Posts in Exploring
In the Cycle of Nature
DSC_1756.jpg
 

My girlfriend is from Styria, and we have a child together. An almost two-year-old girl. We often go to her parents, who live in a quiet, almost idyllic village. They have a small vegetable garden and orchard, as well as some chickens. A considerable part of their diet is based on what nature provides on this small piece of land, depending on the season.

To experience the change of seasons, to be happy about what the earth gives us all, the birth of our daughter and to observe how fast she has grown in these almost two years, has brought with it a collection of impressions and thoughts: about nature, about the seasons, about the course of time and about life. In the cycle of nature we can see ourselves. We as part of the greater whole.

 
 
 
DSC_0538+2.jpg
 
DSC01765.jpg
DSC01749_A.jpg
DSC01747.jpg
 
DSC_1896.jpg
 
 
DSC_1461B.jpg
image-asset-1.png
 
DSC_8628.jpg
DSC_1638.jpg
DSC_1682.jpg
Baked potato, bear's garlic spread with curd cheese, dried bear's garlic buds, flowers, orange salt.

Baked potato, bear's garlic spread with curd cheese, dried bear's garlic buds, flowers, orange salt.

Bildschirmfoto+2019-07-09+um+09.32.20.png
 
DSC_1634.jpg
 
DSC_1646.jpg
Poached egg, wild herb salad, baguette.

Poached egg, wild herb salad, baguette.

DSC_1813.JPG
 
 
 
 
 
Bildschirmfoto+2019-06-26+um+17.15.48.png
"Reisfleisch" Pork. Paprika, marjoram - fennel - rice - cracker and onion-pepper puree.

"Reisfleisch" Pork. Paprika, marjoram - fennel - rice - cracker and onion-pepper puree.

Styrian Tripe Soup with Turkish Sumac Delight

Styrian Tripe Soup with Turkish Sumac Delight

DSC_8646.jpg
Baked beetroot, pumpkin puree, flowers and berries, orange salt

Baked beetroot, pumpkin puree, flowers and berries, orange salt

IMG-8811.jpg
DSC_9710.jpg
"Risi-Bisi" with chicken: Grilled peas and chicken on rice crackers.

"Risi-Bisi" with chicken: Grilled peas and chicken on rice crackers.

Grilled Chicory: Grilled chicory with Ajvar and anchovies.

Grilled Chicory: Grilled chicory with Ajvar and anchovies.

 
DSC_8642.jpg
Chili-chocolate cake with dehydrated vegetable chips.

Chili-chocolate cake with dehydrated vegetable chips.

Bildschirmfoto+2019-06-26+um+17.14.57.png
 
 
Baked savoy cabbage, Miso-Hollandaise, Zafran

Baked savoy cabbage, Miso-Hollandaise, Zafran

 
DSC01824.jpg
“Tannenzapfen” (Brioche with Fir Tops Jelly)

“Tannenzapfen” (Brioche with Fir Tops Jelly)

 
Have you ever grilled a Pea?

The grill technique with a sieve

 
image.png
 
 

This technique comes from Victor Arguinzoniz, from Asador Etxebarri in the Basque Country, Spain. The Asador Etxebarri is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world.

There they use this technique with a sieve to grill ingredients of very small size to preserve the flavors.

For this we need a grill and a sieve, which we flatten on the ground

For this we need a grill and a sieve, which we flatten on the ground

Small shrimps or very small vegetables: peas, corn, carrots that otherwise could not be grilled are perfect for this technique. Any kind of food that can be cut before a barbecue (including small leftovers). You don't have to do anything with mini vegetables. Kids can thus eat with their hands, leaving parents more time for everything else. And: When barbecuing for children, you can also take the chance to "cheer on" one or two vegetables, hoping to get some vegetable enthusiasm going.

But this technique can also be of interest to the grown-ups, with many creative applications and new taste experiences. And finally: Ideal for small balconies, tiny spaces, mini barbecues...

Ever grilled a pea? Give it a try.

 
 
IMG-8827.JPG
 
DSC_9696.JPG
 
IMG-8792.jpg
DSC_9710.JPG
 
Contrasts that go together and taste even better
 
DSC_1725_B.jpg
 
 

When we leave familiar territory, we begin to look for new connections. Not only while eating or drinking, but also in life.

I love to travel, and when I can't, I dream about it. I must have inherited it from my father. My father dreamed sometime in his youth that he wanted to leave Vienna to travel as far south as he could. And that's what he did. With the first money he earned, he first went to France, then to Spain, and when he then reached the southernmost tip of the continent there, instead of returning to Vienna, he bought a ticket in the port city of Cadiz with the last money he had, got on a ferry and reached the Canary Islands after a few days (at that time there were no charter flights like today, and if there were, they were very expensive).

Once there, someone told him that further down south - if you draw an imaginary line to the North Pole - the first thing he would find if he decided to travel on would be Antarctica. So at first he thought about it for a moment. After a few days he got to know my mother on the beach, they fell in love, although they were like day and night, and a little later, as it was appropriate in strict Catholic Spain at that time, he married her, and stayed there until today, where both live together.

They fell in love, although they were like day and night, and a little later, as it was appropriate in strict Catholic Spain at that time, he married her, and stayed there until today, where both live together.


But my father's desire to travel did not diminish. It simply turned into a passion for culinary discoveries within the island. He took us to every restaurant or tapas bar in town that could have something new or interesting so that we could try everything possible. And there was a lot of variety. In this sense, my hometown, and the island, is an interesting place. Apart from what the sea gives and because of the high mountains (almost 2000 m altitude and up to almost 4000 m on other islands of the archipelago) there are many microclimates. There - from pears and apples to avocados, bananas, mangos and papayas - almost everything is cultivated. On this island, which is only sixty kilometres wide and sixty kilometres long, 15 different recognised cheeses are produced.

Gran Canaria is also known as a "continent in miniature" because of its many contrasts. Landscapes that would otherwise not fit together in our imagination are half an hour's drive away from each other.

puerto.jpg


The island also lies in the Atlantic Ocean between Europe, Africa and America. The capital is decisively shaped by its port, which is one of the largest in the Atlantic. South Americans, Indians, Lebanese, Scandinavians, and English had settled in Las Palmas and brought their culinary traditions with them.

