Under the Lion Flag

Sri LankaYesterday it really felt as if summer had finally arrived. After a hectic week at work and play, my daughter, Nee, her best friend, Meg, and I drove round to Woolacombe then headed down to beautiful Barricane Beach to soak up the evening sun and eat some delicious Sri Lankan curry. Barricane is a tiny sandy cove with plenty of rocky outcrops and vegetation in full bloom, but its main attraction is the tiny beach cafe where, for several years now, a thriving curry business has been running, the flag of Sri Lanka raised on the gable end. It’s all very relaxed and low key, just like North Devon life; place your order at the counter, pay your money receiving a numbered slip of paper in return then head down to the sand and find a spot to sit. Diners bring their own beverages and seat/rug/mat, and within minutes plates of food are brought down and order numbers called out.

Last night’s meal comprised a good pile of basmati rice, chicken curry, a spicy dal, cabbage bhaji and a carrot and coconut “salad” with poppadom chips on the side. It was a generously sized meal, but for those with a gap still to fill, cakes and icecreams are available at the cafe hut.

The atmosphere was very friendly and jovial; families, surfers, eaters and drinkers all enjoying the warm evening. Stupidly I forgot to take my camera, but took some snaps of the fabulous sky and sunset on my phone. We will definitely be returning.   …click on any pic to see larger…


Pad Krapao

This is a classic lunch in Thailand and will be prepared specially for you at street stalls, cafes and restaurants. A mound of fragrant rice, a red hot meat or seafood topping and a crispy fried egg to crown it.

Krapao is Holy Basil which is not generally available in the UK, but I’ve found a good substitute is a combination of garden mint and basil in equal measures. I mostly use minced beef, pork or turkey (thighs and breast) in this recipe, but you could also use chicken livers, chicken, prawns or squid. It is really supposed to be a hot dish, so chillies are essential but you can use them more sparingly if you have a sensitive palate. More chillies can be sprinkled on top too.

Pad krapao 001This is what you’ll need to feed 2 people :-

1 cup jasmine rice ( or basmati), cooked

2 eggs

2 tablespoons rapeseed or corn oil

200 – 250g minced raw meat, diced chicken or seafood

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

5 spring onions (scallions), sliced

2 or more bird eye chillies, sliced (or halved lengthways for more impact)

a good shake of fish sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

½ teaspoon sugar

a good handful each of basil and mint leaves

Heat half the oil in a frying pan and fry the eggs on a low heat.

Pad krapao 002Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a wok until smoking and fry the meat, garlic and onions. Add chillies to the wok along with fish sauce and oyster sauce. You might need a splash of water here too. Keep frying and stirring for a minute.

Throw in the mint and basil and sugar and stir until the green stuff is wilted.

Arrange the rice on two plates. Put half the meat etc on top and finish with a fried egg. If you like it spicy, chopped chillies in fish sauce can be sprinkled on the egg.

Enjoy your Pad krapao lat khao kai dao (Fried holy basil on rice with fried egg)

Thai Rice Soup

Known as “jork” in Thailand, rice soup or rice porridge is comfort food at its healthy best. When I was pregnant with my first child, this was the only thing I could face after that queasy feeling used to come upon me at about 5pm. I know most people suffer from morning sickness during pregnancy, but I like to think that as an Englishwoman in Thailand, my body was running on Greenwich Mean Time and I definitely had evening sickness. So for several weeks this is what I used to eat for my tea, usually with a raw egg cracked into it (the heat of the soup in the bowl cooked the egg enough to thicken it) and copious amounts of vinegar and chilli.

