Rick Stein did us a massive favour by doing a programme that focused, almost exclusively, on the area that we specialise in. Apart from Laos, all our bases were covered – Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and of course, Thailand. A big ‘thank you’ to Rick then, as we saw a definite increase in inquiries from the sort of people keen to do something a little different and sample the true flavours of the region – something which we can deliver!
I also think we are well placed to review the show and watched it with great interest. Not only do we know the countries very well, but we are all fairly greedy and get thoroughly over-excited by the thought of South East Asian food. We also know a few of the characters featured in the programme and all of the hotels featured.
Overall, I thought Rick Stein and the production company did a superb job. I know the area extremely well, but it certainly re-ignited my passion and got my taste buds rocking. In fact, I had to remember to try and eat before watching it as the hunger just became too intense otherwise. Even then I had to resort to a post watch take-away from the local Thai establishment…
Rick himself seemed knowledgeable and passionate and was not afraid to leave himself open to local criticism – there was a lovely moment when he asked his Vietnamese guide what she thought of his Pho (Vietnamese Soup) and she thought for a moment, unsure of the etiquette and finally said ‘too much fish sauce’! He really communicated his passion and I thought, in general, they chose the dishes to feature brilliantly in the limited time they had. I liked the way there was a big focus on the ingredients themselves – lots of market visits, fishing trips and so forth. It really captured the fun of looking for produce in Asia and the integral relationship between a place and what they eat.
I thought the best programme was possibly the one focusing on Cambodia, though I also thoroughly enjoyed Vietnam and the link between the two countries. We explore this route on our Cambodia to Vietnam via the Mekong tour. Cambodia is probably the least well known of the region’s cuisines, and I have to admit that, despite having been several times, I learnt a great deal from the programme. Knai Bang Chatt is one of our favourite hotels in Asia and Kep is just a gem of a place. I loved the eccentric and knowledgeable Frenchmen and the story of Kampot Pepper. I particularly enjoyed the lady who stood guard to ensure guests ate all of her peppered crabs. The French colonial influence was explored in an interesting way, through the baguette factory and the programme focussed strongly on Tonle Sab – the beating heart of Cambodia and by far its most important food source. All the essential dishes seemed present and correct, from Kampot Pepper Crab to Amok Fish (to quote a customer of mine – visions of fish running around spring to mind), Lok Lak (beef curry) and a very sensible exploration of the basics of Cambodian curry pastes. Fantastic.
The least well-done country, in my opinion, was Sri Lanka. Again a little-known cuisine, but here I felt the basics were a little overlooked – namely the village based rice and curry, which, as every Sri Lankan will tell you, is the basis of their cuisine. Maybe it was just too obvious for the local contacts to mention! They did, however, have some great characters and that’s important as any visit to Sri Lanka is enlivened by an assortment of entertaining characters.
On the food side they got the periphery of Sri Lankan food fairly well. Hoppers, kottu rotti and Tamil crab were put in their correct context and done very well, though things like string hoppers, Lamprais and bread and Dahl might have got a mention. The fishing industry too was interesting and having lived in Sri Lanka for a few years and shopped pretty much daily in the local fish market, those scenes brought back memories. However, to my mind, the basic feature of Sri Lankan cuisine (certainly Sinhalese) is the Rice and Curry meal. Unlike countries like Thailand and Vietnam, Sri Lanka does not have much of a street food culture. The majority of great food in Sri Lanka is lovingly prepared at home and often served in various sessions to family and friends. It’s all about the taste, but also the colour and textures of the many curries, and additions, well mixed together with rice your fingers and this aspect of the food culture in Sri Lanka was sadly missing, though the rest of the features were interesting and entertaining.
We have devised a follow Rick Stein tour in Cambodia – and booked a few people already – do get in contact and bear in mind that Taprobane Island, featured in the Sri Lanka programme, is really not that expensive to hire – particularly if you have a large group!
All in all, though, I’d like to thank Rick Stein and the programme makers for doing a really interesting and genuinely in-depth programme on the region and of course, increasing our business!