Horchata

10 Feb

horchata

By Patric Baird

We live in lactose-intolerant times and producing viable alternatives to milk is big business, with almond, oat, soya and rice milks providing healthier equivalent to cow juice. Even if your gut is fine with the white stuff, who wants to pour a cocktail of pus, hormones and antibiotics on their Corn Flakes? Although not exactly famous for their vegan sensibilities, the Spanish have long been grinding up tiger nuts with water, sugar and cinnamon to produce horchata, the traditional form of a delicious beverage sold all over Spain and Latin America, although the Mexicans make their horchata with rice. Luckily for the nut-intolerant, these exotically named tiger nuts – or chufas, as they are known in Spanish-speaking countries – aren’t nuts at all, but actually the tiny wrinkled tubers of a sedge grass plant (Cyperus esculentus) found throughout the Western Hemisphere as well as southern Europe, Africa, Madagascar, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. It’s well worth ditching the dairy for this healthy alternative – it’s rich in vitamins, as well as iron, potassium and other beneficial minerals, while low in sodium and saturated fat. My first experience of breakfasting on freshly pressed, chilled horchata and churros at a Valencian pavement cafe some years ago triggered an enduring affection for the drink and, while a simmering Spanish streetscape isn’t always available, I still enjoy the occasional cheeky horchata in the UK at London restaurant chain Wahaca, or can have bottles delivered by the Tapas Lunch Company.

Oi, Oi, Saveloy!

3 Dec saveloy

By Patric Baird

Everywhere in the world has a local sausage and, as a seasoned traveller and something of a connoisseur of meat stuffed into a skin, I have made it my business to sample lap cheong in China, kielbasa in Krakow and boudin in Baton Rouge. But until quite recently, the snorker sitting right at the top of my wish list was something a lot less exotic – the good old British saveloy. You can’t get a saveloy in my native Belfast, but I knew of their existence through TV shows. I had spent a lifetime wondering what joys Terry McCann was experiencing after dropping into a traditional London chipper for a saveloy supper after dropping Arthur Daley off at the Winchester. And, of course, the saveloy’s role as a saucy double entendre in British comedy always raised a smile. So, within hours of my move to London, it was straight round to the local take-away for a taster. It was sausage heaven. I fondly recall that ‘Oi Oi Saveloy’ moment as I bit into the bright red skin which yielded with a satisfying crack, revealing the delicious spiced meat within. Not in the same league as the finest cut of outdoor-reared pork, you understand – the texture is more hot paste than tenderloin, but that says more about the saveloy’s origins as a savoury Swiss treat made from pig’s brains than anything else. The only down side is that there’s something about a saveloy which turns me into a cackling Sid James every time I have a big red sausage in my hand.

Veda Bread

16 Oct

veda
By Patric Baird

Although it shouldn’t be confused with the similarly-named ancient Hindu scriptures, Veda bread nevertheless has many worshipful devotees. Reputedly invented by a Dundee farmer’s wife over a century ago, Veda was once popular across the UK but is now only generally available in Northern Ireland. A simple description is ‘a caramel-coloured malt loaf’, but then any fool can bake a malt loaf – and it won’t be a Veda. The original recipe is supposedly secret, only disclosed to Belfast bakeries Sunblest, Ormo and Irwin’s. When the latter launched ready-sliced Veda for the first time several years ago, this perceived violation of tradition made the local news. As a purist, I slice my own, thickly. It’s best toasted, slathered in butter and maybe with a wedge of cheddar cheese. It’s not unusual for Ulster folk visiting family overseas to fill a suitcase with Veda bread – that’s how good it is.

