Nasi Biryani In Batu Caves, Malaysia

Indian traders, sailors and religious missionaries have been travelling to Malaysia for millennia, their passage still marked by the remains of Hindu and Buddhist shrines that are found all over south-east Asia.  In the nineteenth century, when Malaysia was under British rule, many more people from the Indian subcontinent came to find work on plantations, in businesses and in the government bureaucracy. Malaysia today has a large Hindu population, with a majority having roots in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.


The Batu caves, located just outside Kuala Lumpur, are home to a Hindu temple that is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The temple is built inside naturally occurring rock formations in the limestone hills that rise north of the city.

it was in 1890 that a wealthy Indian trader first installed statues of Hindu deities in the caves, dedicating it as a shrine. Since then several more temples have been built, along with a 140 ft high statue of the god Murugan near the entrance to the caves.  The temple complex has become an important pilgrimage site for Hindus, especially during festivals.

 You have to climb about 300 steps cut into the mountainside to reach the caves. Once you have climbed to the top, an impressive view of the city spread out below greets you. The main temple in its cavernous hall and vaulted ceiling is also an impressive sight.



One of the first things you notice before you even get to the caves are the monkeys. Considered sacred, the monkeys are allowed to roam freely all over the temple complex and you will see them scampering everywhere.
These monkeys keep a watchful eye on tourists and pilgrims. At first we thought they were cute but after we saw them impudently snatching at food and grabbing bags, they stopped being adorable! This little fella knows a thing or two about good ice cream but isn't quite sure which way to hold the cone!

At the base of the steps leading up to the caves are a small collection of shops selling fresh flower garlands and a variety of sweets to offer in the temples, as well as green coconut water to quench your thirst and delicious south Indian snacks such as chaklis (deep fried rice flour pretzels) and pakoras to revive you after the arduous climb!

Malaysian food is an intriguing blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines with unusual dishes such as Nasi Biryani or curry noodles that are hard to find elsewhere. Arab and Indian traders introduced spicy curries and biryanis to Malaysia and over time local ingredients and cooking techniques were incorporated to create uniquely Malay dishes. We tried nasi biryani in a hawker food center just after visiting the caves and it's carb rich, spicy flavours went a long way towards restoring our flagging energy levels!

This colourful biryani is like a burst of radiant sunshine at the dinner table. Cooked just the way it is in India, this style of biryani, layered with meat or poultry, is usually reserved for special occasions. In most Malaysian restaurants, Nasi Biryani or Beriani refers to just the spiced rice cooked without meat, with a variety of curries offered on the side.

Follow the same recipe to make vegetarian briyani by substituting assorted vegetables or paneer for the chicken. To save time, make the curry beforehand. Nasi Biryani is good served with Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan or Lamb Rendang.

Nasi Biryani

Chicken Curry

1 medium cooking onion, quartered

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 inch piece ginger

2 green chilies

6 large whole canned plum tomatoes with juices

2 tbsp oil

2 each, whole spices: cardamom, cloves, star anise,

1/2 inch piece each, whole spices: cinnamon stick, mace flowers, nutmeg

1/2 tsp each: cumin seeds, cayenne pepper

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces

1 medium raw potato, peeled and cubed into bite sized pieces

1 tsp each, ground spices: garam masala, coriander, cumin, fennel, turmeric, dried fenugreek leaves

Salt to taste

2 tbsp each: plain full fat yogurt, lemon juice, chopped fresh coriander leaves


2 cups basmati rice

2 tbsp each: oil, melted butter, slivered almonds, raisins

A generous pinch of saffron strands or food colouring

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 boiled eggs, peeled and quartered

For chicken curry:

Combine onions, garlic, ginger and chilies in food processor. Process until well minced. Transfer to a bowl.

Add tomatoes with juices to processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and keep handy near stove.

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add whole cardamom, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and cumin seeds. Sizzle for about 30 sec, then add reserved minced onion mixture. Saute for 5-7 min until onions no longer smell raw. Add chicken pieces and potato, brown for 5 min.

Add reserved tomato puree and cook for 5 min until slightly thickened.

Add cayenne pepper, salt and ground spices - garam masala, coriander, cumin, fennel, turmeric and dried fenugreek leaves. Stir 1 min, then add yogurt, stirring all the while.

Cover skillet, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 min or until chicken is done and sauce is very thick. Uncover skillet, mix in lemon juice and fresh coriander. Curry can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and kept refrigerated until needed.

Meanwhile, cook rice. Bring 8 cups of water to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Add rice, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 8 min until rice is just done but not mushy. Drain rice and spread on a tray to cool until needed.

For biryani:

Heat oven to 325F. Lightly grease a large flat oven safe dish, big enough to fit the briyani comfortably.

Combine melted butter and saffron or food colouring.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in non stick frying pan. Add sliced onions and cook for about 8 min or until they are lightly browned. Add almonds and raisins to the onions and cook for 2 min. Reserve in bowl.

Spread half the reserved chicken curry on bottom of biryani dish. Top with half the rice. Spoon out remaining chicken curry over rice and spread remaining rice over. Lightly embed boiled egg pieces all over. Scatter fried onions, raisins and almonds over top. Drizzle saffron butter all over. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour.

Let biryani sit, covered for an additional 15 min. Then uncover and transfer it to a serving platter, mixing it gently as you go.

