Blog - Curry Twist

Mapo Tofu (No Meat) In Singapore


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Nothing quite captures the mix of the old and the new that characterizes Singapore than a bumboat, the city’s traditional ferries, sailing in front of the futuristic towers of the Marina Bay Sands, an entertainment, hotel and shopping complex. On closer inspection you realize that the boat is also a thoroughly modern vessel, filled with sightseeing tourists rather than provisions for ships. This transformation of the humble bumboat encapsulates perfectly Singapore’s metamorphosis from a small port established by the British to expedite trade between India, China and South-East Asia, to a gleaming metropolis that is one of the world’s great cities.

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Singapore came into existence in 1819 when the East India Company established a trading post at the mouth of the Malacca Straits through which most shipping between India and China passed. Merchants, sailors and other workers flocked to the rapidly growing town to find work and soon Singapore had a population that was a melange of people from every corner of Asia and Europe. The town was laid out with separate sections for different ethnic and religious groups, and these areas are still preserved as historic neighbourhoods. The largest of these is today known as “Chinatown”, which may otherwise seem a strange name for a small portion of a city in which over three-quarters of the population can trace their origins to China. Chinatown hosts historic Buddhist temples, excellent restaurants and shops, and is at the heart of Chinese New Year celebrations.

Kampong Glam was the area set aside for Muslims, which included Malays, Arabs, Persians and Indians. It is still dominated by the grand Sultan Mosque and the nearby Haji Lane and Arab Street are full of shops offering perfumes and carpets as well as many restaurants serving authentic food.

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Little India was the area designated for Indian Hindus, mostly Tamils from the south of India. The area is immediately recognizable from the idol covered facade of the temples, the shops offering gold jewellery and silk sarees, and the restaurants selling dosas and idlis.

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The best known architectural feature of old Singapore was the shophouse, with family owned shops on the ground floor and living spaces above them. Large numbers of these have been preserved and renovated. Many of these are now trendy cafes, restaurants and shops and are beautiful places for an evening stroll.

Clarke Quay, which overlooks the Singapore river, is a great place to see old shophouses that have been converted to restaurants and bars. The Quay has a very lively nightlife and you can catch a sightseeing boat that takes you on a tour down the river and into Marina Bay where you see a statue of the Merlion, the symbol of Singapore, spewing water out over the crowds. If you time it right, you can even watch the famous laser show over the water!

But Singapore is not just about history, as you realize when you walk through the Gardens by the Bay, a massive park complex next to Marina Bay. Strange structures, looking like trees from an alien planet, rise above the perfectly manicured lawns of the park. In a giant glass conservatory you can walk through a cloud forest in which waterfalls tumble down from a great height.

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Sentosa is an entire resort island, where you can visit an amusement park, relax on a beach, or walk for miles along forest trails. You can easily spend a whole day exploring the island.

Singapore is also famous for shopping, and there is no better place to start than Orchard Road, which is lined for miles with elegant shops and giant malls. You can find all kinds of luxury goods along this road and keen shoppers come from all over Asia, intent on finding the latest in fashion.

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People may debate about what is the favourite pastime of Singaporeans: shopping is high on the list, but it is beaten by eating out. Singapore is a foodie’s paradise, where you can find something delicious at every price point. The hawker centres are famous, with dozens of vendors at each location, serving every type of cuisine imaginable. Here you will find shops selling Chinese, India, Malay, Thai, Korean and Japanese food, and probably several dishes that you have never heard of, all reasonably priced and absolutely delicious. Some of the most popular ones worth visiting are Tekka Centre in Little India, Maxwell Road Hawker Center and Lau Pa Sat.

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Singapore’s own cuisine is known as Peranakan, or more familiarly Nyonya, food. These were the dishes that evolved in the homes of Nyonyas, a name given to the Chinese merchants who settled in Singapore and married Malay women, creating a unique hybrid culture. For an exquisite Peranakan meal, go to The Peranakan on Orchard Road, where you can order the chef’s tasting menu of all the classics such as beef Rendang, braised chicken with black Keluah nuts, ginger fried rice with lemongrass and more.

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One of our favourite restaurants for Chinese food was Din Tai Fung, where we would go anytime we need a quick soup and dumpling fix! Other great places to satisfy your Chinese food cravings are Crystal Jade, Peach Garden, Paradise Dynasty and Imperial Treasure. Most of these restaurants have branches scattered throughout the city as well as in various terminals of Chiangi airport, so you can have fantastic dumplings wherever you happen to be, even if you’re about to board an airplane!

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We recently had the amazing opportunity to live in Singapore and become familiar with it during a sabbatical spent at Nanyang University, where we stayed in its verdant green campus for several months. It was a fascinating experience where we had lots of time to explore the different areas of the city, make new friends, and get a flavor of all the cultures that make Singapore special and unique.

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At the university we often ate in the many canteens dotted around the campus. These food halls each had about 10-12 hawker stalls serving all kinds of freshly cooked, delicious food at super low prices. After eating here just once, I gave up cooking at home for the duration of our stay!
One of my favourite lunch places was the Sichuan Cuisine stall (in the corner of the above photo), which made the best Mapo Tofu I have ever eaten. The friendly lady at the counter, who spoke very limited English, would see me coming from a distance and shout out my order to her chef at the back - “Mapo tofu, no meat”! We’d hold a ‘conversation’ with smiles, nods and gestures, proving that language is no barrier to friendship (as long as there’s good Mapo tofu!).

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This dish is usually served with a heap of white rice that is wonderful for soaking up the sauce. If you wish to add meat, throw in about half a cup of ground pork when you’re frying up the onions and other vegetables and continue cooking until it is done.

