I’ve been on an edible journey for many years now. It started with the development of my passion for food and cooking. However, the past two years this journey had taken somewhat of a different trajectory. From working strictly towards becoming a chef to now following my stomach on a more global food trail. Primarily in Asia this past year I’m guaranteed to have some phenomenal and exotic eats.
Starting off in Vietnam, this was a personal oasis. A cuisine I can never get enough of. Just about anything you put in your mouth here is simply amazing (edible that is). Being my second trip here, I knew there was still more than I could imagine left to discover, but I was bound and determined to scratch the surface a little deeper than my last visit.
After trekking through the rice paddies of Sapa, the weekend market in Lao Cai, the northernmost market in the country was calling out to me. I’ve become a bit of a market dweller throughout my travels and this one I couldn’t miss. Handicrafts, textiles, even a livestock area with the sale of buffalo, chickens, ducks, and dogs. I came here for a dish I had recommended to me. In a pavilion full of picnic benches, surrounded by steaming pots is where Thang Co can be found. A soup described to me ahead of time as horse stomach soup. While this had me intrigued it turned out there was no lack of other interesting bits as well. Bones, innards, cartilage and fat all made appearances. Very herbaceous and slightly bitter, this soup is not only unique in flavour, but to this region.
This one required a little searching for. I knew it was here, but couldn’t manage to spot it on my wanders through the Old Quarter of Hanoi. With the help of a local friend I was brought 5 minutes from my hostel and sure enough, right under my nose the whole time there it was. Balut, the fertilized developing duck embryo. Sounds appetizing, I know. The age at which it is boiled is a matter of local preference. How old do you like your fetus? To my knowledge it can range from 15-21 days, to the point where bones and feathers can begin to develop. It has a similar flavour to any other egg. Richer with a few additional textures. Often left in the shell, mine was placed with the fluid in a small dish in which I could add the condiments present. Vietnamese mint, ginger and salt.
I was riding solo through Bokor National Park in the south of Cambodia, when I stumbled upon one of my most memorable meals. I was exploring an abandoned, dilapidated building and to my surprise discovered a group of young monks on a field trip of sorts stopped for lunch. After some short conversation and my clear interest in what was cooking, they invited me to join them. I graciously accepted. Quite a feast was being prepared. Soup with octopus, squid and shrimp was simmering, while local fish and stingray were prepped for frying. Lunch on the go isn’t so bad here. I took my place cross legged on the concrete alongside them. I believe that your surroundings and company play a vital part in the enjoyment of your food. There was no better place for a meal with new friends and my first bites of stingray.
The small seaside town of Kep is easily passed over from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. What many may not know is that they are passing by a seafood haven, the Kep crab market. The local specialty, fried crab with green peppercorns is absolutely amazing, but this place became my daily breakfast spot. 7:00am, the grills are hot and the seafood is cooking. Order up some crab, shrimp and fish, sit down at the edge of the dock and dig in. Truly no better way to enjoy the fruits of the sea.
Spending as much time in Kanchanaburi, Thailand as I did, I developed a few regular spots. Not even sure if this place had a name, it was a small local convenience spot, even cheaper than 711. Just a couple tables and a couple cooking up a limited menu. Half a dozen dishes where no choice is wrong. Each one the best version of the dish I’ve had. I was here nearly every day, sometimes twice. Quit Teow Moo (pork noodle soup) for breakfast followed by Ka Na Moo Krob (crispy pork with kale on rice) for lunch. Each plate just over a dollar, this will be my first stop in town when I hopefully return this year.
Myanmar has been elusive in the past. A country few know much about and for myself knew next to nothing including the cuisine. I couldn’t wait to discover Burmese cuisine and see how the influences from its bordering countries affected it. Between mohinga, Shan noodles and all the phenomenal meals in my short 12 days here, the green tea leaf salad is the dish I’ve craved since leaving. Such a unique flavour, like nothing I’ve ever tasted.
Upon returning to Canada for a job sending me north into the Arctic Circle, I immediately got excited about the food of the Inuit. Picking up some Arctic char from a local fisherman, our guides taught me how to prepare pitsik, the traditional Inuit way of drying and preserving Arctic char. I waited impatiently for 5 days while the sun and salty wind dried it. As soon as the guides said it was ready, I was slicing it up. It was like a sweet fish flavoured jujube.
The summer was slow approaching this year delaying the hunting season, but lucky for me our guides were experts. They knew I wanted nothing more than to try muktuk or seal, preferably both. Finally one day they pulled back into camp and sure enough some fresh seal meat with them. Straight to the cutting board and I sliced some seal liver sashimi. The texture leaves something to be desired, but has an almost sweet richness with an essence of fish.
This world seems to only be getting bigger by the day along with the menu it serves. 2016, my stomach is ready and waiting to see what will be at my table. Bring on the good, bad and the ugly, the fragrant and putrid, the average and exotic. I’m ready for it.