Serves eight

Lamb Rendang In Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a city that has been transformed in a relatively short time, evolving in a few decades from a sleepy outpost of the British Empire to one of the modern world's great cities. Today you can find traces of this metamorphosis everywhere, with gleaming skyscrapers towering over old colonial buildings and bustling street markets next to huge shopping malls. The population is equally diverse, with Malay, Chinese and Indian communities dispersed throughout the city.
This makes Kuala Lumpur a food-lover's paradise: the breakfast buffet at our hotel not only had eggs and bacon, but also Chinese noodles, Malay satay skewers and South Indian curries. Our biggest problem was deciding where to start from! All these cuisines not only coexist but also influence each other, creating flavours that are unique to the city. My absolute favourite dish was chickpeas cooked in a spicy coconut milk sauce, poured over freshly steamed idlis (rice cakes). I have never come across this combination before and it was heaven!

Kuala Lumpur's ultimate street food destination is Jalan Alor, a long winding street filled with food vendors selling their wares from pushcarts, the back of motorcycles, and makeshift stalls. It is best visited at night when pavements are lined with happy diners seated around tables, surrounded by food of every description, with that indefinable aroma from innumerable charcoal grills filling the air.

Walking down this street, dodging cars and throngs of passers by, weaving your way through the tables and food stalls that are everywhere, you begin to wonder whether anyone cooks at home. And with food this good, exciting and cheap, why would they even bother!

One of our favourite ways to get out of the fierce day time heat was to duck into the myriad food courts that dot Kuala Lumpur. They are a wonderful, inexpensive way of exploring the staggering variety of food on offer. Some of these food courts or hawker centers are charmingly laid out under spreading trees, offering a green oasis in the middle of the city, while others are in shopping malls or office buildings.

Petaling Street or Chinatown is a lively, bustling shopper's paradise with a fascinating night market. This is where you will find brand name knock offs for almost every item imaginable as well as street food that is hard to find in most restaurants.

In between bouts of bargaining and shopping you can revive yourself with dishes such as salted roast duck, deep fried sweet potato balls, grilled beef jerky, meat buns, roasted chestnuts, fruit juices and iced tea!

Just around the corner from Petaling Street is the famous Old China Cafe. Housed in the guildhall of a defunct laundrymen's association, this cafe retains all its glorious original furnishings, exudes old world charm and serves fantastic Nyonya food.
Having heard so much about this little cafe, we resisted the heady aromas of street food vendors around us and went here for dinner. It is reputed to have the best Beef Rendang in town and we were not disappointed!

Rendang is a spicy meat preparation popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. The meat is cooked for a long time with coconut milk, spices and other ingredients such as shallots, lemongrass and galangal. The process of cooking progresses from sauteing to simmering to frying as the liquid evaporates and the meat absorbs the wonderful flavours, caramelizes as it becomes spice crusted and literally falls apart in your mouth. This is an age old preservation cooking technique for hot climates in the days before refrigeration.

We first came across Rendang a few years ago in an Amsterdam restaurant. Beef rendang was part of our Rijstafel menu and the chef himself came out to warn us that no one had ever managed to finish an entire bowl of it in his restaurant. While we scoffed at this, assuring him that as Indians we had an innate ability to handle spicy food, we couldn't finish it either. It was just too hot!
Even though we couldn't eat too much of it the first time, we loved it's complex, spicy flavours and often sought it during our travels. We discovered (much to our relief) that rendang doesn't have to be searingly hot and it is possible to finish an entire bowl of it!

Lamb rendang is easy and satisfying to make at home. Although the cooking process requires a bit of time and patience, tantalizing aromas fill up the house and whet the appetite! I like to leave a bit of sauce clinging to the meat so that it is nice to eat with rice. In most restaurants though, the sauce is cooked off till only the oils remain and the meat is cooked in this till it is a rich brown colour and falling apart tender. If you wish to do that, simply uncover the skillet and cook for an additional 15-20 min till the desired result is achieved. If you want a hotter dish, add more cayenne pepper to taste!


I love adding baby potatoes to my lamb rendang. They absorb and thicken the sauce and become very flavourful. Serve with plain rice or Nasi Biryani as is traditional in Kuala Lumpur.

Lamb Rendang

1 cup roughly chopped red onion

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger or galangal

6 macadamia nuts

2 fresh hot red chilies, optional

1 inch piece fresh turmeric, optional

1 tsp each: ground coriander, sugar

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika, tamarind paste

1/4 tsp each, ground spices: cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel

Salt to taste

2 tbsp olive oil

2 each, whole spices: cloves, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon stick

2 lb boneless leg of lamb, cubed into bite sized pieces

1 can (400 ml) unsweetened coconut milk

6 lime leaves, optional

2 stalks lemongrass, ends trimmed, crushed lightly with mallet

Combine onion, garlic, galangal or ginger, macadamia nuts, red chilies, fresh turmeric (if using), ground coriander, sugar, salt, cayenne, turmeric, paprika, tamarind paste, ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel in food processor or blender. Process until well combined and finely minced. Transfer to a bowl.

Warm oil in large non stick skillet over medium heat. Add whole cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise. Sizzle spices 1 min, then add spice paste from bowl.

Saute for 3-4 min until paste is fragrant, then add lamb pieces. Fry lamb for 3-4 min to seal flavours.

Add coconut milk, lime leaves (if using) and lemongrass. Mix well, cover and cook on very low heat for 2 hours or until lamb is very tender and sauce is very thick, stirring occasionally. Garnish with slivered lime leaves or mint and serve.

Serves six-eight


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Roasted Cauliflower With Madhur Jaffrey In Toronto

It isn't everyday that we get to meet a culinary trailblazer. So when we had the opportunity to chat with renowned cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey, we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren't dreaming!

Meeting someone who has always been an idol of yours creates a moment of apprehension - can she possibly match the image that you have created in your mind over the years? It was exhilarating to talk to Madhur Jaffrey and realize what a warm, wonderful and interesting person she is!

