Take it easy, Brother

Ever watch Gilligan’s Island? This is your chance to go full-Gilligan.

The Philippines are made up of over 7,000 islands, but there’s tiny one in particular we at get lost are interested in. Brother Island is situated in the Palawan province, next to El Nido, the famously beautiful resort island.

Fortunately, you can escape the crowds while marooning on Brother, where you can rent the entire island for not that much. For AUD $539 you get the entire, picturesque white-sand island to yourself – that’s just AUD $33 per night if you get 15 of your closest brothers (and sisters) together. Now granted, it is a tiny island – you can kayak the entire circumference in half an hour – but we think the idea of having an epic beach to yourself for you and a bunch of mates is pretty cool.

Included in the price is a Filipino ancestral-designed house with a heap of bedrooms, a well-preserved jungle and bamboo forest, a coral reef that skirts the perimeter of the whole island, and some of the whitest sand you are ever likely to come across. You can also get three-meals a day for a little bit extra.

No Cutlery Required

A staple on breakfast tables across Sri Lanka, hoppers unite the bright flavours of this island nation in a mouthful, as Natasha Dragun discovers.

If you’re not a fan of washing up, then you’ll love making hoppers (appam), a nuanced coconut-based dish traditional to southern India and Sri Lanka that requires a few pantry staples and very ‘seasoned’ pan to prepare – and very little else.

I was introduced to a variety of this breakfast favourite almost two decades ago, sitting in a Tamil Nadu garden where peacocks crooned and tea was served by dapper bow-tied waiters. My order was string hoppers (idiyaapam): unctuous noodles made from rice flour fermented with coconut water, coconut milk and salt, before being moulded into palm-sized patties then steamed until they resemble wicker mats.

The surprisingly cloud-like parcels were the perfect pouch on which to rest tongue-numbing condiments: coconut sambol (freshly grated coconut, lime, red onion, chilli, Maldives fish flakes, black peppercorns, salt); lunu miris (a spicy paste similar to the former sambol, but minus the coconut); and a menagerie of curries and dahls with aromas I still dream of to this day.

I didn’t think it could get much better – until I landed in Colombo, the steamy Sri Lankan capital, and was tasted the crispier, pancake-like version of the dish.

Rather than being squished into a tangle of noodles, the appam edition of hoppers features a batter that is swilled around your cook’s seasoned (aka rarely washed) pan. The end result is a pearly pancake ‘bowl’ that can be pimped up with a fried egg (recommended) and then topped with all aforementioned accoutrements.

“Think of the pan like a complex painting,” says George, my guide on an Unmapped Travel tour around Sri Lanka. “The artist keeps layering and layering – they add and mould, and things develop and get better over time.” He’s not wrong.

Despite the limited number of ingredients involved and the short cooking time – just a couple of minutes in that magical pan – these breakfast baskets couldn’t get any tastier, or more textural. And it’s not just the cookware adding to the abundance of attitude: there’s plenty of skill in preparation.

The appam flour is customarily made by hand: rice is soaked for six hours before being pounded and then left to brew with palm toddy (fermented sap from coconut flowers) overnight. It’s then seasoned with coconut milk, whole eggs and salt to create a bubbling batter. Some rebels – like my Sri Lankan friend back in Sydney – dare to add a couple of Marie biscuits to the mixture, to give the concoction a malty note that caramelises into crispness around the edges. There’s also a dessert version suffused with smoky-sweet palm syrup.

Making hoppers in a Sri Lankan home is quite possibly the ultimate way to learn about this history of this hands-on dish, as I fast find out on the outskirts of Kandy in the tea-leaf-laced heart of the country. Here, in an eye-popping pink kitchen, the Kolitha family tell me how traditionally, hoppers were cooked at home over coconut-shell embers. The origins of the dish are a little mysterious, although American food writer and historian Gil Marks credits the original recipe to early Jewish settlers in southern India – around 2,000 years ago.

