All hail the Roti King

The Roti King (aka Kalpana Sugendran Sugendran) does not have a food truck. He does not have an Instagram account or a twitter feed. Despite this, anyone who’s been to his small restaurant in Euston would be fast to agree that he makes some of the most authentic Malaysian food you’ll find outside Malaysia proper, that talent trumps trendy and that the hipsters are missing something big here. He does have a Facebook page.

In fact, when I first set out on this adventure, a good friend of mine (conveniently, Malaysian) was quick to suggest an excursion to the Roti King – I couldn’t believe I had twelve letters to eat through first.

At first glance it might look like a bit of a dive – don’t let the somewhat unbecoming exterior put you off. Once you get down the stairs and past the sign above the door that reads “Euston Chinese” you will not be disappointed – unless, of course, you’re looking for Chinese food. Inside the decor is clean and basic. If you are lucky enough to not have to wait for one of maybe ten or twelve tables, you’re in luck. If you’re really impatient, they also do takeaway.

When Stella and I arrived for dinner on a Wednesday night the restaurant was already full. We didn’t have to wait long, but as we did, a robust queue built up behind us, growing long and out the door into the bitter winter night. (I’m a bit late writing this post). Joining us in line were two of Stella’s friends from Malaysia – one of them here visiting the other for a short holiday. We arrived at the same time by chance – seems like much in the same way as Canadians in London wear plaid and say eh, Malaysians go for roti canai at the same spot. Seems like I’m not the only one reinforcing stereotypes, although plaid is my favourite colour.

Roti canai is the buttery, stretchy, delicious flatbread  born of Malaysia and sold in mamak stalls throughout; also known as the roti prata in Singapore, it is one of the top reasons why I gained so much weight when I lived there. Calling it my roti baby doesn’t even make it sound cute.

As we waited, we watched as the dough was masterfully kneaded, stretched, flipped and folded. I’d fasted all day in anticipation of my Roti King flatbread, and apparently I’d come to the right place.*

Although I came for the bread, which comes served with a small bowl of curry, there are a number of other traditional Malaysian dishes on the menu. We went for the nasi goreng, not because we needed it really, but because we’re [a little bit] greedy. To drink, the signature cincau, or grass jelly – a drink considered “immortal” and popular among women trying to conceive (don’t get excited mom). Made from a herb plant called mesona chinensis, it does not actually contain any gelatin. In Malaysia they sometimes add soy milk, and call it a Michael Jackson – a reference to his changing colour and/or the song “Black & White.”

Our food came quickly and I was delighted that I had ordered a meal and a half all to myself. The roti canai is generous, but the curry portions are small.

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At £6 a head, one could be forgiven for wanting to eat here every day. And in fact, I must confess, between my first visit and the time of writing I actually went back to “scabby old Euston” for lunch. The first time I visited Kuala Lumpur, I was unable to locate real proper local phayre – the street food of KL which is almost legendary. I don’t know how this happened – total amateur fail. Doesn’t matter now though – because the Roti King, or Euston Chinese – now that is a real find.

*That’s a lie, I didn’t. I thought about it though.

Need to know:

Roti King

40 Doric Way, NW1 1LH

07966 093467

Nearest Tube: Euston

Closed Sundays

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This recipe will change your life

When I’m finished this blog, I think I might start a blog about tacos.

Tacos are my favourite thing ever. All I wanted for my wedding was mini tacos. Unfortunately, this was not an option at the beautiful converted barn in the Cotswolds where I got married. Instead, we had chorizo on toast, local smoked salmon, and grilled halloumi with rosemary, which was great too, because halloumi is also my favourite thing ever. I can’t even begin to imagine what a halloumi taco would taste like – in fact, I am surprised I’ve never tried it. Watch this space.

I did get to marry my best friend, and the love of my life. But there were no tacos.

Following on my last post based loosely around Korean BBQ, I thought I would share this recipe for KOREAN TACOS (with Asian coleslaw and sriracha sour cream) adapted from The Partial Ingredients, a pretty kick-ass cooking blog I discovered a while back.

I’ve eyeballed the measurements for this dish every time I’ve made it, and it’s turned out really well, albeit differently, every time.  You may not need to be super precise but all of the components to the recipe are key.

Use roughly the same amount of each ingredient for the marinade, using three times the amount of soy sauce for each other measure. If you have time to actually roast a whole chicken Korean style, do it – otherwise skin-on breast will do. What you want is for the marinade to cling to the chicken, so if you need a pinch of corn flour, it probably wouldn’t hurt.

Ingredients

For the chicken:

Chicken breast
Soy sauce
Lemon juice
Brown sugar
Honey
Shaoxing wine (I got ID’d for this at Tesco)
Mirin
Garlic and ginger, minced
Sriracha sauce
Sesame oil
Sesame seeds

For the coleslaw:

Chinese cabbage, sliced
Red onion, finely chopped
Green onion, diced
1 carrot, grated
Garlic and ginger, minced
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Fish sauce – 1 tbsp
Mirin – 2 tbsp
Sriracha – 2 tsp

For the sriracha sour cream:

1 cup sour cream
Sriracha – 2 tbsp

Corn taco shells – buy them fresh. You can use Old el Paso ones if you want but the authentic ones work best. I buy mine from Casa Morita in Brixton. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the cactus ones.

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Lime and coriander to garnish

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Directions

1. Prepare your marinade. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl – add chicken and set aside. The longer you leave it, the better.

2. Invite some friends over under the auspices that it is Halloween and you are going to carve some pumpkins and have a few drinks, even if really you just want to show off your tacos.

