Jan 09

Pavlova in the Summertime and Other Childhood Food Memories

Pavlova with passionfruit and mango, a classic Australian (or New Zealand) dessert.

I successfully persuaded Terence to make pavlova over Christmas. It was partly because I love pavlova – meringue, cream and fresh fruit, it’s hard to go wrong with that – and partly for reasons of nostalgia. I have so many fond memories of my Nanna making pavlova in the summertime in Sydney, especially over the Christmas holidays, that I wanted to relive that a little bit.

Those childhood memories are so strong that just one look at that crunchy mountain of sugar and egg whites, smothered in freshly whipped cream, with strawberries and kiwi fruit piled on top, and passion-fruit dripping over the edge, brings back an impressionistic flood of faded images, distant sounds, and vivid emotions.

I see Nanna in her compact 1960s kitchen in my grandparents’ fibro and brick home in Sydney’s western suburbs. She wears a floral cotton apron wrapped around her waist, and beneath it a light dress she calls her ‘frock’. Her back is to me as she beats the eggs in a big lemon-coloured ceramic bowl with an old-fashioned, manual hand-mixer. The sunshine is streaming through the window in front of her and it’s warm in that kitchen.

A sheep bleats outside in a vacant yard behind the neighbour’s house. I’m little, maybe eight or nine, and I’m wearing a white sundress with blue and yellow flowers with shoestring straps. I’d have to go outside and climb onto the paling fence, standing on the timber join on my tippy-toes to see the sheep. I also know there is a goat in there but on this particular day when I look out that window all I see is the deep, beautiful blue Sydney sky, and that blinding sun that fills the kitchen with light.

When Nanna’s done, she turns to face me and leans back against the kitchen sink, looking down at me with her sparkling hazel eyes, eyes that were almost always shining with happiness. I note a look of pride on her face as she shows me the stiff peaks before setting the bowl down to hand over the sticky meringue-covered beater to lick clean. My treat.

She lifts her apron up to her face to wipe the beads of perspiration from her brows. Perhaps it’s just the heat. It’s a scorching hot summer, although we always felt the heat more in the ’burbs. (I didn’t mind, because it meant I could play under the sprinkler). But I sense that Nanna is also a little exhausted by her effort. Perhaps it’s also her asthma – or maybe the heart condition that will later become apparent.

My Pop comes into the kitchen from where he’s been working in the vegetable garden in the backyard. He pulls his work-boots off first and leaves them outside beside the doormat. He was on the rotary hoe earlier in the morning, so he’s covered in dirt, as well as sweat, which I see dripping down his forehead, temples, back, and arms. My Pop is a huge man. He’s big and tall, but not really fat. He wears khaki King Gee khaki and a white Bonds singlet. And at that moment he enters that kitchen he also wears a giant smile and glints in his eyes.

My grandfather bends down to kiss my Nanna on the cheek and as he does he dips his finger into the bowl of meringue. “Ken!” she exclaims, reprimanding him, but her feigned anger is part of a game, and he kisses her on the cheek again before stooping down to collect me and pick me up in his arms. Even though I squirm and pretend I’m too big to be picked up, I love the affection. I’m at Nanna’s height now and she hands me a spoon to lick clean. Before I do, I thrust the thing in my pop’s face to give him a go.

Later in the evening, after we finish our roast chicken and potato salad dinner in the dining room and I help my grandmother with the dishes, Nanna will slice colossal pieces of pavlova for each of us, pour herself a small brandy, and we’ll take the plates into the living room, where we’ll tuck into those sweet, crunchy, hills of heaven while we watch a British comedy on the TV.

My childhood summers in Sydney are full of such sweet simple memories, most of them involving food. There was a lot of time spent in the vegetable gardens at both grandparents’ houses, helping to water the plants, pick tomatoes and cucumbers, and eat grapes from the vines.

