Alana Lowes takes you on a foodie journey through the East. And you can recreate the vibrant flavours...
To this day, my favourite travelling memory was a cooking class in Istanbul and I just adore incorporating eastern flavours in many of my recipes. The cooking class was the highlight of the trip as we were guided through the myriad of fragrant spices that are at the heart of Turkish cuisine. Our beautiful teacher Eveline, a Dutch Cordon Bleu Chef, who now lives and breathes Ottoman food is a walking food encyclopedia and she knows all the ins and outs of the ancient spice markets. Read all about my pilgrimage to the east here
Left: Spices at the ancient spice bazaar in Istanbull, Turkey. Right: Even my hubby Rob gets involved in the cooking classes when we travel, Istanbul.
Walnut stuff figs in spiced syrup from Turkey
It is my experience that if you ask someone about what makes their country so special, they unanimously declare an answer straight from their stomach – Food! After all, cuisine is snap shot of a country’s history and culture both past and present. This is exactly what I learnt while cooking a variety of dishes with Rohani and Pick Shan at Bayan Indah Culinary Retreat in Kuala Lumpur. The unique and highly flavourful Nyonyan cuisine in Malaysia is the result of intermarriages between Chinese immigrants and the local Malays during the 15th century. No guidebook or museum visit will give you a cultural experience as vivid and sensory as this.
Left: Grinding spices and garlic at Bayan Indah Cooking Class, Kuala Lumpur. Right: Final Feast at Bayan Indah Cooking Class, Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian style tamarind prawns from Kuala Lumpur
Vietnam is renowned for its regional specialties that are a direct reflection of the diverse cultural landscape. An absolute must is Cao Lau noodles which is the foremost traditional food of Hoi An. It is said that the water in Hoi An (which is still drawn from centuries old wells) is crucial to making the Hoi An specialty. The Cao Lau noodles possess a particular chewiness not found in any other type of noodle and is a specialty of the street vendors who typically only focus on one or two dishes. An afternoon spent meandering through the local markets as part of a cooking class is without a doubt the best way get a feel for the culture and an appreciation of how important food is to the Vietnamese people. I also learnt a few tricks - one was how to make fresh rice paper rolls...once you've tasted these made fresh you will never use the packet equivalent again.
Vibrant market in Hoi An, Vietnam.
Fresh rice paper rolls from Vietnam
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I love exploring and uncovering new cultures through cuisine. For me, a voyage abroad is all about gastronomic discovery whether it’s eating out at restaurants, or jostling for a fresh sample at the local food markets armed with a trusty old phrase book at the ready or simply sitting back and soaking up the ambience and aromas amongst the street vendors. I find that the best way to really immerse yourself in a new culture is to take part in a local cooking class.