Fish Amok and Angkor Beer, Phnom Penh

For all those of you who’ve been wondering why it’s taken me a month to post anything on the blog, I was backpacking through Cambodia, experiencing the beauty of their temples and culture, their gruesome history, meeting fellow backpackers and interesting residents…. And most importantly, experiencing food and ale. Over the next month or so, I’ll be sharing a lot of posts on my travels in the hope that it inspires you to get out of your homes and go see the world.

When I arrived in Phnom Penh, my first question to the tuk-tuk driver was regarding what the local ‘must-have’ dishes were. Something that he and a few other folks recommended was a dish called the Fish Amok. Needless to say, my first stop before going anywhere was to head to a restaurant to try this out.

Food doesn’t go without a decent ale for company. As I waited for my dish, I ordered a mug of the Angkor Beer. With a bright golden colour to it, this is a light bodied lager with no particular aroma, except that of the grain. The beer lost carbonation very easily, not much of a head and was quite bitter in taste. Except for the price point of 75 cents, the beer was a mere thirst quencher for the sultry weather of Phnom Penh. While the vacation wasn’t off to the greatest of starts with this beer, the food was yet to come. I had a lot of hope pinned on this dish.



Fish Amok is a classic dish from the Khmer region (now known as Angkor) and is probably the only prominent cuisine style in Cambodia. The cuisine is largely based around meat and ingredients found nearby lakes and rivers of the region. This would include fish, pork, snails, shrimp along with limes, lemongrass, coconut, mangoes and chilli. Beautifully capturing all these elements, the Fish Amok I had championed lemongrass spectacularly. Both the aroma and flavour of lemongrass put together made me salivate as I quickly clicked pictures before I gorged through the dish. 




Served in a banana leaf, the bite-size pieces of fish (I wasn’t able to understand what fish it was when the waitress told me) had a lovely lemongrass, coconut and kaffir lime flavour on the outside with the natural flavours of the fish coming through on the inside. Dressed with a light chilli on top, I got a mild hit as the fish went down my throat. The flavours started to intensify as I went through the dish as the bottom had a higher concentration of the curry paste. Accompanied with plain boiled rice, this dish hit the spot immediately.

Here's a quick video review - 


I tried out various versions spice of this dish throughout my stay, each with a slight difference in terms of more coconut, or gravy or spice. This version, at the On the Corner le resto du coin in Phnom Penh, located on the river front, was my favourite. 

The Gumbo Shop, New Orleans

It's been over two months since I've gotten back from an awesome few days in New Orleans, which is now one my most favourite cities in the world not only for the beautiful music but also for some of the fabulous food and ales I tried while I was there. It's about time I cleared out the backlog and shared some of my experiences of the city before I set off on another international adventure.

Renowned for its Creole and Cajun flavours that are a combination of the best of French, Spanish and African cuisines, I was eager to hit the streets and experience the same. My first stop after arriving in New Orleans was the renowned Gumbo Shop. Established in 1948, the Gumbo Shop claimed to offer some of the best flavours of New Orleans. Well, with over six decades of being in the scene, one would expect nothing less. The Gumbo Shop featured among the top two 'must try' places in almost every list I read. I arrived just a little past noon to find the place packed and had to stand in line for about twenty minutes before I got a table. Seated right opposite a large mural of the iconic Jackson Square from way back in the day, I instantly fell in love with the fairly rustic look of the place.



I started off by ordering a small bowl of Chicken Andouille Gumbo, which arrived sooner than expected. The moment it was placed on the table, I had a look and wasn't too sure about what emotion to process. At the risk of sounding uncouth, the gumbo looked like the New Orleans version of the Indian favourite Raajma-Chaawal (Kidney Beans and rice) with sausages thrown in. While I was disappointed by the appearance, the flavours were something else. The gravy was packed with strong spicy meaty flavours of the andouille, a cajun styled chicken sausage and the chicken broth. The okra seasoning brought some relief with its impactful herbal flavour.  It's a good thing I ordered a small bowl because anything larger would have filled me up.



