So… last year you did that spring clean in your kitchen and finally ditched the pasta machine that’s been gathering dust in the back of the cupboard. Probably patted yourself on the back then for decluttering… but this year, it’s a different story. You now realise that it’s the missing piece on your road to winning lockdown bingo. The insta-famous banana bread and choc-chip cookies have been made, the sourdough starter is alive, and you’ve participated in more Zoom quizzes than you ever thought possible… but how to tick off ‘make you own pasta’ without that sodding machine?! You will no doubt have a rolling bin or empty wine bottle which will absolutely do the job but requires a bit of hard graft and extra time… so that’s definitely an option, but I’ve got an even better one for you.
Forget about the thinly rolled sheets to be cut into fettuccine or folded in ravioli or tortellini. Stick with something altogether less faff but equally satisfying. Friends, I am going to suggest you make cavatelli. This small rustic shell-like pasta shape is made from semolina flour which is another bonus if you find yourself rationing wheat flour. I managed to easily source it in the international foods section of my Sainsbury’s or you can order it online, doesn’t appear to be in short supply. And the final reason why I think cavatelli (or are they actually called gnochetti… no amount of googling has given me a definitive answer) is worth your time, is that it actually doesn’t take that much time – from flour to finish in around an hour!
After my first attempt at making kimchi, there very almost wasn’t a second attempt. Not because the end result wasn’t tasty, or because it was particularly hard to make… it was the smell. I thought I was adequately prepared for that funky fermentation whiff when I opened it for the first time, but I was not. And neither was a certain someone… from memory, he actually left the flat, for no other reason. So as you can imagine, once that batch was finished, it took me a while longer to work up the courage and olfactory fortitude to try again…
The second, third, fourth… I’ve lost count now… times that I’ve made kimchi since then, it’s turned out a lot less messy both in the mixing and the smell factor. Which is an absolute relief because we love the stuff and have taken to eating it any which way we can. The distinct sourness and gentle blend of sweetness and spice makes it a perfect accompaniment for more than you might realise. Of course it’s an absolute necessity in Korean dishes such as kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew which you can add pork and/or tofu to), kimchi buchimgae (pancakes), or as a side to a bibimbap. But… it’s also absolutely delightful in a crispy chicken burger or a grilled cheese toastie. That, my friends, is why you need to start making your own with this easy kimchi recipe…
A friend recently asked if I had any recommendations for yakitori spots in Tokyo… I mean, how long is a piece of string? Alongside sushi and ramen (which he also asked about and I think is even more of a minefield), yakitori is probably one of the most recognisable Japanese foods. ‘Yakitori’ which translates to ‘grilled chicken’ might just be meat on a stick, but in Japan where everything has a certain ceremony to it, this is meticulously prepared meat on a stick. Every piece of bite-sized chicken, which could be anything from breast, liver or even skin, is carefully selected and threaded onto a skewer before being seasoned with either shio (salt) or a tare made from a base of soy sauce and other flavourings.
During our time in Japan, we chewed through a lot of yakitori. You’ll find some yakitori on most izakaya menus as they pair so perfectly with a cold beer, but we did also visit a few yakitori-ya where they were even more extensive and creative in their use of the whole bird. As offal lovers, we were in heaven… livers and hearts were particular favourites. I think the best way to do a yakitori meal is to park yourself up at the bar, order a beer and get a steady stream of sticks until you’re full. Either let the chef choose (omakase) or get a mixed plate (moriwase) and then repeat the ones you particularly enjoyed!
Our time in Siem Reap got off to a rocky start; my appetite had abandoned me during the bumpy bus ride from Phnom Penh and by the time we arrived, I wanted to do nothing more than bury myself into the bedcovers and ignore the world for days. I get Shakespearean-tragedy-style dramatic (the long suffering certain someone will attest to this) when I’m sick, which means I considered this to be a disastrous situation. Siem Reap happens to be quite an exciting city when it comes to culinary offerings, and I happened to have made a list of the restaurants I wanted to try. I wasn’t going to let a little bout of illness stop me so after a day or two of self-imposed rest and recovery, I soldiered on with the task of eating my way round the city.
Siem Reap has been welcoming visitors in their droves for years so there are really no shortage of dining options – there are plenty of the no-frills mom and pop operations serving up hearty one-dish specials, a plethora of bars and restaurants catering specifically for the tourist market in and around Pub Street, but I was interested in the more modern and eclectic offerings. In addition to the elegant Khmer cuisine at Malis and the inventive fine dining at Embassy, we also tried three of the city’s more casual but just as accomplished restaurants. All three are wonderfully placed away from the never-ending throngs of Pub Street and the Old Market, but I promise you, they are worth seeking out!
When we came to an abrupt halt outside the entrance of Malis in Siem Reap, I was in a mild state of shock. Our tuk tuk driver hooning down a one-way street in the opposite direction might have contributed had this been our first week in South East Asia, but by this point we were nonchalant about these things. I was actually more taken aback by the grandeur of Malis, and relieved I had decided to ditch the flip flops in favour of real shoes. From the attention-grabbing entrance to the sultry dining room which wrapped around a lush little courtyard, the whole space was rather stunning. As was the food, but I had already suspected that would be the case. Malis, brainchild of local celebrity chef Luu Meng, has been serving its refined take on traditional Khmer cuisine for close to 15 years in Phnom Penh and has recently brought this same touch of class to Siem Reap!
I am that annoyingly enthusiastic person who is always harping on about eating all the local or traditional foods of the place I am visiting. Little to no research is done on what to see or do, but I’ve always got a list as long as my arm of dishes to try or restaurants to visit. However, there are times when my dogged determination in search of the exotic, authentic or down-right unusual takes its toll on our poor tastebuds, and we find ourselves craving a taste of the familiar. We ate some of the most incredible cuisines in South East Asia, but even I had to admit that you could have too much of a good thing. About once a month we hit pause on anything eaten with chopsticks, anywhere the dining table view was the roadside, and anything we couldn’t pronounce. Which is how we ended up at Khema, a French restaurant and deli with two sites in the heart of Phnom Penh.
After a hot and sweaty tuk tuk ride which took twice as long as it should have, walking into the cool and calm Khema La Poste in the recently rejuvenated Post Office area was a dream. In a past life, this space was a nightclub, but now it is all understated French chic and sophistication. Open all day, we chose to meet in the middle and lunch among the bustling array of local and expat business clientele. I imagine many of them would take advantage of the generous and well-priced lunch menu, a three course offering which changes every two weeks depending on the seasons and chef’s whims. I was tempted, but the a la carte menu filled with familiar favourites was too appealing.
Sleek but stark and sterile; hands up if you’ve heard words like this being used to describe Singapore? I have, for years now. The connotations conjure up images of skyrise after skyrise, a country so immaculate but ultimately somewhat soulless. For all those years, I always thought it was an unfair description, but now that I’ve returned to the country over a decade since my last visit, I am even more convinced that the description is just plain wrong. Of course there are elements of the sleek, stark and sterile in Singapore, as there would be in any other big, bustling city, but there are also many pockets of colour. In amongst the tall towers of grey are flashes of bright hues, and expanses of greenery. They have excelled at combining the new with the old, the man-made with the natural, and in order to make the most of your visit to Singapore, you should too…