Sunday, 19 January 2020

Real Goan Pork Vindaloo

Like most curries in a British Indian Restaurant, the Vindaloo has lost pretty much all resemblance to it's original, traditional form and has become the generic "extra hot" dish with it's 3 chilly symbols.  It is correct that a Vindaloo is jam packed with chillies, but somewhere lost in translation was the fact that the chillies specifically used in a Vindaloo are the much milder kashmiri chilly that packs little heat but a ton of flavour and colour.  The overriding taste of a good Vindaloo should most definitely be chilly but that does not equate to overbearing heat.  After chilly, the second most important flavour must be vinegar; this brings the spices together providing a fragrant that instantly takes me back to Goa.  When I say that this dish tastes better the next day, I really mean that this dish should only ever be eaten the day after it has been prepared.  Allowing time for that vinegar to slightly pickle the meat is key to this Vindaloo and you will see for yourself that the difference in flavour is staggering!  If you don't like pork or fatty meat; move on, this dish is not for you.  There is no real substitute for what the belly fat brings to the dish.  If you really want you could substitute half the pork belly for pork shoulder.  I have used chicken thigh before and it is still tasty, just not a spot on how good the pork version is.  I have Goan roots and still have family living in Goa which makes me very proud to share with you my Goan Vindaloo.

Ingredients:  (Serves 5-6)

1 Kg of pork belly (rind removed and cut in chunky cubes)
15 whole dried Kashmiri Chillies
3 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp whole peppercorns
7 black cloves
3 black cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp tumeric
80ml apple cider vinegar
3 onions
6 cloves of garlic
1 inch of ginger
4 tsp tamarind pulp (tamarind pastes come in different concentrations so be careful with this - add it to taste at the end if you need to)
2 tsp brown sugar
Salt to taste
Oil

Method:


Toast the chillies, cumin seeds, peppercorns and cloves in a dry pan until fragrant and then grind into a coarse powder either using a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar.

Blend the garlic and ginger into a paste.

Combine half the vinegar with half the ginger/garlic paste and half the freshly ground spices.

Marinade the pork with this mix (overnight is best but a couple of hours will do).

Dice 2 onions and blend the other 1.

In a hot pan add enough oil to cover the base and put in the cinnamon stick and the black cardamom.  Fry until fragrant.

Add the diced onion and fry until soft.  Then add the remaining freshly ground spices.  Add more oil if the spices have made the pan dry - a fair amount of oil is needed to properly fry all ingredients.

Add remaining ginger/garlic paste and blended onion.  Fry thoroughly until oil bubbles through holes in the sauce.  Stir often to stop it from burning.

Add sugar, tamarind pulp and remaining vinegar.

In a separate pan brown the marinaded pork and then transfer into main curry pan.

Simmer for 1 hour allowing the curry to thicken.  The picture on the left was taken as soon as the meat was added.  A slow simmer with the lid off brought it to the consistency shown in the picture at the top of this post.  I prefer using my cast iron pot and putting it in the oven.

Once the curry has cooled down put it in the fridge ready to enjoy the next day.  Trust me, it is worth the wait!






Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Barbados - Autumn 2019

Sun, Sea, Sand and Straight Rum
Sunday, 3 November


This is my first post as a married man! A lot has happened since ChengDu and none of it has involved any kind of travelling.  In the last 4 months we have upped and moved our life in China back to the UK; started new jobs; got married and bought a house (almost!).  My travels haven't halted, but, I'm sure may have slowed down somewhat.  So here I am in Barbados... on my honeymoon!!

I can't think of a better reception to a country than the one we got in Barbados.  The second we got off the plane we were each handed a rum punch!  We hadn't even collected our bags yet and we were sampling our first Caribbean rum.  Our second rum punch was an hour later by our hotel pool overlooking the stunning aqua waters of Barbados.


Our hotel is on the South Coast in a place called "The Saint Laurence Gap" which seems to be the bar and restaurant scene of Barbados.  A popular tourist spot and where young Bajans go to party, but, not necessarily the best place to find cheap, local food.  Our first meal was at a restaurant near our hotel and set us back a good £60.  We're no longer rich international teachers anymore so a £60 dinner hurt a little! Our first full day was mostly spent lying down either on the beach by the sea or on a sun lounger by the pool (which is also by the sea) as we let our first term teaching back in England stresses thaw out under the Caribbean sun.  We had a great lunch at a much more local feeling part of the South coast called Sand Dollar where beers cost £1.50 and a chicken curry roti with a side of macaroni pie for not much more.  This is more like it!  We liked it so much that after happy hour cocktails back at our hotel we headed straight back there for dinner.  We ate fried dolphin (not flipper - as is written on all the menus!) which I now know is just what the Bajans call Mahi-Mahi.  It's a delicious meaty fish that can be eaten guilt free knowing that it is not an actual dolphin.  We finished our evening around the back of Sand Dollar cafe where the locals were gathered singing some real old-school karaoke, playing dominoes and drinking straight rum out of plastic cups.  A perfect first day on the island.




