5 things I miss about London

We have been living in Brunei for a little over three months now, which means we are halfway through our time here.  It’s fun and all but I won’t deny that there are some things I miss about home (in no particular order):

  1. My Chums.
    Happy, shiny people who I love.  Enough said:

    This was taken at our big fat Indian wedding by our very talented photographer, Jack Hoyle. http://www.jackhoylephotography.com
    This is one my favourite shots of our big fat Indian wedding taken by our very talented photographer, Jack Hoyle. I love how the shot is a little blurry and out of focus as it reflects on the drunk, happy mood so very well!  http://www.jackhoylephotography.com

  2. Fresh Milk.

    Got milk?
    Got milk?

    You can get fresh milk in Brunei but it’s ludicrously expensive and so Hubs and I are having to get used to the taste of UHT.  The other issue I have with milk here is that not all coffee shops stock low-fat or skimmed milk, which has led to some seriously irate mornings when Hubs and I can’t get that caffeine fix.


  3. Walking
    I love walking around London- it’s the best way to explore and get to know the city.  If there’s a choice between getting the tube and walking, I’d probably walk.  In Brunei however, not all roads come with pavements, which means it isn’t even possible to nip to the local grocery store on foot as the nearest one is more than a mile away and would require rising life and death crossing the roads to get there.


  4. Posh Nosh. 
    I am a total foodie.  I love eating out and London has no shortage of options. Brunei, on the other hand, has loads of restaurants where you can get all the fried chicken you want and then some.  There are a couple of really great sushi restaurants and of course the delicious nasi lemak is served everywhere BUT what you won’t find is gourmet cuisine.  gourmet


  5. Boozeries
    Those of you who keep up with my posts will know that the sale of alcohol is forbidden in Brunei although Hubs and I found a speakeasy in a hotel where you can get an ice cold beer.   We keep a pretty well stocked bar at home and, as I’ve said before, drinks out on the balcony are great but could someone just please take me to an over-priced bar and get me a proper drink?

    I'll have three olives in that please
    I’ll have three olives in that please

Aloo Gajar Sabji

I’ve always been a fan of the simple things in life, especially when it comes to food.  Others can keep their weird and wonderful vegetables- okra, bitter gourd, snake gourd etc. I’m happiest with a carrot.  Add some potato and you’ve got a party-in-your-mouth sort of situation.  So, having been away from mum’s cooking long enough to really miss it I decided to make a punjabi dry curry, “Sabji” with potato “aloo” and carrot “gajar”: “Aloo gajar sabji”.  Here’s how I did it:

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 Tbs Olive Oil

1 tsp Cumin Seeds

1tsp Coriander Seeds

5 – 6 Garlic Cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 Large Onions, peeled and diced

4 – 5 Medium Sized Carrots, chopped into 1cm cubes

2 Medium Sized Potatoes, chopped into 2cm cubes

3 tbs Grated Ginger

1 Medium Green Chilli, chopped (or to taste)

1 tbs Salt

1/2 tsp Tumeric

1 tsp Garam Masalla

Coriander to garnish.

Method

Tip: Start by chopping everything so that it is ready for when you need it.

onion garlic

chopped potato

ginger

  1. Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot on medium heat.  Add the coriander seeds and cumin seeds whole.  If you prefer to grind in a mortar and pestle then that works too.  Fry for about a minute until you can smell the spices cooking.spices
  2. Add the garlic and mix up with the spices.  Fry for about 2 – 3 minutes.garlic frying
  3. Once the garlic is nice and golden in colour add in the onions.  Mix it all up and allow the onions to cook on a medium heat, with the lid on for about 10 minutes until golden.
  4. Once the onions are golden in colour add in the grated ginger and chilli and stir well.  Also add the salt and turmeric and mix everything together.  It should have a nice orange colour but careful not to add too much turmeric as you don’t need it to glow in the dark!
  5. Add the potato and mix well.  Put the lid back on for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.  If the mixture starts to stick to the bottom add a tablespoon of boiling water and turn down the heat.  You want the potatoes to be about half-cooked before you add in the carrot.
  6. Once the potatoes are starting to soften add in the carrot and mix everything evenly.  Put the lid back on the pot and allow to cook for about 10 – 15 minutes on a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. Again be careful not to let it stick to the bottom of the pot.
  7. You’ll know it’s ready when the potatoes and carrots mush easily under your spoon.  Add in the garam masalla and carefully stir into the sabji.
  8. Garnish with coriander and serve hot with chapatis, tortilla wraps or pitta bread.  Greek yoghurt on the side is good too. DSC04788