There was even more time spent in the kitchen, helping my grandmothers or mother to cook, whether it was peeling veggies for my Nan, helping Baboushka shape pilemeni and vareniki dumplings, or stuffing snail shells, crumbing schnitzels, rolling sushi, stirring stir-fries, and generally helping out my more culinary-adventurous Mum with any number of exotic, trendy ‘ethnic’ dishes she experimented with in the 1970s and early ’80s.

And then of course there was the joy of sharing family meals with loved-ones. There were the Christmas roast lunches with Mum, Dad, my aunt and uncle, and handful of cousins at Nan and Pop’s in Northmead, with whichever great-aunts and uncles dropped in on any particular year. We’d join the kitchen table to the dining table, and pull dusty chairs out of the garage, and the big spacious dining room would all of a sudden feel crowded and small, with everyone jammed in together, elbows knocking each-other’s as we ate.

Then there were many years of family gatherings, generally on Sundays for a late lunch, at my Russian grandparents house in Blacktown that always extended well into the evening. We never quite knew who would call in, but it didn’t matter, there’d always be a plate of food and shot of vodka for them. It could be the Russian Orthodox priest or elderly immigrant neighbours my grandparents had befriended on their way to Australia post-World War II or after they arrived when they spent time in DP (‘displaced person’) camps.

Or perhaps my young uncles’ latest girlfriends and university mates would drop by, and, much later, when I also went to uni, it would be Terence and one of our friends who we’d drag along for the Russian food, liquor, music, laughter, and – late into the night – always the melancholic tears of my grandparents who never stopped missing their homeland and relatives they left there.

My parents were also responsible for creating some very memorable meals, from sophisticated fondue nights when I got to dress up and my folks’ friends would arrive in floor-length maxi-dresses (the women, of course) and flared trousers and paisley shirts (the men), to the crazy barbecues in the back yard involving lots of beer, burnt sausages, big bowls of salad, and beautifully bloody steaks. They didn’t give me beer, I swear. I was sipping raspberry cordial.

It wasn’t only about the food of course. There was always music, stories, and lots of laughs. Although it was the food that enabled and provided so many scrumptious recollections, whether it was the time we spent together shopping for it and prepping it to cooking it and eating it, the food was always fantastic. It was the stuff that inspired my passion for eating and drinking, for cooking with my husband, for exploring the cuisines of different countries, and understanding cultures and their peoples through their food.

It was the food and the act of cooking and eating that was an excuse for socialising. It was the food that always brought us together as family and friends. Whether it was the occasional forced gatherings for specific occasions like Russian Easter or Christmas that always ended up being deliciously memorable despite any feelings that it was something that had to be done.

It was the food, always the food that was responsible. It was never: should we spend some time together on Sunday catching up and reminiscing and laughing or crying? No, it was always: come over for Sunday lunch or let’s have a barbecue.

And it wasn’t only the meals at home that were memorable, the ones on holiday were even more so, whether it was buying fresh seafood at a local co-op in a northern New South Wales coast holiday town or, even better, catching our own fish from the beach or boat that we’d then barbecue for dinner in a caravan park or camping area, always by the water.

But some of my most treasured memories involve collecting bucket after bucket of oysters with my Dad from the sandy floor of the lake near where my parents lived, and then preparing them in different ways – oysters Kilpatrick, oysters Mornay, or fresh with lemon and vinegar. It was the Eighties, okay?

I’ll never forget one of the editors of a guidebook publisher we worked with telling me that their research results revealed that eating and drinking were the most important activities for travellers – for their readers anyway. (So, no, it was not Lonely Planet). We already took our restaurant and bar research seriously, so we didn’t need to be told that, but I was pleased that someone had confirmed for me how important food is to people, especially when they’re travelling.

Because food not only satisfies basic needs for calories and strange cravings, it actively takes part in the formation and shaping of food memories, from childhood memories of dishes associated with the summertime, like my own, to recollections of gatherings and celebrations around ancestral dining tables that we’ll cherish forever, long after those loved-ones are gone.

