Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A sensational food-filled summer at Whitecross Street Food Market, London

Here are just a few pictures that show how food-filled the Whitecross Street Food Market is.  I enjoyed tasty burritos, spicy Indian, fresh falafal wraps, carvery rolls and more here during my 4 months working on the next street this summer! 

The street is a vibrant, food and arts hub, historical place for those working, living or passing through to enjoy.  It is one of the oldest markets in London as it first started trading in the 17th century.  The street is thriving from professionals during the week who seem to descend on the market during the hours of 12 and 2 each day.  

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Review: Coconut Garden, Luang Prabang, Laos

Arriving in Luang Prabang felt almost unreal, it was far quainter than I had imagined and just stunning.  The centre of the town is very much aimed at tourists and has been well maintained since the French were settled there.  The buildings are gorgeous, the lighting romantic, the market is ordered and beautifully displayed, the temples gleam, the river and mountains provide a postcard backdrop and there is just an overwhelming feeling of calm and serenity.

I was actually taken aback by just how many tourists were in Luang Prabang, and it was a different type of tourism to that we expected – not just backpackers but families and older couples on luxury holiday’s.  As a result the costs are higher here than expected and than in other places in Laos but it is still a very cheap place to be and there are many activities that you can do from Luang Prabang that don’t have to be the expensive ones!

After finding a hostel we walked out down the main street (Sisavangvong road) in search of food.  We went for Coconut Garden as it had been recommended and was close by.  The restaurant seemed a bit fancy to us and I felt like it was a huge treat to be there but this came to define most of our dining experiences in Luang Prabang!  There is the chance to dine incredibly well and at places we could not afford to usually on our travels, every day!!  We ended up spending much longer than intended in Luang Prabang and this was partly because we were enjoying the food so much and there were so many places to try out!  It is also very difficult not to get drawn into the tranquil pace of life here and fall in love with the town, its surroundings and the people.


Whilst eating at Coconut Garden we tried our first laap salad which was a totally new taste experience for me and set a high expectation for the rest of the dishes to try in Laos!  The flavours were intense and cleverly put together.  The dish is incredibly simple really but somehow tasted complex.  We also tasted our first sticky rice in Laos – the first of many baskets and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The other dish we enjoyed was lemongrass marinated chicken which was very tasty.  This was a fantastic introduction to the culinary capital of Laos.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Review: Bounmy guesthouse and restaurant, Pakbeng, (Overnight stop on the slow boat from Chiang Khong to Luang Probang) Laos

There are a few options for getting into Laos from northern Thailand.  Some chose to take the bus which is generally the route people take when heading to the north of Laos for some trekking.  Most however, want to take advantage of the chance to travel down the great Mekong river and into Luang Prabang, the charming, quaint French colonial town.

When travelling down river you are faced with two options, a ‘fast’ (bumpy!) boat which takes 6-8 hours or the slow boat which takes 2 days with a stop along the way overnight in the tiny town of Pak Beng.The slow boat is the cheaper option AND safer!  Also by taking the slow boat you really begin to absorb the pace of life in Laos as you can soak up life along the river and amaze at the stunning beauty and peace around you.

As you can probably guess we opted for the slow boat!  Despite this option feeling a little ‘touristy’ as there are hundreds of people each day taking this option it is fantastic and was the perfect beginning to our time in Laos.  If you are travelling alone and want to meet other people it is a great opportunity to spend a lot of time talking to others in a confined space!  It is also perfect for recharging and reading books, listening to music and taking in the surroundings.

Towards sunset on day one the boats moor up at Pak Beng for the night and you are greeted by what feels like the entire town!  Everyone is trying to offer you a room for the night, and a deal at their restaurant and bar!  You will hear horror stories about Pak Beng from other travellers about it being horrible, people’s possessions being stolen and it being a party town.  Try not to let this put you off and just don’t feel pressured into making any quick decisions!  It's so small that you would be silly not to check out the place before agreeing to anything.

We were very lucky with where we stayed and met a welcoming friendly family who really made our evening fantastic.  The Bounmy guesthouse was up the hill and to the left – away from the busy part of the town so we slept perfectly to serene calmness and were only briefly intimidated by a passing pack of dogs barking!!  We spent the evening drinking a couple of beer Lao, enjoying the company of the friendly family running the guesthouse and eating some incredible food.

Our first taste of food in Laos was certainly a taste of what we had to come and it was gorgeous.  We had heard that the food in Laos was not too great, not very exciting and that people couldn’t wait to get to Thailand for food….well I’m not sure what these people had been eating as our experience was fantastic.  The food was unbelivablely tasty, full of flavour and kick, cooked with love you could feel and very cheap.  We enjoyed a spicy soup and stir fry dish and couldn’t wait to eat our packed lunches the next day!!

The guesthouse provided us with a fried rice lunch and some baguettes both of which were really really tasty.  The rice had great flavour and was very moorish and the baguettes were some some of the best baguettes I have ever enjoyed!!  We went on to discover that Laos and Vietnam both excel in the baguette making department with delicious spicy fillings!!

