Leon 4 is Germany Bound!

Leon4 German Cover

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The Amazing Thailand Festival 2013

I’m delighted to let you know that I will be appearing at the 9th Amazing Thailand Festival this August. The festival runs over the August Bank Holiday weekend (24th-26th), and is held at Secretts Farm in Surrey. And all proceeds go to the Mudita Trust, a fantastic charity which I’ve been a supporter for many years, and which works to help underprivileged and abused children in Thailand, with a special focus on ending child prostitution.

It’s a really fun day out — plenty of food, Thai dancing, crafts and all kinds of Thai culture. I look forward to seeing you there!

K xx

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Wine of the Week: Alcyone Tannat Dessert Wine

Back in the day, when I sold wine, I was frequently asked to recommend a dessert wine to go with chocolate puddings. It’s a tricky one. The more traditional sweet wines don’t really settle well with chocolate, so my answers were often packed with explanations and qualifications, and with a fervent hope that the asking punter would not be too disappointed. So it was with quite a large helping of delight that I tasted this rather glorious beast — the Alcyone Tannat dessert wine from Uruguay — at the Southbank Wine and Cheese Festival last weekend.

Tannat is an unusual French grape. Packed with tannins, as the name suggests, it is the principal grade of the Madiran AOC in the French Basque country. And, rather as Malbec left Cahors to colonise Argentina, it has become the national grape of Uruguay.

Here, the wine has been aromatised in an Italian manner — the importers are bit vague about this bit — and aged in French oak to produce a round, warmly sweet wine of great character. It has a delicious full figgy-cherry fruit supported by hints of chocolate and vanilla. And it feels gorgeous in the mouth, like a satisfying tongue-hug of honey designed to make you smile. It will make a perfect accompaniment to chocolate desserts, finally putting that particular recommendation quandary to rest, and it is unusual enough to provoke conversation and surprise. You can’t go wrong with that.

Alcyone Tannat is available online directly from Wines of Uruguay, priced at £19 a bottle.

fh

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Right Now, I Call It Project X…

… one of my new book projects …

… and this lovely ingredient has just arrived to take part in it!

aperitivo cocchi americano

K xx

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Thai Food Heroes: Khun Udomsak’s Kow Mun Gai, Bangkok

Khun Udomsak

Khun Udomsak has been making khao mun gai on Soi Saladaeng for over a quarter of a century. It’s one of the classic Thai-Chinese dishes, made up of simply sliced poached chicken served with a bowl of broth, rice cooked in the chicken stock and a fiery nam jim on the side — a fresh and enlivening breakfast, both soothing and stimulating all at once.

Khun Udomsak's poached chicken

While I’ve eaten versions of it all over Thailand, Khun Udomsak’s is the one I always recommend. I stumbled across his stall several years ago — it’s tucked away just behind the Dusit Thani Hotel, an old favourite of mine, where we had the production office for a film I worked on far too long ago. And I keep coming back because Khun Udonsak’s khao mun gai is just quintessentially correct. His broth tastes clean and fragrant, with just a hint of fresh coriander. His chicken is always perfect. But the real tests are the chicken livers — an optional extra — and the nam jim. His livers walk that perfect line between moist and dry, retaining a delicious fondant-y texture. And his nam jim is packed with ginger, chilli and yellow soy beans for a bright and awakening counterpoint to the comforting chicken and rice.

kow mun gai

He also makes a very good moo krop — crispy belly pork with crunchy, satisfying crackling. But, as good as it is, I only order it rarely. I’m here for the khao mun gai, the Thai breakfast of champions.

You’ll find his stall at the Silom end of Soi Saladaeng in the first sub-soi on the left, across the road from the SevenEleven. There’ll be a chicken hanging on the cart. You can’t miss it.

K xx

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Koh Klang and the Thailand Academy

One week back in grey London: I have a sniffly cold, a pallid complexion and I’m wearing way too many layers of clothing. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was a guest of TAT, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, on their Thailand Academy programme, this time exploring community-based tourism in the south of the country.

Of all the stops on the trip, including many of Krabi’s outstandingly beautiful sites, hot springs, caves and beaches, the island of Koh Klang enchanted me.

Koh Gai

Koh Klang is an island community of about 4000 souls just a 5 minute long tail ride away from Krabi town. But what a world away it is, and what a different world it has to offer. Most of its inhabitants are fisherman, rice farmers or coconut and banana growers. So if you’re after a place filled with hot nightlife and strobe lights, look away now. The first road was only put in a few years ago and, until a decade ago, they had no electricity. There are no police on the island because there is no crime. Wildlife abounds in the mangroves, an ecosystem the whole island works in shifts to conserve and maintain. And no one I spoke to wants to leave. Quite frankly, it is bliss. It is the Thailand of yesterday, the Thailand of my childhood.