Madhur Jaffrey has long been my lodestar in the kitchen. When we first moved to America, I often wrote to my mother in India, asking her for recipes. In the time that it took for her letters to reach me (this being before the time of emails!), I would turn to Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks for sustenance. Her description of how, decades earlier, she would write to her mother for culinary guidance seemed to create a bond between us! Many of her recipes are ones that I grew up on, as they are traditional favourites. Her simple, yet detailed style of writing recipes made me feel that she was right there beside me in the kitchen, guiding me every step of the way.

Madhur Jaffrey's new book Vegetarian India doesn't disappoint. It has a fascinating narrative of her travels, fabulous recipes gleaned from the most interesting home kitchens and simple, concise instructions on how to cook them. One of my favourite stories from our chat is one where she is driving around Coorg (a region of India) and comes across women tending to a field of bright red chilies. She stops the car, talks to the women and asks to see what is in their lunchbox. There is rice with a simple fresh tomato chutney in one of them. Being Madhur, she immediately asks for the recipe and jots it down!

She invited me to choose a recipe from her book for this blog - she says she has no favourites because they are all special to her. I couldn't resist the roasted cauliflower as featured on the stunning cover of her new cookbook! The tangy, spicy flavours of this dish and it's quick and easy prep make it perfect for a busy work night dinner.


Marinating the cauliflower in lemon juice and spices not only increases depth of flavour but also helps tenderize it. And frying the cumin seeds before adding them opens up a whole new dimension of taste! I served this dish with warm naan and my favourite Chana Masala!

Roasted Cauliflower With Punjabi Seasonings

1 1/2 lb cauliflower florets (from one large head of cauliflower)

1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp each: turmeric, cayenne pepper

1 tsp each: salt, minced ginger

2 tsp each: ground cumin, ground coriander, 

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

Place cauliflower in large mixing bowl. Pour lemon juice over. Mix in turmeric and salt. 

Add remaining ingredients except oil and whole cumin seeds. Mix well, and marinate for 2 hours, tossing cauliflower occasionally.

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Warm oil in small frying pan over medium heat, add whole cumin seeds. Once they start to sizzle and splutter, pour the spiced cumin oil over the cauliflower. Mix well, then spread cauliflower florets in single layer on parchment lined tray, drizzling leftover marinade over top.

Roast in oven for about 15 min, then turn the pieces and roast again for 10 - 15 min or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Serves four


Madhur Jaffrey was in Toronto recently to promote her new cookbook Vegetarian India - A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking (Knopf) and to participate in the Up Close and Personal series organized by The Chefs' House (George Brown College).




Pan Fried Trout In Ontario

Ontario is at it's most beautiful in the Fall. The leaves change colour to shades of red, yellow and orange, the air turns cooler and fresh produce fills the markets, tempting me to get creative in my kitchen!

My favourite Fall activity is taking long, scenic drives around the country side, marvelling at the glorious colours, exploring farmer's markets along the way and stopping at scenic spots for an impromptu picnic of the goodies we have picked up.

Ontario is dotted with many beautiful provincial parks that provide the perfect opportunity to hike wooded trails, canoe on the lake or just sit by the waterfront and soak it all in. On a recent extended road trip, we explored northern Ontario with stops at Killarney park, St. Jacob's farmer's market and Lang Lake to name just a few. The peace and tranquility of the area, the stunning scenic beauty and the flavours of fresh, local food will remain golden in our memory. 

Locally caught fish such as trout and pickerel were featured on most restaurant menus during our recent trip. We loved their delicate flavour and the myriad of ways they were prepared in the form of soup, chowder, deep fried, grilled, steamed or bathed in a cheesy, creamy sauce. My favourite was a simple preparation of crisp pan fried trout, seasoned with herbs and lemon juice. Not only was it flavourful and healthy, it really let the taste of trout shine through.

In my recipe here, I have followed a similar cooking technique but punched up the flavours a bit by adding my own favourite spices - garam masala and cumin. It's surprising how well these spices blend with the delicate flavour of trout.


Pan Fried Masala Trout

You can play around with the spice and herb profile of this recipe. Simply substitute the cumin and garam masala with herbs du provence or oregano and the coriander with fresh basil or Thyme. Serve with Fall tomato jam and a nice salad!

1/4 cup each: all purpose flour, fine breadcrumbs

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, ground cumin, garam masala, paprika

1 lb trout fillet, or any other fish of your choice, cut into 4 pieces

2 tbsp each: oil, chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Line a tray with parchment to hold dredged fish. Have another platter ready to hold fried fish.

Combine flour, breadcrumbs, salt and spices in medium shallow flat bowl or plate. Dredge each fillet in spiced flour mixture and place on tray. Do not stack fish on top of each other. 

Warm oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Fry fish in batches so as not to overcrowd pan. Place dredged fish skin side down in pan and cook for 3-4 min until skin is crisp and cooked through. Gently flip fish and cook for another couple minutes until it is golden and lightly crisp. 

Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over fish and garnish with fresh coriander. 

serves four

Credit for the lovely produce pictures in this blog goes to my friend Karen Bergmann. Thank you!

Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan In Malacca

The Lord of Malacca, it was said in the fifteenth century, controlled the spice trade of the world. For it was through the straits of Malacca that ships laden with pepper and cardamom sailed from India to China, and cargoes of nutmeg, mace and cloves from the Indonesian islands were carried to the markets of Alexandria, Damascus and Venice. The town was founded in 1400 by a Malay prince, to serve as a hub for the trade between east and west. For over a century Indian, Chinese, Arab and Malay merchants met there to trade spices, cotton fabrics, silks, porcelain, and hundreds of other products, creating a rich and vibrant city that welcomed all visitors.  