For the main course, I ordered the Jambalaya, another dish I've heard and read so much about with a side order of Alligator Sausages with a spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce. Yes, you read that correct - Alligator sausages. While the dish looked like any other regular sausage, the flavours of the meat with the spicy-sweet-citrus kick of the dipping sauce made me fall in love with the dish instantly. Alligator meat is a white meat that has a flavour that finds a place somewhere between chicken and fish. High in protein, with the right amount of gaminess, alligator is a staple dish in creole cuisine. The sausages were mildly spice with the cajun flavour and smoked perfectly. What took the sausages from a good dish to a great dish was undoubtedly the spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce. I shamelessly asked for another helping of the dipping sauce to polish off just by itself. The folks at the Gumbo Shop were kind enough not to charge me extra for that.



The Jambalaya, a rice-based dish cooked with smoked sausage, shrimp, and chicken was a bit of a disappointment in terms of appearance and in terms of flavour. Drawing parallels with saambar, the dish reminded me of the saambar-rice that would be packed into lunch boxes during school and would end up being completely dry by the time lunch came around. I did have to throw in the towel halfway through because the dish did nothing for me. I ordered a second plate of Alligator Sausages.


Dessert included a relatively simple Praline Sundae. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream with a lovely caramel sauce, topped with praline and pecan nuts was just what the doctor ordered after a meal packed with the mighty flavours of gumbo and alligator sausages.


While the meal worked out to a little over $40, it was completely worth it. The Gumbo Shop set the stage for all the lovely creole flavours I was going to experience in New Orleans. I returned to the Gumbo Shop three more times during my trip just to have a plate of the Alligator Sausages.

Guest Column, LBB- 5 things to do in New Orleans for music lovers

In this article I write about the music of New Orleans, which is accompanied by dancing, at almost every corner. Here are a few things to do in New Orleans that’ll have you going back for more.

Click here to read the entire article online.


Here's a transcript of the article

The Big Easy’ aka New Orleans, popularly known for being the birthplace of jazz, is a haven for music and dance lovers. Most of the best music can be found in The French Quarter of the city. With live music and dancing at almost every corner, there’s just so much to do. Here are a few things to do in New Orleans that’ll have you going back for more.

Move over Bourbon Street….To Frenchman Street

As time progressed, the vibe of New Orleans that emanated from the great music on Bourbon Street got lost. While the fame remains, the best music doesn’t. Most of the good music has moved to Frenchman Street. While some clubs charge a small entry fee, most of them enforce a one drink minimum rule. My picks from spending every evening on Frenchman Street would be Bamboula’s, The Spotted Cat Music Club and d.b.a. You’ll also find your fair share of brass bands and folk musicians playing on the street with no one competing for space. That being said, catch the bands playing at Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street.

Watch The Street Performers At Jackson Square

Right in the heart of the historic French Quarter is Jackson Square which during the day is teeming with street musicians, palm readers and artists. With numerous styles from folk music, contemporary jazz, brass and rap, you’ll find more than enough top-quality music around the park at Jackson Square where you can easily spend all day. If you like what you see and hear, don’t forget to tip the performers.

Any Time Is Good For Dancing

New Orleans brings out the dancer in you, even if you have two left feet. You’ll find couples breaking into serious dance routines at the drop of a hat. Whether it’s a club playing swing music in the afternoon or a music festival, or even a simple brass band playing on the streets at midnight, you can be assured there will be dancing. This isn’t limited to a few clubs, but anywhere in the city where there is music. Feel free to join in. You should definitely check out Maison, Mimi’s in the Marigny and the Blue Nile for an awesome dance experience.

Vinyl Souvenirs From The City

The Louisiana Music Factory on Frenchman Street is a must-go for any music lover. Keeping the tradition of the old-school music stores alive, the folks at the place can help you discover some of the fabulous music that defined the history and present of New Orleans. Don’t forget to check out the $3 vinyl boxes which have an overwhelming collection of jazz, rock, blues and many more genres.

Food And Drink At The Late Night Eateries

New Orleans allows you to drink on the streets, as long as you use a plastic cup. So while checking out all the music, do have some of the fabulous local beers and cocktails give you company. Beer enthusiasts will have a plethora of choices when it comes to craft beer, so feel free to experiment. My pick is the Amber and Purple Haze, both from Abita breweries. Don’t miss out on picking up Hurricanes from the local stores, a strong cold cocktail guaranteed to light up your day. When it comes to food, don’t miss out on the food trucks that offer you way more options than your brain can process. My ritual to end every evening was to grab a bag of beignets from Cafe Du Monde that’s open 24 hours.

