Bánh Mì in Vietnam: Sandwich of the Gods

The great thing about a sandwich is the beauty that lies within. Between those two, thick fluffy yet crusty slices of bread, could lie anything. Absolutely anything. If you want to munch on crushed anchovies and marmite smeared inside a crusty granary roll you can. And nobody will probably even know. The sandwich holds all secrets.

In Vietnam the sandwich has continued to do an excellent job in surprising, impressing and to be quite frank, amazing me. Strictly speaking of course, it is not a ‘sandwich’, it’s a baguette. Now I don’t want to get all ‘colonial’ on you – I am more than aware of the destruction, death and damage caused by the French colonial years in Vietnam – but man, they left the baguette. And that must surely be seen as a silver lining of sorts.

It goes by the name of Bánh Mì here – and no, it doesn’t sound like it is written. Vietnamese is a tonal language – the words are sung as if they are musical notes on the bars of a great composition. I on the other hand can’t sing or even talk in high notes, which leaves me with little more than a blank face or two when I start singing for my Bánh Mì.

But trust me, these little baguettes are worth persisting for. They are normally sold in a fairly innocuous-looking cart of sorts, which will often reveal a woman in her mid 50s furiously cutting sideways into the crusty baguettes with a seemingly blunt knife. Welcome to the Bánh Mì cart.


You will see pots of unidentifiable ingredients – odd shapes and colours of what I have since discovered is ham, alongside sliced chillis, eggs, vats of meat juice and tomatoes. The woman will look at you increasingly mystified as you try to sing for your Bánh Mì. She sells nothing else so eventually will raise an eyebrow and sing “Banh Mi” back to you, which of course you think sounds exactly the same as what you were saying.

But she is the Bánh Mì boss so you smile sweetly and nod enthusiastically as she begins her work. First the bread is stabbed length-wise down the baguette before a vat of, what I still think is, Mayonnaise is smeared across the soft, fleshy inside. Next comes a generous slab of pate that coats the mayonnaise nicely.

Upon the thick bed of pate and mayonnaise the ‘ham’ is then placed, which can be white, pink, or something in between. And then it starts to become a bit of a blur as things are just thrown in, as if flying out of the little metal tubs that line the cart’s shelves. Chilli, coriander, fish sauce, green things, red things, pickled carrots. You know the creation is nearly complete when your smiling Bánh Mì master turns to the sizzling sunny side-up fried egg behind her and lifts it straight from the pan into your heaving baguette.

It is wrapped up in paper or cling film, held together by an elastic band and costs you the equivalent of 50p.

banh mi

Sometimes you can just eat your Bánh Mì then and there – just stand in the same spot as the cart and tuck right into the gooey, crusty goodness. But sometimes you need to take it carry it home, sinking under the weight of its own filling, and lie it on a plate and prepare yourself for what comes next.

By this point the piping hot egg has seeped through the pate, soy sauce, mayonnaise and meat – turning it into an almost pie-like sandwich. The crust retains its crunch, but the inside turns into a delectable warm mush of eggy, meaty, herby goodness with an incredible chilli after-bite.


Serving Suggestion: Best enjoyed with an ice-cold bottle of Bia Saigon, available from all good retailers for about 30p.

It is Vietnam in a sandwich. It’s everything that a sandwich should be. And it knows it – it seems to almost proudly brag about the weight and sheer weirdness of its fillings as it is placed in your hands. It is after all, a sandwich that will quite literally have you singing for your supper.

Eating Dog in China

Dog. Now there’s a word that should never appear in the food section of any travel blog. Ever. It should also never be put next to words like casserole or soup. But unfortunately China breaks all the rules – and so, so will I.

Here’s the thing – I love dogs. We got our first dog when I was 10 and he looked like something out of an Andrex advert; tiny, golden and a right little scamp. He came from a little house in the country where a beautiful Golden Retriever had given birth to a litter of honey-coloured pups with oversized paws. He bounded playfully over to my brother and I, licking our hands. We didn’t choose him as such, he selected us.

We called him Hobbes. He slobbered a lot, which secretly distressed some of my friends in our teenage years when he decorated their favourite glittery jeans in his gloopy, white saliva and laddered their tights in one enthusiastic bounce. But they loved him really.

He was part of the family. He would sit by me when I was sick off school, he’d wait by the front door for my mum to come home from work every day and he’d play football/puncture footballs with my brother in the garden. He even brought home a pair of trainers in my dad’s shoe size from the woods one day. Nobody asked any questions, dad just wore them for the next two years.

It still makes me wince when I think of how he just fell to the floor one day after having an operation to remove a tumour. I walked into the house to find my parents wrapping him in a blanket, stroking his head, hours after he had stopped breathing. We mourned him for weeks. And today we still talk fondly of him, laughing at his silly old ways.

So when I got to China I was apprehensive about the dog meat situation. As a meat eater I questioned whether it was right to pick and choose between which animals you consume. Should one life be more precious than another, I asked myself.

But then I imagined eating dog and immediately felt guilty of cannibalism. Dogs are pets, one of the family. I could never eat one I concluded.

We occasionally saw it on the menu and I would shudder.


I reminded myself that my condemnation was a cultural one and tried to challenge it. After all, dog eating in China stems back to the years of the Cultural Revolution where people were starving to death during freezing winters and huge famines.

But now food is in abundance. And plenty of Chinese people have pet dogs.

I found myself desperate to understand the tradition and not judge, while at the same time wanting to scream at waiters: “How can you put this on the menu?” And make large (for a backpacker anyway) donations to dog protection charities in the country.

These thoughts circulated in my mind as I toured the country, while tasting and relishing almost every other dish on the menu. But then we did a cookery course.

It started off innocently enough. A trip to the market to buy all our ingredients… We smelt the herbs, squealed at tubs of eels and snails that had been freshly plucked from their shells in front of us and asked all sorts of questions.

“What’s that numbing spice that is in almost everything and completely anaesthetises your mouth?” Colourful pepper, we were told.

“Ooh – and those amazing thin, black mushrooms that are in almost every stir-fry,” we asked. Black ear, we were told. It’s a tree fungus don’t you know.


It was all going very well when suddenly we turned a corner and found ourselves in the meat section. Or live animal section, I should say.

Our guide-cum-food-teacher promptly left us to do “some shopping” after warning us that many people found this part of the market hard to deal with and was not for the faint hearted. There were chickens in cages and big fluffy rabbits behind bars, alongside ducks, geese and other clucking, squeaking creatures that would soon meet their end.


