The Short Version of Our Life Time Trip – This is how it happened.

I know I have just finished writing about my Bhutan Trip, I have a confession here – We are currently on 2 months holiday now. Jealous? Yeah, I know! To make you feel more jealous, I am writing this entry from a boat cruising Antarctica. HA! I KNOW!!

Beautiful Antarctica with Penguins!! The best view ever….

My husband and I had been talking about taking time-off and traveling the world for a year. This year, I became 40 years old. We are getting old. Our parents are getting old. We have been living in the same city for 5 years. I have been working for the same company for 5 years. I felt it was enough talking. I felt it was time to take action.

And…, this opportunity came up. A good opportunity…, a job opportunity…, for him…, here in Perth….

That happened in September while we were still traveling in Nepal. That time, I was probably the only wife in the world who was disappointed with the husband having a new good job….

However, however! He is my husband, not an ordinary husband! He somehow negotiated with his new employer and managed to start with this company next year! I do not know how he did, but he did it.
After that, time was gold! As soon as we came back from our Bhutan and Nepal trip, he handed in his resignation, so that we would be able to have approximately 2 months off until his new job starts (Me? well… me too. Somehow the company I works for agreed to hold my position for 2 months….I do not know how I did, but i did it.). We decided our destinations, booked tickets, packed up our apartment and here we are!

These are our destinations;
Adelaide (to attend my brother-in law’s wedding – that was really really lovely….) -> Buenos Aires (cool city, loved it!)-> Patagonia (a lot of hiking) -> Antarctica (currently here), -> Spain (Madrid – Seville) -> Morocco (Fez – Sahara Desert – Marrakesh – Essouira) -> Portugal (Porto – Douro Valley – Coimbra -> Obidos -> Lisbon) -> Hong Kong -> home.

This might be a super short and quick version of our original 1 year world tour plan, but when can we get 2 months off next, hey? I have to admit that I cannot complain about this arrangement.
This will be a quite busy trip, but I will be writing about the trip where I can. Especially I HAVE TO write about the food in these places. I am so existed just to think about what we can eat there!

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Memoir of Bhutan Trip – Bhutanese Food

Before our trip, we did not really know much about Bhutanese food. We, of course, googled a bit about what we could eat over there, but all we found out was it would be hot. OK, good, we love chilis! – That was our thought.
Now, we went there and we ate their food. Our opinion towards it is… LOVE Bhutanese food!!! Give me more!!!!
What did we love about? Here are the reasons….

Having a Picnic – Punakha Tshechu
  1. The Heat
    Yes it did not disappoint us! It was hot!
    On the way from Paro airport to our first hotel, we saw something red spread on top of the houses. When we asked our guide- Nim (the cool and intelligent Bhutanese lady), she told me that they were all red chilis drying on their roof! At that point, we realised that we would face serious heat here – which made us excited.
    Technically they put chilis in all of their dishes. Starting from Ema Datshi (which is chili cheese – the Bhutanese national food), chili salad (which is technically only chopped chilis, coriander and lemon- that’s it!), chili chicken (if you are not a vegetarian) and chili paste to add onto it. Probably corn soup and buckwheat pancakes were the only dishes without chilis among what we ate during our stay.
    Once Nim realised that we loved chilis, she started taking us to several restaurants which served all different levels of heat. In the end, we got her approval that we could eat like the locals! YEY!
Dried Chili in the Bhutanese Farm House

2. The Simplicity
Simple – this is the perfect word to describe Bhutanese cuisine. As Bhutan is not quite open to the whole world, what Bhutan produces is what the Bhutanese eat. For that reason, there are not many varieties in their dishes. They eat Ema Datshi every day. There are a few different variations – mushrooms, potatoes and onions, however technically, they are vegetables and cheese.

Sounds boring?

Not at all! The vegetables are produced locally and the cheese is home-made. Each restaurant and family has their own recipes. That made us eager to try Ema Datshi every day to taste each family’s secret.
We also found that they do not use seasoning much in cooking, which actually puts the emphasis on the taste of the ingredients themselves. This is a wonderful example of simplicity of cooking. You do not need many fancy condiments such as sugar, vinegar, oyster sauce or even a little bit of soy sauce (!) to make wonderful dishes out of good fresh ingredients.