Novillo Precoz

Novillo Precoz

Toshihiko Sato, owner of the “Fuji”

Toshihiko Sato, owner of the “Fuji”



One of my favourite restaurants, a Uruguayan Asador called Novillo Precoz, is certainly the reason that I think I could never be a vegetarian.

Las Palmas was also the first city in Spain (and the second in Europe after London) to have a Japanese restaurant (Restaurante Fuji opened in 1967).


Las Palmas was also the first city in Spain (and the second in Europe after London) to have a Japanese restaurant (Restaurante Fuji opened in 1967). The reason for this was that the port was an important base for the Japanese fishing fleet at the time (the fishing areas were off the coast). Whenever my grandmother from Vienna came to visit us, we took her to this restaurant in the harbour district to frighten her. My grandmother had big eyes when Toshihiko Sato, the Japanese owner of the restaurant, showed up and filleted Toro tuna or a living Dorada and gave us raw food (at that time nobody thought too much about Anisakis).

The fish was fresher than many things that arrived at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, and Toshihiko Sato cooked many of his dishes with vegetables grown on the island, mainly the crews of the Japanese ships (for whom he had even developed a sophisticated catering service). There was also avocado with raw fish and soya. And not because it was hip, but simply because there were avocados and fish, and they both tasted so good together. Even if it wasn't necessarily considered traditional Japanese. Conceptually contrasting, but harmonious in taste.

From these many contradictory tastes and situations, from the curious relationship of opposites, I learned that sometimes the hidden harmony can be more powerful than the obvious.


 
 
An unusual but wonderful wine & food pairing: Rib eye steak, grated white chocolate and a glass of Malbec wine.

An unusual but wonderful wine & food pairing: Rib eye steak, grated white chocolate and a glass of Malbec wine.

 
 
Sweet and salty baked Memories from both my Homes
 
Above: My spanisch grandparents. Below: My grandparents' house was here.

Above: My spanisch grandparents. Below: My grandparents' house was here.

Home is a memory. Even the smell of something can remind you of "home". It can immediately flood you with a pleasant feeling which you associate with home, however it may look.

I am a mixture. My mother is Spanish, my father Austrian. They live in Spain, where I was born. Today I live in Vienna, Austria.
The first memories I have of my childhood are marked by strong contrasts. They are divided between my maternal grandparents' house in the Canary Islands, Spain, and my grandmother's house in Vienna, Austria.


The house of my Spanish grandparents in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was located at the end of a beach (in La Puntilla, Playa de Las Canteras) on a narrow lava field by the sea.
There you could feel the power of the ocean, which was crashing against the rocks again and again, and through erosion had created a landscape of bizarre shapes.

It was the place where I played in my childhood, observed by my maternal grandfather or my father, because it was the place where they both went fishing in their spare time. My task was to mix small pieces of bread with the heads of shrimps, left over from a fish dish, with sea water into a spherical paste. This paste then served as bait for the fish we wanted to catch. Meanwhile, my Spanish grandfather, Leonardo, kept telling his stories about the shooting of the film Moby Dick (by John Ford and starring Gregory Peck), which had taken place just off the coast. He had worked with my uncle Genaro on the film, partly because he, my grandfather, had some knowledge of English while working in the harbour. So he could help the film team to communicate with the locals who took part in the shooting.

This black lava field in front of the sea, which tasted of fish and salt and smelled of seaweed, was a dangerous and at the same time fantastic place for me. Dangerous because the surf and the many pointed stones made it an unsafe place for a child. And fantastic, because - while my father and grandfather were fishing - I was practically forced to spend hours alone with what I saw in front of me. And in these forms bizarrely shaped by the lava, I imagined landscapes in miniature form: Mountains and valleys, lakes and lagoons. Distant worlds that I wanted to travel to, that existed only in my head and thus became a playground and stage for countless adventures for me.

 

My uncle Genaro (with mustache, below) during the shooting of Mobby Dick with Gregory Peck (middle).

 
DSC01628.jpg

Pictures of my Austrian grandparents (and great-grandparents)

 
My great-grandparents (ca. 1875)

My great-grandparents (ca. 1875)

The other house, that of my paternal grandparents in Vienna (and in this case the term "apartment" would rather apply), was located in an old and classical building typical of Vienna. My grandfather had died a long time ago, I had never seen him, and my father almost never. He was at least 30 years older than my grandmother. The reason for the age difference was probably the war - at that time there were more women than men. The apartment was like a museum of what my grandfather was. It contained small paintings, photos, letters and documents.

The apartment was like a museum of what my grandfather was. It contained small paintings, photos, letters and documents.

My grandmother had carefully collected and arranged everything, including the first photo of my grandfather as a baby, and also that of my great-grandparents (taken in a studio in Mariahilferstrasse, in 1878!). But there were also more photos, love letters to his first wife and endless scores for operettas. My grandfather, a civil servant, who praised himself as a friend of Arnold Schönberg, wrote - under a pseudonym - scores for small performances and played the piano himself in coffee houses in his spare time. The documents in my grandmother's apartment resembled a journey through the history of Vienna from the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century with a certain bohemian touch.

Although I spent my whole childhood with my parents on the islands, my father often took me to Austria to spend time with my grandmother in Vienna. There I had the opportunity to get to know a culture which, although different, had a lot in common with the Spanish culture, and so my grandmother explained it to me.

The famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna was the most visible and most famous example. Or the Habsburgs, who ruled them both in Austria and in Spain. Or the church convent founded by Spanish monks in the 9th district. The monks wore black cowls, and therefore there was once a Schwarzspanierkirche, literally meaning "Black Spanish Church" and then later a Schwarzspanierstrasse ("Black Spanish Street"). There was even a dessert which I knew and which could be seen in certain pastry shops: "Spanish Wind" was the name which, according to my Austrian grandmother, was an old name for what we know today as French, Swiss or Italian meringue or meringue. In Spain they are called Suspiros (sighs), and with my Spanish grandmother we had often bought them at the doors of a monastery, because, as I learned later, these kinds of desserts were traditionally prepared by nuns or monks. Who knows if the Spanish monks living in Vienna could be the reason in Austria that the meringues were also known as "Spanish Wind". Or maybe just because you need an oven as hot as a Spanish summer to prepare them.

