International holidays may be off the cards for a while, but not everything we enjoy about travel is beyond our reach. For many of us, one of the most loved experiences about travelling is the culinary adventure.
It’s an opportunity to try flavours and dishes we’d rarely eat at home or perhaps didn’t even know existed until we stopped at the street stall or asked a waiter to recommend something traditional.
We might not be getting on planes any time soon, but we can recreate the beauty of past travel, and even get our first tasters of new destinations, by getting creative in the kitchen.
We spoke to Bianca Mazur, dietitian and Executive Director at Thermomix, about how to cook authentic Asian food easily at home.
“I’ve always been a lover of Asian flavours,” Bianca says. “But I didn’t understand just how unique each of the different cuisines were until we created our latest cookbook, Around Asia. In making the book, we worked with several of our Consultants with Asian heritage to create truly authentic recipes, just like their families have always made.”
Here are Bianca’s tips on the easiest, traditional recipes to recreate at home from different regions covered in the book.
Culinary influences in Malaysian food span from more than a dozen countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Portugal, the Netherlands, the UK and various parts of the Middle East. One of my top discoveries for Malaysian food is Nasi lemak, which is a simple coconut rice with the addition of pandan leaves. Serve it with a fragrant and spicy sambal and various garnishes for different textures and flavours every time. I love to serve mine with sambal, roasted peanuts, a fried egg, fresh cucumber slices and a mountain of fresh coriander. The smell is so incredible – you’ll close your eyes and imagine you’re there!
No matter where you are in Vietnam, you’ll notice that daily life revolves around food, be it where to eat, what to eat, or the making of food. When I’m cooking Vietnamese at home, I love to breathe in those deep aromas and picture bustling food markets with different stalls each making their signature dishes. A personal favourite is a warm Pho Bo, especially in this cooler weather. This is a traditional beef and noodle soup you can find in most Vietnamese restaurants. But it’s the layering of flavour which makes it a powerhouse of taste and goodness.
First you create a rich bone broth by simmering beef bones and spices for over an hour, then layer that up with further salty, sharp flavours and cook it some more, before delicately adding finely sliced beef fillet and noodles, and fresh herbs to serve. Using traditional methods, this can be quite time-consuming which is why many don’t do it or try to cut corners – but it is so worth it. However, with our recipe, your active time is just 15 minutes while Thermomix does all the heavy lifting.
The Thai phrase gan gin gan yu, which translates to “as you eat, so you are”, says it all in terms of how important food is to Thai culture. Originating with immigrants from the southern Chinese provinces, Thai cuisine also has elements of Indian, Japanese, Portuguese and even Dutch influence due to missionaries and traders inhabiting the country over the centuries. While Thai food features many of the same core ingredients as other countries in South East Asia, it has a flavour profile all of its own.
A dish that really sums this up for me is Larb, which is a spicy minced chicken salad served with gem lettuce leaves which act as cups. Its flavour is just so distinctively Thai with lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce, chilli, lime, fresh mint, and peanut oil all coming together to make this perfectly balanced mouthful. The authentic touch is the addition of toasted, milled rice to the mix.
China and Taiwan
One of the reasons Chinese cooking is so popular the world-over is the diversity of flavours and styles. The four main styles of cooking in China and Taiwan are – Cantonese, Sichuan, Huaiyang and Shandong – each of which has evolved based on geography, climate, history, imperial or royal preference, and lifestyle.
Jiāo zi, traditional Chinese dumplings, are something I would likely have never made without my Thermomix but that me and the kids love whipping up together now. My husband is pretty happy about it too! They’re a beautifully aromatic combination of Chinese cabbage, celery, spring onions and mince meats with a mescaline of other authentic ingredients to help bind and bring out the flavours.
Make it even more real
As well as the food, you can make your virtual travel experience even more real by adding in extra cultural snippets. Think about table decorations, traditional colours you might all wear, look up a few words in the local language like ‘thank you’and ‘enjoy your meal’ and some pop facts the family can all learn, you might even like to put on some traditional music from that culture. Get creative and make it an event for all the family. The only thing left to do now is to decide where to ‘go’!
What country would you love to travel to in your kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.