The Kolkata Food Diaries - Part 1

For those of you who have been following me on Social Media, would know that I was in Kolkata ( Calcutta for me) for a friend's wedding. While the wedding was the biggest motivation (and the usual optimism about meeting and falling in love with a Bong girl of my dreams... hopeless pointless romantic I am), the other biggest motivation was all the lovely food that the city has to offer. So here are some glimpses into some of the fabulous food that I had.

No trip to Kolkata is complete without belting on some Singara (Bengali-styled samosa) and hot tea for breakfast in the morning. Adding to the deliciousness was the weather that stayed cold and made me want to have more. Which I did. Is three an adequate number of singaras to stop at?



Another dish that I always associate with my love for all food Bengali is luchi. And at the wedding, needless to say, I got my fair share of fresh hot luchi with potato curry. Throw in some boondi ladoo and ladykini, that's breakfast fit for a king.



No Kolkata trip is complete without heading to Flurys. While the place has lost a bit of its charm from when I used to go as a kid, it's still got all the nostalgia. And I found myself in the company of this rather gorgeous lemon tart. My mum wanted me to bring back some, but they didn't have any the day I went. I don't think she was that mad at me even when I scored poor grades.


Another great find, a first for me, was Nolen Gur Kulfi. Nolen Gur Sondesh, is a favourite among all Bengalis and folks who've lived in the city. But a kulfi with that flavour was something else altogether. This beauty was available at the local Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick sweet store which happened to be less than a few minutes from where I was staying. Needless to say, I would have one every time I passed the store.


More in part 2...

Mikkeller Bangkok... 30 brews and a 12-hour Braised short rib.

Besides food, a new addition to my ‘must-try’ list whenever I’m in a new city is a local microbrewery. On my first day in Bangkok, as a small celebration of my first ever solo backpacking trip in a foreign country, I decided to indulge myself and went over to Mikkeller Bangkok (MB) in the evening. Located in a more fancy part of the city, MB impressed me from the moment I stepped in. The first thing that hits you is the chalk board that showcases thirty varieties of home-brewed beers. Yes! THIRTY! I knew I would be leaving a bit disappointed not having tried all thirty flavours. This is one of the drawbacks of travelling by oneself, no company to try out more food and drink.

30 varieties of beer
After a long day of walking around in the humidity of Bangkok, I ordered the strongest beer that they had on the menu. I started the evening with a glass of the Big Worster BA Chardonnay, a barley beer with wine, strength at 18.3%. While I give the beer full marks for being strong, the taste was a bit confusing as the brew combined the flavour of both beer and Chardonnay. Not the best thing I’ve had, but definitely the strongest. I switched to a more familiar flavour with the Georgen Imp Stout, 12.12%. Now this was something in familiar territory. With a dark cocoa flavour suppressing the previous brew, my evening was back on track. I ordered a plate of Pizza Dip, which was Paprika beef, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese with some nice crunchy bread on the side. The dish was essentially pizza made into a dip. While the quantity was a bit much for one person, I took my time as I let the flavours of the marinara sauce and the beer play around with my taste buds. It was early evening, and I had a long night ahead of me.

Big Worster BA Chardonnay

Pizza Dip

Georgen Imp Stout

The next beer I tried was the Nuclear Hop Assault DIPA, 8% which was a light Indian pale ale with a very refreshing taste. I ordered a salad which consisted of scallops, fresh watermelon and goat’s cheese dip. I’m not a big fan of salads; but I simply loved this particular dish. Absolutely refreshing in taste, the saltiness of the scallops with the fresh water melon just melted away in my mouth, cleansing it of the taste of the strong marinara sauce from the previous dish. Absolutely elegant in flavour, this simple salad got two thumbs up from me. 

