The Far East

We are big fans of Asian cuisine. I will start with Chinese, Korean and Japanese. At the time of my living in Düsseldorf, the city was home to the largest contingent of Japanese in Western Europe. The restaurant selection was unbelievable. Inventive sushi, unheard of sashimi, ramen noodles served in rich, flavorful broth made all the more incredible thanks to tripe. Hands down the best Japanese food I have ever eaten. It should be noted that I have yet to travel to Tokyo but I have hit the recognized hot spots in other corners of the Earth.

If you happen to find yourself in Düsseldorf and only have time for one meal, eat at Nagaya near to the Old Town. The Master Chef is king of many things but I kept returning most Saturdays thanks to his innovative and creative bento boxes. I think he was a pioneer in terms of torching rare pieces of fish as one would creme brûlée. On rare occasion, he served an insane tiramisu infused with green tea. This dessert made for that moment when the spoon hits the lips and all is well in the world.

As for Korean food, one cannot beat the world famous enclave that starts on 32nd street in New York City. I had bibimbap there for the first time. There was once an intimate spot in the West Village that my siblings and I used to frequent for Korean barbecue. It might still be around for all I know. Both were a ten block walk from my old Chelsea digs and in either direction. 

The best Chinese food I ever enjoyed was in China Town in London. My South African cousin was living there at the time and took us to a place famous for their Peking duck. A close second is a space my brother took us to in NYC back in 2008. He had recently returned from two years living in Beijing and wanted to introduce his two sisters to dishes native to his former home. In terms of Southeast Asian, we worship Thai and Vietnamese. Our city has quite the selection of both.

There is one Vietnamese haunt in particular whereby we are regular guests. We can and do order with our eyes closed. More on this spot and what to order later. As for South Asian cuisine, we adore Indian food. I became enamored of this fare once upon a time at a London restaurant called Chutney Mary. Phenomenal restaurants over the pond. As for Charlotte, we have discovered two go-to spots that we fly to when in the moods for lamb vindaloo, curried chick peas, chicken tikka masala and garlicky, buttery Naan bread. Lest we not forget ice cold Kingfisher beer directly from the bottle!

Nowadays, Charlotte has an impressive variety of international grocers that make it possible to find those off-the-grid ingredients like kaffir lime and green Bird's eye chillies that make Asian cooking at home possible. When it comes time to whipping up Asian inspired eats in our kitchen, I like to experiment with different curry pastes, coconut milk, as well as the incredible assortment of herbs and spices found in these eclectic shops. If it is not already, fish sauce should be a staple in your kitchen. It adds tremendous richness and depth to any and every dish that it meets. You can find it most anywhere nowadays.

Lettuce wraps are favorites of ours in that they pack some lively flavor into a very healthy dish. Brown and spice your meat, throw in some vegetables, pour in liquids and negotiate with other additions of your choice. You can use tofu, ground turkey, beef, basil and scallions. To add a bit of sweetness, mix in one tsp of sugar with your lime, soy and fish sauce mixtures. Experiment with almond or peanut butter. Serve with rice or buckwheat noodles. By keeping things basic, within twenty minutes you are in business and everyone can tuck in. Happy wrapping.

Asian inspired Lettuce Wraps


1 lb ground chicken – you can also use tofu, ground turkey or beef, etc.
2 TBS fish sauce
2 TBS soy sauce
½ cup of chicken stock
The juice of 1 lime
1 tsp star anise
1 small dried red chili or 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 red onion - chopped
3 cloves of garlic - chopped
2 inch knob of ginger – peeled and chopped
2 TBS coconut oil – if you do not have coconut oil, sesame oil works nicely too
1 punnet of cremini or white button mushrooms - chopped
3 carrots – chopped
One bunch of cilantro – chopped and stems removed
½ tin of water chestnuts
½  cup of baby corn
1½ cups of black eyed peas – or any other bean that suits you
Bibb lettuce
Kosher salt


1. Bring salted water to a boil and cook your black eyed peas for 20 minutes. Once this has finished, please drain and set aside.

2. In a separate bowl, mix the juice of 1 lime with the fish and soy sauces. Set aside.

3. In a large cooking pan, heat your coconut oil on medium high heat. Add the chopped red onion and garlic and cook for approximately three minutes. Add the ground chicken as well as a couple of pinches of kosher salt and cracked pepper. Crank up the heat to high and brown the chicken, approximately eight to ten minutes.

4. Once the chicken is cooked through, lower the heat back down to medium high and add chicken stock, ginger, star anise, red chili, cilantro, mushrooms and carrots. Give everything a big stir, bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium high and cook for approximately ten minutes.

6. Now add the lime juice, fish and soy sauce mixture from step 2. Add the water chestnuts and baby corn if it so pleases you. Give your pan a generous stir or more to coat the goodies in the pan. Once all is in order – five minutes or so – please remove from heat.

7. As for lettuce wrap assembly, be creative! I like to add a big spoonful of the meat and vegetable concoction, another scoop of beans and some cilantro sprigs. You can also gussy this dish up with rice, noodles, hoisin sauce or toasted peanuts. The sky is the limit!

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