I was not particularly phased by that. I believe if you are a meat eater you should face up to the reality of what that means. So I kept walking. And then the live animal section became the abattoir and I had to remind myself to make peace with the choice I had made.

But then I saw the dogs. It all seemed to happen in slow motion in my mind – but in reality I think it was a less than a second.

First I saw the live dogs in cages behind the butcher and, I kid you not, for a split second I thought: “Ahh, she has her dog with her.” But before that sentence could finish in my mind, it was replaced by another – that this was no pet.

Then I saw what was hanging, gutted in front of me – undeniably the carcass of a dog. And then my eyes fell to her hands, which were viciously slamming a huge meat cleaver into the flesh on a table in front of her. A dog, I concluded.

And then my eyes fell to the ground, because I couldn’t look ahead anymore. And there, by her ankles, was a cage of cats. This time my first thought was no longer of pets.

I took a photo because I couldn’t not take one. I’m sure many of you will think that is strange, and I’m sure many of you may think that photo should certainly not be posted her here. And I did not want to upset or offend anyone so I have not copied it below, instead if you want to view my images, click here.

Why do I take any pictures when travelling? To record what I see, places I’ve been and capture a life and world that is alien to me.

And why do I keep this blog? For exactly the same reasons.

This was no different. In fact, I like to think that one day, when dog is off the menu forever, these photos will become nothing more than a little piece of historical evidence. An image of times gone by. And there is a growing movement to end dog eating in China so I like to think that hope is somewhat founded.

My first rule in travelling is to accept others’ cultures. Things are not wrong just because they may not seem right to you – and it is only when you accept these alien ways of life (even if you don’t agree with them) that you have any real hope of gaining an insight into other cultures.

But sometimes you just can’t accept them. The poverty in India, the lack of women’s rights in Afghanistan, dog eating in China. I can’t accept any of them and so I suppose I have broken my first rule.

But perhaps the second rule of travelling is to listen to your own beliefs and morals and challenge them to truly understand them. And then, if you still carry them in your heart, don’t ignore them.

So I’ve broken one rule and lived by another. Dog is off the menu for me. What do you think?

Food on Chinese Trains

Chugga-chugga-chugga-slosh-slurp-slosh-choo-choo is the noise a Chinese train makes as it hurtles across the tracks carrying hundreds of people eating pot noodles.

The Chinese like their food. In fact, when travelling in “cattle class” as we now affectionately call the hard seat tickets, it feels like the Chinese do little other than eat. And that suits me just fine.

So on our recent 29 hour journey from Xi’an to Guilin I decided to live like a local and spent an evening, a night, a morning, and afternoon and another evening doing little but eating.

The best thing about Chinese trains is that you can get on with no food and still eat your way across the country. And, in stark contrast to aeroplane food, the grub that is served up on Chinese trains is brilliant. So great in fact that I thought I should tell you all about it.

First up was dinner. Dinner was especially important because we were sulking a bit at this point. We had 29 hours ahead of us in the same seats and to make matters worse The Mongoose and The Yank (Karen, the Mongoose’s better half) had splashed out on a soft sleeper. They had a soft, comfy bunk in a private 4-bed cabin, we were sharing our carriage with about 100 others – many of whom did not even have seats so were squashed onto the end of ours. We were bitter.

But then a smiling man paraded down the carriage bearing a food laden trolley and this was served (at the bargainous price of 20 Yuan – £2).


Feast your eyes upon this ladies and gents. At the back a giant portion of steamed rice was served with a fried egg on top so you could even make your own egg fried rice in the pot if you so desired. It was accompanied by three delicious dishes – a black bean pork number, a rich soy sauce based beef dish and chilli tofu.

It was delicious, filling and made my chopsticks work at an alarming pace. I have no idea how this creation is whipped up on the train – is there a mini kitchen somewhere with a little Chinese lady in it who has three huge woks and a large pan on the go? I wanted to go and find her and shake her hand.

After dinner we decided to grace The Mongoose and The Yank with our company and arranged to meet on neutral ground – the Buffet Car. Oh, the Buffet Car – a delicious way to get out of cattle class for a few precious hours and eat something else.

It was an odd set up I won’t lie. We were charged 30 Yuan (about £3) for the privilege of sitting there and were told we could stay for nine hours until 6am. We were told some food would be on its way. We guzzled some Chinese wine (more on that another time) and waited patiently.

Soon a man appeared with a huge box of goodies and dished out an array of treats for us.


Buttery biscuits, tea, coffee and best of all a huge packet of semi-popped corn, that tasted like dried Sugar Puffs. A fine treat indeed.

Matty and I made the most of our Yuan by crashing out in the buffet car until 6am after the other two went back to their palace. Once rudely awoken we trudged back to our seats and grabbed some breakfast from the trolley.

Ding, ding. Welcome to the Chinese breakfast. Yummy, soft dough balls and a spicy cabbage and bean stir-fry. Delicious. Only let down by a strange bowl of glutinous rice slop that they insist on serving at every breakfast.


This part of the meal went straight down the loo.


A nap later and we were ready for our mid-morning snack. The Pot Noodle. The essential travel partner in China. Dozens of people up and down carriages across the country can be found slurping on these noodles at any one time.

The trolley man boasts three shelves of multi-coloured pots for the picking and at either end of the carriage you will find huge tanks of boiling water. When word gets out they have been re-filled you must not be elbow-shy as dozens rush forward clutching their cardboard pots with a ferocity that is somewhat disarming.


A far cry from the pot noodles at home, these are spicy, flavoursome and wholesome. Ok, the last bit was a lie. These things can’t be good for you.

In between the meals there are plenty of snacks on offer. Including packets of chilli tofu, which once opened must be sucked out of the packet with your mouth, chilli nuts, sweet nuts, seeds of all shapes and sizes and crisps which I can only describe as ‘Chinese flavoured’.

And so it was that 29 hours later we waddled off the train as it sloshed and slurped to a hault in Guilin. And I was ready to get off that train. Really ready. I just couldn’t eat anything else.

How to order a great (Chinese) meal in China

I’ve met plenty of people who have visited China and returned home a little disappointed.

They walk back into their local, order a stiff gin and tonic, and talk in dark tones about people spitting on the floor, the lack of dragons, people not abiding by society’s great leveller (the queue) and worse yet, the food not living up to expectations.

