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

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

 

 

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!

The real question is, would Angelina approve?

Cambodia is perhaps the most wonderful country I have ever been to, or at least one of them.* Despite my not-so-grand entrance, I have nothing but extremely fond memories of the short time I was there. First of all, there is Angkor Wat – I have never seen anything quite so awesome, in the literal sense. And, everybody smiles. All the time. Cambodian people are some of the friendliest I’ve met, and they put coconut in everything they eat. Finally, of course, I visited Phnom Penh and Siem Reap high on life, at the height of a whirlwind holiday romance (cue Eat, Pray Love) that turned out not to be so whirlwind after all – four and a half years later, and I’m eating Cambodian food in Camden with the very same guy.

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It was difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that no less than 30 years before, more than 2 million people were murdered in Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. You wouldn’t know it today – the Cambodian people exude a passion for life that is unparalleled – I suppose you have to not take life for granted to really live it right.

From what I remember, this passion for life translates into passion for food. After nearly a year and a half in Asia, when I got to Cambodia I was itching for a bit of homestyle grub, so one night after  a few tomb raider cocktails (yes – this is what they are actually called) at the Red Piano restaurant in Siem Reap, I ordered up a Cambodian-style pizza at a small restaurant next door. There was a hint of coconut in the tomato sauce, and it was sublime. My recollections are that Cambodian food, like its Lao, Thai and Vietnamese compatriots, consists of a lot of stir fried noodles and curries, with the added bonus of the cherished coconut as the ingredient of the hour.

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So Duncan and I hopped on the Northern line  on Saturday night (some of us more reluctantly than others – “but we’ve BEEN to Cambodia”) and made the journey up to what is apparently the only authentic Cambodian restaurant in London, and, in fact, the UK – decked out in our wellies and Goretex jackets to brave the cold November rain.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived at Lemongrass Cafe was that the two girls  sitting next to us were drinking Tiger beer, which is always a plus, although I’d hoped for some Angkor – the real deal.  The second thing I noticed was that the restaurant appeared to be staffed by two Caucasian women, perhaps of Eastern European descent – although there also seemed to be a Cambodian man frantically cooking away in the tiny kitchen to the rear of the dining room. Not exactly the same kind of family-run feel as I had come across last week at Mandalay Way, but perhaps I shouldn’t have expected as much.

I don’t think this restaurant is the type of place many people happen upon unless a) like me, you have Google searched “London + Cambodian restaurant” and have come up with a total of one result or b) if you are getting off a double decker at the bus stop directly in front of Lemograss, and are in need of a light bite. On Royal College Road, the place, although not hard at all to find, is out of the way.

This meant two things for us – one, we need not have booked, even on a Saturday. There were perhaps four other parties in the restaurant and room for at least a few more. Two, it meant that it was a bit quieter than we would have anticipated on a Saturday evening – we don’t often go out to eat on Saturdays because we like to hear each other when we talk – but there is a happy medium.

The waitress came over right away and took our order for drinks and food. A little eager, are we? I thought, until I realised the reason for her haste- not only was there only one cook for a room full of hungry diners, but the chef was also apparently catering to the needs of around ten groups of hungry Camdenites who had all ordered food for collection. This is fine – some of my favourite local food establishments also double as takeaways – but the key to a successful business is prioritising the people who are actually sitting in your restaurant.

We had already been through the menu – I hadn’t had lunch, and was rearing to go. I was a bit perplexed at the absence of coconut from all items on the menu – I could have sworn that that was what made Cambodian food unique, but then again, I didn’t do much pre-research this time. I just really like coconut. What we did find was a lot of lemongrass and a lot of ginger, which was all fine by us – there was even the option of ordering ginger egg fried rice, although I thought this might have been overkill.

Our chicken satay and order of crispy fried leek cakes came quickly enough, which made the very long wait for our main courses just a little bit more bearable. To be fair, although lacking a Saturday evening “buzz”, the place was relaxing, and our table for two in a corner at the front by the window made for a good setting for an intimate meal for two. And, to top things off, they were playing Cat Stevens’ Wild World, on repeat. I love Cat Stevens. Who doesn’t, really?