Starving in Kuching

Kuching, Malaysia; an old colonial city which is named after the Malay word for cat.  Not sure why.  Situated on Kuching River it has a gorgeous promenade with views of the architecturally interesting (is it a hat?! is it an umbrella?!) New Sarawak State Legislative Building.

State Assembly

You’re in the mood for a bit of old school architecture.  You’ve been longing for a nice breezy walk along the riverbank, making stops for ice cream and beer and trying out new foods, after all that’s what Kuching is known for; the food.  Getting here from Brunei was easy too, a bit of a drive drive, short flight and shorter taxi ride.  So the Hotel (Grand Margherita) isn’t anything to shout about but it’s close to the City Centre and breakfast is included.

Never, ever have you had such terrible luck with breakfasting at an hotel.  On your first morning you arrive to breakfast at 9ish and the hostess (generously) offers you a ‘shared table’ with a family of 3.  One quick look at the mid-tantrum-snot-covered-toddler throwing chicken sausages on the floor and you graciously decline.  So maybe not that graciously but she got the message.  10 minutes later you manage to find your own table.  It’s littered with dirty plates, more chicken sausage and covered in omelette, which you get cleared away.  You delicately place your cardigan over the back of a chair and leave your room key on the table- an international sign to show that the table is taken, or so you thought, When you return with a cup of weak tea, dry toast (having been informed that the butter supply has finished) and a couple of the ubiquitous chicken sausages you find a cheeky old man has commandeered your table.  Unbelievable.  You make it clear that this is your table, that’s your cardigan and your room key and that you’re not looking to share.  The waitress sees the commotion and takes him away.  So then you and Hubs play tag team at keeping the table occupied in case any other usurpers are lurking in the midst.

One bite of the chicken sausage and you understand that wretched toddler’s plight.  A waiter appears with what must be the last mini-butter in the establishment that was obviously tucked away in some deep corner of the fridge, judging by the temperature.  Hubs queued for an omelette; took 20 minutes.  A few mouthfuls later you’ve both had enough and decide that it just isn’t working.  So you leave with an empty stomachs.

You decide to head for the nearest, biggest mall.  There must be food to be eaten there and you’re in luck.  There’s a Starbucks.  Hello, civilisation!

starbucks

After your second (but really your first) breakfast of the day you venture round the small city.  there are some pretty sights including an old Courthouse; being a bit of an expert on British Courts you can say with some certainty that it is finer than any County Court in England and Wales.

Law Building

You take a little cruise along the river and pass the State Assembly and an old dockyard left behind by the old white rajahs, in ruins, which somehow makes it more beautiful.

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The next day you get to breakfast just as it’s opening up.  Smartest thing you’ve ever done- not a single person queuing for omelettes.  You embark on a trip to Indiatown.  It’s pretty much boarded up because of Ramadan. So much for buying your mum some pretty silk.  Also means that you’re stuck for lunch and dinner as it seems everyone is celebrating with their loved ones.  Turn out all those lovely food stalls along the promenade are shut too.  Having walked round the city three times and not found a single place open for lunch you and Hubs are getting pretty hangry.  You’re ready to settle for a KFC but even that’s shut.  Unprecedented.  So you walk up to the nearby Chinatown and thank God for the Chinese.

china town

Living the dry life.

You’ve been living in a dry country, Brunei for almost four weeks.  Of course that doesn’t mean you’ve been living the dry life for four weeks because the import of alcohol is still allowed. So you went on your first ever booze cruise; you and Hubs went over the border into Malaysia, popped into a nice looking shop not far from Customs and found the place ridden with booze tourists all out in the sun, drinking.  At 10AM.  I guess it’s been more than four weeks for them so no judging here.  Well, maybe a little judging.  Hubs goes for the sixteen pack of canned beer but you’re there for something else and you find it for a bargain £13: Tanqueray Gin. Back at Customs you have to fill in a little orange slip declaring your intoxicating contraband.  There’s a bit of a queue here as one can imagine but it’s worth it.