With the restful day out of the way we had at least one activity organised for each day thereafter.  Monday was food tour day in Bridgetown.  We caught a "Reggae bus" into town which was an experience in itself but super easy and cheap.  These are bashed and dented mini vans that do not look official at all, blasting out rap music and pulling over at no noticeable bus stops.  We thought it would be difficult to flag it down but they essentially stopped in the middle of the road, shouted "Bridgetown!?" to us and then told us to hurry up and get in.  I'm not going to lie, the potential of getting kidnapped did cross my mind!  Lickrish Food Tours is different to your standard city food tour as this has a whole lot of history thrown in too.  In fact, I would call it a historical walking tour of the city with local food stops, which is great if you know that that is what you are getting.  We skipped breakfast and the first food stop was a good 45 minutes into the tour after some fascinating history about our meeting point - Independence Square - and even then it was a very small bowl of soup!  I sound like I am complaining, and I am a little bit, but the talks throughout the tour were actually very interesting and an important part of the tour.  I was just hungry for the majority of the tour and whenever food was there it was more of a gesture of food than something you can really chow down on.  Part of the issue here was the fact that the food was so incredibly tasty and moreish that 3 mouthfuls was just not enough!  My favourite dish was the BBQ pig tails which sounds and looks disgusting (it looks like a turd!!) but my god did they taste good!  Sweet, sticky and fatty it was served with a bit of sweet potato and I could have eaten 5.  This was at a very local feeling diner called Tim's Restaurant where everything on the menu looked deliciously comforting.  We would not have found this restaurant by ourselves and so a big reason why it is always worth doing a local food tour.  Another restaurant called Mustor's ticked the same boxes and is where we ate half a child's portion of beef stew and experienced a horribly bitter, but weirdly addictive drink called Mauby; a very old traditional drink made out of the bark of a Mauby tree.

The National Dish of Barbados is in a bit of a crisis at the moment in that the main ingredient, the usually massively abundant flying fish, have swum away! They are all in Trinidadian waters at the moment and the Bajan's are not allowed to fish there.  The one time I come to Barbados they have run out of their National Dish!?  Luckily, our food tour guide told us that though it is true the fisherman have not been landing any flying fish, some hotels still have reserves in the freezer.  Our hotel just happened to be one of them and so I successfully managed to tick off "Cou Cou and Flying Fish" for dinner that evening.  Not fresh out the sea Flying Fish but a tick nonetheless.  Flying Fish is like a milder mackerel and Cou Cou is your standard African cornmeal mush like pap.  I have had this mush under a number of different names (one of which is actually called "mush"!) in a number of different countries.  If you want a word that describes it best then that word is sustenance.  That single word describes everything about it - its flavour, its texture and its smell.  Sustenance.


Tuesday was our surfing day with Barry's surf school.  This is my third attempt at learning to surf after a brief try in Cornwall and a 2 day course in Lombok.  Has it got any easier? No! It's the single most knackering activity I have ever done.  The disappointment of failing to stand up after spending what feels like the very last of your fat reserves to paddle into the starting position still hurts.  Successfully standing up and then falling onto a pile of rocks also hurts.  We had a lot of fun and definitely stood up way more than last time but we made zero use of the "free full day surf board rental for every 2 hour lesson" deal. With bruised ribs we gave the boards back with a smile and had some chill time back at the hotel before grabbing a Reggae bus to The Boardwalk in Hastings.  We hit the boardwalk just in time for sunset and had a few slightly overpriced cocktails.  It is a stunning walk at sunset, but, more importantly is walking distance from "Just Grillin" where they make the most amazing grilled island ribs.



