It’s been a pretty busy year of travelling for me in 2014. Despite travelling to thirteen countries over eight months in 2013 and vowing to put the breaks on, I’ve somehow managed to have hit the lucky thirteen number again this year over an eleven month period. Reflecting back on those memories, I feel humbled to have been able to travel to eye opening and diverse places such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey and Iran. I also realised that travelling isn’t a numbers game and enjoyed returning to the familiar shores of UK, France and Italy. More importantly, I feel blessed to have met some awesome and inspiring people who have contributed to my own personal growth and influenced my own outlook on life.
This year, I’ve been more focused on the photography side of things and I’d like to think that I’ve improved my craft somewhat. Despite planning a lot of shoots around sunrises and sunsets, I’ve still had my fair share of delicious and memorable food moments involving new and old friends. As I reflect on the year, it’s these moments that soot to top of mind, not the sunrises in Bagan or the midnight sunsets on the Isle of Skye (although they were still pretty cool). It’s those moments when seated at the table or on the ground and connecting with others (and the odd occasion by myself) over a meal that have had the most profound impact on how I’ve enjoyed my time in a special place.
Anybody who has been following the blog closely would have noticed that I haven’t been as true to the food content as the blog name Jimmy Eats World would allude. Before I left, I always thought that food would be the driving force, the destination or the answer to what I would end up doing with my life. However, as I’ve progressed along this year, recognising and pursuing my creative passions, my love of food still hadn’t dwindled – I just haven’t showcased it in the way that I had originally intended to.
What happens next year, I’m not 100% entirely sure. I have pretty vague plans that involve coming home to Australia for a visit and even that is subject to change. Recently, I’ve had so many thoughts and ideas on which direction in life that I want to take and that I’m now at the point where I’m feeling positive and confident enough in my abilities to finally take a leap of faith. The plan is to launch a new blog focusing more on travel photography and also offering my services in photo retouching. I’m at the point where I’m confident of making some sort of income off the knowledge and experiences gained over the past two years of travelling, which is the main reason as to why things have been a little quiet lately. There’s a lot of risk and uncertainty involved, but what I do know is that 2015 will be a year of focus, experimenting, making mistakes and learning a hell of a lot.
I want to thank each and every one of you who have showed support for the blog this year. More of you have read and commented on my stories, liked me page on Facebook and Instagram, purchased my photos and even took time to write both positive and negative emails throughout the past year. It’s what keeps me doing what I do and each day I seem to discover something new about myself and realise how travelling can be a powerful force of change in one’s life.
That said, I’d like to share in no particular order, some of my favourite food moments from each country visited this year that has made made 2014 such a memorable one.
Friends in Phnom Penh
After a short “holiday” back in Sydney over December/January, I touched down in Phnom Penh where I spent just over a week with my friends Mick and Madz who were working there. For the duration of my stay, we spent it eating street food at the markets, slurping up hot pots and downing cans of Leo beers during the warm evenings. Madz is pretty quite handy in the kitchen and I enjoyed many of her home cooked Khmer meals. My favourite was this delicious meal of roast pork BBQ. It was also in Cambodia where I discovered the pork and rice breakfast and enjoyed it probably every day I was in Cambodia.
Crabbing it up in Kep, Cambodia
After a few days on the Island of Koh Rong Island, I met up with Mick and Madz again in Kep. I had heard of this place prior to arriving and knew of the crab market, so I was looking forward to an onslaught of sweet and delicious crustaceans meat. Over a course of a day and a half, we pretty much made the crab market our second home and ate crab for lunch, dinner and lunch the following day. At $5 per kilo, we’d select each crab and the store owners would cook it up immediately. Served with Kampot Pepper – the king of peppers and a squeeze of lime, it proved that sometimes, the simple things in life can also provide the most delicious memories. Definitely the favourite of food moments in Cambodia.
A cooking class in Luang Prabang
I’ve tried to take a cooking class in each country I’ve been to but somehow failed to do so in most countries due to scheduling and not getting my arse into gear as the good ones are always booked out in advance. One class that I did though was in Luang Prabang through Tamarind restaurant.
