Daring Kitchen Challenge – Indian Dosas

One of the reasons I began this blog was to challenge myself to make new and different things – and so not only improve my skills but also my repertoire of dishes.  Whilst this has been somewhat successful,  the format I’ve chosen generally allows me to pick items that:

a) I am confident I can cook well,

b) Will look good in photos, and

c) I want to eat (mostly…I still shudder at the thought of that awful asparagus mousse)

Indian Dosas

Indian Dosas

So, what happens if you want to challenge yourself but take these safety nets away?  Well, in my instance, you join the Daring Kitchen.  Generally, each month members of this website are challenged to cook and blog about a recipe chosen by one of the members.

The only thing in my first month, which was October, in a “celebration” of past Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers challenges, Lisa challenged all of us to search through the Daring Kitchen archives and pick any one we’d like! The REAL challenge was picking which delicious recipe(s) to try!

And it was a real dilemma.  For most people the choice may have been Cooks or Bakers, sweet or savoury.  Not me, I’m way too shallow for that.  My big quandary was:

Do I cook something I’m pretty sure I can pull off?  Something that will look good in the pictures, and by default make me look awesome?

Or, do I stick to the spirit of the challenge and choose something that is going to test my skills and maybe fall flat on my face but learn something in the process?

The choice was therefore narrowed down to Gyozas or Croissants.  I’ve made dumplings before, home much harder can gyoza be right?  Croissants?  Une toute autre histoire!!!

I was heading right down Gyzoa alley (shallow remember?) when I mentioned the challenge to a friend at work and we started looking through the past challenges.  She chose the recipe for the Indian Dosas from September 2009.  These are both gluten-free and vegan which is great because honestly, my range in both of those areas is limited.   So, thanks Nadya, good choice!

First step was to make the pancakes:



These were not the super thin crispy dosas I have eaten in restaurants, mine turned out more the texture of crepes but they were still pretty tasty.  And the difference in texture was probably more me that an inherent flaw in the recipe!

Then the chickpea filling…look at the amazing colours of the ingredients.. they are like a little rainbow of health and deliciousness!!!

Chickpea Filling Ingredients

Chickpea Filling Ingredients

Chickpea Filling

Chickpea Filling

This was also really tasty! So, so good…

Finally, there was a coconut curry sauce and some condiments to go with it.

Dosas with Coconut Sauce and Condiments 2

Dosas with Coconut Sauce and Condiments

This was a great first challenge for me as this was probably something I would never had made otherwise. If you want the recipe…and you know you do….click below:

Daring Kitchen Indian Dosas

I really liked the filling, and if I was too lazy to make the actual dosas or the sauce again (which I probably am), the filling would be super in some warm pita bread with some of the condiments and some yoghurt dip over the top.  Hmm..that probably ruins both the vegan and gluten-free aspect of the dish but hey, I’m neither a vegan or a coeliac.  It would stay vegetarian..and pretty damn delicious!

OMG, now I want that so much…I have some of the left over mixture in my freezer…shame I’m already in my pyjamas, or I would be down at the supermarket right now snapping up flatbread and tzatziki like a mad woman…

I ‘m really looking forward to the next month’s challenge which is…it’s a secret…you’ll have to wait about a month to find out!

In the meantime, enjoy this great vintage Indian print…which I think has the Goddess of Food and the Kitchen, Annapurna,in the background…

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Is Hoi An The Ryan Gosling Of Vietnam?

I’ve struggled to write about Hoi An and I only just realised why  – I like it just a little bit too much for my normal snarky tone to be used.  There’s nothing funny about Hoi An.  It’s lovely to look at, a great place to spend time…in fact the only downside is that because everyone else loves it too, it’s in danger of becoming overpublicised and losing everything that made it charming in the first place…Huh…it’s kind of like the Ryan Gosling of Vietnam.  (Shut up, I haven’t mentioned him for MONTHS…)

One awesome thing about Hoi An, is that the old town is car free.  You still need to beware of crazy bike riders but the old town really is  a haven after the hustle and bustle of a city like Saigon.  The other lovely thing about Hoi An is that it’s small enough to walk around and see everything on foot.  Alternatively most hotels have bikes either, push bikes or motor bikes, either included in the room rate or that you can hire to explore the local countryside (which I recommend – rice paddies, great beaches, it’s really pretty and flat so easy to ride even if, like me you’re not an avid bike rider).

Map of Hoi An

We stayed at the Vinh Hung resort, marked by the number 1 in the above map.  This was a great resort and has a boat that takes you into town.  Who needs a bike?

Vinh Hung Resort Boat

Vinh Hung Resort Boat

If you ask nicely they even let you drive…

Vinh Hung Resort Boat2

Vinh Hung Resort Boat2

The town itself is famed for its silk, and gorgeous coloured lanterns are a popular souvenir.

Silk Lantern Shop - Hoi An

Silk Lantern Shop – Hoi An

And if you think this looks pretty during the day, look at it at night!

Silk Lanterns Hoi An

Silk Lanterns Hoi An

Cafe at Night - Hoi An

Cafe at Night – Hoi An

By day the mustardy coloured buildings and the purple flowers are a striking combination…

Hoi An Cafe

Hoi An Cafe

Hoi An is a great town for tailors.  They are everywhere although there is a mass of them along Hoang Dieu, across the road from the cloth market.  Also on Hoang Dieu are shoe makers who will hand make shoes for you for fraction of what you would pay for something mass-produced.  And you wonder why I love this place!

My favourite tailor and shoe maker below:

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Hoi An is also a great place for food and a great way to learn more about Vietnamese food is to do a cooking course.  I’ve done two, one at the Park Hyatt in Saigon and also one at the Morning Glory Restaurant in Hoi An.  Both were excellent.  The format for both was similar, a trip to the market to familiarise yourself with the raw ingredients….

