After all, it's called Chocolate Tulip...
Chocolate can be both a unifying and a divisive factor. Whole debates can erupt about 'dark vs milk', 'the best kind of M&Ms', 'cocoa:sugar ratios', or 'is white chocolate really chocolate?'
However, most of the time, placing a plate of brownies or a bag of chocolate or a giant bar in the middle of a group of people will result in good spirits, lip-smacking, finger-licking, and lots of smiles.
My economics teacher always promised us chocolate when we found out the answer to a challenge question, and joked that we owed him chocolate when we did well in an assessment. The truth is, we owe him a whole lot more than chocolate – to go with economics terms, technically, teachers could be considered as not being economic goods, because it's actually very difficult to put a price on them.
But this chocolate-nutella cake in a jar was symbolic, and I had a lot of fun making it, right down to the cute labels and nerdy economics puns.
I think I ate this cake in 3 forms: First, I planted myself on the kitchen counter and licked all the extra batter out of the bowl.
Then halfway through baking we smelled something burning, and all the batter had bubbled out of the cupcake cups, all over the tray. (After much reflection, we realised that in the chaos of the evening, my sister and I had forgotten the flour.....) So after scooping whatever batter was reclaimable into a new tray and adding some random scoops of flour, I ate up the delicious sizzling-brownie-esque stuff that was all over the tray.
And then I finally turned the broken cake into 'cake in a jar', layered with huge dollops of nutella and lots of chocolate sprinkles. Yeah. And of course I ate up the extra bits of cake.
Another delight of chocolate is chocolate in the morning. The Dutch know how to do this right, with rich chocolate sprinkles or flakes on toast being immensely popular. Chocolate features in my oatmeal, on my toast, in my cereal, anywhere. One morning towards the end of school, I had a pretty exhausting day ahead and lots of work, so I decided to make myself chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. Because. Breakfast is special and pancakes are fun and chocolate just makes it better.
The chocolate was gooey and warm, and the pancakes were crisp and soft, and it just turned my day around.
Of course, I've thought of the people who don't like chocolate at all. (Don't worry. I don't hate you.)
So whatever it is that makes you socialise, laugh, and be happy, go ahead and make it.
Eat it in 3 forms. Eat it for breakfast.
This post was going to be entitled simply 'lately', but it kept reminding me of the song by David Gray. The chorus goes:
"Honey, lately I've been way down,
A load on my mind."
So the title is only partially apt. "A load on my mind"... yeah, you can say that again.
But I haven't been way down, not at all. The past few months have been chaotic, but I've been undoubtedly happy. Even though I haven't had much time to cook I wanted to write a bit of an update on the little foodie things that have been going on. I expected this post to be rather mundane, but in the process of choosing all the photos so many memories and moments have come back, and I actually think this post, despite a major lack of cooking, will be one of my favourites.
My mum and I had a quiet weekend lunch at Suzette - an adorable crêperie nearby. I had plenty of work, but we had to wait until a particular time and that made us slow down. Each savoured bite was interspersed by deep, engaging conversation and the place was quiet except for cute background music. We actually sat for a bit, just chatting, before we decided to go for it and order the blueberry panna cotta that had been tempting us. It was creamy, perfectly sweet, and it has set my panna cotta - and lunchtime - standards high.
I've read a lot about shashukha (a North African dish of eggs poached in a rich, flavourful tomato sauce) and it's high on the list of things I want to make. I didn't have enough time to make the real thing, but one day before an unusually early start at school I tried whipping up a simpler version. It certainly doesn't look as appetising as a traditional shashukha, but it was aromatic (my mum and sister were rather intrigued), warm and it was definitely what I needed that morning.
I'm still a coffee person (I never, ever thought I would be... late-night art sessions drove me to start drinking it, and now I'm one of those 'morning cuppa' people) but I do like certain teas. The Indian masala tea is divine, I'm very intrigued by floral teas, and from what I've tried of green tea it's alright... I've sort of made myself like it because it's good for you. But there are lots of fruity options out there waiting to be experimented with. My dad brought back some Sri Lankan tea and I particularly liked some of the honey-coloured, light ones and the gentle green teas. What topped it for me were the little labels, the rough string and the triangular cloth pouches <3
I can't rave enough about the fruit we get here... one weekend we just had so many, and I was feeling nostalgic about our trip to Cambodia and my daily fruit platter breakfasts. It wasn't the same, but nonetheless refreshing... and loads of fun to eat.
