Thoughts of food?…food for thought, we thought!

During our stays in Greece, Cambodia and Thailand we partook of some amazingly tasty food…and we love food, especially when it’s full of flavours, and usually chilli 😉

When we started recently to discuss the different tastes and styles of dishes in different countries and what we most enjoyed in each place, we realised that when you travel for the first time to a location, more than likely you have no idea what the local dishes will be, how to order the right combination of things, or even know the traditional way in which they are eaten – not wishing to offend anyone by eating with your fingers, or by eating from the wrong dishes.

You also don’t really know if the things you can eat (hubby!) will be able to be found there…like cheese…or even beef.

Food is food though…isn’t it?

Not really…

Oh, and the pictures are all taken from the web in this post – I am really bad at remembering to take pictures of our meals until after they are all gone, which isn’t much good…when they arrive and look/smell so good, we just dig in! lol

We have made some minor errors when ordering food along our limited travels so far – either by not knowing what things were served with and ordering too little; ordering too much food because it came with things which weren’t listed (but being pleasantly surprised and eating it all with gusto anyway!); doing things by trial and error by having absolutely no idea what things meant on a menu with no English translation at all and the fact we had left our dictionary in the tent/hotel!; or just not knowing what different cultures usually eat with what, and sometimes even what bowls or plates to eat it from!

Astoundingly, we haven’t had any major mishaps where we couldn’t eat what arrived in front of us.  It has made us think about finding out more about the menu before we arrive though, so that we know some words and meanings in order to know what to order, at least! 😉

In Greece it amounted to just knowing the difference between the different types of dishes like:

Kleftiko (usually Lamb, slow-cooked in the oven with vegetables, herbs and garlic to make it mouth-wateringly tender so it melts with every bite and the veg are infused with all the flavours of the meaty juice and herbs) – can be served in a clay pot or on a plate;

Youvetsi (again usually Lamb, with tomato sauce, pasta and cheese baked and – more than likely – traditionally served in a clay pot) – picture courtesy of www.panoskleftiko.com;

Stifado (beef or lamb stew with tomatoes and shallots traditionally cooked/served in a clay pot) – most of the time! – photo courtesy of www.yelp.com ;

You can see by the pictures why you may be forgiven for not really knowing the difference of these staple dishes just by sight, but the individual tastes of these dishes means that they cannot be muddled once you try them – they are all delicious and if cooked correctly means that the meat falls apart with just the lightest touch of your fork and veritably melts in the mouth (meaning that it has to be savoured to be fully appreciated, and Greek meals should never be rushed – it is a social event rather than just food), but depending where you go for your delightful experience of Greek cuisine also depends on how it gets served – some places will serve the dish alone, others will serve with chips, and yet others with rice, vegetables or salad.  You just never know unless it’s stated on the menu – which most are not – picture courtesy of www.thumbs.ifood.tv

Usually Greek meals are started off by a basket of fresh bread, which is irresistibly good (and will leave you the size of a house by the end of a normal holiday, and does explain why most Greeks are a little large around the middle as they get older; the bread and cakes in Greece are amazing!) and they will happily have tzatziki, hummus, tirokafteri (spicy cheese), feta-stuffed green peppers, saganaki (fried cheese), zucchini and greek salad as starter or side dishes to pick at and which will be kept on the table throughout the whole meal to accompany the main dishes too.  It’s a feast to the tastebuds, and if you eat like the Greeks your tastebuds will love you (and your bed will groan with the strain, but it’s well worth it).

picture courtesy of http://www.emiliosgreekrestaurant.co.uk

Oh, and the other thing worth having in Greece is the Souvlaki – this could be served in a pitta bread pocket with salad and tzatziki, or it could be served on a plate with the meat (lamb, pork or chicken), tzatziki and bread all arranged for you to assemble yourself or eat bit by bit off the plate (picture courtesy of www.chezus.com) – both are equally as good, and very filling.

Lots of places serve the meat on skewers, and accompanied by pitta, and/or chips and a wedge of lime or lemon – picture courtesy of www.us.123rf.com  Not all restaurants will serve this one with the tzatziki, it’s trial and error on that one, so it may have to be ordered separately as it just doesn’t feel complete without it!