Later, when we’re far away from those we love, whether it’s a distance due to geography or time, we can use food as a trigger, as I did over Christmas, to remind us of times past and treasured memories that might be lost if it wasn’t for a grilled cheese oyster, a shot of vodka to wash down a dumpling, or a piece of pavlova.

P.S. I don’t have my Nanna’s pavlova recipe, so we made a variation of Neil Perry’s Passionfruit Pavlova instead, and added fresh local mangoes.

Jan 07

The Best Road Trips in Australia

Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia.

Following our recent post on tips for road trips in Australia, readers asked us to recommend some of our favourite road trips in Australia. As far as we’re concerned, Australia is home to the world’s best road trips and in our many years of travelling, whether it was summer caravanning holidays as kids, my five year-long epic road trip around Australia with my family, and the road trips Terence and I have done together researching guidebooks, we have done most of them.

Australia is a colossal country to drive, making a road trip as exhausting as it is extraordinary. There’s a whopping 18,000 kilometres (11,180 miles) of coastline skirted by the world’s most beautiful sandy beaches and some of its wildest surf, punctuated by majestic cliffs, sheltered harbours, serene estuaries, unassuming inlets to mighty rivers, colourful coral reefs, and crocodile-infested marshes.

Then there’s the vast interior of the country, which offers infinite variety when it comes to landscapes – gently undulating emerald-green hills, golden pancake-flat wheat plains, copper-coloured sanddunes, and eucalyptus-scented bushland – along with our famous fauna and flora, impressive ancient Aboriginal sites, and friendly, laidback people. Not to mention great food and even finer wine.

These are the best road trips in Australia out of our long list of favourites:

1. Alice Springs to Uluru via Glen Helen Gorge and Kings Canyon
This is the drive we mentioned in our recent post on road trip tips and it’s one of the country’s most rewarding. You could do it in a few very hurried days or you could take a week or ten days including time in Alice and Uluru. We recommend you start out in quirky Alice Springs, then drive through the arid outback landscapes of the East MacDonnell Ranges, then backtrack to explore the West MacDonnell Ranges, before driving south-west to Kings Canyon and end ending the trip at the colossal rock of Uluru and enchanting Kata Tjuta. Australia’s remote ‘Red Centre’, as it’s called, is the country’s geographical and spiritual heartland and so it deserves some solid time exploring. Its rugged beauty will continually take your breath away. The landscapes are distinguished by dramatic gorges sliced through mountain ranges that go on forever. There are monumental canyons formed by meteorites and, surprisingly to a lot of travellers, verdant valleys filled with palms, along with serene swimming holes.

2. From Darwin to Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks
If you know us it’s not surprising that we’d include two Northern Territory drives, as we are absolutely smitten with the Northern Territory and we’ll probably end up living there one day. The ‘Top End’ as Aussies call it – yes, we love giving everything another name, don’t we? – is characterised by tropical mangroves teeming with wildlife, sticky monsoon forests, and stupendous stone escarpments. It’s remote and rugged, and – if that weren’t enough – it’s home to many of Australia’s incredible indigenous peoples who have lived here for 40,000 years and have hundreds of different languages and laws, so this is a spiritually rich place bursting with magical stories of the Dreamtime that you’ll see told in ancient paintings on red rock walls. You begin this drive in multicultural, tropical Darwin, from where you make a beeline for Kakadu National Park and its abundant Aboriginal art, birdlife, wildlife, and wetlands, before doing a loop and making your way north again to explore Litchfield National Park for its wonderful waterfalls, serene swimming holes, and fantastic fields of magnetic termite mounds.