There are always those who covet such wealth and in 1511 the Portuguese, who had only recently discovered the sea route to Asia, captured Malacca. It was a story that was to be repeated often, for the Dutch seized the fortress from the Portuguese in 1641, only to be defeated by the British in 1798. The British did not have much use for Malacca, preferring to divert trade to their nearby port of Singapore, and the city slumbered peacefully, seemingly forgotten by the world.  The benefit of this neglect was that Malacca still looks much as it did two centuries ago.  

Walking through Malacca is like peeling back layers of history, for you can visit the ancient palace of the Malay Sultan and see the tombs of the courtiers who were part of the entourage of his Chinese queen, a princess of the Ming dynasty. A stroll past the crumbling walls of the Portuguese fort brings you to the harbour where is anchored a reconstructed version of the Flora de la Mar, a ship laden with treasures that sank nearby while returning to Portugal. The centre of the town is dominated by the red brick Stadthuys, the former residence of the Dutch governor, surrounded by British administrative buildings. 

While European conquerors came and went, local life and business carried on without interruption. Chinese merchants who had lived for generations in Malacca controlled much of the day-to day trade and commerce and they often intermarried with Malays, creating a unique, hybrid culture. The men in this community were known as Babas and the women as Nyonyas, and there evolved distinct Baba-Nyonya styles of living, dress and cooking. Several old houses have been converted into museums, preserving the rich culture of the Straits Chinese.

The main action in Malacca is on Jonker Street. This long street is lined with restaurants, shops, art galleries and also becomes the scene of a vibrant night food market on weekends. People travel from far to visit this famous night market and you will see long lineups at most of the popular street food stalls.

There are many Nyonya dishes that originated in Malacca and are unique. We tried all of them and found them to be delicious! One of our favourites was an appetizer called Pai Tee or Top Hat.
This consists of little deep fried baskets, made from rice flour and shaped like a hat. Accompanying them are crunchy vegetables and fiery sambal. You stuff everything into your 'hat' and eat it in one big bite!

One outstanding and unusual dish that I fell in love with was Nyonya green chili pickle, shown above. Long hot green chilies are stuffed with grated green papaya, then pickled in vinegar and spices, the whole lot doused in seasoned chili oil before being brought to the table. The hot, sour, spicy and sweet flavours are guaranteed to wow your taste buds! Interestingly, this is also known as achar, demonstrating it's Indian influences as the Hindi word for pickles is also the same.

Other typical Nyonya dishes that we really enjoyed were Chap Chye - a medley of stir fried vegetables, crunchy okra with chili sambal, sour tamarind fish curry with whole okra and Sambal Petai - shrimp in a red chili sambal sauce with bitter beans.

Savouring a Cendol is the best way to cool off in Malacca! This unusual dessert is an unlikely concoction of shaved ice, coconut milk, slithery green noodles, red kidney beans and palm sugar, that works surprisingly well.

Chicken Curry Kapitan is a popular dish that embodies the history of Malacca. It combines Indian curry with Malaysian and Chinese ingredients. The result is a rich thick curry, infused with the aromas of lemongrass, lime leaves and spices. 

I love the harmony of unusual flavours in this curry where the spices mingle with coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal and dried shrimp, with delicious results.

One of my favourite stories behind it's creation is one where this dish was first created on board a ship. When the captain of the ship asked his cook what was for dinner, the cook replied "chicken, kapitan". The ship's captain mistook this as being the name of the dish and it came to be called Curry Kapitan after that.


Garnishing this curry with a grated egg might seem unusual at first, but believe me, it transforms the curry sauce, adding richness, flavour and texture to it as it gets folded in while serving. The halved eggs in the curry are also delicious, taking on the flavours of the sauce they are cooked in. In fact, I prefer them to the chicken! 

Nyonya Chicken Curry Kapitan

Most of these ingredients such as fresh turmeric, galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves can easily be found in any Asian grocery store. You will end up with some extra spice paste. You can either freeze it or use it like I do - by frying up leftover plain cooked rice with it. Freeze unused portions of coconut milk or use in other recipes such as coconut rice. It is the perfect accompaniment for this curry!

1 lb (450g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces

3 tbsp oil, divided

Salt to taste

2 tbsp Nyonya curry powder, divided

For spice paste:

1 inch piece ginger or galangal

1 stalk lemongrass, inner white parts only

4 cloves garlic

1  2-inch piece fresh turmeric

1/4 cup chopped red onion

2 fresh + 2 dried red chilies

6 macadamia nuts

1 tsp each: brown sugar, dried shrimp powder or paste (optional), lime juice

For the curry:

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup each: prepared spice paste (from above), coconut milk, water

2 lime leaves, slivered

3 boiled eggs, peeled

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Combine chicken with salt to taste and 1 tbsp each of the oil and curry powder in large bowl. Mix well, cover and refrigerate 15 min or longer, until needed.

Meanwhile, make the spice paste. Blend all spice paste ingredients together in a blender until you achieve a smooth paste. Add a couple tablespoons of water if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and reserve until needed.

To make curry, warm 2 tbsp oil in a deep non stick skillet over medium heat. Add onions, cook until lightly brown, about 5-7 min. 