When the food finally did arrive, the waitress was apologetic for the wait. We’d ordered spring chili chicken, mixed with cabbage, red onion and coriander – “an unforgettable taste for chili lovers,” according to the menu. As well, we opted for the appropriately named Phnom Penh chicken, which, as it turned out, was basically sweet and sour chicken, with a little bit more sweet than its Chinese equivalent. Last but not least, we had the pak choi ginger, stir fried with ginger, garlic and tomato, served with rice wine and oyster sauce.

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It was all perfectly cooked, albeit a bit too syrupy for my liking – but I was so hungry that the whole lot went down very well. That being said, I couldn’t really identify anything novel about it. Even the unforgettable dish wasn’t very unforgettable at all.

The damage: Mains run from about £6.50-£8.50 a pop, with starters going for between 4 and 5. The restaurant does offer a tasting menu at £20 pounds a head, but the one review that I did read before heading out here made me think that that might be too much food. Our  bill came to £50 for the three mains, two starters plus beer – not expensive to say the least, but certainly not a complete steal.

The verdict: A nice, but not mind-blowing meal, but if you really want Cambodian food – go to Cambodia.

*Probably a close second to either Laos, Vanuatu, or the Philippines.

Need to know:

Cambodian Lemongrass

243 Royal College Street

02062841116

Nearest tube: Camden Town

Opening hours: Monday-Saturday 5:30-11. Closed Sunday.

A short story

It’s not hard to figure out that my love for food is very much tied to my love of travel. So before I move on to the letter C (at last!) I thought I’d share a short story about Cambodia, which, conveniently starts with that very letter.

OK, so the story isn’t exactly about Cambodia – it’s about how I got there. It has nothing to do with food, although at one point on the journey someone offered my friend Heather a baby chicken, which I do believe they intended for her to eat.

Up shit creek without a paddle

A short story by Joanna Haber

“If I die, tell my mother I love her!” Heather shrieked into the wind, passing back the bottle of ‘fine whisky from Vietnam’. I took a big sip.

As we whizzed along the Mekong in our small fishing boat past wooden houses on stilts, small children bathing in the river waved, shouting over the din of the overheating 40-horsepower engine. Kaleidoscopic temples peeked through gaps in the shrubbery. More children bathing. The afternoon rain had given way to the sun, which set in radiant shades of crimson and orange.

We were six in the boat, on our way to Cambodia to see the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor via the bustling capital city of Phnom Penh.

The most common route to Phnom Penh from Vietnam is either by air from Saigon or Hanoi or by bus and boat combination. Several companies offer daily services departing at 7 am from designated pick-up points near the border. These transfers can be easily arranged in advance at many hotel and travel agencies.

We did not do it this way.

We left the island of Phu Quoc, a veritable tourist-free (or, at least five years ago, it was) paradise at the southern tip of Vietnam with less than 24 hours before our visas expired. Reluctantly abandoning our beach houses we boarded a ferry to Rach Gia, where we piled into a minibus bound for Chau Doc at the Cambodian border. We rode in the back seat, with our knees pressed up against our sweaty chests and throbbing bladders, as miniature women attempted to shove sandwiches through small openings in dusty windows every time the vehicle lurched to a halt.

When we arrived at Chau Doc, we realised that Chau Doc was, in fact, not the border at all. To officially exit Vietnam, we would have to check in at the border post at Bavet/Moc Bai, and we would have to find our own boat to take us there. The daily slow boat to Phnom Penh had departed hours earlier. We were approached by a friendly man with a decent English accent.

“You go to Phnom Penh? No problem!” he said, cheerily. “Tomorrow morning we go, ten dollar.”

We need to go today, we explained.

“No problem!” He exclaimed. “My brother owns private boat. Thirty-five dollar. Private car to border, air condition, very good!” From there, he said, we would cross into Cambodia on a “very fast” boat.

As convenient as this sounded, we were sure we could find a cheaper alternative. Two members of our convoy left the safety of the bus depot in search of another deal. “You no find better deal. My brother, only boat,” our new friend assured us. Steph and Heather returned a quarter of an hour later, with soup. They no find better deal.

I looked around me. Two dogs fornicated in the shadow of an overflowing rubbish bin. I think one of them was missing a leg. A pool of blood-red liquid was slowly expanding in the sand, inching its way towards our feet.

“Cow blood,” a stranger affirmed proudly. We got into the waiting SUV.

We arrived at border services and were ushered into a small room by an equally small man with no teeth. He flipped through our passports, and stamped us out. Good evening, Vietnam.