3. Red Centre, from Katherine to Alice Springs
This is another favourite journey of ours, distinguished by the magnificent sandstone escarpments and golden gorges near Katherine, the steaming natural spa pools of Mataranka and Elsey National Park that are set within sub-tropical palm forest, and a remote highway that transports you through the arid centre of Australia to Alice Springs. If you have time, this is a trip that can connect the two above to create one very long road trip, but you need to be prepared to spend a lot of time in the seats of your vehicle. You can punctuate it scenic river cruises in Katherine, along with bush walks to see the aboriginal rock art in Nitmiluk National Park, and perhaps take in some of the pioneering heritage and World War II history around Katherine and Mataranka. You need to prepare yourself to meet some eccentric characters along the way at the outback pubs that dot the Stuart Highway, but for many this is a highlight of the trip – along with the spooky rock formations that are the Devil’s Marbles.

4. Perth to Exmouth along the West Coast
You could do this trip comfortably in a week, though it’s worth taking longer to explore this truly stunning coast, Australia’s most spectacular, in our minds. Splendid white-sand beaches extend right along the coast, punctuated by sleepy holiday towns and fishing villages, and really special sights that deserve a day or two, like the strange Pinnacles. What makes this stretch of coast so magical is its isolation. Unlike the east coast, from Melbourne to Cairns, that is urbanized, this part of Australia is sparsely inhabited. The landscapes are empty and pristine. Every night you will see skies exploding with stars, making you want to camp out or simply lie down and gave at the heavens. On the downside, that means the driving distances are long and challenging, and the terrain is difficult, requiring a lot of planning if you want to go off-road, but the rewards are massive. We recommend you begin in Perth, Western Australia’s laidback capital, then make stops of 1-2 nights at the Pinnacles (one night), Geraldton (one), Carnarvon (1-2 nights), Kalbarri (at least 2 nights if you want to go bushwalking), and spectacular Shark Bay and Ningaloo (could easily spend 2-3 nights at each if you want to swim, snorkel, bush-walk, and go off-road).

5. Perth to Augusta along the Southwest Coast
This drive isn’t as demanding as the one above but it’s still rewarding as it offers more variety in many ways. You could do it in five days if you had to, but it’s much more enjoyable over a week to ten days. You’d begin in Perth then drive along the coastline for most of the route to Augusta, stopping in holiday towns along the way like charming Bunbury and Busselton, the stunning surfing beaches of Geographe Bay, dramatic Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leewin, and the famous surfing spots in between of Yallingup, Prevelly Park and Margaret River, the fabulous Margaret River wine region, one of Australia’s finest, and the beautiful little laidback town of Augusta, where you can do some whale-watching at the right time of year. You’ll take in scenic vineyards where you can sip impressive wines, swim in crystal-clear water in pretty white-sand coves, do easy walks through gently undulating bushland, and, if you’re up for it, more challenging hikes along wild, windswept coastal paths watched over by lonely lighthouses. Magic.