The Ulster Fry

31 Aug
A Classic Ulster Fry

A Classic Ulster Fry

By Patric Baird

As Northern Irish as Ian Paisley (and almost as divisive amongst its citizens), the Ulster Fry is a breakfast dish eagerly sought out by tourists although traditionally, this age-old combination of hot meat, bread, eggs and animal fat set up past generations of locals for a hard day in the fields or the shipyard. The ingredients of an Ulster Fry are immutable – English staples such as baked beans or tinned tomatoes have no place on the plate, while the addition of black and white pudding is still seen by some hardliners as Southern Irish interlopers. Add fried mushrooms if you must, but the essentials are no-frills pork sausages, a runny egg, smoked back bacon, a halved tomato, and, for that all-important authentic touch, soda bread and potato farls. All fried, not grilled – if you want a healthy breakfast, eat a grapefruit. The only decision you then have to make is whether to cover the whole thing in tomato ketchup or brown sauce. Bright’s Restaurant in Belfast’s city centre does one of the best in town and, conveniently for late risers, it is available all day.

 

Fernet Branca & Coke in Buenos Aires, Argentina

24 Oct
By Patric Baird
 
ImageImageImageImage
 
There is much for the discerning traveller to eat and drink Buenos Aires, and not all of it is good.
 
Let’s start off with the nicer and more palatable, ending with the not-so-good.  It’s all very subjective, of course – one man’s meat etc.
 
On a recent trip to Argentina, we spent much of our visit in the company of our friend Marcelo, a local, well versed in the city’s food culture and more than familiar with our desire to seek out that which exists beyond the numerous fast food joints.
 
Beef and Buenos Aires go hand in hoof, so our man in BA had arranged lunch at one of the city’s best known, and most highly regarded steakhouses, or parillas.
 
La Brigada, in the ‘atmospheric’ (slightly scary) San Telmo district was our destination.  Located on the other side of town from our hotel, a taxi would have been too expensive so we took a bus, happy in the knowledge that our friend was well versed in the city’s public transport system.
 
It turns out that even a BA native can find it difficult to get to grips with easily getting around the sprawling metropolis – suffice to say, we arrived at La Brigada long after the hour which our table was booked for.  So long after that lunchtime service had nearly finished and there were now plenty of tables available.
 
Various cuts of cattle were ordered and eaten, the delights of chimichurri steak sauce were discussed and another box was ticked by the intrepid worldinaglass team.  You may argue that a steak’s a steak, but unless you’ve eaten the best cut of the best meat in the best restaurant in the best city of the best country for beef in the world, your opinion is worthless.
 
Speaking of worthless opinions, here’s my two pesos worth on the flipside of the country’s meat and drink.  Having extolled the virtues of Chile’s national drink – the pisco sour – elsewhere on this blog, I feel that some balance is required when it comes to Argentina’s national drink, Fernet Branca.
 
Throughout our stay, Marcelo had been urging us to try this digestif at every opportunity with the assurance that it was, mixed with Coca Cola, a truly delicious concoction.  We came close, on many occasions, but inevitably succumbed to further pisco sours which, to be fair, were even nicer than their Chilean counterpart as the Argentinean recipe tends to omit raw egg white.
 
Subconsciously, I think I knew that I wouldn’t like it – any drink which involves herbs and spices automatically rings my ‘avoid at all costs’ alarm bells.  But then, in the words of the Brazilian (close enough) writer Paulo Coelho, “People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.”
 
And to push the point even further, Coelho goes on to say “Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” A clunky metaphor maybe, but somehow appropriate in this case.
 
It’s impossible to avoid the inevitable – I said that.  It wasn’t until I had reached the business lounge at Buenos Aires airport on the day of our departure that I finally accepted that a nettle had to be grasped and a bull had to be taken firmly by the horns.
 
I poured myself a Fernet Branca, topped it up with Coke and took a sip.
One, never, ever to be repeated, sip.

Gin and sausages in south London

7 Jul

Little Bird bottleLittle Bird signLittle Bird cocktails
By Andrea McVeigh

Both gin and south London are having a bit of a moment right now.  The city’s skyline south of the river was transformed when The Shard was completed in 2012 and when it opened to the public earlier this year, tourists started traipsing over London Bridge to Southwark.

