Honey-less-honey-roasted nuts

On a whim, we purchased a whole bag of whole walnuts from a little stall by the road. We gave little thought to how we were going to how we were going to crack the walnuts open (if cute little furry squirrels can do it, so can we - or so we thought). After (much) trial and error, in which cupboard doors were slammed shut repeatedly, forks were bent out of shape, crushed walnut bits cleaned off the floor again and again, we found the most efficient way to crack open a walnut without hurting anyone, without having the walnuts just get crushed completely and without sounding like construction work was going on in the apartment.

Early in the method discovery process.
"I have to get just the right amount of pressure...oops! Too much!"
-Hanad, one of those rare few who can completely crush a walnut just by clenching it in his fist-

After all the commotion, we found that all we needed to do was position the nut near the hinge of the door and gently pull the door close. It's a wonder how we thought that Hanad crushing walnuts with his bare hands was a better idea to begin with.

Pretty soon, we had a little assembly line going - crack, peel, remove, crack, peel, remove, pop into mouth... As always, we couldn't just enjoy the nuts as they were and after much talk of honey-roasted walnuts, we decided to see what we could come up with, with what we could find in the kitchen. That's the thing about having gone to a college in the middle of nowhere and with limited resources, learning to make do becomes second nature.

Honey-less-honey-roasted nuts

Ingredients: Nuts (we used walnuts, naturally), sugar, salt, water

Heat the saucepan slightly before putting the nuts in. Once the nuts are in, add a pinch of salt, and a few teaspoons of sugar (depending on how sweet you want the nuts to be). Add a small amount of water (think just enough to melt the sugar and salt) and watch everything sizzle as the sugar and salt melt to coat the nuts. We repeated this until we got just the right balance of sweet and salty (all the while making sure we weren't taking too long - burnt was not a taste we were aiming for).

For a little extra something, add to the sugar and salt, a little Baileys Irish Cream (we had some special edition Irish Cream with a hint of Creme Caramel lying around that really complemented the nuts) or for that cinema-popcorn flavour, a bit of butter. Mix well so that every bit of nutty surface is well coated with everything. It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes to whip up a batch of very addictive nuts. After the first round, one should be able to get the proportions of everything just right.

A big bowl of nuts, four of us curled up in various positions on the couch, bad Italian variety shows and a map spread out on the floor with places of interest circled on it - that's how we spent our very first night in Malta.

The bunch of us busying ourselves in the kitchen at supper time. I guess being in a different country really doesn't change much sometimes.

Malta, sweet Malta

Ah, but the stories don't stop at talk of rabbit and horse. What I really love about holidays is the exploring - just taking a walk through the town or city with everything feeling foreign and new, never really knowing what you'll find. The fun comes from the spontaneity of it all.

Strolling down the streets of Valletta on the first day, we couldn't resist stepping into one of the many patisseries.

Clockwise from left - apple strudel, almond filled pastry, chocolate and rum and lemon and vanilla. Trust me, we had an extremely difficult time trying to narrow it down to only four! They were all delicious but the almond filled pastry really took us by surprise as it looked most unassuming. The warm almond filling melted in our mouths and kept us coming back for more.

Needless to say, an excursion to a patisserie became a daily fixture and most of the time, we would be standing at the counter, staring at everything and going back and forth between choices, truly testing the patience of the unfortunate sales person stuck serving us. Often, we would just end up picking at random only to be pleasantly surprised.

And really, what's not to stare when the shelves are filled with little delights like these? They look almost too pretty to eat.

" Crumbly on the outside but chewy on the inside...in a foamy sort of way"
- Sapna and Anusha -

I'd never heard almond cookies described like this before but I must say, the description is spot on.

( Photo courtesy of Anusha)

I have a weakness for ice cream and I'm often not alone when it comes to this. Equally tempting were the gelaterias lining the streets and it really didn't matter what the weather was like - any time seemed like a good time for ice cream. As always, being the fickle-minded people we are especially when faced with such interesting choices (how does one choose between flavours like creme caramel, biscuit and orange-tinged chocolate?) we would drive the person behind the counter crazy by requesting free samples of almost everything on display before deciding.

