Posts in Cover
A Mini Road Trip Movie with Topsi Venter

Exploring | Cape Winelands, South Africa 

 
 
 
 

Topsi Venter was the Grand Dame of South African cuisine. Topsi, whose real name was Pauline Venter, was a living legend among her chef colleagues. No matter who you asked, all roads in South African cuisine seem to lead to her.

 

I wasn't even aware of her when I met her for the first time in her restaurant. I had just visited Margot Janse in the award-winning Tasting Room in the Quartier Francais when she said that I just had to go to see Topsi since she only lived a few houses further down on the same street. Sometimes when you go through a door you have no idea that something important is about to happen. Awaiting me that afternoon was a high-speed journey into the past, the present and the future of South African cuisine.

A few days before, I found out that Topsi was an old woman who, due to an operation, could barely walk and talk... yet it turned out that this was only partly the truth. When I entered the house, Topsi was stood right in front of me on her crutches. Margot Janse had apparently just been on the phone to her and so she knew that I was on my way. "So, young man", she said "you’re interested in South African cuisine? Where are you from?" "Actually," I answered, "I’m half from Spain, half from Austria, and..." "Spain...?" She didn't let me finish my sentence " a famous Spanish chef spent a few weeks in South Africa. How was he called?... Oh yes, Ferran Adria, and I cooked something for him – he was quite nice and just as curious as any child. But follow me, let me show you something." She went limping into the kitchen. "Oh, my knee hurts! she said," I’ve just had an operation"

"...a famous Spanish chef spent a few weeks in South Africa. How was he called?... Oh yes, Ferran Adria, and I cooked something for him – he was quite nice and just as curious as any child...

We went briefly into the kitchen, greeted her daughter Danielle, who was just cooking a Bootie -a South African national dish with Malaysian origins - and then we went right on through into the next room. It was a library. The room was filled with shelves stacked high with cookbooks, cookbooks and even more cookbooks. As if she could read my mind, she knew that this was something quite extraordinary for me.  "This is my treasure trove!", said the trained architect and art historian, which is where her love for eating turned into a love for cooking.

She showed me the books, many of which were beautifully illustrated. I was fascinated and intrigued. She took yet another one from the shelf read it to me.  "This is by C. Louis Leipoldt, a South African poet... listen to this: and there is the art of cooking, which is one the greatest expressions of culture and civilisation, because it converts food from a mere necessity into a social delight and rejoicing in being alive, however cold the day and dark the night...." She took a long pause and looked at me and said: "What I thought now, is that we should go to Renata! Come on, get your things. I’ll fetch the car keys!" She limped quickly towards the desk. Somewhat shocked I thought, "Oh my, are we really taking the car? Seriously? If she can barely get around, how on earth can she drive?".

Approaching the desk with difficulty, she carefully opened a drawer and suddenly a parrot appeared, "Can I introduce you to Miss Oscar Wilde?" said Topsi "I think he's gay.

Approaching the desk with difficulty, she carefully opened a drawer and suddenly a parrot appeared, "Can I introduce you to Miss Oscar Wilde?" said Topsi "I think he's gay. Now where the hell are those car keys?" she cursed loudly.  We got in to an old, rusty brown Mercedes.  "You’ll have to keep hold of the door while we’re driving – it sometimes flies open", said Topsi. "Where are we going? And who is this Renata?" I asked.  "To the past and into the future!!!" Topsi replied. Renata Coetzee – as Topsi told me while driving at full throttle through the Winelands – was a food historian, also 80 years of age, who knew ten times as much about South African cuisine as any other person. Her area of research was the oldest cuisine in the world, the thousand-year-old cuisine of San and the Khoikhoin people. It had become her life mission. She had even documented the plants and herbs of this original cuisine - Fynbos vegetation. "Then we could drive down to see Shoeman", Topsi said. "Guys like him embody the culinary future of our country. He cooks with these completely unknown plants and herbs in the Fyndraai Restaurant. It will open up a completely new universe of tastes and smells. You'll see". "I hope so!" I think, as I regard the rickety door of the Mercedes with something approaching panic.

 
Topsi Venter in her old Mercedes Benz

Topsi Venter in her old Mercedes Benz

 

"Where are we going Topsi? And who is this Renata?" I asked.  "To the past and into the future!!!" Topsi replied. Renata Coetzee – as Topsi told me while driving at full throttle through the Winelands – was a food historian, also 80 years of age, who knew ten times as much about South African cuisine as any other person.