“You know China Town in Soho,” they ask. Everyone nods expectantly. “Well it’s NOTHING like that,” they reveal to the sounds of gasps of horror from around the table.

All sorts of ghastly tales then follow about eating mystery meat, strange broths and missing dogs.

Now I have been in China for less than one week but I can confirm the spitting is disgusting, the queues need working on and I’m still dragon hunting. The food, however, has been nothing short of fabulous.

I have come to the conclusion that the reason behind bad food experiences in the Middle Kingdom is purely because it is impossible to read the menu. Instead of pointing at the pretty but indistinguishable letters that say ‘Szechuan chicken’ you point at the equally pretty but unreadable letters that say ‘dog soup’. Easy mistake to make.

But I have a solution. Allow me to present the ultimate five step guide to ordering the best food in China*. Drum roll please.

Step one
Buy a ‘hard seat’ ticket for an unthinkably long train journey. We took one for the 26 hour journey between Kashgar and Turpan, which worked out just perfectly.


(The Mongoose, as pictured on the left eating a banana, was particularly impressed).

It is imperative the journey is both long, uncomfortable and full of small children and babies with no nappies on. You will be forced to get ‘close’ to those around you as the naked babies are passed around and your rubbish is thrown out of the train window by smiling strangers before you can say: “Wait no, save the world!”

Step two
Make a nice Chinese friend who can speak English. The above conditions will bring you together in a way that a posh, private ‘soft sleeper’ bed would just never do.

It is important your new friend is nice as you’ll be spending a bit of time with them from now on (see point three). We opted for a lovely girl called Jialil, who also went by the English name of Annie.


Obviously your friend does not have to be a girl, a boy would suffice, but we all know girls are more resourceful (see point four) and generally better than boys in every way so I recommend going down the female route.

Step three
Kidnap them. There are a number of methods for this but it is essential they do not feel like they are being kidnapped, perhaps let them believe you are inviting them to join you on your journey, or that you are in love with them. Whatever it takes.

Once kidnapped treat kindly.


See, we took Annie out to Gaochang old city and everything.

Step four
Now this is the big one, the whole reason you got on that filthy train carriage in the first place and kidnapped a nice Chinese woman. This is crunch time, it is time for step four: gently suggest your new friend chooses a spot for lunch and/or dinner and that they go through the menu and select the dishes for you.

We struck gold. Annie chose a grape-adorned cosy spot besides Grape Valley in Turpan. And while she ordered the food, I was fed juicy, sweet grapes. Heaven I tell you, heaven.


Step five
Eat. It is time to reap the rewards of your hard work. With any luck, your table will soon be covered in an array of lip-smacking, spicy, Chinese fare. We lucked out, in fact I will be so bold to say it was the best ‘local meal’ of the trip so far.

First up was a dish that we have come to know as Plov from our travels in Cental Asia, but goes by the name of shou zhua tan in this neck of the woods. A huge plate of fried rice with soft onions and sliced carrots tossed through it, topped with small pieces of tender lamb that fall apart in your mouth on first touch with the teeth. It works, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before.


Food shots should always be glamorous.

As we were swooning and groaning over the huge dish placed before us, with four spoons standing erect in the rice (I love being able to use that word now I no longer work for a newspaper), the second dish made its arrival.


I want to call this dish a ‘sort of black bean sauce-based green bean and chilli delight’ but that does not do it justice. Because, you see, it didn’t actually taste of black bean sauce (the kind that comes thick, sloppy and too rich in most Chinese takeaways back home) – but you just sort of knew this had black bean roots.

Let’s start at the beginning. The green beans were chunky broad beans, fried in a delicious marinade that saturated their skins in flavour and turned them wrinkly while retaining their crunch – all in the same bite. Tossed with tender slivers of beef, there was a ‘black bean’ flavour, a huge chilli sensation, a garlic kick and eventually my taste buds just sort of collapsed and stopped trying to figure out the ingredients. The Chinese call this dish jiang dou chao mou.

My chopsticks could not move fast enough. This is both a wonderful and terrible reality. Great for the digestion, not so great for the Guts in me. (Guts is an alter ego who rears her ugly head when good food is around, she creates a right scene, makes me eat like a pig and occasionally takes it to such lengths that I have to retire to bed for the evening. I fear she may have her hey day in China).

While my chopsticks were busy trying to answer to Guts’ endless demands, the next two dishes were delivered. Lamb kebabs and an egg and tomato dish. But this is lamb, tomatoes and eggs like they’ve never been seen before.

The kebabs (yang rou chuan), were heavily spiced but beautifully tender. Inevitably there was the typically Central Asian huge hunk of fat that sat on each kebab, inevitably pulled off by us and left on the side, but the rest of the meat was delicious.

And finally, the eggs and tomato: The dish I almost turned my nose up at when it was placed in front of me. “Eggs?!” I felt like crying, “I get eggs at home, take them away!” Fortunately Guts was more in control at this point so she just dug her chopsticks in and gobbled away.


I was rewarded with what was essentially a richly seasoned omelette, dripping in the sweet juices of ripe tomatoes, salt, pepper and garlic. I might have licked my chopsticks a little too keenly.

Oh sorry, I sort of forgot I was writing a five-step guide then, I got a little lost in it all. But yes, I suppose that brings me to the end of the guide. Anyway I hope it is as successful for you as it was for me (and Guts), please excuse me for the time being… I have friends to make.

*Disclaimer: Some people just like dog broth and I can take no responsibility if your new friend is unfortunately that way inclined. Bad luck. Try again.

Coffeedelia, Almaty Kazakhstan

When I was growing up I always wished I had a more ‘normal’ name – like Laura, Sarah or Emma – something that was on the plastic badges at theme park gift shops. All I wanted was a big plastic Minnie Mouse sign that said ‘Delia’s room’ like my best friend Laura had.

I would eagerly rush to the gift shop on school trips, in vain hope that something would have my name on it. As all the other kids queued up, proudly clutching their ‘David’ warrior badge or something I would buy another pencil with some museum name on it.

I remember one year my mum got a carpenter at a garden centre to solder my name on a piece of wood to stick on my door. He drew a frog next to it. And that was as good as it got.

As I got older it became less of an issue, I enjoyed not having to identify myself with a surname – Delia is almost always enough. And as a journalist it’s actually quite nice to have a name that stands out.