All versions are delicious…unless of course, you just pick a really crap eatery! Shit happens. (but we didn’t do that, luckily)

You may wonder why we mention about how it’s served and with what – in the UK most restaurants note on the menu what each dish is served with, and you get used to knowing that certain things are served together – a bit like fish ‘n’ chips being a traditional British food…you can pretty much know that you will get chips with your fish as standard, but the other bits like salad, mushy peas, or a wedge of lemon are listed under ‘served with…’

You don’t tend to see this as standard on the menus in other countries – the restaurant may only list one dish ‘served with…’ something, and the rest is just listing the dish name and a description like ‘beef with vegetables in sauce’…Is that a beef stew?; a steak with boiled veg and peppercorn sauce?; or maybe a beef and vegetable curry?

If the servers don’t speak your language and you can only speak a basic few of theirs, it’s hard to find out what comes with it – does that have chips, rice, salad, bread?…nothing?

It makes for interesting orders and looks of surprise or puzzled frowns when it arrives on the table, but it all adds to the spice of travel, so to speak…

Cambodia – the Khmer food is quite tasty but has more of an array of fragrance and flavour combined in one dish than just sticking with a main ingredient as such.

Lok Lak is their main renowned dish…traditionally – marinated beef, usually on a bed of salad, with a bowl of spicy dipping sauce (lime juice, sea salt and black Kampot pepper), rice, and a fried egg.  Some places serve this with the beef already very spicy whilst others let the dipping sauce be added to your own taste so the beef could be quite bland without it.  Again, it depends who is serving it as to how you get it.

Some places will serve with the egg and others miss the egg off completely (if like hubby, you love eggs and have dietary limitations, this is kind of important and sometimes disappointing); some will only serve the beef on the salad, or on the rice, without anything else.  Some will serve with chips.  Picture courtesy of www.joelandbarbara.smugmug.com

The Kampot pepper mentioned above comes in 3 varieties – red, green or black.  It is a regional peppercorn and the taste is quite strong but very nice – if served ground or a few whole peppercorns in a recipe.  On some dishes which list ‘green pepper’ as an ingredient, you will find it is usually Kampot peppercorns rather than the vegetable which would be called ‘green pepper’ in the west, and the Kampot can be served as whole strings of peppercorns rather than single corns like you would get in a ‘peppercorn sauce’ in the West.   It can be an acquired taste and a little overpowering, especially when it’s crunchy strings of peppercorns, served with chicken or pork in a sauce, or with crab like the picture below, courtesy of Wikipedia.

I ordered a stir-fried Chicken and Green Pepper dish and was surprised to see copious amounts of little stringed small green peas (like in the above picture) instead of the crisp almost slightly bitter-sweet vegetable which I thought I had ordered.  Live and learn 🙂

Amok Trey (above, courtesy of Wikipedia) is another main popular dish in Cambodia which is steamed curried fish, apparently soaked in coconut milk – a favourite amongst tourists apparently.

It isn’t something we tried as we are a little bit intolerant of food with possible bones in – if we don’t know it’s bone-free we avoid it like the plague, as we both hate picking at our food in such a way to get the bones out that your food is cold by the time you have sifted through it!

To be honest, most fish just tastes…well, too fishy – if you love fish, then you just won’t get what we mean.

The bone thing was also something we came to realise with meat too – in Asia, chicken is usually on the bone, which you kind of expect when it’s drumsticks, wings, or thighs, but it’s even on the bone in curries or stews, as they tend to just chop the meat up with a huge cleaver and throw it all in – pork or beef is a safer option if you don’t like spitting bits of bone out.

Beef also seemed to be much less of an option in Thailand than in Cambodia.  Pork and chicken were popular, as were prawns and catfish – which was kind of sad for us, as we used to enjoy throwing fish food to the catfish in the parks and temple lakes, as do many Thai’s and other tourists, watching their cute little whiskered faces and beady eyes as they came to the surface – gulp! Were we just fattening the proverbial cow?!!!

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We put that thought away quite quickly and just hoped we never saw a ‘face’ we recognised on a table next to us… 😉

One of the most popular dishes in Thailand is Pad Thai.  Now, when we arrived in the country and were forced to endure dubious company occasionally (you know, when you think you picked a quiet spot and someone sits down right next to you when they could have any table in an empty room, is too clueless to pick up on body language, and then starts a conversation?), we got told about this dish and where to go for ‘the best …ever!’…but not actually being told what the hell it consisted of.  Did any of the backpackers actually know? Was it just trendy to eat this particular Thai dish?! And how do they know it’s the ‘best ever’…have they tried it in every region of the country in order to make that decision?!