With gin, the rise in boutique and craft distillers has helped to make it the trendy tipple du jour, but its growing popularity also rests on the fact that the big brands have been busy sponsoring TV programmes, festivals and vintage club nights and increasing its visibility.

So when two trends collide, the result, in this case, is one of the best little drinking spots in London.  The Saturday market at The Ropewalk at Maltby Street (www.maltby.st) in Bermondsey has been luring foodies away from Borough Market thanks to treats such as artisan chocolates and pulled pork brioches, seafood sliders and Monty’s Deli’s Jewish soul food.

With Union Jacks fluttering in the summer breeze and bunting hanging overhead, it’s the hipster in-the-know alternative to Borough Market’s mainstream touristy vibe.

If Maltby Street’s Ropewalk had an official drink, it would be Little Bird Gin.  On Saturdays, 11am somehow doesn’t seem too early to be sitting at an outside table, sipping a gin cocktail from mix-and-match vintage glasses at Little Bird’s pop-up bar.

Sharp yet smooth, this London Dry Gin – among other things, a London Gin doesn’t contain artificial colouring – has been distilled in small batches in London using botanicals such as grapefruit and orange to give it a clean and more rounded taste.

The fun lasts until the gin runs out, and you can choose from cocktails such as the divine Early Bird Martini (Little Bird, Seville orange marmalade, orange liqueur) or the refreshing A Bird on the Field (gin, London Fields Hackney Hopster beer, honey & ginger).

As well as picking up a bottle to bring home with you, a few stalls down from Little Bird’s bar you can find the guys from Honourable Sausages and their gin & ginger snorkers, made from rare breed, free range pork and Little Bird.

Hot beer, Polish dumpling and plums in Krakow

7 Mar

Image

By Andrea McVeigh

If necessity is the mother of invention, then freezing cold winters in Poland necessarily gave birth to mulled beer.  Not wine (although there’s plenty of that too) but beer.

I’ve long been a fan of mulled or gluhwein, that staple of Christmas markets in northern European Medieval capitals.  But hot beer was a new one to me.  We discovered it in arty, cultural Kraków (also known as Cracow or Krakow) Poland’s second largest city after its capital, Warsaw, and located in the south of the country.

Hot beer, or grzane piwo as it’s called, is a staple of the Polish winter, something to not just delight tourists beating a path around the streets of the Old Town, but essential to the survival of its residents.  It’s not just warm beer, of the sort served in British pubs in the 1970s, but mulled beer – a brew that has been heated and infused with cloves and cinnamon plus other spices and herbs such as nutmeg and either fresh ginger or ginger syrup, sweetened with honey or sugar.  It’s considered good for you too – there are tracts dating back to the 17th century which enthuse about the healthy properties of a warm frothy tankard of the stuff.

While the barrel-shaped huts in the main square’s Christmas Market served mulled wine (the perfect accompaniment to a large pork knuckle or Polish dumpling, with the fresh air acting as a powerful aperitif) we found the beer in several restaurants including the Czech restaurant Ceska Chodba – yes, we went to Poland and, tempted by the rich roasted goose, ended up eating in a Czech restaurant.

Mulled beer turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to a festive winter goose, served with a mushroom and prune sauce along with nutty buckwheat groats (the Cerna Hora photo shows the brand of Czech beer that was served warm/mulled in the restaurant).

In Poland, prunes are big, as are plums – in popularity and ubiquity, if not necessarily size – and, for a nation that takes the time to mull its beer, it’s unsurprising that the Polish have thrown their considerable brewing expertise into creating a wide and varied selection of beers.

You can find beer with ginger (not, you will note, ginger beer, but actual beer with the addition of ginger), alongside the plum beer and honey beer which you can find in off-licences and liquor stores (you’ll recognise them from the giant Alkohole signs outside) as well as supermarkets.