But imagine my surprise, when walking down one of the main roads in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to see a coffee shop with my name on it. Coffeedelia. The five year-old who never got her plastic, glittery name badge came flooding back. I almost jumped on the spot while pointing at it excitedly, crying: “That says Delia. It’s called Coffeedelia it has my name, it has my name! We must eat here, we must drink here, I need a picture of me with THAT sign,” and so on.

Even Matty tweeted about The Big News.


Decked out in fluorescent, vivid lime green and bright orange, Coffeedelia feels like the kind of place that gives you a big, huge dollop of summer with your cappuccino. I was instantly drawn to the minimalist white tables outside and the slightly orange haze to the world that the large canopy provides.


The menu, decked out as a vintage magazine, was huge and it said my name on every page.


In fact, in addition to its fab name, there are so many things that Coffeedelia gets right it’s hard to know where to start. Excuse me while I make a brief list…

1) They serve alcoholic coffees – everything from Irish coffees to orange infused brandy coffees with a cheeky Baileys number in between.

2) Their selection of cold coffees is almost as extensive as their hot coffees and their tea list is simply ginormous.

3) They sell tea with vanilla syrup in it and whipped cream on top. Why not, I hear you cry.

4) They serve thin crust pizzas including one with spinach, mushroom and pesto on it. All coffee shops should sell this.

5) All pizzas are served with a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the side. Nothing short of genius.

6) They have a mouth-watering selection of cakes, eclairs, maceroons and ice creams.



7) Their toilets are beautiful, I hung around in there for a while. This is not weird. I’ve been travelling Central Asia for three months. I have not seen a nice toilet in three months. Coffeedelia has the best toilet in Central Asia. Fact.

8) It’s all so photogenic, so I got to eat, drink and take pictures. All my favourite things. Here’s some of my Instagram shots:


So after leafing through the menu for some time, it was decision time. Being early in the morning (well 10am) I opted for a Cappucino and the scrambled eggs breakfast.

We ventured inside to make our order. It operates an order-at-the-till-but-have-your-food-brought-to-you-by-a-waitress system. With dozens of staff around we ordered quickly and the drinks were so speedy that by the time I’d absorbed the funky interior and taken a few shots, they were already waiting for us.




The cappuccinos were spot on. The perfect blend of milk, froth and espresso, the medium sized drink (that felt more like a large) transformed the morning from a sluggish to a spritely one, in one steamyl sip. It was strong but not bitter. Just how The Mongoose likes his men.



Next up was the breakfast. I was tempted by the porridge with fruits that was only 500 Tenge (about £2) but somewhat craving the comforts of home, I ordered the scrambled eggs as it came with bacon, sausage, toast and fried tomatoes. Yes, I was getting a Central Asian fried breakfast. Matty opted for fried eggs but The Mongoose failed to even get out of bed so he was destined to a breakfast of fried dough on a bus later that morning.



I am sure three or four eggs must have been used in the production of my breakfast. Fluffy and scrambled, the eggs reached far and wide on my plate. With a generous smattering of pepper (from me) they were the perfect accompaniment to the salty, streaky bacon and juicy tomatoes.

The sausage was a frankfurter and while I had obviously been craving a coarse, Lincolnshire number (that just don’t exist on this side of the world), it was actually surprisingly good.

In fact the only disappointment was that I didn’t have room for dessert – I know, shame on me. But we did return for pizza and iced coffees (a wicked combination) the next day so all was not lost.

As we made our exit from our funky surroundings, to proceed with our self-guided walking tour of Almaty, I paused to thank Andrei, the owner.

“Why did you call it Coffeedelia?” I asked him.

“Because it’s like psychedelia,” he said glancing around at the deliciously psychedelic exterior.

Of course. Psychedelia. Now that’s something I really need to get on a badge.

Fact file

The verdict: Coffeedelia might just be the best coffee shop and cafe in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The price: Almaty is an expensive city compared to elsewhere in Central Asia – but Coffeedelia is reasonable. We paid the same price for pizza here (160 tenge/£7) as we did at a street stall. Two breakfasts and two cappuccinos costs about 3,500 tenge (£14).

The directions: We caught the number nine electric bus to right outside its door on Kabanbay Batyr (just beyond the junction with Furmanov Street.) Check it out.

PS: Oh, and make sure you order the Dr Fredo Classic iced coffee… Vanilla syrup, cream and crushed ice, it is nothing short of divine.

Cyclone restaurant, Bishkek Kyrgyzstan: How to bribe your friends into buying you a Champagne dinner

I had been warned about bribery and corruption before coming to Central Asia. Travellers along the Silk Road regaled horror stories of being pulled over by police and being forced to pay $100 before they could get away.

But I just never thought I was the sort of person to be dragged into that sort of business. Until I saw my prize, that was, glimmering and shining before my eyes, and I suddenly knew I would go to any lengths to get it.

You see, in true Hansel and Gretel style, I’ve sort of always left a trail behind me… of snotty tissues. They just seem to fall from my pockets, run out of my hands, jump from my lap. It’s not really my fault – just a combination of hayfever/allergies and some runaway tissues.

But The Mongoose and Matty took a dislike to my ingenious methods to ensure we never got lost.

“We’re in a bloody train carriage, we’re not going to get lost,” they would scream, pointing at my lovely white, soft, scrunched paper that was lying on one of their beds.

Eventually I gave in.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll stop leaving snotty tissues around if you pay me.”

They looked up in surprise. They hadn’t expected that.

“Pay you?” Said The Mongoose with one eyebrow raised.

“Errrm yes,” I confirmed. “I will also accept a champagne dinner.”

They quietly nodded to each other.
“Fine, if you don’t drop a single tissue for two months we’ll treat you to a champagne dinner,” said Matty.

We shook hands. The deal was done. The bribery had been committed. When in Rome and all that… Actually, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure who was being bribed and who was the briber but either way I had a prize to claim.

I upped my game a few weeks later and demanded small fortnightly prizes for my efforts. This largely came in the form of chocolate, which was most satisfactory (I can heartily recommend Alpine Gold if you find yourself engulfed in some kind of chocolate bribery on this side of the world.)

And so as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months I became scrupulous about tissues. I even binned other people’s tissues in case they were accused of being mine. I was the mad woman walking down the street in Samarkand picking up dirty tissues from the floor.

But the more Central Asian food we ate the more determined I became to succeed – to get my posh meal out and pretend for one night only that I was not really a dirty backpacker. I could almost taste the Champagne.