My mum packs a healthy, filling lunch for me every day (I dare my teachers to try and get me to absorb even one word if I haven't had a proper lunch), and she adds such lovely little touches. She'll put strawberries with kiwi because to me they're like chocolate and vanilla, or she'll put in a tub of mishti doi (a creamy bengali sweet yoghurt that's irresistible... Danone has ingeniously started packaging it like regular fruit yoghurts. The only downside is that I eat it way more often than I normally would... but I can't pass it up). One of my favourites is her speculaas parfait creation: a crumbled speculaas cookie, topped with plain yoghurt and a dollop of peach jam. It all infuses and it's the absolute best pick-me-up.
I asked Tarini what she wanted me to cook her for her birthday, and I was prepared to make anything. I had done croissants for my mum, a cake for my dad and frantic poffertjes for myself. But Tarini is a simple eater and, if you know what she likes, easy to please. She asked me for hash browns to go with easy scrambled eggs, canned baked beans and a carton of juice. Frying the hash browns was a tad messy... I gave 'hash' a new meaning... but she seemed satisfied :) Her simple pleasures rub off on us, because we all spent the morning bonding over building a giant Lego set together and sipping my dad's cappuccinos.
So many amazing restaurants keep popping up around Bombay. A lot of it is shifting to areas like Bandra, and people say my area will essentially become the quaint, historic 'old town'. I'm not complaining. I truly love my part of town, and we still get a huge number of new places each year - with the added advantage of more space and relatively more tranquility. The Sassy Spoon is minutes from my house and is unbelievably charming. The decor is gorgeous and quirky, the food is creative and fresh, and the last time we went they had a Christmas bazaar going on in their gardens with all the latest from Bombay's flourishing fashion design world. The photo above shows nothing of the ambience or the fun drinks, but the colours happened to catch my eye :P
Aside from 'real' cooking, I keep up my usual experimentation. I throw random ingredients into my oatmeal, cereal or yoghurt, try different toppings on my toast, mix up a new drink, or make something with bits and bobs, like the dessert above with bits of cake, yoghurt and jam.
One day my sister and my dad were busy, but my mum and I attended a bread making workshop. We figured it would help, considering our bad luck so far. We didn't actually get to make much - the dough was prepared, and they baked it. We essentially watched a presentation, kneaded the dough around a bit, and snacked on crackers, hummus and cappuccinos. I can't say we left as enlightened bread makers, but we did enjoy mingling and unwinding. The bread (cherry-apricot, raisin-hazelnut, and olive) was delicious and I ate it in every possible way:
... a box of stale (probably re-gifted) Belgian chocolates melted perfectly for us to dip the bread in...
... dollops of real jam...
... with strawberries, peanut butter and nutella...
... and I made the last two chunks into french toast :)
Near Christmas I made a banoffee pie - the recipe was really easy, and everything went perfectly. I was holding the fridge open, rearranging to make space, and holding the pie in my other hand, and I heard a splat as a part of the top layer spilled because I wasn't paying attention to it tilting and tilting. It worked out, though - we ate it while watching The Santa Clause, and it tasted incredible. The photos were taken in the evening, so they didn't do the pie justice, but condensed milk pouring onto a buttery walnut-biscuit base is pretty yum too.
These are kind of cheating, because they're from a box of pumpkin spice doughnut mix sent over via my dad by my aunt in Boston. It was like a little package of their pretty autumn. It wasn't your usual box mix because it was whole wheat and all natural, so I didn't mind ;) I turned them into muffins in the absence of a doughnut pan, and I was thrilled... the dripping maple glaze on top was, quite literally, the icing on the cake. I rolled my eyes at my dad adding more icing to his muffin, but yeah. He was right. These need a generous heap of icing, and I didn't regret it.
Being at my grandparents' house at any time of year means lots of homemade food and sweets and cookies and whatnot. This was further compounded by us being there at Christmas and New Year's, and the fact that my grandmother is an avid Dutch baker. I tried my first mince pies (above), had fresh oliebollen and appelflappen (Dutch New Year's traditions), gevulde speculaas, cookies, namkeen and cake... just to name a few. Bad for your waistline, great for your happiness.
Contrasting all that butter and sugar is my grandmother's herb and vegetable garden from which we collected fresh cherry tomatoes, parsley, basil and oregano. Among several other things growing were pumpkins, which I'm excited to see. I love this photo for so many reasons. Tarini's hand - on the left - is almost as big as mine, reminding me how she's not so literally my little sister anymore. The colours are vibrant, I can just smell the herbs and remember plucking them. It's always so interesting to go and see a plant - it connects you to your food in a different way and brings out your often stifled curiosity. And the little nose and ear peeking out on the right - the golden eyes are unfortunately hidden - belong to their dog Leela. I love her feistiness and energy, and she perfectly juxtaposes Naveen with his sweet, wimpy nature and melting chocolate eyes.