Mapo Tofu (No Meat)

Sauce Ingredients

1 tbsp each: dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar

1 tsp each: sesame oil, chili bean paste

1/2 tsp each: sugar, cornstarch, hot sauce or sambal

1/4 cup water

Tofu Ingredients:

2 tbsp oil

2 whole star anise

1/4 tsp lightly crushed Sichuan peppercorn, optional

2 whole dried red chilies, optional

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced or grated

1/4 cup each, finely chopped: onion, red pepper, shiitake mushrooms, fresh coriander

1 lb (454g) medium firm tofu, cubed into bite sized pieces

2 green onions (scallions), sliced

1 tsp chili oil, optional

Mix together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Set aside for later use in the recipe.

Warm oil in deep wok or skillet over medium high heat.

Add star anise, Sichuan peppercorn and dried red chilies if using.

After 30 sec, add the minced garlic and ginger, saute 30 sec.

Add onions, red peppers, mushrooms and fresh coriander. Saute for 5 min, stirring occasionally until softened.

Add tofu cubes and toss gently to mix with sauteed vegetables.

Give the reserved sauce a quick stir to recombine and pour over tofu mixture in skillet. Add sliced green onions. Stir gently to combine, cook 1 min and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle chili oil over top, if using.

Serves four

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Sambal Grilled Fish In Bali

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Bali seems like the island that time forgot, left undisturbed by the currents of history that transformed its neighbours. It is the last remnant of the great Hindu empires that once ruled most of south-east Asia, including the territory now occupied by Indonesia and Malaysia. These kingdoms drew their culture and inspiration from India, as well as most of their religious practices, mythology and sacred texts.

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Over five centuries ago Islam arrived in the Indonesian archipelago, brought by Arab traders who came to the islands to buy their famed spices. Gradually the local population in Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi became Muslim, but the Balinese maintained their original faith. Several independent Hindu kingdoms flourished in Bali and it was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the last one fell to Dutch colonizers.

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Today Bali is one of the most important travel destinations in the world, attracting millions of tourists to the picture-perfect beaches that surround the island. A combination of brilliant white sand, sparkling blue water, and some of the best surfing in the world draws vacationers from around the world.

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There is lots to do inland as well. One of the most spectacular sights in Bali are the rice terraces, where green fields cascade down the sides of the hills. The elaborate irrigation systems that are required to water these fields are over a thousand years old, carefully maintained by local communities, temples and village administrators.

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Bali’s temples are famous, many built in stunning locations. The Tanah Lot temple, one of the best known, is located on an island just off the coast. As the tide rolls in the only way to reach the temple is to wade through the water, which can be incredibly refreshing on a hot day!

The Uluwatu temple, dating back to the 10th century is perched on the edge of a cliff with huge waves crashing onto the rocks below. Watching the sun set behind the temple is a spectacular sight. As you walk up to the temple through a small forest, you will come across many monkeys hoping to cadge a snack off you! These monkeys are believed to be sacred, guarding the temple against evil influences.

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Goa Gajah, also known as the elephant cave is a temple whose exterior is covered with stone carvings of a terrifying demon, meant to ward off evil spirits.

Within the temple complex of Goa Gajah, you will come across tranquil, ancient bathing pools, said to date back to the 10th century. Surrounded by carved stone idols from Hindu mythology, these female figures constantly fill the pool with water. It was once believed that this water was the fountain of youth and bathing here would purify the soul and keep the body young.

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Exploring temples, walking on the beach or swimming in the waters is guaranteed to give you an appetite! Try some Balinese cuisine with fresh flavours, locally grown ingredients and a spicy bite! You will taste popular dishes such as Lumpia (spring rolls filled with vegetables and pork), Babi Guling (roast suckling pig), Sate (grilled skewers of meat) and Gado Gado (an incredible salad with crisp vegetables, tofu and peanuts).

Eating freshly grilled seafood right on the beach is a fun thing to do at least once while in Bali! Jimbaran beach is lined with many casual restaurants where you can sit with your feet in the sand, breathing in the spice scented air, while enjoying excellent seafood. And if you need to cool off, you can always go for a quick dip in the water!

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Sambal or chili sauce is an essential part of Balinese cuisine. Fresh, house made sambal is always served along with the food for added zest, and is often used in cooking as well. The most popular sambal is made with red chilies, tomatoes, garlic, shrimp paste and shallots.

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You don’t have to prepare fresh sambal to make this dish! If you have a bottle of red chili sambal lying around in your fridge, this recipe will come together easily. If you’re nervous about grilling fish, you can pan fry it or bake it instead. Serve it with lots of extra sambal (for the adventurous!), some rice and a wedge of lime for the perfect meal.

Sambal Grilled Fish

1 lb fish fillet, such as Tilapia, Red Snapper or Sea Bass

2 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece ginger or galangal

1 shallot

1 tsp each: tamarind paste (or use prepared tamarind sauce or chutney), red chili sambal, sugar, turmeric powder, coriander powder

Salt to taste

2 tbsp each: oil, water

1 lime, cut into wedges and 1 green onion (scallion) cut into rounds, for garnish

Pat fish dry and place on a large plate or tray in a single layer.

Combine remaining ingredients (except lime and scallion) in a small blender or food processor and blend till smooth. If you have a mortar and pestle, you can use that to achieve a smooth paste.

Pour over fish fillets and spread all over on both sides. Cover and refrigerate for 2 - 4 hours.

Preheat outdoor grill to medium. Place fish fillets on grill, scraping leftover marinade over top.

Grill for about 5 min per side, turning gently once to cook evenly all over. Fish should flake easily and be slightly browned and crispy.

