Sunday, July 29, 2012

Glorious weekend ... and Puri CONQUEST

So the weekend was kind of looking bleak till I happend on a small article in The Word... which is kind of the Vietnamese version of Timeout... and read about comedy night happening at Bernie's Bar & Grill.  Since my husband and I hadn't really done much as far as city life was concerned, I thought it would be a great idea for us to get out and have a nice evening on the town

When we first entered I wasn't sure what to expect as the show was to begin at 9 pm and we got there 8:55 so was expecting quite a crowd. We managed to find seats pretty easily and made our way to them at the back of the cafe. Jack Perry from New Zealand MC'd the show and kicked off the evening and then the visiting comedian came on Roger Rooney from Australia. It was a good laugh and once we got used to the different accent to the one we are used to hearing.. we were able to really enjoy the show

At one point Roger .. I hope I have  his name right actually reached out to my husband mistaking him for his long lost childhood friend! Hah.. for a second we froze as we thought it was going to be part of his act and we were going to be his punchline...that's the reason we avoided sitting in the front as comedians love to pick on the crowd ... that wasn't the case though :)

A review today. Bernie's Bar & Grill absolutely has the best burger in town... absolutely awesome and if you are in HCMC.. go down there and order the Bernie Burger...totally worth it :)

Now if you are wondering why I am showing food when clearly I am also supposed to be working out to try and lose some weight first up... I take weekends off...its the only thing that keeps me sane when I am punishing my body in the gym and secondly I did make it to the gym before taking my weekend feeling very proud of myself :)

Speaking of feeling proud of myself... remember the Puri debacle? well I have finally conquered it!!!! YES... I was asking myself this morning as I dug into my puri dough why this was so important to me and I think I figured it out. You see for over 20+ years I have been independent and tried to be the best at what I did... and did a fairly good job at that in Pakistan. Then we up and move and now I don't know what I am...or who I am... its really hard. So, if relegating myself to the kitchen is the next natural logical step I want to be the best there too... will be a long journey I can assure you but for now the Puri has been conquered

Sumayya Jamil of pukkapaki fame was very helpful when I tweeted her and asked her advice... and despite the tv chefs insisting on adding flour to the recipe.. she confided in me that NO flour should be added... so the recipe is only semolina flour.. or suji and warm water with a pinch of salt is to be added and kneaded together to make the dough

Well... that was accomplished easily enough. Now when you roll out the dough don't dust your surface with flour as one usually does but use oil instead

simply roll out the dough.. nice and thin but not too thin and unforunately this is something one learns through trial and error as you figure out how much is too much or too little and cut them out

I like to collect them all on a plate and then fry them in one go... I find it makes life easier and I love the streamlining in every aspect of my life anyway... bit of a compulsive moron that way

Now here is the tricky part and again a lesson learned through trial and error... your oil cannot be too hot... or they won't rise... your flame needs to be low to medium and that is the magic temp for the puris to really rise like magic.... I wanted to jump up and hug and kiss Sumayya for this tip... but that is the KEY element here... and if you get the temp right ... this is what magic looks like in a wok

FINALLY!!!!!!! I was so excited at this conquest that I even went ahead and decided to make up a batch of gulab jamans... except... they were hard... I think I didnt' let them fry long enough in the pan.... sigh... another recipe to conquer... but they looked fantastic

For those of you not familiar with these delectable sweet desserts ... the syrup they are floating in is a delicious sugar syrup lightly flavoured with cardemom and of course saffron. 

Next time for entertainment with friends so we made our way down to Parksons and got ourselves tickets for ....

It is a hysterical fun film to watch... HIGHLY politically incorrect so if you are not easily offended... you better get down to the cinema to watch this... really good fun evening was had... the kind of film I wouldn't mind even watching a second time :) Well that's my update for today.. hope you all have a great weekend... see you all soon and do give me feedback ... always lovely to hear from you. And of course if you enjoy my blog... please do share it with others... thanks :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From Extremism to Communism

When I was a young girl.. which admittedly was a very long time ago... cycling in my home town Karachi was not a big deal. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from my biking adventures. Sadly that option is not really available to young girls in Pakistan any longer and perhaps even for boys due to the alarming security situation these days. So it was such a joy to be in a country where taking one's bicycle out is a completely normal thing to do for anyone.