Who knows if the Spanish monks living in Vienna could be the reason in Austria that the meringues were also known as "Spanish Wind"

 
My grandfather (ca. 1875)

My grandfather (ca. 1875)

DSC_0418.jpg
My grandmother, my father, my grandfather (1952)

My grandmother, my father, my grandfather (1952)

DSC01812+2.jpg
 

One of the things I loved to do with my Austrian grandmother was to spend a few days in the summer house that my aunts - Aunt Mitzi and Aunt Wally had. The house was near the Hohe Wand Mountain, not too far from Vienna. In front of the house there was a meadow and a vegetable garden, which at times served as a pantry. Behind the house there was something else that fascinated me: a forest. There I went for walks with my grandmother and my aunts to collect mushrooms (parasols). I was not allowed to touch them because some of them, which looked very similar, were poisonous. So to pass the time, I collected the fir cones that had fallen from the trees. I took them to Spain because they reminded me of the walks and the smell of the forest.

 
 
 
 
The Greater Journey: The Cycle of Life
 
March | Birth. Another kind of Oyakodon

March | Birth. Another kind of Oyakodon

 
 

My girlfriend is from Styria, and we have a child together. An almost two-year-old girl. We often go to her parents, who live in a quiet, almost idyllic village. They have a small vegetable garden and orchard, as well as some chickens. A considerable part of their diet is based on what nature provides on this small piece of land, depending on the season.


To experience the change of seasons, to be happy about what the earth gives us all, the birth of our daughter and to observe how fast she has grown in these almost two years, has brought with it a collection of impressions and thoughts: about nature, about the seasons, about the course of time and about life. In the cycle of nature we can see ourselves. We as part of the greater whole.

image.png



On each of the 12 calendar pages I have visualised a seasonal recipe in the form of a collage. This collage serves as a note, mood board or inspiration, as a basis for the later recipe.

The collages and the resulting recipes show the parallels between the seasons and the different stages of a human life.

 
 

The Cycle of Life - That Recipe on my Mind

12 MONTHS

12 PHASES OF HUMAN LIFE

12 SEASONAL RECIPES

January: Conception

February: Prenatal Phase (Pregnancy)

March: Birth

April: Infancy

May: Childhood

June: Puberty, Adolescence

July: Early adulthood

August: Midlife

September: Mature Adulthood

October: Late Adulthood

November: Old Age

December: Death


 

Recipes

The Cycle of Life Calendar 19

 
The King's Cook
 
DSC02764.jpg
 
 

Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan is a cook, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family, and author of 22 bestsellers on Thai cuisine.

Some time ago I sat in a newly opened Thai restaurant. There I asked the owner, a somewhat older and very distinguished Thai, if he could tell me who the best cook of Thailand would be, as I was planning to travel to Thailand. I also wanted to learn more about Thai food culture. Actually I thought it might just be really nice to eat at the restaurant where Thailand's best cook was. A simple good restaurant tip would have been enough for me, but in the meantime, I was soon to find out that A. Thais have a different sense of humor, B. they can hardly say no, and C. will try, no matter how, to help you. The restaurant owner was apparently flattered with my question, he turned around and went to a small desk in the dining room. He wrote something on a piece of paper in a font (Thai) that I of course couldn't read, gave it to me and said: "You have to scan this paper first then write the following email" - he typed with his ballpoint pen on the only characters recognisable to me on the paper- attach the scan to the email and send it . "That's all. Let´s see what happens” he said.


Bangkok


"Let´s see what happens…” Six months later and for several reasons and coincidences still inexplicable to me, I entered the "Thai on 4" restaurant in Bangkok a little speechless. In front of me sat Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan, head of the restaurant, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family and author of 22 bestsellers about Thai cuisine. She also had her own TV show and is probably one of the most renowned experts on Thai cuisine.


 
 

Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan is a cook, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family, and author of 22 bestsellers on Thai cuisine.

We sat together at one table. I couldn't speak Thai, she couldn't speak English. Her assistant translated for us, or she tried. When asked what her own recipe developments were, the words "health" and "harmony" often appeared. Terms that are ubiquitous in Asian cuisine. However, it also gave me many new insights. For example, I asked her if there is actually a specific Royal Thai Cuisine. As I understood it, she said that basically, apart from the visual presentation (Thai carving is just one example), a certain ceremony, and the quality of the products used as far as recipes are concerned, there were no big differences to traditional Thai food except for a dish that was created especially for the kings at that time when there were no refrigerators: Thapthim krop (Crispy rubies).

 
 
DSC02813.jpg
 
 

Thapthim krop

"Royal" could be understood as the following in this dish: The snow (or ice) was dragged from Mount Puncak Jaya (4,884 m) in distant Indonesia with elephants through tropical areas to Bangkok, which was also tropical. No one else in Thailand could afford such an extravagance other than the king. She said something to the assistant and promptly the dish was in a bowl in front of me, designed according to her instructions: Crispy Rubies: Water chestnuts in syrup on coconut milk and ice.

"Is this also the favourite dish of the present king? I asked

She smiled and I understood that as a no.

"Which dish is it then?" I wanted to know.

She smiled "That's a secret". she said.

 
 
 
 
 

How much "beauty" can food stand?


In Thailand ornamentation is not yet a crime.



Thai Carving… sorry? What sounds to Europeans like it could be the particularly exotic driving style of Thai skiers, is almost as popular for Thailand as a folk sport. Above all, however, "Kah sa Luk", as the locals call their artistic fruit and vegetable carving, is a highly respected craft with a long tradition going back several hundred years.

The art of carving reached its peak in the 19th century under King Rama II. (1808 - 1824), who even wrote his own treatises on the aesthetics of Thai carving. The thoughts and teachings he formulated, such as that the appearance of food is just as important as taste, have taken deep roots in Thai society.

In contrast to Chinese carving, however, all motifs in Thai carving are borrowed from nature and the individual parts are always made from one piece. In the Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian cultures, however, the motifs of carving mostly originate from mythology and are often stuck or glued together.

What would Adolf Loos say?