The two most expensive tours we booked were the "Sunset Boat trip" and the "Mount Gay evening tasting".  We booked our catamaran through Cool Runnings on recommendation from our hotel and we enjoyed two snorkelling trips, a decent buffet and an open rum bar!  Our first snorkel was with a well placed turtle which I am sure most animal lovers would hate.  I felt a little sad for it but it did seem happy to follow our guide around to be fed and it is always awesome to swim alongside a turtle!  The Mount Gay Rum experience was sadly nowhere near the actual distillery but this did not dampen our mood.  With the amount of rum we drank, nothing was going to dampen the mood!  I don't think I have ever sipped or downed a straight shot of rum even in my uni days and I was very surprised how warming and satisfying it felt.  Like a good scotch, some rums are best drunk uncontaminated.  After tasting a lot of rum we were given a cocktail making challenge where we were given all the rums that we had tasted along with a whole load of ingredients that would have kept even the keenest mixologist happy.  We made a jerk inspired cocktail with muddled sweet pepper, scotch bonnet and thyme which went down surprisingly well!  Both tours were pricey and if we didn't have the excuse of "It's our honeymoon!" we probably would not have done them and missed out on some pretty unique, fun experiences.

We hired a car for the last couple of days and this gave us the freedom to see much more of the island.  Driving felt safe and easy as we headed to the very north to visit "Animal Flower Cave" which was closed for the day due to the enormous Atlantic Ocean waves.  This did not disappoint us as just sitting on the cliff's edge watching these immense waves was exhilarating enough and worth the trip in itself!  From here we drove to Farley National Park which is possibly the smallest National Park that I have ever visited.  That would not have been worth the trip on its own but combining it with a mini tour of the North made it OK.  There is a view which is alright as far as views go and there is a very run down building which has a cool dystopian feel to it but is completely fenced off.  Continuing our mini tour we drove down to Bathsheba for lunch to marvel at the unique rock formations on the beach before heading back to the hotel.



For our final full day in Barbados, having done our little north of the island driving tour, we did the middle of the island driving tour.  It's a small island, you really could do it all in one day but it's nice to take our time.  First stop, a food shack that has been recommended to us on 3 separate occasions as a place that sells the best "fish cutter" on the island - Cuz's Fish Stand.  A cutter is anything served in a salt bread bun which itself is uniquely Bajan.  Fry some fresh fish on the beach with a few spices and salad and put it in a freshly baked that day salt bread bun is never not going to taste great.  I love a food place that only sells one thing and this is one of those gems!  After our breakfast on the beach we drove up to Harrison's Cave for a tram tour of possibly the biggest cave I have ever been in.  The second gem of the day, however, was Celestine's restaurant which was walking distance from Harrison's Cave car park.  If you want real home cooked food prepared by an old Bajan grandma then this is the place to eat it.  Nothing fancy, just solid comforting Bajan food served by the most beautifully welcoming owner.  We both enjoyed our meals very much and washed them down with very tasty fresh juices.  It deserves to be much more popular than it is so if you are going to Hunt's garden or Harrison's cave then you most definitely need to visit.  We had a nice little nature walk along Welchman Hall Gully before driving to a beautiful, secret, slightly hidden away tiny beach called sharks hole.  It's not that secret.  Google it and you'll find it!  There was a local couple having a romantic time until we completely ruined it for them... but then they left and we had it all to ourselves.  It's our honeymoon!



Our final evening in Barbados ends at Oistin's Friday Fish Fry where half of Barbados go to socialise and eat fresh grilled seafood and other fantastic BBQ affair.  Some more grilled pig tails caught my eye but after a full plate of grilled snapper and island sides I just couldn't bring myself to queue for a pig tail on a full stomach.  We arrived early and so managed to be seated pretty quickly at "Chillin and Grillin" but it got pretty crowded pretty quickly.  We watched some break dancing kids on stage, browsed through the many craft markets and bought a bag of "Legendary Hot Fish Cakes" for the ride home.  

Barbados was the ideal honeymoon for us as it had the perfect balance of romance, chill and activity to fill out a week.  Every tourist we met were there for their second or third time - it was one guys 16th time - which shows what kind of of place Barbados is.  Somewhere you instantly feel welcomed when you arrive and instantly feel missed when you leave.  Friday night Oistin's Fish Fry was the perfect end to our time in Barbados and I am sure I'll be back soon!





Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Sichuan, China - Summer 2019

Schezwan Shredded Beef
Sunday, 9 June

Before coming to China, Schezwan (or Sichuan as I now know it) was the word that meant "spicy" on a Chinese Take-Away menu.  Though so much of the British Chinese menu is incredibly inaccurate to actual Chinese cuisine the association of the word Schezwan and chili could not be more accurate.  "Schezwan shredded beef" was a favourite of mine growing up but you would probably not be surprised to hear that I did not find a single shredded beef dish in my time here.  When I say that a typical dish in Sichuan would have around 30 chillies in it that is no exaggeration.  If anything it is an under estimation.  In fact, some dishes are nothing but chili (right - a bar snack of stuffed fried chillies).  I am in Chengdu on my own and I intend to push my bowels to the limits! 