Add marinated chicken, brown for 5 min. Add 1/2 cup of the prepared reserved spice paste, fry 2 min. Add coconut milk and water, salt and lime leaves. Mix well, cover and let contents start to bubble. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15 min, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, halve 2 of the eggs and grate the remaining egg with the larger holes of a grater. Add the halved eggs to the curry and cook another 15 min until chicken is very tender and sauce thickened. Fold in chopped fresh coriander. Taste for seasonings, adding some more lime juice or salt if needed.

Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with grated egg.

Serves four

A group of lovely young women dressed in traditional Nyonya costume, posing with me! 

A group of lovely young women dressed in traditional Nyonya costume, posing with me! 

Red Curry Fish In Phuket Islands

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 Once you've had your fill of all that Phuket has to offer, try exploring nearby islands, for another great adventure awaits you! Many of these gorgeous, lush islands are just a day trip away from Phuket and offer spectacular scenery, sandy beaches, peace and serenity. And if you want to step a little outside of your comfort zone to try new things such as scuba diving, snorkelling, canoeing and exploring ancient caves and lagoons, your adventure becomes even more memorable.

We rented a speedboat and spent a lovely, leisurely day exploring the islands in Phang Nga Bay.  
The feel of the breeze on our faces as island after island sped by our speedboat, was an exciting start to our adventure. Each of these islands is a showstopper in it's own right, but you can't possibly see them all in one day.
We took in the highlights, stopping to admire the limestone cliffs, bat caves, glow in the dark stalagmite formations, ancient artwork on cave walls and incredible, never ending scenery that you don't get tired of.
We packed so many once -in- a -lifetime experiences in that one day trip that everything we had seen and done in Thailand before paled by comparison!

Our boat dropped us off at the famous James Bond Island, so named because one of the films 'The man with the golden gun' was shot here. We couldn't stop marvelling at it's breathtaking scenery, lush greenery, emerald waters and limestone cliffs that loomed in the water, making it the ideal locale not only for shooting films but just to walk around and admire the view.

During our island hopping, we came across a small Muslim fishing village, called Koh Panyi, built entirely on stilts in the water. This little village had a beautiful, golden domed mosque, a children's school and about 350 families living in houses built on stilts, to raise them above sea level! 
Legend has it that this place was first settled about 150 years ago by some Indonesian fishermen. These days the villagers sustain themselves mainly by fishing, selling souvenirs and cooking for tourists. 

It was lunchtime by the time we reached Koh Panyi. Having heard about it's heritage, we were dreaming of eating some nice Thai Indonesian fusion food, perhaps a tasty biryani, Mussaman curry or a kabab skewer or two. Alas, it was not to be! While we didn't get any of that, the food we were offered was reasonably good and prepared fresh. 

One of the most memorable adventures on this trip took me out of my comfort zone, attempting things that I wouldn't normally dare do.
We boarded flimsy looking, small inflatable rafts and sailed off merrily to explore lagoons and caves. Some of the caves had such narrow, low slung openings that we had to lie flat on the raft while paddling in complete darkness. It was difficult to see and I think I may have let out a shriek or two!

Once we got through, we emerged into a stunning lagoon filled with crystal clear water, ancient overhanging trees and an atmosphere of such utter peace and serenity, unmarred by pollution, traffic, noise or crowds that it almost made us want to give up everything and move there permanently.

It was one of those exhilarating, once in a lifetime experiences we didn't even know was on our bucket list until we did it. Next time though, I am going to make sure I take a few swimming lessons first!

Fiery Thai red curries were a staple with us when exploring the islands. The abundance of fresh seafood made them taste even better! Red curry fish in a creamy coconut milk sauce, made with local, freshly caught fish was one of my favourites. 
Making red curry paste at home is very rewarding and it produces a paste that is far better tasting that anything you might buy in a jar. Extras can be frozen or used as a marinade to grill chicken, pork or shrimp.
Using good quality, premium coconut milk is paramount as it helps mellow out the heat from the red chilies and adds a smooth creaminess to the sauce. I also like to add some paprika to help the red colour along.

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You can add halved cherry tomatoes or pieces of pineapple to the sauce to mellow it out further. Serve with steamed Jasmine rice to soak up the wonderful sauce. For a complete Thai meal, serve with Thai Chicken Satay Skewers as starters and Mussaman Potato Curry on the side.

Red Curry Fish

For Red Curry Paste:

8 dried red chilies (use an assortment of hot and mild)

4 each: fresh red chilies (hot or mild), garlic

2 shallots

1 inch piece ginger or galangal

1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves and stems

1 tbsp each: Thai curry powder, fish sauce, olive oil, rice vinegar, lime juice, brown sugar

For Fish Curry:

1 lb (450g) skinless fish fillets such as Red Snapper, Halibut or Tilapia, cut into 2 inch chunks

1/4 cup each: all purpose flour, oil to fry fish, red curry paste

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 can (400ml) unsweetened coconut milk

Salt to taste

1 tsp good quality paprika

1 tbsp each: sliced or whole red chilies, chopped Thai basil and fresh coriander leaves for garnish

To make the red curry paste, combine all ingredients in blender and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

To make fish curry, dredge fish fillets in flour and place on a plate. Have another plate lined with paper towels ready nearby. Warm 1/4 cup oil in large non stick frying pan over medium heat. Fry fish in batches until just cooked through and slightly crisped, about 7-8 min. Drain on paper towel lined plate. Reserve.

To make sauce, warm  2 tbsp oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until lightly brown and softened, about 5 min. 

Add 1/4 cup of reserved red curry paste and cook 1 min until it is fragrant. Add coconut milk, salt and paprika, stir to mix and cook until mixture starts to bubble, about 4 min.

Taste sauce and add another tablespoon of the curry paste or a dash of curry powder or some more sugar and lime juice if desired. Add fish gently to the sauce and cook until warmed through, about 2 min.

