Ghibli Museum tickets slam dunk

We’re going on our honeymoon in Japan soon, and excitement levels are high in the household (or rather, just my own excitement levels). Most of the planning is done, and I had a reminder on my calendar to buy Ghibli Museum tickets when it was due.

I thought I’d share a guide on how to buy these online as I found the entire process quite stressful, but was successful in getting a couple of tickets in the end. So here’s how to score tickets with minimum stress!

The Ghibli Museum website directs you to your local travel agency who sell tickets up to three months ahead. However, the JTB company in the UK only sells tour packages to the museum and the My Bus UK’s website was entirely in Japanese so the only option was to buy from the Lawson website. Lawson is a major convenience store (combini) chain in Japan and I guess they have a contract with the museum to sell these tickets. The other option is to buy tickets when you’re there in Japan at a Lawson store, but the chances of securing any will be slim. Especially when you’re going during Japan’s school holidays! There are only 200 tickets in total sold everyday.

Tickets come on sale online every 10th of the month prior. So for example, if you want to get tickets for March, sales start on 10th February at 1000 Japan time. I was all primed and ready at my laptop by 0050 here in the UK. But surprise surprise – the server to the website crashed immediately at 0100 (1000 Japan time). My big tip is to open multiple tabs/windows to the booking site and keep refreshing them on the off-chance one of them connects to the server. Just keep doing that over and over again. Keep opening and closing windows if you get the error message that the server is unavailable. I’m not sure if this happens every month, but I did realise today that I was planning to visit during the Japan school holidays so that might have been be a major negative factor in getting tickets. But better safe than sorry! It took me an hour of multiple windows refreshing and multiple curses before finally getting some tickets.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to the Lawson website:
    https://www.lawson.co.jp/service/others/in/lang/en.html
  2. Follow the links to Ghibli Museum. If you’re lucky, you’ll get straight to this page:
    https://l-tike.com/st1/ghibli-en/sitetop. Select the relevant month.
    If you’re not lucky, this is the stage where you’ll have to keep opening multiple tabs/windows and refreshing them. It is now about 10 hours after ticket sales have opened so I have no problem accessing the page.
  3. The next page you’ll get to is this one:
    Screenshot 2019-02-10 at 11.02.33
  4. Do not leave this page. Get all your other tabs that you’re busy refreshing to get to this page as well if possible. After a while, a calendar will appear at the bottom of this same page, with all the dates and entry times available. I have to wait a few seconds now for the calendar to load but when ticket sales started, this took several minutes at least.
  5. This is what the March calendar looks like only 10 hours after ticket sales started:
    Screenshot 2019-02-10 at 11.01.43
    The ‘x’ means tickets have sold out. ‘o’ means tickets are still available, and a triangle symbol means tickets are low for that time slot. You can see how popular the museum is! When I first started trying the first couple of weeks were still available, but the second half of the month was selling out quick due to their school holidays.
  6. If tickets are still available, click on the relevant time and it will direct you to a details page where you have to input ticket numbers and the group leader’s details. If the page is telling you that they are unable to complete the process, that may mean that tickets have sold out for that time slot and the calendar just hasn’t updated itself. My tip is to choose a 1200 or 1400 time slot straightaway when you get to the calendar page and don’t fanny about with a 1000 time slot even though tickets look like they’re still available. Everyone will be trying to get those. Your last resort is a 1600 time slot – that’s what I had to do in the end.
  7. The next page is the payment page. Natwest blocked my card when I tried to pay which was a few seconds extra stress until I replied to their text and unblocked it!

Every step of the process will take extra time when ticket sales have just opened.

So in summary, these are my big tips in getting Ghibli Museum tickets:
1. Time your trip outside of their school holidays!
2. Buy tickets online immediately after they go on sale.
3. Be quick on your fingers and open multiple tabs and keep refreshing them.
4. Choose a later time slot in the day. I think most people spend about 4 hours at the museum so a 1200 or 1400 entry is still fine as the museum closes at 1800. 1600 is pretty late but any ticket is better than none if this place is a must-go for you.