The other hot alcoholic beverage we tried was mead (honey wine), which we found in a Medieval-themed restaurant – possibly making us the first people to get mead hangovers since 1485.

Dawa, ox testicles and crocodile in Kenya

29 Nov

By Andrea McVeigh

Guinness goes with Irish stew; coffee goes with croissants and red wine goes with steak.  But what should you drink when you’re chowing down on crocodile, ostrich and ox testicles?  Dawa, as it turns out, the national cocktail of Kenya.

Vegetarians, look away now…

We were in the world-famous Carnivore restaurant in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi (there’s one in Johannesburg too).  Open since 1980, it’s renowned for its speciality meats – whole joints of lamb, pork, beef, ribs, sausages, chicken and kidneys roasted on traditional Masai swords over huge charcoal pits.

It’s a moveable feast, with waiters coming to your table to slice off morsels of whatever takes your fancy – they only stop when you finally admit defeat and lower the Carnivore flag on your table.  But despite the fleshy feast that it’s famous for, Carnivore does a pretty great vegetarian menu too.

Some might balk at the idea of crocodile, ox balls and ostrich, but it’s these exotic meats that tickle many tastebuds and prove to be the big draw.  It’s not a habit that’s exclusive to Africa either.  In north America, Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull calf testicles, usually deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce. In Spain, Argentina and some parts of Mexico, they’re given the slang name of huevos de toro (bull’s eggs).  But no such euphemisms exist at Carnivore, where they’re on the menu as plain old ox balls.

So what do ox testicles taste like?  They have a texture like pâté and taste just a little bit salty; exactly as you would expect, had you ever given the matter any thought.

As for the famous ‘tastes like chicken’ sobriquet, that rests with crocodile.  What does crocodile taste like?  A sort of fishy, almost citrussy, chicken-like meat actually.

A cold Kenyan Tusker beer goes down well with pretty much anything, but the speciality at Carnivore is the Dawa cocktail (its name translates as medicine or ‘magic potion’ in Swahili).  Based on the Brazilian Caipirinha and subsequently introduced into Kenya and adapted, it’s ‘Hakuna Matata’ (the Swahili phrase for ‘there are no worries’) in a glass.

Recipes vary slightly, in terms of measures and quantities, but they’re all based around the same ingredients.

DAWA COCKTAIL RECIPE:
vodka (one or two shots depending on how strong you like your cocktails)
two lime quarters unpeeled
a teaspoon of sugar
honey
crushed ice

Pour the vodka, honey and sugar into a whisky glass and add the lime quarters and crushed ice.  Use a muddler or honey stick to crush all the ingredients together really well.  The key is to mush the ingredients together as much as possible and swirl the mixture until the honey has blended well too.

Pisco Sours and Ceviche on Easter Island

22 Aug

By Patric Baird

What do you do when you arrive on Easter Island, having flown for almost 24 hours from the UK?  Have a lie down? Head straight for the iconic statues which are featured all around the island? Or, as I did, go into town for a much anticipated lunchtime cocktail, namely Chile’s national alcoholic beverage, a pisco sour.

Actually there’s some dispute as to whether Chile or its neighbour Peru have ownership of this sub-tropical tipple;  they do it differently anyway, with the Peruvian version containing egg white, sugar syrup and angostura bitters, whereas the Chilean version is a simpler mix of the spirit pisco, sugar and lime (or lemon) juice.

To confuse things even further, both countries have their own version of the spirit itself, although maybe only an expert could distinguish the subtle nuances in taste between each of the South American country’s offering.  There’s no denying that Chile has the best bottle – one of the country’s biggest manufacturer is Capel and their Pisco Reservado comes in a black glass bottle, shaped like one of Easter Island’s statues.

So what is pisco and why the odd name?  It’s basically a brandy made from grapes, much like its Greek cousin, grappa, sweet tasting and ranging in colour between almost clear to a dark yellow hue, depending on the quality and strength of the liquor.  Some say the name comes from the Peruvian town of Pisco (probably the most likely explanation), but Chile disputes this (not surprisingly), claiming that the word pisco is of Quechua origin and means ‘bird’.

