Travel

Feast, Pray, Love…#1 Persian Pleasures in Kensington

Yudhika's Feast Pray Love in Kensington at Zaman on High Street, Kensington

Yudhika’s Feast Pray Love in Kensington at Zaman on High Street, Kensington

Feast, Pray, Love are three words that best describe what my life is all about…I celebrate through feasting and when I pray, it isn’t with a long list of things I need or want, it’s to be thankful…taking time to count every one of my blessings which makes me love life more everyday. Love…the most beautiful gift of all, what would life be without those we love and treasure!

Whether I am working, doing a show, or just being with my family…I feast, I pray and I love fiercely! The idea of putting together the ‘FPL’ section to my blog has been on my mind for ages, like coffee…my ideas keep percolating! Through my journey, highs and lows….I am learning to be kind to myself and forgiving too.

I love to travel, see new places and experience different cultures…on the 15th May this year, just a stroke past midnight, I was tapped lightly on my shoulder by an air hostess on SAA, waking me up to my birthday and a bottle of Taittinger Rose…it was a toast to new beginnings and what better way to kick off a new year with an adventure in London…with an exciting new project on the cards, the city was my oyster. I threw back my champagne and fell into the most delicious sleep.

The Iranian/Persian influenced stores on Kensington's High Street with Yudhika Sujanani

The Iranian/Persian influenced stores on Kensington’s High Street with Yudhika Sujanani

I had a bit of free time and took a walk down Kensington’s High Street which led me to a little pocket of Iranian supermarkets, green grocers and restaurants. I love Iranian food and Jozi seems to have lost Apadana, the only place I knew that made a good Fesenjun…which is chicken cooked in pomegranate molasses and walnuts. There is also an Apadana restaurant in Kensington. I popped into Zaman, the Iranian Supermarket…the store is crammed with everything from fresh and dried fruit, Persian sweets like cashew nut baklava, macaroons and something that looks like Indian jalebi to Iranian caviar…and spices. The Iranian community are pedantic about the quality of dried fruit, nuts and the saffron is fabulous.

Pomegranates...a persian must have ingredient

Pomegranates…a persian must have ingredient

Brightly coloured, juicy pomegranate rubies...the perfect walkabout snack on High Street #yudhikayumyum

Brightly coloured, juicy pomegranate rubies…the perfect walkabout snack on High Street #yudhikayumyum

Persian peaches....at Zaman on High Street, Kensington

Persian peaches….at Zaman on High Street, Kensington

Iranian Caviar...sights and sounds on High Street, Kensington with Yudhika Sujanani

Iranian Caviar…sights and sounds on High Street, Kensington with Yudhika Sujanani

The Iranian stores seem to be more like old-fashioned family run businesses. The fresh fruit display outside the store is inviting, colourful and very old school….bright pomegranate rubies are sold in little cups which make the perfect walkabout snack. There are also persian peaches, glossy deep coloured cherries, fresh herbs and veggies. For a Persian experience outside Iran, I recommend taking a stroll through this part of Kensington, it’s not only a feast for food explorers but for the eyes too!

The end of a High Street adventure...Yudhika Sujanani - May 2015

The end of a High Street adventure…Yudhika Sujanani – May 2015

I have been working on recipes for the Post Newspaper’s with Ramadan in mind and it’s the perfect opportunity to splash out with my saffron…here is my version of a Persian dish called Koresht-e-Mast which is chicken cooked with yoghurt and saffron. How can I best describe this dish…it’s almost a curry and also described as a Persian stew…a stew??? This is way too exotic and fragrant to be compared to stew…cumin, coriander, red chilli, teamed with fresh orange juice and finished with yoghurt. The dish is lightly spiced, aromatic and creamy. I used the Spar branded double thick yoghurt for this recipe as I find this one doesn’t split or curdle.