What's more... I am loving fasting here. In Pakistan everyone wants to know " are you fasting" .. its not even considered a rude question. Whether I choose to fast or not is no one's business as that is between God and myself alone.. and here I am in Vietnam... people around me are oblivious to the holy month of fasting... they are eating around us.. no one is forcing anyone to not eat in public.. no one  is closing down eateries for the day.. which makes fasting so much more of a personal conviction as opposed to peer  or social pressure. And its delightfully freeing.

Also no one cares what you wear. You are not judged by whether you wear sleeves on your outfit or not... you are free to choose to wear what you will ... no one stares.. no one judges... Today I was hit with the sobering thought that Vietnam in so many ways was more muslim than Pakistan.. the Land of the Pure... where we have made judging and condemning a national pastime.

Had another breakthrough today. Got back to the gym. Yes it was tough.. but went as soon as I was done with Iftari because I knew once I zombied out in front of the television there was no way I was going to make it across. So proud of myself. Have to thank my friend George Fulton for being my fitness Jiminy Cricket and reminding me that Ramzan was not an excuse to slack off :)

That coupled with a picture on Facebook of the trainers at gym got me moving. Choosing a gym is not as easy as walking into a space with nice looking machines. I think its really important to see what kind of people run the gym. And I am so lucky to have found the gym for me. Met some fantastic trainers... John and Diana Prineas along with Lisa Truong do a great job of kicking ass when they need to :) Cyril is an ex boxer and I am trying to get my fitness level up to the point where I will be able to withstand the punishment I KNOW he will mete out. ...and for someone like me... a good kick is what is needed from time to time.

Heard from my sister today.. she is actually one of my dearest friends but like a sister... who had recently hired a trainer back home... and she has now lost 23lbs to date!! Wow... feeling overwhelmed completely . There are days when I just don't have the energy or will power to go in.. but as John patiently explained to me... come in anyway... if only for 20 mins... you will feel better for it. So for now will try to take his advice and  hope that I will be able to announce on my blog soon about how much weight I have lost. Have to watch those Iftaris though...heheheheh

Monday, July 23, 2012

New Inventions....sort of.. or making dahi pappri out of a disaster

So there I was chilling on a balmy Sunday morning when I suddenly jumped up and remembered I was fasting... and more importantly today was Sunday which meant no Mrs Chi. Now ordinarily that thought filled me with delight as I enjoy having our home all to ourselves at least once a week. But not today... as today was the day I was going to experiment again. Clearly I have a strong masochistic leaning in my soul...

Shami Kebabs. Many homes in Pakistan have their own recipe. If you have checked out my friend's blog on PukkaPaki you will see her say the same and kindly share her recipe... but I am going to share mine with you which was given to me by sister in law Arji who is an amazing cook herself. Its simple enough. The concept being you sling meat, spices and some other stuff like potatoes and lentils in a pot and boil the life out of it... slop it into little mounds and make kebabs.. and they are delicious. and super easy to make. Let start with the ingredients

500gms/half kilo Veal mince meat ( preferably or you could use beef)
3/4 Cup Daal Channa
a Tbsp of Garlic and Ginger each
Salt, Red Chilli powder, and Garam Masala, all unto your discretion but a desert spoon apprx is enough
1 medium Potato, and water enough to cover all this in a pot and cook on medium heat till the Channa Daal can be squished between your fingers, then dry up all the water in it. Stir and mix often while cooking. Let the dried up cooked Qeema cool, add to your mixer and toss in as much Green Chillies, Fresh Corriander / Mint leaves as desired and do the whole lot till you get a smooth consistency of Kabaab add an egg( if large one, or two small ones but add slowly , you may not need all of it ), mix it in the dough with your hands, after this add bread crumbs (preferably packet available at a bakery or whizz up two slices in your machine) slowly, as much so as to romve the stickiness of the ready dough after the addition of the egg so that one can make small round balls, and flatten them in the palms, size whatever suits them on a tray and freeze them for a few hours, later on toss them all in a Ziplock bag

Sounds simple enough and all went well. But I would like to share some freezing tips. What I have discovered after spending so much money on boxes for freezers to freeze food in .. is that they take up too much space and so I prefer freezer bags. And I like to freeze the kebabs in batches of 6 so its easy enough to pull out a small amount if one needs

Now if you remember the Puri debacle. the one where I ended up with a bag full of papri that I was threatening to bestow upon the general public? Well reason set in and I figured might as well try and do something with them. I remembered going to a wonderful dinner in Karachi before moving to Vietnam and I was served something as an appetizer and so this is my own version of that... 