3. Combine the ingredients for the coleslaw in a large bowl, and set aside.

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4. Mix the sour cream with 1 tablespoon of sriracha – and, you guessed it, set aside. This is actually a great recipe for a night where you want to prep ahead, carve some pumpkins, and have some drinks, not necessarily in that order. I meant to write this blog post a while ago, clearly – I’m not carving pumpkins in January – not even I like Halloween that much.

5. Have some drinks – two’s good, three’s probably too much before standing over a hot grill pan.

6. Cook the chicken slowly in a hot grill pan, so that the marinade caramelises but doesn’t burn. Alternatively, roast a chicken.

Meanwhile, heat your tortillas in the oven. I trust you’ve bought them fresh.

7. The tacos taste best if the chicken is shredded, but this is a massive pain. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; serve in the corn tacos topped with the coleslaw, sour cream and a generous amount of coriander and lime.

I didn't say I knew how to photograph tacos.

I didn’t say I knew how to photograph tacos.

8. Enjoy with friends! You’re welcome.

Living the Amerikorean dream, or Seoul Food

I went to Korea once. I had a 17 hour layover, on a cheap flight from Bangkok to Montreal, via Seoul and Chicago. I had grand plans – palaces, temples, more palaces, stand on the border of North Korea and South Korea and hop back and forth, saying “North Korea, South Korea, North Korea, South Korea,” over, and over again. I know you can picture me doing this.

I learned one thing from my brief stint in this bustling Asian megacity – don’t bother going on a Monday. Everything is closed. Palaces – closed. Temples? Closed. DEMILITARIZED ZONE? Closed! Hopes – dashed. There would be no hopping.

But, the bus from the airport is free. I suppose I could have gone to Gyeongbokgung Palace – that one is closed on Tuesdays – but instead, I wandered aimlessly through the eerily quiet city center, flip-flop-claden on a chilly November day. I lasted about 4 hours, and then went back to the airport to use the free wifi – I’d been backpacking for 10 weeks, and thought it was a good idea to let my parents know I was on my way home. Plus this was 2008 – they didn’t have wifi in temples back then.

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What I didn’t do in Seoul (why??) was have a meal. So, have I actually been to Korea? I’m not sure if this pit stop counts, if I apply the criteria that I normally use to determine whether or not I’ve really, truly visited a country. These criteria being, mostly, did I eat?

I was, in fact, introduced to Korean food a few years earlier by my friend Jane, who, incidentally, is Korean. She prepared a Korean feast for me and four other friends in her small Ottawa apartment on Valentine’s Day – her Korean pancakes, or “jeon” would become legendary in our circles. She dazzled us with her chopstick skillz, and left us in awe of her flawless ability to converse with her mom in two languages, when she called home to ask a question about one of the recipes. “Jane, it’s probably very early in Korea,”  I reminded her as she picked up the phone. “Don’t be stupid,” she reminded me back, “My parents live in Yellowknife.

Fun fact: According to a 2011 census, the total number of Koreans living in Yellowknife is 30.

There is no shortage of Korean food in London – it’s like, a thing. All of the hipsters are eating it! Well, they’re eating a hybrid of American and Korean street food which is mighty, mighty tasty. Some of the most popular Korean food traders right now include Kimchinary (otherwise known as Korean tacos otherwise known as the best idea ever) and Busan BBQ, a cross between Texas and Seoul (or Pyongyang) in a burger.

There are at least three reliable choices for a good bibimbap near my office – I eat Korean food a fair bit now, thanks to Jane. The aptly named Bibimbap in Soho is a good spot for beginners. My favourite part is the rice crust at the bottom of the bowl.

The one Korean delicacy I hadn’t had the pleasure of trying before my current culinary journey was Korean barbecue, or gogigui, which means simply meat + roasting. I love Asian languages – the literal translation of the Chinese word for popcorn, for example, is exploding rice flower. They said it like it is, which is a quality I like in a nation.

Usually prepared on a charcoal grill built in to your table, I wasn’t 100% sure that in the UK this was allowed for health and safety reasons, but what the hey?

Myung Ga in Soho was chocablock at 7 pm on a Monday night. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was that the only table left was the one that I had booked – night saved! The second thing was that all the other diners were Korean. I took this as an excellent sign, until the table next to ours just wouldn’t stop eating which diverted the waiter’s attention away from you know, me.

We decided to order a mix of gogigui and other mains and small dishes. For the barbecue which, to the regulator’s delight, was of the less traditional variety – gas vs. charcoal, we chose two beef dishes and one chicken – the kalbi (beef ribs), bulgogi (thinly sliced beef) and dakgui, or “chicken marinated for the BBQ so that the weird girl who doesn’t like beef can eat.” To start, we ordered some fried tofu and kimchi jeon – Jane’s old staple, the Korean pancake, prepared with kimchi – if I said kimchi was a staple of the Korean diet, I’d be vastly underestimating its importance. Did you know that the average Korean eats approximately 40 pounds of kimchi every year? They also say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when taking photographs. It’s very high in fibre, and low in fat.

Just in case this wasn’t enough, we ordered a portion of dak galbi – “chicken specially prepared in a Korean way with spicy sauce” – and bibim naengmyeon, a dish of cold buckwheat noodles in a hot sauce.

The food was delivered in an orderly fashion, beginning with the small dishes and the non-barbecue chicken; based on my limited experience (being Jane and less than six hours in Seoul) Koreans are nothing if not extremely efficient. The jeon, predictably, was delicious, although disappeared mysteriously quickly. The chicken specially prepared in a Korean way with spicy sauce was not in the least bit spicy; coated in a syrupy red sauce, it was undeniably sweet, but ravishingly so. My teeth will forgive me tomorrow, I promised myself.