Scatter sliced green onion over top and garnish with a wedge of lime, then serve.

Serves four

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Char Kway Teow (Fried Rice Noodles) In GeorgeTown, Penang, Malaysia

The towering skyscrapers of George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, seem much like those of any other rapidly-growing Asian metropolis. They loom above the brilliant blue waters of the bay that made George Town one of the busiest ports in the east during the nineteenth century, attracting merchants from all over the world. But there is much more to George Town than its glittering skyline reveals at first glance.

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A short walk away from the modern office buildings are the streets of old George Town, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was founded in 1786 by the East India Company, which obtained land from the local Sultan of Kedah. The British established a free port in which people from every country were welcome to live and work. The population burgeoned as Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai and European settlers made it a centre for trade and commerce.

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Today members of all the communities that first built Penang still live there, making it an extremely cosmopolitan city with a fascinating mixture of cultures and religions. Churches coexist with mosques and Hindu and Buddhist temples. Penang is one of the hubs of Peranakan culture, which refers to the ethnic groups that formed as a result of intermarriage between south-east Asians and people from other parts of the world. The largest group of Peranakans have Chinese ancestry, but there are also other smaller groups of Indian, Arab and Portuguese descent.

The Blue Mansion in George Town offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of the rich Peranakan merchants. This was the house of Cheong Fatt Tze, a wealthy businessman in the late nineteenth century. Built by craftsmen he summoned from China, it reflects the luxury that he enjoyed. Today it has been restored to its original condition and houses both a restaurant and a boutique hotel, so everyone can enjoy its exquisite interiors.

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Penang’s street food is a kaleidoscope of the mingling of cultures and cuisines over the centuries. As British, Malay, Chinese, Hindu and Muslim traders settled here, they created a unique cuisine that attracts food enthusiasts from all around the world. Walk through the sleepy streets of George Town in the daytime and it is hard to believe that as soon as the sun goes down they transform into the setting for a moveable feast.

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Vendors wheel out carts with sizzling grills and woks that they use to turn out seafood laksa (noodles simmered in a spicy coconut milk broth), fiery curries, pan fried murtabak (hand stretched flat bread) stuffed with eggs and meat, wok fried noodles, biryani, appams and dosas and every other delicacy that you could desire. The best possible way to experience George Town is to join the throngs around each stall and eat your way across town, as nobody seems to cook at home!

Char Kway Teow, one of the most popular street foods of George Town is easy to find all around the city. When you stroll out in the evening in search of a bite to eat, simply follow the irresistible aromas to the nearest food cart. Order a plate of Char Kway Teow, watch the vendor deftly stir fry the ingredients over a very high flame to give it the classic Wok Hei or ‘breath of the wok’ and savour the charred flavour and smoky aroma that is characteristic of this dish.

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Char Kway Teow is very easy to make at home: use very fresh ingredients, keep the heat very high, and stir fry quickly to retain the crispness of the vegetables and the integrity of the noodles. Serve with Lamb Satay Skewers if desired.

Char Kway Teow (Fried Rice Noodles)

3 tbsp oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced

1 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallots

1/2 cup thinly sliced sweet red pepper

6 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cups fresh bean sprouts

8 oz (1/2 lb) fresh flat rice noodles, warmed in the microwave to soften

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp each: rice vinegar, oyster sauce

1 tsp each: sugar, red chili sambal or hot sauce

2 eggs, beaten

2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

Warm 2 tbsp oil in large wok set over high heat.

Add garlic, red onions or shallots and red pepper. Saute for 2 min until lightly tender.

Add shrimp and bean sprouts, saute 1 min.

Add rice noodles, soy sauce, vinegar, oyster sauce, sugar and sambal. Toss with two stirring spoons or spatulas until well mixed, about 1 min.

Push noodle mixture around the periphery of the wok, creating a well in the middle. Add remaining 1 tsp oil to well, then pour beaten eggs onto it. Let eggs set for 30 sec, then scramble lightly by stirring gently.

Add green onions and bring noodle mixture back into the center of the wok, stirring and tossing to combine, about 1 min.

Serve right away.

Serves Four

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Grilled Lamb Satay Skewers In Borobudur, Indonesia

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Indonesia, a largely Muslim country, may be an unexpected place to find the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, but there it is: Borobudur, located a short distance from the Javanese town of Yogyakarta. The colossal stone pyramid rises above a lush plateau that is surrounded by hills and two still-active volcanoes.

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Borobudur was originally built in the 9th century by the Buddhist Shailendra dynasty that ruled over a large part of south-east Asia at that time. The temple consists of nine platforms that grow progressively smaller as you ascend. Each terrace has walls covered with stone carvings, interspersed with life-sized statues of the Buddha.

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The carvings are a wonderful album of scenes from everyday life in ancient Java. They also show stories from mythology and episodes from the life of the Buddha. Pilgrims visiting the temple can follow the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment, starting with his birth and scenes from his earliest days.

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As you ascend to the higher levels of the temple the carvings depict later stages of the Buddha’s life, successive terraces representing ever higher stages of wisdom. The apex of the pyramid is occupied by an array of Buddha figures, each inside a latticed dome, symbolizing the achievement of nirvana.

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Borobudur was abandoned in the 14th century as volcanic eruptions forced an evacuation of the surrounding area and the Javanese population increasingly converted to Islam. The temple stones collapsed and were buried under volcanic ash until the 19th century when Dutch colonial administrators began to have them unearthed. It was only in 1973 that a massive international effort led to the temple being restored close to its original state. Today Borobudur is Indonesia’s biggest tourist attraction, with millions of visitors each year.