My first activity surprisingly had nothing to do with chili and instead had me waking up at 6am (having only arrived at the hotel at 2am...) and taking a Didi straight to the Giant Panda Breeding Centre.  If you do not have Didi (the local equivalent to Uber) then you will have to get your hotel to sort you out with some transport.  The gates opened at 7:30 and I arrived at 7:00 to a horde of people already defying all basic queueing rules.  I bought my tickets using a self service machine using Alipay which, again, if you are coming from abroad you will have to find another way.  Most foreigners that haven't bought their tickets online will have to wait for the ticket office to open which annoyingly opens just as the gates open at 7:30.  I must point out that I am here during a Chinese public holiday which is generally very much not advised.  As the gates opened the 3 million Chinese tourists charged to the nearest Panda enclosure.  Following the advice of a colleague I spent the first 15 minutes marching to the very last panda enclosure in the park.  This gave me 30 peaceful minutes alone with pandas that were no more than 5 meters away.  It was awesome and I happily spent the entire time just staring at the pandas interacting with each other, eating bamboo and generally being lazy.  Lazy is the single word that describes Pandas best.  They reminded me of humans having a lazy morning in their pants after a heavy night drinking.



I left the Pandas at around lunch time which was the perfect time to head to Jinli Street, better known as "Snack Street" - My new favour street in China.  Not only does this street have a massive range of Chinese delicacies it is also stunningly beautiful.  It is filled with bright red lanterns, overhanging trees, old (looking) wooden buildings and the odd water feature here and there.  Although I was wary that I was booked onto an evening food tour I really could not help myself buying a new snack the second I finished my previous one.  I started quite heavy with a paper cup filled with a variety of skewers dipped in a deep red, numbing chili oil.  It is known as boboji(钵钵鸡) and is utterly addictive.  There have been reports of this kind of chili oil having opiates in them which definitely explains why you can't get enough of it's fiery goodness.  In total I ate 5 different snacks of which the most fascinating one had to be the rabbit heads.  Spicy rabbit's head is a very popular snack here so I had to give it a go.  Perched on a littler wooden bench by a stream I began my attempt at munching every tiny morsel on little Thumper's skull - without making a mess.  It really was not easy and after breaking poor Peter's jaw open and scraping the brain out with it's own bottom teeth I couldn't help but feel a little bit psycho.  With 30 minutes gone, hands covered in brain and beard drenched in chili oil it was time to move on to Roger... I knew I shouldn't have bought two.



From Snack Street I cycled, using a public bike, to the People's Park (人民公园 - ren min gong yuan).  Chengdu is filled with beautifully maintained parks and the People's Park is the largest one.  The Teahouse culture here is a revelation as I happily sat there reading a book and people watching for a good hour or so.  The Teahouse in the People's Park is over 100 years old and they serve a flask of hot water and a cup of whatever tea leaves you ask for.  I hadn't quite mastered the art of sipping the tea without getting a mouth full of leaves but sitting in the shade of a tree and overlooking a tranquil koi pond it really was the perfect spot to relax.  It was full of Chinese people sitting and chatting but with a gentle hum of a busy library; a million miles away from how it would be in Beijing.  Another popular thing to do here whilst sipping your tea is getting your ears cleaned which I was a little nervous about but thoroughly enjoyed it.  Followed by a mini massage I could have stayed there all day.  One cup of tea leaves can make up to 7 cups of tea and so I topped up my tea until I finished the flask of water - the only reason I left the tea house was because I needed to pee.  Also, I could not pass on the opportunity of feeding the Koi Carp using a baby bottle attached to the end of a stick.  The best 10rmb I ever spent!

Still quite a bit full from my 5 snacks earlier, it was time to head onto my food tour with Lost Plate.  I have used Lost Plate in Beijing and knew that I was in for a real treat.  Lost Plate specialise in visiting proper authentic local food stops using rickshaws as the mode of transport.  What makes it extra special here in ChengDu is that rickshaws have been banned in the city except for the very few disabled drivers in which the ban would have meant having an extremely low chance of being able to support their families.  Our guide was called Bo and he handed us a cold beer on arrival.  What better way to spend an evening?!