Once this first stage of our meal was complete, the waiter arrived to turn on our grill. With a flick of a switch, the first small platter of beef was a-sizzling. We were brought a bowl full of lettuce – I wasn’t allowed to put this on the barbecue (but everything goes on the barbecue) but instead was to use it a wrapper for the meat, like so:

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“Like a taco!” I exclaimed with delight. Tacos are my favourite thing ever.

While the plates of meat were somewhat small and once again a little on the sweet side, and the noodles, when they arrived, a bit on the awkward side to slurp, I would consider this a very fun and intimate experience to share with good friends. And, a learning experience : one, I did not know about the technique of cutting meat up with scissors. This is genius. Two – tinder! For a girl who has been in a relationship for more than six years, this was news to me. For a married woman out for dinner with her girlfriends, this dating app turned out to be the equivalent of the iPad game for cats – “all the fun of your cat chasing a laser pointer, without any of the work.”

Massive apologies to Rosie. I hope the guy without teeth doesn’t contact you again.

The verdict: Definitely a successful evening, but maybe more so because of my friend’s willingness to let me accept and reject her potential future soulmates on her mobile. At £16 a head (without alcohol) I thought this was a pretty good value meal; that said, I imagine you can find good value barbecue elsewhere with bigger portions, and less sugar.

If a Korean meal isn’t enough for you, the London Korean Film Festival is on until November 12th. If you happen to be reading this whilst currently IN Korea – Paktor is the South-East Asian version of Tinder. I kid you not – good luck!

Need to know:

Myung Ga Restaurant

1 Kingly Street

020 7734 8220

Nearest tube: Oxford Circus or Picadilly Circus

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm, 5:30pm-11 pm, Sunday 530 pm-1030 pm

A spoonful of sugar, and on dining alone.

Outside the UK, Jamie Oliver is probably England’s best known celebrity chef. Among other profitable business ventures, including Jamie’s Italian and a TV program about why British kids are so fat, he operates a chain of kitchen shop/cafes across London which sell Jamie branded products and run a series of popular cooking classes.

Despite some reservations about Jamie’s food,  his name just so happens to start with the letter J, which is convenient, because I’ve finally reached the letter J on my journey through London’s food alphabet. Japan also starts with that letter so faced with the impending expiry of a voucher for a cooking class at Recipease that I received for my birthday last year, I decided to learn how to make myself some ponzu.

Japanese food contains a BUTTLOAD of sugar. Did you know this? I didn’t. Every time I get (vegetarian) sushi, I feel like, so healthy, it’s almost badass. Chicken terikyaki is SO delicious, it must be all natural.

But I’m not. And it’s not. (I am kind of badass though – admit it)

I arrived solo for a 7 pm ‘Taste of Japan” lesson on a Tuesday night at the Clapham Junction shop. On the menu: chicken teriyaki, vegetable and prawn tempura, green vegetables with toasted sesame seed sauce, miso dofu, sticky japanese rice and cucumber pickle.

On the one hand, I was one of the first students there and enjoyed a peaceful glass of complimentary white wine while perusing the shop. On the other – I appeared to be the only person there alone. Since I had been given the voucher as a gift, I hadn’t really thought much about whether or not it would be weird to do something like this by myself. Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t.

Apart from me, present were two couples, two sets of girlfriends, and what appeared to be a posh bachelor party. And one other solitary woman whose daughter had bought her the class as a gift but couldn’t be bothered to accompany her poor mum. So she and I were paired together to begin our culinary adventure.

Wine # 1

We gathered around our work stations and received an introduction to Japanese food and cooking, and an overview of what we would be doing over the next 90 minutes – otherwise known as Lots of Sugar 101. I was a bit disappointed to find that the sushi rice (did you know this also contains sugar?) and the dashi stock had been pre-prepared, but understandable given the time constraints.

The instructor walked us through the first three things we would need to prepare: a ponzu dip for tempura, gomadare and teriyaki sauce. Gomadare, or sesame sauce, to the layperson, is super quick and easy, and goes on just about anything. It is sweet, salty and savoury all in one and can be used equally as a dip or dressing as a stir fry sauce or maybe you just want to eat it with a spoon. This recipe is a good place to start if you want to try it yourself – you can swap Japanese mayo for tahini and you can probably cut down on the sugar a bit.

Ponzu, otherwise known as vinegar punch is also super duper easy to make and rather versatile – after my class, a quick Internet search turned up this page and a shedload of interesting recipes to accompany this sauce (or the other way around, depending on how you look at it).

The word teriyaki is derived from the noun teri, which refers to the shine/lustre given by the sugar in the sauce, and yaki, which refers to the method of cooking. As I dumped four large dessert spoonfuls of sugar into the pot, I decided to open up a tab and order another glass of wine.

Wine #2.

We regrouped to be led through the next steps: cooking the chicken (which we did very slowly and at a very low heat, once I figured out how to operate the fancy magnetic induction cooktop), making the tempura batter and pickling the cucumber. This was the easy part – cucumbers basically pickle themselves (just scoop out the seeds, chop, add salt and set aside) and add iced perrier/soda water to your dry mix for the batter (Jamie pre-prepared this for me himself) and mix until combined yet still a bit lumpy.

As in many other areas of my life (high school exams, university exams, post-grad exams, cocktail parties) I was one of the first to finish. My partner and I were speedy gonzales (after we exchanged niceties and I convinced her to be the one to rip the heads off the prawns) and the first to arrive at the deep fryer.

“If you’re afraid to use the deep fryer – well, you should be,” the instructor explained. I thought about the many reasons why a grease burn would not match with a wedding dress, and offered to tend to our slowly bubbling and thickening teriyaki sauce, while my partner dipped and swooshed and deep fried the hell out of our battered vegetables and crustaceans.

Want to hear a prawn joke?

Q: Why wouldn’t the shrimp share his treasure?

A: Because he was a little shellfish.