More road trip tips

  • You can do most of these drives in 2WD or (preferably) AWD vehicles. We’ve used almost every car rental company in Australia but we like Budget best. Cars can be booked on www.budget.com.au and you can arrange to drop off at a different location to where you picked up.
  • The route you need a 4WD for on this list is the Alice Springs to Uluru one and while you can also rent a sturdy vehicle from the main rental companies, you might want to consider a fully equipped 4WD campervan from a company such as Britz or Maui if you’re planning on going off-road and camping out.
  • Most major car rental companies also loan out Global Positioning Sensor (GPS) units with their vehicles. It’s worth renting one.
  • Don’t be spontaneous. These are trips that you really need to plan out, calculating how many kilometres you’ll need to drive each day, deciding in advance what you’re willing to do, figuring out how much fuel you’ll need (always have a full spare jerry can of fuel), and booking accommodation in advance.
  • Be aware that it’s not uncommon to have to drive up to 700 kms a day on these sorts of trips. Australians are used to driving long distances but Europeans and Asians from smaller countries are not and will need to plan well.
  • Always start out at sunrise, take a thermos of coffee, plenty of water, lots of snacks and sandwiches, interesting music or podcasts to keep you engaged and alert, and make lots of stops to stretch your legs and nap if you need to.
  • Driving before sunrise and after sunset is dangerous in the outback, so plan your day so that you have stopped driving by the time the sun goes down.
  • If you’re going off the main roads, be aware that driving on corrugated dirt roads, tracks with loose bull dust, and sandy trails will slow you down considerably, as you won’t want to be doing much more than 60 kilometres an hour, so you’ll need to take that into account when planning your driving days.
  • If you break down, stay with the vehicle, as it offers the best protection from the elements, especially the scorching heat. Deaths generally occur when people wander off and get lost. Phone the National Roadside Assistance, the Australia-wide breakdown service: 131 111
  • In the Northern Territory and Western Australia many roads are subject to flooding and closure during the wet season so always check conditions ahead at the tourist office or police station. In the NT check www.ntlis.nt.gov.au/roadreport/
  • Note that in small towns cafés, takeaway joints, and shops might only open Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm, although bakeries will open earlier, and on Saturday until noon only.
  • Wineries will often shut by 5pm or earlier and their restaurants are generally only open for lunch, which is why you’ll need a couple of nights in wine regions so you’re not drinking and driving.
  • People eat dinner early in small towns, often around 6.30-7pm and it’s not unusual to find that last orders must be in by 9pm.
  • The best maps are Hema Maps www.hemamaps.com.au You’ll also need a road atlas and 4WD guide. We like Gregory’s Australian Road Atlas, Explore Australia’s The Complete 4WD Guide, Discover Australia by 4WD by Ron Moon, and Around Australia Guide from Steve Parish Publishing.

Jan 07

Price Check: a Siem Reap Shopping List

Angkor Beer in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Having settled into Siem Reap where we’ve established a home, we’ve become familiar with what things cost in Cambodia and thought it was time to share a Siem Reap shopping list for our Price Check series with you. Just in case you’re planning to stay a while when you venture here.

In short: shopping here is inexpensive – but with a caveat. More on that later.

With two main local markets and a few smaller neighbourhood markets brimming with fresh, fragrant, local produce, it’s a cook’s dream.

Psar Chas
Smack bang in the centre of town, Psar Chas or Old Market is where most travellers go to to buy their souvenirs. It’s also a very good market for fresh produce, particularly fruit and vegetables, free range chickens, and seafood, which travels overnight from the southern coast as well as coming from the Tonle Sap lake and local rivers. The best chefs in Siem Reap shop here, some daily.

Psar Leu
The biggest local market in Siem Reap is on National Route No 6 and it is massive. It is a great place to shop for cookware, as well as fresh ingredients. The pork, chicken and seafood here are all outstanding, although I’m not so keen on the beef. There is no refrigeration at the local markets, so some visitors find them a shock to the olfactory system, especially Psar Leu.

As we’ve shopped Siem Reap’s various markets with a handful of local chefs, we know which stallholders to use for what produce and have begun to build a relationship with them – which is very important for getting good produce at the right price here. We suggest you do the same.

Surprisingly, for a city with a sizable expat population, supermarket shopping can be more frustrating than approaching market stallholders, even with little Khmer language skills. Sure the items have prices on them (well, most of the time), but we find ourselves having to go to our three favourite supermarkets to fill one shopping list.

Lucky Supermarket
On Sivutha Boulevard in Lucky Mall, this is the largest supermarket, with a good range of products, fair prices, and the widest aisles. Aisle size is important, as Siem Reap’s supermarkets seem to attract as many sightseers as Angkor Wat, along with big tour groups stocking up on snacks and edible souvenirs. Still, it always frustrates us. Prices can be slightly higher than the other supermarkets for some products.

Angkor Market
Also on Sivutha Boulevard and just a short walk from Lucky, this is the best supermarket in Siem Reap. Although it’s smaller than Lucky it has the widest range and best quality of stock (the meat is good here), as well as lots of condiments from around Asia, foreign specialties, and a good liquor selection. The upstairs section also has cookware and appliances. The downside: it’s the most popular supermarket with expats and independent travellers, so the aisles are always crowded, especially in the early evening. Prices are the most reasonable here.