I was a little disheartened with the lack of national pride that some of the Lao restaurants had in their cuisine while I was there (yes I was in a few tourist locations). Most restaurants, when perusing through the menu, would have hamburgers, pasta and pizzas as I opened the menu, followed by a small hand full of Lao food at the back. I knew that there was more to Lao food than pork noodle soup and sticky rice so I enrolled into the cooking class with a number like minded food lovers and enjoyed a morning of market exploration, learnt the nuances of Lao cooking, prepared and cooked three mouth watering dishes.
I gave up coffee I quit my job as it reminded me of the three double-macchiatos that I would drink each day as an excuse to escape the office. Having arrived in Vietnam though, I just had an urge to drink coffee again – not just cafe sua da (sweetened with condensed milk), but yogurt coffee, and egg coffee which is unique to Hanoi. Tea and coffee drinking is a a daily ritual in Vietnam and these two coffees, with unique and different flavours and textures was a revelation for me. Definitely one item to to add to the list of things to try when in Hanoi. If you want to make egg coffee for yourself, there’s a recipe on Legal Nomads that is simple to follow.
Bun Cha – Food moment of the north.
When people ask me what they should eat first in Hanoi, my immediate response is Bun Cha. It’s the first thing I ate and I can’t think of anything else to best introduce visitors to the capital cuisine. Walk around the streets of the Old Quarter mid mornings and the scent of pork patties and marinated pork belly slices grilling over the street side grills is enough to throw you into a feeding frenzy. The pork comes submerged in a bowl of clear sweet and sour broth as well as huge plate of herbs which is as much of an ingredient and not as a garnish. I’ve never found bun cha as good as the ones in Hanoi, but truth be told, I don’t want to.
A hillside wedding at Cat Cat village in Sapa
In April, I spent three weeks volunteering in Sapa. On my first full day there, I was invited to a traditional wedding party in a H’mong village just outside of town. Sitting on tiny wooden stools, we feasted on sticky rice, braised meats, blood sausages and other unusual cuts of meats that I couldn’t recognise due to the poorly lit room. No wedding is complete without the celebratory booze so litres of home made rice were passed around whilst we were toasting every couple of minutes.
Cooking a school dinner for thirty people in Sapa.
During my time volunteering, word had gotten around that I enjoyed cooking and was asked to cook dinner one evening for the school children and staff. I agreed to it without any hesitation, but soon realised the huge undertaking as I’d never cooked for over thirty people before. I decided to deviate from the usual rice, soup and boiled meat and cook a bolognese – something none of them had ever tried before. I ended up recruiting on of the other volunteers as well as two curious students as kitchenhands, and despite blowing the $20 budget by pitching in another $20 of my own money, it turned out to be a success. I wonder if any of them have asked for it again?
Mohinga in Myanmar.
Mohinga was the first thing that I ate in Myanmar without understanding the significance of the dish. It’s IS the national dish of Myanmar and is on the menu of most restaurants and street vendors. A fragrant dish with noticeable flavours of lemongrass, onions, garlic and fish, I tried both the soup and a dry version minus the soup that was served cold. I could have eaten this for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. It’s Myanmar in a bowl.
Mien Luon – Crispy eel noodle salad in Hanoi
I found out about this dish through Jenny Miller, a food writer from the USA and was onto something when she said it was one of her favourite dishes, so I had to try it. I’m a massive fan of textures in food, especially in noodle salads – Vietnamese salads are all about contrasting textures and flavours for me. I get instant mouthgasms when the soft noodles and salad, bathed in a nuoc mam sauce, is mixed in with the crunchiness of pickles, cucumbers and also in this case, deep fried baby eels. There’s nothing fishy about this dish and it’s one that I think of a lot and can’t find in Saigon.
Family time in Scotland.