Wine #3

Our food complete – chicken gloriously glazed, cooked spinach loaded with gomadare, little rice bundles decorated with sesame seeds (this part we did ourselves) and pretty little purple flowers – we plated up. I felt like I was on Masterchef, except I was the one who got to eat my food. Tables set for two and four were nicely set arranged the back of the shop for the eager Jamie wannabes, which meant, of course, that I would be dining with my cooking buddy, name still unknown after three quarters of a bottle of chardonnay, rather than alone.

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What is the big deal about dining alone, anyway?

On my last visit to Bangkok, one quiet night I installed myself on a bench at one of the nice open-air restaurants on Soi Rambuttri with a book, which I would inevitably fail to read while I ate my pad thai and people-watched. A man in his mid-to-late thirties was sitting next to me, seemingly doing the same.

“Do you have a lighter?” He asked, in some kind of European accent. Nope, sorry. End of, right? Not.

“Would you like to join me for dinner?” He asked, assuming that I did not want to eat alone. In fact, I’d already ordered.

“No, thank you,” I replied, much to his surprise. Baffled, he turned to the woman on his other side, who was wearing a much smaller dress and perhaps was more likely to acquiesce.

For some reason, there’s a horrible stigma attached to eating alone. Table for one? “Friendless loser.” “All this poor girl in life has is her book.” Scoffing a sandwich with your feet up in a toilet stall in your office so no one will know is one thing, but grabbing a meal by yourself isn’t as scary as you would think it is. In fact, it can even be a little bit empowering, and guess what, the food will taste the same.

More young adults live alone than ever before, and many choose to eat in restaurants alone because it makes them happy, so try not to stare at them as if they have a third nipple (although if you can see their nipples in a restaurant, that’s a whole ‘nother story) and admire the fact that some people eat out for the love of food, and their own company. In a recent article in the BBC, Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta said that fine dining establishments should see a solo diner as “the greatest compliment a restaurant can receive.”

I know if I owned my own restaurant

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I certainly would.

In any case – on this particular night I ate alone with someone else, and had an excellent time.

Speaking of Masterchef (I know, I went on a bit of a tangent there about nipples) I was lucky enough that before I had the time to write up my Recipease experience, none other than 2011 Masterchef winner Tim Anderson set up his pop-up southern Japanese restaurant Nanban at Market House bar in Brixton and I was even luckier to snag a table early on Thursday last week.

I like ramen. Who doesn’t? But this ramen – I can’t help but agree with Chef’s slogan that “a little Tim goes a long way.” For a tenner, I was presented with a bowl of noodle soup which nearly changed my life. I opted for the brown stew chicken ramen – a spicy tomato broth, pulled chicken, thick bouncy noodles with serious star power, scotch bonnet chilies and a cooked egg. Duncan chose the kumatomo ramen – tonkotsu broth with pork belly, a marinated tea egg and fried garlic chips.

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Not only was this the best ramen I’d ever had, but I got to watch a real live celebrity chef cook it right in front of me – it seems as if I’m always reminding out of town guests that Jamie Oliver is not the one cooking in his Italian outlets country-wide. The cherry on top was watching Chef Anderson greet his in-laws, who were seated a few tables over. I had no doubt we were in good hands.

Tim Anderson is in residence at Market House in Brixton until August 31st.

Need to know (it’s a pretty fun bar at all times):

Market House Bar 

443 Coldharbour Lane

0207 095 9443

Nearest tube: Brixton

Opening Hours: Mon-Weds 3pm-11pm, Thursday 3pm-12 am, Friday 3pm-3 am, Saturday 12pm-4 am, Sunday 12pm – 11 pm.

http://www.market-house.co.uk/

 

 

Feed me Bali

I watched Eat Pray Love when my boyfriend was away on business one time – shitty Julia Roberts movies are among my many guilty pleasures (Teen Mom 2) reserved for Jo only days. I got caught on this one though – I did NOT know about the Netflix content tracker – I tried to pass this watch off as “research on food” for our forthcoming trip to Bali in September, but he totally didn’t buy it. Regardless, the film made me super excited for Indonesia, even if Elizabeth Gilbert opted to stop the “eat” part in Italy – her loss.

I’ve had Indonesian food once before – on a trip to Amsterdam with my friend Harriet at around this time last year. I liked it so much that not only did I come away eager to try making some of it myself, but couldn’t wait for the time when I’d reach this point in the alphabet so I could give it another go. Since another trip to Amsterdam wasn’t exactly on the table, Harriet and I decided to keep it closer to home and head to Warung Bumbu on Lavender Hill.

Indonesian food is so diverse that I couldn’t even begin to try to provide any kind of synopsis. Also I’d only had it once before last Friday night – I am no connoisseur. There are, however, certain dishes which are commonly associated with Indonesian cuisine, such as sate, nasi goreng, and gado gado.

A warung is a type of traditional foodstall, usually family-owned and which sometimes doubles as both a cafe and a shop selling sundries. Bumbu is a municipality in the Funa district of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also a herb mixture used in Balinese cuisine. Confusing, I know.

So what was I to expect then, of Warung Bumbu in Clapham? Situated in a slightly out of the way location, the restaurant is housed where the former Battersea incarnation of my favourite Japanese canteen, Fujiyama, used to live. If you’re not local, you probably wouldn’t happen upon it – in fact I once marched Duncan and my out of town parents all the way from Clapham Common down to Fujiyama’s sister Miyajama, only to discover it was no longer there.

Luckily for us, when we showed up at 7 pm, Warung Bumbu was still there. Good sign. I’d actually called for a table in advance, if only  to make sure of the fact. Probably not necessary – we brought the total number of diners on a Friday night up to four when we arrived. Bad sign.