We walked down a narrow muddy path and a six-person rowboat with an engine dangling off the rear appeared in front of us. “Very fast,” our friend reiterated. I wasn’t so sure.

“Lifejackets?” Becs asked passively. No response.

Our trusty vessel brought us down the river to another checkpoint. We got out, bought some more whisky and some Pringles. They had some good flavours.

Our 15-year-old Cambodian captain seemed anxious to speed things up.

“We go now,” he insisted, calmly but firmly. “Dark soon.” We got back into the boat.

“If I die, tell my mother I love her!” Heather screamed, laughing, her hair blowing in her face. We were all in high spirits – as twenty-something backpackers with no obligations, the world was our oyster. Darkness came upon us quickly, and there were no lights on the boat. Only a mild cause for concern.

The light rain was welcome after a hot and heavy day. The thunderbolt lightning, moving in on us from both the east and the west, however, was not. I was pretty sure I’d read somewhere that it was a bad thing to be in the middle of a body of water in a storm. Are we there yet? I bothered the Cambodian child.

Twenty-five minutes, he told me. I could feel my heart pounding fiercely. Twenty minutes, fifteen, ten. And then, an unmistakeable sputtering sound. We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and we had run out of gas. There was no emergency supply. There were no paddles. Once again, there were no lifejackets.

Our guide explained to us in broken English that he had no credit on his phone and would not be able to call for help. It started to rain harder. He smiled at me – maybe smiling was a sign of fear in Cambodia? “Can you do something to help us?” I asked him. Smile. “Are we going to be here FOREVER?” I shouted. He answered: “Yes.” I put my head in my lap and cried.

Crying did not make our boat move. Nor did blowing my rape whistle, trying desperately to attract the attention of any passersby, of which there were none. It was pitch black, and somewhere in the Lonely Planet I’d read that the Mekong was not a great place to be after sundown. The river claims a number of lives every year – I really didn’t want to be one of them.

The boy put his feet in the water and started to kick; Duncan and Tyler paddled with their arms. I blew my whistle some more. We went in circles for a moment and then stopped moving altogether. Time passed – too much of it. We drifted aimlessly for a while. I tried to figure out how much our six wet backpacks would weigh the boat down, and considered chucking them over the side. Suddenly the mobile phone rang (I thought he had no credit?) and we became entranced by a conversation we could not understand. What was happening? Would we be saved?

Not long afterwards, I heard the sound of an approaching boat. It pulled up next to ours, and after a failed attempt at filling our gas tank and then fixing our engine when it became clear that that, too, needed attention, tied the two boats loosely together and towed us slowly, but surely, to shore. This had been the only solution- swimming to land, as I had suggested earlier, had not been an option. As the  dock lights began to light our path, we could see the barbed wire fencing which lined the riverbed, reminding us of the dramatic history of the country we were about to enter.

There was a shiny white fan waiting for us – salvation! We got in, still a bit on edge. We took comfort in the dry ground beneath us and in the warm meal, cold beer and sleep which lay ahead. I curled up tight – safe.

My eyes flew open at the sound of the skies opening up. Less than ten minutes down the road to Phnom Penh, the sky exploded, sheets of water pounded the van like a steel drum band and the driver was forced to pull over to the side of the road to wait out the worst of it. An uneasy silence filled the space as we all came to the same unspoken realisation: had we been in that rickety old boat for even ten more minutes, we wouldn’t have stood a chance – we had made it out of shit creek in the nick of time.

Next time, I”ll bring my own paddle.

Burma VJ

Burma is an impossible country. A) It is impossible to get into. I once met a lady at a hostel in Bangkok who said she had been lining up at the Burmese embassy every day for weeks, trying to get a visa – apparently they only give out a limited number per day. Lazy woman. Get up earlier.

B) It is impossible to understand. Despite the fact that I have seen Burma VJ, I find the country shrouded in mystery. Other than censoring the media, what do people do? What do people wear, look like, and most importantly, eat? What is the country even called? Burma, Myanmar – it’s all very confusing. Disclaimer – I am not trying to make light of the country’s long history of oppression, or the serious challenges to human rights that exist within its borders. I know exactly why I don’t know more about Burma – but hopefully, in time, this will change.