(*) Adolf Loos: Austrian and Czech architect. His essay Ornament and Crime advocated smooth and clear surfaces in contrast to the lavish decorations of the fin de siècle, as well as the more modern aesthetic principles of the Vienna Secession

 
 
Fight for your Food
 
01.jpg
 
 

Justin Bonello is a South African television star, filmmaker, author and chef. He is famous for his outdoor cooking skills. The king of bush cooking, so to say. From juicy steaks to rat-like small animals he finds in the wild, there is nothing in South Africa to eat that Justin Bonello has not already grilled.

"Today I thought up something very special for you" he says to me as we get into the car. He turns to me and adds seriously, "I don't eat anything that I didn't kill myself. Otherwise I would find it immoral and you will have to earn your own food today! There is no morality in nature. Life, food and death belong together!

I don't eat anything that I didn't kill myself. Otherwise I would find it immoral and you will have to earn your own food today! There is no morality in nature. Life, food and death belong together!



I remain in silence and thoughtful during the trip to our still unknown destination. Pictures go through my head that I have seen in his documentaries, and some were not exactly pleasant. Leaning in my back seat, but not particularly relaxed, I wonder what will await me today.

 
 
 
 


We drive with his assistant from Cape Town, the R44 road along the coast. With every bend it becomes more beautiful and wilder. After some time the car stops. In front of us a huge, lonely, breathtaking beach.

I look to the left, I look to the right... "And what is there to eat here?"

I look to the left, I look to the right... "And what is there to eat here?" I ask Justin, a little surprised. "Take off your shoes and come with me." he says. Justin goes a few steps ahead, towards the water. Suddenly he stops at ankle level in the water and starts a kind of "Let´s Twist again as we did last Summer" dance. "Do the same!" he screams. "You have to drill yourself into it and if you feel something like a stone between your feet, it's a shell! he screams even louder. Yes, let´s twist again as we did last summer... but real summer feelings don't come up with me. The surf is strong and the water is so cold that I after a few minutes I can't really feel my feet anymore.
After one hour, that feels like 3 or 4, I come out of the water trembling with a handful of shells. Justin's, his assistant's and my shells - the catch of the day - all come together in a potjie pot, a three-legged cast iron pot. Justin prepares a kind of wonderfully fragrant Mussel Chowder with butter, basil, garlic and chili. We drink a Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, just chilled in the Atlantic (iced would be more accurate). Although, being honest, at that moment I would prefer a hot cup of tea much more. It's shortly after two. Food will be ready soon. The sun is burning and I put my feet deep into the warm sand. The world is fine again and everything tastes fantastic.

 
 
Confused with Confucius
 
DSC05095.jpg
 
 

Kong Zhong, a.k.a. Richard Hung, a.k.a. Richard Kong, is a descendant of the 78th generation of Master Kong, a.k.a. "Kong Fuzi" or "K'ung-fu-tzu", also known as Kong Zi, or Kong Qiu.

A little confused? Simply put: Richard Kong is a direct descendant of Confucius, the world-famous philosopher and politician who lived in China in the 5th century BC.

I met Mr. Richard Kong, who is also a successful entrepreneur who controls several pharmaceutical, film, and media companies, and is president of the International Society for Descendants of Confucius, in a (very) fine and (very) expensive restaurant right on the Bund in Shanghai.

Richard Kong is a direct descendant of Confucius, the world-famous philosopher and politician who lived in China in the 5th century BC.

Fortunately, I was invited. The restaurant is the "Family Li Imperial Cuisine Restaurant" and accordingly the feel is somewhat "Imperial" too. Despite his countless interests and activities, he has a great passion that we share. Food and wine. For this reason, but above all thanks to a mutual acquaintance, I had the pleasure of meeting him.schaft, die ich mit ihm teile. Essen und Wein. Aus diesem Grund, aber vor allem dank einer gemeinsamen Bekanntschaft, bin ich auf ihn gekommen.

 
 
 
 

The extremely friendly and humorous Richard Kong is a passionate wine connoisseur. That's the first surprise for me. Wine and Asia … do they really go together? And wine with Asian food? How is that supposed to work? The second surprise: a waiter approached me and asked me if the Kobe beef fillet would be okay for me and how I would like to have it. But before the main course, a series of traditional and less traditional Chinese starters and the finest wine pairings had been planned. Planned by Richard Kong of course, who was such a generous host. "I hope I can try it all," I said, smiling with gratitude and admiration. “You must soon come to us for a 100-course banquet at the family headquarters in Quofu, Shandong. You'll be able to really appreciate what Chinese cuisine culture is," Kong replied.

Then came the third surprise: "I have chosen something very special for the Kobe beef," says Richard Kong, grinning mischievously. The waiter came one step closer and pointed to a bottle of wine. It's a 1995 Mouton Rothschild. I was standing before the most expensive sip of liquid of my life. But before I could taste the wine, mineral water was served. Two ladies came and stood next to me spreading a large cloth in front of my face, so that the tiny droplets of the bubbling water, which was carefully served by a third lady, did not catch me. The food arrived, small and large culinary experiences followed, each wonderfully paired with wine.

 
 
Richard Kong (right), his assistant (left), and me.

Richard Kong (right), his assistant (left), and me.

 
 

I asked him if he knows what Confucius said about food. "For Confucius, food was very important and much of it is abundantly documented. There is a saying of his: “Appetite for food and the other gender are two of man's greatest desires," Richard Kong explained amusedly.

“Appetite for food and the other gender are two of man's greatest desires"

"But did he really say it in this order: Appetite for Food and for the other Gender, and not the other way round?" I asked ironically.

In my previous research I learned that there are about 2 million people in the world who can boast about being descendants of the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius. (Confucius was probably a little confused when he formulated this sentence. Maybe he meant it the other way round). "I don't think so," said Kong, "but one way or another, everything in life is due to the appetite food and for the other gender. The necessity for food stands for daily survival from birth, and the desire for the other gender means to achieve reproduction and thus, in the broadest sense, immortality and infinity. Between these two aspects, is where life, culture, - simply everything else - happens."

There isn't much of Richard Kong's work on the Internet in English, but I found it in the Italian VOGUE (link)

 
 
 
 
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.

