Dining on the Oriental Express

Phil's Asian Feasts

Dining on the Eastern & Oriental Express

I sleep better, but still trying to used to the rocking and rolling of the train. The occasional rattling of the whole carriage as it goes over the points wakes me, but soon drop off again. At 8am sharp Sungkom delivers breakfast (he’s good). This morning it’s a fresh fruit yogourt plus the normal pastries and juices. The sun is up already and I have coffee in bed whilst typing up all the notes from dinner last night. I have about an hour before we stop at the border, so try to make good use of it. I hate wasting time.

After the border crossing which takes 2 hours we film with Yannis in one of his 2 kitchens on board. Its fun, he is clearly nervous but delivers the goods. He makes a Tom Yam Cappuccino (what we had on the first night) not really my scene, but still tastes very nice. He makes a base vegetable broth using onions, sweet potatoes, celery, bog standard potatoes and leeks. He adds chilli, bashed lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal and cooks for 30 minutes, then blends well.

In a separate pan he makes a reduction on chicken stock, lemon grass, lime leaves and galangal and reduces way down by about 70% until he has a fragrant almost syrupy texture. That goes into a siphon with cream and is squirted on top of the broth. It looks a bit like the squirty cream rubbish you buy in the supermarket my youngest daughter loves. The big difference here is of course it tastes sublime, deep flavoured and nicely balanced. Come to think of it, all of Yannis’s cooking has been excellent, full of flavour and expertly cooked.

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We then have a quick bit to eat, as the train is delayed by another hour, so pushing back out cooking and filming time in Penang. Lunch again is good, with a twist on bacon and eggs, with asparagus and orange hollandaise. I have poached Chilian sea bass with egg tofu (yes) and poached mushrooms, in a delicate soy flavoured stock. The fish perfectly cooked, probably the best piece of cooked fish I have had in long time.

By the time coffee is served its almost time to get off the train in Butterworth, Penang. Nickolas (head of PR) explains to us that we only have 3 hours before the train departs, so we really have to get a move on. Waiting for us is a lady and driver of a large minivan. We all pile in and speed over the 13km bridge to Penang Island and immediately set up a small cooking area in Sizle Street market. It’s a bustling, busy market, selling everything from quick take away food to fresh veg and herbs and wonderfully fresh fish. The locals look bemused as if to say ‘What’s this English idiot doing here’ but they gather round and are very friendly and seem very interested in what’s going on.

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I cook a Penang chicken curry, quick and straight to the point. In fact we filmed the whole sequence in about 12 minutes, Lynsey and Will seem happy. Yannis and I do a lovely piece to camera where we walk through the isles chatting about all the lovely produce on offer. I see 6-7 types of aubergines ranging from the pea variety used in Thai fish and meat curries to large white and green versions. We also see string beans, and the wonderful pungent herbs so important to dishes here. In no time at all we are being hassled to get on a couple of rickshaw’s, ready for the next part of the film. We go around the block a couple of times and straight into bus. Filming continues on the ferry as we queue jump and rush back to the train, all is less than 3 hours its mad.

We film me getting back on the train with Yannis and off we go again. Chugging out of Butterworth with a gin and tonic I reflect on the day. Its been hectic but extremely satisfying and looking forward to the last part of the trip Singapore.

 

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