Chao Sang Hok
This supermarket on National Route No 6 is about half way between the riverside and Psar Leu. It also has a great range of products, as well as a good kitchenware section to rival Angkor Market’s upstairs. It usually ends up having what we can’t find elsewhere. They have great sections for Japanese, Korean and Thai ingredients in particular.

In any one day, it’s not unusual for us to go to Psar Chaa market in the morning for our fresh seafood, herbs, fruit and veg, and then have to call into at least two supermarkets for other ingredients. For some reason, it’s impossible to find everything you need in one place.

As usual, with our price check shopping lists, we’re pricing the same products where available that we’ve priced all around the world, to provide some consistency. So, no, we don’t buy Nescafe, it’s just a good yardstick for foreigners coming here. (The local coffee we buy which we love is from Three Corner Coffee Roasters in Phnom Penh. More on that soon.)

These are supermarket prices, which we always used for Price Check, as many visitors get intimidated shopping in markets. To get around this, we always suggest doing a market tour with a local first and many cooking courses offer them before the cooking class. You’ll certainly find some things cheaper at the markets, such as fruit and vegetables.

There are a few things that skew things on the Siem Reap shopping list, when compared to other lists. For instance, we usually only include local wine, which we did for our Bangkok shopping list, because Thai wines are perfectly quaffable, although significantly more expensive for a decent bottle than Australian or Chilean wines. Cambodian wine is also a lot more expensive than foreign wine (double the price), however, it’s not drinkable, and we’ll be bringing you a story on that at a later date.

There are also items on the list that make Siem Reap seem more expensive than it probably is, such as olive oil, which we’ve used as an item for our shopping list series all around the world, but which you probably wouldn’t buy if you were on holidays, unless you had serious cravings for an Italian salad. If we’d used palm oil (or rice bran oil, as we did for the Bangkok list, which we did to balance out the cost of the wine) it would have made the list a dollar or so cheaper.

Quality butter is another product which you might not use unless you’re living here, but, remember, when we created Price Check we also had families in mind, who probably want to make kids toast for breakfast or sandwiches for lunch. And even adults get cravings, right?

And that big caveat to shopping in Siem Reap is that Western food cravings can be expensive and frustrating to satisfy. We have found a supplier for excellent, premium quality Australian lamb and beef, but at a real premium price, while fresh thyme and rosemary (for the lamb and beef) are almost impossible to find. All the more reason to be doing our Year of Asian Cookbooks project – so we won’t have time for Western cravings!

By the way, the condiment we priced below, that changes with every destination, is prahok. We’ll be posting more about that Cambodian specialty soon too.

Interestingly, our Siem Reap shopping list isn’t the lowest in our Price Check series. If you take a look at our survey on What Things Cost Around the World, those prizes go to Krakow and Mexico City, respectively, although admittedly we priced those in 2010. If we take inflation into account it may well be that Siem Reap is one of the world’s cheapest destinations to settle in for a while.


1.5 litre water KHR2,404 €0.44 US$0.60
1 litre milk KHR8,817 €1.62 US$2.20
Bottle of wine (not local!) KHR32,000 €5.89 US$8.00
330ml beer KHR2,605 €0.48 US$0.65
100g Nescafe KHR10,420 €1.91 US$2.60
250g local coffee beans KHR9,018 €1.66 US$2.25
50 tea bags KHR16,833 €3.09 US$4.20
1 kg sugar KHR3,608 €0.66 US$0.90
Jar of jam (260gr) KHR14,028 €2.58 US$3.50
1 loaf of bread KHR2,404 €0.44 US$0.60
250g quality butter KHR11,222 €2.06 US$2.80
200g cheese KHR9,623 €1.77 US$2.40
500ml Olive Oil KHR12,831 €2.36 US$3.20
1 doz organic eggs KHR5,212 €0.96 US$1.30
1 kilo tomatoes KHR8,019 €1.47 US$2.00
1 kilo onions KHR5,212 €0.96 US$1.30
1 kilo oranges KHR4,410 €0.81 US$1.10
250gr cashews KHR13,032 €2.39 US$3.25
1 bottle local condiment (400gr) KHR12,029 €2.20 US$3.00
Total: KHR183,727 €33.75 US$45.85