Our first stop was a famous street vendor who has been making this particular kind of pancake for decades.  The vending cart that he used to lug around and sell on the streets back when it was allowed now makes the counter at the front of his hole in the wall shop.  With a reminder from our guide that "don't feel like you have to finish it as we have 4 more meals to come" followed by "there are three very popular fillings, which one would you like?" I was put in a very difficult position.  I went for the spicy, sticky pork filling and devoured it in seconds.  It would have been rude of me to just stand and watch the others who chose to eat their's in a much more reserved fashion so I figured that I would ask for one more.  Noticing my keenness the guide brought me two more - one spicy green bean and one shredded potato with another reminder of "don't worry about eating them all it's just for you to try".  The spicy green beans were slightly pickled and crunchy and the shredded potato was savoury against the slightly sweet pancake.  I finished both.  "Oh and they do a slightly less traditional filling of peanut butter and chocolate if anyone wants to try?" Bo happily informed us.  No but I will have another sticky pork if you're buying another round!  I ate four pancakes and cemented a strong impression on the group.  Bo explained the concept of "Fly Restaurants" which tend to be family run restaurants in what look like family homes.  They are known as fly restaurants as these hard to find spots in residential blocks do not advertise their whereabouts, but simple word of mouth spreads so quickly people flock like flies to these hidden restaurants.  We queued outside one such restaurant that was famous for their Chao Shou (抄手) Dumplings and sat in what was definitely once a bedroom and sampled all five kinds of dumplings that they made.  We then exited through the living room window that had stairs on the other side onto the street.  My favourite stop was probably the noodle restaurant where I got to stuff my face with all the famous noodles of Sichuan.  Dan Dan Mian (担担面) is probably the most famous but Tian Shui Mian (甜水面) or "sweet water noodles" stole the show for me.  Don't get me wrong, every noodle dish we ate was utterly scrumptious and I would have licked every bowl clean had I not been in public, but the Tian Shui Mian was different in taste and texture with thick chewy noodles in a fiery but sweet sauce.



After yesterday's busy day on 4 hours sleep it was a joyous moment when I heard that if I wanted to visit the giant budha without 4 hours of queuing I'd better catch the 7am train to Leshan.  Factoring in getting to the station and buying a ticket in plenty of time meant a 5:30am wake up.  I almost considered just taking the 4 hour queue and having a lie in but deep down I  knew what a mistake that would be.  I got there early and still queued for a good 2 hours.  As I was leaving the park the mildly fiendish side of me cracked a smile at the queue that had grew at least 4 times the size.  You can see the Giant Buddha from the top of it's head without any queuing at all but the view from the bottom was completely worth the wait.  Maybe not the 5-6 hour queue midday but I certainly took my time at the bottom marvelling at the world's largest Buddha.  I didn't hang around for too long afterwards as there seems to be very little to do in Leshan outside of Giant Buddha based activities.  I could have taken a boat to get another perspective from the river but that was another queue I didn't fancy tackling.  Instead I managed to find the one remaining noodle dish on my list just outside the park before catching the train back to Chengdu.  These slippery noodles are made out of mung bean and drenched in the standard Sichuan spicy, nutty, garlicky and sour sauce.  Utterly impossible to eat without slurping which luckily in China, much like burping and farting, is not rude at all.



Back in Chengdu for my final evening I decided that I couldn't leave without eating a hotpot.  Hotpot really isn't something you do by yourself but in the end I decided that on a good day I can eat for 2 or 3 people so figured what the hell i'll treat myself!  Another bonus is that my spice tolerance has grown to "Te la - 特辣" which stands for especially spicy or the hottest they go which I probably couldn't go for if I was sharing the pot.  I absolutely love hotpot and everything that comes with it - it's a full on experience every time.  First you select your cold items that you want to put in you bubbling pot, then you mix up you sauce bowl from the massive selection of sauces, spices and garnishes.  Sesame paste is your standard but if you are doing it properly like a local "成都人" you need to empty a full can of sesame oil into your bowl too.  I took my time and endured an hour of sweating and, though I may not have looked like I was enjoying it, I really would do it all again.  Hotpot is the ultimate example of the Mala (麻辣) effect that will make a masochist out of anyone; it hurts so bad but for some reason you can't help yourself but wanting more.  It was the spiciest meal I have ever eaten and I left having eaten 3 peoples worth of food.  My stomach wasn't uncomfortable but I could definitely feel the warmth of a small internal fire brewing.  Did I spend a disastrous evening on the loo? No! Did it play havoc on my early morning flight? Surprisingly not.  In fact I had absolutely no ill feeling whatsoever.  Some of the best food I have eaten in China has been in the last two days.  Sichuan food is everywhere in Beijing and people will literally queue for hours to get their mala kick.  It's not for everyone though and if you don't like your spicy food then I really don't know what you would do for food here.  I however loved every last bit! :o)