Category: S E Asia

Cooking with Ping at Chi Kitchen

Chi Kitchen

a contemporary pan asian restaurant created as an exclusive departmental brand for Debenhams

The menu for Chi Kitchen has been created by Group Consultant Ping Coombes, 2014 MasterChef UK winner.

I was fortunate to be a guest at a masterclass with Ping on Sunday 20 March 2016 at the restaurant on the third floor of Debenhams, Birmingham. As I could take a plus one I dragged my husband along. There was food – he was not so reluctant tbh even early on a Sunday morning.

While I didn’t get on with SE Asia on my travels, I did get on with the food. The fusion of Malaysian cuisine particularly impressed me, with so many influences, from Indian to Chinese. The hot curries in Little India, KL and the delicious steamboat in the Cameron Highlands are particularly memorable.

When this invite to the masterclass popped into my inbox I was delighted. While I love SE Asian food I am not very confident when cooking it nor familiar with the ingredients or the techniques. And now I was going to learn from a MasterChef. How brilliant is that?

And that is why on a sunny Sunday morning I was meeting Ping in Chi Kitchen, Birmingham, desperately trying to hide my excitement at meeting an actual MasterChef winner. I am an avid watcher of TV cooking shows and I was a little bit star struck.

Ping was delightful. She warmly welcomed me and my husband Phil and she recalled that I had tweeted about the event. She remembered everybody’s names, which is a great skill.

We all had a welcome card, with details of the food we would be making during the masterclass.

The staff at Chi Kitchen were friendly and attentive. Water was brought out straight away, tea offered while we waited for the other guests and nothing was too much trouble for them.

Meanwhile Ping was securing a couple of glasses of bucks fizz for us.

The Executive Chef was already making Roti Canai for us to snack on.  Ping told us that we would be making it later on.

Never I thought, could we produce this in one lesson.

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We did. Well Phil did, he made the dough comprising of flour, water, condensed milk and sugar and did a decent job for a first attempt.

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I thought making the Money bags would be easy.

I have seen women making these in the food malls in Melbourne, they produce hundreds in a matter of minutes,  it took me 5 minutes to make one. Not going to be getting a job in a food mall in Melbourne anytime soon.

Then it was on to the Nyonya Salad with King Prawns.

Lots of individual ingredients, rice noodles, bean sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber, onions all into one bowl and massaged.

Add the chilli sauce and massage some more, and you are left with a salad that zings. Beats the limp lettuce and tasteless tomato salads that I was brought up on.

Once we had finished cooking, more food was brought to us. Everything was delicious.  Fresh, clean, spicy, a riot of flavours, yet delicate on the palate.

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To be able to eat food of this quality, in a department store, demonstrated just how the food scene in Birmingham is improving. As a child, my Grandmother used to take me to Lewis’s restaurant as a treat. This was when we had waitresses in black dresses and white aprons serve us. Proper posh.  Then department stores restaurants adopted the canteen style of cafes, offering chicken nuggets, congealed lasagne and chips.

Debenhams has realised that this no longer good enough for the discerning diner. The food offer in department stores needs to be more than a refueling stop for shoppers, in store restaurants need to be a destination to meet friends over lunch or after work. They have also realised that Birmingham is the place that this can work. We Brummies are foodies and we want great food.

Over the past few years I have observed Birmingham’s food scene getting better and better. While the councils PR and Marketing will always mention the Balti Triangle and how Birmingham has more Michelin starred restaurants than any other British city outside London in every press release, as will any London based journo who writes about Birmingham, there is a middle ground for us foodies. And I am not talking Mr Egg.

The Birmingham street food scene brought us Digbeth Diner. This showcases the best street food in Birmingham, including The Original Patty Men (which I have yet to experience) Meatshack dirty burgers and Andy’s Low and Slow, to name but a few of the many wonderful purveyors of amazing food

Indies started to fight back and it became easier to avoid chains selling identikit mextex when Bodega and Habeneros came on the scene. Urban and Six Eight gave Brummies decent coffee. Jake popped up in his telephone box, opposite Starbucks, selling great coffee, amazing sausage rolls and cake. Jake also gave us Tfor2, a way for his customers to pay it forward and buy a suspended coffee for rough sleepers.

A food scene was slowly and surely being established in Brum. Hoo flippin ray and about time too.

And all of a sudden it exploded, in a good way.