As the night drew closer Matty and the Mongoose starting researching the best kebab holes in Bishkek, Kyrgzstan, claiming they had secretly found six tissues over the months so I would be taken to the sixth best kebab joint in town.

“They’re joking, they’re joking,” I told myself. But I became less and less sure each passing day.

Until finally the night arrived. I got all “dressed up” (aka wearing a boob tube with my everyday travelling skirt and battered Havianas), and was pleased to find the boys both wearing shirts they would not want to get kebab juice down. It boded well.

And so it was that we strutted out of the guesthouse (after queuing to use the loo) with the air of three people who were about to embark on an odyssey of good food.

The boys were still making mutterings about shashlyk kebabs as we made our first stop for the evening: Coffee Shop in Bishkek. And while there was coffee on the menu, the name is somewhat misleading. The place resembled more of a swanky bar with spirit-laden shelves on the back wall, shiny glass-topped tables and swallow-me-now leather booths to slide into.

And, to my amazement, there was GIN on the menu. Coffee shops around the globe – please take note, gin should always be an option alongside your Cappuccinos and Lattes. Hell, if you can have whiskey in your coffee you should definitely be allowed a gin chaser. Or two.

It had been almost three months since my last gin. That’s like 90-something gin free days. Not a sip. Not an iota. Not even as much as a sniff of a gin soaked slice of lemon.

“Gin?! Gin?!” I cried, stabbing the menu with my forefinger.

“They have Beefeater gin. For less than £1. And it’s a double measure.” The words just sort of flew out of me while the waiter looked on in amusement. Matty raised his eyebrows to the waiter and whirled his finger around his temple (doing his new favourite ‘she’s crazy’ imitation that unfortunately appears to cross all language barriers.)

The Gin arrived. It was served in tumblers, with a pot of ice and a bottle of tonic on the side so we could make the perfect mix (about 50:50).


As I held the ice cold glass to my nose and allowed the herby scent of the spirit to fill my airways I announced that kebab would be fine for dinner, I needed no further reward.


But a couple of gins later I found myself (somewhat reluctantly) being dragged off for dinner. We wandered down Chuy (the main street of Bishkek) and came to a stop outside an Italian restaurant called Cyclone with posh looking beige canopies hanging down over the alfresco seating area.

“Oooh, is this us?” I asked, taking in the polished wooden tables, leather-bound menus and heavy linen napkins. For a moment I felt like I was back home, reviewing a restaurant that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford for my local paper.

We were shown to our seats and while I perused the extensive menu of pizza, pasta and meat dishes, a glass of sparkling wine was poured to my right.


The boys glasses were filled too and as the three of us raised our bubbling flutes to the warm evening sky we toasted the demise of snotty tissues.

The menu was excellent with great variety and in the end we agreed to share a bruschetta and carpaccio to start, followed by Penne alla Matriciana for The Mongoose and I, while Matty chose the spinach and chicken fettuccine.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get much better, a bottle of Chianti was ordered. I hasten to add we have not had decent European wine since leaving Paris on day one of the trip.

The food shortly followed and our Western-Food-Deprived stomachs almost doubled over in pleasure at the sight of the starters alone.

(Bit of both on my plate).

Served on crusty triangles of toasted bread, the bruschetta’s tangy, peppery tomato topping caused my tongue to quiver in delight. That happens to everybody else too, right?!

Meanwhile, the Carpaccio was dressed in a lime infused, slightly sweet dressing on a bed of crunchy lettuce and topped with huge swathes of mature Parmesan shavings. The raw meat absorbed the flavours around it, and almost melted in the mouth on the first bite. I might have spooned up the juices left on the plate once the meat had disappeared. Terrible behaviour.

The mains did not let the side down. I normally steer clear of creamy dishes in Italian restaurants but Matty’s chicken and spinach dish proved me wrong. Rich and peppered with garlic, the sauce was thick and flavoursome – almost as if it had been minced with mushrooms before being tossed together with the fettuccine.

The Mongoose and I were just as pleased with our own penne pasta, which was peppered with good quality thick bacon slices (no fat), chunks of onion and a healthy smattering of Parmesan. The thick, rich tomato sauce clung to the al dente pasta rather than drenching it. Naturally we had asked for extra chilli and the chef had generously obliged, leaving us with chilli-induced running noses.


As I blew my nose heavily, I gave a satisfied sigh to my empty plate before screwing up my tissue and absentmindedly placing it on the table.

The boys looked down at it, frowning.

“I’ll stop if you buy me a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon,” I offered.

Watch this space folks. Ahem.

How to Ruin a Good Cuppa Tea

Now I don’t want to alarm you but I have some disturbing news. Maybe take a seat, pour yourself a stiff drink and take some deep breaths.

The picture above is of a cup of tea.

I know, I know, I can already hear you screaming: “What? How? What pollution is this before my eyes? What sadist is responsible for such a creation? How was this allowed to happen? WTF?”

Just keep breathing, it’s not going to get any easier I’m afraid.

Allow me to set the scene. We are travelling along the Wakhan Valley of Tajikistan, a beautiful and remote area of huge, towering mountains and glistening lakes, and the previous night, after some arduous trekking, we had eaten a strange meal of frankfurters, spaghetti, garlic and onions.

Now it is the morning and in the same hotel we are served rice pudding for breakfast (which makes for a surprisingly good start to the day) alongside the regular green tea. Tea here comes green or black, but never with milk. The green tea is fabulous and we have been known to drink pots of it, one after the other, like it’s Stella or something.

But then suddenly out of nowhere, our driver Deesh was poured a cup of what looked like English breakfast tea with milk. I stared in fascination, instantly craving the Saturday Guardian, and a bacon butty to go with it.

But then he did something I will never forgive him for. Never.

He added spoonfuls of yak butter. And salt.

He put yak butter and salt in his tea. And then he stirred it.

And then he drank it.


This is the said madman.

Somewhat unconsciously, I let out a small cry of horror and started shaking my head furiously. I think I murmured: “No, no, no, no, no,” repetitively as I searched his face for some explanation, some reason, for his absurd behaviour.

But instead of any justification, I just heard laughter from the local women around me, who were also stirring their buttery tea.

And just when I was at my most vulnerable, trying to take it all in, I was unknowingly poured a cup of the filth myself. Butter and salt were added before I had time to say: “Milk, no sugar please,” and the bread was pushed my way.

I looked to Deesh, in disgust, for some guidance. He ripped off some bread and dunked it in his tea – all nonchalant as if it was a bloody Rich Tea or something.

