This list of our 20 best recipes of 2020 on Grantourismo is a compilation of my favourite recipes of those we created and tested during our year of pandemic cooking projects – a challenging year like no other, in which we cooked our hearts out so that we didn’t lose our minds.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
My mother gifted me A Tale of Two Cities when I was a child. Once upon a time I could have recited the book’s opening to you. Today I could only recall fragments. Terence and I have often half-joked this year that we have “COVID brain”, the foggy thinking, loss of words, and weariness that so many of us have experienced in 2020, even those who didn’t get the virus.
Researchers specialising in trauma have put ‘COVID brain’ down to the stress of dealing with intense uncertainty over a prolonged period of time, the awareness of the tragedy that millions faced and the fear that we and our loved-ones could suffer a similar fate. The perception of threat activates a biological stress response that triggers the immune system and affects cognitive function. It’s no wonder…
It’s been a tough year, financially, mentally, emotionally; a year marked by more time spent isolating at home (and wearing the same clothes!) than we’ve ever spent at home before. And writers are used to working alone. While we might have a harder time stringing a sentence together now than a year ago, we are lucky that we only lost clients, projects, income, and the ability to do our work as travel writers with borders closed. We did not lose loved ones, each other, or our minds. For that I’m very grateful!
We have our cooking projects to thank for the latter. After we began to experience panic attacks for the first time in our lives in March, after the world shut down and borders closed, we decided to stay at home and focus on Grantourismo and our Cambodia cookbook and culinary history project to keep us focused and busy and keep the anxiety at bay. While we had our moments, for the most part it worked. I’ll always remember 2020 as the year we cooked our hearts out.
We also have our family, friends, old colleagues, former clients who became friends, Grantourismo readers, and the incredibly generous patrons of our Cambodian culinary history and cookbook project on Patreon to thank. Without you, we wouldn’t have had the time or funds to focus on our recipe-testing and research; without you, we might not have eaten and might very well have been homeless. We can never thank you enough.
Last week we published the top 10 recipes of 2020 on Grantourismo that you searched for and cooked. Some recipes dated back to 2010, the year we launched Grantourismo with a yearlong slow journey around the world on which we cooked the quintessential dishes of the places we travelled to, others were more recent. This list is a compilation of the recipes that I love, the recipes that I think are our 20 best recipes of 2020 – the year in which we cooked our way through a pandemic.
20 Best Recipes of 2020 on Grantourismo – A Year of Pandemic Cooking Projects
January – Khao Tang Na Tang Rice Cakes with Chilli Prawn and Pork Dip
We hadn’t yet started cooking obsessively in January. The bushfires back home in Australia preoccupied us and it was busy work-wise, juggling cookbook and culinary history research with restaurant consulting, coordinating dining events, planning client projects, and writing a major feature story on a visiting Khmer-American chef we covered from Christmas through to New Year, as well as coordinating her trip. Siem Reap was sleepy, despite it being the tourist high season, due to a combination of bad press throughout 2019 and the news out of Wuhan about the virus, which was already having an impact. This recipe for the very addictive khao tang na tang, a popular snack of crispy rice crackers with chilli prawn and pork dip recipe from Thailand, which has a cousin in Cambodia’s natang was easily one of our 20 best recipes of 2020 for me. It’s perfect for New Year’s Eve nibbles too! As are these Cambodian hors d’oeuvres…
February – Sichuan Style Wontons with Homemade Chilli Oil
In February, we all began to worry, we started wearing masks, and we began staying at home. Terence had already been baking sourdough for over a year when I encouraged him to share his simple sourdough starter recipe, and his easy beginners guide to baking sourdough, which became two of our most visited recipes of the year. He also posted his sourdough pizza recipe (with no-knead dough!), but for me his recipe for Sichuan style wontons was another of our 20 best recipes of 2020 simply for the fact that not only are these incredibly delicious – especially when doused in his homemade Sichuan red chilli oil – but the recipe is easy to follow and they’re a cinch to make. We made them the other night!
March – Cambodian Barbecue Recipes
March was the month we’ll never forget. It was a month fraught with major decisions to make, the month we began to experience palpitations and panic attack, the month the world shutdown, and the month we moved house – at the start of a pandemic. Still, we cooked and Terence grilled. April was the month he started his Cambodian barbecue series and while it’s hard to pick one recipe… if pushed, I’d probably say his char-grilled eggplant with minced pork was one of the 20 best recipes of 2020… or maybe, the smoky grilled pork ribs… or perhaps the pork spare ribs with star anise… fortunately Terence posted this introductory post that links to all the Cambodian grilling recipes, which lets me off the hook.