Serve garnished with chilies and fresh herbs.

Serves four


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Green Curry Chicken In Phuket

Phuket has long been known as a dazzling island paradise and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. If you want to experience all the faces of Thailand's tourism in one small microcosm, Phuket is the place to do it. There you will find Australian backpackers, Swedish honeymooners, ageing American hippies, Chinese tour groups and boisterous Indian families all rubbing elbows on the crowded road that runs past Patong beach. Wander a little further and you will also find  stunning sunsets, beach vistas that take your breath away, crystal clear waters, and manicured luxury resorts. Mix this in with Thailand's legendary hospitality and cuisine, and every one has a reason to visit!

Patong's famous Bangla road area, with its wild nightlife, raucous bars, dubious looking massage parlours and transgender cabarets, comes as a bit of a shock to the first time visitor. 
However, just a couple of minutes away is the beach, which is still an oasis of calm and a great place to watch the sunset while strolling on the sand and dipping your toes in the water. There are also many beach shacks serving fruits, juices and other drinks to cool you off.   


Phuket has many really good restaurants, some of them situated right by the beach, offering phenomenal views. To watch the sun dipping into the water and listen to the waves crash on the beach, while eating delicious Thai food is a memorable experience indeed.
Ban Rim Pa, a restaurant situated partway up a cliff, overlooking the beautiful beach is one such place. Their lemongrass fish accompanied with a mango salad was just amazing. Another restaurant Pan Yah is right on the beach and specializes in seafood. Their seafood salad and shrimp in Thai chili sauce still lives in my memories!

My all time favourite dish though, is green curry. I love it's fresh flavours, creamy sauce and pretty colours. Chicken is just one of the ingredients you can put in it. Tofu, vegetables or fish are also good. And if you slather the curry paste on a hunk of salmon, throw it on the grill and serve it in a lettuce wrap, you've got an unusual, healthy and delicious way to enjoy it!

We tried green curry in so many ways in Phuket. One of my favourites was deep fried tofu and crisp vegetables bathed in the spicy green curry sauce. 

Another unusual way it was served was with spinach and fish as shown in the picture below. The spinach added a nice silkiness to the texture while the chunks of fish were tender and flavourful in the creamy sauce. Spooned over coconut rice, it was pure heaven!

Since returning from Thailand, I have made sure to have green curry on my menu at least once a week. It helps keep the memories of our trip stay fresh!

Green curry paste is super easy to make at home and so much more flavourful than anything you can buy in a jar. It will last for a week in the refrigerator or you can freeze it instead. I like to freeze it in half cup measures in a ziploc bag so I can pull one out whenever I get a curry craving!

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Green curry paste can also be used as a marinade for grilled chicken skewers or fish. You can serve this curry with Swordfish satay skewers and coconut rice.

Green Curry Chicken

For green curry paste:

1/2 cup each, packed: fresh coriander leaves and stems, Thai basil leaves

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger or galangal

4-6 Thai or other hot chilies

2 tbsp each: Thai curry powder, water

Salt to taste

1 tbsp each: sugar, fish sauce, lime juice

For chicken curry:

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 can (400ml) unsweetened coconut milk

1 lb (450 gm) boneless skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced

1/2 cup each: zucchini (sliced into thin half rounds), green beans (halved), canned baby corn (halved)

lime wedges, peanuts, sliced red chilies, basil leaves for garnish

To make the curry paste, combine all ingredients in blender and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

To make curry, warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until lightly brown and softened, about 5 min. 

Add 1/4 cup of reserved green curry paste and cook 1 min until it is fragrant. Add coconut milk, stir to mix and cook until it starts to bubble, about 4 min.

Add chicken and vegetables, cover skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook covered until chicken is tender and vegetables are crisp tender, about 10 min. 

Taste sauce and add another tablespoon of the curry paste or a dash of curry powder if desired. Serve garnished with lime wedges, peanuts, chilies and basil leaves.

Serves four

Pad Thai Noodles In Bangkok

Our first impression of Bangkok was one of chaos, as we tried to battle our way through the throngs of people everywhere, the gridlocked traffic, and the street stalls that crowd the sidewalks. Then, after a day or two, we began to feel the rhythms of the city. Behind the tumult of the streets there are oases of calm - gardens and temples of stunning beauty. The people are always quick with a smile and gracious with their warm hospitality. The stalls that make walking through the streets such an obstacle course are the real treasures of the city, for Bangkok is, above all, a never-ending feast!

Bangkok is probably one of the best and safest places to eat street food. Not only is it fresh, delicious and reasonably hygienic (well, we never once fell sick!), it is also cheap, plentiful and very popular with locals and visitors alike. Judging by the sheer number of vendors who have set up impromptu food stalls on every street and their immense popularity, no one in Bangkok seems to cook at home! There is something very satisfying about watching your meal cooked right in front of you while inhaling all those heavenly aromas. Just like being in a cooking class!

While Pad Thai noodles, grilled chicken satays and fresh seafood were some of our choice things to eat from street food vendors; whole grilled fish, coated in a thick 'plaster' of salt and flour was easily our most favourite. The plaster hardens as it dries and keeps the fish incredibly flavourful and moist inside. Before being coated with the flour and salt paste, the fish is first stuffed with lemongrass and herbs to add more flavour. Served with a garlicky dipping sauce, liberally spiked with fiery Thai chillies, it was an amazing new dish that we encountered.