* Price Check is a series of posts from every destination we visit where we settle in for a while, that could serve as a shopping list for you to stock the kitchen at the start of your stay, as well as a cost of living index, giving you an idea as to what things cost in that place. We include some basic items to get you started, plus a local specialty or two from the place.

Jan 06

Monday Memories: Traditional Shadow Puppet Show in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Shadow Puppets.

Unlike the jazz gig I shot that I reflected upon in last week’s Monday Memories post, I was totally unprepared to photograph the traditional shadow puppet show in Phnom Penh that we checked out when we were recently in town.

We had been travelling in Cambodia for a few very intensive days with Backyard Travel and had just arrived in Phnom Penh on the afternoon of the show and had only half an hour to get ready for the performance put on by Sovanna Phum Art Association.

I was frantically clearing memory cards and urging on batteries to recharge as fast as possible. As I hadn’t even seen a still of the puppet show, I had no idea what to expect. I packed a wide angle lens (12-24mm), a mid-range lens (35mm) and my portrait lens (85mm).

The traditional shadow puppet show – which was incredibly enjoyable –went from a fully lit stage where I had to shoot at 3200 ISO to the shadow lighting you see in the image above where I had to shoot at, well, 3200 ISO.

Despite having to work with the available light, the pre-flash of other people’s cameras, and the occasional person walking into my frame, I managed to make a couple of frames I am really happy with.

Still, with the motion blur and the slow shutter speed used, nearly half of the images didn’t pass my first edit. They were blurry. But that’s how it goes with these kinds of shooting conditions.

As you can probably tell, the final frame above was shot at 1/30th of a second, which is half the minimum shutter speed you would want from this 35mm lens. That’s because, as a rule, your shutter speed should be double your focal length to ensure there is no motion blur.

I’d normally make a photo like this one black and white, but there was something appealing about the faded yellows on the backdrop that I felt made the image more dramatic and compelling, while giving it more warmth and therefore immediacy, making it more accessible. What do you think?

Details: Nikon D600, 35mm f/2D Nikkor @ F2.8 @ 1/30th second @ ISO3200.

Sovanna Phum Art Association
#166 Street 99, Phnom Penh
+855 (0) 23 987 564 / (0)12 846 020

Jan 05

A Year of Asian Cookbooks

Asian Cookbook Project.

As we’ve been settling into our new home in Siem Reap, it’s been great to crack open the cookbooks that have been weighing us down – the ones that we didn’t leave back in Australia on our last visit. Having been hankering to get cooking and keen to begin working my way through the books for a while, I’ve wasted no time. In the month that we’ve had a kitchen, I’ve cooked from them on all but a few nights – which is a good thing, because our Year of Asian Cookbooks has begun.

During the first four years of Grantourismo, we endeavored to learn as much as we could about the food of the places we travelled to, by eating widely – everything from street food to contemporary cuisine – by spending time in markets; by interviewing chefs, cooking instructors, food writers, and home cooks; by doing cooking courses and food tours; and by cooking the food itself, as part of my ongoing series The Dish, about the quintessential dishes of places. We decided we wanted to take that a step further and focus more.

Given that one of our goals is to really get under the skin of the places we travel to – and one way we’ve always done that is through food – and given that as travel and food writers, and myself as a photographer, we’re concentrating primarily on Asia these days, we decided we really wanted to dig a whole lot deeper, and to develop a much more in-depth knowledge of Asian cuisines.

I decided I wanted to do that partly by cooking my way through cookbooks, and to force myself to do that regularly A Year of Asian Cookbooks was born.