April – Cambodian Sour Soup with Pork, Pineapple and Coconut Milk
Once sort of settled into our new apartment, although it was hard to ever really feel settled with all the challenges we faced – in April, Cambodia’s hottest month it was like a sauna; a couple of months later water would be trickling down walls, leaking from windows, flooding under the front door, and gushing out of the ceiling light fittings – Terence began concocting recipes for Southeast Asian-inspired Australian-style homemade sausage rolls and meat pies, and I started recipe-testing Cambodian soups. Of all the soup recipes I ended up sharing, this Cambodian sour beef soup with morning glory (samlor machou kroeung sach ko) was most definitely a favourite, and this ‘outside the pot’ soup was another, but I’m going to nominate my take on the Cambodian sour soup with pork, pineapple and coconut milk as one of our 20 best recipes of 2020, as much for its sweet flavours as for its presentation.
May – Sourdough Starter Crackers, Authentic Hummus and Moroccan Chickpea Soup
We cooked our butts off in May. We realized that the cooking projects we had unintentionally embarked upon – the barbecue dishes, the soup series, the meat pies and sausage rolls – were good for us. They kept us engaged and focused and to some extent kept the anxiety at bay. For the most part, anyway. As Terence was baking sourdough every second day – everybody was baking sourdough, so much so that there was already a sourdough backlash – I started testing out sourdough starter discard recipe series and started making sourdough scallion pancakes, sourdough crumpets, sourdough discard crackers… although it was Terence who actually perfected that recipe, and his crackers and the easy authentic homemade hummus to go with them are another two of our 20 best recipes of 2020.
This authentic Moroccan chickpea soup recipe was another of our 20 best recipes of 2020. It wasn’t a new recipe. It was one of our favourite chickpea soup recipes, which Terence had been making for over ten years, but it was the first time he’d published a recipe for this warming hearty bowl of soup that’s a meal in itself
We were nearing the end of mango season and used the last of the mangos to make everything from mango gazpacho to mango sticky rice. It was also corn season, which came in handy, as I used Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to make Mexican food. These are some more of my favourite recipes of 2020
June – Condiments and Cambodian Congee
Having immersed ourselves in testing Cambodian recipes for most of the year, I was now taking cues from Terence’s fusion experiments and embarked upon some of my own, resulting in a Southeast Asian pesto recipe and a homemade Japanese furikake recipe with Southeast Asian flavours to spice up your rice.
There are few better dishes for sprinkling condiments on than congees and in June we published our Cambodian chicken rice porridge recipe.
Terence also perfected his Cambodian fried rice and I made David Thompson’s mango sticky rice with the last of the mangoes and while I can’t take credit for them and won’t include it in our 20 best, I’m going to leave it here for you anyway, as it’s soooo good.
July – Crispy Chicken Skins and Comfort Food
For a year or so before the pandemic we always seemed to have chicken skins sitting in the fridge and Terence would prepare a pre-dinner snack of chicken skins with something or other that was sublime. July was the month I insisted he share this heavenly nibbles with the world, resulting in his perfect crispy chicken skins with spicy chicken mince recipe, which is another of our 20 best recipes of 2020.
During sultry July, I shifted my focus to salads while Terence continuing grilling and we also combined the two in dishes such as this Southeast Asian grilled pork meatballs with rice paper, rice noodles, salad, and pickles.
Terence moved onto Cambodian stir-fries, resulting in another of my favourite dishes of the year, his stir-fried chicken with cashews recipe for Cambodia’s take on cashew chicken.
Terence also kept cooking us our comfort food favourites and perfected this Tonkatsu recipe for the most tender Japanese deep fried pork cutlet ever.
August – Summer Salads and Fragrant Stews
By August we’d made real progress with our recipe testing for our Cambodia cookbook and as many countries went into lockdown again we published a post on Cambodian recipes to learn to cook in lockdown for those of you looking for the distraction of a cooking project. That round-up would become one of our most-shared posts of the year. We also made pickles and Terence got stuck into frying and braising – wok-fried Asian leafy green vegetables, stir-fried squid with Kampot green peppercorns, Cambodian fish cakes with lemongrass and kaffir lime, and slow cooked pork stew with star anise and ginger.
We continued recipe-testing Cambodian soups – our classic kuy teav recipe for Cambodia’s favourite chicken noodle breakfast soup turned out very nicely – and Cambodian salads, of which this green papaya salad recipe for bok lahong and easy pork salad with yam beans and aromatic herbs would become two of our 20 best recipes of 2020 for me.
In August, I found myself recollecting our European travels of the past, which seems like so long ago and which explains this cherry tomato salad recipe for a taste of summer on the Mediterranean, another favourite recipe of 2020 for me.
