Posts tagged TravelTropical2
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

 
 
Maldivians: Tuna in the Veins

Exploring | Rasdu Atoll, Maldives

 
 
 
 
Ajit

Ajit

 

The apprentice chef

Ajit, a friend of Ahusan, works as an apprentice chef in the Island’s Tourist Resort and looks younger than his age. He is originally from India, is his middle 30´s and –like so many other migrant workers­– not so long on the island, but long enough to visit in his spare time many of the small restaurants of Male –the capital of the Maldives–and get an overview of the authentic local food.

The traditional cuisine of the Maldives -says Ajit- was very simple and consisted mostly of all derivates of coconut and tuna. The Islands are quite close to South India and Sri Lanka coasts –about 350 km north from  here– so maldivians have had over the centuries rice, flour and many other spices. This is why we find here so many curry dishes, but they are milder as the indian ones because maldivians use much more coconut milk. We also find like in India Naan, Papadum, Roti and Chapati. Eastern flavors are also present due to the contact to Arab traders, who stopped here on the way through to Asia and brought with them religion – the Maldives used to be Hindu and Buddhist but they embraced Islam in 1153– so alcohol and pork meat is banned from the local cuisine. Vegetables and tubers are also not very present due to lack of farming land on the islands. Agriculture is simply not profitable, so all greens must be mostly imported. Typical dishes are Mas Huni, shredded smoked fish with grated coconuts and onions, which is the most common Maldivian breakfast, or Garudiya , a clear Tuna fish broth, or Mas Riha, a delicious Curry with Tuna, onions, chili, fennel, garlic, sometimes lime juice and –see the the arabian influence– cumin.

 
 
 

"Vegetables and tubers are also not very present due to lack of farming land on the islands. Agriculture is simply not profitable, so all greens must be mostly imported."

 
 

„Maldivians love Tuna –continues Ajit–. Their favourite is Skipjack  and Yellowfin Tuna"

 
 
A maldivian family

A maldivian family

 

Maldivians love tuna

Do they only eat Tuna? They are surrounded by the sea. What about other fish species? did I ask Ajit. „Maldivians love Tuna –continues Ajit–. Their favourite is Skipjack  and Yellowfin Tuna, either dried or fresh, raw, boiled, grilled or as soup. In ancient times Maldivians did not use to eat fish from the reef for some social reason –as far as I know because other would make fun of them, but that has changed nowadays as they are not that isolated and see how foreigners eat other fish species too.  What they still do not understand is why tourist pay such amounts of money for a Lobster that –in their opinion– does not have any taste at all. I have to say, that I agree, because warm water lobsters that are caught here do not have the same taste as the much more delicate cold water lobsters. If maldivians could choose tuna from the can or Lobster I´m sure they will go for canned tuna.

 

"There is also something quite curious also related to tuna: It´s called Rihaakuru"

 

There is also something quite curious also related to tuna: It´s called Rihaakuru, a tuna-based thick paste which is the result of hours of cooking tuna in water and salt. This extract, present in almost every household in the Maldives, is a seasoning that can be use used as a flavouring for many dishes. It is the so called "Bovril oft the Maldives". Traders exported Rihaakuru to countries as far as China over centuries, but the histamine concentration of Rihaakuru has been described as being at levels that are regarded as a risk to human health. Only Maldivians are mostly inmume. 

 
Easy, spicy, healthy and exotic. Mas Huni, the maldivian breakfast.

Easy, spicy, healthy and exotic. Mas Huni, the maldivian breakfast.

 

Mas Huni, the Maldivian Breakfast

Ingredients
1 cup freshly grated coconut
500g boiled fresh tuna or 2 cans tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
2 Indian green chiles, stemmed and minced
1 small red onion, minced
4 Curry leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chapati, for serving

How to prepare:
Combine coconut, tuna, chiles, onion, salt and pepper in a bowl. Serve with chapati.

 

© Text, Artwork and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist

 
 
 
 
 
About Thaification and Whiskyfication

Exploring | Luang Pragang, Laos

 
 
 
 

+++Exploring

Luang Prabang | Laos

 

The small, charming Buddhist temple city of Luang Prabang is located in the mountainous north of Laos. I'm about thirty steps from my guesthouse, which is on the banks of the Nam Khan, a tributary that flows into the Mekong River a few hundred metres further on.

