A Night in Nepal: A Meal from Our Table to Yours

It's the kind of meal you dig into thousands of miles from a familiar site, only to find out you're right at home. Cooking evokes many different emotions, for some it may bring up past memories of time well spent with family, and for others it's a fun hobby to occupy an evening. But, cooking abroad with a local in their own kitchen, creates an entirely different atmosphere. They're in their element, sharing what makes their culture unique, and what they find to be some of the best kept recipes of their country. And, if you're a foodie like us, you understand there's no better way to fully comprehend and relate to a culture than to sit down at a dinner table together.

In an effort to inspire some creative cultural dishes at home, we're reminiscing about some of our travelers, who ventured out on our Wonders of Nepal itinerary to have the opportunity to cook authentic Nepalese cuisine with a variety of local chefs! Throughout their trip, by crafting dishes and tasting homemade delicacies, they were able to gain greater insight into Nepal's colorful culture and way of life.

To further encourage an environment of acceptance and curiosity, we urge you to read about our travelers' tasty experiences and try the recipe below that has been collected and brought back to share with anyone who wants a delicious meal!

Spicing It Up

Spices are an essential aspect of Nepalese food, and they add the character that makes this cuisine so highly regarded. So naturally, our travelers spent time at the Kathmandu Spice Market to learn more about using local spices as a focal point in dishes. Through the use of spices, Nepalese food has become known for its health benefits as well as delicious recipes that have been passed down through the generations.

Dinner with a View

What would a meal be in Nepal if it didn't come with a spectacular view? Aside from the beautiful scenery, the Himalayas are home to many of the ingredients that are used to make the iconic dishes of the surrounding cities. They serve as a constant reminder of how the culture of Nepal developed to be so unique. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have mountain views while working in the kitchen!

Making Momo

Perhaps the most iconic Nepalese recipe our travelers have returned with is the momo, a steamed dumpling filled with a variety of meats or vegetables. Making its way into local cuisine around the 14th century, the momo has become a part of everyday life in many areas of Asia. Our travelers had the chance to handcraft momos with an Insider Expert to learn the art of making their traditional dish. Nepal has its own flare in the kitchen, and by sitting down with locals to master a traditional recipe, it's personal. It allows for a relationship to form, and the passion and pride for one's country to be shared. This is why we put so much effort into featuring Meals that Matter, because we understand that travel is like cooking, it doesn't always go as planned and if you add in enough balanced variety, you're sure to get something good.

Want to try making momos for yourself? Follow this recipe to transplant yourself right into the heart of Nepal!

Recipe: Tibetan Vegetable and Tofu Momos

Ingredients 

Dough 

  • 2 cups all purpose flour, more as needed 

  • 1/2 tsp salt 

  • 1 tbsp sunflower seed oil 

  • 3/4 cup water 

Filling 

  • 2 cups (180g) shredded green cabbage 

  • 3/4 cup (70g) shredded carrot 

  • 1/2 cup (45g) thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts 

  • 2 tsp salt, more to taste 

  • 1 tbsp minced ginger 

  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced 

  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro 

  • 4 oz extra firm tofu, crumbled 

  • 1 tsp ground black pepper 

  • 2 tsp oil 

Instructions 

  • 1. Make the dumpling dough: In a mixing bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Add the water and oil and mix the dough until it comes together. Turn out onto a floured counter and knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary, until you have a smooth and barely tacky dough. Put the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

  • 2. Add the shredded cabbage, shredded carrot, and sliced scallions in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and toss to combine. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes, then squeeze out extra water from the cabbage. You can do it easily in a thin tea towel, nut milk bag, muslin or layered cheese cloth.

  • 3. Dump out the water and add the vegetables back into the mixing bowl. Toss with the ginger, garlic, cilantro tofu, black pepper, and oil. Taste and add salt if needed.

  • 4. When the dough has rested for a half an hour, divide it in half. Leave one half under the damp towel, and roll the second half out on a lightly floured counter until it is very thin, basically as thin as you can roll it. Lift the dough and rotate, flip and dust with more flour as you roll to keep it from sticking.

  • 5. Cut the dough into 3 1/2 - 4 inch circles. Remove the scraps of dough and place it back under the damp towel.

  • 6. Taking one piece of dough at a time, place it in the palm of your non-dominant hand. Put about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough, then fold and pinch the dough together to form a round momo. If you would like you can pinch the dough together at the end to seal the center, or leave it open as pictured. Watch the video for more details on how to shape the momos.