I bravely tore a piece off myself, muttering oaths to Yorkshire Tea under my breath, and dunked.


I brought the sloppy bread to my mouth and bit down.


The warm, wet bread dissolved too easily in my mouth, overloading my tastebuds with a greasy tea flavour that tasted neither of tea nor butter.


Note: This is not the tastebud equivalent of drinking a cup of tea with a slice of buttered toast.


It tastes more like bread that has been slobbered on by a dog before being drizzled in dripping.


But I knew, to really know what this “local delicacy” was all about, I would have to drink it in its pure, defiled form straight from the porcelain cup.




And quite frankly, it was alarming.


It was downright dirty.


It horrified me to my core.


The subtle flavours of tea were washed out by a greasy, buttery sensation that stuck to my teeth and the roof of my mouth like glue.


So I should have just brushed my teeth and left it at that. But I wanted to ruin your day too.

(PS Picture credits go to the Mongoose who took great pleasure in documenting the ghastly affair).

Food and Drink in Central Asia

I’ve delayed writing this post for some weeks… in the hope that things would improve.

As previously mentioned on here, I have been known to travel places purely based on their cuisine – namely India and Thailand – which saw me leave south east asia a stone heavier after three months of scoffing my way across the region.

But there is no chance of that happening here. Well actually that’s a lie, I’m approaching 30, there’s every chance I will put on a stone – but I just won’t have had quite as much fun doing it this time round.

The truth of the matter is Central Asian food just isn’t that great. It’s full of dead-animal-flavoured-meat and huge chunks of fat that appear in all manner of substances. And it pains me to write this because I wanted to love the food here – I wanted this trip to be another worldwide eating odyssey.

Take this short story, for example:

We were staying at a beautiful family homestay in the Nurata mountains, Uzbekistan. The place was a delight, we spent our mornings ambling across the surrounding mountains and our afternoons drinking tea on a tepchan sitting over a gurgling stream and playing with the lambs that roamed the gardens.



And then suddenly one evening, as the sun was sinking in the sky, we heard the desperate, dying bleats of a sheep, quickly followed by one of the girls carrying its head by its ears down to the stream where we were sitting, leaving a trail of blood and guts as she walked. She meticulously pulled all the brains out, washing them thoroughly in the running water before returning to the house with the sheep’s skull tucked under her left arm, and carrying the brains in a bowl.

That night much ceremony was made over dinner. Following the usual meat broth of potatoes, carrots and mutton, we were told to wait for a ‘special’ dish that was still being prepared. There was a wedding at the house the next day and this dish seemed to create quite a buzz among the family, as if it marked the beginning of celebrations.

About two hours later, after we were quite full and almost ready for bed ourselves, it finally made its appearance. A huge plate of what looked like spaghetti bolognaise was placed in front of us, and while trying to erase the sound of the sheep’s dying bleat from my ears and quickly checking the lamb I’d been playing with was still alive, I politely tucked in.

It tasted of dead animals. The strong stench of cooked flesh reached my nostrils before the fork got anywhere near my mouth. I stopped breathing through my nose and bravely gulped it down. Grainy pieces of unidentifiable meat ground in my teeth before I had the sense to swallow without chewing. I tried to eat some of the wet, limp pasta instead but that too had absorbed the taste of death, like a Chameleon that had spent too long in a graveyard.

The Mongoose took one for the team and ate more than the rest of us could bring ourselves to look at. For this dish, beshbarmak, is a real honour and it would have been a disgrace to leave it untouched. It took us all a few days to eat meat without recounting the horrors of that night.
This is, of course, an extreme. Not every dish has been quite so bad. Some have even been good.

So, in case you are planning a trip to this neck of the woods and are wondering what is in store for you, or are just curious and want to feel smug about your dinner of bangers and mash tonight, here is my comprehensive guide to Central Asian food and drink:


The staple food here is kebab. And I have to say that most kebabs have been very, very good. Matty has even compared them to that of Victoria Kebabs on Mansfield Road, Nottingham, where he would end most nights back home in a sweaty-meat-infused state with chilli sauce dribbling down his chin. High praise indeed.


First up are the shashlyk kebabs – minced meat moulded on sticks almost like skinny hamburgers. They are peppered with onions and spices, often juicy, rich in flavour and – in my opinion – the safest bet when it comes to kebabs.


I think having my hair tucked into my sunglasses really offsets the meat in this snap.

And then there are the shisha kebabs – chargrilled chunks of succulent meat, served hot off the barbecue (word of warning – these often come layered with chunks of fat between the pieces of meat.)


(And in other news Matty has a beard!)

And finally there are the donar kebabs (shudder). But actually even these filthy-abnormal looking lumps of meat, that turn vertically before hot grills, are good here. I know, I never thought I’d say it.

So in short, if you like kebabs, this is the region for you. The kebabs here are great and cheap, you can easily ‘dine out’ on kebabs, salad and bread for about £1.50.

Big in Turkmenistan, these pastry parcels of minced meat and fried onions are surprisingly tasty. Almost like a superior Cornish Pasty, the pastry is thin and crispy and the filling is rich in flavour. Wash down four or five of these with a couple of bottles of the local brew and dinner’s sorted.

Like giant pasta parcels of minced meat and onions, these vary from the very, very bad to the very, very good. In Georgia they go by the name of Khinkali – the dumpling is light, oozing with rich juices and good meat. In Turkmenistan we found the dumplings were thick and rubbery and the meat was littered with small pieces of bone and fat. It’s a gamble… And one I can’t always be bothered to take.

The national dish of Uzbekistan is a tasty, if not heart-stopping, combination of deep fried rice and meat that on reflection, could easily be responsible for putting on an extra stone on this trip. It varies from region to region, but tends to include rice, carrots and either lamb or beef.


When we saw it being made, the meat and carrots were deep fried in a huge vat of oil. The rice was boiled separately before being added to the meat pan to soak up the oil. The dish will leave the plate ringed in a rich, orange oil and is not for the calorie counter, but it is bloody good and surprisingly moreish.

This dish of minced meat stuffed in peppers is a firm favourite for me. Often piled into skinny green peppers, the meat is similar to that found in the Samsa but it’s nice to have a vegetable accompaniment for a change.

Fruits and Salads
If you are a vegetarian – be warned, meat comes with everything. Lumps of beef have been found swimming in my mushroom soup and even my puréed lentil soup, nothing is safe.

