When you're travelling in search of new experiences, there’s nothing quite so comforting as a quality home-cooked meal. If you fancy trying Mama's cooking on your next holiday, try one of these places - some offer soulfood meals cooked by the real life family matriach, and others have built their reputations on recipes passed down through generations, and the freshest ingredients harvested from the family farm.
Taiwan’s love-affair with tea-eggs is evident throughout the country, and many devotees of this snack wax lyrical about their grandmother’s ‘ultimate’ version. At the foot of Xuanguang temple, on the banks of Sun Moon Lake, is an innocuous-looking food hut which, were it not for the long queue outside, you might well pass without giving second glance. If you’re patient and inquisitive enough to join the queue, the prize awaiting you at the front is a portion of the famous Ah Ma Tea Leaf Eggs which the owner has been making in the same way for over 50 years. The eggs are hard-boiled and their shells cracked before being soaked in strongly-brewed Assam, with a secret combination of spices, and her own individual addition: shiitake mushrooms. The mushrooms give the eggs an extra umami edge, making them addictively moreish, and thousands are sold each day. Even if you get two the first time around, you might find yourself immediately joining the back of the queue for more...
Since discovering - over 30 years ago, now - how few resources were available for cooking with traditional gu zhao wei flavours, Chuang Pao-hua has run classes teaching Taiwanese cookery to students from all over the world. Sometimes difficult to pin down, gu zhao wei (which roughly translates as ‘old-school flavour’) is a specifically Taiwanese quality within cuisine, achieved through a combination of ingredients and technique. It refers to a certain subtle depth attained by using just the right type of soy, getting just the right amount of chewiness or crunch, giving each stage of cooking the time and attention it needs. Due to the rush of modern life, she says, people have less time and inclination to learn the old methods, but by cutting corners something irreplaceable is lost. Her students take their skills back to their home countries and replicate the traditional flavours of Taiwan for a new generation. Ask one of our Destination Specialists about taking one of her taster classes while you’re in Taipei.
Despite their years of formal training in world-class cuisine, many professional chefs are fiercely proud of the learning they acquired at the hands of their mothers and grandmothers; generations of women who learnt their skills through word of mouth, trial and error and perseverance. The most highly-regarded French chefs can proudly trace their tutelage back to the ‘meres’ of Lyonnaise cuisine - a handful of 18th century women who gave birth to French gourmet cuisine. It may not, therefore, be surprising to learn that the chefs at The Anam Cam Ranh's Indochine restaurant hand over the reins once a week to five mothers of the staff for an evening of ‘Mamma’s Cooking’. Their standard menu includes specialities such as bay scallops and Nha Trang lobster chowder, but the mamas’ menu alters depending on what the women wish to cook. Expect plenty of traditional Vietnamese dishes prepared with expertise and love – and don’t expect to be told the secret recipes!
At the age of 91, Jiro Ono has now been making sushi for over 65 years, and founded the world-famous Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Tokyo. Holding three Michelin stars, a dining experience there is highly sought-after, but with only ten tables per sitting and strict booking conditions, only a select few are lucky enough to experience it. Those who do are rewarded with a sublime sushi extravaganza. Jiro Ono and his son produce a tasting menu of meticulously prepared sushi; the vinegary rice grains are topped with finely-sliced fish, each served at its ideal temperature, with sweet nikiri shoyu sauce lightly brushed on top. Jiro etiquette dictates it be eaten immediately - and who are we to argue? Since the documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ was made about this restaurant, it has become even harder to get a table. However, Jiro’s son Takashi has opened an English-speaking Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi, where he prepares exquisite sushi exactly as his father taught him, and it is a little easier to get a table!
One of the best souvenirs you can collect is the knowledge of how to recreate some of the meals you’ve enjoyed on your travels. Traditional Indonesian cooking blends the freshest fish, fruit and vegetables with fragrant spices and rich sauces to create a diverse range of dishes with vibrant flavours. The cookery classes at Hotel Tugu are run by chef Iboe Soelastri, who started learning culinary secrets from her nenek (grandmother) when she was just four years old. Iboe gives over her vast collection of Balinese and Javanese recipes to her students, allowing you to pick five you would like to learn to cook. Next, she takes you to the local market and helps you pick out the best ingredients, before heading back to the hotel kitchens to help you create your chosen feast. There might be comforting Nasi Goreng rice, spicy beef in banana leaves, zesty shredded chicken or baked fish with lemongrass. As you cook, the dishes fill the air with delicious smells, leading your taste buds towards that moment when you can enjoy the feast...
Three UNESCO-protected lotus ponds provide an idyllic backdrop to the dining terrace at at the Manda de Laos restaurant where Toune Sisouphanthavong shares her mother's recipes with the world. Taught to cook traditional Laotian dishes by her mother, who added in her own variations, Toune has turned her family property at Manda de Laos (Mother of Laos) into a restaurant. She describes how her mother passed on a love of cooking to her and her siblings, showing great patience and attention to detail in the preparation of the recipes, some of which could take a whole day to make. Try dishes such as spiced pork mince Laap Moo, grilled Pa Nin fish served with homemade tomato dipping sauce, or one of the innovative cocktails which carry on Mama Phiew’s legacy of combining traditional methods with an individual twist.
The ideal place to experience home cooking is, naturally, in a genuine home surrounded by the chatter and busy comings and goings of family life. Featuring in our Simply Thailand itinerary, the charming Mr Prapat and family live on the outskirts of Chiang Mai and run classes teaching traditional Thai cookery and crafts, giving visitors the rare chance to experience everyday life in a typical northern Thai household. You’ll head out to Hong Dang, a suburb of Chiang Mai, where you’ll be greeted enthusiastically by Mr Prapat himself before being introduced to his family. You’ll see traditional basket weaving and be given a tour of the village before visiting a local market to select the ingredients for the morning’s cooking. Once back at the family home, it’s time to don an apron and muck in as the family show you how to prepare some traditional Thai dishes. As you cook, you’ll chat and share stories and cooking tips with the family, before sitting down together to enjoy the fruits of your labour, and relish the comforting taste of home away from home.
A recipe that has been passed down through generations has invisible ingredients - the personalities, passions and preferences of all those who have added to it, resulting in a dish that is a story as well as a well-honed delicious meal. Let us know of any home cooking experiences you’ve enjoyed on your travels, and chat with one of our Destination Specialists for more tips on where to include some ‘Mama’s cooking’ on your next holiday in Asia.