So if you happen to have "pappri" lying around or want to go ahead and make is a quick easy idea of what to do with them. But assemble these and serve straight away. 

First you get a nice bowl of yoghurt.. you will have to judge for yourself how much you need depending on how many you have... I had quite a few disasters so I have plenty

then chuck in some salt, a pinch of coriander and cumin powder and a nice dose of chilli powder along with half an onion. You could also shred some cabbage in there and use the sweet kind of onion not the acidic sharp kind as that would just leave a bad taste in your mouth... you know.. the white kind. I added that for the flavor and the crunch. Next simply spoon the sauce you have made onto the pappri and .add some tamarind sauce.... and there is something we call Nimco... Indians and Pakistanis LOVE this stuff... the bag I found in Vietnam was an Indian brand and posting a pic here so you know what I mean

sprinkle these on top and Bob's your uncle.. you have a delicious snack... and I am thrilled as I managed to make something really yummy out of yesterday's disaster... feeling quite Master Chefy... perhaps Nigella would want to meet me someday and we could giggle over cups of tea and exchange recipes... sigh...

Oh and one more tip... I'm sure most of you know this but in case you don't... here in HCMC herbs are a tricky thing.. sometimes they are available and sometimes not.. so I went out in a burst of panic and bought up a whole bunch of coriander and mint as those are the two herbs I use a lot. The trouble is when you get them from the grocery store they are usually packed in plastic bags which means by the time you want to use them... they are usually soggy and ... well non usable... so here is a tip I picked up from a wise cook in Karachi. Newspaper... take it out of the plastic.. DON"t wash them till you plan to use them.. and wrap in paper... they will last much longer this way

No plastic... just newspaper and roll it up well and put in your fridge

Voila!! :Your herbs will last a heck of a lot longer this way :)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Puffs up like MAGIC my !$!@$!$!$!@#$!

Ramzan started... if you are wondering why I am saying Ramzan and not Ramadan ..its because I am from Pakistan and in Urdu we say Ramzan.... :) Ramzan is the month of fasting for Muslims... we don't eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. We must continue our day like normal and it is also an exercise in restraint... our temper.... code of conduct... an annual self check if you will. It is also  a time of reflection and prayers . In theory. But being faced with the daunting task of being in charge of the ONE meal that everyone looks forward to... the Iftari or the meal at sunset.... its a lot of pressure.. and keeping one's cool can be ...challenging.

Much as I would like to be Nigella Lawson and Martha Stewart's offspring.. the truth is... they would cheerfully disown me and give me a water burial if I was to be born of them. I am a novice cook and I am ok with Western food. Never have I had to worry about Pakistani food before because... well I lived there and so there were plenty of people at hand to take care of the needful.

No more

So today I thought I would try my hand at Paani puri. How difficult can it be I thought to myself. Its just a matter of frying dough and every Tom Dick and Harry, or Abdul, Jamshed and Saleem as the case may be seems to be able to do it.. so I set about trying to make the Puri... Shirin Anwar.. a known chef in Pakistan.. was the first person I turned to for the recipe.

I am not going to post the recipe till I find one that is perfect for idiots like me. I am not in any way suggesting you are an idiot ... but you get my drift. Shirin Anwer did not rock my boat today. Anyway it was all progressing nicely enough till it came time to fry them. Don't know if the  oil was too hot... or not... or whatever but this is what I was ending up with

ONE puffed up like it should.. kind of... and then the rest.... well you can see was not having much luck with them...

But I had a batch full of dough rounds and fry them i will and I ploughed bravely ahead.  I ended up with a big batch of "Papri"

I think I shall be neighborly and offer up my papris to anyone who wants them to crush on top of their cholas...