There is just one resort on the island — the Islanda Eco Village Resort. It’s a family run business, and it’s a place where they’ve thought long and hard about how they want to be “eco”. They know their customers don’t want to be without their a/c and to have to spend a week with the same sheets. To them, “eco” means sustaining a community-based approach to tourism which fits in with the islanders, whose way of life is already geared to managing the island’s fragile ecosystem sustainably. It is a beautiful place, peaceful and impeccably run —

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— the sunsets alone are worth the trip —

— best viewed with one of bartender Mr Big’s mojitos in hand with  wild rabbits hopping around your feet at the outdoor bar. Not many other resorts can claim that. Nor that the rabbits like banana skins…

rabbit

Of course, I had to steer my focus a little towards FOOD. I love Southern Thai food for its utter lack of compromise. It says: I am pungent and proud! So we’re talking about shrimp paste and copious chillies. Not to mention incredible black crab from the mangroves, small sweet local mussels, sea snails —

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—  large meaty oysters, coconut, pickled and fermented fish, vegetables and fruit. And, since the area is predominantly Muslim and influenced by the Spice Route traders of old, there are Indian-influenced goat curries, Thai style biryani (or kow mok gai), and  abundant fresh seafood, all of which conspires to make mealtimes a feast for the senses and the palate.

On Koh Klang, the local rice is especially delicious. A few years ago, the island was badly flooded and the need arose to find a strain of rice that would withstand what was now salty soil. After some trial and error, they discovered that  the most compatible strain was the Sang Yod rice from Pattalung province, a little further south. It is now a varietal  grown in just these two areas, and Koh Klang claims theirs to have a better flavour due to the salinity of their terroir. It is a small, slim grain with mixed red and white tips, slighty sticky when cooked and incredibly good. Needless to say, a couple of kilos came back in my suitcase…

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From canoeing through the mangroves to visiting Mae Prajim’s fascinating batik workshop —

Mae Prajim at work

— I cannot recommend the Islanda resort and Koh Klang highly enough. It’s a perfect stop on an island-hopping holiday, and a low-key, relaxing, back-to-nature holiday too. I’ll wave to you from my balcony.

K xx

PS — a few folks from the trip have asked me for a recipe for the nam jim that we had alongside a lot of our grilled seafood. So here are a couple of my favourites, a classic nam jim seafood and a tangy lime-infused nam jim from my friend Nong Da.

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Thai Food Heroes: Laan Nam Prik Goong Siap

Khun Prawee Sangthong_2

Khun Prawee Sangthong runs a tiny restaurant in the village of Suk Samran in Ranong. Named Laan Nam Prik Goong Siap after her most famous dish, it epitomises the idea of the one dish restaurant. Even though she serves other things  — she makes a great gaeng liang, as well my favourite local classics pad sator and gaeng tai pla — it’s the nam prik you come for and the dish you’ll remember long after you’ve gone.

It has all the elements that, for me, typify the south: shrimp paste, chillies, and the local dried prawns, goong siap, which you can only really get in this part of the country.

Nam-Prik-Goong-Siap

Unfortunately, on my last visit, she was just about to move locations so I don’t have her address to include here. But I have friends tracking her down. Food this good is too delicious to lose. But in the meantime, here’s the recipe for her nam prik goong siap.

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Pic of the Day: The Som Tum Girl

som tum maker, krabi

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Thai Food Heroes: Mali & Anchalee at Puong Thong, Chiang Mai

There couldn’t be a Thai Food Heroes series which didn’t mention the fabulous Puong Thong restaurant in Chiang Mai. I’ve known Mali and Anchalee Ti Aree for nearly ten years now and, quite simply, Mali is one of the finest cooks I’ve ever met. With her at the stoves and Anchalee sous-ing and serving, they send out dish after dish of perfectly conceived and executed Central Thai food from what is essentially a home kitchen.

cooking with mali

It’s hard to single out specific dishes from their very large menu, because I could go on and on about the various favourites they’ve served up over the years. But here’s a list of some of the highlights in no particular order:

Si Krog Moo Tom

Si Grok Moo — meltingly tender pork rib which has been slowly cooked with fragrant Chinese-style spices, pictured above;

Yum Kratiem — a delicious warm salad of tiny Thai garlic, squid, prawns, cashews and dried chillies — I’ve had this on practically every visit;

Poo Op Woon Sen — crab cooked in a stoneware pot with glass noodles;

Choo Chee Goong — thick, rich curried prawns — think of a thicker than average red curry with serious tiger prawns, made by angels!

Pla Neung Manow — snake-head fish steamed until flakingly tender, served bathed in a lime, chilli and coriander sauce;

Kai Yeow Maa Pad Krapow — thousand-year-old eggs stir-fried with chillies and holy basil, and covered in deep-fried basil leaves — quite simply, the best I’ve ever had;

Moo Dat Deao — air-dried then deep-fried pork strips, the perfect snack with a cold beer, and just right to start a meal;

Nam Prik Kapi — Mali and I often joke about the correct way to make this pungent shrimp paste dip since there are so many regional variations. Suffice to say, Mali’s is delicious. It’s one of my benchmark dishes, so if you’ve never had it before there’s no better place to try it for the first time than here. And if you have, this is just about as good as it gets.

puong thong table

This is quite simply one of my favourite restaurants in the world, and I don’t say that lightly. Sat at one of the wooden tables by the Ping River with a fan trained on me and some of Mali’s food laid before me, I couldn’t be happier. Consider Puong Thong the holder of my highest esteem.

You’ll find the restaurant just beyond the Ratilanna Spa on Charoen Prathet road. And you can find a good selection of Mali’s recipes in Anchalee’s book  La Cuisine de ma Mère: Thaïlande, which is available in French. And here’s Mali in action making yum kratiem.

K xx

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Leon: Family & Friends Goes USA

Delighted to see the first US reviews for Leon: Family & Friends appearing online ahead of its publication this week. It’s available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and at all finest booksellers in 50 states!

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