Although the restaurant filled up quickly, it wasn’t all smooth sailing ahead. The one thing I knew I wanted was a nice cold bottle of Bintang. Of course, they were all out.

“We order two boxes every month,” our waiter told us. “You would be amazed at how fast they go – this month they were all gone in three days!”

Surely that’s a sign that you need to order more boxes?

I was pretty keen to tell our waiter that I was going to be going to Indonesia later this year. Call me excited, but I thought that maybe if he knew about it, it would make it come faster.

“Oh, you will love Bali,” he exclaimed. “Just make sure you leave several days at the beginning for your sickness.” He had just been home to Jakarta, and had been ill for five days. “Everyone gets sick when they go to Indonesia for the first time,” he explained. “Sometimes it is the pollution, and the food – sometimes they have problems with hygiene.”

Great. I opened my menu.

To start, we selected the obligatory sate and an order of perkedel – otherwise known as potato cakes, which were good, but didn’t exactly set my world on fire. The sate was lovely – the peanut sauce which accompanied was so delicious that I would have licked the little bowl clean if Harriet had let me.

For the main course we ordered ayam bumbu rujak – a mild chicken curry, garnished with crispy shallots and galangal, served wth nasi kelapa, or coconut rice. Up until this point, sitting on one side of a long shared bench, I could well have been at Wagamamas, but all similarities ended there. While Wagamams and other Asian chains often leave me walking away thinking that I could have made their dish better on my own, this one was tender, fresh and cooked to utter perfection – could have used a smidge more spice, but I live with a man who buys hot sauce with health warnings on it, so my tolerance for heat is higher than most.

We also shared the gado gado, a vegetable dish served with tofu, tempeh, boiled potatoes, egg, spicy peanut sauce and kecap manis. This was the very dish I’d had in Amsterdam, and which made me an Indonesian food convert. I tried making it myself after my trip – in this instance, I do actually think mine was better, but that could be partly because I think tempeh tastes like feet.

The verdict: A solid choice for a good bite to eat if you’re in the area, but not life changing. (Where’s Javier Bardem when you need him?)  Still – did leave me wanting more of the same, so it’s a good thing that the street food scene in Seminyak is meant to be awesome, and it’s a good thing I don’t have much longer to wait. Watch out Bali – this girl can eat.

Need to know:

Warung Bumbu

196 Lavender Hll

020 7924 1155

Nearest tube/rail: Clapham Junction

www.warungbumbu.co.uk

Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday Noon-3pm, 6-10:30 pm, Sunday-Monday Noon-3 pm, 6-11 pm

 

 

My Shayona

It wasn’t until recently that I started to feel the desire to travel to India.

I blame Rick Stein for this. Now, all I want to do is explore the backwaters of Kerala aboard a locally-owned houseboat.

Indian food is a totally different story – my interest in Indian food is not new. I could eat Indian food every single day; luckily, you can’t walk more than 100 meters in this city without stumbling across a half decent curry house. You don’t need to go anywhere near Brick Lane – some of my local favourites include Elephant in Brixton Village and Maharani on Clapham High Street – Tooting is also awash with choices for Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani food, such as Lahore Karahi and Mirch Masala. I swear, it’s a wonder that I haven’t morphed into a giant piece of naan bread by this point.

Like this one:

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So clearly, grabbing a bhuna on my way home from work wouldn’t make for a very interesting story, would it?

BAPS Shri Swamimarayan Hindu Mandir, or Neasden Temple, is one of the largest Hindu temples outside India, and has also being credited as being the largest ever concrete pour in the UK, at 4500 tonnes.

The first BAPS mandir opened in the early 1970s, in a converted  church in North London. As its congregation grew, the temple moved to a disused warehouse in Brent in 1982 and in 1995 opened its doors in its current incarnation – an amazing piece of architecture designed and constructed entirely according to ancient Vedic texts. Using no steel whatsoever, the temple is made from 2828 tonnes of Bulgarian limestone and 2000 tonnes of Italian marble, originally shipped to India to be carved by a team of 1526 scultors. I read this on Wikipedia – it’s true.

And, the temple has a restaurant.

So one chilly Saturday afternoon, Duncan and I hopped on the train towards Stonebridge to check it out.

“Wow, it’s far!” Duncan exclaimed, upon boarding the Northern line and examining the map.

“Oh, yes, it is,” I confirmed. “And, it’s vegetarian.” And he thought I was being mysterious that morning – not, just withholding information.

But the experience is worth the schlep  – a visit to the temple itself is pretty awe-inspiring, and despite its rather bleak and incongruous surroundings, it is a beautiful building to visit, whatever your religion. Entry is free – after going through an almost airport-like security check, I might add (glad I wore my funny socks) – and staff members are quick to make you feel welcome. You aren’t allowed to take photos, but I won’t be fast forgetting the intricacy of the marble carvings or the legend of the…something. I guess I couldn’t process the stories over the rumble of my HUNGRY STOMACH.

Shayona serves only pure vegetarian, sattvic food – food which is light and easy to digest, brings clarity and perception and “has the potential to unfold love and compassion in the individual.” Vegetables considered to be “pungent” such as garlic and onion, are excluded – that’s no wonder. I don’t generally see much potential for love after eating a massive hunk of onion bread lathered with creamy garlic dip. Tastes good though.

In the practice of alternative medicine in India, food is grouped into three categories: sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic – foods in the modes of of goodness, passion and ignorance. According to this tradition, onions and garlic are classified as rajasic and tamasic, thus increasing passion and ignorance. Looking at my diet, this actually explains a lot.