Meanwhile my darling husband was completely oblivious to the goings on downstairs with the feverish efforts of the perfect Puri

Next I decided to do a youtube search for the perfect Puri for dummies recipe... and I came across this

I just love the part where he says..  "and they puff up like magic"  Based on those 6 words... I decided to go ahead and make up another batch. I don't know what I was doing right when it happened.. but by the third puri this is what I got

Finally.... the third one is the perfect Puffed up like Magic product and I am excited... exhilarated even... but as the rest of the batter went it ... it all reverted back to substances like pancakes ... or papri... out of the hundred that were made... I must have come up with 15 halfway decent ones. So... if anyone out there has some tips on how to make the perfect gol guppa PLEASE help!! My youngest daughter has told me to avoid trying to make Pakistani food and go back to what I do best... the Western stuff. But I am digging in my feet.. I will nail this sucker somehow... 

Finally after I finally gave up on this futile effort it was time for me to just chill and decide just sitting by the pool and pondering upon the deeper things in life would be a good idea... Like... can I kill the person who invented the puri? if he or she is already dead... can I kill them again ?

btw in case you think we starve while I am trying to get past this learning curve.. we did manage to put away quite a feast... thank you God for managing to put something together even as I learn :)

Got some great Tomato Cut out there and will be happy to share THAT recipe that worked out great.. that is coming tomorrow :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Disastrous Day but saved by the Bloggers Meet

So as some of you may know...if you have been following me on Twitter ... @ayeshahalam if you want to know hehehe... I have gone back to the gym to try to undo the damage the last three years of Lahore had done on my body.. and mind... Today was day 7 . Don't know if you can relate to this but I think perhaps anyone trying to get back into shape may know exactly what I am talking about... was feeling so good yesterday... had pushed myself  harder and for a longer period of time and today... ugh... had to really force myself to get to the gym and barely managed my 20 mins of walking.. but I got there.. and I did it... have a pulled hamstring now... and will probably take a day off tomorrow but will make up for it on Saturday.... I say optimistically ... tried motivating myself with cheesy .gifs ... but all for nought

To make matters worse ... I stress eat. I wish I could be one of those people who starve themselves when stressed... if I was I would probably be able to rival the likes of Julia Roberts or any Hollywood babe who enjoys the admiration of millions. Sadly... I don't. and my friend who came over for the unfortunate lunch yesterday.. brought with her a chocolate cake. There should really be a law against friends bringing cake to a house with a woman trying to lose weight. But... there it was. In my fridge. begging to be eaten . Thankfully my kids got to a lot of it... but so did I. So came back from my now pretend workout and reached for cake. Not a good start to the day for sure

Since I am now trying to rediscover and redefine myself... and I fancy myself as a Nigella meets Betty Crocker with a sprinkling of Martha Stewart in there... I figured I would be a good home maker and wife and try and prep up for Ramazan by cooking copious amounts of Shami Kebabs and freezing them for use during Ramzan which starts day after tomorrow. Apparently its the thing to do... but I also wanted to try and make biryani... a dish that I have never successfully made. This was going to be my second attempt so I decided to take it easy on myself and use the famous Shaan Bombay Biryani Mix ...which basically is a bag of all the spices ground up for you. There rest of the work one has to do.  I was doing fine till i forgot about the part to undercook the rice. What do they mean by undercook?? is there no time schedule one can follow? How much is too much undercooking .... or too little... Chefs on tv in Pakistan and India say it so nonchalantly like its a natural thing to do... another term that has always mystified me was Dum pay rakho... what does that mean??? for how long?? how will i know when its "Dum'ed " enough??? Anyway... was another disastrous Biryani meal... with the rice far over cooked... it was actually perfectly done before the Dum Process but lesson learned for next time... shall keep a sharper eye on the meantime... there was that blasted chocolate cake

The only bright spot in my so far disastrous day was the Bloggers meet .... It was a bit intimidating seeing how many hits some of the other bloggers were getting and I felt a bit pathetic even attempting to be in the same "league" but decided to bite the bullet and go for it anyway. You can check out their blogs by clicking on their name.. really cool people and so glad I went

This was all put together by James Pham who went through a lot of trouble to find bloggers who were in town. The crowd was mostly expat and was really great to see some Vietnamese bloggers too.. The first two people there were James and Sally Thelen. Sally is hilarious to talk to and I checked out her blog when I got back... she even has an ebook... James has a really cool blog which is visually catching as well.. and yes I now feel like a totally inept amateur. The rest trickled in and turned out to be quite a noisy gathering of some really cool people. Looking forward to getting to know all them a bit better over time.

