Kampala Confidential

As loyal readers of our rice cooker mishaps may have anticipated, one of the most exciting aspects of having a real apartment here in Kampala is having a real kitchen. Making oatmeal using our plug-in kettle and gorging on raw fruits and vegetables worked out well enough in Thailand, especially as we were living in the land of delicious tropical fruits. But it’s also nice to be able to fire up the stove (even if it is an electric one) from time to time and cook something, even if that something is absurdly simple, like an egg.

We haven’t been experimenting with the local cuisine much here, as we did in India; I suppose I’m a bit less inspired by matooke and rice than I was by channa, dal, garam masala, and the mystical powers of the pressure cooker. But our huge Kenya-based grocery chain has locally-source versions of most of the Western-style conveniences we’re accustomed to, and a respectable array of Indian ingredients, thanks to the healthy Desi community here (although no channa to be found yet, oddly enough). Which means we’ve started revisiting many of our favorite recipes, most of which emphasize fresh vegetables, whole grains, and beans (with special thanks to Mark Bittman, who got us on into an almost-vegan-until-dinnertime routine late last summer). And our Indian kitchen experiences taught us a few special tricks, like making chapattis to use as tortillas for Mexican dishes.

We’ve also started baking bread again, using the same recipe we taught P Nik in Mae Hong Son. It’s easy to get whole wheat atta, semolina, and other fun flours here, so we’ll probably branch out and try a few different experiments next week.

Global Hunger Shabbat

Last night, we had a special Friday meal at my NGO office to participate in Global Hunger Shabbat, an AJWS initiative to raise awareness about hunger around the world. Back when we were at orientation in Chiang Mai we received a booklet with articles and pictures for discussion, and they asked us to organize a local observance for our friends or co-workers once we arrived on site.

We decided that the event would be a fun opportunity to introduce my co-workers to challah, and to the classic Shabbat rituals of wine, candles, and family. Kenny and Daniel spent much of the day baking challahs in P Nik’s kitchen. P Nik has a big propane-powered oven, so to maximize their propane utilization they made triple the normal recipe – 11 in all! They left three loaves for P Nik to sell, and brought the remaining eight over to my office. They also picked up a huge bottle of white Italian table wine and a bottle of red Chilean wine (the best we could do in these parts), a whiskey bottle full of local honey for challah-dipping, a couple of candles, and a few Asian desserts that offered pretty good approximations of hamentaschen and rugelach!

It didn’t surprise me that the challahs were a big hit – we were a group of almost 15 people, and had no problem finishing all of them. We also polished off all of the wine, which was a bit more treacherous than we had anticipated, as a few of my NGO’s members are a hair under 18 and are still learning how to moderate their alcohol consumption. ;) The best discovery we made was how well the challah paired with the spicy mango salad that a few staff members had taught me how to make earlier in the day – yum! We made our way through some of the Hunger Shabbat content as we ate, although much of it was quite difficult for non-native English speakers to read. The photos at the back of the booklet were the most accessible tidbits for this audience, and made for some good discussion.

After we ate, one of our joint secretaries and her friend pulled out their guitars, and they started a group sing-along session featuring many of the Burmese pop songs I’ve been hearing around the office for the past few weeks. It actually reminded me of many guitar-led song sessions from Jewish camp back in the day. It was a fun celebration and the food and music were fabulous!

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi overseeing our Shabbat spread

Kenny and me enjoying challah with spicy mango salad

Baked in Thailand

Over the past few weeks we’ve started to build a little community here in our quiet mountain town. In addition to ex-pats, we’ve also befriended Nik, the owner of a local café. Nik makes the only real yogurt (as in, just milk and cultures) in this town, and some tasty soft breads. She invited us to bring ingredients to her kitchen one day, where she taught us some Thai recipes.

To return the favor, Lauren had a brilliant idea. Given that Nik has a blender that she uses for her bakery, she thought that we could teach her how to make peanut butter. She would be able to sell it along with her bread, and I wouldn’t need to spend 30 minutes with a mortar and pestle making barely spreadable peanut butter. This Saturday we stopped by after lunch with a bag of peanuts and gave Nik a demonstration. She loved it! She then mentioned to us how she wanted to be able to make crustier breads. We told her that we’d have to do some research but we’d give it a shot tomorrow.

While we’ve played with various quick-breads and challah, we’ve never tried our hand at rustic, crusty breads. Fortunately, I remembered a book that I discovered just before we left on sabbatical called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is conveniently available on the Kindle, so in 10 seconds we had our preparatory material in hand.

We spent Sunday morning getting familiar with the highly rated “master bread recipe”, and after lunch it was time to test it out. The recipe involves four ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt), minimal active work, a few tricky steps (with pictures that help immensely) and a decent amount of waiting time. About 5 hours after mixing the ingredients we opened the oven and, just like the book had described, the browned crusty loaves crackled on their way out. It was a slightly longer demonstration process than the peanut butter. :)

We went upstairs to join the local yoga class while the loaves cooled. Our baking timing couldn’t have been better. I skipped sivasana to cut up one of the four loaves, and served samples of bread and peanut butter to the exiting yogis. We had rave reviews all around, and the remaining three loaves sold in about 30 seconds flat. Nik also sold a few jars of peanut butter to the yogis.

Over the past few days Nik’s been practicing the bread recipe and I’ve stopped by during my lunch breaks to provide tasting and marketing advice. Today’s batch came out excellent. Capacity building has never been more fun!

Nik and her bread
Nik with fresh bread cooling in a steamer (it’s important to improvise around here)

A few different designs fresh out of the oven

Nik showing off her wares
Nik and all of her goodies (peanut butter, cookies, breads, and moon cakes)

Phnom-enal Bread

Sometimes it’s great to be in a former French colony, especially when it comes to bread. We’ve had tasty baguettes throughout Laos and Vietnam, usually with breakfast or in banh mi form. In Phnom Penh we found a boulangerie with the best bread we’ve had all year. Their country bread was crusty outside and beautifully chewy and yeasty inside with a tasty mix of whole grain flours.

We had to be at the airport by 7:30AM this morning, and so we decided to stop by after dinner last night to grab another loaf for breakfast. It was then that we discovered the boulangerie’s secret: a 62 year old very French baker.

Henry Marguet runs L’Ami du Pain Bakery as part of Open Wine, located behind the Royal Palace on Street 19 along with a retail wine shop, a boucherie, a charcuterie, and a restaurant. Definitely worth a stop when you’re in Phnom Penh.

Country bread
Yummy country bread

Bread on display
Spoiled for choice

Open Wine
No. 219, Street 19, Behind Royal Palace
Phnom Penh 12206
+855 023 223 527

Daily, 7AM-11PM (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)