Yudhika's version of Persian style Koresht-e-Mast

Yudhika’s version of Persian style Koresht-e-Mast

Persian style Chicken – Koresht-e Mast

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients

2,5ml saffron strands
50ml boiled water
1,6kg chicken thighs and drumsticks
45ml sunflower oil
1 bay leaf
2 onions, finely sliced
2,5ml salt
3 celery sticks, thinly sliced
10ml crushed ginger
10ml crushed garlic
10ml red chilli powder
10ml ground cumin
10ml ground coriander
2,5ml ground cardamom
500ml boiled water
2 stock cubes
Juice of 1 orange
6 sprigs fresh thyme
200ml Spar Double Thick Greek yoghurt
1 egg
30ml cold water
20ml Magic Masala, if you have…this is from my Curry Me Home range of spice

Sunflower oil, to brown chicken
Black pepper, to season
Fresh thyme to garnish

Here’s how:

Heat the saffron strands in a dry pan or microwave for a few seconds.
Crush the saffron using your fingertips and place in a little bowl.
Pour the boiled water over the saffron and leave aside to infuse.
Heat the sunflower oil in a 30cm AMC Gourmet Roaster.
Add the bay leaf and fry until fragrant.
Add the sliced onions with the salt and saute until pale golden in colour.
Stir the celery sticks into the fried onion and saute until they soften.
Add the crushed ginger and garlic.
Place the chicken into the fried onion and stir well to coat.
Sprinkle the red chilli, ground cumin, coriander and cardamom over the chicken pieces.
Stir well to coat, pour in the boiled water and crumble the stock cubes into the pot.
Pour in the orange juice, add the fresh sprigs of thyme and saffron liquid.
Lower the heat and simmer until the chicken is tender.
Remove the chicken from the pan.
Heat an AMC 28cm Chef’s Pan and grease with non stick spray.
Place the cooked chicken in the pan with the skin side down, turning them often to ensure they brown evenly.
Remove from the pan once they are golden brown.

Whisk the yoghurt with egg and water.
Important step: Remove the pan from the heat and gradually add the yoghurt mixture while whisking the sauce continuously – this prevents the sauce from splitting.
Add the Magic Masala – if you have some!
Simmer on low until the sauce thickens and then return the brown chicken to the pot.
Once the chicken heats through, season with black pepper and garnish with fresh thyme.
Serve with steamed basmati or pilau rice.

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The Great Durian Adventure

Yes…it smells quite awful! A ‘No Durian’ sign in Singapore

I have travelled through the East many times – I love everything about South East Asia, well almost everything anyway!  Everything except a nasty looking fruit called Durian.  Its known as the King of Fruits and looks like a medieval weapon….it has a thick stalk and the fruit is the size of a football.  Although the fruit is covered in wicked spikes, its not the appearance that makes me cross the road when I come across a vendor….it’s the nasty stench!

Durian is sold at markets and street vendor stalls all over Thailand.  It is sold in neat pre-packed segments and it looks tempting until you rip open the packaging.  Yes, its enough to make your eyes water.

I have not been able to find Durian in Samui this holiday.  I was keen on giving it a try since making a decision to be more adventurous.  All this talk of durian has made Rob curious too.

Its never been hard to find durian….the most sensible way to track it down is to walk in the direction that smells the most!  Stop walking when you find the delicate yellow flesh that smells like a load of rotting something.  Yes, it smells rotten.

We headed off to a few local markets or talaads (as it is known in Thai). We first tried the Fisherman’s Village market in Bhoput and then popped in to another one in Chaweng with no luck.  We visited the Laem Din market too…still nothing.  What rotten luck!

I was chatting to Martin Kunzmann (I have mentioned him before – he is the resident manager at Amari Palm Reef) and told him that I could not find any Durian.  A keen adventurer and explorer, he offered to lead us on a Durian hunt.  I was so excited.

After we had finished our delicious cooking demo with Chef Kanit, we headed off – Martin on a flash bike and us on our trusty moped.  We stopped at the local Chaweng market just to make sure there wasn’t a durian delivery and then took an inland road out to Mae Nam.  It was fantastic to get away from the buzz of the main Chaweng strip.  We travelled along the Ghost Road – Martin says it is where the old spirit houses are abandoned.  The road is lined with hundreds of them in various stages of decay.

Rob and I were thrilled to be experiencing a different part of the island.  We made another stop, Martin pulled over and said he got a durian whiff….false alarm – It was another Samui special…Stink Beans!!!!  Garlic makes your breath smell, asparagus makes your wee smell, stink beans makes everything smell.  It makes your breath, skin and even your poo smell really bad.  Martin tried to talk me into giving the stink beans a go….still on honeymoon, I thought that this might not be an appropriate time to acquire a devilish stink!