Birmingham has some excellent Tapas restaurants, the aforementioned dirty burgers from Meat Shack, innovative burgers at The Original Patty Men in Digbeth, great bread from Peel and Stone and Loaf. And then there is the innovative The Wilderness. Add to that the Michelin starred Adams, Purnell’s and Simpsons and the Birmingham Breakfast Club, Birmingham we have got food covered. Almost. There is still a shortage of mid priced good food that is not Beef Eater but I am sure we will get them soon.

With the opening of Grand Central, Brummies who may not have braved Digbeth for street food, Chinatown for SE Asian food, or tried tapas in Spain, are stepping out of their comfort zone of fast food and are experimenting with new food experiences. This is a good thing. Having tasted pho and lush pork belly tapas, in Grand Central I hope they will want to explore the street food scene, visit the Birmingham Foodies Festival or the Colmore Food Festival, showcasing the best food Birmingham has to offer.

The choice of food at Grand Central is staggering. Yes, they are chains, some small chains, some family run. Yet this is food we used to only be able to get in London. My personal favourites are Pho, Tapas Revolutions and Leon. There are eateries to meet the requirements for almost everyone in a safe environment, restaurants without doors in a shopping mall. It is a food court, a good food court, above a railway station. There are no toilets (if there are I’ve not found them yet) which for family dining is a nightmare. They are all busy, which is good for the retailers, yet one often has to wait in line to eat at Tapas Revolution and Pho.

Well now you don’t need to. Leave Grand Central, take a short walk to the Bullring and visit Chi Kitchen in Debenhams.

Attentive staff, authentic food, good music, open kitchen, uncrowded with a big picture window, clean toilets and no queues. Yet.

Disclaimer

I was a guest of Chi Kitchen. I was not asked to write about the experience, I chose to. I was not asked to say only lovely things  when I told them I would be writing about them. Ping is genuinely lovely. She told me to say that.

I am that easy to read am I? I just wanna have fun and want the same for my guests 🙂

All the photos were taken by Phil and me. Please don’t steal them.

And we got a goodie bag.

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand – floating lanterns, karaoke and underwhelmed

I read a lot of travel blogs. Many of the bloggers I follow love Thailand. I didn’t. Apart from one memorable meal (Basil chicken) at a small roadside establishment that our wonderful guide, Pong, took us to on the way to Krabi I can’t say that much of the food excited me in quite the way I had expected.

Food on the road to Krabi

The boat trip we took around the islands was touristy and crowded. It was too dangerous to swim, there were so many boats. It was relief when we were stranded in the bay of a small island for an hour when the boat ran out of fuel. There was just our boat and we were delighted to get away from the crowds.

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I hated Bangkok and KL. There I have said it. Thailand left me cold. Malaysia too. Exit some followers of this blog.

Lighting the lanten

And it seems that the thing to do in Thailand is to release a floating lantern. En mass at festivals such as YI Peng in Chang Mai, and just about every night on a beach in Thailand.

Releasing the lantern

On the beach in Krabi, Pong invited us to light one. I was uncomfortable with it then, but, I was part of a group and didn’t want to be a kill joy. I had had a scary experience with one back in the UK when driving late at night when a lantern floated right in front to the car and I nearly crashed. On another occasion a friend released one on New Years Eve and it got caught in the telephone wires attached to her house and set the wires alight. I thought they were dangerous then. I also knew that they caused litter and endangered wild life. But on this occasion, on the beach at Krabi in February 2012, I said nothing.

Lantern floating

Now I would speak up and walk away.  And this is why.

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This fire, in Smethwick in the West Midlands was started by one lantern.

And if this is not enough of a reason to make you think twice about releasing lanterns, consider the environmental damage.

owl-lantern

Thailand was not for me. That said, I do have one particularly happy memory of Krabi. Vodka buckets and karaoke.

Phil singing

There are no photos of me, to my knowledge. I did find one of my husband though!  And Sean, if you are ever up for singing with me again, it will be Hollywood Musicals in New York next time.  How do you solve a problem like Maria? Sing of course!

Get me outta here!

Friends. The other one about Social Media.

Batu Caves Thaipusam 2007

Just over a year ago I started following two people on twitter. Very different people. One was @JDEntrepreneur the other @thevicarswife.

I liked the feisty tweets from @thevicarswife and really admire the work she and her extended household are doing in a very deprived area of Sandwell. Her blog is really brilliant. You can find it here.