A little bit about the restaurant we met at since clearly there is no recipe to share.. ... L'Usine... its a really cool restaurant in District 1. Love their food and their prices are pretty good too. Its on Dong Khoi street and the way there may seem a bit sketchy but once you get there you will .. in my humble opinion .. enjoy the space.

You have to go through this alley and at the end turn right

Yes this is what you see when  you turn right... but don't let that scare you... seriously... take the stairs upstairs.. and this is where you come to

A welcome sight indeed and btw... their cupcakes are the best I have tried in Saigon so far... when I first entered there was a lone gentleman sitting at a table with what looked like a computer and so I naturally assumed it would be James... sitting alone... as no other bloggers had turned up...

Thankfully I was very wrong and got called over to the "happening" table

Tomorrow is another day ... no gym tomorrow.. yes hopefully will have  a recipe to share that wasn't a total disaster... and thank you to James and everyone who came out today for the Bloggers meet. Saved my day :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I think Mrs Chi wants to kill me

So here's the deal.. I have a housekeeper called Mrs Chi. She was amiable enough when she came in to us at first. Actually that's not true... we had another maid called .... and I kid you not.. .Mom... except she made a quick exit due to her...ahem... interest in entertaining guests when we were not home. Luckily she was caught out before the situation could get out of hand. Naturally was handed her marching papers immediately. Along came Mrs Chi. A feisty lady easily took over the household duties. Now for those of you who have moved to another country or done any shifting to a new home ever.. will know it takes at least 3 weeks after moving in to really figure out how everything is working.... and this is how I discovered that Mrs Chi liked to pretend to look busy but really didn't do much.

So I decided it was time to show Mrs Chi what I meant with the housekeeping. Once a month... a complete top to floor cleaning is sufficient here as there is no dust as such thankfully... but that day of cleaning is a bit of a pain but has to be done. Poor Mrs Chi was suddenly learning how to navigate between vacuum cleaners, dusters and bottles of Glint. Let me tell you right now... she was not a happy woman

Today had a friend come over for lunch. Was kind of a spontaneous decision as i had just returned from the gym and was trying to decide whether I should collapse back into bed or get up and be productive when my friend's call guided my day. She wanted to meet outside for lunch but I was certainly not in the mood to get dressed up ... so told her to come over... we'll just boil some pasta or something and have that I announced bravely, vaguely remembering a Nigella Lawson recipe I had learned. To be fair I did make it a number of times and the kids and I love it. My friend is from Bangladesh and perhaps desi tastes are not suited to this kind of flavor and I don't know if you are from the sub continent that you would  like it either but will post the recipe here anyway if you want to try it in a pinch. Its really fast and really easy. Just maybe... don't serve it to friends from Pakistan, ...or India... or Bangladesh.... Sri Lanka? Ok so this is a gora thing what can I say...


  • 375g dried spaghetti
  • 50g unsalted butter  
  • 1 teaspoon Marmite or more, to taste
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve


  1. Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water, according to the packet instructions.
  2. When the pasta is almost cooked, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the Marmite and 1 tablespoon of the pasta water, mixing thoroughly to dissolve.  Reserve 1/2 a cup of pasta water; then drain the pasta and pour the Marmite/Vegemite mixture over the drained spaghetti, adding a little reserved pasta water to amalgamate if required. Serve with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.
  3. For vegetarians replace the Parmesan cheese with a vegetarian alternative.

Hope you enjoy the recipe like my family and I do... (not my pathan husband) .... and if not... oh well... will try and share something a bit better. If you did like it.. please let me know so I don't feel like this is an acquired taste that somehow myself... and Nigella Lawson have....thanks and Bon Apetit!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Starting to feel like home....

