Lencois – the fork in the path

If there are two things that Brazilians really know how to do, they are embracing the weather and partying! How do you come down from a week-long party like carnival, where the heat gets under your skin and the the atmosphere invades your senses?

Apparently the answer is to get back to nature and head to Lencois.


The Aussies and I at the top of Morro do Pai Ignacio


Morro do Pai Ignacio

While Simon headed off on his three day hike I kicked back, made some friends and explored the local area. We spent endless hours chilling out at the nearby waterfalls and swimming holes and then climbed (albeit mostly by car) to the top of Morro do Pai Ignacio, with spectacular views of the surrounding valley. And one day, with me at the wheel, drove out to make the four (or five if you get a little lost and take the wrong fork in the path) hour trek up to the top of Fumaça and back. Ok, so the sense of achievement may not equal that felt on a three day trek with a big pack on your back, but the view is breathtaking nonetheless!

Standing above the Fumaça

Our trip to Fumaça was topped off with a dip at some nearby (lower level) waterfalls, a cool, refreshing and well earned Acai, and some star gazing which ended in near hysterical laughter.

Before you hit the main road back to Lencois there are 16 km of dirt road to be navigated, a slow and slightly disconcerting experience after dark. Nevertheless what better opportunity to switch off the engine and headlights, hop out and really take in the sparkling night sky? The four of us girls had had a fantastic day, we’d set out on our own, made our way to the top of Brazil’s highest waterfall, but now was time revert to girly stereotype, as we heard a car coming down the pitch black road towards us. With Cas shouting “turn on the lights!” and Constanza screaming”get in the car!!” panic ensued as we attempted to pile in and get away in about two seconds flat. The car wouldn’t start, mayhem took hold and as the other car rolled on by we all burst out into fits of laughter at our completely unwarranted and nonsensical frenzy. Perhaps you had to be there, but that memory will make me chuckle for a long time to come!


It’s all about the chilli tights


One of the best bits about travelling is uncovering the ins and outs of various ethnic groups, the things that set them apart, bring them together – and all the little oddities inbetween. The things that most immediately identify people from different countries or cultures are probably their food and fashion. On our trip across Asia we’ve gone from crispy duck and Western clothing in Beijing, to deep fried buffalo momos and Indigenous costume in the highlands of Tibet and Nepal, through vibrant spices and saris in India, indigo dyed hemp and pyjamas in Vietnam, to increasing quantities of coconut and chilli along with a slightly more liberal approach to dress as we’ve travelled through South East Asia.

However the real fun is definitely in the little peculiarities that we’ve discovered along the way, such as the propensity for male friends to walk down the street hand in hand (certainly not a problem, just something you wouldn’t see back home), dogs wearing waistcoats and shirt collars, people hawking and spitting loudly in the street, bare bottomed babies, men with their bellies out, jeans worn in the stifling heat, megaphones on loop in markets shouting out special offers, “cheese” and bread where the “cheese” has never even sniffed the real thing, vacuum packed chickens’ feet, face whitening cream (I’m white enough in England, I came here for the sun!) and my personal all time favourite: chilli tights.

It’s these little insights into daily life that have really made my time in Asia, but chilli tights? Really?! The mind boggles, and surely the legs burn…?


Food for thought part six – Thailand and Malaysia

Apologies for taking so long to get this post out, I didn’t quite finish it on our flight home and then my whistle stop tour of the UK got in the way!

Although we’ve raced through these two countries in little under three weeks we’ve still taken our time to sample their culinary delights, our last taste of South East Asia. Among the dishes that our tastebuds have been acquainted with in this part of the world are:


Thai curry
I think you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant in Thailand that doesn’t have Thai curry on the menu.
Whilst these curries share a common base of spicy curry paste (the main components of which are chillies, shrimp paste, shallots, galangal, lemon grass, coriander root, turmeric and kaffir lime peel lovingly pounded or blended together) and coconut milk, there are a delightful range to choose from. Red, yellow and green curries are probably the most ubiquitous and mainly differ in levels of increasing spiciness. If you fancy a blow-the-roof-off-your-mouth dish then try a jungle curry which has a serious kick. Other variants include the mild massaman and the peanutty phanang curries. With such an array of curries to try it’s surprising that we managed to eat anything else!