3. Home-made
In addition to their fresh produce that I have mentioned above, for winter when they cannot produce much, they dry most of their produce… well… to be honest, ALL of their produce!- chilis (of course), corn (make their own corn flour), mushrooms (nice), pork belly (!), cheese (!!) etc.
They make their own alcohol as well, which is called Ara. It is made from…. anything really. Some are made from wheat, some are from millet, some are from potatoes.
We visited 2 farm houses for dinner during our stay. Both families had their own Ara. Both Ara were quite strong! It was quite similar to Shochu or even whisky. Among the several kinds of Ara from both families, the one I remember the most is Ara infused with Matsutake (I called it “Japanese Porcini” for an easy translation – in short, it is mushroom which is famous for its fragrance. It is in season in fall and is super expensive in Japan. Bhutan produces Matsutake – not for export, of course…). A touch of Matsutake fragrance in Ara was quite nice. My husband, especially, quite enjoyed it that night.

Home made Ara – Bhutanese Sake 
  1. Family-oriented
    Although each of the dishes are simple, there are normally several dishes served at the table. This is the common dinner menu:
    From top right – clockwise
    Rice, Spinach Soup, Potato Cheese, Ema Datshi, Stir-fried Asparagas and Carrot, Chili Chicken (in the middle)

Bhutan Dinner

They put all dishes in the middle (of the floor as they do not use a table) and share with their family members. Rice is served first, and then pass the dishes around each other. Mother recommends her family to eat one of the dishes more than others, as maybe it is her today’s special. Family members sit together, eat together and chat together. I just love this simple basic concept of dinner.

Sooo now, as a recipe developer (to be), I am super interested in recreating Bhutanese Food. The difficulty is that it is super simple, therefore, the favour heavily replies on the quality of ingredients. For example, Ema Datshi – it is technically stir-fried Chilis and Cheese. However, Bhutanese chili is medium size and very meaty like a capsicum, and it is hot and spicy. I have never seen the same kind in either Australia or Japan. The cheese for Ema Datshi – apparently they use their home-made cottage cheese as a base and add some different kinds of cheese (depending on each family), but it is completely different from the cottage cheese that we know here in Australia. I have tried a few different combinations of cheese to recreate Ema Datshi, but so far, it has not been successful…. That makes me more keen and eager to eat THAT Ema Datshi. Something like you know you cannot get, therefore you really want it…. Awww give me THAT Ema Datshi!

Re creating THAT Ema Datsi is my big project now. When I succeed, I will certainly let you know….

Memoir of Bhutan Trip – Itinerary and some practical info

Where is Bhutan?

This was a question I got  most of the time when I said we are going to Bhutan.

Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas, sharing the border with Tibet and India. This small kingdom has been on my “To Go”list for a long time. Why? Because! Bhutan is known as the “happiest country” in the world. Everyone wants to be happy, don’t they !!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Tiger's Nest
Tiger’s Nest!!! There are about 750 stairs!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Thimphu Festival
The Biggest Festival – Thimphu Tchechu

Obviously, I had a high expectation towards this country and I would like to confirm now that my experience in Bhutan has exceeded my expectations. This kingdom is full of purity and beauty. If I have to describe Bhutan in one word, I would say “Genuine”.  People, food, nature, air…,I felt that everything was genuine.

Throughout the trip, I felt the people were super nice and trustworthy ( but not like “Japanese”nice…We, Japanese, have a good reputation as “kind” or “polite” people, but we are trained to act that way and which is different from”nice” I think, if you know what I mean. The food was simple and tasty (I will write about Bhutanese food another day).  Taking care of nature and their culture is part of their life.

So, did I feel happier now by visiting Bhutan? I have to say YES. I do not know what it is, but I somehow feel calmer and more relaxed.

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Dzong
Beautiful Punakha Dzong

I would like to record our trip here, which maybe helpful to the people who are considering going to Bhutan, as I assume that not many people around you have already experienced it.

Travel Period : 7 days / 6 nights

Travelling Season :  Autumn. We chose September as there were quite a few big festivals (Tsechu) on in September.

Flight: Perth Australia – Bangkok (Thai Airways) – Paro Bhutan (Druk Air) – We flew out to Kathmandu after that. Thai Airways have a relationship with Druk Air, therefore, our luggage could go to Bhutan directly (we did not need to pick it up at Bangkok). We did not need to go through immigration in Bangkok to transfer to Druk Air.

Travel Agency: Raven Tours. This was a great choice! Highly recommended.

To go to Bhutan, booking the trip via Bhutanese government approved travel agency is a must. Once you decide your travel agency, they can book everything for you including Visa, Hotel, and Druk Air flight tickets, thus, you do not need to worry about anything.

Raven made a personalised tour for us. Our guide was a super cool and smart lady who made our small wishes (but important) come true, such as wearing Bhutanese traditional cloth and taking us out for dinner every night (as we are foodies).  I have no hesitation to recommend them to anyone.