  • 7. Place finished momos on a lightly oiled plate and repeat with the remaining dough, rolling out the other half when needed, and re-rolling the scraps until all dough and/or filling is used up.

  • 8. Prepare a steamer pot, filling it with water and bringing it to a boil over medium-high heat. Place momos on a lightly greased steamer basket, leaving space between each dumpling. Steam for 5 minutes, or until the dough is not sticky to the touch and remove using tongs. Repeat with remaining dumplings.

  • 9. Serve the dumplings warm with chutney. Leftover dumplings can be reheated by steaming them again. 


Moroccan Meals that Matter

Turmeric, saffron, cumin - you can tell a lot about a culture just through the way they season their food. There aren't many places that this rings more true than the colorful country of Morocco.

Spice truly defines this destination as you find yourself winding through piles of spices in bustling markets that built their success upon the spice trade. So, it's not surprising that Moroccan cuisine is as mouthwatering as it claims to be. After all, they've had thousands of years to perfect their recipes!

This idea that cuisine is a culmination of all other aspects of a culture is at the core of our beliefs, and we know that by learning and sitting down with a local, you form a mutual understanding that can lead to lifelong friendship. That's why we include Meals that Matter on all of our Club Adventures tours, so travelers have the ability to embrace local life by dining at authentic, often family-owned restaurants instead of tourist traps and big name chains.

As a foodie destination, Morocco is the perfect destination to venture off the beaten path in search of an unforgettable meal, and we were sure to give our travelers a taste of all Morocco has to offer (see what we did there?). From camel to chicken tagine and more olives than you could ever imagine, our travelers taste-tested their way all around the country, and they've brought back their favorite tagine recipe and adventure-filled stories to inspire some Arabian nights at the dinner table!

A Dash of Adventure 

Meals can be especially delicious when you've put in the work to get to the dinner table. And, just like in cooking, if you add a dash of adventure to the mix, a trip is sure to satisfy. The travelers on our Moving Morocco itinerary were able to spice up their trip with an overnight stay in the Sahara Desert, experiencing traditional Berber life among endless sand dunes. After a journey to their campsite on a line of camels, they hiked to the top of towering dunes to watch the sunset on the swirling sands. A day like that can only end one way - with a delectable authentic meal and a night under the stars.

What is Tagine?

A tagine is a cooking vessel (and style) used to slowly cook food in a variety of Arabian countries. It is most well known for its use in Moroccan cuisine as the pot developed hand in hand with the craftsmanship of ceramics. Typically prepared with hefty amounts of North African spices accompanied by potatoes, carrots, and onions, this classic dish has made a name for itself in the world of foodie travelers. This style of preparation is popular for gastronomes because it yields a deliciously juicy finished product and cooks evenly without much effort! And, thanks to our travelers who learned to cook Moroccan fare like true locals, you'll be digging into a perfect tagine in no time. But remember, cooking is an adventure, so make it yours! Add more or less spices, maybe a dash of turmeric, or perhaps you love olives and want even more! Whatever you choose, crafting an authentic meal is an experience of its own, and allows us to get just a little closer to understanding a unique culture.

Dreaming about an exotic meal after all this talk? Get a taste of our Moving Morocco itinerary by preparing this tagine dish at home:

Recipe: Chicken Tagine

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 lemon (for zesting, feel free to slice more up to cook with)

  • cloves garlic, minced

  • bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess skin and fat 

  • Salt and ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into 1/4-in-thick slices

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1-3/4 cups chicken broth

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • large or 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick coins

  • 1/2 cup Greek cracked green olives, pitted and halved 

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

INSTRUCTIONS

  • 1. Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside. Zest the lemon. Combine 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest with 1 minced garlic clove; set aside.

  • 2. Season both sides of chicken pieces with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or pan over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke. Brown the chicken pieces skin side down in single layer until deep golden, about 5 minutes; using tongs, flip the chicken pieces over and brown the other side, about 4 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a large plate; when cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and discard. Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan.

  • 3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have browned at the edges but still retain their shape, 5 to 7 minutes (add a few tablespoons of water now and then if the pan gets too dark). Add the remaining minced garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the spices and flour and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth, honey, remaining lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Add the chicken (with any accumulated juices) back in, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

  • 4. Add the carrots, cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes more.

  • 5. Stir in the olives, reserved lemon zest-garlic mixture, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice; taste the sauce and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.

  • 6. Serve with couscous and enjoy!