Good luck in your mission!

PS: I also timed my visit to fit in with my Tsukiji Market day. The outer market at Tsukiji is closed on most Wednesdays and Sundays, but sometimes they differ. Here’s a helpful link for opening days to the market: http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/calendar/2019/
It’s in Japanese, but it’s not hard to figure out.

 

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Chicken with miso, ginger and lime

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Have I mentioned how much I love Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook? There are so many recipes I keep wanting to try, but this is so good I’ve made it a few times already. Perfect for a winter’s night with that rich, unctuous, tangy, salty sauce over a bowl of rice. Ahh.

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Chicken with miso, ginger and lime

Serves 6

6 chicken legs (cook whole or separate the drumsticks and thighs as I did)
2 tbsp sunflower oil
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp mirin
2 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
2 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
40g white miso
4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lime – zest the skin and juice it
40g whole coriander, roughly chopped
2 red chillies, sliced (remove seeds for a milder flavour)
8 spring onions, sliced into 2 inch lengths

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius fan.
  2. Mix the chicken with the sunflower oil and salt.
  3. Heat a pan over high heat. Sear the chicken for several minutes on each side until golden brown.
  4. Place the coriander, chillies and spring onions into a baking dish. Mix the chicken with the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl then place into the baking dish as well, skin side up.
  5. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and turn the chicken over and bake for a further 15 minutes uncovered, before turning them back skin side up for a further 15 minutes. Baste a couple of times in between.
  6. Serve over plain boiled rice, drizzled with the sauce.

Deconstructed sushi bowl

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On occasions I get a craving for sushi which is not matched with my craving for assembling a sushi roll. Bar ordering a takeaway, I resort to making this. Call it what you want – a deconstructed sushi bowl, salmon chirashi (with salmon on the side!) or a poké bowl, it all boils down to the same simple thing. A bowl of sushi rice topped with fresh, crunchy vegetables eaten with salmon sashimi. This time I even went the extra mile and boiled water to make miso soup and marinated sliced tofu with teriyaki sauce to panfry them.

The only cooking you’ll have to do for this if you’re just having the sushi bowl is to make the sushi rice and even that is a simple enough endeavour. You can make more for leftovers the next day but I wouldn’t keep it any longer than that as the rice does dry out.

A little note about the ratios of ingredients. The vinegar/sugar/salt ratio is one I found to suit my tastes best. There are plenty of recipes on the interweb so feel free to experiment a little to find the balance that suits you best. My little rice cup that I’ve been using for years isn’t quite a full 1 cup measurement. It’s more like 3/4 cup but I still use the same amount of the rest of the ingredients. Again, this is something that works for me, but the recipe works pretty well with a standard cup measurement too. 1 cup of rice is a very generous portion for 2 people so adjust the recipe according to the number of servings you are making.

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Sushi rice

3 cups shortgrain Japanese rice
3 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

  1. Wash the rice in a pot with cold water several times to get rid of the starch until the water runs clear. Drain off.
  2. Add the amount of water above to the rice. If you’re using a rice cooker, then easy peasy. If you’re using a stove, cook the rice over medium low heat until the water comes to a boil. Then open the lid slightly and switch the stove down to very low heat until all the water has evaporated from the surface. At this point cover the pot with the lid again and cook for a further 10 minutes or so until the rice has cooked and all the water has evaporated from it. Check with a spoon, the times will vary depending on how much rice you’re cooking. Leave the pot to cool on a cold surface to allow the rice to come away from the pot surface easily.
  3. Stir in the sugar and salt into the vinegar until all of it has dissolved.
  4. With a rice spatula, stir and loosen the rice in the pot. Best to use a combination of scooping/turning/cutting motions rather than a circular stirring-the-soup sort of motion to ensure the rice grains don’t get crushed and you end up with a rice mush.
  5. Add a tablespoonful of the flavoured vinegar at a time and stir it into the rice using the same motions again. Taste as you go along, you may not need to use all of the vinegar. You will find that the rice will get sticky as you stir, but stop adding vinegar before it gets too wet.
  6. Chop up all sorts of crunchy vegetables to top the rice with. This time I used cucumbers, red peppers, seafood sticks, pickled daikon, shredded gem lettuce and shredded some seaweed (nori). Beetroot and avocado work well too. Sprinkle some furikake over for more added flavour.
  7. Eat with sliced salmon sashimi with a dipping bowl of soy sauce and wasabi on the side.