On one of our visits to an ancient temple site, we were distracted by a little stall by the ruins with jars of jam on display. "Cactus jam!", we were told by the lady who was referring to the jars of prickly pears jam. Of course, our interest was peaked and we left the ruins not just with photographs but with some jam and syrup. I was eager to experiment with the carob syrup after being told that it would soothe a sore throat (The dip into the freezing pool the day before had not helped the cold that I had arrived in Malta with).
"Hot water and a teaspoonful of carob syrup" - she didn't lie.

Saying we were spoilt for choice is an understatement. There was something to tempt a sweet tooth at every corner and boy, did we give in to temptation!

Malta, Malta

Malta - a gorgeous view from almost every spot on the island, architecture that makes you feel as if you were holidaying in the days of Troy, carts parked by the road loaded with fresh fruits (those juicy, red strawberries!) and vegetables, waves crashing onto the sides of rocky cliffs, people who make you feel so welcomed and the most incredible food.

We set off to Malta, knowing very little about our destination and really just wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. While the weather was a slight dampener (London was warmer!) the food more than made up for it. Seafood was abundant and surprisingly cheap, portions were hugely satisfying and we got a chance to take our stomachs on a bit of an adventure.

Ftira - Maltese bread topped with tuna, onions, olives and cheese. What really set this simple dish apart is the olives. We got our very first taste of Maltese olives at a little cafe we picked for lunch a couple of hours after we set foot in Malta. I'd never had olives quite like these before - larger, juicier and with just the right flavour.

We had been on the look out for some traditional Maltese dishes and thought that a little restaurant hidden in the corner of an apartment complex (because the best places always seem to be the ones tucked away in a little nook aren't they?) with a sign that said "Fried rabbit and other Maltese dishes" would be a good place to start. We went for the most interesting dishes on the menu - rabbit fried in garlic and white wine, fried octopus, red scorpion fish with tomatoes and olives and horse stew. We were first timers when it came to horse and we were assured that it would be tender - they didn't lie. How an animal so strong and muscular can be that tender is beyond me.

"Ooh..octopus tentacles!" - our semi-vegetarian taking a break from the red scorpion fish to give octopus a shot.

Rabbit was a popular feature in most of the restaurants so we just had to try the rabbit stew. Rabbit tastes very much like a slightly rougher version of chicken and this stew, with much of its flavour coming from the sweetness of the carrots and onions, really reminded me of the chicken stew mum makes at home.

Being so close to Sicily, it's no surprise that the Italian influence is strong when it comes to food. Pastas and pizzas were on most menus and on a particularly rainy day in Gozo, we ducked out of the gloom into the warmth of a little restaurant to tuck into a hearty Italian meal. Pictured here is the three cheese Ravioli in creamy mushroom sauce. We were slightly apprehensive at first as previous experience with three cheese dishes (especially when blue cheese is involved) have not been pleasant. However, the flavours were not overbearing this time and the cheeses, instead of dominating the dish, really complemented it.

And of course, there's nothing like a serving of hot chocolate to go with some comfort food to make even the rainiest of days seem a bit better.

The seafood lovers (that made three out of four of us) were in for a real treat when we discovered a little place overlooking the beautiful Blue Grotto where the sea was breathtaking shade of blue.

A tomato-based pasta and octopus dish. I really appreciated the subtle tomato flavour that only fresh tomatoes (and not the purees that come in cans) can lend to a dish.

Pasta marinara. Again, instead of the drowning in thick, creamy sauce it was almost like the seafood and pasta were just tossed together with some garlic and white wine which really brought out those wonderful seafood flavours.

The star of the meal - garlic octopus. It seems like such a waste to musk the delightful flavours of fresh seafood and that afternoon, as we sat out in the sun with the sound of the waves in the background, it was back to basics with the natural flavours really shining through.
Ask any one of us now how our trip to Malta was and the conversation would almost immediately turn to food with each of us fondly remembering our personal favourites (though it really is difficult to pick a favourite when we were spoilt to bits). Every meal was something to look forward to - from the different kinds of bread with peppered cheese in the mornings to the huge lunches (that left us vowing never to eat again) and the suppers of pastries and cakes.
Who would have thought (well, certainly not us) that we would be in for such a gastronomical escapade on that tiny island.
Don't you just love holidays?