Noodles At Hoi An Market

Noodles At Hoi An Market

Chicken At Hoi An Market

Chicken At Hoi An Market

Crabs At Hoi An Market

Crabs At Hoi An Market

Tropical Fruit @ Hoi An Market

Tropical Fruit @ Hoi An Market

Then on to the school for some learning and, better yet, some eating.  At the Morning Glory class we made a number of standards of Vietnamese food including:

Rice Paper Rolls:

Rice Paper Rolls

Rice Paper Rolls

Bahn Xeo

Bahn Xeo

Bahn Xeo

My favourite – Green Mango Salad

Green Mango Salad

Green Mango Salad

Turmeric Chicken Skewers

Turmeric Chicken Skewers

Turmeric Chicken Skewers

And yes, all of this tasted as good as it looks. Maybe even better.

You can find the Yotam Ottolenghi version of Bahn Xeo here.

And Luke Nguyen’s Green Mango Salad with Tiger Prawns here

For the Turmeric Chicken, which was awesome, you’ll need to go to Hoi An.

After some hefty shopping and your cooking class, or just because it’s hot, hot hot, you might be in need of an afternoon libation.  And you can do a lot worse than the Q Bar for this..

Q Bar Hoi An

Q Bar Hoi An

One of the specialties of the Q bar is a Tamarind  and Ginger Martini which is awesome!!!

Here is my version:

Tamarind Martini 1

Tamarind Martini 1

I based my recipe on the Tamarind Ginger Fizz recipe from Food 52 which you can find here.

Spicy Tamarind Ginger Martini (makes 2)

Spicy Ginger Sugar Syrup

1 knob of ginger about as big as your thumb, sliced

2 small birdseye chillies

1 length of lemongrass about 10cm long, chopped

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of water

Combine in a saucepan. Boil until the sugar has dissolved then take off heat and allow to steep.  Transfer to a container and refrigerate.  Can be kept in the fridge for 3 weeks.

Orange Chilli Salt

Zest of 1 orange

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 tbsp salt

1 tbsp dried chilli, ground to same size as the salt (I kept mine a bit chunky)

Mix ingredients together and place on a plate.

Tamarind Ginger Martini

1/4 cup Tamarind pulp

1/4 cup Vodka

1/4 cup lime juice

6 springs of mint, preferably Vietnamese mint, plus more for garnish

Soda / Seltzer water to top up

Strain ginger syrup and reserve the chillies.

Combine tamarind pulp, ginger syrup, vodka, lime mint and vodka in a shaker with some ice.


Slide an orange or lime wedge around the rim of the glass and dip in the chilli salt.

Pour the vodka mix into the glasses about 3 /4 of the way, topping with the soda water.


Orange & Lime Wedges

Chilli from Syrup mix

Piece of Crystallised Ginger

Mint Sprigs

Garnish the drink with the orange and wine wedges, the chillies, the sprigs of mint and a piece of crystallised ginger.


Tamarind Martini 2

Tamarind Martini 2

There’s so much more to say about Hoi An…but you know what?  I’m not going to…just go there, you won’t be disappointed.

Actually, I’ve changed my mind, whatever you do, don’t go there.  It’s awful.  And while you’re at it, leave Gosling alone too.  There are some things in this world that should be just for me!

I’ll be spending my week absolutely, definitely, 100% not booking my next trip to Hoi An…have a fab one whatever you get up to.

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Vintage Valentine Quick as Wink2

Retro Food For Modern Times: Free On E #1. I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For…Muffins?

Just so we’re clear?  Free on E is not my memoir of rave and single life in the ’90’s but a new thing  I  thought would be fun – I could cast my eye over some of the cookbooks available for free as ebooks and…you know…do what I do.  Read. Cook.  Mock.  Eat.

And occasionally give a little “Eek” of delight when I find a hidden gem.

And because they’re readily available and free you can read, cook, mock and “Eek” right along with me!

Ice Cream Muffins

Ice Cream Muffins

Anyone actually wanting my memoir of rave life in the ’90’s?  Sorry, that’s a completely different e-book that will be available for purchase in the not too distant.  Just kidding.  Unless anyone would actually pay money for it.  In which case….hit the contact me button immediately.  I’ll start writing….

Anyway, my first venture into “free on e” was “Rapid Recipes for Writers And Other Busy People” By Marsha Ward.

Oh boy.

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha….

To put it nicely, the 31 recipes in here are mostly pretty ordinary.  I was seriously struggling to find one that I wanted to cook.  There’s a lot of ground beef, a lot of canned soup and frozen vegetables.  This is a typical example:

Boss Beef Dish

Make patties of:

2 lbs ground beef

4-5 grated potatoes

1 grated onion

1 tbsp garlic salt

2 eggs.

Brown both sides of patties in skillet.

Add mixture of:

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

1 1/2 cans water

1 lb frozen peas.

Simmer until warmed through.


Then there’s

Garlic Baked Potatoes:

Cut a small triangle out of each potato; add 1/2 tsp garlic powder and replace triangle.  Put a pat of butter on or margarine on potato, wrap in foil then bake in over or on coals in barbecue or campfire.  Salt and pepper maybe added to margarine for extra flavour.

Hmmm…Enjoy that mouthful of burnt garlic powder. Why not just add the garlic powder to the margarine?  Whilst we’re on the subject of garlic powder?  It’s the devil’s work.  Second only to margarine.  Don’t even get me started on that particular rant…

I was just about to agree with the reviewer who said this book wasn’t worth free when I came across the recipe for:

Ice Cream Muffins

1 ½ cup self-raising flour

2 cups soft vanilla ice cream

Mix until dry particles are moist.  Grease muffin tins; bake 20-25 minutes at 450 degrees F.

“No way”  I thought.  “There’s no way that’s going to work.  That’s about the dumbest thing I ever heard”.

So, I made them.

Yeah,  I don’t get how my mind works either.

And…believe it or not, they worked!

Ice Cream Muffins

Ice Cream Muffins

Don’t get me wrong, these weren’t the best muffins I’ve ever eaten but they were recognizably muffins and they were made out of ice cream and flour!  That’s kind of awesome.  And the possibilities are only as limited as the flavours of ice cream available to you.  I didn’t have  vanilla and I wasn’t about to buy some for a recipe that I was sure wasn’t going to work so mine were actually rum and raisin muffins.