 

 

Brioche French toast with yoghurt, blueberry compote and bacon

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I had this in Dartmouth last year. We were there for a long weekend and had intended to hit up Cafe Alf Resco for their breakfast but after being unsuccessful twice, settled for Beth’s Bistro a couple of doors down the road instead. It turned out to be a really good choice though as Gareth had a delicious sausage sandwich and I had this beauty. Minus the bacon. The bacon was my idea. The Greek yoghurt melds with the tang of the blueberries to create a swirly creamy sauce for the french toast, then you get a hint of meaty saltiness from the bacon at the end. Because salty sweet is always a good idea.

I got this recipe from here, with a few tweaks as usual.

Brioche French Toast with Blueberry Compote, Yoghurt and Bacon

Serves 2

4 thick slices of brioche from a loaf
2 eggs
4 tbsp milk
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp mixed spice or cinnamon
2 drops vanilla extract
Butter for frying

4 large heaped tbsps Greek yoghurt
100g blueberries
1/2 tbsp caster sugar (adjust depending on how sweet you wish)
6-8 slices good streaky bacon

  1. Dry fry the bacon in a hot pan, there will be plenty of oil coming out the bacon. Keep warm in a low-heated oven.
  2. Heat another pan on medium high heat and melt some butter into it.
  3. Beat the eggs, milk, caster sugar, mixed spice or cinnamon and vanilla extract together.
  4. Dip the brioche slices into the eggy mixture until each are nicely coated and soaked in the mixture.
  5. Fry the brioche until golden brown on both sides. Keep warm in the oven.
  6. Put the blueberries and 1/2 tbsp of caster sugar in a pot on medium low heat. Stir for 5 to 6 minutes until some blueberries burst and the juices turn jammy.
  7. For a serving, place two slices of french toast on a plate, top with 2 heaped tablespoons of Greek yoghurt, drizzle with the blueberry compote and artfully arrange the bacon slices over.

 

 

 

Cheddar cornbread

This is one of my favourite recipes from Ottolenghi’s Simple. It’s sweet from the corn, it’s spicy from the chilli, it’s salty from the cheddar, it’s savoury from all the other goodness that goes into it and just envelopes you in a soft cosy blanket of carb goodness.  Incredibly delicious eaten warm right out of the oven, it also travels well and tastes good at room temperature too. We had it with bacon and avocado for breakfast before packing the rest into the car for our trip to Yorkshire.

It’s become a little tradition for me to make some snacks to bring along when we go on long weekends or holidays away. For a couple of years it was curry puffs for our trips to Cornwall. This cornbread is much less labour intensive than making pastry from scratch! We definitely enjoyed tucking into it after our long walks around Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Sutton Bank.

I’ve made a few tweaks again to make the recipe simpler. The original recipe called for the corn kernels to be dry fried first until slightly charred but I didn’t find that it added much extra flavour to the recipe and my poor pan was so difficult to clean up after! So do this step if you wish but Continue reading

Acar (Achar)

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I have such fond memories of eating these pickles growing up. The combination of spicy, sweet, sour, cold, and crunchy makes a great counterpart to any stews or meat dish. Acar and its combination of these flavours is very typical of Nyonya cuisine. My aunt who is a Nyonya used to make pickled green chillies stuffed with shredded green papaya and my cousins who share similar gluttonous traits with me would look forward to it during Chinese New Year.