 
1478349628635.jpeg
©_eatnologist_guatemala_america_food_sketchbook_food_travelsketch.jpg

"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

 
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.

 
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.

 
 
 
 
 
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.

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.

 

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

Topsi Venter

 
 
 
 
 
In memorian: Topsi Venter passed 2016 away at the age of 85.

In memorian: Topsi Venter passed 2016 away at the age of 85.

 
 
 
How to convert to Buddhism in ten Seconds

+++Exploring | Bangkok, Thailand

eatnologist
 
 

 

 

The Chao Phraya River is the lifeline of Bangkok and quite the simplest way to cross it, is by taking one of the water buses that travel up and down the river. All you do is jump on and pay on board. 

The relatively short distance to the opposite side of the riverbank is deceptive. The assumption might be on the western side that you are delving further into chaos stricken Bangkok, but when you get off at That Phrammok station, you find yourself arriving in a true oasis of tranquillity. Within minutes, it is as if you have entered another world.

 
 

After a short walk, I discovered the Buddhist Temple of Wat Khrua Wan quite by chance, as I was actually looking for something totally different on the other side of the river. My intention had been to discover a beautiful view of the Grand Palace, preferably from the terrace of a nice restaurant. 

And then all of a sudden, this temple stood before me. Immediately after the entrance I came across two bald-shaven monks behind a table. They were selling transparent bags packed with colourful balls, probably made from puffed rice, which were then dipped in delicious exotic fruit juices to give them a glowing appearance. In any case, these balls went like hot cakes because everyone who went into the temple bought at least one bag. Of course, I couldn't restrain myself either and so I bought two packs, greedily ripped into one of them and then popped several of these mysterious balls straight into my mouth. I was very excited. Were they perhaps a new culinary discovery? Or perhaps they were unknown pioneers of molecular gastronomy?

 
 

The two priests were wide-eyed when they saw me chewing. The small balls, which had both the consistency of Styrofoam and tasted like it, suddenly transformed into foamy liquid and stuck to my teeth. Oh no! It was such a disappointment. I needed to spit them out and then I saw that the priests, who were doubled over laughing, were not male priests at all...  they were women! What's going on here, I thought to myself.  As far as I knew, there were no female Buddhist monks or novices in Thailand. Using sign language, the two ladies directed me to the river where I could then spit out the balls. 

The small balls, which had both the consistency of Styrofoam and tasted like it, suddenly transformed into foamy liquid and stuck to my teeth. Oh no! It was such a disappointment.

 
 

A very pale thai student who was passing by tapped me on the arm, instructing me to follow her. While we were on the way to the riverbank, she explained what was going on. The balls were not intended for people, but for fish –  because the balls were good for the fish, they would also therefore be good for my karma. Giving me a quick crash course in Buddhism, the student enlightened me and explained that donations were commonplace. Normally, the monks received these donations. A donation of candles comes with the expectation of enlightenment, a donation of money should lead to prosperity, whereas a donation of books would result in wisdom, etc. 

Arriving at the shore, it took me ten seconds to empty the packet into the river. Fish immediately began nibbling at the contents. How on earth did that happen so quickly? Should I wish for something now? Just to be on the safe side, that's exactly what I did. The second packet, however, I kept for myself. My companion, who also emptied out her packet, ended her prayer with a small gesture and I did the same.

 
 

Following my new friend, we left the temple and we had barely gone any distance before my wish came true. Grilled fish. They were being prepared by a street vendor. “That worked quickly! Whatever you give comes right back at you!" I said, feeling convinced of this fact. I ordered one for myself and then asked my friend, Nok, if she -or was she a he?- would like one as well. Nok ordered also a Tom Kha Gai (a coconut chicken soup) but I did not the same. "You don´t like?"  she said. "Tom Yum Goong is my favourite, I ate it the first time in Kho Phi Phi and I love it, but It's just too hot. I cannot eat a soup now. Anyway, you have given me an idea, thank you!, I said .

I was very grateful to her, because who knows, I might just have found not only a new recipe and also my new "spiritual" home. And so we sat with our two fish on the banks of the river. The fish was delicious, a tasty meaty flesh flavoured with a filling of lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaf, all finished off with a crispy, salty skin. There was also a small beaker containing a marinade of chilli, lime juice, fish sauce and coriander, perfect for dunking or pouring over the fish. I felt as if my next stop would be Nirvana.

In Thailand, women are not allowed to be official priests or monks. They are also not allowed to wear orange clothing as that is only permitted for male priests, monks and novices. In this way, even the youngest of male novices is more important in the scale of values than a female novice.

I asked Nok why the women wore white dresses at the temple. “They are novices. In Thailand, women are not allowed to be official priests or monks. They are also not allowed to wear orange clothing as that is only permitted for male priests, monks and novices. In this way, even the youngest of male novices is more important in the scale of values than a female novice. Far more than those who maintain their relationship with God for years through prayer and working in the temple.  The only female monk in Thailand is a former university professor for Buddhist philosophy but even she is not really recognised as such, although she does make a point of wearing orange. She has been ordained abroad and is called Dhammananda Bhikkhuni. She leads a monastery in northern Thailand and has already been nominated for the Nobel Prize. 

Quickly, Nok finished eating her fish, thanked me and then left, needing to return home. She had still to work tonight and wanted to rest a little bit before.  I remained a while. I wanted to take a little look around the area, observe the hustle and bustle of the people on the nearby canals, and make some notes. It seemed quite right to me that Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East. 

 
©_eatnologist_bangkok_thai_food_asia_sketchbook_food_travel7.jpg
Salt-roasted whole fish with herbs

Salt-roasted whole fish with herbs

Sweet, crispy and delicious: Flower Tempura

Sweet, crispy and delicious: Flower Tempura

Sweet Sticky Rice wrapped in Banana Leaves

Sweet Sticky Rice wrapped in Banana Leaves

 

I was still hungry and wanted more fish – should I throw my second packet into the river for this? But no, I wanted to keep my colourful balls a little while longer for myself. I went back towards the exit of the Temple in the hope that my street fish vendor was still there. Fortunately, he was still there and I bought a big juicy fish, which tasted just as good as the first. I bought also a delicious, sweet and crispy flower tempura

On the way back to my guest house in the Taewez quarter, I travelled up the river on the water bus. This time it was so full that I had to stand at the front. The boats are open at the front, and so what normally happens is that you end up really quite wet. The sun was setting, and it was a beautiful day. 

