Posts tagged Featured
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)

 
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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

 
 
Gazpacho Passion

That Recipe on my Mind | Andalusia, Spain

 

Andalusian Gazpacho Recipe

Ingredients:

a. 500g ripe juicy tomatoes
b. 1 garlic clove
c. 1 sweet green pepper
d. 1 cucumber, about 6-7 inches long
e. 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
f. 1⁄2 tablespoon salt
g. 1 cup virgin olive oil
h. 1 piece French bread
 

How to prepare:

1.Put the tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, onion, olive oil, bread, vinegar, and garlic in a blender; season with salt and pepper. Process until smooth, adding up to ½ cup water if necessary. 

2. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Refrigerate for up to a few hours before serving or serve immediately.

 
 
 
 
A perfect greek Wedding

Exploring | Santorini, Greece

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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.

 
 
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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.

 
 
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Mezedes at a traditional mezedopoleío.

Mezedes at a traditional mezedopoleío.

 

Testing the pool...

 
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.  

 

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 

 
 
 
 
 
Pulpo Woman
 

+++That Recipe on my Mind

Galizia | Spain

 

 

Galician Octopus (Pulpo a la Gallega Pulpo Feira) Recipe

Ingredients:
a. 1 frozen octopus thawed overnight in the refrigerator (use octopus legs only)
b. 5 potatoes
c. ¼ teaspoon sea salt
d. ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika powder
e. ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
f. 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

How to prepare:
1. Put water in a big pot until it boils. With the help of a hook or any other instrument, put it in, and remove it from the boiling water 3 times; then let it boil for 25 minutes.
2.Test with a spike its tenderness, and remove the pot from the heat letting it in the water another 15 minutes.
3.Cut the tentacles (it's the only part you eat) in slices with some scissors, place the pieces on a wooden bowl and add over it, salt, paprika and olive oil.
4. Cut the potatoes crosswise in 1/2-inch-thick slices and surround the octopus pieces with the potato slices. Drizzle the octopus and potatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle with hot paprika and the remaining tablespoon of salt. Serve the dish while the octopus and potatoes are still warm.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Stop over in Venice
 

That Recipe on my Mind | Venice, Italy

 

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers Recipe

Ingredients:

Stuffing:
a. 3 cups zucchini flowers
b. 1 cup cottage or ricotta cheese  
c. 1 white onion, chopped
d. 1 Tbsp oregano or thyme
e. dash black pepper
f. 2 cups frying oil

Batter: 
g. 1/2 cup all-purpose floura
h. dash of salt
i. 1/2 cup beer
Mix all the ingredients until smooth.


How to prepare:
1. Mix the stuffing in a bowl, insert one tablespoon in each flower (check the pistils first to see if they are fresh or wilted and yucky; if they are limp and dark pull them out and discard)

2.Heat the oil; mix the batter; right before frying, dip each flower in the batter vertically and only halfway. Dip in the hot oil and fry a few minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve.

 
 
 
 
 
 
Chakalaka, the Shebeen Queen
 

That Recipe on my Mind | Johannesburg, South Africa

 

 

Chakalaka Recipe

Ingredients:

¼ cup cooking oil
1 medium onion diced
1-2 teaspoon curry powder
1-teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-2 tomatoes
3-4 cups sliced cabbage
1 Chili peppers diced seeds removed for less heat
1 large carrot grated on the large side or sliced thinly
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 medium red pepper, diced
1 14 ounce baked beans

How to prepare:

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.
Add onion, give it a minute or two,
Stir in all the spices;, curry, cayenne pepper, thyme- continue stirring for about a minute to let the flavors bloom. Then add tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots and cabbage
Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burns.
Finally add baked beans,  Continue cooking for about 2-3 minutes.
Serve warm

 

 
 
 
 
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.

 
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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. 

 
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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

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© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
Notes from Tikal

Exploring | El Peten, Guatemala

 
 
 
 
 
Tamales

Tamales

 
 
Kak Ik, an ancient Mayan dish, originally from the Cobán region.

Kak Ik, an ancient Mayan dish, originally from the Cobán region.

 
 
Chirimoya (or Cherimoya) and Plantains

Chirimoya (or Cherimoya) and Plantains

© Text and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Notes from Napoli

Exploring | Naples, Italy

 

 - Fieldnotes -

 
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Burrata cheese served with rocket pesto, chopped sundried tomatoes and Sfusato Amalfitano Zest

Burrata cheese served with rocket pesto, chopped sundried tomatoes and Sfusato Amalfitano Zest