It’s a great way to use up leftover rice, meat and fish, is easy to cook and is extremely satisfying and delicious. This is what you will need for one serving –

1 fish or chicken stock cube

1 serving of cooked rice or 2 tablespoons uncooked rice

any raw or cooked seafood such as fish, prawns, mussels, squid or scallops (here I used coley, a cheap white fish)

minced pork or turkey made into little bite-sized balls OR cooked and shredded chicken/pork/turkey

2 cloves of garlic

1 or 2 green chillies (or more if you are my daughter)

oil for frying

½ teaspoon sugar

2-3 teaspoons fish sauce

2-3 teaspoons vinegar (rice wine/malt/distilled/wine)

Put the stock cube in a pan and add about 1 pint/20 fl. oz./550ml boiling water.

Add the rice and gently boil until the rice is broken and like thin porridge. You will have to watch it and add more water if necessary so it doesn’t catch on the bottom. This will take about 15 minutes if the rice was ready cooked, more if you are starting from scratch.

Rice Soup 003Add any raw fish and meat and allow to simmer for a few minutes.

Rice Soup 004Meanwhile chop the garlic and fry in hot oil until golden brown. It will taste bitter if you burn it.

Add any cooked meat/fish to the soup and give it another minute to heat through, then remove from the heat.

Rice Soup 005Put sugar, fish sauce and vinegar in your soup bowl.

Pour the rice soup on top.

Rice Soup 006Garnish with fried garlic and finely sliced chillies.

Stir well adding more fish sauce & vinegar if needed.


Son-in-law Eggs

I’ve made these to take to a party tonight; they are delicious. I thought I’d share the recipe. You need :

6 eggs

2 dried red chillies – the length of your hand

2 – 3 shallots

2 tablespoons tamarind paste

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons raw sugar

oil for deep frying

005Hard boil the eggs then remove the shells and dab dry. Snip the dried chillies into thin hoops. Discard the seeds. Slice the shallots very thinly. Heat the oil and quickly fry the chillies, just a few seconds will do it, then remove with a draining spoon. Leave on absorbent paper. Now do the same with the shallot slices – they will need a few more seconds to go brown. Leave on paper with the chillies to crispen up. Gently lower the eggs into the oil one at a time and fry until evenly golden all around; this will take about 10 minutes. Meanwhile in a small pan mix the tamarind paste, sugar and fish sauce and heat until the sugar is melted and you have a smooth, glossy sauce.

When the eggs are done, drain them, cut in half lengthways and arrange on a plate. Drizzle the tamarind sauce over the top then pile chillies and shallots on top of each egg. You can serve them warm or cold. The combination of creamy egg yolk, hot chilli, crispy shallots and sweet/sour tamarind is sublime. In Thailand, these are known as Son-in-law’s Testicles (or some more colloquial term). Perhaps a warning of what will happen if the SIL mistreats a daughter.

Cake baking – a guide

  1. Go to the shop and stock up on missing ingredients.
  2. Weigh out ingredients substituting creatively. eg  No malt extract? Try honey.
  3. Return to shop for bananas you forgot to buy on the first trip.
  4. Turn on oven.
  5. Grind cinnamon sticks in pestle and mortar when you realise you are short of yet another ingredient ie ground cinnamon. Ignore the protestations from offspring upstairs who says it sounds like someone is trying to kick the door down.
  6. Mix everything together and pour mixture into tins.
  7. Bake for the requisite time.
  8. When cool, wrap well and send to grateful (other) offspring at university.

For those interested in recipes, here’s what you need to make this cake…..

cake 001

10oz / 250g Plain Flour

1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda

4oz / 100g Soft Brown Sugar

6 teaspoons mixed ground spices (ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon etc in a ratio of your preference)

2 big* spoons molasses or black treacle

2 big spoons malt extract

4 big spoons orange juice

4 big spoons vegetable oil

2 bananas, mashed (the riper and blacker the better)

2 eggs

Beat all these ingredients together well. Stir in 4oz / 100g raisins (or mixture of raisins and chopped preserved ginger – I used stem ginger in syrup, but crystallised would work as well).

Put into cake tin(s). I use 2 x 1lb Loaf Tins for this recipe.

Bake at 180°C for 25 minutes or so, until firm when pressed.