September – From Mexican to Fish and Chips and Instant Noodles
Because barely a week went by this year without me getting lost in my memories of past travels, to take us back to the streets of Mexico City, I made the Mexican grilled corn salad called esquites and Mexican street corn in a cup for elote en vaso, which would become another of our 20 best recipes of 2020 for me.
To our Cambodian recipes we added a classic banana flower salad for gnoam trayong chek, shrimp fried rice with shrimp paste for bai chha kapi, the noodles of Cambodia’s Kola people called mee Kola, a green mango salad with smoked fish for gnoam svay trei chhae, and braised pork belly with ginger, black pepper, palm sugar and peanuts.
Terence focused on perfecting more of our comfort food favourites, including his beer battered fish and chips recipe for the most perfect fish and chips you’ll ever make and his easy homemade tartare sauce recipe, which became another two of our 20 best recipes of 2020 as far as I’m concerned. You’ll find the hand cut potato chips recipe here. As far as his sourdough baking went, Terence moved on to the batard, the baguette’s lesser known cousin.
I have to confess, however, that due a combination of budget constraints and a weariness with endlessly cooking and recipe testing, we also found ourselves eating a lot of instant noodles. My instant ramen noodles recipe with my secret formula to upgrading instant noodles and Terence’s Korean instant noodles recipe with tips for jazzing up Nongshim Shin Ramyun became another two of our 20 best recipes of 2020 for me.
October – Fried Rice and Tonkatsu
I was completely miserable in October, my birthday month, due to a combination of factors: continual flooding and leaks in our apartment after every rain (and this was one of the wettest months of monsoon) and our crazy landlords who continued to make promises that they’d do repairs but of course never did, and a dire financial situation. It would be fair to describe me as being at the depths of despair.
At the same time, my first story commission of the year for a major news site, which would have helped tremendously as far as our finances were concerned, had turned out disastrously. Nervous that I would look foolish due to the editor’s naïve queries, I pulled the story on how to cook rice around the world and published a much longer version of it here along with background to how the story came about – a celebration of rice diversity – and my new quest to #MakeRiceNotWar, which you’ll hear more about in 2021.
As a result, we added fried rice dishes to our list of cooking projects, to our Cambodian collection we added lemongrass stir-fry chicken for chha kroeung sach moan and a long bean salad with smoked fish for bok sondek trey cha-er, and Terence continued to nourish me with our comfort food favourites, which explains this tonkatsu fried rice with onsen eggs recipe, another of our 20 best recipes of 2020.
November – Cucumber Salad and Cambodian Roast Chicken
Miserable, broke and completely fed up with mopping up after every downpour, in mid-November we packed up our lives for the second time during the pandemic and we moved – to a light-filled dry new apartment with lovely landlords that has become our new home. But not before adding a couple of new recipes to the Cambodian collection including a cucumber salad for gnoam trasak and a succulent roast chicken with aromatic Cambodian herb butter and stuffing, which became one of my favourite recipes of 2020.
Terence finally shared – with permission of the chef, of course – the Belles Hot Chicken’s Nashville-style chicken recipe that he’s been making for some time and the best chicken fried rice recipe ever, made with that spicy Southern fried chicken leftovers, which was another of our 20 best recipes of 2020.
December – Noodles and Chicken Soup
After a year spent cooking our way through a pandemic – obsessively recipe-testing for our Cambodian book, embarking on Asian fusion experiments, perfecting comfort food favourites, and setting off on a fried rice quest, we spent a little less time at the stove in December – despite having a cute immaculate new kitchen – and took our time to unpack and settle in. Determined to see our Cambodian cookbook and culinary history published in 2021, I spent much of this month at my desk consolidating the Cambodian food knowledge we’d accumulated this year, reviewing and refining cookbook proposals, and developing ideas for new books.
To our Cambodian repertoire we added everything from a lort chha recipe for the market style stir-fried rice pine noodles to a classic Cambodian omelette with minced pork and prahok, Cambodia’s famous fermented fish, a vegan curry recipe that could be made as a Cambodian or Thai curry, and Cambodia’s chicken soup for the soul, a pickled lime and chicken broth recipe for sngor ngam ngov, which became another of our 20 best recipes of 2020.
While 2020 will go down as the worst year of our lives in many ways, we achieved a great deal when it came to our own projects and we could not have done it without the generous support of our patrons of our Cambodian cookbook on Patreon; of my family, especially my sister Felicia, mum, my uncle George and his wife, and my cousin Tony and his wife Annette; along with many dear friends, former colleagues, and former clients who became friends. Thank you everyone. We will never be able to thank you enough xx