I had my first taste of chana jor: a street food special of roasted raw chickpeas (with the skin on) mixed with fresh onion, tomato, coriander, spices, a few sweet crunchy things, all culminating in one of the most delightful snacks I've tasted. The man preparing it could give the masterchef contestants a run for their money in onion chopping, and the whole process of putting it together is so fascinating. Little things in my tastes are changing... spicy street food, turmeric in my popcorn, and the newly realised ability to eat green kurkure without burning my tongue. I'm evolving with Bombay :)
I was lured back to get chana jor again, and I discovered 'ragi khakhara' at the supermarket both on the same day. Ragi is rye, and khakhara is traditionally a gujarati snack made of crispy paratha and comes in every possible flavour (even chinese schezwan, dosa and pizza). My family likes it, but I've never been hooked. But ragi khakhara? Oh yes. I love it. For all its fried food, Bombay is rather health-conscious, and increasingly so. Bombay is evolving along with me, too :)
From a recent trip to Copenhagen my dad brought rokkebrood (I only know the Dutch name), a dark, dense, slightly bitter bread laden with whole grains and seeds. No one in my family likes it, so more for me ;) I've had it every day for breakfast along with the pungent cheeses he brought, the artisan pineapple-mango jam (brilliant combination) I brought from our school trip to Pondicherry, nutella, butter, peanut butter, honey... you name it. It didn't even last a week. But I'm not disappointed, it's just given me something interesting to try and cook.
There was a massive food festival this weekend at the Nehru Centre, with each floor filled with stalls of food galore. We relished in all the different tidbits, and we especially enjoyed the organic farmer's market and stalls. It really showcased Bombay, from new French bakeries to masala burgers, perfect papad and Belgian fries, spectacular ice cream and organic flax seeds...
Today I'm feeling especially blessed. Well, call it what you will, as someone constantly debating faith I'm never sure quite what name to give it. Regardless of what it's called, it's an extraordinary feeling. Very, very few people are surrounded by such beautiful individuals, hear such warming words, are given such exciting opportunities and are made to feel, each and every day, that they love life.
It's 8:00 am right now on a Tuesday morning, and even though it's only the second day back at school I'm already counting down to summer and contemplating another cup of coffee. I feel terrible cribbing so much because I'm really under a delusion, thinking I work a lot, and when I actually examine my evening I feel pretty pathetic.
But the sun is up and glowing, and it's a mild winter morning. I wrote to my grandpa this morning with photos of my art that he wanted to see, I'm going to do some yoga- something I haven't had the chance to do in days, and perhaps make myself something interesting for breakfast. It's little things like these that wake you up, pick you up, and give you a little push. Because when you've got such lovely, subtle things around you, it seems a shame to complain and, quite frankly, live in denial.
'Red velvet' in quotation marks because they were neither red, nor were they velvety.
We purposely made the cupcakes a pretty pink hue, but we kind of got the wrong quantity for the baking powder... soooo they didn't rise much at all... and we got dense, kind of chewy cupcakes. We also ran out of spaces in the tin, so we poured the remainder into the silicone moulds and popped them into a loaf tin. We also tried to shove it all in the oven at once, which tilted the loaf tin and made 4 of them come out hilariously wonky. We became oddly endeared by our little misshapen cupcakes.
I made these with my friend- a girl I met less than 3 months ago but with whom I have already become so close.
You know when you just click? We presented ourselves in French HL class (factor #1: she's one of the two other people who took French HL) and I don't think I can count how many times we have said "OMG me too!" since then.
Among a couple dozen other things we have in common, we both love cooking. She even wants to become a chef. And she has a sweet tooth.
We were so excited to bake... she brought food colouring, adorable polka-dotted cupcake liners and her prized silicone cupcake moulds.
Regardless of the result, we had an absolute blast making them: we were fascinated by the way the bold drops of food colouring, the way it swirled and gently turned the creamy bowl into what looked like a whole shop's worth of melted strawberry ice cream. We gushed over the adorable cupcake moulds, laughed a lot, talked even more, and generally acted weird in the way you only do with a friend.
That's what cooking's about, anyway.
My dad's long-time friend was over, and we- out of politeness- gave them cupcakes.
They- out of politeness- didn't mention the weird texture. Or the rather princessy look.