Ice Cream Muffins 2

Ice Cream Muffins

This exercise also reminded me that if you ever need a dose of kooky in your life, spend an hour or so reading Amazon reviews.  They’re hilarious!!!  This gem was in the review section for Rapid Recipes for Writers.


Let’s break this baby down shall we?

I’m not a good judge here.  Didn’t stop you from writing a review though, did it!

This is an actual cookbook!   Yeah.  Uh huh.  What did you think it was?  A rubber chicken?

AND a lot of the recipes had MEAT.  Maybe they don’t tell you in NaNoWriMo circles that it’s bad form to start a sentence with “and”*?  Or that it’s kind of annoying when you capitalise RANDOM words.

I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t cook.  So why buy a cookbook then?  Oh, that’s right.  You didn’t realise it was a cookbook (sigh…facepalm).

When you’re reviewing a book, it might also be useful to tell people more about the book than yourself**.   I believe all we learned about “Rapid Recipes for Writers ” was that it was an actual cookbook!  That contained MEAT.

What do I know though?  Five out of seven people found that review helpful.  Which only serves to confirm my belief that five out of seven people are idiots.  Which I guess dear, smart, funny, cute, discerning reader leaves you and me!

We’ll head back to Vietnam next week….

Bye for now.

Signature 1*For the pedants, I’m perfectly aware I started at least 3 sentences with “and” in this post. Please refer to sentence 3 in **below.

** For the most part people reading Amazon reviews are not remotely interested in what you eat or anything else about you.  If you are that self-obsessed, maybe you should try blogging. The added benefit of which is, that when it’s your blog, you can start sentences with whatever the hell you want.

Vintage Valentine Quick as Wink2

Vietnam Part 2 – “Is that cats? Or the band?”

Next stop on our trip was the old Imperial capital of Hue (pronounced Hway). There is an airport at Hüê but it was closed so we caught a bus from Da Nang airport, a journey of around three hours. The bus ride was an event.  Vietnamese roads aren’t great and, as mentioned, the driving is terrible.  It’s sometimes best not to look – seeing a fully laden tourist coach or truck heading straight towards you on the wrong side of the road is both scarily common and just plain scary!

The bus driver had no teeth.  Which I’m sure is an occupational hazard of driving up and down those potholey roads all your life.  After a while, I guess your teeth just jolt out.  I’m surprised he had bones! The only solace from the bumping and the impending doom was that I had a Buddhist monk sitting next to me.  Surely nothing bad would happen to us with a man of God on board.  After one particularly scary near miss he took out an Ipad and began typing away.  I took a peek over his shoulder to see if he was maybe sending a terse email to the guy upstairs but he was just on Facebook.

Minh Mang Tomb - Hue

Minh Mang Tomb – Hue

Hue is a great place to soak up some of the culture and history of Vietnam and the ideal way to do this is via a Monuments Tour.  First stop was the tomb of the Emporer Minh Mang.  This was pretty sensational, consisting of three main areas – the main gate, the temple and the tomb.  The Minh Mang tomb was very elegantly laid out, very orderly and symmetrical. When we were there, these ponds were filled with lotus flowers which was gorgeous.

Minh Mang Tomb - Hue

Minh Mang Tomb – Hue

Minh Mang was  quite the lad; fathering a total of 151 children from his 40 wives. Not so Khai Dihn, whose tomb we visited next.  On his death, one of his concubines  said that Khai was “not interested in sex” and “physically weak”.  This, along with his love of fashion design has  lead to speculation that he may well have been the gay prince of Vietnam.

Emperor Khai Dinh

If the Minh Mang tomb is a model of restraint and orderly design, then the interior designer of the Khai Dinh tomb, was to steal a phrase from the Luxe Guide’s description of the Cao Dai Temple “clearly Liberace or on drugs or possibly both”.  It’s awesome!!!!!  An absolute riot of gold and the most lovely intricate mosaics!

The Khai Dihn Tomb: Hue

The Khai Dinh Tomb: Hue

Mosaics - the Khai Dinh Tomb Hue

Mosaics – the Khai Dinh Tomb Hue

There was also a third tomb but you know, after you’ve seen the Khai Dinh, there’s only one way to go…and it’s not up.  Also, the open air café next to where the bus stopped was selling freshly squeezed sugar cane juice and who doesn’t want a bit of that?

Me actually, it wasn’t great.  Freshly squeezed sugar cane juice tastes, quelle surprise,  like sugary water.  Still, the prevalence of the fresh stuff could explain why the mojito’s in Hüê were the best I had.

Mojito's in the rain

Mojito’s in the rain

In the afternoon we went to the Thien Mu Pagoda which was beautiful – we reached this via a boat ride.  The Pagoda is situated on the banks of the river in some very pretty gardens.  The complex does have a dark heart though.  In one of the outbuildings is a car from the 1960’s one of those ones with the fins you always see in the movies.  “Cool” you think.  “Even the monks in the ‘60’s had wicked style.”

Thien Mu Pagoda

Thien Mu Pagoda

Car - Thien Mu Pagoda

Car – Thien Mu Pagoda

Then you read the plaque on the side and find out that this was the exact car that a monk, Thich Quang, drove to Saigon in 1963.  When he got there, he stopped the car, sat down in the middle of an intersection, poured petrol over himself and set himself alight in a protest against religious persecution.  Those monks from the ‘60’s were hardcore.  No arseing about on Facebook for them.

The actual act is on You Tube for anyone who wants to see it – I haven’t watched it (and won’t be watching it) because it’s a person burning themselves to death and hence the type of thing that is likely to  give me the screaming heebie-jeebies for months.  But the link is here.

If you’re so inclined, knock yourself out.  For those of a not so psychopathic more sensitive disposition, you can learn more about Thich Quang and this fascinating piece of history via a BBC podcast here.