On a budget

30-34, Queensborough Terrace,
London, W2 3ST

The Malaysian Students Department for the United Kingdom and Eire (MASDUKE) has a canteen hidden away in the basement of its headquarters. One would almost definitely walk right past the narrow steps leading down to it without even knowing it. It's almost like being a of student at Hogwarts and having to know exactly which part of the wall to push your trolley into to get to platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross Station.

In fact, it's somewhat similar to the fictional platform in a sense that it transports you to a different place altogether. As soon as you step through the narrow entrance of the canteen, the familiarity of tables covered in plastic wrap, Malaysians tucking into nasi lemak and mee goreng, the mak cik and the abangs behind the counter displaying various nasi campur dishes and the handwritten menu pasted on the walls hits you.

Most people head to the canteen for a quick nasi lemak fix. It's particularly popular among students as it serves (by far) the cheapest nasi lemak in London.

Nasi lemak with fried chicken and an add-on of kuah masak merah. The best part about the canteen is that you can request add-ons of gravy and sambal at no extra charge - something pretty rare in a city where they charge you for ketchup at fast food restaurants. I personally like the nasi lemak here as it reminds me of the simple nasi lemak you can get from a stall back home. Nothing fancy, but more importantly, nothing pretentious.

One can get different types of kuih from the canteen as well. I was really quite delighted at the sight of a childhood favourite, kuih bakar on one of my visits. Seri muka, ondeh ondeh, lepah pisang, karipap - words that are like music to our ears.

The options for nasi campur. At times, you hear the canteen operator patiently trying to explain what "masak lemak" or "masak merah" is to a non-Malaysian. I'd say it's a pretty well stocked counter with most of the usual suspects in sight. On all of my visits there, the ayam masak merah has always been in high demand with customers (this foodie included) constantly throwing a hopeful "ada masak merah tak hari ni?" at the canteen operators.

Like the mamak stalls back home, the counter is also lined with various canned drinks. Soy bean, chrysanthemum, Milo - drinks you never think you'd miss.

To satisfy those cravings, be it nasi lemak, teh tarik, roti canai or ayam masak merah on a tight budget, the MSD canteen is good place to go. I can't think of a cheaper or more Malaysian (having mak ciks behind the counter is really tough to beat) place to get your fix.

For a tenner

I can't think of anything we love more than an "all you can eat" meal. We're constantly on the look out for special deals and promotions especially when there's a special occasion. This time around, we headed to La Tasca on Regent Street, a branch of the tapas restaurant and bar chain, to celebrate Hanad's 21st. With Hanad (and his appetite) in mind, we thought that the "Tapas for a tenner" promotion would be just what we needed.

La Tasca (Regent Street)

300 Regent Street

The restaurant is pretty cosy with the lights turned down, candles lit at every table and fiesta-like Spanish music playing in the background - a nice setting to a casual dinner with some good friends.

We could order as much as we liked from a selection of tapas, a smaller selection than what is on the usual menu. Naturally, the first round entailed everything on the menu. The tapas came in much larger than typical servings at a time to accommodate our party of 16.

Berenjenas Gratinadas - fresh aubergine topped with tomates and cheese and one of the favourites. The melted cheese and tomatoes were excellent complements to the soft aubergine.

Paella de Verduras - a vegetarian paella with seasonal vegetables. The paella dishes were rather dry although the vegetarian paella was better than the seafood paella. So far, the seafood paella at the Brick Lane Sunday Market remains unbeaten.

Tortilla Espanola - Spanish-style potato and onion omelette.

After three rounds of tapas, we were so full we couldn't move. Some of the favourites of the night include the Dominic-dominated Albondigas a la Jardinera (meatballs in tomato sauce), the Champinones al Ajillo (mushrooms, lightly sauteed in garlic and olive oil ) that kept Qiu Jhin coming back for more, the Calamares Andaluza (seasoned squid rings served with garlic mayonaise and lemon) which was Ju Vern's personal favourite and the Pescado Blanco Frito (deep-fried white fish in San Miguel batter) which always seemed to disappear in a blink of an eye.