Actually they didn't mention anything, and I think it's best left at that.
Because they, understandably, probably didn't enjoy it in the same way we did. For them, and for most people, it's a rubbery pink glob that's sweet.
For us, the taste wasn't all too bad because we had mixed and licked the batter, and we were just thrilled with the effort and how they looked. Plus, how couldn't we be charmed by pink + white + polka dots?
We sat in my room, lazing about and chatting, with powdered sugar flying all over our faces as we bit into the cakes.
While we're busy gossiping, cribbing about work and thinking about grown-up futures among other things, we're still little kids engrossed in making something, making funny faces, and revelling in our creations together.
Yes, we took a lot of photos. But that's half the fun.
Crumbly scones + coffee.
I think I made these scones at 9 at night or something.
The week was really busy with my grandparents in town and all the usual schoolwork... but once I start making excuses I'm a brilliant procrastinator, so I just closed myself up in the kitchen and cooked.
I'm glad I did, because it's nice to wake up to a little buttery triangle and hot coffee.
Speaking of coffee, everyone had been busy posting about the first pumpkin spice lattes, the first pumpkins, the pies... everything autumn.
When we were in Chicago I didn't like coffee (:O) so my standard order at Starbucks was a hot chocolate, or later a tall, no whip, double chocolate chip frappuccino (The rhyme never failed to amuse me. I felt so cool ordering it...).
So we went to the Starbucks at the Taj (*ahem* Chicagoans: South Bombay may have only 2 Starbucks, but they are a 1000 times more gorgeous than any one in the US. Just saying. They're pretty stunning), and they had the full smorgasbord of Pumpkin treats! I refrained from ordering a slice of pie, a muffin, a frappuccino and a cookie to complement my latte. Honestly, I don't think it was worth all the hype... it was definitely yum and creamy, but a little too sweet. I was kind of imagining a speculaas-y coffee, you know?
I'll try and make that and see how it comes out:)
SCHOOL IS TOO BUSY. Like, seriously, too busy.
When I prioritise, I push away my hobbies: cooking, blogging, guitar, sports, craft. So I get more time, but I end up perpetually miserable because I never ever get around to anything pleasurable and I feel trapped.
So this year I have made it a point to just do the fun stuff as well, no matter what.
The result being that I've made a few pretty and arty jewellery pieces, I've cooked and blogged and read old childhood books just for the fun of it.
But of course, I'm left struggling to get everything on my to-do list done.
I can't figure it out... it's like inventing a multi-layered cake singlehandedly and from scratch... every ingredient and proportion has to be measured and changed and tweaked till you get it right. Events, new tasks and challenges- both at home and at school- are thrown in like a sudden malfunctioning mixer, an overheating oven or spoilt eggs and they turn everything upside down, just when you think you're getting the hang of it.
But at least, amidst all of it, I'm having fun. Stuff like this thrills me, and while I don't have time for it all, doing one little thing every now and then just makes me feel good. It's the joy of taking time out and reaping its benefits afterwards: be it cooking something, sharing it and savouring each bite; making something and wearing it proudly; reading something that sparks your imagination and puts a smile on your face; or playing some music and slowing down every inch of your body.
My dad and I made this date cake one weekend morning and we reaped its benefits for at least a week afterwards. I was super proud of my dad for choosing this recipe, because it was so healthy (he invariably just gives me a look when I suggest replacing the white flour with whole wheat, the white sugar with brown or the butter with olive oil.) But for some reason he decided to go full-on health-freak with me, and it made me feel much better about eating the cake for breakfast every day.
This cake starts off crumbly, very moist and soft. It stores well in a box in the fridge, and as the days progress it becomes denser and stickier, while still retaining its moistness. There wasn't a single time I didn't enjoy it.
Just by the way, the slices weren't as huge as in the picture... being my procrastinator self I told myself each night that I'd take a photo of it the next morning, only to see the cake, cut a slab, dig in to it and rush out to school. So when it dawned on me that it was dwindling quickly, I just took the last chunk and photographed it before it was too late. My photos from when it was fresh weren't very good, but I really wanted to show you its original loose crumbliness. So apart from the average-ish last photo, you'll just have to take my word for it.
Bake this. Now. You won't regret it ever ever ever ever.
This is a post long, long overdue. In fact, almost 2 months overdue.
