Absorbing the sights and energy of Saigon

I’ve been having a bit of a blog-holiday so apologies for being so quiet. But I’m back now and starting the new year (happy 2017 everyone) with tales of my recent trip to Vietnam and Thailand. My first time in Vietnam and I totally fell in love with the country – its people, food and unfolding story.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the largest city in Vietnam, although not the capital (that’s Hanoi in the north). In 1976 it was officially renamed Ho Chi Min City after the Communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. It’s still widely called Saigon, though, (especially by the Vietnamese) which it was under French rule when it was the capital of Cochinchina.

The sprawling city has a population of more than 10 million and it’s rapidly growing, too. This makes for a serious hive of activity, hectic traffic, an energetic and hardworking people and, on the downside, somewhat polluted skies which means most citizens wear masks on the streets. There’s something happening around every corner and a friendliness and energetic feel that’s catching.

Here’s what you have to do when in HCMC.

Shop in Ben Thanh Market

In the centre of the city this bustling, partly undercover market sells pretty much anything you could possibly desire. Exotic, fresh vegetables and fruit, live fish and shellfish in all shapes and sizes, clothes, jewellery, souvenirs. The highlight is the towers of great quality, cheap t-shirts to choose from – don’t leave without one – Vietnamese cotton is fabulous.

dsc01962

The greenness of an exotic vegetable stall

Take to the streets and view the stylish architecture

Saigon is a great city to walk around. The centre is quite small and the best way to see everything is on foot. Notre Dame is the city’s most famous landmark. Built from the 1860s to the 1880s, it’s a reminder of the French influence – all the building materials were brought over from France. Newly married couples and their entourages cluster around the cathedral for wedding pictures – it’s said to bring good luck. It seems that everyone wants their picture taken in front of Notre Dame.

img_4909

Notre Dame’s pinkness is iconic Saigon

Saigon is also home to the most beautiful post office I’ve ever seen – designed by French architect Gustav Eiffel, who the Eiffel Tower was named for.

img_4910

Post offices don’t get prettier than this

Ho Chi Minh himself takes pride of place in the square in front of the City Hall which was built in the early 20th century – some more of that Parisian flavour – the city is also known as The Paris of the East.

img_4925

Ho Chi Minh stands guard over the city

Eat Pho and drink coffee

When in Vietnam…eat Pho. It’s a traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, noodles, herbs and meat. It’s popular street food and it’s eaten any time of day – even for breakfast. Usually served with a plate of herbs on the side so you can add them to suit your taste. A deliciously, satisfying one-pot meal, one that I am certain to be making at home. Oh and there’s plenty of other street food on offer too.

Coffee is the most popular drink in Vietnam and coffee shops abound in the city, so no problem getting your caffeine fix as you explore.

img_4880

Traditional pho topped with fresh herbs

Visit the War Remnants Museum

Okay this isn’t the happiest thing you’re going to do in Saigon but I’m big on remembering and learning from history – something humans really aren’t that good at. This museum offers a pictorial record of the brutal Vietnam/American war and its aftermath. Some of the photographs are stunningly heart breaking and while the story is clearly told from a Vietnamese perspective the exhibits provide an almost overwhelming overview of this horrific time in Vietnamese history. Outside you can see the planes and the iconic Huey helicopter that I always associate with Vietnam. I’m too young to remember the war but one of my favourite songs is Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel which is possibly one of the most powerful songs ever written. Worth a listen.

1080735389

The Huey helicopters that flew in packs

Chill out at a roof-top bar

Get a different perspective on the city and enjoy a local beer (or a tasty cocktail) at the same time. Our hotel The Majestic (more of which later) has a lovely roof-top bar overlooking the Saigon River. The perfect place to relax and plan over a cold one.

img_4836

Cheers from on high in Saigon

Marvel at the traffic and master crossing the road

The traffic is kind of a tourist attraction in its own right. There are millions of motorbikes in Saigon (they say there’s 25 to each car – and there’s no shortage of cars) and they don’t stop at red lights and have no compunction about riding on the pavement. So you need to keep your wits about you wherever you’re walking. I diligently pressed pedestrian crossing buttons to begin with but a red light didn’t stop the traffic. The best way to get across the many-laned roads is to walk at a steady pace without hesitation (when the lights are in your favour obviously) and the traffic will avoid you. Yes, I know I didn’t believe it either, but it seems to work.