I guess it helps that all our stuff has arrived for the most part intact... and our home is looking like "OUR" space... but also had a great weekend. Went to a friend's housewarming party where we got to meet a lot of other cool people. We would like to have a housewarming party too except we don't know enough people yet to throw one :}

Ramazan starts in a few days and so I decided I better practice some desi recipes and get ready for some kick ass iftaris. My daughters love gora food (continental) while my husband won't eat anything but desi for the most part. so today I decided to prep up my desi game and make an attempt at naan. Have met some Pakistani ladies here in Vietnam and begged one to share her naan recipe with me but haven't gotten one yet !! Its almost like a closely guarded secret!! so I put out an SOS call on Twitter and got a response from one of my tweeps @PukkaPaki who directed me to her blog where i could find the recipe for Pukka Paki's Whole Spice topped Naans and this is the result I got. Not bad for the first time.. a really easy recipe to follow and with practice it would get better

Here is the recipe if you don't feel like clicking on the link

320 grams strong plain flour, some extra to flour the rolling surface
1 tsp baking powder
less than 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
100 ml beaten natural yoghurt
1 tbsp ghee
1-2 cups of whole milk, depending how much is required during kneading
For the spice toppings (3 different options):
1)  1/2 tsp each of aniseed, nigella seeds, carom seeds and sesame seeds
2) 1/2 tsp each of dried mint leaves, pounded dry roasted cumin and coriander seeds
3) An equal mixture of sumac and zaa’tar

1. Sift the flour with all the dry ingredients and then place in a large bowl. Make a hole in the middle and pour the egg the ghee and work the dough into a ball – now add the yoghurt. If required, add a bit of milk and create a fairly firm dough.
2. Continue to knead the dough very well until you create a smooth dough ball. Cover lightly with a little ghee and place in a glass bowl and cover with a wet tea cloth and allow to rise in a cool place for a maximum of 2-3 hours (minimum 1 hour). The dough should be doubled.
3. Once ready, knead again and divide  into 7-8 small round balls. With a rolling pin roll the dough into an oblong naan with tapering ends and pierce with a fork all over. Brush naan lightly with ghee then milk and then sprinkle either of the spice blends above.
2 techniques – If you want to get a puffy naan then heat the naan on a frying pan or tawa – first then shove it under a grill or if in a hurry just smear some ghee on a baking tray and cook in a very hot oven, for 10 – 15 minutes, either way these naans are quite lovely.

4. Use of of the techniques mention above – here is the one using a pan on the stove then a grill – Heat the oven girl to high. Then grease a non-stick pancake pan or a frying pan (must be one that can go into the oven) with ghee and place a naan on that and cook on a high fire / heat on the stove till the base is brown. Immediately move the pan under the oven grill and cook for 5-7 minutes or so until the naans puff up and turn brown on the top.

That coupled with Haleem made for a very nice dinner. Something really special about being in a foreign country and yet love how one can have a  piece of home right at your table. :)

Bon Apetit and thank you to food blogger Sumayya Jamil

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Settling in !

Its been 4 months since my arrival in HCMC. The first week was spent in what is known as District 1 and then I moved to the suburbs of District 2 or more specifically Thao Dien. I have navigated my way through multiple estate agents , learned a smattering of Vietnamese .. with the help of Google Translate and a small phrase book I managed to acquire. Have even managed to make a few friends largely within the Pakistani community and finally received our 40 foot container to unpack into our house. Moving to another country is never easy and with a language barrier... that move is made even further challenging. Between gestures and mostly wrongly prounouced  Vietnamese I managed to get the house sorted out...fired my first maid for entertaining gentlemen in the house when I wasn't  home .. starting to settle in to life in HCMC formerly known as Saigon. And here I am... writing this blog .. partly just to record my experiences and maybe even to offer some help on my reviews of places and things.. and to learn from readers who could offer assistance or tips... An online conversation if you will :)

So this is what I plan to do. As I learn about restaurants, places to shop , recipes I will share them with you here. If you would like to post some too.. please don't be shy :) I shall try to be regular in my postings and maintain a decent enough blog. Thank you for reading