We didn’t know about this no onion, no garlic caveat when we set off, and wouldn’t have been any the wiser if we hadn’t have read a Time Out review posted on the window on our way out. The menu is pretty extensive and includes a range of dishes that I’d never heard of before, all of which sounded appealing and smelled even more tempting. To start, we opted for the punjabi samosa chaat – samosa served with potato, chickpeas, yogurt and tamarind sauce – and an order of crispy potato bhajia served with chutney. Top tip – if there’s only two of you, you don’t need all of this. The portions were hefty and I was glad I had insisted that neither of us eat anything else all morning. (“But I’m hungry,” says Duncan. “I don’t care,” says Jo.”)

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Following this, we selected a paneer tikka masala and a lentil curry, accompanied by rice and (not garlic) naan bread. Truthfully, onion and garlic aside, this was probably one of the best vegetarian meals I’d ever had, aside from that one time in Hong Kong where I ate lemon-dusted tempeh at a restaurant called “Vegetarian Restaurant” and El Piano in York, which dishes out some of the most amazing vegan/gluten-free/organic food ever.

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Unfortunately – or fortunately – for us, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and the better part of our main course was left when the waiter came to clear our plates – we were pretty full up after polishing off that giant plate of potato fritters. We brought the rest home, let our stomachs rest for a few hours, and then turned on The Voice (yes I watch it, it’s Tom Jones, don’t hate) and got back on it, the hour and then some journey home long forgotten. Now that’s my idea of a good Saturday night.

The verdict – I can get great Indian food a lot closer to my house, but my visit to Shayona was part of a unique and culture-filled day. At £40 for what was effectively two large meals, I’d say it was a steal and I’d go back again, perhaps with an out-of-town guest – but perhaps, next time, in the car.

Need to know:

Shayona Restaurant

54-62 Meadow Garth

London NW10 8HD

02089653365

Nearest tube: Either Stonebridge Park or Neasden

http://www.shayonarestaurants.com

Opening hours : Monday to Friday, 11:30-10:00, Saturday and Sunday, 11:00-10:00

Georgia on my mind

Legend has it that when God divided the world among the nations, the Georgians were busy feasting elsewhere and were late for the ceremony. When they eventually arrived, all of the pieces of property were already handed out. God then decided to give to the Georgians the piece of land he kept for himself – an amazing country with fertile orchards, sunny coastal regions, breathtaking mountains and mesmerising valleys.

Source: http://www.globalgeorgia.co.za 

When my friend Georgia found out about my blog, she suggested we go to Tbilisi on Holloway Road. Georgia wasn’t initially on my list of countries to cover for G – I had meant to do Ghanaian next, but never got around to it – it would have been cheating anyway, because Ghanaian food is something which is delicious and not new to me. Want to try it for yourself? Spinach & Agushi run a stall at both Exmouth Market and Broadway market at various points throughout the week. Have the peanut chicken.

I was not surprised that Georgia wanted me to try Georgian food. If I had a cuisine named after me, I would want to eat it too. The closest I think I can get is Joanna’s in Crystal Palace – but this is not a cuisine, it is a place.

I know very little about Georgia. The fact that I had to look it up on a map made it all that much more intriguing. Plus, MY FRIEND’S NAME IS GEORGIA. How could I say no?

Disclaimer – Georgia is not Georgian. She’s British, of Egyptian origin. I could have easily gone for Egyptian food again.

Georgia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991; considered a “transcontinental country,” it straddles Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia and is still trying to make friends with Russia following a long and violent dispute over territorial boundaries. Georgia is home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish populations – convenient, because I am Jewish, so if I like the food so much I want to move there, I will fit in. That covers pretty much all I know about Georgia. That, and it has a reputation for great food and wine. Or, so I’m told.

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When we arrived at Tbilisi early on a Tuesday evening, we were the second party to arrive, though the restaurant would not be empty for long, despite its location in a relatively dingy part of Highbury. The first thing I noticed when we were seated was that my feat did not touch the floor.

“Do your feet touch the floor?” I asked Georgia.

“Yes,” she replied, “but that’s because I’m an adult.”

I assume Georgian people are very, very tall. I must look into this.

To start, we ordered two glasses of Georgian house red. I’d thought to order a bottle – Georgia (being the adult, and all) declined – it was a school night, after all. I was a bit disappointed, because this girl likes to pair wine with food – but lucky for me, the food would be so good that I would fast forget all about the liquid part of my meal – nor would I  have room for it.

While perusing the menu earlier that afternoon, both of us had been drawn to Tbilisi’s carb and cheese-loaded appetisers – we figured it would take a lot of self control not to order one each. So, we ordered one each. The lobiani – a griddled flatbread filled with spicy red lentils – went down well, but not as well as the acharuli – a generous portion of doughy cheese bread topped with raw egg. Who needs vegetables? In Eastern Europe, potato is vegetable. In our case, bread is vegetable.

To be fair, we were given some vegetable even though we didn’t order any – our waiter brought us a complimentary order of baked aubergines topped with herbs and pomegranates. Perhaps he though we needed at least one of our five a day.

After all the bread, I could have gone home a happy girl. Despite knowing more food was coming, I couldn’t help myself from polishing off the acharuli – maybe it was the fact that it was shaped like a banana boat, but I couldn’t let any of it go to waste. There is something about bread, cheese and egg which sounds very generic – I can assure you that this dish was anything but.

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For her main course, Georgia ordered the khinkali – seasoned beef mince, wrapped in a “tasty casing.” This turned out to be dumplings, and she couldn’t have been more delighted. Out of an ample selection of chicken and vegetarian dishes, I opted for the satsivee – chicken in walnut sauce, served with ghomi, a rice and cornflower puree which tastes like polenta. I had no idea what to expect, having never been either to Georgia or to a Georgian restaurant – but if our starters were promising to say the least, then the main would certainly not fail to impress.