Scallop and Watermelon Salad

While I waited for the main course, I got a little adventurous and sampled the Raspberry Tripleback, 13%. Let me put it this way, a bottle of beer got drunk one night and totally did it with a bottle of Raspberry Jam. Nine months later, the child of that one wild night was what this beer tasted like. I’m delighted that I took only a sampler and not an entire glass. Clearly, as far as experimenting goes, the night was not going my way.

Raspberry Tripleback
The main course….oh, the main course! I’m drooling just thinking about it. My main course was a 12-hour braised short rib with pumpkin done three-ways with lentils. If one ever wants to appreciate the beauty of braised pork, this is the dish to have. Braised to sheer perfection, the pork could be had with a spoon almost as though it were some sort of a dessert. Yet, the juiciness of the meat once you pop it into your mouth was ….. OMFG, I died! Giving it a lovely contrast was the excellent pumpkin done three-ways. Nice salty pork with sweet pumpkin…. This dish is definitely among one of the best I’ve had. I paired that with a Beer Geek Imp Stout,10.9%, which had a lovely coffee bean after taste to it. 

12-hour braised short rib



If I thought the main course was going to be the highlight of the meal, I had no clue what was going to hit me when I ordered dessert. Yes, I ordered dessert. Yes, all that food and beer went into one person. I don’t care if you judge me. I was having a ball. Dessert was a recommendation from the owner – Warm doughnuts. While the name comes across as boring, the dish was the crescendo of the good food at Mikkeller. Filled with a dark beer chocolate that simply oozes out as you bite into it, this dessert had me forget all my table manners. I munched away at the doughnuts allowing the filling to run over my fingers as I shamelessly sucked on them to ensure that not a single drop made its way to the napkin. The sheer joy of having this dessert cannot be captured in words.

Warm Doughnuts


Before I hit the road, I chugged down a final glass of the Arctic Sunstone APA, 6%.

Amen...

Overall, this was a fabulous evening at Mikkeller and I only wish that I had familiar faces to experience all the great food and beer of the place. But not regrets of going there. Mikkeller Bangkok is on the pricier side and those on a budget vacation may want to rethink going here. But if you are going to spend good money on a night on the town, this place would be my first pick. Kudos to the folks for setting up this fabulous watering hole with some fantastic food which set the tone for the rest of my vacation.

Street Food in Bangkok

For those of you who haven’t been following me on other social media channels, I spent 12 glorious days backpacking all by myself through Thailand. And by through I mean that I went to more than one city. Besides being a budget destination, one of my biggest attractions to head to Thailand was obviously the food. I spent the entire four hours of my flight to Bangkok imagining all the delicious street food that I would get to savour and make inappropriate noises of appreciation. The moment, they let me into the country; my sole purpose for the day was to find some Thai street food. I freshened up and went over to the Reclining Buddha temple where I spent a few hours before I stepped out and sampled some of the glorious flavours of authentic Thai food. And by George, I wasn’t disappointed at all.

The Reclining Buddha

Tuk Tuk

I kick started my vacation with a Raw Papaya Salad. Coming from India, one tends to be a tad arrogant when it comes to one’s ability to handle spicy food. But I was quickly brought down to earth with the first bite of this salad. The first flavour that hit me was the sweetness of the papaya; I thought to myself that this was going to be a breeze. A couple of seconds in, the spice kicks in….and oh what a kick it was. Parts of my tongue were enjoying the sweet taste while the rest was on fire. And yet, I went back for more. This absolutely contradicting flavours of sweet and spice kept calling me back for more. Pretty soon, I was sweating and had water coming out of my nose, but I still kept gobbling away at that salad. What a way to start off my vacation. I cooled my senses down with a nice cold bottle of fresh pomegranate juice. 

Raw Papaya Salad

Fresh Pomegranate Juice

Next up was the grilled chicken which was cooked really tender. Fresh off the grill, the chicken was as soft as a lightly toasted marshmallow and wasn’t spicy at all. Just meat with the natural flavours of coal made this a super addition to the meal. 

Grilled Chicken

Grilled Chicken
I still needed some time to allow my taste buds to regain their sense of flavour, so I walked about for a bit before I came across this stall selling fresh crunchy banana spring rolls. While the spring rolls themselves were sweet, the chilli-honey—garlic sauce that accompanied it was the kicker. Lovely contradicting natural flavours hit all the right spots. 