Today, the Kolitha family use the blue-hot flames of a gas stove to ensure the quick firing of the hopper batter in aluminium pans. They prepare the pancakes with deft-like precision while I watch, swirling one of the small, deep vessels over heat until batter spills over the sides, forming lacy, caramel-hued edges.

They then cover the pan to cook the pillowy portion that pools at its bottom – the spongy goodness where eggs are cracked to rest before being topped with black pepper. Coconut crunches in a mortar and pestle, fresh chilli is chopped, limes are squeezed. A quick clatter of crockery later, and the hoppers are stacked, steaming, in front of me. Fragrant, fresh and piping hot – this has to be the ultimate way to start the day.

GET IN THE KNOW

Got a sweet tooth? Sri Lankans do, too. Their dessert version of traditionally savoury hoppers sees a heaping of treacle, palm syrup or honey added to the batter. Best served with chopped bananas and milky tea.

An alcohol made from the sap of coconut flowers, toddy usually begins fermenting immediately after being collected by a palm ‘tapper’. Sweet and low in alcohol (around 4%), it’s often turned into jaggery (a type of sugar) or a stronger liquor.

Make Iron Chef quality sushi

Japan have given us many gifts, especially in the world of food, and there’s probably no gift bigger than the gloriously delicious gift of sushi. And legendary Japanese chef Morimoto, of Iron Chef TV show fame, knows a thing or two about making sushi.

While many people would assume sushi to be the national dish of Japan, that title goes to Japanese Curry. In fact, Japan didn’t actually even invent sushi, with the dish originating in Southeast Asia.

Despite this, over the centuries they managed to absolutely perfect it…or so they thought, until Morimoto came along, who perfected it even more.

He recently caught up with VICE’s food show Munchies to teach Westerners how to make Japan’s epic dish.

Find out how – if you can’t get to Tokyo right now, this is the next best thing.

Make a god-damn delicious Pad Thai

National Day of Thailand is this weekend (December 5) and there is no meal more synonymous with Thailand than Pad Thai (drool).

get lost doesn’t mind Thai food one bit, and frequently reminisces fondly over a trip to a truly special restaurant on the Thai/Cambodian border not so long ago.

While you’ll never be able to make a Pad Thai like the experts, it’s a relatively simple dish that everyone loves – a safe bet if you are trying to impress on date night.

Jet Tila is a renowned chef, whose family opened the first Thai restaraunt in the United States. He also holds the world record for the largest ever stir fry.

Courtesy of the Food Network, learn how to make a Pad Thai so god-damn delicious, you’ll think you’ve got some heritage there somewhere (you don’t).

Get in my belly.

This vending machine is actually a pub

Picture this: it’s a hot day in downtown Fukuoka, and you pass a vending machine selling the traditional Japanese vending machine things (Coke, Pepsi, bubble-tea, pizza and underpants).

Just any other street in downtown Fukuoka… …or is it!? (Takuya Miyano)

You pop some coins in and instead of getting a coca-cola back, the vending machine opens wide, revealing a set of stairs.

“This vending machine is a pub!” we imagine you saying to yourself as you descend the slightly steep steps into a dimly lit Izakaya.

You know that Izakaya means ‘Stay-drink-place” in English, so you grab a seat, ask for a sake and the special (cheese fondue yakitori, a kind of grilled chicken with veges and a cheese sauce dip) and stay-drink you do.

Be warned though: every other vending machine you visit from now will probably seem pretty dull.

The pub is hidden amongst other vending machines in Fukuoka’s Kasuga neighbourhood…see if you can find it. 

The most peaceful place on Earth

Cities are bustling again, and with bustling comes busy. And busy means traffic jams, running late for work, trains to catch and work to do, people to see and places to be.

And we love it. But the return of busy means the value of a peaceful getaway has gone up once again.

It’s hard to imagine any place more tranquil than Cap Karoso, a slice of serenity on Indonesia’s Sumba Island, a southern island not too far away from the Western Australian border.

At Karoso, it doesn’t matter what your idea of relaxing is – they’ve got it. If it’s meditating next to a waterfall, you can meditate next to a waterfall.If it’s catching a peeling left rightout front the villa, wax that board up. If it’s yoga in an exquisite yoga pavilion, then prepare that downward dog.