img_4887

The traffic is a spectacle to behold

img_4943

Even at night it never stops

Take a dinner cruise

I do love seeing  a city from the river and the Saigon River is perfect for a cruise. We hopped on board our junk Le Perle de l’Orient at 7pm and settled in at a window table to take in the view. And enjoy a nine-course set menu of delicious Vietnamese food.

img_4968

Large, juicy prawns served in a coconut

The modern part of the city’s skyline sparkles in different colours, making for beautiful reflections in the river.

img_4989

The Saigon night skyline and its colourful reflections

img_4962

A traditional lotus salad with prawns and pork

Where to stay

We stayed at The Majestic Hotel, perfectly placed on the riverside corner of Dong Khoi Street – one of the best shopping streets in the city.

Our room was plush and spacious, overlooking the Saigon River and the bustling streets below. The huge bed was made up with some of the best linen I’ve ever slept in, I was tempted to pack the duvet cover in my suitcase! (No, of course I didn’t.)

img_4942

The best linen in the world? Possibly.

The hotel has a lovely rooftop bar/restaurant and the fabulous breakfast spread is served on an open terrace overlooking Saigon life.

Service is welcoming and efficient and the hotel has a relaxed elegance and calm about it – most welcome after the bustling life at street level.

Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favourite part of the trip? I’d love to hear your recommendations – they’ll give me an excuse to return.

COMING SOON

Read about my stay at the fabulous Victoria Beach Hotel and Spa in the seaside town of Phan Thiet.

Loving the island life: hiking on the Isle of Wight

Today’s journey involves a train and a boat. My two favourite forms of transport so that’s a great  start. We’re heading to the Isle of Wight, the largest island in England which is set in the English Channel four miles off the Hampshire coast.

The ferry from Portsmouth took us across the Solent – a journey of 20 minutes towards island life and a weekend of hiking and relaxing. The island’s been a holiday destination since Victorian times – Queen Victoria built her much-loved summer residence Osborne House here and often came to visit with her family. It was also made popular by poets Swinburne and Tennyson.

In more recent times it’s become famous for hosting music festivals including the Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival. In 1970 Jimi Hendrix headlined and the festival attracted around 700,000 people – truly massive for the island with a population of only around 100,000. I can only imagine the chaos.

dsc01601

Sailing away from Portsmouth and its striking Spinnaker Tower

It’s amazing how crossing water – even on a short journey – makes you feel like you’ve arrived in a different world. A world that its residents are very proud of. And rightly so, as I soon discovered a beautifully peaceful island with plenty of history to absorb and sights to see.

Our final destination, a scenic drive from Ryde to the westerly side of the island, is Freshwater Bay House, a historic seaside Country House dating from the 1790s. It’s set on the cliff top with great views over the bay it’s named after.

dsc01627

Looking back across the bay to our home for the weekend

Freshwater Bay House is home to HF Holidays, a leading walking and activity holiday company. They’ve been going for over 100 years, so they really know their stuff and we were soon settled in and ready to find out where our hiking boots could take us.

After dinner (more of which later) our guides took us through the walks available for the next day so we could make our choices. There were three options, divided by difficulty, so you could pick the one just right for you – it is your holiday after all.

img_4328

The golden sunrise across the bay

An early start and a hearty breakfast and we were ready to set off.

img_4349

A fabulous plate of Eggs Benedict

Our first walk (in a group of 10) was guided by Martin. It was a comfortable ramble along wide, grass-cushioned paths, through wooded tracks and winding coastal paths.

img_4344

Ready for hiking with my comfy new HiTech boots

Our pace definitely got the blood pumping but I loved that there was always plenty of time to absorb the stunning, ever-changing views of countryside and sea – and to stop and take pictures (or laugh at the cows who posed so beautifully). I must have taken hundreds of them. Here’s a taster of our journey which took us from Freshwater Bay to The Needles and back via the towering Tennyson Monument.

dsc01632

Charming St Agnes Church is the only thatched church on the island

dsc01648

Sea views through the silhouetted cows

dsc01664

Love the signs along the way

dsc01683

The multicoloured cliffs of Alum Bay

dsc01689

A perfect view of The Needles through the lookout at The Old Battery

dsc01709

Perfect forest pathways to amble along

dsc01714

Shades of blues and greens as we head for home

All that fresh air and energy expended makes me very hungry. So it’s great news that the food at Freshwater Bay House is fantastic. The three courses menu offers dishes made using a lot of local products and with plenty of gluten-free options.