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I had expected to receive a chicken breast, either covered or marinated in what I thought walnut sauce should look like, not that I knew what that was. Kind of like pesto, I guess, just brown. Instead came a steaming hot clay dish containing what looked very similar to an Indian curry but which had a very intricate flavour that was hard to pin down. I loved the earthy flavour – it was almost – well, nutty. Clever, I know. Thank goodness this is only a hobby. Honestly though, I would not have picked out the walnut flavour if my day job depended on it. Delicious, nonetheless.

The verdict – an unusual meal which was a steal at £25 each including service. Much like other food from that part of the world though, it is heavy – and a giant serving of cheese bread each is probably a little bit unnecessary. When the dessert menu arrived, I couldn’t even look. Top tip: Arrive hungry!

Need to know:

Tbilisi

91 Holloway Road

02076072536

Nearest tube: Highbury & Islington

Opening hours: Daily 6-11 pm.

Gado gado!

For those of you who have been following, I went to Amsterdam a few weeks ago, and tried Indonesian food for the first time. I liked it so much that I decided to try to recreate it for your pleasure and mine, but mostly mine.

Another recipe courtesy of Yolam Ottolenghi: GADO GADO

Gado gado is a substantial Indonesian meal/salad consisting of boiled eggs, vegetables and peanut sauce.

Ingredients

For the satay sauce:

4 garlic  cloves, peeled

1 lemongrass stalk, chopped (oriental grocery stores sell these in large packs, freezes well)

2.5 tbsp sambal oelek (Indonesian crushed chili paste)

2 small pieces of galangal (ginger is a good substitute if you can’t find this)

4 shallots, peeled

80ml vegetable oil

3/4 tbsp salt

90g sugar

1/2 tbsp paprika

2 tbsp thick tamarind water – I used tamarind stock, and this worked just fine.

225 roasted unsalted peanuts – I didn’t read the unsalted bit until after I went shopping, and I did not die.

450 ml water.

200ml coconut milk – use half fat if you want to make this healthier but really, what’s the point? You’re making a salad anyway.

For the rest:

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

1/2 medium cabbage, chunked

a generous handful or two of beansprouts

100g french beans, trimmed

1/2 medium cucumber, thickly sliced

4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered. Top tip: there’s an iPhone app for egg making now, I kid you not!

100g firm tofu cut into thick slices – I fried mine lightly in sesame oil first.

cassava chips, plantain chips or something else crunchy

3 tbsp coriander leaves

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Optional: one small, disobedient black cat.

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Directions

1. Make your satay sauce – be forewarned, this takes forever, but is really really worth it. Make sure you read through this recipe before you get started, too – there’s some multitasking involved!

a) Combine the garlic, lemongrass, sambal oelek, galangal and shallots in a food processor until they form a paste. Add vegetable oil, if needed.

b) Heat up oil in a medium saucepan – add the paste, and cook gently for approximately 40 minutes or until the oil starts separating from the paste.

c) Add salt, sugar, paprika and tamarind water – cook for a further ten minutes.

d) While the paste is cooking, crush peanuts in your food processor – according to Ottolenghi they should be chunkier than ground almonds, but I’m not super sure what this means exactly – your call. Put them in water, and simmer  for 20-25 minutes or until peanuts are soft and most of the water has evaporated.

e) Add the peanuts and the remaining water to the cooked paste. Stir in the coconut milk, et voila! Taste and be amazed at your own culinary genius.

2. Boil two pots of water – add turmeric to one of them.

3. Cook the potatoes in the turmeric water until tender; drain.

4. In the other pot, blanch the cabbage for 1 minute – remove. Blanch the beansprouts for 30 seconds – remove. Blanch the beans for 4 minutes and drain – keep everything warm.

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5. Pile the vegetables, eggs, tofu and cassava/plantain chips on top of a large plate or salad  bowl. Top with the satay sauce – as much or as little as you like – you’ll probably have some leftover, good for marinating some chicken for the barbecue for tomorrow, if England will ever let me have a barbecue.

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Thanks again Ottolenghi – what an inspiration!

C is for Dumpling

As promised, I teach you to make dumplings.

Mel taught me last year when she came to visit me from Canada. We had one day together at my place in London before she headed up to see her boyfriend in Leeds; when I asked her what she wanted to do she said she wanted to drink wine and make dumplings. Done deal.

Since then they’ve been my number one party trick, followed closely by parsnip risotto with sage and mascarpone – don’t knock it ’til you try it.

You can buy dumpling skins or wonton skins at any large Chinese supermarket – you’ll find them in the frozen section.

Ingredients

Dumpling skins – 1 pack

Tofu – 300g, firm

1 carrot, grated

1 red onion, finely chopped

garlic

ginger

fresh coriander

Directions

1) Crumble the tofu into a large bowl with carrot, onion, and as much garlic, ginger and coriander as you like. Add some salt and pepper.

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2) Make yourself a little dumpling-making station! Mine involves a large chopping board and some rap music, with a small bowl of water for wetting the dumpling skins.

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3) Now here’s where things get complicated. Not really though. Take a dumpling skin off the top of the heap and place it on your work surface. Wet your fingers,  gently moisten the wrapper and then flip it over.

If, like me, you are not very delicate, then try doubling up. Wet the wrapper and then, instead of flipping it right over, place a second one directly on top – the water will seal them together. Wet the top of that one, and flip. The skins are extremely thin and break easily – I find it much easier this way.

4) Place a small spoonful of filling into the center of the wrapper. Fold the sides up and in and press to seal – the water will make sure things stick.

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5) Repeat – eight thousand times. Or until you run out of wrappers. If you’re doubling up, you should end up with approximately 25 dumplings. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t look great at first – practice makes perfect, and it all tastes the same anyway.