We googled it…because trying to ask Thai people what a dish has in it is quite hard.  (They also don’t seem to understand why you don’t want rice/noodles with a dish either and seem to think you are mistaken in your request and give it to you anyway!  Ok for me, but not ok when Rich can’t eat rice, potatoes or pasta/noodles because he gets quite ill. )

So Pad Thai – rice noodles with garlic, fish sauce, tamarind, chilli, lime, prawn, shallots, palm sugar, and a few other bits, often served with beansprouts and spring onion/chives on the side. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

File:Phat Thai kung Chang Khien street stall.jpg

Thailand is nicknamed ‘Land of Smiles’ but I think LOS should stand for ‘Land of Spice’ as their spices here are amazing, and the best quality for very little cost.   Their street food is cheap – 35-50 baht, which is less than a pound for a meal at the current exchange rate of 52 baht per £1.   This is cheaper than trying to buy your own ingredients to cook at home, which is why most Thais eat out or get takeaway from the street stalls and don’t have kitchens in their homes.  By ‘street food’ we don’t mean the typical backpacker meal of a banana and nutella Roti – tasty but hardly nutritious! – we mean a proper meal of meat, veg, and rice or noodles.  Yes, you can actually get a proper meal for less than £1.

All in all, the food in Thailand is some of the tastiest we have sampled so far even with a lack of beef for Rich.  We did find one place who understood his other need for eggs (“Ahhh, strong, strong!”) and kindly made him fried eggs each time we visited – “same same” 😉

This is one picture I did manage to take from the lovely restaurant where they made his eggs, and my gorgeously-tasty chilli minced pork, with rice and soup!  Their iced Thai coffee was also stupidly good…

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And this is one from a Barbeque restaurant after we had demolished our food there…

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The Barbeque option was 149 baht per person, which is just under £3 each…and you get to pick your own meat, vegetables, salad, dessert etc for that measly sum, and you fry the meat to your own tastes on the clay barbeque pot that is placed on your table.  The other lidded pot has boiling water for vegetables, so again, you cook what you want to your own preferences.   it is such good value, and the meat/veg is excellent quality.

This is the view of the bar where you select your food before taking it to your table to gorge senselessly…

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These Barbeque restaurants were so popular with the locals that if you go too late in the day (early evening!) you actually have queues of people sitting outside on their scooters by the kerb, waiting for a free table.

The locals love their food as much as we do…

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My personal favourite in Thailand though is Kang Ped – Red Thai curry – although strangely in Chiang Mai not many places serve it unless you want to pay Western prices in a posh restaurant.  It is quite strong on the chilli, and should make your eyes water and your mouth tingle quite nicely.

We found it for a good price near Chiang Mai gate, in the old city, at a tiny place called The Funky Monkey.  Sadly this is near a backpacker haven of hostels and cheap eateries, so we only went here when it was quiet…otherwise there are hoards of rude Westerners to contend with, and we can’t be doing with that.

Another good meal is Kao Pad – Thai fried rice with vegetables, and your choice of meat or prawns.  This is a very popular and cheap street meal…(photo courtesy of www.food.com)

It usually comes without any chilli etc, so if you eat at the stalls, they can be added at the table, or if you have it to takeaway they give you the chilli in a little bag to add to your taste.   Delicious!

If you are vegetarian, options can be found at various restaurants catering just for vegetarians.  Street food can be more problematic if you are strict about the oil used etc, as everything is cooked in the same wok too, rinsed out between each dish.  (just standing watching them cook is fascinating, as they do it with such speed and skill)

Of course, there is one place we found if you think you could be turned…

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And pork rind is apparently incredibly popular as a snack…whole stalls selling nothing but!

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All in all, hubby would prefer Cambodian food because of the amount of beef there, and I would say Thailand for me because of the spices.  ‘Value-wise’, Thailand can’t be beaten for street food, and ‘overall taste’ has to be Thailand for us both too.

The other thing which we have both noted, now that we have moved on to Malaysia, is customer service.  Greece and Thailand is hands-down the best so far, and Malaysia is another story yet to come…

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