Farming is an important part of Isle of Wight life with plenty of sheep and cows everywhere. And it has a milder climate than the rest of the UK (with more sun) which makes for a longer growing season. Main crops are tomatoes, cucumbers and garlic – and there are even two vineyards.

I always look for Isle of Wight tomatoes in the supermarket – they’re so packed with flavour. So I was delighted with this starter. A colourful array of my favourite of fruits, with the yellow one stuffed with a deliciously silken asparagus mousse. Another thing on my “must learn how to make” list.

dsc01719

Tomatoes in all shapes and colours

The fish dishes were particularly great, including lobster, mussels and sole.

dsc01729

Local lobster with a mussel broth

dsc01612

Sweet sole on a bed of risotto

Always partial to a cheese platter, I did my duty and tried the local delights. And took a particular liking to the Gallybagger (I know, weird name for a cheese) which is cheddar-like and extremely tasty.

dsc01615

A delightful platter of local cheese to finish

On our second day we decided to do a self-guided walk. All it takes is a visit to the Discovery Room to plan your adventure. Once you’ve chosen your route you take the detailed laminated instructions, complete with photographs, detailed directions and suggestions of what to do along the way. With that and the great signage along the way, it’s impossible to get lost. Very impressive. We headed for the nearby town of Yarmouth.

dsc01734

All pathways are clearly marked and numbers

Enjoying very different scenery from the day before, we meandered through fields heading inland to the stunning Yar Estuary. I loved the myriad birdlife and peace and serenity on a beautiful, sunny autumn Sunday morning.

dsc01738

The beautiful Yar Estuary teeming with birdlife

dsc01748

Finding our way through the forest

dsc01750

The welcoming sight of boats as we approached the harbour

This was my first visit to the Isle of Wight and it was something of a revelation. More beautiful than I’d imagined with many paths to walk, views to take in and local lore to discuss. We were asked if we were from “the North island”, to which I didn’t know the answer. Turns out the answer’s yes – it’s the rest of the UK – the Isle of Wight is known by locals as the South island.

A fabulous place to get away from it all, live the bucolic lifestyle for a while and recharge the batteries. My new island paradise to escape to.

dsc01712

Getting back to nature and communing with sheep

I was a guest of HF Holidays on this weekend.

They organise all-in experiences with food and activities included. Breakfasts are hearty and delicious, tasty three-course dinners are made using local ingredients. Every evening you choose your sandwich filling for packed lunch the next day and raid the snack room for extras to keep your energy levels up while you’re walking. The snack room is quite a sight to behold!

Guides are friendly and knowledgable and eat meals with you. It’s very much a communal experience, an easy way to make new friends with plenty of me-time, too.

As well as walking HF Holidays also offer a range of leisure activities and cultural tours around the UK and in Europe.

hfholidays.co.uk

 

The many wonders of Catalunya’s Cistercian Route

I was going to call this Spanish story “Eating my way along the Cistercian Route” but decided that sounded rather greedy and most importantly it’s far from the whole truth. Yes, there was a lot of eating going on and very good eating it was, too, but there was so much more to explore and discover in the footsteps of the Cistercians.

The Cistercian Route connects the three monasteries of Santa Creus, Poblet and Vallbona. It’s a beautiful land about an hour’s drive from the region’s vibrant capital, Barcelona. The area’s a hiking paradise with its footpaths of 105 kilometres (the most in Europe) and, as I soon discovered, has amazingly warm and welcoming people, spectacular scenery and some very interesting traditions. Oh and there’s all the amazing food (and wine) of course.