Given that I’m going to be cooking Asian food almost every day anyway when we’re at home, I thought it would be interesting to learn as much as I could about the dishes I’m cooking, partly through the cookbooks, and to then reflect upon my findings and review the recipes after cooking the dishes – more than once if there’s a kitchen disaster.

I don’t plan on cooking every single recipe in every book and I don’t intend working through any sort of order structured around, say, geography or chronology. The process I’ll use to select dishes will be much more organic and the dishes chosen have some connection to our experiences, to where we are, where we’ve recently been, and where we’re going. I’ll also be using my knowledge of cooking the dishes I choose from other recipes I’ve cooked in the past.

While I come to food firstly through cooking, Lara is passionate about the cultural and historical side of cuisines, and what, why, where, when, and how people eat the food they eat. We’re both eager to explore the dishes I cook in more depth by also looking at their culinary history and culture.

We’ve mentioned here before that for many years we’ve been developing another ongoing and much longer-term project on how food travels, so, as it is we’re already always exploring the origins of dishes and cuisines and how they evolve. As part of our Year of Asian Cookbooks projects, we want to take an aspect of that project a step further and keep the focus firmly on Asia for a while, by looking at culinary, cultural and historical connections, across regions and countries, for the dishes that I cook.

We’re currently sourcing permission to reprint the recipes from the cookbooks I’m using for the first batch of dishes I’ll be cooking. I’m already testing recipes and seeing how they turn out, as well as comparing them to other recipes for the same dish in different cookbooks. I also hope to interview some of the chefs and cookbook authors about the dishes when we feel there are some good questions to ask – and there will be plenty.

Having already researched some of the Asian cookbooks I want to work from, I have a pretty good idea about whether I can source the ingredients I need in Siem Reap. The good news is that I can get almost everything I need right here – in part, thanks to chefs and cooks we befriended over the few years we were visiting Cambodia before we moved here.

Having worked in kitchens, I can cook well enough to hold my own in a commercial kitchen, and I have been cooking Asian food for about 25 years – as an Australian, born in the Asia-Pacific region, from one of the most Asian countries outside Asia, I’ve always eaten Asian cuisines. That means I’m going to be approaching these recipes with a keen eye for detail and following each recipe to the gram.

It’s always been my opinion that the first time you cook from a recipe, you owe it to the people who sweated over the details of each dish to follow it exactly as it’s written, and I’ll be doing that for each recipe. There’ll be no swapping out ingredients or amounts or adjusting cooking methods. I’ll do that the second or third time I cook the dish.

But here’s the thing: I’m not Asian-born and I don’t have any Asian heritage, so there won’t be any “when I used to help grandma make that” to fall back on. I certainly don’t know everything about every dish, or every herb, or spice, or fish, and so on. There will be ingredients I’ve never used before, techniques I’m unfamiliar with, and methods I don’t know.

Given that recipe testing is a time-consuming business, I’ll be covering just two recipes a week: one easy and not too time-consuming weeknight dish – it could be something as simple as a street food snack or a bowl of noodles – and a more complex dish or meal for the weekend, when people have time to stir stocks, make noodles, and watch that pork cook until it falls apart with the touch of a fork.

As always with everything we do here on Grantourismo, we hope you’ll join us for the journey. Initially, we’ll be focusing our culinary explorations on South East Asia, where we’ve mostly been travelling and living for the last few years, and as we venture further afield to different Asian countries, we’ll be exploring the dishes of those cuisines.

If you have Asian dishes, recipes or cookbooks you want to suggest, something you want me to make, or a dish you want us to research, please let us know if the comments below. We always welcome tips and advice, and would love to see your recipes and learn about your own discoveries through Asian cookbooks so please feel free to share.

First up: Making a Thai Red Curry Paste and How to Use a Mortar and Pestle and then Making a Traditional Thai Phanaeng Nua Beef Panang Curry Recipe.

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