A Taste of Asia
Some of you may know that I spent some of my childhood in Asia as well as in New Zealand – my father is Malaysian Chinese, while my mother is a Kiwi (from Whanganui originally). I feel very lucky to have grown up with both Western and Eastern cultures, as this has broadened my taste buds immensely.
I spent seven years growing up in Malaysia from the age of six to thirteen years old, and this is when my love of Asian food and cooking started. These days I travel back to Asia frequently for work, food travel and to see my extended family. My TV show New Zealand with Nadia Lim also screens in 11 countries around Asia.
This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Vietnam (with Intrepid Travel, on one of their food adventures), Singapore a few times (promoting NZ Avocados), China (for the Gourmand cookbook awards where my Good Food Cookbook was runner up for best TV Chef cookbook in the world) and also the Philippines and Malaysia.
I love visiting Asia as I love hot tropical weather, the diverse cultures and friendly people, and (of course) the food! Asian food often gets grouped together as one big cuisine, however the reality is it is incredibly different between countries.
Vietnamese food is very light and fresh, with a huge emphasis on fresh herbs (especially mint) and leafy green vegetables, which are served with almost every meal and make Vietnamese food incredibly healthy. It differs a lot to Thai food which is a lot punchier and spicier and uses a lot more coconut. Malaysian food is very unique in that it combines elements from Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines, so a lot of different spices are used. Chinese food is as diverse as the people that live in China – being such a huge country (it could almost be its own continent!), the food differs hugely from north (where they eat more soups/broths, noodles, meat, vinegar and spices like star anise) to south where the food is more Cantonese style (lots of rice, stir-fries, soy sauce, ginger, garlic etc).
Here are two recipes, Malaysian Satay and Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken, from two of my favourite countries, Vietnam and Malaysia. When I was growing up in Malaysia, almost every Friday night my Dad would take our family down to the hawker stalls and order a big plate of satay with peanut sauce to share. We would sit in the sweltering heat by the tiny charcoal barbecue, watching the satay man cook and fan our satay over open flames. Authentic satay is cooked over charcoal to give the meat a characteristic subtle smoky flavour, and the peanut sauce is always made with ground peanuts (not peanut butter!), which gives a much better texture and flavour. I learnt this stunning lemongrass chicken recipe from the people I was staying with in the jungle in the Mekong Delta – I couldn’t believe how it could be so simple to make, yet have such an amazing depth of flavour! It’s become one of my favourite chicken dishes, so I hope it makes you fall in love with Vietnamese food as much as I have!
To be doing what I am today is a dream come true. It all started when I was 12 years old. I was watching TV after school one day and Jamie Oliver was cooking up a storm on The Naked Chef.