Feeling like the King of the World, at least for a short moment.

Feeling like the King of the World, at least for a short moment.

Standing there, I felt a Titanic moment coming on. When we passed the Royal Palace I had a daft grin on my face and shouted "I'm the King of the world". But it was at this very moment that a passing ship sprayed me and I almost choked.

I woke up in the middle of the night. I had severe abdominal pain and wondered, "Was it those colourful balls? Or maybe the flowers or the fish that I ate?

I woke up in the middle of the night. I had severe abdominal pain and wondered, "Was it those colourful balls? Or maybe the flowers or the fish that I ate? Yes, the fish, that must have been it", I said to myself. Buddha has surely punished me. I should have wished something else, something more profound when I threw those coloured balls in the river. After numerous trips to the toilet, I went to reception, thinking that perhaps the receptionist could give me some tablets. I told him what had happened.

Unusually bad-tempered for a Thai, I had just woken him up and he explained to me in broken English that first of all, Buddha would not punish anybody – maybe my God would, but not Buddha. Secondly, I didn't understand his religion, something that I had already suspected, and thirdly, I should never swallow water from the river. This is because it is so heavily contaminated it can really make you ill. "Just in case, take this pills" he said "With a bit of luck, it will be over tomorrow". I thanked him and ran once more in the direction of the toilet.

 
On the way back to my guest house

On the way back to my guest house

 
 
 
 
The Chinese Darth Vader
 

Jet lag

It's late at night in Shanghai and I cannot sleep. My hotel, not far from the colonial Grand Boulevard “The Bund", is only 100 metres from the "House of Jazz & Blues”, where according to the receptionist, they play good music every evening. I decided I wanted to find out for myself and so made my way there... 

 
 
DSC09862 2.JPG
 
The Metropole Hotel at the Bund

The Metropole Hotel at the Bund

eatnologist_sketchig_food_shanghai_DSC_8313_96.jpg
Fearless watermelon vendor

Fearless watermelon vendor

 

...Red lanterns lined the neighbouring alleys where sellers manned their makeshift food stalls until late into the night...

 
eatnologist_sketchig_food_shanghai_DSC_8313.jpg
 
Entrace to a Club at The Bund

Entrace to a Club at The Bund

 
 

Red lanterns lined the neighbouring alleys where sellers manned their makeshift food stalls until late into the night. Upon opening the door to the jazz club, I felt that I'd stepped back in time to the Shanghai of the 1930s. A band was already playing. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a cocktail. A thick cloud of smoke drifted towards me; I heard a deep, dark voice and turned around. Next to me sat a Chinese man wearing a light-coloured suit, white leather shoes and an Al Capone style hat. He was puffing away on his pipe and conversing with the bartender. I must have looked pretty baffled for he looked at me and smiled briefly; lifting his wineglass, he said, “Cheers… where are you from”?

 

 
The House of Blues & Jazz Ba. At the left side: Mr Lin Dong Fu.

The House of Blues & Jazz Ba. At the left side: Mr Lin Dong Fu.

 

A handshake later and I discovered more about this man with his strange, yet impeccable look… he was the owner of the club. In addition to his impressive voice, Lin Dong Fu also has incredible charisma, the kind that you can’t quite put your finger on. In fact, this diverse dandy has countless hidden depths and facets and for this evening, Lin Dong Fu acted like a bridge between the West and the otherwise sometimes impenetrable Chinese culture. Quite simply, it was fascinating listening to him as he started explaining about his world, China and the Shanghai of his memories that no longer exists. Lin Dong Fu, however, loves Europe and in particular Hamburg. He often goes there to meet his old and good friend Undo Lindenberg – everyone on the streets had better watch out then if they decide to go out for the evening together. He explains, “I especially like to go to wicked bars with good music when I'm in Europe. We don't do that so well in Shanghai. Everything moves too quickly here. The Bohème, as it’s known in Europe, does not exist in the same way here. There is so much that we Chinese cannot understand of the Western world, and it's the same the other way round. Many Westerners just can't get to grips with our culture. Much of it is pure imitation. But then there are still some things that we can learn from, because new paths and interpretations can always open up and that is a good thing.” As has long been the case, a good starting point is really getting to know the traditional aspects so that you can then create something new from a foreign culture, like from art or cuisine.” “By the way”, he asks me, “are you interested in dining? Chinese food… I mean real Chinese food?” Then I told him my story. 

 
Lin Dong Fu

Lin Dong Fu

 

Lin Dong Fu is multi-talented and very well known throughout China. He makes music, paints pictures, owns a jazz club, is a TV presenter and actor, and also lends his Chinese voice to Darth Vader and Sean Connery in films.

 
 

The next day, a limousine sent by Lin Dong Fu was standing outside my hotel. His chauffeur opened the door and Lin Dong Fu got out of the car and came towards me. A passer-by recognised him, and bowing nervously, she handed him a card, requesting an autograph. Lin Dong Fu smiled kindly and wrote something on the card. All of a sudden, the woman seemed to be very excited and said goodbye to him, moving backwards all the time while bowing even more.

Shanghai_food_traditional_cuisine_Lin Dong Fu 10882.jpg

During the journey, Lin Dong Fu told me more about our destination, Restaurant Fu 1088 in the Shanghai French Concession. Fu 1088 is located in an extravagant villa with 17 private dining salons in the style of the 1920s, so private that even the staff wait outside the closed door. 

 
 
 

Fu 1088 is located in an extravagant villa with 17 private dining salons in the style of the 1920s

 
 
 

A good half an hour later we're sitting in a dining room. Lin Dong Fu looks critically at the menu and orders a number of dishes, while giving additional instructions to the staff. It's almost scary the way in which they obey, as if they were actually receiving orders from the real Darth Vader. "By the way, I'm a big fan of Star Wars," I confess, "but only of the first and second series". "I agree", Lin Dong Fu says thoughtfully. "Have I messed up? Oh no! It’s certainly nothing to do with the dubbing work that he has done. Shhhh...”, I tell myself, and feel like I'm turning a deep shade of red.