Pad Thai
This probably jostles with curry for the most popular Thai dish. Pad Thai is an incredibly quick and easy dish to cook: flat noodles fried with egg and vegetables in an oyster- fish-soy sauce. Definitely a good meal to grab on the run.

Drunken noodles
Drunken noodles are disappointingly alcohol free (yet still tasty). This is another noodle stir-fry that varies from Pad Thai mainly in the thickness of the noodles, with wider noodles and spicier sauce characterising this dish.

Tom yum
Tom yum is a delicious and surprisingly filling hot and sour soup. The fresh fragrance of lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves makes your mouth water as you bring the spoon to your lips, taking your first slurp you are immediately hit by the sourness of the lime juice, saltiness of the fish sauce and spiciness of fresh chillis and a delightful warm feeling as it slides down.

Noodle soup
This dish is fairly ubiquitous throughout Eastern Asia but has only featured now as we found a fantastic (and incredibly cheap at 35 Baht – 70p) noodle soup stall. So impressed were we by the fare served up by the lovely Thai lady at the place that we ate here three out of the four days we spent in Bangkok! This dish is pretty self explanatory, a chicken broth with noodles, vegetables, and in the case of our favourite stall pork balls (made to a forty year old recipe) and wontons. It’s even better when seasoned with fish sauce and chilli flakes.


Making the pork balls for noodle soup. They taste better than they look!


Many thanks go to Pey Shan’s mum who cooked most of the food we ate whilst in Malaysia and who welcomed us into the family’s Chinese new year feasts. Everything she cooked was delicious and we certainly didn’t go hungry!

A steamboat is essentially the same as the hotpot described in my earlier post on Vietnamese food, a constantly heated broth to which all manner of meat, fish balls and vegetables are added and which you help yourself to until you’ve had your fill. We enjoyed the true family steamboat experience on Chinese New Year’s Eve with the family gathered around the table, dipping into the steamboat at will and with several sittings to accomodate all the visiting family members, guests and their appetites!

Smoked duck
Our New Year’s Eve steamboat was accompanied by strips of smoked duck. These tasty morsels of meat can be wrapped in a lettuce leaf, tempering the strong smoky flavour of the duck and adding a refreshing crunch. This delicious delicacy was definitely a welcome first for us.

Suckling pig
On the first day of the Chinese New Year we again gathered around the table with Pey Shan’s family for some steamboat but this time accompanied by the pièce de résistance, roast suckling pig! Another delicacy for the occasion, the crispy skin of the roasted piglet is delicious when dipped in plum sauce.

Chinese salad (prosperity toss)
Another special dish that we experienced on the first day of the new year was a salad of shredded vegetables, smoked salmon and a sweet sauce, tossed high in the air by all members of the family accompanied by cheerful wishes for the year ahead.

Roti Canai
Malaysia is a real melting pot of races, something reflected in its food. Whilst the dishes described so far have been mainly Chinese, Pey Shan was also keen for us to try some traditional Malay food. To this end we sampled Roti Canai, a flaky pancake type bread, similar to the Indian paratha and enjoyed by dipping in a curry sauce. Another variant (I believe) of this bread was fried and rolled into an upturned cone, draped in strawberry and chocolate sauces, providing a sweet snack or dessert.

Laksa is a fantastic curry noodle soup with a good lashing of spice, often served up in hard to finish quantities!

Rotiboy buns
The smell wafting out of a Rotiboy stall promises that a treat is in store. These scrumptious little buns are best sampled straight from the oven, with a sweet crunchy outside giving way to the soft fluffy interior and molten butter centre that will always leave you wanting more.

Theobroma hot chocolate
The best hot chocolate in the world. There’s really not much more to say as words simply will not do justice to this mug of chocolate heaven. I’m just sad that this chain originating in New Zealand hasn’t made it out to Europe yet!