Banana Spring Rolls
Lunch was the very famous Pad Thai noodles at an adjacent stall. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the flavour. I’ve had more impactful and aromatic Pad Thai back in India and this one was quite bland. Missing a lot of the spiciness, the only flavours that came through were that of the vinegar, palm sugar and the peanuts.  It could be thanks to a large group of Spaniards at my table who asked for no spice in their Pad Thai, and I got served from the same batch. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I was in Thailand where Pad Thai stalls can be found at almost every corner.

Shrimp Pad Thai

Shrimp Pad Thai
My vacation was off to the kind of start I expected it to be with regard to food. There’re a lot more blog posts coming up over the next few days.

The Boxing Cat Brewery, Shanghai

Inspired by my conversation with another fellow food blogger/beer enthusiast, I’ve decided to add microbreweries to my list of places to visit when travelling and attempt to develop the taste buds to differentiate between good and average beer. For my trip to Shanghai, the Boxing Cat Brewery was on the top of my list. Reviews online gave this an excellent rating for both food and the beers.


Located in the absolutely gorgeous French Concession in Shanghai, Boxing Cat is a lovely little microbrewery which gives you a total feel of chilling on some cold beer on a holiday. Built with (the now very common) brick and bare bones interiors, this place is ideal to kick back on a weekend afternoon with friends and catch up over a game. Since I was by myself, I was given a small table on the outside, on the street; but that was fine because I was blessed with fabulous weather that day. 




I kicked off my meal with a plate of wings aptly named Fist of Fury. A house specialty, this dish comes with 12 absolutely spicy tangy wings with a buffalo style sauce. They were not joking about how spicy these were, every bite made my lips burn just a little bit while the tanginess just took over my mouth. Giving this brilliant contrast and some relief was the blue cheese dressing on the side. While the dressing was very mild compared to other blue cheese, it was the ideal match for these tender spicy wings. Giving the wings company was the Sucker Punch Ale. This light beer had a very mild fruity taste to it and I was glad that the waitress recommended this as a pair. Overall, everything just went excellent with this meal. The spice of the chicken, with the blue cheese, interspersed with a light fruity beer made it a memorable meal.

Fists of Fury

Sucker Punch Ale

I was quite full after belting away on the wings and was torn between doing a main course and keeping no space for dessert or with heading straight to a dessert. Such are the troubles of a food enthusiast with no company. I chose the latter. And like the flip of a coin that goes your way, I was glad I chose the dessert. I chose the Snickers Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel sauce. If that didn’t make you drool, take a look at the picture below.

Snickers Cheesecake with Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Sauce
In my limited career as a food blogger, this dessert ranks among the top three I’ve had. Those who experiment with food know the familiar feeling of putting a spoon into a dessert, grabbing that first bite and experiencing what heaven probably tastes like. This was one of those desserts. Without being overly sweet, the snickers, the dark chocolate and salted caramel came together and had a little orgy in my mouth. I was making fairly obnoxious noises as I worked my way through the cake; the waitress came up to me and commented that I really seem to like the cake. (Which was a polite way of telling me to stop making the other customers uncomfortable with all the grunting and sighing).  With just the right amount of saltiness, this dessert knocked my socks off. If I ever go back to Shanghai, I’m going back to eat just this. What made it even sweeter was that I didn’t have to share this with anyone.


I washed down my meal with a helping of a bitter, high alcohol content beer called the TKO IPA. While the colour was lighter when compared to the Sucker Punch, the taste was heavier. With a mild citrus after taste, the beer left a fresh taste in the mouth and set me up for the rest of the day. 

TKO IPA


Unfortunately, I am but one man. So I couldn’t have either tried more food or drink more beer. I did put Boxing Cat on my list of a place for a second visit should I have had more time during this trip. Alas, I had to leave content with my pictures and memory of the fabulous dessert. If you’re ever in Shanghai, do not miss going to the Boxing Cat Brewery. It is a little pricey compared to other restaurants I visited, but the experience is worth the extra money. Also, don’t forget to take a friend along so that you could divide and conquer.