* A big spoon (or tablespoon) is bigger than the one you would use to eat your dessert but smaller than the one used to slop your stew on your plate in the school/staff canteen. If in doubt, guess; despite what Heston Blumenthal may say, it’s not an exact science.

Krua Thai

Krua is the Thai word for kitchen.

I lived in Thailand (Eastern Seaboard) for more than 6 years in the nineties, married, had children, ran a guest house with restaurant, and formed the following opinion…

Thai cuisine is the best in the world

Food is everywhere in Thailand. It’s an obsession. When you bump into an acquaintance in Thailand you may talk about the weather, but you absolutely will talk about food. “Have you eaten (rice) yet?” is the stock question, the answer to which would be “Not yet” or “Eaten already”. Question number two where I lived would be “Have you showered yet?”, which for a long time struck me as rather intrusive, but I learned to accept it as friendly neighbourly concern.

The food culture in Thailand is quite different from the European model I grew up with. Here, we have learnt to produce while the weather is favourable, and preserve for the scarce months ahead. When I was a small child, that meant packing runner beans in huge jars of salt, bottling all kinds of fruits and vegetables and making jam and chutney. Soon every home had a deep freeze, and BAM!, virtually all our foods were available all year round with just a small amount of forethought and housewifely labour.

In Thailand, the weather is always warm, and several crops of rice can be sown and harvested through the year with a simple system of irrigation in place. There are always fish in the sea, coconuts and papayas on the trees, herbs in the garden; all you have to do is reach out and grab them. Food is bountiful in both its raw and prepared forms. Even my meagre patch of earth which was subjected to the daily onslaught of sea-salty spray, still proffered chillies, holy basil, papayas and wild bananas enough to keep us going.

Every street from the busy metropolis of Krung Thep (Bangkok) to the tiniest rural hamlet offers some delicious culinary delight that can be eaten there and then or taken home to eat with your own rice. On the market you can not only sit and enjoy a fabulous lunch of rice and something on top, but you can also take a little filled poly bag (or five) home with you, sealed with a rubber band wound round and round. All you have to do is cook a pan of rice, and, hey presto!, a family meal of (someone’s) home-cooked food with plenty of variety. And invariably delicious too!

My favourite road-side food stand has to be the Som Tam (green papaya salad) with chicken BBQ . It’s the perfect picnic lunch, being delicious as well as easy to eat with only the fingers. Sticky rice (for no meal is complete without rice) is used to scoop up the shredded salad, counter the effects of the chillies and soak up the greasy juices of the chicken. Manna from heaven!

Living by the sea, a lot of the food available came from within it. As well as all the fabulous fresh fish and shellfish being offered for sale, some local women would make a great dish called Ho Mok Plaa, a kind of fish and coconut “custard” cooked in a banana leaf case. This is how you can make this lovely dish at home…..

These are the ingredients you will need:

2 tablespoons of Red or Panaeng Curry Paste

I egg

2 tablespoons Fish Sauce

1 can coconut milk

a handful of Sweet Basil

a few boiled cabbage or Chinese Leaves (squeezed dry)

400g White Fish fillet

1 tablespoon cornflour

1 or 2 mild red chillies

2 or 3 kaffir lime leaves

a small handful of coriander leaves

You’ll need 4-6 (depending on size) ramekin dishes or small metal bowls (the type you would make an individual chocolate pudding in) and a steamer with lid.


Line each small dish with the cabbage leaves.

Mix the cornflour with 7 tablespoons of coconut milk and set aside.

In a large bowl mix together the egg, fish sauce, coconut milk and curry paste.

Stir in the fish, cut into bitesize pieces.

Spoon the fish mixture between the  dishes, filling them to 1cm from the top.

Drizzle the cornflour/coconut mixture over the top.

Steam for approx 20 mins or until set

Sprinkle with finely shredded chillies and kaffir lime leaves.

Garnish with coriander leaves.

Eat with rice.