 
 
 
 
A present from the dessert for me: Kalahari Truffle (peeled), "the potato of the Koihsan".

A present from the dessert for me: Kalahari Truffle (peeled), "the potato of the Koihsan".

"...Guys like Shoeman embody the culinary future of our country. He cooks with these completely unknown plants and herbs..." 

Topsi Venter

Indigenous herbs: Koekemakranka, or Kroekemakrank or also known as Gethyllis was a plant used in one of the most ancient kitchens of the world: the one of the Khoisan people, who live in the south-west coastal strips of Africa (actual Southafrica and Namibia). The may once have comprised the majority of living humans on the planet, for much of the past 150,000 years. Today, The ripe fruit is sometimes used to impart its special aroma to brandy. More Illustrations  here

Indigenous herbs: Koekemakranka, or Kroekemakrank or also known as Gethyllis was a plant used in one of the most ancient kitchens of the world: the one of the Khoisan people, who live in the south-west coastal strips of Africa (actual Southafrica and Namibia). The may once have comprised the majority of living humans on the planet, for much of the past 150,000 years. Today, The ripe fruit is sometimes used to impart its special aroma to brandy. More Illustrations here

 
 
 
In memorian: Topsi Venter passed 2016 away at the age of 85. Thank you Topsi for this awesome day!

In memorian: Topsi Venter passed 2016 away at the age of 85. Thank you Topsi for this awesome day!

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
 
Assa Nigua! Real Men are made of Corn

Exploring | Chichicastenango, Guatemala

 

Guatemalan syncretism: The Santo Tomas (Saint Thomas) catholic church -one of the main attractions, was built atop of the platform of one of the Maya temples in the area, and the 18 steps -one for each month of the Maya calendar, are still venerated.

Guatemalan syncretism: The Santo Tomas (Saint Thomas) catholic church -one of the main attractions, was built atop of the platform of one of the Maya temples in the area, and the 18 steps -one for each month of the Maya calendar, are still venerated.

 

Lovingly called Chichi, the small village of Chichicastenango has been one of the largest trading centers in the mayan world since pre-hispanic times. There is lots to see, smell and taste. 500 years ago, one of the best kept secrets of the mayan civilization was hidden from the spanish conquerors in this tiny town. A mysterious book.

 

“Their flesh was made of white and yellow corn. The arms and legs of men were made of corn meal." So goes the story of creation of men from the Maya sacred book the “Popol Vuh”, the so called Mayan bible. Most of the Mayan codices were burnt by the Spanish conquerors, who feared the influence of the devil, but in 1558, a Mayan transcribed the Popol Vuh into the Quiche language.

The manuscript was treasured by the Mayans of Chichicastenango  village and it was hidden from the Spanish conquerors. Two centuries later, a Spanish priest named Francisco Ximénez gained the trust of the Mayan community. They allowed him to see the book and he translated it into Spanish.

The Popol Vuh deals with the Mayan creation myth. After many attempts with clay and wood, the Mayan gods finally made four men out of corn and they became “true people”.

 

The Popol Vuh deals with the Mayan creation myth. After many attempts with clay and wood, the Mayan gods finally made four men out of corn and they became “true people”.

Which makes a kind of metaphorical sense: it was the cultivation of corn that gave the early Maya culture the means to change from hunter- gatherers to their advanced civilization... 

 
 
Chicicastenango: The market place.

Chicicastenango: The market place.

 
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"Chichicastenango is still a mystical place where Guatemalans from all around the country come to trade and sell their goods every Thursday and Sunday in a big outdoor market that -in essence- has not changed very much in the last 500 years."

 
Flower vendors. Chichicastenango

Flower vendors. Chichicastenango

 

"There is lots to see, smell and taste. Food vendors sell local dishes with pre-Hispanic origins"

 
Pulique, a prehispanic chicken dish with "recado" (a Guatemalan word for a complex sauce)

Pulique, a prehispanic chicken dish with "recado" (a Guatemalan word for a complex sauce)

 
©_eatnologist_guatemala_america_food_sketchbook_food_travelsketch9.jpg
Signs of catholicic and mayan syncretism

Signs of catholicic and mayan syncretism

Notes for the recipe

Notes for the recipe

 
The church of Santo Tomás in front of the Chichicastenango market, the church where centuries ago the priest Francisco Ximénez kept his transcription of the Popol Vuh.