In June I decided to escape the hot and rainy season of Vietnam to chase the European summer. I was lucky to fly into a 25 degree celsius heat wave in Edinburgh where my sister and her family were living. I hadn’t seen my nieces or heard their developed Scottish accents for a while, so it was great to escape the humidity and afternoon storms of Vietnam and enjoy a protein rich diet in the form of steaks and salads, along with the odd craft beer, spritz and whiskey.
The crepe to rule all other crepes in Paris.
Until I arrived in Paris, I had only had sweet crepes that I was never been a fan of. It wasn’t until a rainy day in Paris, whilst walking through the local market that I discovered the savoury ones. This particular stall was about to close but the chef was happy enough to pull some ingredients out of the fridge to whip up a ham, caramelized onion and cheese crepe. For the next five minutes, I sat there as my mind was being blown with each mouthful while everybody was packing up around me and probably wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
A birthday cake in Provence
It was my birthday in July and I wanted to make sure that I spent it with familiar faces. I hadn’t seen Elise for about ten years, nor met Benoit, her husband, but they both allowed me to stay in her home in Provence for five days during my birthday week. It was also the first bed that I had slept on in six weeks, so it was more than I could ask for. Benoit is a keen photographer as well so we got to go on some crazy photo adventures involving climbing waterfalls and dodging lightning and hail storms amongst the lavender and sunflower fields of Provence. On my birthday, Elise cooked up a feast for dinner, including a kick arse red berry meringue which topped of the most excellent time in France.
A personal food tour of Florence.
There aren’t many places where you can catch up with friends who also offers food tours. I was in Florence for nearly a week and caught up with my friend Romina who not only runs a hostel, but also shares her passion for Italian food by hosting food tours of the the markets and local patisseries. Her knowledge of Italian food not just from Tuscany but throughout the entire country was unquestionable, and her relationships with the shop owners were impressive as I have never seen anybody so popular and loved by the shop owners as much as Romina. Needless to say, at the conclusion of the tour, I didn’t eat for two days as we ate plenty of pork, truffled goods, cheeses, balsamic, jams, bread, and washed it down with a few glasses of prosecco. This ranks as the most epic of food moments in Europe for me.
Stuffed mussels in Istanbul
I was in Istanbul for six days but I didn’t try the stuffed mussels, sold at nearly every street corner until the third day. At first I thought they were just ordinary mussels that were sold under the punishing midday sun, but after being convinced by another traveller that they were the best thing he’s ever tried, I decided it was time to man up even though I was leaving for a twelve hour overnight bus ride the following day. Instead of trying one, I had five of them.
Climbing a mountain in Iran.
I didn’t plan on spending much time in Isfahan but my a gentleman who ended up taking me on a guided tour for the day, introduced me to Afsaneh, a local who was learning English. She ended up showing me around and we also went for a hike up Mount Sofeh on my final day. Prior to the hike, we had a picnic at the foot on the mountain where she made Persian dolmeh: vine leaves stuffed with rice, beef, mint, parsley, onions, garlic, tarragon and raisins. Served with a cucumber yoghurt and a tomato salsa, it was one of those meals that weren’t readily available in restaurants and a reason why I’ll go back to Iran – to seek out more of those home cooked meals.
Silken Egg Tom Yum in Bangkok
Whenever I want to find a good meal then I just ask a local. After trying to convince me to go to a shopping mall for food, I asked the woman at the hostel reception where she personally would go for her favourite meal. That’s when I found out about egg tom yum. Similar to the seafood version, it was fragrant with distinct flavours of lemongrass, lime and galangal. Instead of seafood though, an omelette cooked to the point where it was on the brink of being too runny is added into the broth to be finished off, leaving it silky in texture as it arrived at the table.
Noodles with texture in Saigon.
I went through eight months travelling through Latin America and deprived of any Vietnamese food. All I could think of was Pho and when I arrived in March, I couldn’t get enough of it. When I arrived in Saigon in October, I was amazed at the variety of noodle dishes that I had never tried before and since then, I’ve been exploring the multitude of noodle soup variations around the city.
What are your favourite food highlights for 2014? Let me know by posting in the comments section below or on Facebook.
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