We took to the road ready to explore. First stop Valls, which boasts a unique tradition as the birthplace of the human towers or Castells. The community comes together to rehearse three times a week and there are international competitions with serious rivalry. I was lucky enough to witness a rehearsal and was soon awed by the spectacle as people clamber over each other to create a towering structure. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such combined speed, flexibility, strength and dedication. Simply marvellous.

castellers-1

The amazing spectacle of human towers

At the restaurant Test  in the Hotel Class Valls we were served up a range of delightful dishes. Like this colourful pineapple carpaccio topped with melt-in-the-mouth Spanish ham and a zesty dressing.

img_3926

Pineapple carpaccio topped with succulent jamon

img_3933

Savoury and flavourful broth at its best

Another Catalan tradition involves calcots, which are sort of like a sweet spring onion. Their harvest is celebrated every year when they are cooked over fire and peeled and eaten by hand with a generous helping of romesco sauce. It wasn’t harvest time when we were there but I did tuck into tempura calcots which were tasty, sweet, juicy and crunchy. Worth going back for that big celebration, I reckon.

img_3962

The delicate sweetness and crispiness of tempura calcots

On to the first monastery in the puzzle. Santa Creus, which was founded in 1168, is amazingly well-preserved and provides a great insight into Cistercian life. The stories are fascinating and the sheer scale of the place and its grand architecture are entrancing, making it easy to imagine a life very different and somewhat magical.

dsc01315

The spectacular design of Santa Creus monastery

Just outside the imposing gates of the monastery is the cosy local – Restaurant Catalunya. We ordered our main courses and were then fed plate after plate of local specialities – soft and sweet ham, anchovies, tomato toast, aubergines, they just didn’t seem to stop coming. It was a real feast with the warmest of welcomes and plenty of the local vino – that’s the Catalan way.

img_3953

A classic paella with fresh seafood

With all the deliciously tempting food to enjoy it’s great that there are plenty of hiking opportunities. Time to burn off some of those calories. We headed up the mountain from Montblanc up to the abandoned L’Ermita Sant Joan. Rocky, winding pathways through the depths of the forest, made even more beautiful by the swirling mist, led us to what felt a bit like the top of the world.

img_4020

Peering through L’Ermita Sant Joan into the misty distance

A meandering descent and we headed for today’s lunchtime venue – Riudabella Castle. Yes, lunch in a real castle – just when you think dining can’t get any better. Riudabella has recently started offering accommodation in the form of large studio-style apartments with fabulous vineyard and forest views – providing the perfect retreat.

dsc01413

Take in the view from your castle on high

We tucked into an amazing lunch in the huge,magnificent dining room, starting with a beautifully colourful array of canapés. For mains a delectable leg of pork which had been cooking in the medieval oven for 15 hours – so succulent!

dsc01447

A table loaded with tempting tapas

img_4057

The tenderest of slow-cooked pork

For dessert a local treat awaited. This is called Gypsy’s Sleeve – a delightfully light sponge rolled with lashings of cream and topped with sugar. One of the tastiest puddings ever, imagine eating sweetly flavoured fluffy clouds.

img_4071

Soft, sugary, creamy…heaven on a plate

Poblet is the largest inhabited Cistercian monastery in Europe, so keep your eyes peeled for one of the resident monks as you wander its corridors. A huge rain storm erupted during our visit providing a dramatic atmosphere for our explorations.

dsc01473

The cloister’s courtyard in the pouring rain

From an ancient monastery it was time to take millions more steps back in history to the Espluga Caves. Take a walk through eerie caves with displays explaining Spain’s prehistoric past and the story of the humans who made these caves their home for thousands of years. It’s a ghostly and somewhat spiritual experience.

img_4077

Time to step even further back in history

And then to dinner at the Hostal des Disset Fonts in L’Espluga de Francoli. We ambled through the streets of the sleepy town to our destination – another warming experience of great local food and wine.

img_4081

The substantial goat’s cheese salad

One of the nicest starters I’ve had in a long time, the sweetness of the chilled melon soup was perfectly complimented by the saltiness of the Serrano ham. A marriage of Spanish flavours made in heaven.

img_4083

The perfect mix of saltiness and sweetness

img_4086

Simple ingredients perfectly cooked

Montblanc is known as the centre of the Cistercian Route. It was founded in 1163 by King Alfons I and a lot has happened inside its protective medieval walls. The legendary fight between St George (Sant Jordi) and the dragon is alleged to have taken place here and the day is celebrated every year with a festival and the exchange of flowers and books. I could have meandered its cobbled streets for hours – popping into one (or several) of the many bars, cafes and restaurants scattered along them.

dsc01518

Medieval terraces in Montblanc

And now it’s time for lunch again. My favourite part of this amazing trip with its myriad highlights was soon turning into lunchtime. And today cemented it. We wound our way up narrow mountain roads to the village of Fores where we were welcomed into the Mirador de Fores, another cosy little restaurant with far-reaching views from on high across to the sea.