Because it is quite a long recipe, Mum would only make this very occasionally as a treat but then we’d have many lovely meals with this as a side dish or to spoon onto prawn crackers to eat as a teatime snack. Mum’s recipe was slightly different with alkaline water needed to blanch the vegetables so I gave this one a go instead, from the reliable Meatmen website, with a couple of changes of my own. I omitted long beans and the fresh sliced red chillies and switched the Chinese cabbage to white cabbage as I think white cabbage gives a bit more crunch, and I only used 30g dried chillies because that was plenty spicy enough. I also didn’t use fried shallots as mum never had shallots in her pickles. The video on the website is really useful to get an idea of the steps involved.

These pickles will probably last for a couple of weeks refrigerated. Just use a clean spoon every time to spoon them out of the jars. They’d make wonderful Christmas presents.

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Acar (Achar)

Vegetables
2 cucumbers
2 carrots
1 small head cauliflower
1/2 white cabbage
1 tbsp salt

For blanching
1 litre water
500ml white vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt

Chilli paste
120g shallots
4 cloves garlic
15g fresh turmeric
4 candlenuts
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
100g fresh chillies
30g dried chillies, soaked and drained
20g belacan
4 tbsp oil

Vinegar mix
150ml white vinegar
8 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt

100g crushed roasted peanuts
40g toasted white sesame seeds

1. Don’t bother peeling the cucumbers. Slice them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice them into 5cm long, 1cm thick batons. Cut the carrots into similar sized batons.

2. Add 1 tbsp salt into a bowl, toss the cucumbers and carrots in it and leave for an hour. This ensures that most of the liquid is drained from them.

3. Remove the spine off each leaf of white cabbage. Slice the white cabbage into 1 inch strips.

4. Cut the cauliflower into small florets, leaving the stalk off.

5. Add the blanching ingredients – water, white vinegar, sugar and salt into a pot. Let it come to a boil.

6. Blanch the cauliflower and the white cabbage for about 30 seconds each. Drain dry on kitchen towels.

7. Strain the carrots and cucumber with a dish towel. Rub dry. Mix all the vegetables into a large bowl.

8. Add all the chilli paste ingredients except the oil into a food processor and blend into a fine paste.

9. Heat the oil on medium high heat in a pan. Stir-fry the chilli paste until fragrant and add the vinegar mix to it. Stir to combine and let it come to a boil again.

10. Stir the cooked chilli paste with the vegetables. Add in the crushed roasted peanuts and toasted sesame seeds. Spoon into sterilised jars, leave to cool, then cover and refrigerate.

Note: This Jamie Oliver video shows a really simple way to sterilise glass jars and lids. This step is vital in extending the shelf life of your pickles.

Muffuletta

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When I saw this a few months ago on a random website that I can’t remember now, I made a mental note to try it out at some point. It didn’t seem too hard to make and it’s more of an assembly recipe than a cooking one. The opportunity presented itself when Gareth and I planned a cycle ride along the canals on a beautiful warm autumn’s day. This was to be a packed lunch extraordinaire, a king/queen/diva of sandwiches like no other. It didn’t harm the sandwich’s case that we were starving by the end of our ride. When your husband then says it’s the best sandwich he’s ever had, you just smile knowingly and say, you got that right.

I took inspiration from Serious Eat’s recipe but made it my own with a few tweaks as usual. It was so simple that the hardest part was opening an extremely stubborn roasted peppers bottle. I managed to get everything from my local Lidl, but as this is not a Lidl plug at all, feel free to mix up the combination of meats, cheeses and roast vegetables from any shop you please. You will have plenty of leftover ingredients to make a few more batches if you want.