Borobudur is a short, scenic drive from Yogyakarta and it is best to base yourself there. The drive is lovely and you will want to stop several times along the way to capture picture perfect rice terraces, gently flowing streams and the lush, mountain fringed countryside. Be sure to save some time to also explore the beautiful ancient temples of Prambanan just outside of Yogyakarta. Back in the bustling city of Yogyakarta, you will find plenty of opportunities to shop for local products or sample their famous street food.

Lamb satay skewers are a quintessentially Javanese dish and a popular street food in Yogyakarta. Grilled over a small charcoal stove atop push carts, they perfume the air with the heady aroma of spices. Just follow your nose to reach the nearest lamb satay stall around you or make my recipe at home till you can get to Indonesia!

This easy recipe comes together very quickly by throwing the marinade ingredients into a food processor or blender. After that, it is simply a matter of marinating the lamb overnight to produce the best flavours. Coconut cream is an essential part of this recipe, it keeps the lamb tender and saves it from drying out on the grill. Serve with Peanut Sauce and Nasi Goreng or Coconut Rice

Grilled Lamb Satay Skewers

1 lb (450g) boneless leg of lamb, cubed into bite sized pieces

4 cloves garlic

2 shallots

1 inch piece each: ginger, fresh turmeric or use 1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp each: oil, coconut cream

1 tbsp each: tamarind paste or tamarind sauce or use lime juice, dark brown sugar

1 tsp each: ground coriander, red chilli sambal or hot sauce

Salt to taste

1 lime, halved

Place lamb in large mixing bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients (except lime) in the jar of a mini food processor or blender and process until well combined.

Scrape out the paste onto the lamb and mix well to coat.

Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours for flavours to develop.

Preheat barbecue to medium heat. Lift lamb out of marinade and thread pieces onto skewers. If you have any marinade left in the bowl, slather it over the lamb. Grill to desired done-ness, about 5 min per side for medium well done.

Serve with a squeeze of lemon over top.

Serves four

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Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) In Prambanan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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Prambanan, located just a few miles outside the Javanese city of Yogyakarta, is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. Built in the ninth century by the Hindu dynasty that ruled Java at the time, it consists of a large compound that centers on three shrines dedicated to the deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. At its height, the elaborate complex included hundreds of temples and residences to accomodate the throng of priests, scholars and disciples who worked there. The buildings are covered with intricate carvings portraying stories from Hindu mythology and scenes from the great epic Ramayana.

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Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and dynastic wars led to the gradual collapse and abandonment of Prambanan by the fifteenth century. As the Javanese converted to Islam much of the religious significance of the temple ruins was forgotten, to be replaced by legends about an army of demons who had conjured up the buildings. It was only in the twentieth century that efforts were begun to painstakingly repair and rebuild these great temples.

Today Prambanan is one of Indonesia’s biggest tourist attractions, with its main temples restored to the glorious state they were in a millennium ago. The ruins of the smaller temples that once surrounded this core still lie on the ground, giving you an idea of the massive extent of the ancient site and reconstruction efforts. In the evening, on a nearby open air stage, actors perform a ballet that recounts the tales of the Ramayana using Javanese dance and music styles accompanied by a gamelan orchestra. For Indian visitors like us, it was a moving experience to hear stories that are such an essential part of our lives, recounted in such beautiful, exotic surroundings.

To explore the temples of Prambanan, base yourself in the nearby bustling city of Yogyakarta. In between marveling at nearby epic historic sights, you can also shop here for handmade batiks, local spices and handicrafts or visit the fresh market, brimming with just picked fruit and vegetables or catch a riveting ballet performance of the Ramayana.

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Yogyakarta is well known for it’s distinctive dishes that are sweetened with local Gula Jawa (palm sugar). Warungs or family owned roadside eateries are very popular and a great way to experience local flavour. The food here is always freshly prepared and is never expensive! Sit alongside families of regulars in a shaded veranda overlooking rice fields and enjoy dishes like sambal grilled fish, sate babi (pork satay), gado gado (salad with peanut sauce) and lumpia (crisp spring rolls), all served with generous helpings of nasi goreng (fried rice)!

Nasi Goreng accompanies many of the dishes served in Indonesia and is simple to make at home. Its characteristic feature is the slightly sweet taste and rich dark colour from Ketjap manis, the traditional sweet soy sauce. Feel free to add more vegetables of your choice or sauteed chicken and shrimp and top it all with a runny fried egg for extra decadence! You can also pair it with Swordfish Satay Skewers or Lamb Satay Skewers for a delicious meal.

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Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)

3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided

2 eggs, beaten

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 fresh hot red chilies, thinly sliced

2 tbsp ketjap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) or use

2 tbsp dark soy + 1 tbsp brown sugar

4 cups loosely packed cooked rice, preferably chilled

2 tbsp rice vinegar or fresh lime juice

4 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

2 tbsp chopped/crushed roasted peanuts, optional

Sliced cucumber and tomatoes for garnish

Heat 1 tbsp oil in frying pan over medium high heat. Add eggs, make an omelet. Sliver omelet, reserve.
Heat remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large non stick skillet over high heat, then add onions and sweet red pepper, stir-fry 3 - 4 minutes, until lightly softened. Add garlic and chilies and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir-fry until rice is heated through and lightly fried, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ketjap manis or soy and sugar as well as rice vinegar or lime juice, reserved omelet, scallions and coriander until combined well and heated through. Sprinkle peanuts over top (if using) and serve garnished with cucumber and tomato slices and a wedge of lime.

