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Andrew Buncombe's Asia Diary

The Independent's Asia Correspondent Andrew Buncombe is based in Delhi. His dominion ranges over India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, occasionally parts of South East Asia and - or at least he is hoping - The Maldives.

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Munching on tarantulas

Posted by Andrew Buncombe
  • Friday, 3 July 2009 at 12:34 pm
One of the great things about Asia is the food - the variety, the freshness and the bewildering styles of cooking. Nowhere is this more true than in south-east Asia, a region of the world where I'm never happier than when sitting down over a simple bowl of noodles. I am having a lot of fun, therefore, reading the highly entertaining story of Ian Walker journey upstream along the mighty Mekong river.
 Walker is a chef by profession and his enthusiasm for eating anything that is placed in front of him is unabating. Live, dead or somewhere in between, he never says no. Some people might grow a little tired of all the "eating beating snake's hearts" moments and to be honest, for me the the best parts of the book not those but rather the ocassions when he uses his chef's training to provide insight into the cooking techniques of the people he encounters along the way.   
  Walker is a genuine food enthusiast and never is he more content that finding some new dish, new ingredient or new combination of flavours as he works his way up from the Mekong delta to the source of the river in Tibet. (I'm currently at the part where he is crossing from Cambodia to Laos). He also writes with energy. One passage that caught my eye was when he was offered large, hairy spiders (stir-fried with salt and garlic) in Cambodia."The composition of organs and excrement, although at first disconcerting, is far from offensive and I eat several more in quick succession," he says.
 His book, Against the Flow: Culinary Adventures up the Mekong River, is published by Matador and is full of ideas for meals you might try out at home. Very kindly, his publicists thought readers of this blog might like to have a go themselves and provided Walker's recipe for steamed chicken with mustard leaves, fish sauce and black pepper. Good eating!

Ian writes: "This recipe is from a visit to a restaurant in Duong Dong on the island of Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand , to where I made a detour from the Vietnamese Delta. Phu Quoc is renowned for its prized fish sauce and native black pepper. The original dish was served semi-prepared with small pieces of cooked chicken on the bone, sprinkled with pieces of spring onion, slithers of garlic and raw pungent mustard leaves. This was brought to my table on a tray resting on a small gas powered stove, accompanied by cracked black pepper and the famed golden fermented liquid for me to add the finishing touches. It is a brilliantly simple, fresh, clean tasting dish and extols the virtues of locally sourced food. A generous squeeze of fresh lime juice before you eat, compliments the light savoury elements of the broth.

serves 4-6

2 x 200g chicken legs, each one chopped into 4 pieces (remove the skin if you wish)
NB: 2 chicken breasts would also be ok, just chop into 4 pieces and use in same way.
250 ml chicken stock, ideally freshly made
4 cloves of garlic, very finely sliced
5 spring onions, cut into 3
50g Mustard leaves
2 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp coarse cracked black pepper
1/2 lime
1.     Place the chicken pieces in a pan and add the garlic and chicken stock. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 25 minutes.
2.     Add the spring onions, fish sauce and cracked black pepper and cook uncovered for 2 minutes.
3.     Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard leaves.
4.     Serve with a generous squeeze of lime juice and some steamed jasmine rice.


halfgrainofrice wrote:
Monday, 24 August 2009 at 10:49 am (UTC)
While I don't mind snakes, frogs and other such sources of meat, I'd certainly draw the line at consuming spiders. Suffering from severe arachnophobia, I'd show a clean pair of heels if a spider is found anywhere near me, dead or alive. But having said that, I encourage brave souls to consume more and more spiders. Maybe that could bring down their numbers? (Or is it wishful-thinking?)

--Sucheta Chatterjee.


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