There’s another school of thought which suggests the word pisco means a clay pot, so make your own mind up on that one.  More importantly, how does it taste?  On its own, not much to write home about but, when turned into a pisco sour, it has a unique and delicious taste and, as it turned out, the perfect pairing for that other South American staple, ceviche.

The Japanese don’t have a monopoly on raw fish, although ceviche, which is found in most coastal regions of the continent, as well as in Central America and as far west as Polynesia, is usually ‘cooked’ by marinating the raw seafood in a mixture of citrus juice, chilli and seasonings.   Each region has its own particular style, with mainland Chile and Easter Island favouring fillets of halibut, or the native and delightfully-named Patagonian toothfish, marinated in lime or grapefruit juice, flavoured with garlic, red chilli peppers, mint and coriander.  Combined with a refreshing pisco sour, the zing of a well-made ceviche proved to be the perfect antidote to seemingly incurable jet lag and was by far the best thing about Easter Island – until I got my first glimpse of those amazing statues, that is.

Bellinis and Focaccia in Venice

6 Jun

We’d had Bellinis before, but never in Venice, home of Harry’s Bar, the  place where the cocktail was invented.  We didn’t really have the money to afford Harry’s Bar prices, but then we couldn’t afford not to either.

Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar, first created this sweet, bubbly mix of peach puree and sparkling wine (traditionally Prosecco – which, in sparkling wine terms is to Italy what Cava is to Spain) sometime between 1934 and 1948 we were told.  The dates are a bit vague, but then maybe he celebrated his invention with a 14-year Bellini bender?

Inside the bar – where Ernest Hemmingway used to hang out, as did Bogart and Bacall – it’s all butterscotch hues and polished wood, elegantly faded, like many of its customers.

Star-struck, we spotted the actor Kenneth Branagh, born in Belfast, our home city.  If it’s good enough for Hamlet…

The Bellinis were delightful, but set up behind the bar in a production line ready to be topped off by the fizz, so we didn’t feel particularly special or decadent.  But then, the bar is on the tourist trail, and it’s hard to recreate the allure of 1930s Italy for 21st century backpackers and weekend wanderers.

Tourists are often told to avoid Venice in the summer, when it’s not so much a case of see Venice and die, as smell Venice and die, as the heat added to stale water in the canals is said to create a signature aroma.  It’s a hotly debated topic, with some saying its reeky reputation is a thing of the past, now that the canals have been cleaned up.

Our reason for choosing winter over summer isn’t to do with odour at all, but with ambience.

In winter there’s a eerie mist that settles over the canals and on our gondola ride (expensive, but when in Rome…or Venice, and all that) we found ourselves enveloped in an atmospheric haze.

Earlier that winter we’d stuck a pin in a map and come December 31 we found ourselves in St Mark’s Square for some very noisy impromptu fireworks amid a throng of tourists and locals chanting the countdown to the New Year.

Strolling back to our B&B at 2am we had the inevitable munchies, brought on by cheap Prosecco and an over-exuberance when it came to jumping up and down hugging strangers at the stroke of midnight.  We needed food.  So did everyone else it seemed.

The narrow cobbled alleys fanning out from St Mark’s Square boasted one sole open late-night bakery offering takeaway snacks, its lights drawing the revellers like ravenous moths to a particularly bountiful culinary flame.

We queued – and queued and queued – until we counted out the remains of our Euros and handed them over, to be presented with one of the best meals of our lives – mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, with ham and lettuce,  on fresh white focaccia bread.  Few things before or after have tasted so good.

Sometimes it’s not what you eat, it’s also when and where you eat it that counts.

The classic Bellini cocktail recipe:

2 parts dry sparkling wine (usually Prosecco)
1 part fresh peach purée
Pour the puree into a chilled flute and slowly top with sparkling wine.

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