We had been at the table for a good two and a half hours - milking every minute of the promotion. We would probably have ordered more if not for the rather slow service - in typical student fashion of trying to make sure we ate every penny's worth. I have to say though, that most of us felt like we had eaten that and much more.

As always, dinner is never really complete without dessert.

This time, it came in the form of the adorable Harry the Hedgehog, a sinfully delicious moist chocolate cake from M&S. It looked almost to good to eat....almost.

La Tasca has pretty good tapas and for only 10 pounds, it's about as value-for-money as one can get. The "Tapas for a tenner" promotion is available 5-9pm, Sundays to Wednesdays.

To be manja-ed

We got a taste of home early in the week when we were treated to dinner, a little thank you gesture by the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students for volunteering at their careers fair. Malaysian food seemed like the natural choice as we were invited to dine at the Holiday Villa Hotel, one of the popular spots for Malaysian student events.

Holiday Villa Hotel & Suites London
37, Leinster Gardens,
London W2 3AN,
United Kingdom
Tel : 00 44 (0) 20 7258 0269
Fax : 00 44 (0) 20 7723 7295
Email : holiday_villauk@yahoo.co.uk

I had heard much about the hotel and its Malaysian-Chinese restaurant, Lagenda but had never paid a visit until then. We had a room to ourselves - with the rest of London shut out and with the unmistakable smell of sambal belacan in the air, it really felt like we could have been back home. The sambal was a hit (for most of us) and by the time the main dishes were served, there really wasn't much left to go around. Like most of the Malaysian food in London, it was slightly milder in terms of spicyness but nevertheless had that taste that we all know and love.

The food was the typical fare of can-never-go-wrong dishes - vegetable soup, stir-fried mixed vegetables, fried chicken, fish curry, beef rendang, vegetable omelette and taufu sambal

The fish curry, before we cleaned every bit off, gravy included. I think that fish curries, like most curries are a matter of personal tastes. I tend to lean towards the slightly more sour ones with lots and lots of okra, all soft and bursting from the absorbed gravy. The colour of the gravy was commented upon at the table but we did agree that it tasted quite authentic and perhaps more like a gulai than a curry. The fish was not as fresh as I would have liked it to be but then again, growing up in a seaside town does spoil you when it comes to seafood.

The stir-fried mixed vegetables that seems to be a regular feature at any Malaysian meal. Also pictured here, air sirap - and it had never tasted this good.

The taufu sambal that was a last minute add-on for the vegetarian at our table and which we agreed was the best dish out of all. Yes, right up there with the sambal belacan. For once, it was not a watered down version of the one we get back home - flavours were strong and the colour the slightly scary red that only Malaysians would be used to. It did not take long for the non-vegetarians to start digging in, too.

It's funny how the things we take for granted back home are the ones that make our day here - simple pleasures like sambal belacan and air sirap. To think we used to complain endlessly about the air sirap back in college only to request for refill after refill over here.

I guess that's what they mean by "Let us manja U" - giving us a taste of home.

Kimchi, anyone?

It's a load off our shoulders with deadlines out of the way and the Easter break finally starting. We decided a treat was due and randomly picked a country. After a quick phone call, some googling and a very long tube ride (what should have been a 15 minute bus ride turned into a complicated 35 minute journey through the London underground), we ended up on Tottenham Court Road. None of us ever knew that there was a little area tucked in the corner just behind Tottenham Court Road Station filled with Korean shops and restaurants. We picked the nearest one, an assuming little restaurant which we thought would be reasonably priced.

53 St. Giles High Street
020 7240 8256

I was sent in to enquire and was greeted by the delicious smell of Korean hotpot as soon as I opened the door. Needless to say, that sealed the deal. We were led down into the basement and given a room all to ourselves, with some added entertainment from what sounded like a very energetic karaoke session coming from the room next door.

Kimchi to start the ball rolling. I've always liked kimchi, something my dad got me started on. There's something about its spicy-sour flavour that really gets your appetite going. This came along with complimentary beansprout and seaweed side dishes.

Spicy stir-fried squid with rice.