dsc01568

The best village restaurant in the world…possibly

The chef’s passion was clear in his descriptions of every dish (even with my limited Spanish I could get that much). He had our whole menu planned and we started with the juiciest of anchovies atop tomato and olive bread. A rustic classic bursting with flavours.

img_4106

Anchovies on toast doesn’t get better than this

And then croquettes – described by the restaurant as the best in the world! A huge claim but a fair one, I’ve eaten my share of croquettes and these are definitely up there. Large, and packed with chunks of chicken and luscious sauce.

img_4109

The tastiest chicken croquettas

Next course was this clever assembly of black sausage, a vegetable tower of potato and onion and crunchy crackling on the side. One of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted – I’ve got to try to work out how to make it myself. Or go back there soon!

img_4114

My top Spanish dish of the year…well one of them certainly

And the good stuff just kept coming. Slow cooked shoulder of lamb that melted in the mouth, sweetly caramelised onions and a crunch of fried aubergine. Ingredients couldn’t get much simpler or produce a tastier result.

img_4117

A totally tempting trio for mains

We also sampled a local stew made from rabbit, snails and chicken, traditionally eaten by the workers on the land. Hearty fare designed to give you strength.

img_4124

A hearty traditional stew

Dessert was a luscious cheesecake served with nuts, preserves and local honey. Heavenly.

img_4128

Finishing off a delightful lunch with a delightful dessert

One of my Spanish colleagues on our trip through Catalonia introduced me to Orujo – basically the local liquor drunk as a digestive after an indulgent lunch. The appropriate way to finish off your feast that definitely helps with the digestion. Thank you Jose, a new Spanish tradition that I’ve embraced.

img_4135

Colourful local liquor at Mirador de Fores

img_4145

Here’s the team outside their fabulous restaurant

Phew, that was some lunch – I’d go back to Catalonia just to repeat the experience. Seriously.

A new day dawns and it’s hiking time again. Today we took in scenes from the Spanish Civil War – lookout points, foxholes, bunkers cleverly hidden in rolling hills. A sobering sight and reminder of Spain’s recent and somewhat brutal history. Final destination, the monastery in Vallbona de les Monges, the only female monastery in the region and it still houses eight nuns.

img_4202

Vallbona de les Monges and its monastery nestle in the valley

And then of course it’s lunchtime, in another sleepy village. Rocallaura Cafe was full of locals on a sunny Saturday and offered simple, tasty fare.

img_4224

Love colourful signage, a great welcome

img_4230

Onion bread has never tasted so good

img_4237

Sausage, potato, aubergine and jamon, Spanish simplicity at its best

img_4238

The joy of the menu del dia

Final stop on our Catalonian odyssey is Verdu. Famous for its handmade ceramics (love a Spanish ceramico), imposing castle and the Miro a la Taula.

Views from on high in the shadow of Verdu castle

Views from on high in the shadow of Verdu castle

What better way to encapsulate Catalonia’s many treasures than a last-night dinner celebrating the art, food and wine of Spain. At Miro a Taula you’re guided through two tastings. The art of Miro and his contemporaries, including Dali, Picasso, Calder, Chillida and Barcelo and the food they ate.

Fabulous tapas, great art and the opportunity to absorb it all in peace and without crowds, a truly unique experience. Followed by a delicious dinner in the gallery.

img_4280

Some of my favourite Spanish ingredients on a platter

img_4289

The zesty fig and pomegranate starter

img_4290

Melt-in-the-mouth lamb with apricots

img_4267

The dining area in the centre of the gallery

I think this is the longest blog story I’ve ever written. And that’s because there’s just so much to share with you about this party of beautiful Catalonia. What a journey it was.

img_4264

The Catalonian flag against the blue Spanish sky

I was a guest of the Catalan Tourist Board on this trip.

I flew to Barcelona on Vueling.com

Where to stay in Malton, Yorkshire: The Talbot Hotel

Continuing my series on Where to Stay on your travels, today we’re taking a mini break, heading north from London to Malton, Yorkshire.

The Talbot Hotel was originally built in the early 17th century as a hunting lodge and has traded as an inn since 1740. It was completely restored in 2011. Here’s why you should stay there.