Thailand Explorer: A Recipe for Adventure

 

When we dream of traveling, it might be the iconic sights or unique culture that draws us in. Or, perhaps it's the thought of tasting local cuisine that inspires your wanderlust. If you're anything like us, there's no better way to get a taste of a place than to ACTUALLY get a taste. Local cuisine has a wonderful way of intertwining all aspects of a culture in a manner that allows us to connect and understand a community, especially if you have the chance to cook it yourself. From the ingredients included to the cooking techniques, to sharing your finished product, crafting a meal in a new place is part of what makes the journey so memorable.

And, when it comes to flavor and culture, there's no place quite like Thailand that so perfectly embodies the experience of adventure through a meal. To inspire some travel nostalgia, we're looking back at a recent experience some of our travelers had when they attended a traditional Thai cooking class as part of our Thailand Explorer adventure. During the cooking class they learned to cook a mouthwatering Papaya Salad, but even more than that, they left with a greater understanding of and insight into Thai culture. As part of that learning, here is the 'recipe to adventure' they cooked up along the way, which is sure to leave you hungry for more:

Step 1: Start with something fresh   

Approach travel with the same fresh eyes, as you would cooking with fresh ingredients – it makes all the difference. While traveling, we're often exposed to cultures very different than our own, but if you keep an open mind, you'll find that every culture has their unique strengths, many of which you may even end up taking home with you. Keep your mind fresh, and eyes open to all the amazing things you'll see. In Thailand, trying new, fresh things often means haggling for newly picked fruit in a floating market, or zipping through the streets of Bangkok on a tuk-tuk, all while trying not to spill your pad Thai! Fresh experiences are endless here.

Step 2: Try something new

Try new flavors, try new foods, try it all. Trying new things is something that unites us not only with locals, but also with our fellow travelers. By exposing ourselves to the new flavors and ideas, we open our minds to what the rest of the world has to offer. We allow ourselves to be more understanding and accepting, which gives us a more well-rounded, educated view of the world. Thailand offers a plethora of 'new' experiences such as visiting elephant sanctuaries or getting lost in Chiang Mai's lively night markets. 

Step 3: Mix different things together you wouldn’t normally put together

Like mixing different flavors and textures in a dish, it's important to combine different kinds of experiences to craft an adventure. Be culturally immersive by chatting and meditating with monks; sight-see by bike instead of by van; or stay in the Chinese H’mong people’s hill tribe lodge in Northern Thailand's mountains. By mixing together different types of excursions, you get to experience the destination to its fullest.

Step 4: Go a little nuts 

A major lesson of travel is to not take yourself too seriously! Eat bugs from a street food cart; get a Thai massage; come across and hang out at a craft beer garden in the middle of Bangkok. Embrace the surprises, and travel unscripted for an adventure like no other.

Step 5: Like in cooking, expect that adventure is full of surprises

When cooking, it's never based 100% on a recipe. Rather, it's more of trial and error, which is remarkably like adventure. Be open minded; talk with your fellow travelers during Friday night rush hour Bangkok traffic; talk to locals or visitors on a lengthy layover. Your trip never goes exactly the way you planned, nor does the preparation of a recipe, which is what makes both such incredible adventures. 

Step 6: Share a kitchen table 

One of the most adventurous things you can do is to meet people in their home where they're most comfortable, which may also push you outside your comfort zone. As Anthony Bourdain once said, "You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal with them." Meet people, and to truly immerse yourself in a destination, be welcomed into locals’ homes to fully understand a different culture. 

Thailand is a country like no other, full of different colors, flavors, and sights. It is one of the most interesting and exciting destinations in the world, and it's a perfect paradigm for adventure travel. The welcoming culture allows for travelers to experience all aspects of the country in full force, taking the time to appreciate how wonderfully unique adventure travel can be!

If all this talk of adventure has you looking to whip up some traditional Thai food at home, check out this local recipe for Papaya Salad that our travelers have brought back to share with you! 

Recipe: SOM TUM // Papaya Salad

Ingredients Needed:

  • 1 very firm, unripe green papaya 
  • 1 carrot
  • 5 cloves small garlic, whole
  • 2-5 Pods Thai chilies
  • 1/4 cup long beans, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 2 medium tomatoes, quarters
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice from 1-2 fresh limes
  • 3 Tbsp roasted peanuts (see note)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp palm sugar, finely chopped, packed
  • 1 Tbsp small dried shrimp (optional)

*Potential side dishes include long beans, cabbages, carrot, sticky rice or pork rind

Instructions: Peel off the green papaya skin and wash. Chop the papaya lengthwise and not too deep, repeatedly in an area about 2 inches wide. Slice right underneath the lengthwise cuts about 1/4-inch thick. The papaya should come out in strands, julienne, and unequally pieces about 2 cups of green papaya shredded. Alternatively, use a cheese shredder (with big holes, not the tiny ones), or a julienne peeler, to shred the papaya. Peel the carrot and repeat the process with the carrot to yield about 1/2 cup of shredded carrot.