And with that we say goodbye to the intense flavours and spices of Asia and look forward to a new culinary adventure in South America…


Food for thought part five – Cambodia

On our last day in Cambodia, Simon and I embarked on a quest to learn more about Cambodian cuisine and enrolled ourselves on a cooking course at Le Tigre de Papiere in Siem Reap. After a trip round the market familiarising ourselves with some of the ingredients we donned our chefs hats and aprons, and knife in hand began to discover the hidden secrets of some of the Khmer dishes that we’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks…

Probably the best known Khmer dish, Amok is a coconut curry flavoured with lemon grass, ginger, turmeric and chilli, the meat of your choice (most commonly fish), shredded vegetables such as Chinese broccoli, cabbage, onion -and in the case of our cooking class even oyster mushrooms. Traditionally Amok is served in a banana leaf bowl with a side of puns from Simon about “running Amok”.


Monkfish Amok, made by Laura

Lok lak
Lok lak is another popular Khmer dish, comprising beef, pork or chicken marinated and stir fried in a peppery tomato sauce, served on a bed of salad.


Lok Lak, made by Simon

Saraman Kari
This curry differs from most others in South East Asia as the predominant flavour is peanut rather than coconut, this delicious curry also tends to come up a bit thicker than most.

Kep crab
Whilst in Kep why not find yourself a platform strung with hammocks and relax, taking in the fresh sea air and ocean view whilst waiting for your blue peppered crab to be cooked? The fresh crab is cooked in a flavoursome sauce with spring onions, pak choi and fresh green Kampot peppercorns. A tasty seaside treat, but hard-earned as you struggle to prise the meat from the shells, evolution certainly did a good job with the crab!


Peppercorns. Sorry, we were too busy trying to break open the crab to take photos!

A few surprises…
Whilst in Kampot we considered it our duty to visit as many dining establishments in town as possible and to my surprise discovered both the best ribs and the best scones I’ve ever eaten! The pork ribs served up by the Rusty Keyhole are absolutely huge!! You only get 3 ribs in a ‘half rack’ portion but they are the meatiest, best cooked three ribs you’ll ever eat, smothered in the Rusty Keyhole’s own barbecue sauce. The second surprise was the scones produced by Epic Arts, big, freshly cooked (served still warm), with the perfect soft yet slightly crumbling texture and served with delicious homemade jam. My only regret is that I didn’t manage a second one!


Amazing ribs from the Rusty Keyhole. As you can see, we couldn't wait to get started!

Fruit shakes
Fruits shakes feature on most menus in both Laos and Cambodia. These delicious fruit “shakes” are essentially fruit smoothies with fresh fruit of your choice blended together with either coconut milk (my preference), regular milk or yoghurt and ice. A refreshing way to recharge after a day of sightseeing.

Pineapple palm wine
Pineapple palm wine (8%) tastes pretty much as you might expect, like alcoholic pineapple juice. It’s easy to drink and definitely worth a try whilst you’re in Cambodia. Palm wine is produced by fermenting the sap collected from palm trees, the pineapple variety is presumably made by adding pineapple juice to the palm sap.

Cambodia has definitely supplied more mouthwatering South East Asian delights, next stop Tom Yam and Thai curry!


How to heat a Christmas pudding with absolutely no cooking equipment

1. Buy some Brie to make tasty sandwiches for a long bus journey (if you buy a baguette you can cut costs and make it last for two meals). Surprisingly the Brie is packaged in a tin, keep the tin as it may prove useful.

2. Visit post restante at Phnom Penh post office and collect Christmas goodies sent from home.

3. Open up package from parents and delightedly unwrap a Tesco finest Christmas pudding!

4. Buy a brandy minature from your local shop (may cost more than you’d expect).

5. Ask your guesthouse for a plate, a spoon and some ice (ice to cool the pineapple palm wine you bought). As an unexpected bonus the guesthouse provides you with a bucket of ice plus tongs.

6. Clear a good space on the tiled guest room floor, making sure all flammable materials are at a safe distance. Then light a tea light.

7. Remove pudding from packaging and place in empty Brie tin. Using tongs hold the tin over the flame. After a few minutes turn pudding to heat the other side.

8. Turn pudding out onto plate and douse with brandy.

9. Heat some brandy in the improvised “pan”, pour into metal spoon and set alight.

10. Pour flaming brandy over the pudding whilst singing “we wish you a merry Christmas…”
11. Enjoy the fruits of your labour, remember the proof is in the pudding!