It’s quiet, almost unusually quiet and peaceful in comparison to other Asian cities. I draw in my sketchbook. The landscape on the opposite bank shimmers in the still bluish morning light. A group of Buddhist monks and novices cross the river in small boats. Some of the ones who go past me, especially the younger ones, stop for a second and look at me silently over their shoulder. 

 
 

I get hungry and want to eat something… local cuisine, of course. I arrived last night and I want to immerse myself in the cuisine of Laos. There are many small restaurants along the banks of the river and so I choose one with a beautiful terrace. The restaurant is almost empty and there don't appear to be any menus. Further ahead, on the table diagonally opposite to me, a couple sit quietly, waiting for their meal to arrive. I told the waiter that I wanted to eat the same as them. After a while, the dishes arrived, including a Som Tam salad and Laarb. Aren't these classic Thai dishes from the Isan region? I think to myself "Hmmm… this is Thai food, isn’t it?” I ask the waiter, somewhat disappointed. "Noooo, this is original Lao food!" he responds, placing an emphasis on "original" and sporting a broad grin.

Som Tam, the famous spicy papaya salad is actually, as I later learn, not from Thailand but from Laos and the locals call it Tam Mak Hoong. Also Laarb, the salad with its marinated meats and various herbs is one of Laos national dishes.

So how is it that these Laos dishes can be found on menus throughout the world posing as classic dishes from Thailand?  

 
Papaya Salad: Tam Mak Hoong

Papaya Salad: Tam Mak Hoong

Lao National dish Laarb

Lao National dish Laarb

 

Of the approximately 25 million people born in Lao, only about 6 million live in Laos, with the rest living abroad, mainly in Thailand.

Sun Dried Sticky Rice on bamboo panel at Luang Prabang

Sun Dried Sticky Rice on bamboo panel at Luang Prabang

 
 

Of the approximately 25 million people born in Lao, only about 6 million live in Laos, with the rest living abroad, mainly in Thailand. Many of them live in the northeast of the country in the Isan region or have migrated from there to Bangkok. Over the course of the forced and aggressive Thaification policy employed by Thailand to ensure expats from Laos were assimilated in the country, the culture and language were repressed and even became taboo. Quite a few people from Laos/Isan was so ashamed of their heritage and language that they began to feel inferior. As a consequence, those involved in gastronomy preferred to identify themselves for branding and marketing purposes with Thailand rather than Laos. When it comes to Thailand, everyone has a basic image of the country, moulded and shaped by the tourism industry, films and culture. But how many people are able to make a connection with Laos? In all honesty, the Isan-inspired Thai restaurant around the corner is probably a Lao Restaurant.

 
 
 
 

A day later, I'm sitting in a boat travelling up the Mekong to Pak Ou Caves. Along the way, the driver of the boat asks me whether I want to visit a whisky village. In the whisky village, they make a whisky distilled from sticky rice. The question is, of course, whether whisky aficionados would define this as whisky – I politely refuse.

The taste is reminiscent of a cheap and strong rice wine, but it seems to work.

 

 
Landscape with Aubergines

Landscape with Aubergines

 
 
 
 
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The Isan-inspired Thai restaurant around your corner is probably a Lao Restaurant.

 
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That evening, wandering through the night market at Luang Prabang, a number of shelves on stalls are full of whisky-filled bottles, just waiting to be whisked away by tourists. Sometimes they're also filled with snakes and scorpions.

The sellers call out, “whisky, whisky” instead of using their own language of “Lao Lao”, meaning “alcohol” (the first ‘Lao’), “from Laos” (the second ‘Lao’). Although they are written the same, the “Laos” are pronounced differently. It’s actually a bit of a shame, because “Lao Lao” just sounds catchier and that little bit more authentic and cute on its own than having a “Scotch”. But maybe, just like their cuisine, it simply needs a good dose of self-confidence and some time to establish itself as Lao Lao.

 

© Text and Photography by Fred Mel / Eatnologist