Category Archives: Asia

Cooking for yourself, on the road & on a budget

Visiting local food markets is a favourite pastime of ours when we are in other countries. We could spend hours wandering around, tasting, people watching, asking questions. Our best memories of such times are when we have had a reason to actually shop at the markets rather than simply be a spectator. These are the times when we have had a kitchen to go back to.

Where we can, we’ll book a cheap, self-catering apartment, a guesthouse or a hostel with a shared kitchen. We have been able to join in on the fun of shopping with locals, try some local recipes and save lots of money. These are some of the places we have used our preferred BYO lunch method:

  • Aeolian Islands: We booked a cheap self-catered apartment and bought food such as mince, veges, rice, pasta, chillies, condiments and wine over from the Sicilan mainland. This was much cheaper than purchasing food on the island. We used the plastic bowls and cutlery from the apartment as take-away containers allowing us to eat like kings, on the beach, in front of 50euro/head restaurants, plastic wine glass in hand, smile on face!
  • Dubrovnik: Another expensive place in the summer time. We secured an old apartment that looked like something your Great, Great Grand Mother lived in! That said, it had a fully functioning kitchen and laundry. We made stuffed capsicums and pan fried sardines, (and drank wine in the sun).
  • Cadiz: We were lucky to share an apartment with family during a summer. What impressed us was the surprising amount of quality canned and jarred foods in the area we were in. Of course, we enjoyed cooking fresh foods for the family but a bowl ofย  glass jarred green beans, corn kernals, Spanish anchovies and boiled eggs were the perfect take-away lunch to have amongst the touristy sites we visited during our days

Our Tips for eating cheap, home-made, local and healthy:

  • Try and book places that have condiments such as olive oil, salt, pepper & vinegar included in the kitchen. This may be difficult but we found that these things were vital (and difficult to carry with you!)
  • If you are heading to an island or somewhere remote, try and bring as much food with you as possible from the nearest city
  • Eat local produce. Buy at the markets. Ask questions.
  • Bring a bottle opener with you and take a bottle of local wine with you on daytrips (or a hipflask) Why not? If you’re going to Asia on a short holiday, pack some decent wine in your check-in luggage. It has been wonderful sipping iced white wine at roadside stalls in Bangkok!
  • Don’t forget to vary what you eat. It’s easy to eat ready-made.
  • If there are no plastic bowls or take-away containers where you are staying, buy one. You can use it as storage for something already in your backpack and then clean and use it for take-away, home-made meals on the road!

The Charms of Eating in the East

To me, nothing beats sitting on a small plastic stool, in the sticky heat of Bangkok, amongst the traffic with a hawker meal in front of me. There is a certain feeling of being part of a city, of being a “temporary local” when you can eat amongst it rather than behind it, under or over it. As they say, eating at a street stall or market is often the closest thing to eating at a local’s family home. It really is an attractive way to eat, drink and mingle.

We have met poets in Alexandria over Sheesha and tea, joined in cheering on the local team over coffee and nuts in Dahab & we have been invited to a wedding after striking up a conversation at a streetside cafe in Morocco.

Back at home, we really have little to no chance in experiencing such culinary comradery with fellow diners. Unfortunately, if there is any intermingling to be done, it is often over copious amounts of booze.

Would it be too much to ask for a setting of plastic chairs on the sand with the Aussies paying cricket on an old television while you sip your coffee and nibble on some nuts? Sounds fantastic but we can forget it. Health and Safety would come down on the proprietor like a tonne of bricks. Someone might fall over or trip over one of the leads!

A succession of stalls every Saturday night in the summer, with plastic tables & chairs amongst the moonlight. Nope, no way. Perhaps a couple of special times a year but only subject to council approval & at a hefty cost to the stallholder.

Even in Europe, you can leave the house at 10pm and have no trouble finding somewhere to have a coffee with some friends. Unfortunately, come summer in Sydney, it seems beer is the only beverage you can get your hands on post-10pm.

Granted, there are some nice places in Australia you can eat and drink outside, amongst the city lights or the light of the moon. However, the mid and far east seem to have it down pat. It doesn’t cost much, it doesn’t always include boozing up and it is safe.

Some excellent places in the east and mid east we have experienced ‘rustic’ outdoor dining:

* Southeast Asia (we particularly love Bangkok, Ipoh & Penang at night)
* Alexandria, Egypt
* Syria in the summer time particularly along the coast

In short, give me a set of plastic chopsticks and a sand castle bucket of ice over Royal Doulton any day!

Eating in KL

Noodles in Ipoh, Malaysia