6) There are several ways of cooking these – the easiest is in a bamboo steamer. Boil a pot of water and set the steamer gently on top. In roughly 5-7 minutes, your dumplings will be good to go. Mind the steam when you take off the lid!

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The dumplings are great served on their own, with a peanut/satay sauce for dipping. Alternatively, they work extremely well in soup – either a clear chicken broth with a few soba noodles and pak choi, or try a simple miso. And if you’re feeling especially ambitious/gluttonous, fry ’em up. Whatever you do, they’re going to taste divine.

Bon appetit, or “祝您有个好胃口!

Red China Blues

Covering Chinese food for this blog kind of feels like a cheat. I eat Chinese food, of some variety or another, several times a week. OK, so sometimes it comes from M&S. When you work all day, sometimes something’s gotta give.

I also like reading about China. My favourite book – Red China Blues by Jan Wong, the former Beijing correspondent for the Globe and Mail.

London’s Chinatown, as we know it today, is in Soho off Shaftesbury Avenue, slash, very close to my office. Convenient. Fact – it didn’t used to always be here. It used to be in Limehouse – god knows why, there’s shit-all there now. (Sorry Jane – I like you anyway.)

Incidentally, I have never eaten in the Chinatown of my hometown of Montreal. This is mostly because my mother took me there when I was four to see the parade on Chinese New Year and I was so scared by the dancing dragons that I never went back. They are very aggressive. The next time I had the chance to celebrate Chinese New Year was in Hualien in Taiwan, and someone accidentally set off a firecracker under my bottom. This was painful. I don’t think CNY is my thing.

My go-to for Chinese food in London is usually Jen’s Cafe, at the corner of Newport Place around the corner from Leicester Square. They make lots of things, but mostly dumplings, which they make to order, in front of you.  Harriet was in Beijing last year, and so once again she became my point person for advice on the food. What did you eat when you were in China? I asked her. Dumplings, she said. What else? I asked her. Dumplings, she said. Just lots of dumplings.

Nevermind the dumplings for now, because I can make those – if you’re lucky, I’ll show you how.

Raging hangover in hand, my work mates and I headed down to Chinatown for lunch on Friday, and, fighting off the overwhelming waves of nausea/indecision, I insisted that we try something new. The Baozi Inn, right next to Jen’s, serves Northern Chinese (read – spicy) food at non-tourist prices – it seemed like a safe bet.

Note to self – spicy food does not go down well with a hangover. Food, in general, does not go down well with a hangover. In the movie The Hangover, did you ever see those guys eat?

As its name may or may not suggest, the Baozi Inn is best known for dishing out London’s most authentic baozis, otherwise known as bao, bau, or simply steamed bun. Not to be confused with xiaolongbao – the soup filled version – the original bao, is a large, bread-like concoction usually filled with pork, eggs, sesame seed paste or “other ingredients.” In some parts of Northern China, they call this delicacy a “goubouli baozi” which literally means, “dogs will ignore.”

I was first introduced to these in Singapore, where they were rampant – they were sold at hawker centers and outdoor cafes, including the one around the corner from our apartment, which also sold frogs.  According to the guy that worked there, frogs don’t taste good.

I digress.

I pretty much demanded that everyone have one – Jon, Harriet and Stella opted for the original pork (Stella peeled the thick skin off of hers, something which I’d never seen done before, but she’s Malaysian, so she’s allowed) while I chose the egg and vegetable and Emma went for the daily special, which was chicken.

“Tastes like stuffing!” she exclaimed happily, as she dug her chopsticks deep into its core.

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As a second course (because you need a second course, obviously, after eating a giant bun midday) Emma and Harriet decided on dumplings (predictable) and wontons, respectively, if only to determine what exactly the difference was between the two. The verdict? The dumplings looked like “little shriveled brains,” whereas their cousins the wontons had a smoother, thicker skin. The taste was similar although according to the menu only Emma’s dumplings were “magnificantly seasoned.”

I went for the cold noodle salad with chicken, which had been one of my top 5 meals in Taiwan (is Taiwan China? Discuss.) – even if I did usually buy this at the 7-11. I’m sorry to say that in this instance I wasn’t particularly happy with my choice – although the hangover could have had something to do with this. I found the noodles very “squidgy” and peanut sauce which came with very thick stodgy. The lot could have used some soya sauce or sesame oil, but I’m sure the chef’s intentions were in the right place.

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As I suggested already, Northern Chinese food is known for being spicier than its southern equivalent. In this department, the Baozi Inn clearly delivers. Both Jon and Stella ordered the mapo doufu, which is one of my favourite Chinese dishes of all time. It is a popular dish made with tofu, fermented black beans, minced meat (usually pork or beef – I make it at home using chicken) and a whole lot of chili.

Watching Jon and Stella attack this dish in itself was worth the walk down to Chinatown. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Jon prevailed, if only because he got more of his down without dying. Some people just can’t take the heat!

The Baozi Inn is just enough off the tourist track – it feels far more authentic than any of the other standard Chinatown fare. However, we decided against dessert – the daily special was a sweet soup of silver earfungus and lily bulb. I’m not even joking. Maybe next time…

Other good Chinatown bets in London include The New Mayflower and the Super Star on Lisle Street for dim sum on Sundays – they have wonton wrapper-covered fried donuts. Just opened is the Opium Dim Sum and Cocktail Bar on Gerrard Street, which, housed in a former Chinese gambling den, which is meant to be the new “it” spot for oriental food in town. Apparently, the best crispy fried duck in London is at the Four Seasons – but I didn’t get around to going there, so you’ll just have to see for yourself.

And if you’re willing to go further afield, try the Lotus Floating Chinese Restaurant in Canary Wharf – it’s a restaurant, and it floats. I’VE got my swim trunks, and my flippy floppies –  need I say more?