Hint: I’m in a remote and exotic land where, for almost two decades, the above was the epitome of prime-time television entertainment. Where am I?
Khao khluk kapi at Ratana, a curry stall in Bangkok’s Nang Loeng Market
Frankly, I wasn’t blown away by my restaurant meals during my recent stay in Auckland. We had some genuinely fun and tasty dinners, but what I’ll continue to remember are the meals based around ingredients that we were able to pick, scavenge and hunt ourselves.
Our hunting and gathering started close to home, at G and G’s beautiful garden just outside Auckland:
which had everything from fresh herbs to potatoes:
Maytel had the brilliant idea to take some of the abundant Swiss chard (known locally as silverbeet) and combine it with a blue cheese studded béchamel, which Hock topped with crispy breadcrumbs:
Twice we were given rabbit, an invasive menace in New Zealand, whose hunting is encouraged:
One lot we braised with red wine and served over homemade gnocchi:
and with another two I made two vast pots of rabbit and oyster gumbo, easily the tastiest gumbo I’ve ever assembled.
After a few days in Auckland we headed over to nearby Waiheke Island:
where within minutes of arriving, we were on our knees looking for pipis, a type of local shellfish:
We found none, but instead came upon heaps of deliciously salty cockles, half of which we grilled:
accompanied, courtesy of G and G, by a 2000 vintage Moët (it wasn’t all hard work):
and the other half Maytel stir-fried Chinese-style.
The next day we took off on G and G’s boat, The Beaver, for some fishing, and returned 12 hours later with this catch of snapper:
Hock filleted the entire lot, some of which we gave to the neighbours, some of which I made into a ceviche (following this simple recipe from memory), and the remainder of which he made into some truly memorable fish and chips:
Amazingly, it wasn’t until virtually my last day in New Zealand that I set foot in a grocery store.
Because I’ve lived nearly my entire adult life in Thailand, a place where eating things such as raw blood is relatively commonplace, and because some people mistakenly consider me an authority on such bizarre foods, I’m more than a bit embarrassed to reveal what I’d consider my first exotic meal.
It was almost certainly a meal I ate when I was about 12, just before I made my first trip abroad. I had been invited to have dinner at the home of an ice hockey teammate, an Australian, and was served roast lamb. It was my first time ever eating the meat (I believe this was also the same day when I first tasted Vegemite — you can imagine the cumulative culinary shock to my system), and I remember wondering beforehand if I’d be able to get it down. Even the dinner table, topped with exotic-sounding condiments such as mint sauce and chutney, a gravy boat, cloth napkins and the family’s special plates, not to mention the family’s somewhat formal table manners, were intimidating and foreign and a world away from my family’s informal and very American concept of dinner.
In the end I had no problem eating the lamb, and even enjoyed the meal, but had largely forgotten about the whole experience until recently, when on my recent trip to New Zealand, I was invited to have roast lamb with my buddy Hock’s family.
We began, naturally, with a leg of lamb:
which we seasoned and studded with garlic and rosemary.
Hock made mint sauce according to his grandmother’s recipe:
which involved grinding fresh mint, sugar, salt and malt vinegar to a paste in a mortar and pestle.
He also made his grandmother’s fish pie:
a delicious mixture of smoked fish, scallops and shrimp held together by a thick roux.
While all this was baking, the kids came by with chocolate slice that they had made:
and Grandma Chris topped her famous and delicious eclairs:
After nearly two hours in the oven, the lamb was done:
the home-grown onions, potatoes and kumara (a type of local sweet potato) roasted:
and the fish pie baked:
and we sat down to a roast lamb dinner, my second in 20 years:
This time around the meal didn’t feel nearly as exotic, and was even somewhat homey and familiar, confirming for me that all these years in Thailand have conditioned me to eat anything, even roast lamb.
Somehow I’d only consumed one pie, hastily and in the front seat of a car, during my stay in New Zealand, a situation I was determined to remedy. So on my last day in the country Hock did a bit of online research and we headed over to Kingsland to sample what the Internet told us were Auckland’s best pies.