The location

Set in the heart of the historic market town of Malton with its myriad shops and great food, it’s also only 10 miles from the North York Moors and 18 miles from the city of York. I love that you get the mix of country living – fresh air, peace and open spaces – as well as a bustling little town with great food shopping and a cookery school. Read more about what I saw in Malton here.

The views

Quintessentially English with green, rolling countryside as far as the eye can see. The hotel is set on a hill so you get a wonderful perspective on your surroundings and the rural world around you.

dsc01172

Yes, it really was this green, the English countryside at its best

The rooms

The beautifully decorated rooms are generous in size with a large, extremely comfortable bed, desk, separate seating area and lovely ensuite. I particularly loved the huge shower and its striking black and white tiles.

There’s a kettle and a range of coffee and tea including a lot of herbal brews – a refreshing cup of tea in the comfort of your room is always welcome.

Oh and the wi-fi’s really good – fast and reliable.

022

The breakfast

One of the absolute best things about staying in a hotel has to be breakfast time. I’m not usually much of a breakfast eater. I know, it’s the most important meal of the day, I just can’t manage it – unless I’m in a hotel, that is, and options are literally presented to me on a plate.

There’s a buffet offering of fruit, cereal and pastries and a menu of delights, too. The first morning I tucked into poached eggs and avocado on toast – heavenly.

img_3824

I love the combo of avocado and egg

On morning two I wrestled with my choices, ultimately abandoning one of my favourite breakfast treats – eggs benedict – for the delights of a full English. Thought I’d better sample the local bacon, sausage and black pudding and I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the fact that it wasn’t stupidly huge like they sometimes are and I managed to polish off the whole plate.

Okay, I admit it, I must be a breakfast eater, just not if I’m making it myself.

img_3862

The full English Talbot-style

The Cookery School

Not only can you shop for and eat amazing food in Malton, you can learn how to cook it too. The Malton Cookery School is allied to the hotel and is just down the road. We did a Yorkshire lamb workshop, which you can read about here. There’s a wide range of courses all held in a kitchen with fantastic facilities and knowledgeable, professional teachers. A really fun and educational way to spend a morning and you’ll come away inspired with new ideas to try at home. I promise.

dsc01174

The spacious kitchen is a pleasure to work in

The Wentworth Restaurant

We had a delightful dinner in the hotel’s Wentworth restaurant (there’s also the more informal Malton Brasserie which I didn’t have the chance to try out). The menu showcases local products and offered some intriguing choices.

Like this cheese and pickle starter. Smoked Ribblesdale mousse was served with pickled golden vegetables and mustard granola. One of the prettiest starters in a long time and great in flavour, too, with its soft cheesiness, crispy veg and crunchy granola.

img_3839

A different take on a classic English combo

I opted for some local scallops which were served with pork belly, black pudding, carrot and blood orange. I’ve experienced the scallop/black pudding thing before and it’s quite amazingly good. The small slivers of pork belly were tender and flavoursome and the carrot puree sweet and delicious.

img_3843

Scallop heaven partnered with black pudding

The fish main course option was roast North Sea halibut which was served with mussels, braised fennel, Jeera (cumin) sauce and coconut. The sweetest of fish with an elegant and subtle cumin-flavoured coconut sauce.

img_3845

Fish with a touch of the Asian flavours

As we’d spent the morning cooking and eating lamb I had a rare desire for a vegetarian dinner. Lucky for me there was the perfect dish on the menu. The fried potato gnocchi came with woodland mushrooms, peas and broad beans and a silken truffle cream sauce. The little towers of gnocchi were beautifully browned and slightly crispy – just the way I like them, and the pea, bean and pea shoot added greenness and sweetness. The perfect dinner dish after a meat-filled day.

img_3847

A delightful plate of indulgent gnocchi

Tonight we were going big – so dessert was on the cards. The options were too good to resist. The Valrhona Manjari chocolate marquise came with cherries in kirsch, cherry sorbet and pistachios. The perfect pudding in shades of purple.

img_3852

Who could resist this chocolate/cherry combination

Being not much of a dessert person I took on the responsibility of trying the local cheeses with this substantial artisan selection served with yummy sloe berry chutney, poached grapes and biscuits. All good stuff – and as for the poached grapes.

img_3856

Yorkshire is definitely for cheese lovers

The service 

From the warm and efficient welcome at reception to the friendly greetings and smiles from staff, great dinner service and the chatty barman in the cosy bar, everyone is clearly doing their best to make sure you’re happy. And they seem to be enjoying it too.