Spicy stir-fried beef with rice

Spicy stir-fried seafood udong

It was very typical of us to pick out the spicy dishes on the menu. I guess you can never really take Malaysia out of a person. Despite similar sounding names, the stir-fried dishes were all different . I thoroughly enjoyed my spicy squid as the squid was not overcooked or rubbery and the seafood udong kept Anusha and Sapna very happy. I think there was a slight tangy flavour to everything that really complemented the spicyness. Nothing was too spicy but they all still had a nice kick to them.

Egg and vegetable hot pot

Hanad and his marinated beef ribs, oblivious to the world. He was still raving about them on the way home. There was something about the sweetness of the marinate that made the difference.

It would come as no surprise that we left the restaurant a happy, contented bunch. The prices were reasonable, as we had expected, with main meals starting from GBP 5.50.

I foresee many more visits to come.

Sapna's chickpea pancakes

When asked what I miss most when it comes to food, I always say, without hesitation – roti canai. Hot, crisp, roti canai with fish curry. What’s not to love? How I miss those weekend tea sessions at the mamak stalls. One simply cannot find decent roti canai in London! What we can find, though, is some really good thosai just a tube-ride away in Eastham. Eastham seems to be a haven for Indian food and after a round of thosai and Indian desserts last weekend, Sapna, feeling particularly inspired, purchased a small bag of gram flour.

As always, it was time for a little experimentation and that night, we were treated to some delicious pancakes.

(Makes 8-10 pancakes)


125 g gram flour (chickpea flour)

2 eggs

1 quarter big onion, finely chopped

5 cherry tomatoes, (or 2 normal tomatoes), finely chopped

2 -3 broccoli tops, finely chopped

A handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 and a half tablespoons of plain yogurt

To taste:


Bengali five-spice

(fenugreek, nigella seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds)

Chilli powder


Give the spices a quick saut̩ then put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Add water to the mixture bit by bit until the right consistency is achieved. We look for something that is not too thick or too runny. An easy way to check is to hold up some of the mixture over the bowl with the spatula or whisk and watch it drip Рthe mixture should be thick and smooth.

Now to test those flipping skills! With some oil heated in a pan, ladle some of the mixture into the pan and gently spread the mixture out. We like our pancakes crisp, so we tend to spread the mixture out quite a bit. Flip the pancake over once the bottom of the pancake comes detached from the pan. I use the spatula to gently flip it over but some of the more adventurous (and stronger) ones like Hanad flip it over with just one swift motion of the pan. We also like to spread a little butter on one side of the pancake just before we take it out of the pan to give it a slight buttery flavor. The pancake is good to go once both sides are crisp.

The trick is to dip the pan slightly downwards and to the front before whipping it up

- Hanad, our resident flipper

The pancakes are good just by themselves, especially hot off the pan but they also go great with some plain yogurt or dipped in Lingham’s chilli sauce.

The mixture can be pre-made and refrigerated. It will take no more than 15 minutes to whip up a batch of pancakes – incredibly handy, especially for a bunch of students who always seem to crave a midnight snack!

Of early starts and conversations over milkshakes...

You know you've started your day early when you walk into a supermarket to see the shelves of the bakery section just being filled. I can think of no better time to be at the supermarket. (except perhaps at the end of the week when almost everything seems to be on promotion!). It's one of those things I find difficult to resist -the warm, sweet, buttery, chocolate-y smell of freshly baked pastries. Cinnamon rolls, cheese twists, filo pastries filled with vanilla and custard, soft buttery croissants, muffins of all kinds and all hot from the oven.

We found ourselves strolling along Trafalgar Square this morning, pastries in hand, enjoying the sunshine and the slight breeze.

For once, we were in no hurry to get to the shops on Oxford Street.

We capped off the day with a visit to our favourite milkshake parlour, Tinseltown, where I always take ages to decide on which of the 60 milkshake flavours I want. Every description sounds as sinful as the next and all equally yummy. Really, it's cruel to be forced to choose between flavours like Jaffa Cake and chocolate chip cookies.

I finally settled on the Aero Mint milkshake, made with dairy milk ice cream and chunks of the chocolate-mint Aero bar.

We sat comfortably in our booth by the corner, the milkshakes (one of which was the yummy Jammie Dodgers one) getting passed round the table as we talked about silly things.

And that's the best part about late-night milkshakes - we always, always share.