There was a detour on the way to the pagoda.  We were ushered off the boat into a garden and I guess, like me, a few of the others assumed we were at our destination.   We were greeted in the garden by an old lady who told us to follow her.  Which we did because she was going to lead us to the pagoda right?  Not so much.  We start walking through the garden.  Then she pauses and points at a tree.  “Mango” she says, pointing at it.  “Nice” we say, nodding.

We walk on.  She points out other trees.  “Apricot…lychee…banana” and we continue to nod.  “Yes…I see…interesting”.  We keep walking.  She keeps pointing out trees.  We keep nodding and agreeing.  This went on for a while – possibly too long – there  was  a moment towards the end where I think both sides were just phoning it in.  She gave us a bit of “Mango….mango….mango,”  and we gave back some “Yeah…right…whatever.”  It might been more interesting if there had been fruit on any of those trees.  As it was, she could have told us pretty much anything and we would have nodded and agreed like a bunch of dummies.

Anyway, shortly after the mango, mango, mango episode, we ended up at the front gate (exactly where we started) and she asked us all for money for touring her garden.  Huh?  Where’s the pagoda?  There were rumblings….the Germans and the Dutch were not happy about this development but she was not letting anyone go without them paying up.  One of the Dutch tried to sneak past her – I’ve never seen someone so old move so fast.  She was spry!!!  Must be all the fruit.  No one ever explained why we went there.   I suspect  she was the tour guide’s grandma.

Given that the actual tropical garden was kind of underwhelming, it was ironic that our favourite  restaurant in Hue was a place called the Tropical Garden.  This was really cute with tables set in the garden with little thatched rooves over the top.  Very Gilligan’s Island!  I so wish I’d worn my gold lame dress just like Ginger’s.  Until I remembered I only own one in my dreams…

Huh… I just realised my whole sense of fashion, hair and makeup is pretty much derived from Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart….who says tv doesn’t influence young minds?

Mary Ann

Mary Ann

The food at The Tropical Garden was super tasty but the best thing about it is the absolutely terrible band.  I guess Vietnamese folk music is an acquired taste because, our first time there, Mark had his back to them and shortly after they began to play frowned and asked.  “What’s that noise?  Is that cats?  Or the band?”  Mind you, they also set the local dogs to howling so I guess that, much like us canines can also not appreciate the nuances of the Vietnamese folk scene.

By no means should you let this put you off though, in fact I”m only telling you this to encourage you to go and hear it for yourself….we went three nights in a row….

The Tropical Garden Band

The Tropical Garden Band

Our other favourite place was a restaurant / art gallery called Confetti.  This had great food at great prices and nice art.  But you know what?  After the quirkiness of The Tropical Garden, it all seemed a little normal….

So, I have a new camera and have been cooking up some Hüê inspired delights.  Aubergine was a popular vegetable there so first up I have a very simple grilled aubergine / eggplant based on the recipe in Simple Good Food by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman called Grilled Aubergine with Nam Pla and Basil.

My version is called “Hey, Hüê, It’s Vietnamese Inspired Aubergine”

1 Eggplant / Aubergine, sliced into rounds about 1/2 centimetre thick

1 tsp tumeric

1 -2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp lemon or lime juice

1 tbsp Nam Pla (Fish Sauce)

1 tsp sugar

1 birdseye chilli, finely chopped

Chives, finely chopped

Basil leaves, finely chopped

Mix the tumeric and the olive oil and dip your eggplant slices into the mixture then place them under a hot grill.  Turn them once they start to brown – you may also have to redip them if they get too dry.

Whilst your eggplant is cooking, mix up your lemon juice and fish sauce.  Add the chopped chilli and chives. Once the eggplant is cooked,  place on a plate and dress with the fish sauce mixture. Scatter the basil leaves over the top.

This is a great side dish or, I quite like it just on crackers.  You can also mess with the mix as much as you like.  Add some ginger or garlic or your choice of flavourings!

tnamese Inspired Eggplant

Hey Hue, It’s Vietnamese Inspired Aubergine

And here is my “Minh Mang-o” Daiquiri.

Minh Mango Daiquiri

Minh Mango Daiquiri 1

I large mango, chopped

1/2 cup white rum

1/4 cup lemongrass, ginger and chilli simple syrup (I used the recipe here)

Juice of 1 large lemon

2 dashes Agnostura Bitters

8 Ice cubes

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

Makes 2

Minh Mango Daiquri 2

Minh Mango Daiquri 2



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Vietnam Part 1 – “Is That Your Hand in My Pocket or Are You Just Happy I’m Back?”

Like a creepy child in a horror movie…I’m baaaack!!!

Rested, refreshed, relaxed and rearing to get back into this!  Slight problem, I lost my camera whilst in Vietnam and have not replaced it yet, so I thought whilst that was happening, I would fill in the next few weeks with tales from my trip.  Note, due to losing the camera, some of the photos here are from the internet and some are from last year’s trip and there are a few from my phone….so apologies in advance for varying size, quality etc,.

I don’t claim to be an expert in Vietnamese food but I did eat (a lot) over there and will try to describe some of it here.  If, by the way, you are looking for an expert in Vietnamese food, head over to this awesome blog by Mark Lowerson:


or if you’re heading to Hanoi, make Mark’s street food tour a must-do.  But more about that later…

Let’s start with the big question.  Is it Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City?  The locals call it Saigon so, we’ll go with that (less keystrokes).  I love Saigon – there is a vibrant buzz about the city which may or may not have anything to do with the strength of their coffee.  On our second day there, I began to get heart palpitations.  An odd form of jet lag?  A tropical lurgy so soon?  No, just two cups of Saigon coffee that morning!  I dropped back to one after that and all was well.

Saigon Traffic

If the coffee isn’t enough to give you the shakes or you really want to take your life into your own hands, try crossing a road.  Vietnamese traffic is INSANE.  Lanes upon lanes of traffic and little regard for lane markings, crossings, red lights or other traffic regulations.  The first time we were there, we spent quite a bit of time lurking on street corners waiting for locals to cross so that we could follow them.  Sometimes, people would offer to help us across – laughing all the way.  They thought it was hilarious!  We were too glad to be alive to feel embarrassed!

