I sleep better, but still trying to use to the rocking and rolling of the train. The occasional rattling of the whole carriage as it goes over the points wakes me but soon drop off again. At 8 am sharp, Sungkom delivers breakfast (he’s good). This morning it’s a fresh fruit yoghurt plus the normal pastries and juices. The sun is up already, and I have coffee in bed whilst typing up all the notes from dinner last night. I have about an hour before we stop at the border, so try to make good use of it. I hate wasting time.
After the border crossing which takes 2 hours, we film with Yannis in one of his 2 kitchens on board. It’s fun; he is clearly nervous but delivers the goods. First, he makes a Tom Yam Cappuccino (what we had on the first night) not really my scene, but it still tastes very nice. Next, he makes a base vegetable broth using onions, sweet potatoes, celery, bog-standard potatoes and leeks. Next, he adds chilli, bashed lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal, cook for 30 minutes, and blends well.
In a separate pan, he makes a reduction on chicken stock, lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal and reduces way down by about 70% until he has a fragrant, almost syrupy texture. That goes into a siphon with cream and is squirted on top of the broth. It looks a bit like the squirty cream rubbish you buy in the supermarket my youngest daughter loves. The big difference here is, of course, it tastes sublime, deep flavoured and nicely balanced. Come to think of it, all of Yannis’s cooking has been excellent, full of flavour and expertly cooked.
We then have a quick bite to eat, as the train is delayed by another hour, so pushing back out cooking and filming time in Penang. Lunch again is good, with a twist on bacon and eggs, with asparagus and orange hollandaise. I have poached Chilean sea bass with egg tofu (yes) and poached mushrooms in a delicate soy flavoured stock. The fish was perfectly cooked, probably the best piece of cooked fish I have had in a long time.
When coffee is served, it’s almost time to get off the train in Butterworth, Penang. Nickolas (head of PR) explains to us that we only have 3 hours before the train departs, so we really have to get a move on. Waiting for us is a lady and driver of a large minivan. We all pile in and speed over the 13km bridge to Penang Island and immediately set up a small cooking area in the Sizle Street market. It’s a bustling, busy market, selling everything from quick takeaway food to fresh veg and herbs and wonderfully fresh fish. The locals look bemused as if to say, ‘What’s this English idiot doing here’ but they gather around and are very friendly and seem very interested in what’s going on.
I cook a Panang chicken curry, quick and straight to the point. In fact, we filmed the whole sequence in about 12 minutes; Lynsey and Will seem happy. Yannis and I do a lovely piece to camera where we walk through the isles chatting about all the lovely produce on offer. I see 6-7 types of aubergines ranging from the pea variety used in Thai fish and meat curries to large white and green versions. We also see string beans and the wonderful pungent herbs so important to dishes here. We are being hassled to get on a couple of rickshaws, ready for the next part of the film in no time at all. We go around the block a couple of times and straight into the bus. Filming continues on the ferry as we queue jump and rush back to the train. It’s less than 3 hours it’s mad.
We film me getting back on the train with Yannis, and off we go again. Chugging out of Butterworth with a gin and tonic, I reflect on the day. It’s been hectic but extremely satisfying, and looking forward to the last part of the trip to Singapore.