Currency: Bhutanese Ngultrum or Indian Rupee. Take USD. The best place to exchange money is Paro Airport (before immigration).

Cost: minimum $250 USD per person. It might sound too much, but we felt not…. (I know it is not cheap, but!!). This normally includes everything (Hotel, meal tour etc), thus, you will only spend a little in Bhutan (all we spent there was for beer and a little souvenir for ourselves).  If you would like your travel agency to book flights or upgrade the hotel rank, it will be at additional cost.  We went for standard 3 star hotels, but all hotels were great!

Itinerary: Thimpu -> Punakha -> Paro

Thimphu (2 nights) : Attend the Festival at Tashichho Dzong, Hike to Tango Monastery, Largest Sitting Budha, Memorial Chorten, Tashichho Dzong, Nature Hikes.

Punakha (2 nights): Attend the Punakha Festival, Punakha Dochula Pass, Punakha Fortress, Fertility Temple, Talo village and Kham Sum Yule Temple Hike.

Paro (2 nights): Tiger’s Nest, Paro town, Farm House, Archery, Hot stone bath.

Recommendations: The best was I have to say – a usual suspect – Tiger’s Nest. It was really hard to get there, but it was so rewarding. The temple itself was just beautiful. We found a little quite corner in the temple and mediated for a while. It was so peaceful and I felt like my heart was cleansed…. I highly recommend to take a hot stone bath after the hike!

I also enjoyed attending the festivals with the locals – ask your agency to dress you in the Bhutanese traditional cloth!

Next I will write about Bhutanese Food!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Himalaya View
Himalayan View from Lungchuzekha

 

My mum’s Recipe : Anko – Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste

My memory of Japanese sweets is my mum’s homemade Anko (Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste).  Well…, it is not exactly the anko itself…. It is more like my mum and my sister.

They love anko. They sometimes had this sudden craving for anko (and I do not know why, but this happened always at night), and the next day, my mum would make it. When they ate it, they looked super happy… The homemade anko must have had some sort of magical power to make these 2 powerful Osaka ladies (especially if you know them…, you know what I mean) calm and speechless…

On the other hand, I have never been a big fan of Anko…. Somehow, I felt it was too sweet….That’s why I had never made it before. However, as I became older, I started missing the sweet anko – age does funny thing to humans!

So here it is! I recreated my mum’s happy Anko. As always, she gave me the instructions and tips  (well, of course she does not know the measurement…). I think it is quite good.

Anko Red Bean Paste 1 a little bit of soy

I made Dorayaki (Red Bean Pancake) by using this anko this time. You can use if for anything else – such as Zensai (Sweet Red Bean Soup), Daifuku (mochi rice cake filled with anko), or even western style sweets (cupcakes and pound cakes will be good!).

It takes time to make, but it is easy. Try it when you have time!

Ingredients:

220g Azuki Red Beans

1200ml of Water

140g of Caster Sugar

1/4 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

Method: 

  1. Soak Azuki red beans overnight (15 – 20 hours).
  2. Rinse the azuki red beans.
  3. Place the azuki red beans and 1200ml water into a big pot. Bring it to the boil. Once it is boiled, turn the heat to low. Skim the scum off the top.  Keep cooking over low heat for about 1 hour or until the azuki red beans become soft and tender.
  4. Add caster sugar and sea salt into the pot. Keep simmering until the liquid is evaporated. This will take about 1 – 1.5 hours.
  5. Once the liquid is evaporated, mix and mash the azuki red beans to the consistency of your liking. Cool it down to use. You can wrap and freeze the anko if you are not planing to use it straight away.

This is Dorataki (Japanese Red Bean Pancake Sandwich). I used this recipe.

http://www.ntv.co.jp/3min/recipe/20100923.html

Dorayaki_Anko_A little bit of soy

Healthy! Super Moist Boiled Chicken with Peanut Sauce

Boiling is a super healthy way to cook chicken breast, but how long do you boil the chicken?

Of course you can boil it until the chicken is dead. However, in my opinion, it is super dry to eat…. well still edible, I guess….

Today, I would like to introduce my way of boiling chicken. I boil it only for 2 minutes and then just leave it for for 1 hour. Technically the chicken will be cooked in the residual heat. I found this way makes the chicken super moist!

Boiled Chicken a little bit of soy
Healthy! Super Moist Boiled Chicken with Peanut Sauce

I would also like to introduce my peanut butter sauce to go with my super moist boiled chicken. I created it, just because I had a leftover peanut butter in the kitchen…( Well, I believe I am not the only one who has it after trying to make satay chicken?). However, it came out great!