There is however a method to the madness and if you take a deep breath and wait for…not so much a break in the traffic as a lull (which means maybe just 7 lanes of scooters instead of 7 lanes of scooters and cars and buses), then just launch yourself into the road, they will go around you.  Honestly, they will.  Just walk at a steady pace and don’t stop until you get to where you want to go.  The scooterists are trying to gauge where you won’t be.  An even pace allows them to do that more easily.  And seeing as they’re trying really hard not to kill you, don’t make it more difficult for them than it needs to be.

(Note: Retro Food For Modern Times will not be held liable for injuries sustained by any readers trying to cross a road in Vietnam…if in doubt, lurk and follow a local.)

For my mind, the hub of Saigon is the Ben Thanh Market, it is a wet market as well as a place to buy souvenirs, clothing etc.  There are some eating places inside the market which are pretty good and dirt cheap to boot.  Here is Rick Stein sampling some of the wares on offer:

Rick Stein at the Ben Thahn Market

Rick Stein at the Ben Thanh Market

In the evening, the streets surrounding the Ben Thanh close down for the night market where you can get awesome freshly cooked seafood.  Make your selection from the tanks located along the back, choose the way you want your food cooked, sit down and wait.  This is not fine dining, this is plastic tables, chairs and plates.  It’s busy and vibrant and noisy and delicious!  Also, as with most things, feel free to haggle a bit over the quoted prices for the seafood.  We were initially quoted VND 500,000 for a kilo of shrimp the size of a small child.  We eventually settled on VND 300,000 (just over $14 USD / $15AUD).

Ben Thanh Night Market

Ben Thanh Night Market

Eating at Ben Thanh Night Market

Eating at Ben Thanh Night Market

In my mind the Ben Thanh neatly divides the city.  Looking out from the main entrance as shown below the high-end area of the city is to your left, the backpacker district to your right.  Both offer a myriad of delights for foodies, eaters and shoppers!

Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market

If shopping at the market, be prepared to haggle hard.  Also, be careful with your belongings.  We didn’t notice it this time, but the first time we went;  Mark looked down to find a girl with her hand in his pocket!

One of my favourite foodie magazines has a section called “24 hours in…” where they describe what you can do in a city in 24 hours.  So, stealing shamelessly borrowing heavily from them here is my perfect Saigon 24 hours…

I would start with Pho for breakfast, of course!!!  Next door to the Ben Thanh is Pho 2000.  Pho, for those of you who do not know it is a staple of Vietnamese cooking, a beef (usually) noodle soup.  It is eaten for breakfast or any other time of day!  In the south it comes with herbs, beans sprouts, lime and chilli; the Northern version is more austere.  Pho 2000 has the distinction of being the shop visited by Bill Clinton on  his 2000 trip.

Bill Cliton at Pho 2000

I would then head into any of the nearby parks to watch people do their morning tai chi or dancing.  Maybe even join in.  That has to be a great way to start the day.  I’m sure I’d be a lot better tempered if I started every morning by dancing!


Next, I would stroll up Le Loi for some heavy-duty shopping.  Bunga is an amazing clothing shop and also has a branch on Pasteur – both of these are a must.  A few doors down from Bunga , L’Usine has great art & design and sells the fabulous Marou chocolate.  Sandwich a square or two of this in one of the lovely croissants you can buy a the bakeries on Le Loi and munch while you shop!  The gorgeous wrapping makes this a fabulous gift too!

Marou Chcolate

Marou Chocolate

For a light lunch , try some Bahn Xeo  – delicious Pancakes flavoured with turmeric and crammed with bean shoots and prawns and pork and loaded with herbs on the side!  Lots of places also serve it with a rice paper coating which adds a great chewy element.

Bahn Xeo

Bahn Xeo

For those of you who want to try this at home, Yotam Ottolenghi, has a vegetarian version which you can find here:

Bahn Xeo

Spend the afternoon soaking up a little culture – visit the very pretty Notre Dame Cathedral and the awesome colonial post office building.  Then head over to the Reunification Palace and the War Museum for some history.  The War museum has, amongst other things, a great collection of posters from all over the world of countries protesting against what we call the Vietnam War but locals call the American War.

Notre Dame - Saigon

Notre Dame – Saigon

Saigon Post Office

Saigon Post Office

Detail - Saigon Post Office

Detail – Saigon Post Office

Anti War Posters

Anti War Posters

Anti War Poster

Anti War Poster

 By  now, you’re probably exhausted and thirsty and the sun is probably long over any yardarm you care to mention,  so head over to the Hotel Continental (another gorgeous colonial building) for a cocktail or two in memory of Graham Greene who stayed there whilst writing “The Quiet American”.

Hotel Continental Saigon

Hotel Continental Saigon

Whilst sipping, decide where to dine…low end down at the backpacker end of town you can have a decent meal and drinks for a few dollars.  Try the cafes around D Pham Ngu Lao for cheap, cheerful and tasty meals.

Alternatively, you can go high-end.  Hoa Tuc is one of my favourites, a renovated opium den serving amazing food.  The sugarcane shrimp is to die for!   Xu also serves amazing modern Vietnamese food upstairs and later you can dance in the bar downstairs until the early hours!  Be warned though, as my friend Monica found out, the durian tiramisu is not to everyone’s taste!

Durian Tiramisu

Durian Tiramisu

Ok, so that’s my perfect Saigon day….Next time, we’ll head to the centre to Hue and Hoi An.  Have a great week whereever you are!

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Retro Food For Modern Times – My Super Power…and a Tomato Consomme

I had a bit of a shock last week when I published the Pimms Post and a little message came up saying “You have published 50 Posts”  Wow!  Really?  I completely forgot!  Good thing it was a cocktail post, we can take as a celebration had. BTW, just between us, I discovered later in the week that if instead of ginger ale or lemonade, you happen to mix  Pimms with some elderflower cordial and soda water the result is like heaven in a glass!  So, so good.

