. Then she came up with an idea! She sliced all the soup ingredients super thin, used a huge bowl to hold her piping-hot broth and poured a layer of fat on top, to trap the heat, She would then carry the hot soup over the bridge, with all the ingredients on separate plates, Only when she reached her husband did she assemble the soup, and as everything was so finely sliced, the ingredients cooked very quickly in the steaming broth, Legend says her husband did very well in his exams.


    cooked chicken, from the chicken stock (see below)

    100 g (3½ oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced paper thin

    100 g (3½ oz) skinless pork fillet, sliced paper thin

    40 g (1½ oz) pork kidney, peeled, trimmed and sliced paper thin

    50 g (2 oz) Chinese cured pork (glossary) or jamón, finely sliced

    100 g (3½ oz) cleaned squid, sliced paper thin

    1 sheet of dried tofu skin (glossary), soaked in water for 20 minutes, then finely sliced

    100 g (3½ oz) fresh black fungus (wood ears; glossary), sliced

    1 handful Pickled Vegetables, optional, roughly chopped

    2 spring onions (scallions), finely sliced

    6 baby bok choy (pak choy) leaves, cut into 3 cm (1¼ inch) strips

    4 garlic chives, cut into 3 cm (1¼ inch) lengths

    1 small handful chopped coriander (cilantro), plus extra to garnish

    300 g (10½ oz) fresh round Chinese rice noodles

    1 quail egg

    ½ teaspoon sea salt

    1 tablespoon soy sauce

    1 teaspoon finely sliced fresh ginger


    1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) whole chicken

    3 garlic cloves

    4 spring onions (scallions), white part only, roughly chopped

    4 cm (1½ inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced


    First, prepare the chicken stock. Wash the chicken thoroughly under cold running water, being sure to remove all traces of blood, guts and fat from the cavity. Place the chicken in a stockpot with 3 litres (102 fl oz/12 cups) water and bring to the boil.

    Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and skim off any impurities. Continue to skim until you have removed most of the fat. Pound the garlic and spring onion into a paste using a mortar and pestle, then add to the pot with the ginger. Cook for a further 2 hours. Strain off the stock, reserving the chicken carcass, and allow the stock to cool. Pour off and reserve 1 litre (34 fl oz/4 cups) of the stock; refrigerate the remaining stock for up to 3 days and use in other recipes, or freeze until required.

    Finely shred the meat from the chicken carcass, discarding the skin and bones, and place on a small plate. Arrange the sliced meats, squid, tofu, vegetables, herbs and noodles on separate small plates. Crack the egg into a small bowl and place on the serving table with all the food plates.

    Bring the reserved stock to the boil with the salt, soy sauce and ginger. Allow to boil briefly, as the broth must be boiling hot.

    Transfer the broth to a very large warmed noodle bowl and bring to the serving table.

    Quickly add the egg to the boiling broth, followed by the meats, squid, and then the remaining ingredients, adding the noodles last.

    Combine well, and distribute among individual warmed bowls. Garnish with extra coriander and serve.



    MAKES 12 (SERVES 4)

    The Uyghur are one of China’s largest ethnic minorities, In Kunming they are known for their Chinese-Muslim cuisine – especially for their beef or lamb skewers, cooked on the streets over glowing charcoal, Sadly, street food in Kunming is fast disappearing, as the local government has been cracking down on street vendors. However, I heard of a cook named Mr Shwee, whose family has been serving beef skewers for three generations, I had a hard time finding him: he hides his charcoal grill down a narrow alley, out of police view. His recipe is as secret as his location! I tried my best to replicate his marinade, and I think I’m almost there … Mr Shwee grills some 2000 skewers a day, for 3 yuan per stick, making $700 per day. Not bad, hey?


    1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) beef sirloin

    125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) vegetable oil

    1 teaspoon chilli flakes

    1 teaspoon ground cumin

    2 lemons, cut into wedges


    3 teaspoons sea salt

    1 teaspoon sweet paprika

    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

    1 teaspoon ground coriander

    1 teaspoon ground sichuan peppercorns

    1 teaspoon ground ginger

    1 teaspoon chilli flakes

    1 teaspoon ground cumin

    3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

    60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) light soy sauce

    60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) vegetable oil


    Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

    Cut the beef into 2.5 cm (1 inch) chunks, leaving on some of the fat. Place in a large mixing bowl, add the marinade and mix until the beef is well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or overnight for a tastier result.

    Soak 12 bamboo skewers in cold water for 20 minutes. Heat a barbecue chargrill or chargrill pan to medium-high heat.

    Thread the beef onto the skewers. Chargrill for 3 minutes on each side, basting the beef with the vegetable oil to get some flame happening and impart a smoky flavour, and sprinkling with the chilli flakes and cumin.

    Transfer to a platter and serve with lemon wedges.

    Dali & Shaxi

    The rural town of Dali was settled by the Bai people 3000 years ago. About 300 kilometres north-west of Kunming, Dali is the economic and cultural centre of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, The area is surrounded by mountains to the east, west and south, with Erhai Lake in its centre, Here you will find 25 ethnic minorities, who have created a unique culture and cuisine.

    Dali is famous for its rice noodles, which have a unique sticky texture. I arranged to spend a day with a family who has been making rice noodles for four generations. I was greeted at the door of an old wooden house by the Zhao family, wearing their traditional colourful Bai garb and pink headpieces.

    I arrived in time to see huge baskets of soaked rice being steamed. The rice – a mixture of jasmine and glutinous rice – is steamed for 40 minutes, rested and steamed again. It is then kneaded into a thick dough, rolled flat, then hung on wooden beams for 24 hours. The whole family then cut the noodles with large cleavers. They were true artisans; I felt like I had stepped back in time. The end result was the most incredible ‘al dente noodles’ I have ever tried. If only we could get such fresh hand-made rice noodles at home.

    Noodle-making is not the only tradition in Dali datin


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