Most soups look like this.

On the other hand Central Asia is blessed with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables so if you’re happy to head to the bazaar and put together your own lunch or dinner, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The tomatoes are giant and juicy, the cucumbers fresh and crunchy and the melons are so good it would be wrong to not get a daily fix. The apricots and plums are often so succulent you feel like you need to eat them over a sink or a bowl.


Breakfast… Tajik bazaar style.

Salads of tomatoes and cucumbers often accompany many of the dishes I’ve mentioned here – oh, and most things are also scattered with a generous sprinkling of dill, for better or worse.



Street side snacks of deep fried meat or potato pies, or even just deep fried bread are readily available but often disappointing, lacking in much flavour other than that of the old oil they have been cooked in.

Alternatively you can pick yourself up some ‘dried yoghurt balls’, which taste like an unsuccessful experiment of leaving a pint of milk out over the summer months. For a more vivid, and horrifying, description of this delicacy please see Matty’s blog post here.


Expect lots of individually wrapped sweets to be served with tea at all times. Disturbingly, some say ‘Shrimp’ on them but fret not, they are not remotely fishy tasting.


However, the snack to satisfy all of the greatest snacking desires, will surely be that of the fresh bread and biscuits that are readily available across the region. Both justified previous entries in their own right, so click on the links for more details.

Drink in Central Asia
Whether you’re after a can of Coke, a bottle of beer, or a slug of vodka you will never have far to look. If it’s a Diet Coke or water that you fancy, you may have to search a little harder.

Entire fridges of Coca Cola, Fanta and Sprite are testament to the wide, gold-toothed grins of Central Asia, while apparently anything with the word ‘diet’ in its title seems to be unmarketable here. I am trying to come to terms with my Diet Coke addiction as I type.

As for alcohol in Central Asia, it is surprisingly plentiful. Despite the large Muslim population, vodka is drunk like water and beer consumed with a robust, healthy attitude. Wine on the other hand should be avoided. After a determined effort to get to know Uzbek wine, I can only urge you to stay away.

The beer is often weak (between 3% – 4%) but after much experimentation, this Uzbek bottle gets the prize for the Best Beer in Central Asia. A picture that the Mongoose has carried around on his phone for the last three weeks, flashing it to every waiter that passes our table.


I feel the need to add a slight disclaimer, in that this has been written after spending about six weeks in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. I still have Kyrgzstan and Kazakhstan to see – and much more of Tajikistan yet. So perhaps I will discover a culinary delight that will leave my mouth watering and enthusing simultaneously. And trust me, you will be the first to know about it if so.

But in the meantime, I would like to conclude that Central Asian food, while not all bad, is definitely not worth putting on a stone for.

Armenian Brandy: Visiting Ararat Yerevan Brandy Company

Getting sick while travelling is always a worry. There’s nothing worse than sweating out stomach cramps in a hot, packed dorm room and running to the shared bathroom to find not only is it engaged but two other bedraggled travellers are already waiting to go in. Matty is only too aware of this.

So we have, of course, come away with a fully equipped medical kit… stuff to block, unblock and everything in between. However, we all know prevention is better than cure and fortunately our good friends Gemma and Marco were kind enough to enlighten us before we set off.

“Brandy,” said Marco, looking quite proud of himself while Gemma nodded in agreement.

Lowering his voice, as if in fear that others would hear his trade secret, he added: “We took a bottle of the stuff to Morocco and started every day with a shot of brandy.”

“And,” Gemma concluded, “We never got ill. Not once.”

I saw the pain in Matty’s eyes as he remembered his own Moroccan experience, which largely involved being curled up in a ball in Essouaira, cursing chefs up and down the country for poisoning him. I could hear his mind ticking away, saying: “That could have been prevented by drinking brandy? It could have all been different if I had begun every day with a slug of fine cognac?” He had, in his eyes no doubt, been knifed by a double edged sword.

And so, it was somewhat inevitable that when packing his medical kit for this trip, he did what every good nurse would do and made a mental note to add some brandy as soon as he crossed the border into Armenia, home of Winston Chirchill’s favourite tipple.

“If it’s good enough for Churchill it’s good enough for me,” were pretty much his first words as our sleeper train from Tbilisi, Georgia pulled into Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, at 7am.

We were tired, hungry and grouchy after a sleepless night on a particularly loud and unusually chilly train. We spent that morning trying, to no avail, to get Turkmenistan visas as we were warned that relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are so bad that Azeri border officers may prevent us from crossing the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, purely because we picked up the visas in Armenia. There is that little love.

So, it was in these particularly (rare) low spirits, that we began our hunt for brandy. Specifically for the Ararat Yerevan Brandy Company, which offers tours and taster sessions for a mere £7. After all, Matty had been in the country by now for a good eight hours and was growing increasingly concerned about his medical supplies.

Eventually, after much taxi negotiating in pidgeon Russian, we arrived. Perched on a hill like a palace we were buzzed through the large, wrought iron gates of Ararat’s Yerevan headquarters and immediately bowed over by the sweet, unmistakable aroma of brandy.

Within seconds of inhaling this new, much improved oxygen supply the boys looked better rested.

“It is the angel’s share”, our guide told us, which she added was responsible for both keeping the angels on side and keeping the workers so happy.


The tour began. We passed barrels of brandy, learnt all about distillation and the history of Ararat. But it was one story in particular that resonated with me.

It was 1945, Europe was on the verge of peace and Stalin was doing his best to woo Churchill at the Yalta conference, where important post-war decisions were being made. Knowing the British Prime Minister’s soft spot for the fine things in life, he handed him a glass of Ararat brandy (and probably a fat cigar but that’s not been documented as far as I’m aware). After glugging the rich honey-coloured liquor, Churchill smacked his lips and immediately ordered 400 bottles to be delivered… per year, for the rest of his life.


However, soon after (while quaffing bottle 567 or something) Churchill declared that something was amiss. So he did what any great British man would do if left unsatisfied by an expensive glass of brandy, and he wrote to the Russian dictator himself. It probably went something like: “Dear Stalin, your brandy’s off. Fix it or I will get all of Britain drinking the French stuff. Yours, parched, WC.”

Somewhat alarmed, Stalin immediately investigated the situation to learn that he (or his minions) had only sent the head technologist of Ararat’s brandy production into political exile in Siberia. An easy mistake for a man like himself to make I suppose. So within days of this discovery, Margar Sedrakyan was brought back to Armenia and reinstated in his role as chief brandy expert, Churchill was happy and all was well in the world.