Arriving at The Fridge I followed Hock’s strict instructions and avoided the Thai Red Curry Chicken and Moroccan Lamb pies and instead grabbed a Mince, a Steak and Guinness and something having to do with cheese and potato. The pies were $6, which apparently makes them somewhat spendy by Auckland pie standards.
We stopped at One Tree Hill Park and dug in:
The mince was a classic, with a buttery flaky crust and a rich filling that, coupled with liberal squirts of tomato sauce, made a huge mess. The Steak and Guinness boasted a decent but somewhat bland stew-like filling with carrots and potatoes. And the cheese and potato pie was predominately gloopy and heavy.
I’m not qualified to say whether or not these are Auckland’s best pies, but I thoroughly enjoyed the mince in particular, and Hock, a native and pie enthusiast, seemed to agree. And if I’m being totally honest, I even enjoyed the half of the cheese and potato pie, as it ensured that I had absolutely no reason to eat airline food — even if I wouldn’t eat for another four hours.
507 New North Road
+64 (0)9 845 5321
730am-4pm Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm Sat & Sun
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To regular readers, it will come as no surprise that, yet again, I find myself up in Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand. This time I’m only up here for 10 days, and am already doing a fair bit of writing, so I’d prefer to keep my blogging to mostly image-based, marginally food-related posts. A caveat: I’m shooting with my old D100, a single 35mm f/2 and am editing the images on a laptop, so the images won’t be amazing, but to be honest, I find that the 400ISO JPEGs from this camera have an attractive old-school film-like quality.
I came across the guy above just outside Ban Mae Lana, possibly the most attractive rural village anywhere in the country. He made for a nice portrait, but initially I was drawn to his ‘luggage':
a chicken container carved out of a length of bamboo, complete with a window and airholes! He explained that he takes the rooster into the woods, ties it to something and encourages it to call. This apparently attracts any ‘wild chickens’ (kai paa), which he then shoots. Unfortunately this particular chicken wasn’t yet ready. “He’s still scared of the forest,” explained the man, “He needs to be trained.”
I told you it was pretty.
The above is Mae Lana, the Shan village mentioned in my previous post. Mae Lana is located about 50km northeast of Mae Hong Son in a steep picturesque valley and is famous for Tham Mae Lana, a 12km-long cave.
Taking a break from the hectic metropolis that is Mae Hong Son, I decided to drive up to Mae Lana and stayed a night at Garden Home, the village’s only guest house. Waking up early the next morning, I went on a 20km walk that wound through mountain scenery:
and the occasional hilltribe village before terminating at Ban Tham Lot, another village near a cave.
I’ve previously blogged on khao kan jin, rice steamed with blood and bits of meat — a Shan/Thai Yai dish that’s popular here in Mae Hong Son. After eating at the previously mentioned stall for years, I finally found another vendor, hidden in a side street and located roughly across from the TOT (Telephone Organization of Thailand) office. Drizzled with garlic oil and served with sprigs of cilantro, raw garlic cloves and deep-fried dried chilies, there isn’t much to distinguish the khao kan jin (pictured above) here from my old standby. Both stalls are open at roughly the same time (3-6pm) and both serve khanom jeen nam ngiaw and deep-fried pork rinds. If anything, I’d say that the khao kan jin here is slightly less rich, and the stall also does a variation of the dish that has not been steamed and thus contains raw blood — the result being a rather intimidating bright pink ball of rice.
Khao kan jin
Located roughly across from TOT office, Mae Hong Son
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A rice field outside Mae Lana, Mae Hong Son, northern Thailand
A few pics of my walk from Ban Mae Lana to Ban Tham Lot.
Eating breakfast at a hill tribe village outside Mae Lana
Piglets at a hill tribe village outside Mae Lana
Limestone mountains outside Ban Tham Lot
The walk followed, more or less, this route:
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Locals eating breakfast at Mae Hong Son’s morning market
The breakfast choices offered at Mae Hong Song’s morning market are truly unlike anywhere else in Thailand. Although most tourists from Bangkok head directly for the jok (rice porridge) stall, there are some very cool local dishes including delicious deep-fried goodies called khang pong, the local version of khanom jeen nam ngiaw, a watery pork- and tomato-based soup served over rice noodles, and thua oon, a weird but tasty Burmese noodle dish in a thick gram bean gravy.