Stink beans – Smelly business!

We were now on our way to Mae Nam.  The hills got steeper and steeper and the moped got slower and slower.  Eventually, I had to get off and walk up a ‘Tour de France’ hill.  Spluttering and cursing after eating too much, I jumped on Martin’s bike –  I can best describe this as a cool looking retro vintage bike and boy, it is noisy!  It was a like a rocket up the hills and we met Rob at the top!

This is where our troubles started….on our way down the hill, we got caught in a tropical storm.  The raindrops were large and heavy enough to make the trees bend over.  We drove down the hill slowly, quietly kakking ourselves all the way.  The raindrops stinging our faces and soaking us to the skin.  We passed the durian trees (yes, actually with durians on them) and it was storming so badly, we could not even get a pic.

We got to the bottom off the hill and I never thought I would be so happy to spot a ‘Seven Eleven’.  For me, it was like a sign saying, ‘Welcome back to civilisation’!

We got back to a flooded Chaweng strip….the water was about 50cm deep.  It was chaotic….people were riding their bikes on the sidewalk and the pedestrians were wading through the street knee deep in muddy water.

Rob and our moped – riding on the pavement in Chaweng

I never got to find the durian in Samui, but I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure.  I saw a part of the island that was beautiful and far away from traffic and tourists!

Durians in Singapore – finally!!!

As luck would have it – I found durian in Singapore!

Sleepless in Samui…

Rob and I are in now in Koh Samui – we are living each day like it is our last!  What fun its been….we have been enjoying alternating waves of relaxation with bursts of activity that have led to lots of adventures and a few misadventures too.

 

Just another day in Samui

 

There is just always something to do in Samui – we started out with the compulsory Amari Palm Reef Brekkie.  Fried rice, eggs any way you want them, sushi, salads, pastries and stir fried chicken with young chilli.  I thought young chilli was mild – clearly not!  Yes, I am sure that the Amari staff are familiar with hangover cures and the young chilli can sort out just about any hangover.

I popped into the Breeze Spa for some decadent pampering and chose to have a Panpuri massage.  I eyed out the therapist who introduced herself in a soft melodious voice.  A petite therapist with a gentle, soft sing-song voice….thats what made me opt for a strong massage.  Rattana turned out to be stronger than I could have imagined.  I am sure that she could knead a teak plank into a soft, pliable mass.  I don’t think I could have moved even if there was a tsunami alert….I lay there like a sack of potatoes occasionally drooling into my pillow.  I had a swim to revive me and did a bit of shopping from the back of the Moped – nothing like retail therapy to raise energy levels!

We decided to get an early start to the evening so we would have time to take in a few different spots so we put on our glad rags –  a flash beach dress and slops for me, and for Rob – baggies, a tee shirt and his ever-present Moon Boot (achilles injury, long story).  We kicked off the evening at Villa La Moon overlooking the bay.  Rob spotted cheap beer and two litchi martinis for the price of one.  It’s the moped driver’s job not only to navigate the crazy traffic but also to keep an eagle eye out for Happy Hour(s) which are at different times in every different place.  We soaked in the beautiful view while I soaked up the martinis.

 

Litchi Martinis at Villa La Moon in Samui

 

 

We jumped back on the moped and dashed down the hill to the main street at Chaweng.  We noticed a sign saying ‘Walking Street’ which was bustling with people, music and barrow vendors selling everything from clothes to cocktails.

 

Gintonic and icy cold Singha at Chaweng’s Walking Street

I quickly found some chicken drummies flaming on a small fire while Rob tracked downed an ice cold Singha beer and a Gintonic (as the locals call it).  We also couldn’t resist trying out the Pad Thai which was prepared at lightening speed by an enthusiastic local, Nom Poon.

 

Nom Poon – the fastest Pad Thai in the East!

 

Jarwat Pad Thai – check them out on facebook

Starz Cabaret was our next stop – with live appearances by Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Madonna and Dianna Ross.  Maybe those litchi martini had more of a kick than I thought because Rob told me that the performers were actually Thai ‘Ladyboys’!  The drinks were expensive but there was no covert charge.  The show was entertaining and they extracted maximum laughs out of caricatures of the real artists’ performances.