My 16th birthday was the very first day of school (the IB, to be precise... the thought was/is petrifying), and it was our orientation day. Contrary to what I believed the day would be like- a chilled, exciting day with activities- it was so, so dull. I didn't know any of the new people, we had endless talks and presentations, and I came home feeling completely flustered, tired, overwhelmed and really upset that it just had to be my birthday. I honestly didn't think I cared so much. This year I didn't want to make fuss over the day- I knew that what really makes me happy is cooking, quality time with my family, good food and conversation.
But within half an hour of reaching home my family had turned my day around: a movie secretly made for me, beautiful cards and poems, thoughtful gifts, and so much effort put into getting everything ready for the evening.
And this cake, a cake that I saw and that made me instantaneously decide 'That's what I want for my birthday cake!', and that I subsequently stared at for days, was so perfect. The mixture was freakishly easy, and it turned out so warm, gooey, oozy and scrumptious with ice cream.
Defining family is practically impossible. But after my birthday I've got a new piece of advice that will stay with me forever, and that I believe applies to my friends and other people around me too: family are the people who, unconditionally and undeservedly, can take you from a lonely, exhausted place and make you feel as though you're on top of the world.
Turning 16 was scary, and some days I find myself utterly daunted by the world ahead of me and around me. But knowing that I have these unbelievable people by my side each day makes everything a whole lot better.
Note to non-BD-ites: This may not make any sense, and don't get me wrong, our canteen is lovely. But being written for The BD Broadcast it had to be extra exaggerated and humourous- have a read if you want :)
BD-ites: this is the full version of the article in the most recent BD Broadcast issue.
“Oily and hairy!”
“I’m lovin’ it”
“Nice and spicy...”
Like most of the food, my interviews with students at the GD canteen could end up quite heated.
Of course, many chose to be ‘white bread’ with their remarks: decidedly bland.
But with my loyal taster by my side, 3 days of tasting, asking and snooping have culminated in: The Ultimate GD Canteen Review and Guide.
Paneer Chili vs. Chinese Bhel
The argument over these two dishes is as divided as I am over dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
In other words, there’s no conclusive decision... so go with both!
Most people find the paneer chili spicy, addictive, and filled with soft and perfect paneer.
My opinion? I tried it once in the 8th grade, and I was not going to go there again... besides, I don’t think it’s ever going to stop haunting me. It’s like a gelatinous, red mess with emulsified, soggy-batter-coated paneer, onions and capsicum.
But I’m not very opinionated.
The chinese bhel- crispy, red, spicy, creative and claimed by some as unhealthy- is a huge hit in the canteen, and the subject of many BD Broadcast and MUN jokes. In all honesty, it wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t have the stomach to have full plate... we just stole a bite from a devout 11th grade chinese-bheler.
The dosas... some say it’s the best thing there, some say it’s the worst. Some even claimed, convinced and aghast, that they had seen one of the cooks put tap water in the batter. Whatever it is, you can’t deny their popularity. They’re quick, crispy, a little spicy and their fillings are well-balanced: not overloaded with cheese, nor is the masala green with chillies. Just try to ignore the black cloth that’s used to wipe the griddle each time...
The manchurian roll is allegedly like pav bhaji: red, indistinguishable, spicy (noticing a theme here?) and messy, while its cousin the cheese corn roll is delicate, cute, spicy, corny and cheesy (much like The Broadcast). One expert offered her advice: “You need to be an experienced Subway-eater to eat it properly”.
My review helper had an ingenious idea: she broke it in half and ate it like bruschetta... well done for thinking outside the bun.
Which brings me on to bruschetta. Most people in my class didn’t believe our canteen (‘our canteen?!’) had bruschetta, but low and behold, there were little plates with dainty slices of baguette topped with fresh tomatoes and basil.
What are they trying to do, make us eat real food? Where’s the masala? Tomatoes? Who needs tomatoes, when you’ve got perfectly good ketchup?
Jokes aside, I liked it. The bread was slightly soggy from the tomato juice, but it was refreshing to see some nutritious food on offer.
One day, something caught my eye, and not in a good way. I mustered up the courage to try the masala bread. Essentially it’s a fluffy, starch-white pillow of bread, topped with puréed green chillies and tomatoes. At least, that’s what my burning, mush-filled mouth told me it was. If you love spicy food, and aren’t obsessed with wholewheat bread, then by all means enjoy some masala pav... it grows on you. Or maybe my taste buds just went numb.
The idlis were good... well, idlis are idlis. Rice. Steamed rice.
But the chutney is definitely a success- it’s balanced, it didn’t set my tongue on fire, and it’s really coconutty. One person said it was “The best thing she’d ever eaten. Ever.”
I think that says more about the person
Who guessed food colouring? Congratulations! The paneer chili’s signature redness does not come from tomatoes, or even chilies...