Very simple, friendly kitchen!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Review: Baanrimtaling Guesthouse, Chiang Khong, Thailand

Chiang Khong is the place to come if you want to do the land (and water!) crossing into Laos.  We took the bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong which takes between 2 and 3 hours…it is a slow journey but quite stress free and calm!  Arriving in the town we walked over to the riverfront and the first place we came across was the Baanrimtaling Guesthouse.  We instantly loved it and knew it would be perfect for relaxing for the afternoon.  It is run by a really lovely woman who has a really good, helpful set up.

After settling into our room on the waterfront we had a delicious phad thai.  Phad thai is one of my favourite thai dishes and in our short time in Thailand I had only had it once so it was a treat!  The noodles were perfect, the fresh smoothie which accompanied it was refreshing and the view peaceful and beautiful.

The owner helped us to organise our boat ticket for the morning and she also booked us onto her free drop off service which takes you to the border.  It really was such a nice treat in the morning to not have to think about where to go and how to get there.  Before this free drop off we enjoyed a tasty breakfast and had a packed lunch of fried rice made up for our journey.  The slow boat to Luang Prabang takes 2 days and there are only snacks on board so it was definitely good to take lunch with us.  The Baanrimtaling Guesthouse is really a great last stay in Thailand, friendly owner and staff, gorgeous food, cheap prices, get your own drinks policy, help for crossing the border…what more could you want?

Food Glossary: Durian

The durian is widely know in Southeast Asia as the 'king of fruits' and stands out not only for it's spiky, thick outer skin but it's unique and terrible strong smell!!  The smell is so bad that the fruit is banned from some public places!  Despite this it is known as an expensive fruit for those who can afford the luxury.  I finally sampled it when in Vietnam and I have to say I thought it was terrible!  The texture is mushy and flavour much like the smell.  I did speak with many locals who really enjoy the fruit though and who said that it does take a bit of perseverance with!

Food Glossary: Phad/Pad/Phat Thai

Pad thai is simple and delicious!  It is one of my favourite thai meals as it always guarantees to be satisfying and yummy!  It is a noodle dish using tamarind as the base of flavour and egg fried and mixed in along with bean sprouts, pak choi, spring onions, prawns and/or tofu and chicken.  When served traditionally it comes with peanuts on top and a wedge of lime to squeeze over it.  The mix of textures is brilliant and you can make it as spicy as you want (or not) by the amount of chilli you add.  This is one of Thailand's national dishes so make sure you try it when visiting the country!  (note - the 'pad thai' sold on the street on Koh San in Bangkok is not the real thing - it is not using tamarind as the base so it is really just a stir fry, which although is nice is not half as good as the real thing - but is very cheap!)

Friday, 8 July 2011

Review: Lebua's Sky Bar@the State Tower, Bangkok, Thailand

The Sky Bar is an absolute must visit in Bangkok in my opinion.  The view is unbeatable, the dome at the top an incredible building success, and the ambiance unique.  There is a dress code for this bar, so no flip flops, shirts for the boys etc. and smart for girls.  (We learnt this by being turned away after a day of sightseeing, in a very friendly manner however!!)

It goes without saying that the drinks here are pricey – you really are paying for the location so I would actually recommend booking ahead for one of the restaurants as in comparison they are not so highly priced and it will allow you to enjoy the setting in a more relaxed manner.  The night we were there a live band performed as well which must have been pretty exciting for them!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Review: Bakoel Koffie, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

In Jakarta it can be hard to find a coffee shop that is not a starbucks or not in a shopping mall!  So when we discovered Bakoel Koffie we were very excited and ended up spending a few afternoons relaxing there reading and using the wifi….and of course drinking the fantastic coffee!

The company is the oldest coffee roaster in Java with a history dating back to 1878.  Liauw Tek Siong, an immigrant from southern China bought fresh coffee beans from ladies who carried them in ‘bakoel’ – which are traditional Javanese baskets, and roasted them using firewood.  Business flourished from that day and eventually the coffee shop itself was opened back in 2001 by the fourth generation of the family and named to give tribute to the ladies carrying the coffee beans back in the 1870s.  In addition the logo for the store which you can see in the shop windows, pays homage to these ladies.

The shop sells three blends of coffee – Heritage 1969 (Sumatran beans), Brown Cow (northern Sumatra and Java beans), and Black Mist (Sulawesi and Java beans).  They recommend using different blends depending on what type of drink you want to try and I can say that they are all amazing!  I can’t remember which is my favourite sadly…but I can say that I enjoyed every cup of coffee drink I had here!

As soon as you enter the coffee shop there is a feeling of warmth from the staff’s smiles and friendly greeting, the sound of the coffee grinding, the intoxicatingly rich smell of fresh coffee, the cakes and delicious looking food, the wooden furniture and inviting sofas and the buzz of contented customers.The shop stays open until at least 9/10 at night which is nice and the staff are happy for you to spend as long as you want there without hassling you to buy more!  It’s hard not to be tempted though and you can see below a selection of foods we sampled whilst there!  If you are craving western food then there are some good options on offer here.