The World On A Plate

   

Chile, Eel Stew

December20

Picture courtesy of http://gastronomichael.blogspot.co.uk/

Sometimes things just taste good. And sometimes they taste better than they should because of the context. So arriving off a cold overnight bus from Argentina into Chile’s bewildering capital bus terminal (one of many, I later found, running full pelt to a different station miles down the road with a full backpack) calls for some special food.

It was about 6am, and the city was completely deserted. Not spookily so, but in a calm and slightly surreal way. Like some enchanted mist had settled – and strangely chilly for a city boasting an average heat of 30C.

It took me about twenty minutes to walk to the central market, which was lively by comparison, but only with staff setting up. I didn’t really expect to be able to get anything to eat, but soon found a likely looking place with chairs battered enough to suit my penchant for grubby eateries. No-one spoke English, but the signs were clear enough. Caldillo, in big letters, was basically the only thing they served.

Caldillo, for the uninitiated, is a hugely hearty fish soup-stew, complete with potatoes, cream, coriander and big hunks of eel. When you’re cold, tired and a little lost there is absolutely nothing better to eat. It’s hot, rich, comforting and the eel adds a far richer flavour and texture than other white fish.

It’s the kind of dish where everyone’s mother does it best, but in my opinion there is no better place than a little stall stuffed at the back of Mercado Central in Santiago.

The stalls double up as fishmongers and purveyors of stew, so even at 6am you can get a warming bowl. I took up a little plastic stool outside one of the fish sellers and within seconds had a rich bowl of amazing stew. Thick, creamy, delicious, and costing around $3. The perfect breakfast.

posted under Chile | 113 Comments »

Pig Fat Dip in Dresden

October1

Image courtesy of Hedgecombers.com - a great food blog

Of all the countries in the world, Germany is the place for pig. Good pig. Tasty pig. But what I didn’t realise, is that pig fat is also a popular side dish. Unlike most of my other food explorations, this was an accidental ingesting.

This happened in the stunning German town of Dresden – completely rebuilt in the last decade to be a carbon copy of pre-war prettiness. The Hansel and Gretel type town centres which used to abound. Before, of course, England carpet bombed the sh*t out of the place, in an act which would have been deemed a war crime, were history not written by the winners.

One of the amazing building left (partially) standing was the Powder Tower (The Pulvertum). As the name suggests, this building was once used to store gunpowder. But nowadays it works as a brilliant Medieval theme restaurant. Complete with costumed waiters, actors who play medieval gentry folk, and loads of war props which you probably shouldn’t touch, but it’s just too tempting.

In any case, I was here on a press trip with an amazing group of people. For which blame the reason for my not noticing that what I thought was a tasty dip, was in fact, pure pork fat with bacon bits. Designed solely for spreading on bread as butter, and not for dipping like salsa.

Unfortunately I only noticed this after consuming an entire bowl – I would estimate 2000 calories of pork fat. Oh dear. Luckily I still managed to pack down the rest of the selection. Roast pork with sauerkraut,  and a great big cream-filled dessert.

If you’re in Dresden (which I would recommend, it’s a beautiful place), I would definitely give the pork fat a go. Just remember to spread, not dip.

Dresden Tourism: www.dresden.de

Powder Tower An Der Frauenkirche 12, Dresden, Germany

Tel: +49 351 26 2600 /+49 351 262 6011 • Web: Visit this site »

posted under Germany | 122 Comments »

Beer Hoi, Hanoi, Vietnam

August11

Amazing beer hoi! To blame for so many of my happy times, and my more infamous times!

Probably the cheapest beer in the world, and very tasty

Beer hoi is essentially a home-brewed lager sold direct from the cask on the streets of Hanoi. Beer hoi sellers also provide little plastic chairs so you can drink in discomfort, but for the price it’s well worth it. Fresh beer costs around 25p (18cents) per glass. With glasses being a little under a pint (0.5 litre) measurement.

Look for the blurry sign on the streets of Hanoi...