 

Starz Cabaret – one of Chaweng’s main attractions!

We got back on the moped as the heavens opened for a short cloudburst so we popped in at the closest lively spot – The Solo Bar.  Rob was happy once again with our timing as Happy Hour lasted until 10pm and it was now 9.45pm.  We threw back a few half priced cocktails at double speed.  I tried something called ‘Land of Paradise’ – between this and the Bongo Guy the evening started getting rowdy.  There was a DJ playing some funky house tracks which we both normally hate.  Just as we were thinking of leaving, an athletic looking Thai muso set up his bongo drum and proceeded to get the entire bar rocking with his incredible energy. The bongo beat lifted the monotonous bass line and injected an excitement that got me off my bar stool.  Luckily, this was far from the Sandton Baron and anyone I knew.  I spent the next thirty minutes dancing my head off with my own cocktail mix of Indian, Arabic and Latin dance moves!  I don’t think I did too badly because not only was there lots of whistling and clapping but the Bongo Guy moved his setup to play right next to me.

Rob had seen this movie before so suggested that this would be a good time to move to the Reggae Bar on the other side of the lake.  There was a big Jamaican band playing mainly Reggae music.  I am constantly amazed at how big Reggae is in Thailand.  Bob Marley lives on in music, tee shirts, handbags, rasta caps and mainly in dreadlocks!!!  Rasta rebels of all ages from all countries congregate at this bar in their Che Guevara tee shirts singing songs like ‘No Woman, No Cry’.

It felt like time for a change of pace so we meandered on to one of the several dozen small pubs lining the side of the road for a game of pool.  The bar girls work hard to get you into their establishment but once you are in, the hard sell stops, and they leave you to get on with your game of pool and a quiet drink.  This particular place had no name and its main claim to fame was a laptop at the bar where you could choose the next song or three.

 

Robbie at the Hangover Bar

It was now about 2.30am and Rob was feeling quite peckish.  Another great thing about the island is that you are never far from a street vendor selling everything from satays to banana pancakes.  We had a few of both and decided that was enough for one night.

Just before we got back to the Amari we passed a brightly lit massage place with people still having foot massages.  I couldn’t resist a 3am foot rub and was snoring by 3.05.  We finally staggered back at around 4am and snuck in a quick illegal dip in the hotel pool before bed.

My last thought before I drifted off was, ‘Yay, breakfast in 5 hours!

How Yudhika Sujanani had a nice piece of ass for lunch!

Who would have thought that my culinary adventure in Italy would include eating donkey pasta?  Hard to believe?  Then read on…

After a long scenic walk around Verona, we crossed the Ponte Pietra back into the historic city centre.  There we found a cosy restaurant called Alcova del Frate where we were warmly welcomed by the charming owner, Massimo Perna.  I knew that horse meat was an Italian speciality but this was the first time that I had come across donkey on a menu.  Bigoli con Asino is local pasta with donkey meat.  I was very apprehensive about trying it but Rob convinced me to give it a bash.  Massimo claimed that I would find it to be the most tender meat I have ever eaten and likened the texture to butter. The meal was prepared by Chef Andrea who is a huge fan of Cape Town and the Clifton beauties!.  I was fascinated by the thickness of the fresh Bigoli and the fact that it boiled with no oil.  The donkey meat was prepared in almost a bolognese fashion with onions, carrots, celery and tomato.  While Chef Andrea was finishing the Bigoli with Asino, Massimo introduced us to some of the areas better known wines, including Soave, Valpolicella, and Amarone – known as the ‘King of Veronese Wines’.  The extremely high alcohol content of this wine (15 – 16 percent!) helped thaw the last remaining bits of ice from our extremities.

My Verdict?

Massimo was right – the meat was particularly tender, somewhat similar to beef but much richer with a more distinctive and original flavour. It’s not a meat that left a strong aftertaste as is sometimes the case with game.

Yudhika’s Bottom Line?

I loved it and would definitely order it again.  Rob was less thrilled, finding it too rich.
Check out this link!