As good as a beer out on the balcony on a hot day is, and oh my, it is good; it doesn’t quite fill the void of a great British pub or even a rubbish British pub for that matter.  You miss the sad looking furniture, sticky carpets, grumpy bar staff and not to mention the soggy fish ‘n’ chips. Oh for a packet of crisps and a glass of stale wine!

So you get researching online and several clicks later you hear a juicy rumour; In a small hotel, which is a little bit out of the way of town there is a secret bar. A Speakeasy! Not one of those pretentious London bars that popped up a few years ago and you never quite understood the fuss about but a real Speakeasy of the legally forbidden sorts.   You call the hotel for a bit of fact-checking.  Or rather you make Hubs do it: “Oh hi, is The Lounge open?” he asks, “Who are you and where are you calling from??” asks the gnarly Receptionist.  A few moments later he is put through to another woman, a suspicious type but you’re proud to see Hubs stand up to the interrogation and he obviously passed the test because the call ends with him being told that last orders are at 10PM.  Straight to the hotel you go where you’re greeted by yet another surly woman asking what you want “The lounge?” you say.  “Go ask at second floor!” she snaps.

At the second floor two young women are sitting aimlessly at a table in the hallway.  You look over at them and ask for The Lounge.  They point you in the direction of a room at the end of the hall.  Your heart is racing by this point. You walk along the hall, passing a number of guest rooms and arrive at the end of the hall.  You pause and look around as you get the feeling someone is watching you.  Creepy.  Suddenly a door opens and a Chinese man beckons you into his room.  In you go and at once you notice the sticky floor.  Through the cigarette haze you make out tired and old furniture, it’s definitely on the sad side. You find a couple chairs and a woman behind the bar looks up but doesn’t bother taking your order.  No matter as, a few minutes later, a waiter comes over with two chilled beer glasses, filled to the brim.  There’s even fish ‘n’ chips on the menu! Welcome back, Friday nights down the pub!

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Supermarket Sweep.

For some inexplicable reason it is always the case that when you’ve filled your trolley to the brim and carefully select what appears to be the fastest moving queue at the supermarket you inevitably get it wrong.  Even when you move across the world the situation is no better. Somehow, despite racing up and down the row of cashiers, surveying the amount of shopping per belt and the speed with which it is being bagged, you get it wrong.  You end up watching the cashier methodically retrieve every item the old couple before you have managed to heap onto the conveyor belt, study it, find the bar code, scan it, scan doesn’t work, so search again, spectacles on, tap in the number -beep! Onto the next.  It’s a slow process but you have to admire her ability to remain completely unfazed by all the huffing and puffing, and there is some serious huffing and puffing going on at our end of the conveyor belt. Some minutes (which feel like hours) later it’s your turn. You start to think about dinner that night, and lunch the next day and your mouth starts watering.  Then it suddenly strikes you! Despite having made various shopping lists, currently gathering dirt at the bottom of your handbag and having gone through each aisle half a dozen times you’ve somehow managed to forget salt.  Off you run to find the salt aisle.

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A few left turns later you reach the salt only your eye wanders off to its more interesting, sexy friend next door; Cumin. It doesn’t stop with Cumin, all her good chums are hanging around too: Ground Coriander, Mustard Seeds, Garam Masala, Turmeric… You hurriedly gather all the spices your good-little-Indian-girl arms can hold and run back to the till grabbing a small jar of salt on the way. The cashier picked up surprisingly good speed in the three minutes you’ve been gone and Hubs is lingering near the credit card machine but you shout “NO DON’T PAY!” and with that you throw down the bags of spices (and jar of salt) beaming at your spoils.  Dinner just got a whole lot better.

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At home you carefully unpack all the spices. Mouth watering again.  Then you look a little closer at the almost forgotten jar of salt.  “Funny looking salt” you think. You open the jar and pour a little out onto your hand and toss into your mouth.  That is definitely not salt but it does have a familiar taste and almost immediately you go back for more when three little letters on the side of the jar catch your eye: MSG.

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Hubs is going to love my cooking.  It’s going to get enhanced by about five times.