Serves four

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Curry In Japan

When we planned our trip to Japan, we were looking forward to enjoying authentic Japanese cuisine during our travels, never anticipating that the most memorable dish we would encounter would be something quite familiar – curry! 

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We first discovered Japanese curry in the famous Nakamuraya restaurant, in Tokyo’s chic Shinjuku district, where chicken and seafood curries were prominently displayed on the menu. For Indian visitors like us, this was irresistible - we had to try them! The curry came in a sauceboat, accompanied by a plate of white rice, grated Parmesan cheese and little dishes of fukujinzuke, pickled vegetables. The flavors of the curry were distinctly Indian, which only deepened the mystery. There was nothing in the décor or name of the restaurant that hinted at an Indian connection, so why was a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo serving Indian food?

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Curry has become such an integral part of their cuisine that most Japanese are surprised to learn it did not originate in their homeland. Curry arrived in Japan in the late nineteenth century, when for the first time many Japanese began to travel to the west and were captivated by the culture and food they encountered. Most Japanese first tasted curry when travelling on British ships and associated this exotic dish with European rather than Indian cuisine.

The recipe for English curry followed a well-tested formula: meat and onions were fried in butter, curry powder and stock added, an apple thrown in for tartness, and the mixture slowly simmered. Japanese curry was similar, with soy sauce, honey and the all-important browned roux (made by combining flour, curry powder and butter) added in, making it uniquely Japanese. Cafés began to open in Tokyo serving coffee accompanied by pastries, pasta, and strangest of all – curry.

The Japanese love affair with curry intensified in modern times with the invention of ready-to-eat curry roux. A curry can be prepared in minutes by simmering meat or vegetables with this instant mix, making it the perfect comfort food to be enjoyed at home. The Japanese, delighted to find a dish that does not require elaborate preparation, eat curry at least once a week on average. Curry is now the most popular instant food in Japan, with grocery stores selling frozen, microwavable or vacuum-sealed versions. Children adore milder curries containing apples and honey, and these have become a favourite item on school lunch menus. Curry is eaten with rice – kareh raisu, over noodles - kareh udon, or stuffed in bread - kareh pan. National curry chains have carried the dish to every corner of Japan. Whale, scallops, oysters and venison are all served in curries and considered regional delicacies.

Travelling across Japan we enjoyed many memorable dishes: sushi at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market; tempura in the Asakusa district; yakitori skewers at a centuries-old inn in Kyoto; a vegetarian feast consisting only of tofu prepared in a dozen different ways at a Buddhist temple. But after savouring these we always came back to curry, for it was not only a beloved flavour for us but also a little window into Japanese history.

Nakamuraya’s restaurant has a particularly fascinating past, for it first opened as a café and added curry to its menu when the owner’s daughter married an Indian revolutionary who had evaded British police and found refuge in Japan in 1915. Nakamuraya’s curry was an instant success and the elite of Tokyo flocked to the café to taste authentic Indian food. Newspaper reporters soon picked up the story and made the curry famous as the “taste of love and revolution”. Who can resist sampling that?

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This recipe, with its intriguing mix of ingredients and flavours is popularly served all over Japan. The unusual combination of apples with celery, carrot and potatoes is strangely comforting!

Japanese Chicken Curry

1 lb (about 8 ) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
4 tbsp all purpose flour, divided
4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
4 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated or minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, sliced thin
Salt to taste
2 cups chicken broth, divided
¼ cup canned crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp each: garam masala, curry powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey

Combine chicken and 2 tbsp flour in large mixing bowl, tossing to coat pieces well with flour.
Warm 2 tbsp oil in deep non-stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add chicken pieces, shaking off excess flour. Brown chicken for 5 min until lightly golden. Transfer to bowl.
Add remaining 2 tbsp oil to same skillet. Add garlic and ginger, sauté for about 1 min until they brown lightly. Add the onions and sauté for about 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

Add carrot, potato and celery, sauté 2 min. Add chicken, salt, 1 cup broth and tomatoes. Cover skillet, bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile make the roux. Warm butter in non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add remaining 2 tbsp flour. Stirring occasionally, cook until flour turns to a light golden colour, about 10 min. Add curry powder, garam masala and cayenne pepper, cook 2 min. Add remaining 1 cup broth, cook 1 min, stirring till roux thickens.

Add roux, apple, soy and honey to chicken in skillet, stirring to mix it in gently. Cover skillet and cook for 5 min for flavours to blend and apple to soften.

Serves four

Article originally printed in Vacations Magazine, Fall 2018

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Khmer Fish Curry In Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, one of the most remarkable civilizations the world has ever seen, which was at its height from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Cambodia was strongly influenced by the culture of India, from which they received Hindu and Buddhist religions, Sanskrit literature, and models for architecture, art, sculpture and music. The name Angkor derives from the Sanskrit word nagara, meaning city. No further description was thought necessary - quite clearly, no one believed that any other city like this could ever exist.

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The first westerner to see Angkor, a Portuguese priest who visited in the sixteenth century when it was well past its peak, wrote that it “is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen”. The first time you see Angkor you understand what he meant.

Angkor consisted of an inhabited area of approximately 1000 square kilometers, irrigated by a complex system of canals and lakes. Temples, of which almost a thousand have been excavated, formed the focal points of urban settlements. The temples were not just places of worship but also served as centers of education, courts of justice and financial hubs. Temples ranged in size from small shrines to massive complexes such as Angkor Wat and Bayon.

The temple of Angkor Wat was built as a shrine to the Hindu god Vishnu, but as the official religion of the Khmer kings changed to Buddhism, it was transformed into a Buddhist temple. Bayon, which was built later, is famous for the many towering statues, smiling serenely from its terraces and the enigmatic faces that are repeated across its walls, said to represent the Buddha.