As for the chinese bhel, the artificial ingredient is... brace yourselves... ketchup. It actually is really bad for you, but I honestly don’t envisage India parting with its beloved ‘sauce’ any time soon.
They use sunflower oil, and bake their bread in the canteen: next time you’re there, look at the back and watch them put in and pull out trays upon trays of buns, and try and spot their sandwich bread slicer.
The canteen is open, breezy, bright and friendly. You talk, you eat, you walk around... going back there after more than two years really made me look at it differently. In the 8th grade you’re this awkward, new, self-conscious and shy little kid. The ambience changes so much when you’re meeting your friends in all the grades, laughing about the food you remember and the new things you’re trying.
The canteen food is spicy, it’s strange, and the hygiene is open to debate.
But we can’t disgrace it entirely- after all, as one person put it: “Although we wanna shut the canteen, I’m sure we’ll all miss the food.”
It’s our canteen.
(Even though it's GD's...)
East meets West in the South East...
We just spent 10 days in Cambodia...
'Cambodia?!', you ask, 'What on earth is there to do in Cambodia?'.
But in actual fact, we all fell in love with Cambodia: the culture, the people, the food and the history... so much so that Cambodia has even been featuring in my sister's and my dreams lately.
If I went into a whole story of everything I loved about it, this blog post would be three times as long as it already is, so I'm just going to stick with the food aspect ;)
Cambodia is the land of the two-wheelers: scooters, motorcycles and bikes make up the majority of the transport for the population, and túk-túks (scooters with a carriage at the back) ferry locals and tourists alike. In fact, during our whole holiday we only sat in a car twice- once from the airport, and once to. Scooters also often have little food carts attached to them, selling baguettes with your choice of filling, French crêpes (part of the lingering French influence) with banana and nutella, drinks, local fried snacks, noodles (not your regular maggi.... this stuff has real vegetables and fun sauces), and even little cakes.
My first meal in Cambodia had to be amok- Cambodia's specialty. It's a fish dish that's either baked or steamed. This version was at Le Tigre En Papier, a local fusion restaurant popular with backpackers. Actually, pretty much all of Siem Reap is popular with backpackers... it's a melting pot of loads of young groups and couples walking around in hippy-fun clothes and enjoying the vibrant markets. The amok was slightly cocnoutty and the fish was made in a shredded form. I didn't like some of the fish, but overall it was something new and interesting.
After hours of exploring the ancient Angkor temples, we bought some much-needed pineapple from a local vendor.The pineapple was ingeniously carved and quartered so one could enjoy it neatly and on the go.
One of the loveliest parts of the trip was our visit to a floating village, complete with an adorable floatng church, tiny floating police station, a floating basketball court, school, houses... everything. Our guide was a really sweet young guy who told us all about the culture, history, and functioning of the village- despite being a melange of various ethnicities, the community is very tight-knit, albeit with its own social problems.
Amidst the bustling markets in Siem Reap are alleys filled with alluring boutiques, cafés, restaurants and craft shops that could have been plucked right out of an old European town. We enjoyed many a nice meal and lots of browsing and shopping in The Alley (actually named that) during our visit and as a temple-detox.
The Singing Tree Café in The Alley works for the benefit of locals (as many organisations do- restaurants, shops, handicraft makers and various other services all really focus on making the flourishing tourism an industry that thrives and helps the Cambodians as much as possible.) serves cappuccino in pretty mugs, and we were all satisfied with out meal while going through our photos, taking in the activity of The Alley and talking.
I'm known to be indecisive when choosing something from a menu, and I was stuck between two things when 'mango sticky rice caught my eye (admittedly in the dessert section) and I settled on it instantaneously. I tend to gravitate to sweet things and dishes that are new and exciting. My family found it questionable, but it was definitely a success. I spent so much time tasting each bite carefully that the taste still lingers. The rice was subtly mangoey and nutty, the local mango is soft and just sweet enough, and the coconut cream provided a lovely, rich anchor.
Isn't this fork gorgeous?
The opposite of my choice, my sister went for an egg, tomato and cheese sandwich, but it was just right and made with great local bread.
They call themselves 'An American Café in the heart of Siem Reap', and they truly are. Common Grounds was filled with almost all Americans, many of them social workers and volunteers. The ambience was calm and relaxed, with a nice mix of coffee and divine baked goods, and hot local dishes too. Common Grounds devotes itself to helping Cambodians, through the people they hire, the ingredients they use, the jewellery they sell and the way their profits are used. Note the bottom of the chalkboard: 'Every dollar we earn makes a difference in the life of a Cambodian'.