So let’s have a quick recap – brandy prevents travellers diarrhoea, improves mentality after sleeper trains and saved poor Margar from possible death in exile. But there are higher hopes for the healing powers of Armenian brandy yet.

This little country, with huge spirit (pardon the pun), is nestled between Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. But tragically it’s borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed after a dispute over an area of land known as Nagorno-Karabakh, which has an ethnically Armenian population and has been controlled by Armenia following a bloody war in the early 1990s, despite it legally being within Azerbaijan’s borders. Thousands of people have been displaced because of the conflict, soldiers and even some civilians are still killed around the border, and locals seem to believe that peace is an impossibility.

Nevertheless, it feels appropriate that at Ararat’s HQ, taking pride of place in the distillation and fermentation room, sits the “peace barrel”, filled with fine cognac and ready to be cracked open as soon as a solution is reached.


Right now it is hard to imagine the Azeri and Armenian prime ministers clinking glasses before enjoying the first sips from that barrel, but given its track record, I can hardly think of a more appropriate drink to seal the deal.


So as we held up our glasses, swilling the bronzed 10 year-old liquid in the light, we made a toast… To the peace barrel being opened, and sooner rather than later.


And… long live the healing powers of brandy.


Travel Tips

Ararat Brandy Company is located on the edge of the city centre, over the Hrazdan River on Admiral Isakov Poghota.

Tours must be booked in advance, and cost 4,500 dram (about £8). The guide speaks excellent English and the tour is full of interesting anecdotes and stories.

It lasts about 75 minutes including time to sample two types of brandy – we tried the three year and 10 year old varieties. Both of which were delicious.

Serving suggesting for Ararat brandy – drink with small pieces of dark chocolate or dried peaches. Delicious.

Georgian Wine: The Best, the Worst and the Rest

There aren’t many places in the world where you walk into an off-license to buy wine and walk out with a belly full of moonshine. But that’s Georgia for you.

We learnt of the country’s booze loving ways before we even set foot on Georgian soil. A lovely French jewellery artist, who we met in Turkey, gave us ample warning. Cooing about monasteries and the rolling countryside, she raved about Georgia – but in a more cautious tone, added: “They are big drinkers, they often put pressure on you to drink when you don’t want to.”

Matty’s eyes lit up. The Mongoose rubbed his hands in anticipation, and I was delighted to learn that the Georgians are also big wine makers. On a trip where I thought we may have said goodbye to decent vino after leaving Paris, I was keen to sample as many large glasses of rich, red stuff as possible before begrudgingly moving onto the gurn-inducing vodka that no doubt awaits us in the ‘stans.

So it was perhaps fitting that the first thing purchased after crossing the border from Turkey by foot, was a bottle of wine. We had to break into a 100 Lari note to get a few pennies for the marshrutka into Batumi and this seemed like the most appropriate way to do it:


But, I won’t lie, it did not taste half as good as it looks. In fact, it tasted little better than an elaborately bottled glass of Ribena. Sweet and sickly, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone had picked it up in the fruit juice section before swapping it for a bottle of the stronger stuff in the wine aisle, leaving it for a hapless tourist to pick up minutes later.

The Mongoose made dark mutterings about finding the wine maker and dragging him out of bed in the middle of the night, to ensure others never again experience what we went through. And Matty wrote a rather twisted blog about its sinister ways.

Georgian wine, it transpires, is often sweet. Or dry. And a bit like girl with the curl, when it’s sweet, it’s very, very sweet and when it’s dry, it’s very, very dry.

It marked the beginning of what was to become a long journey to find the perfect Georgian wine. Our vino odyssey took us into supermarkets where we were watched like hawks as we cluelessly stared at bottles of funny-lettered wine, into basement bars where it was served out of large plastic bottles resembling sunflower oil, and into cosy little restaurants where the unidentifiable juices flowed from battered terracotta jugs.



But somehow, somewhere along the way, we concluded that we quite liked Saperavi. This robust, red grape has bags of potential and was by far, the tastiest red wine we sampled in Georgia.

Produced by dozens of wine makers all over the country (but mainly in the Kakheti region), it was occasionally a tad too dry, tasting as if it had been stripped of all flavour, and other times still a little too sweet, but by and large we found it was, in the words of Goldilocks, just right.


Many Saperavis remind me of the Merlot grape, a ruby red with subtle fruit flavours but plenty of tannin. And I guess like any grape, you get the good, the bad and the downright ugly depending on how much cash you’re willing to flash. As wine-loving budget-backpackers we found one of the best buys was the Marani brand of Saparevi, which ranged in price from 9 Lari (£4.50) to 14 Lari (£6.50) depending on the retailer.


But it is the purchasing of the wine that really makes Georgia stand out from its continental cousins. A far cry from the safe, reliable Thresher wine stores that once stood proud on every British high street (before the recession even managed to have a stab at wine), the Georgian off-licenses are as much as a place to drink as they are to purchase drink.

The centrepiece of every store is a table laden with half-empty bottles of wine and often a couple of skimpily clad ladies offering tasters to the boys. As we walked into our ‘local’ for 48 hours in Tbilisi, the Mongoose gave the man behind the counter a familiar smile and sauntered over to the tasting table.

“We’re back again,” said the Mongoose. “Last night’s recommendation went down a treat.”

The man looked at him blankly.

“You know,” the Mongoose continued, “I was in last night, you gave me some cha cha.”

Still no recognition came from the man, who was by now pouring us small glasses from a red-labelled bottle of Saparevi to try.

Eventually, he looked up and said: “I’m sorry, last night I was very drunk, I remember nothing.”

We nodded understandingly, glancing over to the two round-bellied men currently propping up the counter, which on reflection was more like a bar, drinking cha-cha with the other shop assistant.

So it was in that fashion that we sampled a few more Saperavi’s, before moving over to the bar to ‘taste’ no less than three varieties of cha-cha, a homemade fermented grape number which comes in a varieties of potencies. Most of which are potent.

And with a belly full of moonshine we eventually walked out with what we declared to be the finest bottle of Superavi yet.


But if truth be told, by that point we probably had just as much of a clue as we’d had the day before when we accidentally ordered non-alcoholic beers and got half way through them before realising. Or just as much as the tramp who gladly took them off us, swigging the booze-free beer from the bottle as she swayed down the street. But that’s Georgia for you.