Angkor was attacked and sacked by invaders from Thailand in the fifteenth century, after which it was gradually abandoned. The tropical jungle soon took over the city, burying the stones under creepers and vines until it all but vanished.

In the nineteenth French archaeologists rediscovered Angkor and led efforts to clear the dense jungle growth and restore the buildings to their former glory. The painstaking work still goes on, with restoration teams from around the world toiling on the many monuments and temples that are still being unearthed.

Today Angkor is Cambodia’s greatest tourist attraction with millions of visitors arriving each year. It takes several days to visit the many sites across the sprawling grounds, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see what is one of the greatest wonders of the world. The temple of Angkor Wat is the most famous and visitors line up to see it at its best at sunrise or at sunset.

Cambodian or Khmer cuisine is also worth discovering for its complex, delicious flavours. It shares common elements with its Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian neighbours and has French, Chinese and Indian influences as well. You will find everything from noodle soups, stir fries, spring rolls and spicy curries to crusty breads and coffee!
We enjoyed wonderful dishes like Fish Amok (coconut milk based fish curry served in a banana leaf bowl), Beef Lok Lak (beef stir fry with soy and oyster sauce), Bai Cha (fried rice) and Khmer Laksa (spicy noodle soup with coconut milk), and were hooked!

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Creamy, mildly spiced and delicious, this easy Khmer fish curry is one of my favourites that I often make at home. Cambodia’s famous Kampot pepper is the traditional seasoning here, adding a subtle floral aroma and delicate peppery taste to the dish. Named after the Kampot region where it is grown, this prized pepper is a favourite for flavouring seafood dishes. Since Kampot pepper is hard to find outside of Cambodia, you can use regular ground black pepper instead.
If you’re looking for more ways to make fish curry, try my spicy Kerala Fish Curry!

Khmer Fish Curry With Turmeric, Coconut Milk And Lemongrass

2 shallots or use 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece galangal or ginger

1 inch piece fresh turmeric or use 1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 red chilies, sliced thinly, divided

2 inner, tender stalks of lemongrass (about 2 inches each), ends trimmed, tougher outer leaves removed

2 tbsp oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, slivered or use fresh bay leaves

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp lime juice

1 cup packed fresh baby spinach

1 lb any kind of firm skinless white fleshed fish fillet, cut into 2 inch chunks

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp coconut cream (saved from the top of a can of premium coconut milk), for optional garnish

Using a food processor or a mortar and pestle, mince/pound together the shallots or red onion, garlic, galangal or ginger, fresh turmeric, 1 sliced red chili and the lemongrass, until a fine paste is achieved. If using turmeric powder, add it later in the recipe.
Note: If lemongrass is too fibrous and will affect the texture of the curry sauce, do not mince it with the above ingredients. Simply smash it in several places with the back of your knife to release flavours and use it whole or halved lengthwise.

Warm oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the paste (and whole lemongrass, if using) and sauté for about 8 min until it is aromatic and lightly browned.

Add salt, sugar, pepper, turmeric powder (if using) and half of the slivered lime or bay leaves (reserve remainder for garnishing later), stir for a few seconds.

Add coconut milk, water and lime juice, bring to a gentle simmer.

Add the baby spinach and cook 2 min until spinach starts to wilt into the sauce.

Add the fish, stirring gently to spoon sauce over the fish. Cook on low heat for 10 min until fish is cooked through and spinach is wilted, shaking skillet gently to cook evenly.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp of the curry sauce from the skillet, the beaten egg and the fish sauce, beating gently to mix. Pour it over fish curry, swirling it in gently without breaking up the fish. Switch off heat and let pan sit covered for 2 min for the egg to set. Remove whole lemongrass if used.

Garnish with remaining lime leaves, remaining sliced red chili and the coconut cream (if using).

Serves four

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Noodles In Ayutthaya, Thailand

The ancient, historic town of Ayutthaya, situated about 85 km north of Bangkok, was once the magnificent capital of the great Thai empire that ruled over large areas of south-east Asia from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. Named after the legendary city of Ayodhya in India, it reflects the seamless blending of Hindu and Buddhist cultures that is still found in Thailand.

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At the height of its powers, Ayutthaya ranked among the world’s greatest cities, with exquisite buildings and an elaborate grid of canals and roads. Visitors from China, India, Japan, Persia, the Arab world and Europe all came to marvel at the wonders of the city, to trade, or to study and worship in one of its many Buddhist monasteries.

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Ayutthaya was destroyed by a Burmese army that invaded in 1767 and burned to the ground. The survivors of the attack abandoned the city, and when they rebuilt their capital it was at the present site of Bangkok, whose official title still includes the name of Ayutthaya. The old palaces and temples were left to crumble neglected for over a century while the jungle grew back over them.

Today Ayutthaya is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. The Ayutthaya Historical Park, located in the middle of the town, includes some of the most spectacular temples that have been carefully and painstakingly restored. Remains of other temples and monasteries are scattered all around the region and you can easily spend several days trying to visit all of them. Even if you do not have the time to do that, you must spend at least a day here to grasp the glory of the the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya .

On your way to Ayutthaya you will pass by a touristy, bustling floating market which will provide you with a completely novel shopping experience! If you’re based in Bangkok, there are several authentic floating markets such as Damnoen Saduak, that are within easy traveling distance. It is real fun to cruise along the narrow canals, absorbing the sights, stopping occasionally to sample the wares on offer. Here you will find sellers in boats peddling everything from trinkets and souvenirs to fresh fruit, made to order hot food and even coconut ice cream with all the fixings!