I figure that Burmese food is much like Thai food. Burma is next to Thailand – that much I know. I went to university with a guy who spent some time shepherding small children over the border to a refugee camp in Mae Sariang.

So on my latest food expedition, I headed up to Edgeware Road to check out the fare at Mandalay Way. En route, I apologised profusely to Emma, Jon and Andrea in advance, in the instance that the place was crap. First of all, let me say it was not crap – not even close. But walking north on Edgeware Road from the station, past the Green Man pub and the plethora of Chicken Cottages and their subsidiaries, one might be a tad bit concerned. This far from Marble Arch, there are no tourists on Edgeware Road; a few miles up, in fact, after passing through Maida Vale, its name changes to Shoot-Up Hill. Nice.

A heritage road sign made of ceramic letters, ...

Inside the restaurant, the bleakness of the road disappears immediately. We were pretty glad we’d booked – the whole (tiny) place was full, save two tables, one of them ours. It was warm and smelled delicious and I couldn’t wait to sit down with my £9.50 bottle of wine and devour the menu.

We’re not talking about a fancy place – but most of the time, the best food is not fancy. We sat at the table closest to the kitchen, next to a small counter come bookshelf, laden with well-used favourites, like Cloud Atlas – clearly, these people have taste. The walls are adorned with slightly worn photographs of temples and Burmese cultural icons and small children, which all make me want to sit the waiter down and ask him all sorts of questions about his food, his family and his country – a place so close to where I once spent so much time, yet also very far away.

Three things about Burmese food and culture. One, the eldest eat first. We let Andrea and Jon hash this one out. Two – if you are pregnant, you shouldn’t eat chilis. The Burmese believe that this causes children to have sparse scalp hair. Three – tea is eaten as well as drunk.

We started with an order of minced chicken samosas and two orders of calabash fritters. Mandalay’s selection of fritters is excellent –  we went for calabash, because we didn’t know what it was, in much the same way that I once signed up to volunteer in Vanuatu, because I didn’t know where it was.* A calabash, it turns out, was one of the first cultivated plants in the world. Originally used as a water container, it is also called a bottle gourd, and makes for a very good soup – or fritter.

Following this, we selected two chicken dishes – chili chicken and chicken with tamarind, a “country style” lamb dish and coconut vegetable noodles. The noodles had a distinctly Thai infusion, confirming my suspicion that because Burma is next to Thailand, their food will share similar qualities. Otherwise though, I was pretty off the mark. I’d have to say that Burmese food is, more than anything, a hybrid of Indian and Chinese, with more seafood and fish sauce.

The tamarind chicken was a massive hit – although many people associate the pulp of the fruit with dessert, it works extremely well with meat and made for an incredibly unusual and bold main course. The chili chicken was also very good, albeit less distinct – in both dishes the meat was very tender, and it was clear that they had served up only the best quality bits.

We lingered for a while over our food – perhaps unfairly, seeing as at least two groups came in while we were eating and were turned away for lack of space. Oh well – you snooze, you lose, right? Throughout the entire evening, the staff were extremely welcoming, the service was attentive but not in your face, and we never felt as if they were trying to rush us out to make room for other parties – so rush we did not.

For dessert we had an order of tapioca and banana fritters to share.  We didn’t eat tea – maybe next time.

The damage: For three starters, four mains, rice, naan, two desserts, a lychee juice, three beers and a bottle of pretty decent red wine, we dished out a total of £60, split four ways. The verdict – it’s worth the trek; I’ll be back.

As we were getting ready to leave, a couple sat down next to us for some late night grub. “I heard the food here is very good,” the man said to his wife.  “You won’t be disappointed,” Jon said, as we left a large tip, and went home.

If, like me, you don’t know very much about Burma, and this makes you feel slightly ashamed – don’t. Even Obama hasn’t figured it out yet. If you have a burning desire to learn more – Burma VJ is probably a good place to start. Next stop – the library. Those places still exist, you know.

*Vanuatu is a chain of islands in the South Pacific, west of Fiji.  Out of the 83 islands, 65 are inhabited, and I worked on one called Malekula. It took me 59 hours to get there, 27 of which were on a fairly small boat.

Need to know:

Mandalay Way

444 Edgeware Road

02072583696

Nearest tube: Edgeware Road

Opening hours: Lunch from 12 noon to 2:30 pm daily, dinner from 6-10:30

Evening reservations recommended.