...By the way, I'm a big fan of Star Wars," I confess, "but only of the first and second series". "I agree", Lin Dong Fu says thoughtfully. "Have I messed up? Oh no!...

After a while, the door opens and several waiters enter. The dishes that we have ordered all arrive at the same time. Lin Dong Fu stands up. He crosses his arms behind his back. He bows forward as if he were a general in front of a model of a battlefield, and he carefully looks at the food on the round glass table. He asks the waiters several questions and without exception, the waiters all nod. He appears to be satisfied, and with a subtle wink, he lets them march back outside. The doors are closed and the feast can begin. We eat Hua Jiao Luo Bo Pi, which is a crispy radish, marinated in a Szechuan-pepper sauce, Chen Cu Hai Zeh Tou, a salad of pickled jellyfish, which have roughly the consistency of gummy bears, and Hong Sao Rou, which is cubes of pork belly cooked in several spices, soy sauce and rice wine – it has been cooked for so long that the meat has reached a jelly-like consistency. This dish was Mao Zedong's favourite dish and still there are yet more dishes, each as good as the first. Lao Shang Hai Xun Yu, a fish fried in nugget form, could well be the culinary and somewhat more lethal incarnation of the famous carrot and stick saying. This is because if you eat the fish carefully, then you will be rewarded with an incredibly delicate taste. And if you don't pay careful attention, the X-shaped bones can lodge themselves in your neck, putting you at risk of suffocation and death. 

 
 
Sesame Jellyfish Salad

Sesame Jellyfish Salad

 
Lao Shang hai xun y - Shanghai "smoked" fish and Hua Jiao Luo Bo Pi- a crispy radish, marinated in a Szechuan-pepper sauce.

Lao Shang hai xun y - Shanghai "smoked" fish and Hua Jiao Luo Bo Pi- a crispy radish, marinated in a Szechuan-pepper sauce.

 

"Do you know why chinese people eat with chopsticks?" asks Lin Dong Fu. "I know that there are apparently different theories," I reply, as I taste a mouthful of all of the dishes. He told me that "these theories are most certainly all rubbish. Look, I will show you my own theory". He lit a cigarette, took a puff, and then at the same time, picked something from his plate with the chopsticks. "Did you see that? Eating and smoking, both at once. Twice the pleasure and yet it still appears elegant.  Besides, it's practical isn't it?"

"Ok, but you can do that with a fork too" I say. "Yes, but not that elegant!" he replies.

We laugh, and I realise that at long last I have the opportunity for which I've been waiting since yesterday.  "Mr. Lin Dong Fu, could you please say something in your Darth Vader voice?" I mutter shyly.

 

...Mr. Lin Dong Fu, could you please say something in your Darth Vader voice?" I mutter shyly...

 

"What for?" Lin Dong Fu asks curiously. "Luke, the fork will be with you, and that’s the same in English and Chinese".  "Darth Vader never said that, it was Obi Wan Kenobi!" he replies. "Yes, I know, but it works just as well". “OK, great", he says. He does a little warm-up, and his deep voice echoes through the room. "LUKE; THE FORK WILL BE WITH YOU", I hear in English and then the same expression in Chinese, which sounds to me just like the sound of mewing with a smoke-filled, drunken hangover. I would like to laugh, but there’s no air. I clutch at my neck, frightened. “Very good youngster, very good! You don't need to give any kind of Star Wars performance here, though” he said.

© Lucasfilm

© Lucasfilm

It really did feel as if there was no air. "Don't joke!" he tells me in a severe tone. I shake my head desperately, willing him to understand that I'm really not the type of person who would pretend to be strangled by Darth Vader. “Oh my God, was that a fish bone?" asks Lin Dong Fu, pointing to the fish. Lin Dong Fu's eyes widen as I cannot give an answer. For a brief moment, time stands still but suddenly I can breathe again and everything seems to be fine. Either I just swallowed it, or it really was the stupid fishbones. "I think I’d best leave the fish", I remark, gulping in large quantities of air. We laugh.

 

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
 
 
The Happy Meal

Exploring | Rasdu Atoll, Maldives

©_eatnologist_maldives_food_travel_fish_recipe_seafood_paradise_maldivian_food26b.jpg
 

Paradise (definition):

- a very beautiful, pleasant, or peaceful place that seems to be perfect

- a place that is perfect for a particular activity or for a person who enjoys that activity

- a state of complete happiness

 

"...what about Maldivians who live here? Are they always happy? What do they dream about? What is their idea of paradise on earth?..." 

 

 
unnamed-3B.jpg
 
 
 
 

The water is crystal clear. I see my footprints fading in the sand. I look around. The breeze is blowing through the palm trees. The air is warm and humid and there is a delicious smell of fresh, charcoal-grilled fish. I want to try every single Maldivian seafood dish. It´s all just too perfect here. Am I dreaming? 

But what about Maldivians who live here? Are they always happy? What do they dream about? What is their idea of paradise on earth? 

 
 
Faraha and Anha

Faraha and Anha

 
 

Faraha, Anha and Ahusan.

Later on I met Faraha and Anha on a neighbouring island where locals live. The two little girls were going to see their older cousin Ahusam play soccer and they invited me to follow them.

Ahusan was wearing an old Real Madrid T-shirt. He came to greet us and I took the chance to introduce myself.

Ahusan, may I ask you something? If you imagined yourself in a paradise, what would it look like and what would you like to eat there?

- Chicken McNuggets.

Sorry?

 
 

"...Ahusan, may I ask you something? If you imagined yourself in a paradise, what would it look like and what would you like to eat there?

- Chicken McNuggets.

Sorry!?..."

 

- Chicken McNuggets, says Ahusan again.

Are you serious? Is this your idea of Paradise?

- Yes. My idea of Paradise is to eat a box of Chicken McNuggets while watching a game between Real Madrid and another team at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. That would be my dream.

- Yeeeeees, Chicken Mc Nuggets! - yelled the two cousins.

But why??

- We saw these Chicken McNuggets yesterday on tv!