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Stir fried noodles are my favourite and I made sure to have some wherever we went. By far, the most fascinating noodles were the ones that were being cooked on boats in the floating markets. To watch these amazing cooks deftly prepare food in the tiny confines of a rocking boat was an experience in itself, but to savour it while gently floating by in our own boat made it that much more memorable.

You can skip the shrimp, eggs and fish sauce and make these noodles vegetarian if desired, and also add other vegetables such as thinly sliced cabbage or green beans. If you can find smoked tofu, use that for the wonderful smoky flavour it adds. These noodles are best eaten fresh out of the pan, so have all the ingredients prepped (as they do on the boats!) and stir fry them just before serving. For more easy and delicious Thai recipes, check out Thai Green Curry Chicken, Red Curry Fish or Mussaman Potato Curry.

Stir Fried Rice Noodles With Vegetables And Shrimp

1/2 lb (225g) dried flat rice noodles (half of a 450g package)

2 tbsp each: light soy sauce, prepared sweetened tamarind sauce or tamarind chutney, tomato ketchup, lime juice

1 tsp each: Thai chili sauce or any hot sauce, fish sauce

1/2 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 10-12)

Salt to taste

4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 sweet red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup small cubes of extra firm tofu

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

6 scallions (green onions), cut into 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts

Lime wedges for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add noodles and switch off the heat. Soak noodles in boiling water until softened, stirring now and then to loosen them, about 3-4 min. Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, tamarind sauce or chutney, tomato ketchup, lime juice, hot sauce and fish sauce. Set aside.

Pat shrimp dry and lightly dust with salt.

Warm 1 tbsp oil in small frying pan over medium high heat. Pour eggs in, make omelet. Shred omelet roughly with spatula. Set aside.

Warm 1 tbsp oil in same frying pan over medium high heat and gently saute the shrimp for 2 min until they are lightly pink and almost cooked. Transfer to a plate and reserve for later use in the recipe.

Wipe down skillet and warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in it over medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper. Sauté 4-5 min until lightly browned.

Add tofu cubes, reserved noodles and reserved soy sauce mixture. Mix well, cook 2 min.
Note: Just before adding noodles to skillet, loosen them under running water if they are sticking to each other.

Add reserved shredded omelette, shrimp, bean sprouts, green onions and 2 tbsp of the roasted crushed peanuts (reserve remainder for garnish).

Stir fry gently, tossing with 2 forks until everything is well mixed, about 2-3 min. Transfer to a platter and garnish with peanuts and lime wedges if desired.

Serves four

Jungle Shrimp Curry In Costa Rica

“Pura Vida!” is Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan, a Spanish phrase that literally means “pure life” but is also used as a greeting, to bid farewell, or to express happiness and satisfaction. It could easily be a description of Costa Rica itself with its sunlit sandy beaches, sprawling forests teeming with wildlife, and towering mountains from which cascade sparkling waterfalls and rivers.

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise, and whether your idea of a good time is surfing the waves, trekking up a mountain path, zip-lining over the trees of a cloud-forest, or simply lounging on the beach, there will always be something to make you happy.

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Tamarindo, a popular, tourist town on Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific coast, offers a chance to experience all of this. With lovely soft sand beaches, warm waters, legendary sunsets and an easy going lifestyle, Tamarindo is especially popular with surfers and expats. From Tamarindo you can take convenient day trips to nearby waterfalls, rain forests, volcanoes or wildlife refuges.

One of the most remarkable sights is the Rio Celeste waterfall, where the water of the Celeste river cascades into a pool with an unearthly turquoise color. Ancient legends describe how the gods dipped a brush into the pool and used it to paint the sky. More recent research attributes the blue colour to reflection of light from fine particles the water picks up as it goes through the nearby Tenorio volcano. To get to the pool takes a stiff climb up a hill and then down a long flight of stairs, but it is well worth the effort.

If you are looking for a more accessible destination the Llano de Cortés falls are spectacular and descend into a shallow pool where swimming is both permitted and encouraged. On a hot day a plunge into the water is one of the most refreshing experiences you can imagine.

More than a quarter of Costa Rica’s land is taken up by forests and wildlife refuges, and exploring these areas is one of the best ways to experience the country. There are many different ways to see the forests, but the most relaxing method is to sit back on a boat that takes you along one of the rivers that thread through the forest. An entire vista of mangroves and other types of trees unfolds on both sides, which you can enjoy without any exertion necessary.

If you are looking for a more active experience then take a walk through the rain forest. There are many trails that you can follow through the national parks, with varying levels of difficulty, from an easy stroll to multi-day expeditions.

As you travel through the forests you will find that they are teeming with wildlife. Monkeys chatter in the trees while iguanas and sloths hang from branches. Toucans, ospreys, herons and hundreds of other birds fly overhead, and every now and then you will spot a crocodile lurking in the water or sunning itself on the riverbank.

When in Costa Rica, be sure to try a Casado in a local soda. Despite sounding cryptic, it is really very simple, and delicious! Sodas are family run diners where locals hang out to eat cheap and cheerful meals. Here you can sample generous portions of authentic Costa Rican food in the form of a Casado - a ‘marriage’ of traditional dishes such as black bean rice, fried plantains, fresh salad and grilled seafood or meats, often served with a fried egg over top. When it comes to eating like a local, nothing beats a Casado at a nearby soda!

