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!