Literally every street in Bangkok has some amazing food and it is very tempting to just follow your nose to the nearest food vendor, grab a stool and eat what's offered. Sukhumvit Soi 38, was one of the first places we ventured out to try street food. One of Bangkok's most popular street food havens, it is lined with lots of food stalls, plastic tables and chairs and exciting Thai food of every description. We grabbed ourselves a couple of plastic chairs and soon an adorable little urchin was at our elbow, offering us a bunch of menus from nearby vendors. 

This little guy cheerfully helped us choose the foods that we would like, brought our meal to the table and was thrilled to pose for a photograph! The food was cheap, tasty and fresh - an unbeatable combination! We washed it all down with chilled green coconut water and felt well fortified to explore some of Bangkok's famous nightlife. 

One of the joys of being in Bangkok was that I could have my favourite Pad Thai noodles for practically every meal! We had it in fancy restaurants where it came wrapped in a gossamer thin, lacy omelette and we had it by the side of a street, sitting on a plastic chair while watching the food vendor deftly toss the ingredients together in a huge wok. No matter where we ate it, or how often, it was always fantastic!

My recipe here is vegetarian but you can easily add sautéed shrimp or chicken if you wish. This is probably very unorthodox of me, but I like to add in some rich coconut cream (skimmed off the top of a can of coconut milk) for the extra creaminess and flavour it adds to the dish. 


For even more flavour, add a teaspoonful of Thai curry powder and serve with Thai chicken satays or Mussaman Potato Curry to round out the meal.

Pad Thai Noodles

225g (1/2 lb) dried rice stick Pad Thai noodles
2 tbsp each: tamarind chutney or sauce (store bought), tomato ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream
1 tbsp each: Thai red curry paste or Thai chili sauce, dark soy sauce

3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
2 green onions, sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
4 lime wedges for garnish

Soak noodles in enough hot water to cover for 20 minutes or until softened, stirring now and then to loosen them. Drain and set aside. 
In a small mixing bowl, combine the tamarind sauce, ketchup, lime juice, coconut cream, curry paste or chilli sauce and soy sauce. Set aside. 
Beat eggs in a small bowl. 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 remaining oil in large non-stick wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper. Sauté 4-5 min until lightly browned. Add the bean sprouts, noodles, egg, tamarind soy mixture and peanuts. Stir fry gently, tossing with 2 forks until everything is well mixed, about 2 min. Transfer to a platter and garnish with chopped coriander, green onions and extra peanuts and lime wedges if desired.
Serves four 

Mussaman Potato Curry In Bangkok

A trip to Bangkok has long been on our wish list, so we were thrilled to be able to spend a few days in the city recently. Thais are the friendliest people on earth and we felt welcome as soon as we got there. Throw in some amazing food, great shopping, historical sights as well as gorgeous temples and we were ready to move there permanently!


One of the first places we wanted to see in Bangkok was the Grand Palace complex. Even after reading and hearing so much about it, we were completely dazzled by its beauty and sheer magnificence.

The walls are decorated with an inlay work of semi precious stones while golden domes, gilt edged pillars and life sized golden statues add to the grandeur of the place.

One of the city's most well known landmarks, this huge complex was the home of the king and his court as well the place of government for more than 150 years. Within this sprawling complex is also the temple of the Emerald Buddha, a must see sight for any visitor.

Buddhism is an integral part of everyday life in Bangkok. You can pay homage to the Buddha in many of the fabulous temples that dot the city. The most famous of these are Wat Pho with its magnificent, giant statue of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Mahathat, one of the oldest temples in Bangkok and a centre for learning meditation, Wat Phra Kaew or the temple of the Emerald Buddha and the spectacular Wat Arun or the temple of the dawn, built right on the river front. 

A lot of the temples, palace complex and other places to see lie along the banks of the Chao Phraya river. A good way to avoid Bangkok's chaotic traffic is to hop aboard a boat, especially in the evening when you can relax in the cool breeze and watch the twinkling lights of the shore. This is still very much a working river and you will see cargo barges sailing amidst river taxis and tourist boats, adding to the bustling atmosphere.

A fun place to stop off on your boat excursion is Asiatique. This huge open air night market is filled with shops, restaurants, street food vendors, entertainment and lots of excitement! We  found it to be the perfect place to buy souvenirs and gifts.

The food in Bangkok is waaay better than anything you can imagine! From higher end restaurants such as Baan Khanitha to lowly street food carts, it is all prepared with fresh ingredients, aromatic herbs and lemongrass, with the perfect balance of sweet, sour, spicy and salty. I just couldn't get enough of my favourites such as Pad Thai noodles, papaya salad and green curry or guzzle down buckets of rich Thai iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk! 

The word "Mussaman" derives from "Mussalman", the Hindi word for Muslim. Indian sailors and traders, many from Gujarat, have been frequent visitors in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia for over a thousand years, and their cooking techniques have left a long-lasting  impression on local cuisines. Mussaman curries are a magical blend of Indian curry spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper with Thai ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal and fish sauce. 

We first had this fantastic potato Mussaman curry at the hotel we were staying at in Bangkok. Called AriasomVilla, it is a lovely, charming, green oasis in the middle of a bustling city. It's restaurant Na Aroon is vegetarian with many delicious, authentic Thai dishes on the menu created by chef David Lees. My recipe is based on one generously shared by Chef David, with a few minor changes here and there (with apologies to chef David!). The restaurant uses vegetarian 'chicken', which I have omitted from the recipe, instead adding tomatoes and herbs for colour and flavour.


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For variety, add small cubes of tofu or paneer and some green peas along with the potatoes. This curry goes best with plain steamed rice or with warm naan to scoop up the delicious sauce. And the best part is that it tastes even better the next day! If you would like to serve this dish with chicken satay skewers, click here for the recipe. 