The church of Santo Tomás in front of the Chichicastenango market, the church where centuries ago the priest Francisco Ximénez kept his transcription of the Popol Vuh.

 

Situated not too far away from Lake Atitlan, the village of Chichicastenango is still a mystical place where Guatemalans from all around the country come to trade and sell their goods every Thursday and Sunday in a big outdoor market that -in essence- has not changed very much in the last 500 years. There is lots to see, smell and taste. Food vendors sell local dishes with pre-Hispanic origins, such as Pulique, a chicken dish with recado (recado is the Guatemalan word for a complex sauce with a thick texture which is the result of adding corn flour at the end of the cooking process).It is served with -yes- corn tortillas. However, the unique flavour of this recado is provided by the Apazote plant. People believe that Apazote is great to help remove negative forces from the body. For positive forces you should drink Atol Blanco. Atol Blanco is a traditional corn-starch-based thick hot drink. So if you want to prove that you are a mero mero- a really true Guatemalan - and want hear them say "Assa Nigua!" - a Guatemalan expression of admiration- you have to drink lots of Atol. Don´t be surprised if at the end you really believe that you are made of corn.

 

So if you want to prove that you are a mero mero - a really true Guatemalan - and want hear them say "Assa Nigua!" - a Guatemalan expression of admiration- you have to drink lots of Atol. Don´t be surprised if at the end you really believe that you are made of corn.

But one of my favourite recipes from “Chichi” that I often prepare at home is totally corn free: a tasty radish salad with Chicharrones (fried pork rinds) called Cojin Chichicastengo* that I first tasted at a food stall in front of the church of Santo Tomás, the church where centuries ago the priest Francisco Ximénez kept his transcription of the Popol Vuh. 

(*) 
Without Chicharrones (fried pork rinds) the salad is known as Picado de Rabanos and it is a delicious side dish (very close to the mexican Pico de Gallo Salad) that goes well with any kind of grilled meat, adding Chicharrones turns into Cojin Chichicastengo.

 

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
Ginger, the Crab

That Recipe on my Mind | Inspired, Laos

 
Ginger_Crab_Cakes Recipe3.jpg

Ginger Crab Cakes Recipe

Ingredients:
6 cups crabmeat
1/4 cup minced green onions
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 eggs
3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

How to prepare:
In large bowl, mix together crabmeat, green onions, cilantro, lime juice, ginger, hot pepper sauce, and salt and pepper. Shape into 12 patties.
In a shallow dish, lightly beat eggs. Place bread crumbs in another shallow dish. Dip patties into egg, then press into bread crumbs to coat all over.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Cook crab cakes in oil, adding remaining oil as needed, for 2 minutes per side or until golden.

 
 
 
 
Lotus Woman

That Recipe on my Mind | India

 
 

Palak Makhana Recipe | Puffed Lotus Seeds in Spinach Gravy

Ingredients
1 bunch spinach
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup Phool Makhana (puffed lotus seeds)
1 tspn Cumin
1 tspn Garam Masala
0.5 tspn chilli powder
1 Cinnamon stick
0.5 tspn Turmeric
0.25 cup Milk
1 Tblspn Ghee
Salt to taste

How to prepare
Roughly chop the spinach and rinse it carefully in a bowl of water. Place into a saucepan with the turmeric. The water left on the spinach will be sufficient for cooking it. Cover and cook until the spinach is wilted and almost cooked. Using the immersion blender, blend until semi smooth.

In a pan, toast the phool makhana in a pan with a little ghee until lightly brown (you can toast them in a dry pan if you prefer). Remove and keep aside.

In the same pan with the remaining ghee, toast the cumin until brown. Add the onions and cook until transparent.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they lose most of their liquid. Then add the spices – the turmeric, garam masala, Cinnamon stick, chilli powder and salt to taste – and the water. Mix and allow to simmer for 1 – 2 minutes.

Add the spinach and the milk and simmer for another 3 minutes. Add the toasted Phool Makhana to the spinach gravy. Bring to the boil, simmer for a moment, remove from heat and serve.

 
 
 
 
No Etna, no Ice

That Recipe on my Mind | Sicily, Italy

 

Granita al Limone (Lemon Granita) Recipe

Ingredients:

 1 liter water
¾ cup sugar

lemon juice (4 lemons)
Zest of 4 organic lemons

 

How to prepare:

Combine 2 cups of the water with the sugar in a medium nonreactive saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the salt, stir, and remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the remaining water and let cool to room temperature.

Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour.

Meanwhile, place a shallow metal container (such as a large cake pan) in the freezer to chill. Add the lemon juice, lemon peel, and extract to the chilled sugar mixture; stir until well blended. Pour into the chilled metal pan.

Place the pan in the freezer for 30-60 minutes, or until ice crystals form around the edges. Stir the ice crystals into the center of the pan and return to the freezer.

Repeat every 30 minutes, or until all the liquid is crystallized but not frozen solid, about 3 hours.

To serve, scoop the granita into chilled dessert bowls or goblets.

 
 
 
 
 
A Summer Tapa

 That Recipe on my Mind | Malaga, Spain

 

Boquerones en Vinagre (Marinated Anchovies) Recipe

Ingredients:
½ kg very fresh boquerones (fresh, uncured anchovies)
½ liter white wine vinegar
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

How to prepare:
Clean the fish well, removing the head and the spine, as well as the tails and the insides. Once cleaned, place the fish in a dish and cover with vinegar. Leave, covered, in the refrigerator for at least six hours.
Drain off the vinegar, then dress them with a bit of salt, olive oil, and vinegar, and the garlic and parsley. Can be served immediately with fresh crusty bread on the side, or can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three days.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chicken Bus Recipe

That Recipe on my Mind | Guatemala

 

Guatemalan Chicken with Pineapple Recipe

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 -3 1⁄2 lbs broiler-fryer chickens, in pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pineapple, cut in 1 inch cubes or 1 (20 ounce) can unsweetened pineapple chunks, drained
1⁄2 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 dash pepper
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
hot cooked rice (can cook concurrently so all is ready at the same time)

 

How to prepare:

Heat oil in lg skillet; cook chicken on med heat until brown on all sides-- approx 15 min.
Remove chicken, cook onion& garlic in remaining oil until onion is tender, stirring frequently.
Return chicken to skillet.
Mix all remaining ingredients except tomatoes (and rice!); pour over chicken.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 min.
Add tomatoes; simmer, uncovered, until thickest pieces of chicken are cooked through-- approx 20 min.
Serve with rice.

 
 
 
The Mojito Theory

+++Exploring

 
 
 

Havana | Cuba

The Mojito Theory. 

Where does the name Mojito come from?

I push through the local dance club. It’s full. It’s hot. It’s dark. To the right and left of me, before and behind me, there is a mass of sweat-soaked bodies in all possible shades of skin colour. They dance the Rumba, Son, and Cuban Reggaeton, also called Cubaton. Liquid flows out of every pore. The air is so thick you could cut it with a knife. I need to get out of here. I finally make it. My head is pounding as I leave. Why is everything so bright? It has got so late… Or is that early? Whatever. The street is empty. I feel dizzy. I wonder how many mojitos I've drunk in the last few hours in this dance club. Was it six? Seven? Eight or more? 

Swaying, I walk down the street to the Malecón, Havana's seaside promenade. Hopefully the breeze of the sea will do me a world of good and I want to see the sea before I finally go to sleep. It has been a long day. It all started at 10 o'clock this morning in a bar in the centre of Havana... with a Mojito. It might sound strange to you, but I am in Havana...

 
 

Swaying, I walk down the street to the Malecón, Havana's seaside promenade. Hopefully the breeze of the sea will do me a world of good and I want to see the sea before I finally go to sleep. It has been a long day. It all started at 10 o'clock this morning in a bar in the centre of Havana... with a Mojito.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Guillermo, the "Isleño"
“I couldn't really say where you can drink the best mojitos in Havana", says Guillermo, who like me, is from the Canary Islands and works since a couple of years as Hotel Manager in Miramar, a quarter of Havana. He had a few hours free for me today and so we're sat in the bar in the Calle Obispo. "In Havana, you can drink good mojitos pretty much everywhere. He reckons that in the Bodeguita del Medio the mojitos are famous because of Ernest Hemingway, but they taste the best where there is a good mood and atmosphere". There appears to be an excess of good mood in the ‘La Lluvia Dorada’ bar. The guests, a mix of tourists and locals, drink and dance to the live music. There is flirting and some groping, and it is not even lunchtime. On the orders of Guillermo, the bar keeper served me a mojito, while Guillermo himself quickly downed his morning coffee. I look at the man behind the bar slightly puzzled. "Don't worry! When you're dancing, you'll sweat the mojito right out", he adds with a wink.  "You're an ‘Isleño’ as well aren't you, like Guillermo?" asks the waiter, apparently having already recognised my dialect. 