Oh and less than a week after I posted about all things British and tennis, Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon….coincidence?  I like to think not.

Tomato Consomme

Tomato Consomme

My ability to influence major sporting events is not actually my super power.   No, mine is a lot spookier.  I’m telling you this just so, when things happen over the next few weeks, you won’t be surprised.  And here it is…whenever I go on holiday…famous people die.  Seriously.  Here are just some people who have shuffled off this mortal coil when I have been elsewhere:

Princess Diana (long weekend in Warnambool)

Kurt Cobain (Sydney)

Michael Jackson/ Farah Fawcett (Surfer’s Paradise)

Amy Winehouse (Malaysia)

There have been others, I just can’t remember them off the top of my head but really…that’s 4 of the big ones right there. Weird right?

I was also in Barcelona the day Lehman Brothers went down, signalling the start of the GFC….

Tomato Consomme 2

Tomato Consomme 2

I’m just about to go on holiday so I thought I would love and leave you with a classic retro recipe, the tomato consommé.

I was an unadventurous eater as a child.  I took a vegemite sandwich to school every day for 4 years running.  Mum still laughs that I was the only vegetarian who didn’t actually eat vegetables.  So, last week when I not only whipped up a concoction made of tomato juice, chicken stock and gelatine but ate it without a second thought, it was a bit of a victory for me over my old habits.

So…if my life was a Hollywood movie this would be the bit where I bring  a spoonful of the consommé  to my lips…maybe I hesitate just to build some dramatic tension….then I would slurp that sucker down, give a sexy little wink to the camera and mouth the word “Delicious.” Next up there would be a montage of me finding new appreciation of all the other food I don’t like – boiled peas, boiled carrots, beetroot, pork chops, any mix of chocolate and orange, the list goes on.  And on.  And on.

Tomato Consomme 3

Tomato Consomme 3

To be honest though.  It wasn’t that good.

It tasted like slightly chickeny tomato juice.  It wasn’t disgusting.  Just not awesome.  It LOOKED gorgeous.  Which I guess is like saying that someone you’ve been on date with had a great personality.  No, I’ll tell you exactly what it was like.  I once read somewhere (let’s face this, this next…ahem…”fact” more than likely came from Cosmo or the Huff Post or another source of dubious reliability) that men fall in love with women because of who they are. And women fall in love with men for who they could be.  That’s how I felt about this consommé.  It was kind of a loser in its current state but given a little time and patience it could probably become something awesome.

As I ate my way through the massive amount of consommé the recipe produced, I found myself thinking…huh..what if I also made a basil jelly and made little cubes of the consommé and little cubes of basil jelly and made a really cute caprese?  Or what if instead of the bitters (which added nothing) I subbed in some Worchestershire and Tabasco and made a Bloody Mary Consomme?  What if I piped that jelly onto celery sticks?  Or teeny cubes on oysters?  What if I added more gelatine and spices and made it into something akin to a quince paste to have with cheese?

Tomato Consomme Recipe  taken from Woman's Day All Colour Book of Cooking for Slimmers (1978)

Taken from Woman’s Day All Colour Book of Cooking for Slimmers (1978)

Tomato Consomme. Taken from Woman's Day All Colour Book of Cooking for Slimmers (1978)

Tomato Consomme.
Taken from Woman’s Day All Colour Book of Cooking for Slimmers (1978)

For the right girl (or boy) there is some real potential here to take this and turn it into something truly awesome. Not me though.  I’ve been eating consommé for about a week.  I’m consomméed out….and…I’m going on holiday!

I’m going to be spending the next 4 weeks in Vietnam and Thailand, two fab food hangouts.  I  booked a Street Food tour in Hanoi today and I am so excited about it! And there was a little Banh Xeo place I didn’t around to visiting last time we were in Saigon that I’m dying to try. I can’t wait to revisit the wonderful Morning Glory in Hoi An…and I’ll going to try to do a cooking class in Phuket…in between lounging by the pool sipping cocktails! So food will be high on my agenda and, when I get back, I’m sure I’ll have some stories to tell!

Enjoy your month whatever you get up to!  I’ll be back mid August.  And stay safe, even if you’re not a celebrity or an investment bank.

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Retro Food For Modern Times – The Pimms Cup – Anyone for Tennis?

It is safe to say that if was a Spice Girl, I would almost definitely not be Sporty Spice.

I am a) too lazy, b) too uncoordinated and c) not enough of a team player for most sports.  Back in the day though, I was a fairly nifty tennis player.  My secret weapon was a killer backhand drive that no one ever saw coming – primarily because the rest of my game was fairly weak.  I would lull my opponents into a false sense of security then unleash the beast!

Pimms Cup

Pimms Cup

I still have a soft spot for tennis though and with Wimbledon starting last week, my thoughts turned to all things tennis related.  Turns out, my fondness for tennis goes beyond the merely athletic though. So, here are my top three tennis related things that don’t actually involve a racket or ball.

Fred Perry Sportswear, particularly the Amy Winehouse Collection:

AmyWinehouse for Fred Perry

 Amy Winehouse for Fred Perry

Fred Perry: Amy Winehouse Collection

Fred Perry: Amy Winehouse Collection

2.  The Poem, A Subalterns’s Love Song by Sir John Betjeman

Subaltern's Love Song

3. The Pimms Cup

Pimms is a herbal liqueur and the official drink of Wimbledon.  The Pimms Cup, as with Fred Perry Sportswear and John Betjeman poetry is as British as British can be. It was first made in an oyster bar owned by James Pimm in London in 1840 and has pretty much been made ever since.

The recipe is as easy as pie – Pimms, lemonade or gingerale or both, plenty of ice and garnished with cucumber, lemon and borage flowers if you can find them. I couldn’t so I used mint instead.

It is light, summery and a perfect drink for whiling away a summer afternoon whilst reading some Betjeman or watching a few sets!

Pimms Cup

Pimms Cup

Pimms Cup 4

Pimms Cup 4

Pimms Cup 5

Pimms Cup 5

I’m going to be spending my week staying up late to watch Wimbledon, enjoy your week, whatever you do! And let me know which Spice Girl you’d be!


