Mekong Plans & Meatballs

Organizing visas, studying maps, trawling the internet: there are days when researching for a big trip can become tedious. But on Wednesday night I enjoyed some of the lighter side of journey planning and settled down in front of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam epic Platoon.


A teenage favourite, it seemed somewhat dated these days. Charlie Sheen’s hair was a little coiffured and his bandana a little clean, but although many of the scenes were still somewhat disturbing the cinematography did inspire. The lush tropical jungles, endless paddy fields and meandering rivers all whet my appetite for my next gastronomic pedal powered quest following the mighty Mekong River through South East Asia. 

Leaving in late summer this year, I will ride the same bicycle that carried me through the Americas. I will sleep in the same musty little tent that was my home for over two years. But everything else about this trip is guaranteed to be totally different. Not least the fact that this time it will be work.

Almost five years ago now I decided to quit my job in advertising and cycle from New York City to Rio de Janeiro collecting recipes along the way. Two and half years later I returned home and was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to write a book about my travels. The writing was a hard monastic experience that, if I’m honest, I didn’t really enjoy, but it paid the bills and to see a book in print is a wonderful feeling.
However as copies of The Hungry Cyclist begin to gather dust on bookshop shelves and appear in charity shops, the questions begin to be asked by friends, family and, of course, myself.

And what next?
What will you do now?

Do I carry on with this new unreliable and nomadic existence or do I return to a more sedentary and certain lifestyle? For me self-supported cycle touring is hard work. Lonely nights are spent in foreign fields, sickness and excruciating pain are a regularity and there is so much uncertainty.

There are days when, from the comfort of home, with Test Match Special on the radio and tea in the pot that thoughts of cycling alone through mountains with my wet worldly possessions stuffed in two panniers become nightmarish.

But then I remind myself that five years ago I pushed pixels for a living and ate Marks & Spencer sandwiches for lunch. Now I ride a bicycle in fascinating places looking for food. I have no idea what I’ll be doing five years from now but when in doubt I follow the words of Junior in Platoon.

“Free your mind and the ass will follow.”

Other than watching war films another area of research I am pursuing before I head for The Mekong is to start cooking as many South East Asian dishes as I can. Here is a very simple Vietnamese recipe for some meat balls that really are the dogs bollocks.

Xiu Mai (Vietnamese Meatballs)

Makes about 20 healthy meatballs

• 1 lb ground pork
• 2 tblsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
• 1 tblsp soy sauce
• 2 tblsp sugar
• 1 tsp ground black pepper
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
• 1 small onion, finely chopped

1. Add 1 tbs of fish sauce, the soy sauce, sugar, black pepper, salt, garlic and onion to the pork.

2. Mix well with your hands in a large bowl and shape the pork into 2-inch-sized meatballs. Pan-fry until your balls are charred on the edges and set aside.

3. In the empty pan add the remaining fish sauce and sugar. When the sugar starts to caramelizes and turns brown add 1 cup of water. Stir well and pop the meat ball back in.

4. Leave your balls to simmer on a low heat for about twenty minutes until they are soft and tender.

5. Serve with sticky rice, and a simple herb salad of fresh dill, mint and basil.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 28th, 2009 at 16:46 and is filed under Cycle Touring, mekong journal, Mekong Posts, Mekong Recipes, Recipes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. We just returned from over 6 weeks in SE Asia, including Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. As is typically the case traveling sans bike, I wondered the entire time how the touring would be. My opinion: overall it would great, once you leave the cities like Saigon, which are dangerous to even walk in. Take the coast road up Vietnam…it would make for great riding and interesting towns to ride through. That being said, inland Vietnam and the terrain around towns such as Dalat is very refreshing. Vietnam is changing very fast, at least that’s what we were told and it’s quite obvious when you see all the construction. I think riding in Laos would be fantastic. Very little traffic, remote villages and friendly folks. I’m slowing posting images on my site –, including a recent video of the traffic in Saigon.
    What ever you do, have fun! I wish I was coming. Oh, I did not see very much camping at all. Lodging is relatively cheap so I’d consider that option as well.

  2. Blix

    Keep on dude! Some of us still eat crappy store sandwiches and sit behind computers all day. For us who are absolutely strapped to this sort of lifestyle, we gotta live vicariously – so your stories and blog updates are definitely highly anticipated. Looking forward to your trip and I wish you well!

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