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Muffuletta

Serves 4

1 round sourdough loaf

1 pack each of:
Sliced mortadella
Sliced salami
Sliced Emmental cheese

1 bottle each of:
Pesto
Pitted black olives, sliced into rounds
Roasted red peppers
Roasted courgettes
Sun-dried tomatoes

1. Prep the bread. Using a small serrated knife, cut out a circle of about 10cm diameter from the top of the loaf. Just so it’s large enough for your hand to be able to layer the ingredients inside.

2. This is the fun part. Tear out the soft insides of the loaf until you’re left with the crust of the bread and a little bit of the soft bread inside, say about 1cm thickness. You’ll be left with a bread bowl cavity. The ripped out bread can be used for croutons or to dip in soups etc.

3. Spread the pesto liberally on the inside surface of the bread with the back of a spoon. Don’t forget the bread lid as well.

4. Then start layering! Make sure you really get your hand in there and layer everything right up to the sides of the bread. Mine went like this, from the base: mortadella, salami, Emmental, red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, courgettes, olives. Then repeat a second set of layers before topping with more meat to finish and replace the bread lid you removed earlier.

5. Wrap it in aluminium foil and place it in the fridge for at least an hour. Place something heavy like a cooking pan or baking dish on top to weigh it down and let the flavours develop.

6. When ready to eat, slice the loaf up into quarters and you will be rewarded with the most heavenly layered sandwich to munch into.

 

Claypot Chicken Rice

Claypot chicken rice

When you live in the UK and have a hankering for authentic Malaysian food, there isn’t unfortunately an option of popping to the nearest restaurant for a meal. The next best thing would be to try and replicate it yourself. Malaysian food here is still such an untapped resource of richness compared to Thai or Vietnamese food so here’s a tip to any budding restaurateurs out there – you have a ready made customer base who would welcome the chance of having a homey Malaysian meal anytime!

Claypot chicken rice at home is as the label says, cooked in a claypot over a fire stove which gives it a smokey flavour that enhances the dish. I own neither a claypot or a gas stove, so concessions had to be made but the end product was still just as tasty.

This recipe is from The Meatmen, with some little modifications of my own. I left out the fried salted fish which didn’t harm the flavour at all and stir-fried my greens (pak choi, choi sum or any leafy greens will do) separately.

Claypot Chicken Rice

Serves 4

Chicken marinade
500g boneless chicken thigh
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornflour
1/4 cup water

1 cured chinese sausage (lap cheong)
4 cloves chopped garlic
2 inches chopped ginger
3 cups rice, washed
3 cups chicken stock
2 spring onions, chopped
Fried shallots

Sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp white pepper powder
1 tsp sesame oil

  1. Cut the chicken into 2 inch cubed chunks. Mix in the marinade ingredients and marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours.
  2. Slice the chinese sausage into diagonal slices. Heat a pot up on medium heat and dry fry the sausage slices until they crisp up. Remove from the pot and drain on a kitchen towel.
  3. Use the oil released from frying the sausage slices and heat the pot up to medium high heat.
  4. Fry the garlic and ginger for a few minutes until fragrant.
  5. Add the rice and stir-fry for a few more minutes. Reduce the heat to medium.
  6. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once it boils, cover and reduce to low heat.
  7. Once the stock has evaporated from the top, add the fried sausage slices and stir the rice.
  8. Place the marinated chicken pieces in one layer on top of the rice. Cover and cook for another 15 minutes.
  9. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the heat to let it steam for another 10 minutes (this step is essential so the rice comes together and doesn’t stick to the sides and bottom of the pot).
  10. Mix the sauce ingredients together and add to your taste. You may not need all of the sauce.
  11. Top with chopped spring onions and fried shallots.

Flourless Chocolate Brownies

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I had this great hankering for brownies that I tried ignoring for a while as I am currently supposedly on a diet. Hah. The call of the brownie was too strong though, so I came up with this compromise – flourless brownies! Carb-free but my oh my does it more than make up for it in sugar and fat content. Never mind, make a whole tray, save a few for treats and bring the rest in to work. Or do like me and give them to your neighbour. You will then get repaid with a note like this:

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Fact.