I felt at home at The Talbot from the moment I walked through the door. It has a warmth and comfort about it and is the perfect base for exploring this beautiful and delicious part of Yorkshire.

003

Looking up towards the lovely hotel


What to eat and where to shop in Malton, Yorkshire

Today we’re up in beautiful North Yorkshire in what is known as Yorkshire’s food capital – the lovely country town of Malton. It’s famous for its food festival, monthly food market, Malton Cookery School, traditional food shops and Made in Malton artisan producers. It’s also James Martin’s home town. So you can tell there’s a lot of foodie stuff going on here – simply the perfect place for me to visit. You can read about my fantastic Cooking with Yorkshire Lamb workshop by clicking here.

Malton has a population of around 13,000 and is kind of halfway between York and the seaside resort of Scarborough. A pleasant train ride from London and we were ready for some Yorkshire foodie discovery. As we say in South Africa local is lekker (good).

And it’s all certainly all local ingredients at the The Talbot Yard Food Court where the shops produce everything they sell on site.

The fabulous butchery Food2Remember is aptly named – I certainly won’t forget it in a hurry. Especially as I was offered some warm boerewors to try as I stepped through the door – well impressed with his recipe for my favourite South African sausage. In Yorkshire – who’d have thought?! As well as great local meat, there was also a cabinet of delectable pastry snacks.

dsc01214

Freshly made pies, pasties and scotch eggs

dsc01215

An amazing array of meat and home-made sausages

Groovy Moo is a cafe and gelataria – heavenly for ice cream lovers with all your favourite flavours and more. I loved the jammy dodger ice cream (how I love those little jammy biscuits).

dsc01213

Passione Della Pasta makes pasta daily and also had a fabulous array of local fruit vinegars on tap. I bought a bottle of the lovely raspberry and rhubarb – what a simple way to transform any salad.

dsc01223

Authentic pasta made fresh daily

dsc01222

Local vinegar in fruity flavours

There’s no shortage of bakeries in Malton, the aroma of baking floods the streets and there are plenty of tempting window displays. It’s a mouth-watering town to walk around.  Costello‘s in the market square is a family-run business with the motto: “We make our own and we do it all by hand”. The family history dates back generations with Fred Costello opening up his first shop after the war in 1945. Costello’s Malton is a more recent addition, having opened in 2014.

The range of pies available in  is mind-blowing!  And there are plenty of sweet treats to choose from and wonderful coffee, too.

img_3788

A marvellous selection of pie fillings

After much deliberation I chose this amazing barbecued pulled pork pie – love that there are contemporary options as well as the traditional offers.

img_3794

Meaty and luscious barbecue pulled pork

These are my favourite shopping discoveries in this wonderful foodie town. You can read more about it and where to shop at maltonyorkshire.co.uk.

THE LOCAL PUB

Even in these days of pubs closing at way too rapid a rate, Malton has a drinking few options. For dinner we visited The New Malton in the market square. It’s laid out over two rooms with a little bar and a warm welcome. The traditional menu offers plenty of local specialities.

Like the pork and herb sausage toad-in-the-hole with onion gravy. Well, you have to sample the Yorkshire pudding when in Yorkshire, don’t you?

img_3816

When in Yorkshire: traditional toad-in-the-hole

I love a good burger and couldn’t resist this steak burger with pancetta, Swiss cheese, dill pickle, coleslaw and home made chips. Made with top quality steak it had all the ingredients I love for a wonderful combination of flavours and textures.

img_3822

Or a burger made with best Yorkshire beef

What a wonderful foodie break in such a quintessentially English setting. And the reason I went there was because my recipe for tasty lamb koftas won first prize in the #lovelambchallenge. Click here for my two tasty lamb mince recipes.

lovelamb

We stayed at The Talbot Hotel in Malton. Read all about it in the next in my series of Where to Stay, coming soon.

The totally fabulous food of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a vibrant, bustling country with an amazingly diverse history and a wide range of influences that have made it into the fascinating place it is today.

There are delicious eating opportunities around every exciting corner, from the colourful street markets to the five-star hotels and restaurants. I even discovered several new dishes which became firm favourites. I’ll be testing out some Sri Lankan recipes myself at a later date and sharing them with you, so watch this space. You can read more about my trip to Sri Lanka by clicking here.