There is no dearth of fine dining in Tamarindo and you are going to be spoiled for choice! We had many a memorable meal sitting right on the beach, gazing out at the incredible view while digging into skillfully prepared fresh seafood. I don’t know if it was the perfect setting creating the right mood, but every ceviche (citrus marinated raw seafood), grilled octopus or roast fish that we had was better than the last! Some of the outstanding restaurants we ate at and highly recommend are Pangas Beach Club, Seasons by Shlomy, La Palapa, Cafe Tico, Green papaya, Nogui’s and Langosta Beach Club. And if you’re looking for a place to stay close to the beach, try the newly renovated, ultra comfortable apartment Casa Ravinder.

We had heard rave reviews about a popular little restaurant in Tamarindo, called Shrimp Hole. Operating from the tiniest kitchen imaginable, with a select menu specializing in shrimp, this lovely place serves fantastic food. We first had Jungle shrimp curry here and it’s mildly spicy, creamy and coconutty flavours evoked delicious memories of India. I couldn’t wait to recreate it as soon as I got back home!

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Make this easy, tasty curry just before you’re planning to serve, as reheating shrimp makes them rubbery. You can make the curry sauce ahead of time and just add shrimp at the last minute when warming up the sauce. An accompaniment of plain cooked basmati rice, Coconut Rice or Peas and Rice is a good way to soak up all the delicious flavours!

Jungle Shrimp Curry

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced

1/4 inch piece of ginger, minced

1 tsp (or more to taste) good quality Indian curry powder or use Malabar Masala Powder

Salt to taste

2 large ripe plum tomatoes, finely chopped

1 can (14 fl oz) premium coconut milk

1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined (about 30-32)

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Warm oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic and ginger to skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned, about 6-8 min.

Add curry powder or Malabar Masala Powder (if using) and the salt. Stir for 1 min until spices are fragrant.

Add chopped tomatoes and cook for about 6-8 min, until they soften and break down. Mash them with the stirring spoon to incorporate them into the sauce.

Add the coconut milk, stirring gently to blend it in. Cover skillet and bring contents to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 min until sauce thickens slightly.

Add shrimp, cover and continue to cook over medium low heat until shrimp are cooked through, about 6-8 min.

Switch off heat, uncover skillet and fold in the lime juice and fresh coriander. Taste and adjust the seasonings if required.

Serve right away.

Serves Four

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies In Vienna

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Vienna is perhaps one of the most gracious cities in the world, with an incredible variety of architectural gems that it amassed over the centuries as the capital city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The best way to appreciate the beauty of the city is to walk through it, for even a short stroll from the sweeping arc of the Hofburg palace located in the centre of the city to the towering spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral will take you past a gorgeous array of buildings.

The heart of the city lies along the pedestrian street known as the Graben, which despite its rather grim name that originates in it being built on a ditch outside the medieval city walls, and the presence of a monument to plague victims in its centre, is a charming place. It is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes, and in the evening is filled with street performers and throngs of visitors.

Wherever you go in Vienna, you never forget that you are in one of the great musical centers of the world, for this was the home of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven among many other great composers and musicians. Whether you are looking for orchestral music, opera or choral music, you will find some of the best performers in the concert halls of Vienna.

An evening listening to the Viennese Boys Choir is a sublime experience that you will never forget. Even if you only get to listen to street performers, they display a certain Viennese flair that you will find nowhere else!

Food in Vienna is hearty, warming and delicious! From charming old world ambiance and wonderful food at Griechenbeisl, which first opened it’s doors in the year 1447, to savouring traditional weiner schnitzel in wood paneled elegance at crowded Figlmüller, or sampling the famous Tafelspitz at Plachutta, there is lots to choose from. Be sure to leave room for a little more indulgence in the form of coffee and dessert!

Viennese coffee houses are a crucial part of the city’s culture. Vienna claims to have the oldest cafes in Europe, dating back to the late seventeenth century. The magnificent cafes that still flourish such as Hawelka, Landtmann, Sacher, Demel and Central have storied pasts and each lists luminaries such as Freud, Zweig, Klimt and Trotsky who were regular customers. The cafes also have a bewildering variety of coffees on offer and it is important to learn their nomenclature before you go. The relative merits of a Schwarzer (espresso), Brauner (espresso with cream), Melange (espresso with steamed and frothed milk), Franziskaner (espresso with steamed milk and whipped cream), or Einspänner (diluted espreso with whipped cream) require careful consideration before you make your selection!

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These chewy, nutty, chocolatey cookies are wonderful with a cup of Viennese coffee! Toasted hazelnuts and good quality chocolate powder are key, as is eating them fresh out of the oven!

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

4 cups loosely packed, toasted, ground hazelnuts (skin and all)

1 cup loosely packed chocolate powder

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt

2 1/2 cups icing sugar, divided

1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur (such as Frangelico), or almond liqueur (such as Amaretto) optional or use 1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Combine ground hazelnuts and chocolate powder in mixing bowl.

Using hand mixer or stand mixer, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form.

Gradually add 1 1/2 cups of the icing sugar in batches, whipping and mixing with each addition (reserve remaining icing sugar for rolling cookies later).

Add liqueur or vanilla, mixing well.

Gently fold in the hazelnut chocolate mixture with a spatula, until well combined.

Place remaining 1 cup icing sugar in shallow bowl (for rolling cookies)

With dampened hands, form smooth walnut sized balls out of the cookie dough, flattening them lightly, then rolling in reserved icing sugar.

Place cookies on baking trays, spacing them 1/2 inch apart.

Bake for about 12 - 14 minutes, until cookies rise, tops are cracked and bottoms are lightly browned. Do not overcook, the centers should be slightly chewy. Cookies will dry out slightly and become crisper as they cool and with storage.

Cool cookies completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes about 35 cookies

This recipe has been generously provided by my good friend Paola Moscato, who is an amazing baker.

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