These are from Nigella’s website. I cut the sugar content down a little. It could even do with cutting it down a little more if you’re not a sugar fiend. And I also cut them into 20 squares as 16 may have been a portion size too large seeing as they are pretty rich.

I didn’t have a square baking tray so I improvised. I shaped some aluminium foil into a vaguely square-shaped thing, placed it to the side in a normal baking tray and squished up more foil on the other side to support it so the brownie mixture wouldn’t splodge out into one big mess. Then lined the square foil tray with baking parchment.

These are so fudgey and decadent, it is so very difficult to stop at one. They are probably one of the best brownies I’ve ever made, or dare I even say, the best (reference note above).

Flourless Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients
225 g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), break into rough pieces
225 g salted butter, cut into large chunks
2 tsp vanilla extract
150 g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
150 g ground almonds
100 g pecans, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius/150 degrees Celsius fan.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan over gentle heat. Keep stirring so the bottom of the mixture doesn’t catch.
  3. Take the pan off the stove, mix in the sugar and vanilla extract and let cool a little (so you don’t get scrambled eggs in the next step!).
  4. Stir the eggs, ground almonds and pecans into the chocolate mixture.
  5. Transfer to a 24cm/9 inch square foil tin (or use my improvised version) and bake for 25-30 minutes. The top will have set but the mixture underneath will still be squidgy. Let cool in the tray and when set, take it out carefully and cut into 20 squares of heavenly delight.

Everybody’s oven is different, and I know my oven is only 10 degrees lower for the equivalent temperature in a non-fan oven. So I used 160 degrees and cooked the mixture for 30 minutes.

Flourless brownies 2

 

Griddled Thai Prawns

I ventured into The Works several weeks ago after a long hiatus. With some luck and random browsing, you could get lucky with a particularly enticing novel or cookbook. Just don’t enter with preconceived intentions and you won’t get disappointed. Like checking out TK Maxx. Or Home Sense. I’m showing my bargain-hunting tendencies here.

I happened on ‘Chef on a Diet’ by Sophie Michell just lying on top of a higgledy piggledy pile. There are so many delicious, accessible recipes with interesting flavours in it, and a whole lot of carb-free ones too. This is one I think I’ll be using a lot.

The inspiration from this dish came from the Thai marinade towards the back of the book. It would also work well on chicken, fish or even griddled meat skewers or vegetables. I decided to go with prawns and had them with this mango salad. Have it with boiled white rice as well for a more substantial meal.

Thai Griddled Prawns

Ingredients
1kg raw king prawns, shell on
Coriander to garnish

Marinade
2 whole red chillies
1 lemongrass stalk
Zest of 1 lime
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
4 garlic cloves
3 banana shallots or 6 regular shallots
50ml coconut cream
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp fish sauce

  1. First, prepare the prawns. Use a pair of kitchen scissors. Snip off all the legs, the antenna and the sharp poky bits above the tail, and above and either side of the head. Be careful as these bits are rather sharp.
  2. Lay the prawn flat on a board and with a sharp knife slice down the length of its back about 1/2cm deep. Remove the intestinal tract. The cut also allows the marinade to flavour the prawns further.
  3. Coarsely chop the red chillies, lemongrass, garlic and shallots and place all of the marinade ingredients into a blender and blend until fine. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
  4. Marinate the prawns for about 15 minutes.
  5. Heat a griddle pan to medium high heat. Spray with cooking oil spray.
  6. Scrape off any excess marinade from the prawns. Cook the prawns for about 2-3 minutes on each side, then turn over and cook for about 2 minutes again. As soon as the prawns turn opaque on each side, they are done.
  7. Pour the excess marinade into a little saucepan and bring to boil for a few minutes.
  8. Serve garnished with coriander, some rice and a tangy mango or papaya salad. Use the cooked marinade as a dip for the prawns.