Dhokla: Gujarati steamed, fermented rice and lentil cakes

Dhokla

The New York Times ran an entertaining piece the other day on what kids around the world eat for breakfast. While a rather small sample, it gives a good sense of the remarkable variety of foods–from natto (fermented soy beans) to cold cereal–eaten in the morning. There are some commonalities though. In Asia it seems breakfast tends to be savory rather than sweet, and served warm instead of cold, the exact opposite of what one finds in the “west”. Certainly, that is the case in India where a hot breakfast is the norm. It is also highly regional: in the north bread, e.g., as stuffed parathas, is favored, while in the south rice and lentils, in the form of idli for example, rule the roost.

Bingsu: Korean dessert with homemade rice cakes and soft-serve ice cream

Bingsu

The calendar might indicate Autumn but here in southern England we’re having a glorious run of dry and warm weather that is almost evocative of summer. A British summer at any rate, where a few days of 25°C temperatures count as a record heat wave. Still, while not quite on par with the steamy summer I’ve just experienced in Seoul (100% humidity, daytime temperatures in the upper 30s and nighttime ones not much cooler), it has been warm enough for me to start craving a dish that I first had there this summer: bingsu (빙수), which is often translated as “shaved ice” (the Chinese characters literally mean “ice water”).

Japchae: Korean stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables and beef

Japchae

Sampling foods you’ve never had before is for me one of the tastiest aspect of traveling to a new place. But even better than eating at restaurants or markets is taking a cooking class. Being taught by a pro is especially useful if you’re trying to learn about unfamiliar ingredients and techniques, as ‘regular’ locals can often be ignorant of their own cuisine, having eaten and taken it for granted their entire lives. Last year, for example, I took a 3-day intensive course on traditional Japanese cookingwashoku (和食) – in Tokyo with Elizabeth Andoh. Chef Andoh is originally from America but has lived in Japan and cooked Japanese food for so long that she could easily put most locals, even professionals, to shame with her knowledge and mastery of washoku.

Puff pastry with Gujarati-style lentil filling

Lentil-stuffed puff pastry

The one and only time I tried making puff pastry from scratch, the results weren’t anything to write home – or blog – about. It consumed the better part of a weekend, endlessly rolling, folding and refrigerating flour and butter. A lot of butter. Perhaps more than I’d consume in a decade. If I lived in France. You get the idea. And lets not even talk about the cleaning up. Imagine my joy then at discovering one can actually buy this stuff ready made, and very good quality at that. It is easy to use, too: just defrost and roll out!

Courgette (zucchini) soup

Courgette/Zucchini Soup

The British are famously a nation of gardeners. Where else do you have a reality show on TV pitting amateur gardeners against each other?! Or, rather, allotment-holders. Allotments are small parcels of land rented out by the local government to those with the itch to garden but without one. This is apparently a competitive business with demand far exceeding supply. I learned all this from my friend Man-Yee who started an allotment this past year and, after months of toiling, has been rewarded by an abundance of fresh veg and fruit. Or, as she put it, by drowning in a sea of courgettes (zucchini, as they’re known on the other side of the Pond)!