You can travel to the other side of the world, but nothing beats a good pork scratching. Foodie friends Dave Myers and Si King, aka The Hairy Bikers, tell Keeley Bolger about their Asian Adventure.
For two men who love to eat, heading to Japan for a crash course in sumo wrestling was a pretty unappetising experience for Si King and Dave Myers, aka The Hairy Bikers.
Firstly, the wrestlers they met at the sumo training stable for their new BBC Two series The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure, which sees them travel around the continent sampling the cuisine and culture, had stomachs like "jelly duvets", recalls Myers.
Secondly, chimes in King with a bemused grin on his face, "after four hours of training, the sumo wrestlers are a bit sweaty - and how you engage with the lock is by putting your hand in your opponent's armpit!"
Armpits might not have been on the Bikers' chosen menu but the firm friends were pleased to discover a rather more tasty - albeit decidedly British - offering in the markets in northern Thailand.
"There would be a pile of pork scratchings on the table, 2m high, various grades of pork scratching," says Myers who, in his mid sixties, is a decade older than King, and who took part in the most recent series of Strictly Come Dancing.
"You go round to someone's house with a bag of pork scratchings and you gift wrap them with ribbon and everything. It's brilliant. It's the perfect northern gift!"
Before the trip, the lads had been cutting back on pork scratchings and the like, in a bid to lose weight for their TV series and book The Hairy Dieters, but they admit that it was hard to stick with the diet when they were on the road.
"What was interesting was that there were a couple of camera shots where we look at each other, and we're bloated," says King. "You take on so much water, and I'm thinking, 'This is ridiculous, I'm not eating anything because it's hot'."
But it wasn't just the water which bloated Myers out.
"I drank a lot of beer," he admits, laughing. "I put on half a stone by the time we came back, but I knew I was doing Strictly, so I lost a bit more than that in total.
"It's real life really, there's no point pretending we didn't go there. In Thailand, I wasn't going to miss out on Thai food and Thai breakfasts. And somewhere like Korea, I [wasn't going to miss out on] Korean fried chicken. It's the new KFC, it's epic. It's double fried and it's taken over America."
When it comes to work, the duo, who've only fallen out once in their 10-year friendship (in Namibia, over how to make mayonnaise), are clear about what makes their trips so memorable; the company.
"We've been lucky enough to share unique experiences," says Myers. "It's much better doing it with your best mate. When you have a rough day, you can go for a pint and you've had a rough day together.
"We've been to some wonderful places and had some wonderful experiences that would be less than half that if we'd been on our own."
Fancy a taster from the Bikers' travels? Here are three recipes from The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure...
Miso black cod
4 x 200g thick black cod fillet, skin on
Vegetable oil, for greasing
2 limes, quartered
For the marinade:
4tbsp white miso paste
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
10g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
2tbsp caster sugar
1tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
Put all the marinade ingredients in a plastic or glass bowl - it must be non-metallic because of the vinegar in the marinade - and mix well.
Add the pieces of fish, cover the bowl with cling film and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least two hours, but preferably overnight.
When you're ready to cook your fish, preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160C/Gas 4. Lightly oil a non-stick baking tray, then place the fish, skin side down, on it. Spoon two tablespoons of the marinade over the fish and put the tray in the oven.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. Meanwhile, preheat the grill.
Remove the fish from the oven, spoon over the remaining marinade and put the tray under the hot grill until the fish has turned a lovely golden brown.
Serve at once with lime wedges on the side.
Panang beef curry
2tbsp vegetable oil
750g lean stewing beef, chopped into 1cm cubes
5 lime leaves
2 stems of fresh green peppercorns or 1tbsp sweet brined green peppercorns from a jar
250ml beef stock
2-3 red bird's-eye chillies, slashed
200ml canned coconut milk (low-fat is fine)
3 fresh tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into small dice
Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish
Steamed rice, sprinkled with roasted chilli flakes, for serving
For the curry paste:
6 green cardamom pods, seeds only
6 large dried red chillies
1tbsp coriander seeds
1 1/2tsp cumin seeds
20g galangal (a type of ginger), peeled and finely chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, white part only, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
10 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
5 large Thai shallots (or 2 banana shallots), roughly chopped
2.5cm piece of fresh turmeric root, finely grated or 1 1/2tsp ground turmeric
1tsp shrimp paste
4tbsp fish sauce
1tbsp vegetable oil
To make the curry paste, lightly crush the cardamom pods and split them open. Remove the seeds and put them in a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar (you can chuck the pods away).
Heat a small frying pan and dry roast the chillies for two to three minutes until slightly browned. Tip them into a small spice grinder or pestle and mortar with the cardamom seeds and return the frying pan to the heat.
Add the coriander and cumin seeds to the pan and roast them for a minute to release the flavours, then add them to the cardamom and chillies and grind or pound everything to a powder.
Add all the remaining ingredients and pound to make a paste, then set aside. If you prefer, use a spice grinder to blitz the spices to a powder, then transfer this to a food processor, add the remaining ingredients and process to a paste. (There will be enough paste to make two curries and you can store it in the fridge for two to three weeks or freeze for a month.)
To make your curry, you'll need a medium-sized casserole dish with a lid.
Place the dish on the heat and add the oil. Brown the meat on all sides, working in batches so you don't overcrowd the dish.
When all the meat has been browned, tip it back into the casserole dish and add the curry paste (see above). Stir to coat the meat with the paste and cook for two to three minutes.
Add the lime leaves, green peppercorns, beef stock and red chillies, then cover and leave to cook gently over a low heat for about one hour and 45 minutes. If you prefer, preheat the oven to 140C/Fan 120C/Gas 1 and cook the curry in the oven for a couple of hours, or until the meat is tender. Have a look every now and then and if the curry looks like it is drying out, add a little water as needed.
When the curry is cooked, stir in the coconut milk, add the tomatoes and red pepper, then continue cooking for a further 10 minutes - the pepper should still have a bit of crunch.
Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh coriander leaves and serve with some steamed rice sprinkled with roasted chilli flakes.
2tbsp vegetable oil
150g Spam (other luncheon meats are available!), cut into thick slices and halved
150g frankfurter sausages, cut into 2cm pieces
150g pork mince
100g firm tofu, cut into 1cm chunks
8 garlic cloves, crushed
3tbsp gochujang (Korean red chilli paste)
2tbsp gochugaru (Korean red chilli powder)
8 spring onions, shredded
Handful of glass noodles or rice noodles, soaked as instructions on the packet
500ml chicken or pork stock, plus a little extra if necessary
Flaked sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Rice or chips, for serving
Heat the oil in a wok or a large frying pan.
Add the slices of Spam and the frankfurters, pork mince and tofu. Fry gently until the meat is starting to take on some colour, being careful not to break up the pieces.
Add the garlic, chilli paste and chilli powder and fry for two minutes, then add the spring onions, noodles and stock. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, then taste and adjust the seasoning. If the stew looks too dry, pour in a little more stock and it's ready to enjoy!
Serve this from the pan at the table with some rice, if you like, or even with a big bowl of chips.
:: The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure starts on BBC Two on Thursday, February 13. An accompanying book is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £20. Available now
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