Reflecting on pasts travels

As I prepare for my next journey abroad, it seems appropriate to take some time to reflect on my previous adventures. What I enjoyed, what I didn’t and how I can really make the most out of my next trip.

One of the things I do when I’m travelling abroad is head to cooking school. I’m a pretty decent cook already so I’m not there to learn how to cook per se. I sign myself up for a cooking school in each country I visit because I find that it’s a great way to connect with other travellers, learn about what ingredients are local to the city I’m in, what role food plays in society and most importantly it gives me the knowledge and experience of another culture that I can bring back home with me and share with others. I’m not one for picking up little souvenirs and nick nacks, so spending a day in the kitchen forms the perfect souvenir and gives me a sense of comfort and normality for the day.

Here in New Zealand we have a reputation for our lamb, agriculture, luscious green pastures, yet for the most part we live off processed junk. Currently the government is cryng out that our children are going to school hungry and that low incomes are to blame. This really bothers me I’m the product of an obese family and as an adult I have made it a priority to learn how to feed and nourish myself and those around me properly. Without relying on packaged foods that come cheap in a 2 for the price of 1 special.  It seems too easy here to take the fast, cheap and lazy approach to food. But look at what it is doing to our bodies and our society.

In my travels, I have learnt to become familiar with the local produce markets and eat fresh food where possible. This doesn’t mean that I’m immune to a late night dirty kebab after a night on the town. But, I do make a conscious effort to mingle with the locals and try the weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables that the rest of the world has to offer.  I’d like to say that my motives are purely virtuous, but the other reality is that I’m not rich. I just have a lot of dreams. And living off what the local markets have to offer is a cheap and easy way to absorb culture and cuisine.

Obviously, in my travels I pick up all kinds of different recipes and ideas for dishes that I recreate when I’m back home. Partly because they just taste great, but also as soon as I smell particular ingredients, my mind is transported back to one of my journeys and it’s so nice just to dream as I create a dish for one of my friends or family.

So, in the interest of sharing and reflection. Here is a recipe I picked up when I was in Vietnam last year for BBQ chicken. I hope you take time to recreate it and enjoy!

BBQ Chicken and Lime Leaf

500g boneless chicken or white fish

1 T ground tumeric

1/3 c lemongrass (I just buy a packet of chopped lemongrass from the asian supermarket, you can find it in the frozen section)

1 t salt

1 T brown sugar (or palm sugar if you have it)

1/2 t black pepper

1/2 t five spice (I use the Chinese 13 spice from the asian supermarket which gives the dish a bit more depth)

4 lime leaves finely chopped (You can buy kaffir limes leaves in a jar. Sometimes I just squeeze a lime and grate some zest if I don’t have lime leaves)

4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

2 T shallots (finely chopped)

1 t dried chilli flakes (I only use about 1/2 a t because I’m not crazy about spicy food)

1 t seasame oil

1 T fish sauce

2 T coconut milk

If you have a decent sized mortar and pestle, then use that to pound all ingredients (except the meat and coconut milk) together. But, if you’re like me and don’t have access to one of these, just throw everything into a metal bowl (be mindful that you’re working with tumeric which will kindly paint anything it touches a warm ochre colour) and basically pound it until all ingredients are well combined. Then add the coconut milk and use your judgement to determine the viscosity of the marinade.

Marinade your meat for a couple of hours if you can. You can cut the meat into cubes and skewer it to make kebabs, keep the meat as whole fillets and grill or fry it, it’s really up to you. Personally, I like to do this recipe with fish and break up the fish (hoki works pretty well) and marinade it as pieces which really helps to distribute the flavour throughout the meat. Then fry it in a pan and throw in some capsicum, carrots and mushrooms (all veges that we have here and are common in Vietnam) and serve it on rice.

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