This boiled chicken is super versatile. You can use it for salad, sandwich or you can enjoy it with a lot of different sauces. Furthermore, it is super healthy!

Hope you like it and add it onto your regular menu…. 🙂

Ingredients:

1 Chicken Breast – skinless and boneless

2 pinches of Sea Salt for Chicken Breast

800 ml of Water

2/3 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

1 Teaspoon of White Wine or Cooking Sake

For Peanut Sauce

1 Tablespoon of Peanut Butter – no added sugar

1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice

1/2 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce

1 Teaspoon of Dark Sugar

1 Teaspoon of Sesame Oil

1 Tablespoon of Chicken Broth left over after boiling chicken

Coriander  – chopped for topping

Method: 

  1. Sprinkle 2 pinches of sea salt over chicken breast. Wrap the chicken with paper towels.  Leave it for about 20 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Bring water to a boil and add sea salt and white wine. Place the chicken breast into the boiling water and reduce the heat to medium. Keep cooking for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off.  Put a lid on. Leave it for minimum 1 hour.
  3. Making peanut sauce. Place peanut butter, lemon juice, soy sauce, dark sugar and sesame oil in a bowl. Mix all together. Pour the remaining chicken broth from the boiled chicken to make the sauce to the consistency of your liking.
  4. Slice the boiled chicken and arrange it on the serving plate. Serve it with the peanut sauce and chopped coriander on top.

The remaining chicken broth is full of flavor, so do not throw it away! I normally use it to make soup!

The Easiest Ever Japanese – Nasu Dengaku (Miso Glazed Eggplant)

I would like to introduce my 2nd Easiest Ever Japanese recipe – Nasu Dengaku, which is known as Miso Glazed Eggplant.

Nasu Dengaku a little bit of soy
Juicy! Nasu Dengaku.

Again there is nothing difficult involved in this recipe, basically all you have to do is make miso sauce (by just mixing) and bake eggplant. Ingredients are common Japanese ones which you might already have in your pantry, otherwise can be obtained easily from the shop.

The baked eggplant will be super tender and melting in your month with the sweet and salty miso glaze. It is delicious!

This is another good recipe if you are not familiar with cooking Japanese.  Hope you like it 🙂

Ingredients (serving 2)

1 big Eggplant – about 500g

2 teaspoon of Sesame Oil

Sesame Seeds for topping

For Dengaku Sauce

1 tablespoon of Miso

1 tablespoon of Sugar

1/2 tablespoon of Cooking Sake

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C.
  2. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Score the flesh (almost to the skin) around the inner edge of the skin about 5mm in, and then score the same diagonally inside in small squares (see photo).

    Nasu Dengaku step by step
    Nasu Dengaku How to score eggplant flash

  3. Put sesame oil on the surfaces of the eggplant. Place the eggplant facing up on a baking tray. Bake it for about 30 minutes or until the eggplant is cooked and juicy.
  4. In the mean time, mix all ingredients for dengaku sauce
  5. Take out the eggplant from the oven.  Glaze the eggplant with the dengaku sauce. Turn the oven to 220 °C. Bake the eggplant for another 8-10 minutes.
  6. Take it out from the oven. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Serve while hot.

 

Healthy! Wasabi Prawn Cocktail – NO MAYO

This is a super easy and super yummy recipe – A Classic British with a Japanese Twist – Wasabi Prawn Cocktail (This may be called “Modern Australian cuisine”? I guess?).

Wasabi Prawn Cocktail No Mayonnaise_a little bit of soy

 

A hit of spiciness from wasabi matches with the rich and creamy avocado which makes this dish interesting! A slight sourness from lemon and saltiness from soy sauce harmonise the flavours. I have to say that this is QUITE yummy….

I use plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise. If you are like me who does not have a jar of mayonnaise in your pantry, this is a perfect recipe for you.

You can serve this as an appetizer or party nibbles. Hope you like it as much as I do 🙂

Ingredients:

8 King Prawns – boiled, peeled, deveined and then medium diced

2 Avocados – medium diced

2 Tablespoons of good quality Plain Yogurt

1 Tablespoon of Lemon Juice

1 Teaspoon of Wasabi Paste

1 Teaspoon of Soy Sauce

Method:

  1. Put plain yogurt, lemon juice, wasabi and soy sauce in a bowl and combine well together.
  2. Add prawns and avocados into the bowl and mix them together. Wasabi Prawn Cocktail No Mayo_a little bit of soy