When she knew I would be visiting Malaysia she invited me for tea at The Vicarage. I remember the day vividly. Her three children were in dressing up clothes jumping down the stairs. I immediately felt at home as much of my childhood was like this, when I wasn’t living up a tree! At the Vicarage there is always tea and lots of homemade cake. Yet it was four months later that I was able to realise the real value of the friendship.

I was in Kuala Lumpur and hating it. Really hating it. Phil and I had joined a G Adventures tour travelling overland from Singapore to Bangkok. We’d been on the road for three months in first world countries so Malaysia was a bit of the shock to the system. There were some great people in the group. And one that everyone found difficult. Ugh Oh I shall call her. Our tour guide, Pong, had been mugged outside our horrible hotel. And the previous night we had eaten horrible food in a fake American bar. This wasn’t the Colours of Asia I had been expecting.

We had been to the Thaipusam festival in the Batu Caves. Phil, Kelly, Sean and I found it so disturbing we had fought back through the crowds, back on to an even more overcrowded train and gone back to the hotel. We were all exhausted and a bit teary. On top of the tension in the group caused by Ugh Oh, which was getting seriously difficult by then, the day had just about finished us off. So I tweeted @thevicarswife. ‘Help hating KL need authentic place to eat’. Within 30 minutes she had contacted her friends in KL and had a recommendation. Koon Kee’s Great Wonton on Petaling street. When we eventually found the place, and that is another story for another day, we had some wonderful food and the Carling Girl had never been so busy. That night, Two Dinners Sean, Phil and I began our baby saving mission in South East Asia. Thanks to @thevicarswife.

So how does @JDEntreneur fit in to all this. He intrigued me as a then 19 year ol entrepreneur. He said some daft things sometimes (who doesn’t) and I often picked him up on his grammar and spelling, yet one couldn’t deny that he was a hard worker, inspiring young people to set up businesses. This is his blog about social media. I would urge you to read his others, too.

And this is the conversation between us on twitter.

Jamie Dunn ‏@JDEntrepreneur

Got to write my next column for @Birminghammail tonight… listing some topics to cover. Anything you think should be added?!

Expand

@JDEntrepreneur @birminghammail supporting independent retailers, stalking tweeters? marketing and social media

@travellingcoral done. Have a read as I’ve mentioned our brief meeting!

5:37 PM – 14 Oct 12 · Details
I was that stalker person. Regular readers will know I like indie coffee shops with WiFi. I was visiting Brewsmiths near Snow Hill Station. It was the first time I had been there. Had no idea that Jamie Dunn ‏@JDEntrepreneur would be there. Turns out it was his first visit too. I recognised him from his blog and as he sat down I tweeted that he had just walked in, as you do. It was pure coincidence that we were both there on the same day. If you believe in coincidence. If nothing else it gave him inspiration for his blog about social media. And it was very funny to seem him looking around the cafe trying to work out who I was.
So who have you met first through twitter and then in real life? How did it go?

Blog Action Day #BAD11

Kebabs at 4am

Blog Action Day 2011 is the day Phil and I start our round the world trip. The day started at 3am to get the National Express Coach to Heathrow at 4:30 am. The local high street was surprisingly busy with the kebab shops doing a roaring trade from the post Saturday night clubbers.

I noticed that half the food, so desperately ‘needed’ after 10 or so pints, had been thrown away, or more unpleasantly, thrown up, on the pavement. On a day that I am blogging on the subject of food, it brought it home to me how we, in the west can take food for granted.

On our travels we will visit the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. As much as we will be enjoying new places, meeting new people, part of the fun for foodies like us is trying new food, and sharing meals with friends old and new. Our friends in Melbourne who we are house sitting for, plan a BBQ on our arrival to introduce us to their friends and neighbours. It’s what we do, gather people together, to share a meal. For some that shared meal will be very little.

I am writing this while enjoying my first meal of the day, at Heathrow T5 in Wagamamas. A curious east meets west breakfast with noodles, bacon, egg and cabbage, as airline food is so bad we like to fill up before we fly. We worry about getting hungry on the long flight. What do I know about hunger?

What we have just spent on food and drink, would I suspect feed a family for a week, or even a month in some parts of the world. What I have just eaten, could be all a family has in one day, or a week. This is just one food outlet at the airport. Gordon Ramsay‘s, plane food offers picnics at twelve quid. We are just two passengers passing through this airport today, buying food. How many meals will be consumed today here, how much food waste will there be? How many of them will know that I have sat here eating breakfast, blogging about food, on Blog Action Day?