Put garlic and chillies (if you want it spicy, add chillies at this time but if not keep them for later) in the mortar, and pound them to a coarse mush paste. Add long beans and peanuts, pound until the beans split open and the peanuts break into small pieces. Add fish sauce, squeeze the limes, add the palm sugar, and use a pestle to pound and stir to mix the palm sugar into the juice.

Add shredded papaya, carrot with dried shrimps (If you want some chilli flavor but not too hot, add the chillies at this time and pound them lightly), then lightly pound one hand and use the small spatula to dig and flip the ingredients to the top with the other hand to bruise the papaya and carrot until they pick up all the flavorings and seasoning. Taste and adjust as needed with more seasoning to the desired flavor combination. Ideally, for a Thai, the salad should be very spicy, sour with salty and sweet kick at the back of the tongue. Dish out and serve with fresh vegetables.

Feeling hungry for more? Check out all that you can experience on our Thailand Explorer small group tour!


11 Highlights of Vietnam and Cambodia

After exploring Vietnam and Cambodia for 12 days straight, 12 hours a day, I was exhausted. But every single day after I would remember something that made me laugh, smile, or excited. This tour stuck with me in a way many haven't. So I want to share my highlights from each day.

Day 1: Eating Duck in Saigon

I'm going on record and saying the best way to get a tour going is with food. And the street food scene in Ho Chi Minh City was perfect. Vibrant, exciting, and delicious. My favorite was this delightful duck. Mouthwatering.

 

Day 2: Thien Hau Temple Water Temple

Our second day was an emotionally taxing one. Visiting the War Remnants Museum was a shocking reminder of what this country and it's people have gone through in terms of war. But before we did, we had a chance to visit one of Vietnam's most beautiful temples.

 

Day 3: Floating Down the Mighty Mekong

I'm often asked how I communicate in countries where I don't speak the language (99.9% of the places I visit). My answer is simple: a smile. There are very few things in life that are more universal than smiling or laughing. It's the default many of us have in most scenarios. From happiness to discomfort.

While exploring Southern Vietnam, we were consistently met with smiles and waves. Even more so than any other part of Vietnam. Southerners seem to be the kindest around the globe.

 

Day 4: Sunrise Over a Lotus Field

While many experiences can be duplicated around the world, there are a few that are unique to specific destinations. We had the opportunity to spend the night in a "homestay" which happened to be located on a Lotus farm. The family that owns the homestay make their living off Lotus farming. Our private cabins were situated on TOP of the Lotus field they work together, which meant we got to know the local creatures quite well.

Many aspects of this experience stood out for me. From engaging with the local community that subsists on the fragile Mekong Ecosystem, to the delicious cuisine. But I'll never forget opening my eyes and seeing this view outside my window. I honestly thought I was still dreaming.

 

Day 5: Museum of Vietnamese History

It's no secret that the British Museum in London is my absolute favorite museum anywhere in the world. But let's be honest, it's the world's largest museum of Colonialism. We're often presented a bastardized version of history and view from peoples in the west. With the adage, "History is written by the winners," taking on a quite literal meaning. Any frequent traveler will say this revisionist history that we're presented with is possibly the worst when it comes to Asia and Africa.

In regards to Asia, it's especially baffling given how economically, socially, and technologically leading-edge this continent is. This is why it's so enjoyable to visit national museums IN these countries. Here we can truly explore and learn about a place through the eyes of its people.

While exploring the Museum of Vietnamese History in Ho Chi Minh City, I was happy to learn several surprising facts about Vietnam I didn't know prior.

 

Day 6: Hidden Foodie Heaven of Cambodia

Cambodia gets eclipsed by places like Thailand, Singapore, or Vietnam when people discuss Street Food in Southeast Asia. But this is part of the mystic that makes Cambodia such a special place. The true essence of Cambodian food culture is a bit undercover. Where other destinations have been covered ad nauseam, Cambodian food still has some delicious surprises. Exploring Phnom Penh's Street Food by Cyclo was a highlight of the year for me.

 

Day 7: National Museum of