Almost everything is handmade from locals, from woodwork and furniture, to furnishings and ceramics. Even just watching the resort’s ceramic making process is soothing.

They also have a farm on-site, growing the delicious food that you eat. If learning is your thing, you can learn about plant propagation, nursery skills, plant care, garden maintenance, organic farming and permaculture.

And then there’s where you sleep. Villas boast private beach access, lush gardens, tasteful artwork and a hot tub, while the studios aren’t too shabby either.

Get me there now please.

Japanese onsen: weird, but good weird

Except for maybe eating sushi from a vending machine in Tokyo while dressed as Toad and about to visit a sumo wrestling bout, visiting a ryokan is about the most Japanese thing you can do.

Ryokans are more than just a place to sleep – they’re an opportunity to get a taste of traditional Japanese life and hospitality – think tatami floors, futon beds  local cuisine and Japanese-style baths called onsens.

Onsens are geothermal springs where people go to recuperate and rejuvenate. They are almost always clothing not optional – yep, you go into these absolutely starkers.

This might feel weird to begin with, but becomes pretty normal after about five minutes (which is probably weirder in itself).

Magoroku Ryokan in Akita is set among the mountains, and might be one of the most picturesque places to chill out at in the country. In wintertime, snow surrounds the outdoor hot spas.

It can be tricky getting off the beaten track in Japan, but Akita is certainly just that. It’s in the far north-west of the country, so you don’t have to deal with the hordes of crowds that come with being further south, which in turn means not dealing with hordes of naked people when you’re in the onsen.

Hidden Airport Cafe Gem

Let’s face it, airlines aren’t necessarily synonymous with great food. We’ve all picked and prodded at a funny looking dish on a plane before.

So if you can find some good food while you’ve got a stopover in between flights, you’re kicking goals.

Hub and Spoke is a hidden glass-house cafe located next to terminal 2 at Singapore’s Changi airport, one of the major transport hubs in Asia. The cafe’s name is actually a play on words – the hub representing Changi airport, the spokes the cities it connects.

They do both local and western foods – if you’ve got a hankering for something in particular, chances are they’ll have it – and are just as good at laksa and Nasi Lemak as they are at a rib-eye steak. Plus, of course, coffee to beat that jet lag.

They are pet-friendly, and there’s even little grassy spot outside to chill out on – an absolute luxury at an airport.

If you’ve got a stopover at Changi, or if you’re in Singapore for longer, this is the spot.

Banwa Island: Your Own Luxury

Sure, staying on a beautiful tropical island is good. But having your own island is where it’s really at.

Banwa Private Island is an all-villa luxury island within a marine reserve in north-eastern Palawan, Indonesia. You can make the entire island (barring of course, villa staff) is entirely yours, giving you the freedom to do whatever.

Pristine stretches of beach and clear waters will make this feel less Robinson Crusoe, and more ‘epic luxury’. Swim, dive, snorkel or fish to your heart’s content, or take a sunset cruise.

The starry nights at Banwa are legendary – bring your partner, kids, 10 of your best mates…whoever – and have this slice of paradise for yourself.

Nomadic Mongolian Living

Staying in the middle of absolutely nowhere is actually pretty nice.

Hundreds of thousands of kilometres of green fields, desert and vacant steppe greet travellers that make it out of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar.

It is nine and half hours out of the city that you will find Three Camel Lodge, perched on the edge of the epic Gobi Desert. So just down the road in Mongolian terms.

You have the option of staying in a traditional ger as the Nomads have done for thousands of years, and continue to do. There is also a deluxe ger (the kind Genghis Khan could have only dreamt of) while the lodge itself has a spa and wellness option, a very cosy movie room and offers horse riding and other experiences.

But it is not these amenities you travel for – it is without a doubt the remoteness that sets this lodge (and place) apart from anything you’ve ever done. No Wi-Fi, cafes or shopping centres – it is an experience in itself to be so far away from…everything.