 
 
 
 

The descendants of expatriate inhabitants of the Canary Islands – which belong to Spain – are lovingly called "Isleños" (literally, "those who came from the Islands”) in Cuba, which sounds a little strange given that Cuba itself is an island. In Cuba, the Isleños and their descendants form a large community. Canarian Spanish, which is known as the gentler form of Spanish dialects (and which very often uses the diminutive "-ito"), contains a number of Portuguese loanwords, including among other Mojo, originating from the Portuguese molho. In Portugal, molho is a specific sauce consisting of olive oil, salt, water, wine vinegar, garlic, paprika, chillies, and various spices such as cumin and coriander, all prepared with a mortar. Portuguese seafarers brought Molho sauce to the Canary Islands, which was modified in Spanish to Mojo. Since then, Mojo sauce has played a large role in Canarian gastronomy (Mojo Picón is with pepper, and Mojo Verde with coriander).

Mojo Canario (Canary Island Mojo) arrived in Cuba with the Canary expats and turned into Mojo Cubano (Cuban Mojo), which is prepared with garlic, onions, olive oil, oregano, salt and a mixture of the juice of limes and oranges.

In the Caribbean, these fruits are much more common than the wine vinegar used in the original recipe from the Canary Islands. The Mojo Cubano is a sauce or marinade that is served with Lechón asado (grilled pork), grilled chicken and many other meat dishes, and of course there are almost as many variations of Mojo Cubano as there are Cubans on the island: Mojo Criollo, Mojo Tomate, etc. are just a few of the famous varieties.

 
 

So where did the original name for mojito come from?

Some sources say that the name Mojito also has Canary roots, just like Mojo Cubano sauce. Canarian expats to Cuba worked in the sugar cane plantations where sugar cane was processed into rum. 

One theory goes that the word for the drink comes from "Mojadito" (something wet) and from there it became Mojito (Wikipedia: "...the name Mojito is simply a derivative of mojadito (Spanish for "a little wet") or simply the diminutive of mojado ("wet"). Due to the vast influence of immigration from the Canary Islands, the term probably came from the mojo creole marinades adapted in Cuba using citrus vs traditional Isleño types"). 

But "Mojadito" (something wet) makes little sense to me. More so, I think that "Mojito" derives from “Majadito" (with an "a" instead of an "o" after the M). "Hacer un Majado" or “Majadito" in the Spanish dialect of the Canary Islands means "something crushed”, and that's exactly what you do if you want to prepare a "Mojo" sauce in a mortar. When preparing a mojito, you lightly crush the mint leaves in the glass, most often using a spoon.

In this way, you can clearly see how the progression from “Majadito” to “Mojito” is made. 
Because people speak very quickly in the Canary Islands, they end up swallowing their letters and even whole syllables when speaking out loud — in Cuba they do that too — so that a word like “Majadito” quickly becomes shortened to “Majaito”, which then mutates to the much shorter version of “Mojito”. The name Mojito is thereby a diminutive form of something in a compressed form.

 
Mango Soup

Mango Soup

 

“Today I’ll drink and be patriotic" I say to Guillermo after explaining my mojito theory and already feeling the urge to get my dancing feet on the floor. The band was simply so good and carried everyone along with it. "Okay, so if you're interested in mojitos, then come to the hotel bar this evening where we are about to test the new cocktail menu, including the classic one and some other unusual variations on mojitos. You can also eat typical Cuban food in the restaurant as well". 

And so that was the story of how I ended up testing various mojitos and eating mango soup and grilled chicken with Mojo Cubano in Guillermo’s hotel restaurant, before then moving on in the early hours to a different bar where I drank six or seven,  mojitos. Or eight or more.

 

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
 
 
 
A Fisherman in the Woods

Garrykennedy | Ireland

+++That Recipe on my Mind

 

 

 

 

Irish roasted Salmon with Irish Whiskey Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons honey
1⁄4 cup cider vinegar
1⁄4 cup Irish whiskey
1⁄2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 salmon fillets

How to prepare:

Mix together honey, vinegar, whiskey, lemon zest, oil, salt and pepper. Pour over salmon and marinate 1 hour on the counter, or 4 hours refrigerated.
Preheat oven to 200°C 450°F.
Remove salmon from marinade and place on a rack over a roasting pan.
Grill or Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, basting once with the marinade or until golden and white juices are just beginning to appear.