Mussaman Potato Curry

1 lb baby potatoes, about 14-16 small ones

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 inch piece ginger or galangal, chopped

1 stalk lemongrass (optional), soft white parts only, roughly chopped

2 tbsp unsalted roasted peanuts

3/4 cup premium canned coconut milk, well shaken

2 tsp each: Thai curry powder, brown sugar, fish sauce or salt to taste

1 cup each: water, halved mini cherry/grape tomatoes

Juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh cilantro and basil

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add potatoes and cook them until just tender but not mushy or falling apart - about 12 - 15 min. Cool, peel and halve them. Reserve.

Meanwhile, warm oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger or galangal, lemongrass and peanuts. Sauté until lightly browned and softened, about 5-7 min.

Cool slightly (about 5 min), then transfer to the jar of a blender, along with the coconut milk, curry powder, sugar, fish sauce (or salt to taste) and water. Blend to a smooth paste.

Transfer this paste back into the skillet, set over medium heat. Add reserved potatoes, stir to mix, cover skillet and cook until mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15 min. or until potatoes are very soft and sauce is thick. Stir occasionally.

Fold in tomatoes, lime juice and fresh herbs. Cover and let curry rest 5 min. before serving.

Serves four

Navarin Of Lamb In Montreal

Montreal has always been among our favourite cities, that we like to visit whenever we get a chance. We have had plenty of opportunities to travel to Montreal the last four years while our son Varun was a student at McGill University. The drive to drop him off at school every fall invariably  turned into an extended trip to the Gaspé, Charlevoix, or the Eastern Townships. 
This past week was therefore one of mixed emotions for our family, for while it was a very proud moment for us when Varun graduated, it meant that in future we will have one less excuse to travel to Quebec. We seized this moment to get together in Montreal for one nostalgic weekend to attend his graduation ceremony and celebrate all that the city has to offer.

Montreal has a wonderful cosmopolitan feel that you experience as you walk along the sidewalks overhearing snippets of conversations that rapidly alternate from English to French and back. From the bohemian Latin Quarter around St. Denis street to the  designer shops of St. Catherine street, there is something for everybody and every budget.
One of the must see areas for any foodie visitor to Montreal is Jean Talon market - a vast, bustling marketplace featuring fresh produce, smoked meats, artisanal breads, cheese, sausages and lots of little restaurants and bakeries. It's a wonderful place to explore and nibble your way through!

One of the joys of being in Montreal is to stroll into a boulangerie and have fresh baked flaky croissants and crusty baguettes or walk into any patisserie and enjoy many varieties of  delectable pastries that are guaranteed to ruin your appetite for dinner! Patrice Patissier, Maison Christian Faure, A la Folie, Mamie Clafoutis are just some of our favourite pastry shops where we enjoyed spectacular macarons and other goodies.

Montreal has the highest number of restaurants in Canada, ranging from food trucks on the street to high end restaurants owned by celebrity chefs and everything in between! Names such as Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef, Toqué, Maison Publique and Maison Boulud have proudly put Montreal's restaurant scene on the map and made it well known around the world. 

We had Varun's celebratory graduation dinner at La Salle à Manger, a restaurant specializing in delicious, creative, local cuisine. The chef excelled himself bringing out platter after platter of smoky house cured meats, fresh seafood and innovative mains until we were so full, we could barely leave room for dessert - a white chocolate tart topped with apricot compote and raspberry coulis. It was a perfect ending to a perfect weekend!

Montreal cuisine is an intriguing mix of French and Quebecois influences with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients. Dishes such as Tourtière (meat pies), Pouding Chômeur (cake baked with maple syrup), Montreal style smoked meats, Bagels and Poutine are quintessentially Quebecois and definitely should be tried at least once when you visit. Also worth tasting is Montreal's ethnic cuisine which reflects its well established communities of Moroccan, Algerian, Lebanese and Jewish immigrants.


This French style Navarin (stew) of lamb is delicious with tender Spring vegetables and needs just a light white wine to bring out it's delicate flavours. Varun has shared his recipe here and has often made this delicious lamb stew for us at home. He likes it's simplicity of preparation, fresh flavour and the fact that it tastes better the next day and the next! He would often make a large pot of it in university and enjoy it for the rest of the week! Varun recommends serving this navarin with warm crusty bread or garlic mashed potatoes and a salad.

Navarin Of Lamb With Spring Vegetables

800 gm boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat, cubed into 2 inch chunks

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

6 small each: carrots in assorted colours, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces; potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 stick celery, chopped

2 small turnips, peeled and quartered

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 each, fresh: sprigs of thyme, bay leaf

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp each: all purpose flour, Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp herbs de Provence

2 cups beef or chicken broth

1/2 cup frozen peas

Season lamb with salt and pepper and mix in 1 tbsp oil.

Warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep heavy skillet set over medium high heat. Add lamb in 2 batches, searing till brown, about 5 min., turning once. Transfer to a deep bowl and reserve. 

Add onions to the skillet and brown for 5 min. Add garlic, carrots, celery and turnips, reserving the potatoes for later. Cook for 5 min, then add wine. Cook till wine bubbles, about 2 min. 

Add fresh herbs, tomato paste, flour, Worcestershire sauce, herbs de Provence and broth. Mix well, cover pot and bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Uncover pot, add potatoes, cover and cook again 1 hour, stirring now and then. Add peas, cook 15 min. 

If you still have a thin sauce at the end of this cooking time, uncover pot, turn up the heat to medium high and cook off some of the sauce. You should have a thick stew with very tender lamb and vegetables by this time. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Serves four