Now sit back and devour my pictorial tribute to Sri Lanka’s wonderful food.

There’s plenty of fruit on offer and the streets are lined with a seemingly endless supply of wonderful produce.

avocados

Love these huge, creamy avocados

Buffalo curd is a Sri Lankan delicacy. We visited a farmer who makes it by hand using milk from his buffalo herd and watched him stirring his concoction over a fire before pouring it into these terracotta bowls and letting it set. It’s tart and tasty and usually served with their deliciously sweet jaggery syrup.

dsc00356

Buffalo curd doesn’t get fresher than this

Restaurants serve up fresh crab in many shapes and forms. It looks beautiful with shells in pinky/ orange and tastes sweet and juicy.

buffetcrab

Fresh crab salad in the buffet spread

Dhal is a dish on offer with every meal – I loved it in my breakfast hopper (more of that later). Coconut cream adds a silky smoothness and richer flavour.

rsz_dhal

A bowl of spicy lentils

And here’s my personal favourite. From the first breakfast when I was directed to the hopper station I fell in foodie love with these crispy Sri Lankan-style pancakes and proceeded to create different versions every time I had one. Made while you wait with fried eggs nestling in the base, they really are a great addition to any mealtime.

2egghopper

Bring on the two-egg hopper

As Sri Lanka is an island you won’t be surprised to hear that there’s plenty of fresh fish to sample. One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Negomobo fish market. We got up before dawn to witness the boats coming in, fish being auctioned and even carefully portioned and sliced for sale to eager customers.

fishmarket1

The fish is filleted and sliced straight off the boat

dsc00764

A lady seller sorts through her live prawns selection

The markets are a buzz of activity and aromas, selling a wide range of exotic wares. There’s a lot of grains in Sri Lankan cuisine, here they are proudly on display.

dsc00145

Sackfuls of grain in the market

Here’s my favourite hopper combo – an egg topped with dhal, tomato relish,and  coconut and onion sambals. So yummy!

rsz_img_3126

Spicy hoppers make for a great breakfast

When you have such a cornucopia of fruit on offer, you’ve simply got to make juice. This colourful little juice bar on the street in Negombo offered a truly exotic choice. We sampled the nelli and avocado juices. Nelli is kind of like a gooseberry and the juice has a serious zing to it and leaves a bit of a tingle on your tongue. Something of an acquired taste I would say. I adore avocado so loved the juice, which was literally just avos pureed. As you can imagine, it was thick, creamy and beautifully rich – and extremely filling.

rsz_dsc00785

Ordering juice is quite an experience in Sri Lanka

If you’re feeling thirsty on your journey there are stalls everywhere selling King coconuts. The top is lopped off for an instant, portable drink that’s full of electrolytes – ideal for rejuvenation on a sultry Sri Lankan day.

dsc00123

One unique Sri Lankan experience I was lucky enough to experience was lunch in the chena overlooking fields of okra, chilli and tomatoes. These shelters are dotted around the lands and used by farmers to watch their crops from and prevent wild animals from destroying them. The range of 10 colourfully tasty dishes were prepared for us by the farmer’s wife using local ingredients and served with an incredibly warm welcome.

dsc00386

A range of tasty traditional dishes to tuck into

Little roadside cafes are a great place to stop for lunch. There’s no menu, you’re simply brought what’s on offer that day. We tucked into a selection of vegetable dishes including the best tempered potatoes, a sweet carrot dish, dhal and onion relish served with smaller portions of fish and chicken and, of course, rice.

img_3125

A relaxed lunch on our road trip

I had the privilege of enjoying several cooking presentations which is why I’ve learnt lots of new recipes to share with you. As I said, watch this space. Here are some of the exotic spices I’ll be cooking with.

dsc00487

Sri Lanka’s spices are a joy to cook with

Of course Sri Lanka is also the land of tea – one of my favourite drinks. So I made sure I sampled plenty of it. I also visited the beautiful highlands around Nurawa Eliya with its emerald tea terraces as far as the eye could see and the delicate aroma of tea flavouring the air. Total tea heaven.

rsz_1img_3283

The tea pluckers are out no matter what the weather

I loved the flavours and aromas of Sri Lanka. And the freshness of all the ingredients. A wonderful foodie paradise.

I was a guest of the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotions Bureau on this trip.