:-/

 
 
 
 
Gaudi, Food and Religion

Exploring | Barcelona, Spain

 
 
 
 
 

Barcelona | Spain

A conversation with Etsuro Sotoo, sculptor-in-chief of the Sagrada Familia about the links between him, Antoni Gaudi, architecture, religion and food.

I met the Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo at his studio not far away from Gaudi’s crypt, in the non- public space of the Sagrada Familia, surrounded by an infinity of sketches, drawings, plans and miniature models. Sotoo has made it his life's work to carry on the master's project since 1978, when he began as a stone mason. Later on, as sculptor-in-chief of the Sagrada Familia, he was commissioned to follow Gaudi's unmistakable style –”but there were times where I did not know how to follow him“, confesses Sotoo to me on a short walk through the construction site.

In fact, Gaudi did not leave detailed plans for the many high reliefs that decorate the fantastical façades when he died, so designing new sculptures can be sometimes “a monumental headache”, as Sotoo says. He himself has often felt hopeless and confused and not known how to follow Gaudi ´s mostly non-existent guidelines for the design of the church. One day, while standing in front of Gaudi´s tomb, Sotoo heard a voice. ”The voice said to me: ‘Don’t look at what I have done, look at that what I would want to look at.’ He showed me a path that I could follow. Since them I speak to Gaudi every day. Now I have the formula to interpret and continue Gaudi’s work. “

 

 
 

Gaudi did not leave detailed plans for the many high reliefs that decorate the fantastical façades when he died, so designing new sculptures can be sometimes “a monumental headache”, as Sotoo says.

 
 
 
The Sculptor Etsuro Sotoo in his Studio with Gaudi's death mask: "One day, as I was in front of Gaudi´s thomb, I heard a voice. „The voice said to me: Dont´ look at what I have done, look at that what I would look at. Since them I speak everyday to Gaudi. He gave a path that I could follow. Now I have the formula to interpret and continue Gaudis work."

The Sculptor Etsuro Sotoo in his Studio with Gaudi's death mask: "One day, as I was in front of Gaudi´s thomb, I heard a voice. „The voice said to me: Dont´ look at what I have done, look at that what I would look at. Since them I speak everyday to Gaudi. He gave a path that I could follow. Now I have the formula to interpret and continue Gaudis work."

 
 
 

Etsuro Sotoo has since converted to Catholicism and he is known to many people as the Asian reincarnation of Antoni Gaudi. However, the Japanese national, who is Spanish by choice, is not only devoted to the religion but also to Spanish cuisine. His love for Iberian cured ham lead him to work together with Joselito, one of the best –if not the best –Spanish cured ham manufacturers: he has been in charge of designing a luxurious chest for the company with the ancestral Japanese technique of urushi.  The otherwise silent and reserved Sotoo glows when it comes to food: “One thing I really love about Barcelona is that you get very good quality fish at reasonable prices (compared to Japan)! And tuna sashimi. I love those superb tuna blocks in the Boqueria market. “Stone blocks, tuna blocks, stone cutting, Iberico ham cutting..., hmm, I assume there are some parallels between his work as a sculptor and his preferences as a foodie.

 

And what about Gaudi and his preferences for food? Is there also a connection between his work and food?

 
 
 
 
After the meeting with Etsuro Sotoo I went to Cal Pep for a Tuna Tartare.

After the meeting with Etsuro Sotoo I went to Cal Pep for a Tuna Tartare.

 

And what about Gaudi and his preferences for food? Is there also a connection between his work and food? Who else if not Sotoo could give me an answer:  “Gaudi lived as an ascetic and refused the joy of food. There are some stories about that. Food was apparently not important for him”- says Sotoo, continuing:-  “But I have been thinking about your question since the day  you contacted me, and yes, maybe there are some links between food, the Sagrada Familia and Gaudi. Can you see those semi-finished sculptures of fruits and cereals over there? You will see many of them all around the Sagrada Familia. Here, at the lower part of the Church you will find sculptures of buds and sprouts, but in the upper part you will see sculptures of all those sprouts blossoming and the very top fruits and cereals, the result of the harvest.  

“To grow physically you need food, to grow spiritually you need religion.”

What do you think Gaudi wanted to say to us with that? “, asked me Sotoo. “I don’t know” I replied. “For me –continued Sotoo– the symbolism is now clear. To grow physically you need food, to grow spiritually you need religion.”

 
 
 
 
 
A perfect greek Wedding

Exploring | Santorini, Greece

©_eatnologist_greece_islands_cyclades_santorini_traditional_food_cuisine15.jpg
 

The small village of Imerogivli at Santorini is one of the most breathtaking and romantic places I have ever been to. It ́s no wonder that so many people want to get married there. It ́s also one of the few places I know where I could spend days doing nothing more than just look at its minimalistic architecture, the dark lava and the blue sea. That blue, in all those shades, has me hypnotized.

 
 
DSC01165 2.JPG
 

Imerogivli is one of the few places I know where I could spend days doing nothing more than just look at its minimalistic architecture, the dark lava and the blue sea.

 
 
DSC07032_B.jpg
Mezedes at a traditional mezedopoleío.

Mezedes at a traditional mezedopoleío.

 
 
Simple Greek meze: Bradada on the left side.

Simple Greek meze: Bradada on the left side.

 

With their tomatoes, Santorinians prepare their "Tomato Keftedes", a mint-flavoured fritter that goes well with the ubiquitous tzatziki.

 
 
 
 

Santorini is particularly well known for its "Vinsanto" wine, but it has some other interesting culinary specialties. For example Bradada, a cod dish that, like the wine tradition, was imported to the island by the Venetians.

The volcanic soil and the dry climate of the island combine not only to produce the famous wine, but also outstanding sweet tasting tomatoes and a characteristic kind of yellow split pea called fava (not to be confused with fava beans). With their tomatoes, Santorinians prepare their "Tomato Keftedes", a mint-flavoured fritter that goes well with the ubiquitous tzatziki. "Married faves" is another local dish, a puree of fava with sizzled onions, olive oil and capers. Marry all this again with a fresh grilled octopus, a glass of Vinsanto and the superb sunset view from the terrace of a restaurant and you have the perfect greek wedding.  

 
 
 
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.