I spent my morning sipping coffee and doodling <3
A true, Italian restaurant, Il Forno makes spectacular pizzas in its woodfire oven, along with a vast selection of fine risottos, pastas, salads, antipasti and wine. The ambience was warm, breezy and cheerful, tucked away in a small lane. The owner is a young Italian girl who bustled through the completely full restaurant, and we were undoubtedly pleased by our dinner.
The Sun is a huge, bright, sunny and well-decorated restaurant, which also has comfy outdoor seating where we enjoyed some drinks with the fairy lights on our first night. It's apparently famous for its fluffy blueberry pancakes, and I'm a sucker for pancakes at any time of day. They were warm, crispy and absolutely scrumptious.
My mum had a pasta puttanesca with real, rustic, chunky tomato sauce and fresh grilled vegetables.
They even made a good falafel burger... The Sun was definitely one of my favourites.
The Sugar Palm: an airy, spacious restaurant atop an old wooden bungalow that makes divine Asian food Their crockery was really cute too <3.
Look at this teapot! And I love the carved dandelion on the mug. I had hot lemon tea, although the local iced lemon tea is by far the best we've ever had.
The Sugar Palm is where chef Gordon Ramsay learned how to make amok :O So my mum and I were sure we'd try it. It was way different from the one at Le Tigre En Paper... it was much better. This amok is baked to a soufflé-like consistency, it's frothy on top and the sauce is rich, spicy and complex. The fish, too was a really nice variety and I polished off the bowl (which is a hollowed out coconut shell!). We also enjoyed perfectly crisp spring rolls, and gado gado- one of our favourites.
This was my breakfast every day in Siem Reap: fresh fruits and their homemade yoghurt. Clockwise from the top: pineapple, mango, watermelon, banana (their local bananas are so good), dragonfruit (a new fruit for me! The texture is like kiwi, but it's less sweet), papaya and apple.
I grew really fond of the yoghurt that came every day in little pots. It was sweet and super creamy, and really refreshing with a plate of fruits... it kept me full for ages
Phnom Penh, the capital, also has a vast variety of cultures and restaurants. After one busy day at the Central Market (mind-boggling), we came across a small Malaysian restaurant. My parents lived in Kuala Lumpur for man years and I was born there, so as a family we have an affinity for Malaysia. My parents enjoyed the chance to revive their Bahasa skills, jokes and memories, and they had this light and filling silken tofu dish with tofu that melts in your mouth.
Remembering our trip to Malaysia in December 2011, I ordered a Mamak Mee Goreng. It looked brown and messy, but the flavours were so yum, the vegetables were crunchy and the soft egg on top was the perfect touch. I found it hard to not finish every last bite, and even my parents, who have tried countless mee gorengs, thought it was fantastic.
Another responsible organisation is Friends- they have a store with handmade recycled products made from materials such as old scarves, tyres, magazines, cutlery and paperclips, just to name a few.
They also have a stunning restaurant which employs youth and trains them to get back into society after experiences with drugs, abuse or crime. They have had great success, with many of their trainees working in top restaurants and hotels. I absolutely loved my passionfruit-watermelon ice shake- which is literally all it is... no weird sugar syrups and ice cream... just fresh, sweet fruit and ice <3 Winning combination.
My curried pumpkin soup tasted a bit like amok, so I think they used similar spices. It was a hot day, and the rich creaminess was replenishing and left me feeling ready to keep walking.
A little ahead of the Friends restaurant, we spotted this young guy at the from of a small local place, busy stringing his arms up and down, deftly manoeuvring ribbons. This stuff comes pretty close to magic... we tried in vain to follow his fingers and figure out how he did it, but it's impossible... second by second the noodles divide or get thinner and it never gets tangled or stuck. The lump of thick ropes soon becomes fine strings, which are briefly boiled, leaving a bowlful of fresh, perfect noodles... we were awestruck.
Fruits! Juicy rambutan, sweet and crisp apples, and soft mangosteen all bought at a market, using a mixture of dollars and riel (Cambodia uses both... it's very confusing)
A Belgian man- smiley and portly- runs a restaurant called The Wine in Phnom Penh. To celebrate Belgium's new king, he hosted a Belgian night for 'Belgians and friends of Belgium'- given that my best friend is Belgian, we figured we qualified ;) There were two hippy Belgian oldies playing cute music on the piano, flute and saxophone, and a tiny boy even walked up to dance along. Being vegetarian, our options were limited to asparagus in butter with egg, but they were lovely: soft, falling apart and perfect with the little French rolls. My parents loved their Belgian beer, and it made us think back to last summer in France, when we met Maurice and Monique, Belgians who shared Belgian chocolate and beer with us in the evenings.