My first real Chinese meal - Zhanggui Restaurant, Shanghai

It’s taken me over two weeks since I’ve returned from an absolutely exciting trip to Shanghai to get this post up. And that’s all thanks to my (now erstwhile) internet provider who decided it was completely fine to take over two weeks to lay cables. Anyway, good riddance. Let’s talk about the food.

I’m absolutely ecstatic about this particular post because it’s about my very first authentic Chinese meal in China. I did do a few places in Hong Kong last year, but that’s not really China. A colleague of ours took us to the Zhanggui Restaurant near the Holiday Inn Express and was completely in charge of ordering food. One of the things about eating in Shanghai is that (a) not all restaurants would have an English menu or an English speaking bearer and (b) not all restaurants keep spoons. I was fortunate that there was an English translation and spoons at this place. I was in for a total surprise because I left the ordering up to my colleague and whatever Mandarin he spoke, did not fit into the 5 sentences that I know.


While we waited for our food to arrive, we cracked open a bottle of Tiger beer. It was my first time trying this one out; I’m not a big fan. We ordered two appetizers – The Stir-fried Shredded Potato and the Scrambled Eggs with Fungus and Caraway. While the former was a very familiar taste, what really got the party going with my taste buds was the scrambled eggs dish. The mushrooms and the eggs were a fabulous combination with the eggs being just a tad runny and the bitter taste of the mushrooms complementing the taste of the yolk. This is a dish that I want to go back and try should I go to Shanghai again.

Stir-fried Shredded Potato

Scrambled Eggs with Fungus and Caraway


Our main course was extremely elaborate, but surprisingly did not make one feel bloated. We started off with the Braised Wild Vegetable Casserole, a dish that I simply loved. A lot of folks who say that genuine Chinese food is all about exotic animals, here’s a simple yet tasty vegetarian dish that had a slight vinegar taste that was left behind. We also ordered the Beef Brisket with Beef Tendon and Peppers. The dish tasted a lot like a rasam with beef portions, I didn’t quite enjoy the tomato-peppery flavour of the dish overall. This round was accompanied by some Noodles in a chilli soya sauce. 

Braised Wild Vegetable Casserole

Noodles

I’m not a big fan of tofu, and was a little disappointed when my colleague said he’s ordered fresh tofu. However, the tofu that came was almost like a thick curd and was accompanied by beans and a soya sauce. Oddly enough, that combination worked quite alright. I wouldn’t swear by the dish, but it did show me that tofu has to be made well to taste good. We also ordered a river fish cooked in a chilli sauce of some sort. I unfortunately did not catch the name of the dish. From a taste perspective, the amount of saltiness in the meat was a little too high for me. The outer sauce had a nice spicy yet citrus taste to it. While I didn’t enjoy the fish by itself, its flavour got neutralized with the simple fried rice that we ordered.

Fish
The best dish of the evening, and one of the most elegant dishes I’ve ever had was the Prawns cooked in Tea. Every now and then, a dish comes into my life that knocks the shoes, socks and pants off me. This was one such dish. True to the name, the crunchy prawns had a splendid aroma of freshly brewed tea; one bite into them released a wave of flavours that made me make a lot of inappropriate happy noises. The outer layer has a light sweet-chilli coating, but the kick comes when one bites into the meat. Almost immediately you taste freshly brewed tea with a very mild jasmine flavour. As one chews through the prawn, the flavour overtakes the palate leaving a fresh refreshing taste. I was told by my colleague that not everyone enjoys this flavour and it takes a great deal of experience with food to immediately enjoy this. While I’m not sure if he was buttering me up, I’ll just take it as a complement.

Prawn cooked in tea
Dessert was a simple ice cream. As far as the décor of the restaurant goes, it does resemble some of the cramped eat out you’d see in old Chinese movies with wooden tables, portraits of history on the wall, and even a squawking blackbird as you enter the restaurant.

Burp!
I was absolutely thrilled by my very first truly Chinese meal. I was told that the flavours here were very local to the Shanghai region and vary drastically when one moves towards the Beijing area. I guess one will have to wait and hope for a trip to Beijing next year to see for themselves. Overall, one of the most memorable meals I’ve had. The 31 year wait was worth it.