Amateur chef cherishes her old-school Thai

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:11pm


Property consultant Barbara Sturdy has always been fascinated with food. She discovered Cantonese cuisine at the age of six in Hamburg, Germany, where she grew up. Having lived in Hong Kong for more than 20 years, she has a clear understanding of the area's cuisines and more than 10,000 images to prove it.

Where does your interest in food come from?

My father, who was a chef. I grew up in the kitchen with dad explaining things and getting me involved. He took me to a Chinese restaurant when I was six and, because he was a chef, we got to visit the kitchen. I remember the roaring of the woks. The experience began my love of Asian cuisines and cultures. Once I began earning money at 18, I would go to a Chinese restaurant every Saturday. It is almost like a childhood dream come true to be living in Hong Kong.

There are few foods I won't try. I love chicken feet, duck's tongue, intestines, locust, all of it. I don't eat foods that I consider destructive or cruel, however; for example, shark's fin or foie gras.

Why take so many photos of food?

Originally, it was to share them with my mother in Germany and because I love all aspects of food, including food photography. The images are like a diary; I can see how my cooking has changed and developed. Maybe one day I will start a blog to share them.

Why is Thai your favourite Southeast Asian cuisine?

It touches every corner of your mouth and is completely satisfying. You don't feel the need for anything else. Other cuisines can leave you wanting more, something sweet, for example. I also love the flavours - garlic, chilli, ginger, lime, shallots are the start of great things. And l love the high you get from the chilli. It makes me euphoric.

Do you cook Thai food?

Yes, it is my forte and it's always what I serve at larger dinner parties. I began cooking Thai after I bought a copy of Vatcharin Bhumichitr's The Taste of Thailand on my first trip to Bangkok in 1993. Once I gained confidence, I began to improvise. Thais who have tasted my recipes say they are authentic.

After a dinner party, the guests asked for recipes, so I wrote them, going into details such as utensils and ingredients, in Thai and English. It became a 24-page pdf. It was a real labour of love.

Some people see the bigger picture; I see the details. I make everything from scratch, including my own spice pastes, and I buy fresh coconut cream from a particular shop in Wan Chai. It must be used within two hours of making.

You are particular about where you buy your coconut cream and other Thai ingredients, and even your roasted coffee beans. Why is that?

I care very much about how things taste and am a perfectionist. I enjoy being 100 per cent involved.

Which Thai restaurant do you recommend?

My absolute favourite, for authentic Thai street food is The Spice House. It is behind the Thai International Spice store in Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai Market where I buy my Thai ingredients.

Any other recommendations?

Believe it or not, I like the very lively, noisy Filipino music bar and restaurant Cinta-J in Wan Chai for dinner. It has been a favourite since I first went there in 1992. The menu is an incredibly long list of Filipino, Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Thai dishes. I'm usually suspicious when a menu is too comprehensive, but they do well in all these cuisines.

Is food a priority when choosing a holiday destination?

Absolutely. I travel for food. My first thought is the food. Factors such as culture and sightseeing are secondary to cuisine. I travel with my palate and look forward to the specialities.

Sometimes it can mean that Hong Kong restaurants are less enjoyable upon return. For example, since a recent trip to Tokyo, I don't enjoy sushi and sashimi here so much any more.