Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Where did all the noodles go....

By: Mr Robot

It's a while ago now, but the confluence of Sam & Sam Clarke talking about Morito and MiMi Aye's Noodle! book launch also marked the approximate end of our Asian food month.

Inspired by both the food and the surprising weight loss of our Burma trip we'd decided to go for a rematch on home turf in the hopes of eating well, learning something about cuisines we're shamefully ignorant of, and perhaps being a bit less porky. So how did it go?

Porky. Like me.

Well as far as the weight thing is concerned, Mrs R lost a little bit and I failed miserably. I think that's a combination of non-existent portion control (never seemed an issue in Burma, mind) and my taking the "unlimited beer" element a tad literally. Plus I'd find myself lunching on crappy sandwiches Chez Esso and thus undermining the whole thing.

Uyen Luu's Beef, Anise & Lemongrass stew: amazing eating
On the other hand, we ate amazingly well, and continue to do so. We would be genuinely wowstruck by both the food itself and the fact that we had made it. If for no other reason, everyone in the world should try cooking a totally new* cuisine just to get that sense of bewildered pride that comes of slavishly following instructions exploring a new flavour palette.

*ie. previous experience pretty much consisted of Mr Lau's very fine takeaway up the road and some eateries in Bath: home cooking practically nil.

We had three bibles and have come to love all of them:

Uyen Luu's My Vietnamese Kitchen was a complete revelation. We'd never eaten Vietnamese before, (never really thought of it to be honest), but it's a mighty attractive tome and the recipes are deceptively simple. Clearly with no context we could be producing absolute travesties, but if we are they're bloody tasty ones.

Summer Rolls. Probably a travesty

MiMi Aye's Noodle! which, for the pedants out there, went on sale a couple of weeks before the official launch, and has literally a hundred things to do with noodles. We're getting on for 10% in by now and nothing has let us down. It also contains recipes for things we had in Burma so carries a certain Proustian delight. Ah, sweet Madeleine - what a gal.

Shan Noodles like we had in Shan State, surprisingly

Ching-he Huang's Chinese Food Made Simple because Mrs R got bored of me constantly replaying it on TiVo. And yes it is very simple - at least to a chef of my standing. Ahem. My obsession point here was the Sichuan hot pot vat-of-chillies-thing which I've still never made because it's a hell of a faff and you really need friends round(which I don't have) BUT I do have a good inch or so extra round the tum thanks to everything else in there.

Ching-he Huang's Spiced Lamb on Orange & Fennel salad

We wouldn't pretend to be halfway competent of course, but a month focussing on a single style - even continentally broad - does wonders for the confidence and is great fun. We have eight to ten new staple dishes to roll out whenever, but more importantly our enthusiasm has only grown.

So at the end of our month, what had we learned?

  • Fish sauce has a permanent place in our cupboards
  • Dipping sauce
  • Thai basil needs to be eaten RIGHT NOW
  • Char siu is not only doable at home, it's practically compulsory
  • How to make mince with a cleaver
  • The less familiar the cuisine, the more fun you'll have
  • Once you let the wife call a dish Snakes On A Plane, she will never stop

Ants Climbing Trees. Not, repeat NOT, Snakes On A Plane

All images (c) PP Gettins


  1. I love Uyen's book, did a blog post a while back about a weekend of cooking from it. recently got MiMi's and have written a piece on it for next issue of Good Things magazine. Not tried the third book yet.

  2. Yup. I can safely say Uyen changed my life. Both her and Mimi's books are regulars now. I haven't dones as much from Ching's book, but it hasn't let me down yet. Must get it out again this weekend.