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Retro Food For Modern Times – The Best Bread and Butter Pudding Ever

Winter finally hit Melbourne this week…it’s been zero degrees or very close to it for a number of mornings now. That’s cold!!!!  So, given I hate winter why am I so damn happy?  Because this weather is perfect for making one of my favourite retro foods – bread and butter pudding.

Best Ever Bread and Butter Pudding

Best Ever Bread and Butter Pudding

Mind you, even though it has been crazy cold, look at my pictures of Sunday morning.  Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eye. Who could be miserable on a day like this?

Winter Morning

Sunday Morning

Frosty Morning

Frost on the Grass

Another thing that will never make you miserable is this totally awesome Bread and Butter Pudding.  I mean it, this baby ROCKED!  It was perfect for this cold weather; retro comfort food at its most glorious!

So, what makes a truly great bread and butter pudding?  I put it down to the three B’s…

Lets start with the bread.  Bread and butter purists would tell you to use plain white bread. Remember last post I said that we don’t subscribe to minimalist notions here at Retro Food For Modern Times? Well that goes double for Bread and Bread Pudding.  I like to use a fruit loaf or a sweet bread like a brioche. I have also been known to use a chocolate chip hot cross bun.  Or an Almond Croissant.  Basically, I like my bread to come loaded with deliciousness before I even start!

In this instance, I had a panettone sitting in my pantry.  I’m going to make a confession here.  I have no idea where it came from. That’s the weird thing about panettone.  I can’t recall ever buying one.  Or being given one.  And yet, from time to time they appear.  Maybe my house is haunted by an Italian Grandmother who whips them up whilst I’m at work.  If so, she also does a nifty line in packing and packaging!  This was also a gluten free version so ghost nonna, if she exists, seems to be fairly on trend.

Butter.  Please use proper butter.  Not that other abomination.

Booze – I drenched the dried fruit in Pimms and left it to soak in overnight. And made an amazing whiskey caramel sauce to go with the pudding

The base recipe for this calls for sultanas.  I had some dried fruit medley left over from when I make the Plum Wonderful so I used that.

Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding

The recipe I used as a base called for Apricot Jam.  I’d previously made a chunky Apricot Spread by boiling down some dried apricots in apple juice so I used this instead.

Apricot Spread

Apricot Spread

On it’s own, the pudding was kind of  fabulous, but what sent it into the realm of super-awesome was the whiskey caramel sauce.  This was all sorts of delicious and brought some toasty, almost coffee-like flavours into the mix.  Honey and whiskey is truly a match made in heaven and I had the remnants of a lavender honey from another recipe which just added another layer of tasty goodness.

Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding

Please, please, please make this.  You will not be disappointed.  Or if you are…you probably did something wrong – not that there’s a whole lot that could do wrong with this – it’s also super easy to make!

Bread & Butter Pudding Recipe

Whiskey Caramel Sauce RecipeApricot Spread Recipe

I’m going to be spending my week enjoying the glorious sunshine despite the icy temperatures!

Enjoy your week, whatever you do.

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Let’s See How Far We’ve Come – Cheesy Meaty Goodness On a Stick – 1970’s vs 2010’s

My favorite thing to eat is finger food.  And it doesn’t have to be fancy – I’m just as happy with a mini-quiche or a party pie as with a teeny Peking duck pancake or a tempura prawn on a stick with a wasabi mayo.

If I was ever going to open a restaurant, all it would serve would be tiny bites.  And champagne.  Cocktails of course.  But the entire menu would be finger food.  It would be a cocktail party restaurant.  Anyone wishing to fund this establishment…you know where to find me.

Finger food has been on my mind recently as I have been drooling over the contents of Lydia France’s Party Bites which is like setting a child loose in a sweet shop – I want that one!  And that one!  And I REALLY want that one!

Party Bites

I was also not the only one who thought this book was looked delicious.  Oscar’s been suffering from a little bit of separation anxiety since I have gone back to work and I came home one day to find the book, which I had left on the couch was not exactly how I had left it….

No so much dog eared....

No so much dog eared….

I then had to go fess up to the library – the upside of which, after exchange of some financial compensation, the book, albeit slightly chewed now belongs to me!

There is a recipe in Party Bites which is a modern take on the old retro favourite of a cube of cheese on a stick with a bit of something.  This is often to be had with pineapple in the fabulously kitschy Cheese and Pineapple Hedgehog:

Pineapple and Cheese Hedgehog

Then there is the equally retro but less whimsical Aussie Staple of kabana and cheese….

Kabana and Cheese

Kabana And Cheese

No Australian barbeque of the 1970’s or 80’s would have been complete without a tray of this.  Often,  the kabana and cheese was topped with  chunk of pineapple, a gaudily coloured cocktail onion or, if you were really classy, a stuffed olive.

The idea is actually sound.  Who doesn’t love a meaty cheesy snack?  And if topped with something sweet or sour or salty…well, so much the better.  We here at Retro Food For Modern Times are not subscribers to the minimalist maxim that less is more.  We believe that more is more.  With a cherry on top!

The main problems with kabana and cheese is that kabana is kind of gross and although this combination might be tasty, it is drop dead boring. So, how do you give the ubiquitous kabana and cheese a modern twist whilst still retaining some of the kookiness of the cheese and pineapple hedgehog?  Hello Lydia France’s Spanish Men…or should that be Hola los hombres españoles!

Here’s Lydia’s Version:

Spanish Men - Lydia France

Spanish Men – Lydia France

And here are mine…my Spanish men look a little drunk and definitely more chunkier.  I think my Spanish men may have been hitting the Rioja a little too hard….

Spanish Men - olives, quince paste, serrano ham and manchego cheese

My Spanish Men

Spanish Men Recipe

For all their wonkiness, I loved them.  These were sooooo good!  Serrano ham, where have you been all my life?  If you weren’t so damn expensive I would be feasting on you non-stop.