The markets are at times suffocating, but they're full of everything under the sun. We bought plenty of knick-knacks, and delighted in taking in the myriad of aromas, voices, people and activity.
Very well known and a tourist favourite, The Blue Pumpkin has a few outlets in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. This particular branch is three stories high, overlooks the riverfront and has sofas with young girls sprawled on their phones while sipping tea and coffee, businesspeople tapping away, families settling down to rest, and a really serene atmosphere.
The Blue Pumpkin's red berry shake. One day in Siem Reap we cycled down to Angkor Wat, which has a branch of TBP. My dad ordered this shake, and liked i so much he ordered it again in Phnom Penh.
Hidden away is a quiet restaurant called The Ebony Tree. We were the only customers, there was one waiter/assistant chef and one grandma chef, but we savoured being away from the noise of the city and it gave us the chance to finish writing our postcards.
We were joined by a fifth member at out table: a black tomcat who lay pretty much motionless, except for an occasional sleepy-eyed stretch or reshuffle.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club is a massive, colonial-era building with the perfect river view. We enjoyed drinks there one evening, and it won us- especially my dad- over. It has an energetic vibe, reminiscent of the old club culture but adapted to modern society, with people of all ages and backgrounds coming to relax. We returned the next morning for coffee and my dad bought an FCC cap, which he is loving wearing.
All over Cambodia you'll see these pretty lotuses with the outside petals delicately folded. They open up beautifully, and I have never seen so many lotuses being sold on the street as I saw in Cambodia.
By the poolside of the lush, serene Kabiki hotel guests are served a big breakfast. The head waiter was oh-s0-smiley and after a couple of days he remembered our preferences, and what to leave out or bring extra for each of us.
Passionfruit juice... cold, pulpy and so sweet... <3
The chestnut bread (with chunks of chestnut inside... chestnuts actually grown in abundance there) and the baguette, served with homemade pineapple jam that was heavenly. I always mixed it into my muesli and yoghurt, and I even tried in on a slice of pineapple (it's not weird.)
Cambodian coffee is really strong, but I just fell in love with their ceramic crockery.
Their yoghurt wasn't as yum as the one in Siem Reap, but mixed with the muesli and jam it made a light and healthy breakfast that I looked forward to.
'Looking natural' with the self-timer on :P
If you're thinking about going to Cambodia, don't hesitate. There's so much to do, so much to see, so much to try. This is going down as one of our favourite holidays of all time, and we didn't regret a minute of it.
Pass The Plate Update...
For a while, unfortunately, I hadn't done a Pass The Plate- I felt inundated with studying and work for my finals, and much to my dismay this took a back seat. But at the start of summer my mum and I decided that we would make it a more regular occurrence, and every couple of days we try to distribute some food.
The beauty of Pass The Plate is its simplicity: we used leftover pooris (I'll post a recipe soon) and fried up some peas to make rolls, we made some omelettes one day and put them into sandwiches, and other little things like that.
For one session I tried my hand at namkeen- the hindi word for little fried snacks. Madhur Jaffrey had a perfect recipe for sev, and I assumed that the same could be used for differently shaped namkeen.
It was loads of fun, really hot and definitely interesting... but no, you cannot use sev mixture for other namkeens, such as muruku. The recipe said they would crisp up as they dried, so I kept waiting and waiting but they remained like french fries. A few hours later they tasted like soggy french fries. My sister absolutely loved them, and as my mum rightly pointed out, I wasn't feeding food critics.
Of late we've been delivering the food to a couple of families that live outside the National Gallery of Modern Art. There are loads of children, very old women, and they're all always really eager to get one of the packages. It's kind of hard to articulate the looks in some of the little kids' eyes, but it's all over in a flash- even the plastic bag is taken- and you don't often realise just what the food meant to them.
Today I made a stack of simple grilled cheese sandwiches. It wasn't some amazing culinary experimentation, and it's easy to go and buy a bunch of bags of chips or cookies- however these are loaded with artificial junk- but I really just love the time I spend in the kitchen, no matter what I'm doing.
Almost every evening I'm in the kitchen with my mum, giving her a hand with whatever needs to be chopped, washed, stirred. Some nights I cook- I made leek fried rice and peanut sauce yesterday- and other times I'm an extra set of hands, but either way I'm thrilled.