The salty olive, the sweet quince paste, the meaty deliciousness of the serrano and the creaminess of the cheese combine to create a little piece of heaven on a stick!

Spanish Men I love you!

Mario Casas

And you’re not bad either Mario Casas…

I’m going to be spending my week checking out Spanish cinema.  Enjoy your week whatever you do!

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Retro Food For Modern Times – Never Mind Eating For Beauty, This Week is All About the Love!

So last time we left off, I had been eating for love and beauty for 4 days and loving it.

However, through the week, I began to see a certain theme running through my dishes…

Day 5

I made two recipes from Eating for Love and Beauty.

The first was a delicious Egg Curry. 

Egg Curry

Egg Curry

This was very tasty, spicy and quick to make.  I will definitely make this again.  Also, I didn’t have fenugreek because…well who has?  However, I noticed my Garam Masala contained fenugreek, cumin and coriander so I used that in lieu of all individual spices.

Egg Curry

Egg Curry

I think we all know eggs are a symbol of fertility…I had my egg curry with a Rice Exotica – Saffron & Lime Casserole.
Rice Exotica huh?  I think the Swami might be getting a bit saucy!

Rice Exotica

Rice Exotica

Sadly, the Rice Exotica, was the least sexy dish of the week.  Probably because in my first mouthful of it, I bit directly into a clove which spoiled entire dish for me  Yes, it was my fault and I should have been more careful when I was counting them as I fished them out but still, not good.  I was also not happy with the texture and I only par boiled my rice initially!  I like my rice light and fluffy and this was a bit too mushy and stuck together for me.  I dread to think what it might have been like had I cooked it all the way through the first time as per the recipe.

If I was going to make the rice again, which is unlikely, I would probably not cook it at all before bunging it in the oven with the nuts and spices.  Hmmm…maybe I will try it that way.  Sans the cloves!

Next up was an Eggplant Dish….and lo and behold, the internet tells me that eggplants are a symbol of abundance or fertility, passion and devotion.  See what I mean about a theme beginning to develop?

Day 6 – Eggplant Gourmet

This was AWESOME!…

Earthy eggplant, sweet, sour..all sorts of deliciousness rolled into the one dish.  The flavours reminded me very much of a Sri Lankan Eggplant dish that sometimes contains cashew nuts…and maybe dates?

(Dear mother given you have started to chime in on here, maybe you could offer some insight into the constituents of an eggplant moju???)

Either way, I had some cashews left over from the Rice Exotica  so I dropped them in for extra flavour and crunch. I’m definitely making this again….

I also ate it more as a side dish than as a main.  It’s also pretty good cold on crackers or some tzatziki on pita bread.

Eggplant Gourmet

Eggplant Gourmet

Eggplant Gourmet Recipe

Day 6 – Lovers Dandelion Salad

If you’ve read my earlier post…(here)…you know I have a bit of a penchant for a bit of foraging.  So the Swami’s Lover’s Dandelion Salad was as good a reason as any to go comb the local environment for some dandelion leaves which, luckily, were plentiful.

I loved this salad.  There is something about bitter greens that makes me feel incredibly virtuous and just oozy with health! Again, I had no fenugreek sprouts so I just used a sprout combo.  I was becoming curious about why the Swami used fenugreek in so many dishes so I did a bit o’ research and hello…fenugreek is sometimes used to cure erectile dysfunction.

When the Swami wants you to eat for love, she doesn’t muck about!

She also says this salad is good for those suffering from mental or sexual debility.  I ate mine for lunch a the office and it kind of worked.  It certainly gave me a mental boost for the afternoon!

Lover's Dandelion Salad

Lovers Dandelion Salad

Lovers Dandelion Salad 0

Day 7 – 21 Essences of Kama Sutra

I followed the Lovers Dandelion Salad with the 21 Essences of Kama Sutra Salad although I guess I only had 19 Essences as I subbed a yellow pepper for the red and green peppers and could not find soy sprouts for love or money.  Then again, I used my handy sprout combo per the last recipe so maybe I had more than 21 Essences of Kama Sutra!   The Swami offers no comment on what the 21 Essences of Kama Sutra is good for.  I think she’s letting the name speak for itself.

21 Essences of Karma Sutra

21 Essences of Kama Sutra

This was also a very nice salad, although if I made this again, I wouldn’t bother with the Lotus Nuts. In the first pack I bought there were two dead moths.  That made me gag and I had to throw them out.  The second lot of lotus nuts was, thankfully, mothless but also largely tasteless.

I read on the internet Lotus Nuts are good for irritability.  Well guess what?  After the moths, and having to make two trips to the Asian food store to buy them, then finding they taste of sweet F.A. I guess they are.  I was certainly a lot more irritable after all that palaver than I was before I started!

And quelle surprise, also apparently good for impotence!

1 21 Essences Of  Kama Sutra

Day 8

It’s Plum Wonderful

I ended my week with the Swami’s recipe for an uncooked  Plum Pudding which is basically dried fruit held together with jello.    It’s really tasty, and has all the flavours of a plum pudding but is fruitier and not so heavy.  It would be a perfect alternative to a heavy pudding, particularly here when it is warm at Christmas.

Plum Wonderful 2

Plum Wonderful 2

Plum Wonderful 3

Plum Wonderful 3

Plum Wonderful Recipe

I recently read that a good maxim to use when trying to moderate your alcohol intake is to abstain one day a week, one week a month, one month a year.

It doesn’t work for me alcoholwise as I am aiming for far more than one AFD a week but it’s certainly a philosophy I can embrace when it comes to adopting the principles behind Eating For Love and Beauty.

That book, which also had a whole host of other good advice was:

Dangerous Women

Apart from the moths and the failure of the Rice Exotica, Eating For Love and Beauty has been fun and I feel really healthy.  It is winter here now and whilst people around me have been dropping like flies with all sorts of horrible lurgies, I  have never felt haler or heartier!

I really want to go to the Swami’s retreat now….

I’m going spend my week trying to find a yoga class I can do at lunchtime so I can exercise for health and beauty as well as eat for it. Enjoy your week whatever you do!

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