You can’t tell the strength, thought it’s probably quite weak – although my drunken nights in various late night Hanoi establishments would perhaps beg to differ. The best thing about it is the insanely low price ensures a very pleasing bonhomie, even amongst the uber-budget backpacker types. Depending on the size of your group you can buy everyone at the table a beer for under $2 which is value where you need it most.

Beer hoi is generally found on the larger crossroads of the old town in Hanoi. Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien Streets is probably the most well known and lively.

posted under Vietnam | 139 Comments »

Hooray! The Food Explorer has won another award!

September3

Gold Winner - MyTravelMoney.co.uk's Travel Blog Awards 2012

Yet another accolade to add to honours from Cisco top blogs and BBC top travel pics, here is the latest praise for the blog. Thanks to www.MyTravelMoney.co.uk and all those animal parts and strange food various which contributed to this award. *sobs in gratitude*

) The Food Explorer – found tweeting @thefoodexplorer
This blog gets top marks for the quality of food-related content rarely seen anywhere else, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The author of this friendly, diary-style blog is freelance food and travel journalist Catherine Quinn, who’s a qualified nutritionist and regular contributor to likes of The Guardian, Times and Independent, as well as some of the UK’s best-love magazine titles. Her reviews are so engaging, we can’t get enough and say hats off to anyone who’s tried – and enjoyed – barbecued testicles.

The Big Cheese Disaster

July25

Mamma mia! Turns out the recent earthquakes in Italy didn’t just injure a few people. They also cost the country incalculable costs in ruined cheese. The rumbling ground shook down hundreds of towering stacks of cheese wheels, each bearing thousands of tonne-weight hard cheeses.

It takes almost a year to mature an entire cheese wheel, and more than a few dramatic Italian tears were shed at the damage. A troop of heroic volunteers dubbed the ‘parmesan angels’ even showed up to help repair the damage.

picture courtesy of jezebel.com

The up side of this terrible disaster is that after the event I discovered a whole new kind of cheese. Grana Padano – ‘grainy cheese’ is actually more popular in Italy than parmesan. But rather than sprinkle in on pasta the Italians dig it out in flavoursome chunks and eat it by the handful.

This kind of cheese has an incredible chewy grainy texture, and is mild enough to eat in larger quantities than the full bodied parmesan. Seriously delicious, although I did overdo it a bit.

I took a very large portion home with me courtesy of the Consortium of Grana Padano Cheese. They allowed me a little peek into their circular debating chamber which rivals the Whitehouse in size and spec. I imagine the meeting of all the cheese-makers plays out like ‘what are we going to do about the cheese?’ and ‘we need to make more cheese!” and so forth.

posted under Italy | 121 Comments »

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Barbecued Testicles

June26

Argentina is famous for epic barbecues (asadas) and of all the griddled bits testicles are one of the most highly prized. I’ve been to a fair few asadas in Argentina, but on this occasion I was in a fancy Buenos Aires grillhouse when the chance to sample testicles came up.

Raw testicles image courtesy of www.seriousseats.com

My male companion at the time went literally green as I placed my order and stated quite categorically that he would not be eating any of the testicles.

Six were duly grilled and served up rolling around the plate, and looking all too testicle like. Not half as gruesome as the above (raw) pic, but still unmistakable. I didn’t take a picture, but they looking reasonable enough despite the shape – homogenous of colour and the same shade as cooked offal.

I cut into the first and was surprised to find the texture the same throughout. From my experiences with the human equivalent I imagined the inside of the testicle to be liquid, perhaps, or at least entertaining some different sacs or vesicles. Instead it was like cutting into a solid chunk of processed meat – all fine grained and inoffensive.

First bite and the flavour was amazing. Really, really delicious. And certainly understandable why they were a delicacy. The barbecue flavour was evident, and teamed with moist succulent meat. Yum.

My reaction persuaded the male companion to have a dubious bite, and he also admitted them to be delicious. In fact he went on to eat four of the six, proving that testicles can weaken a man’s resolve in more ways than one.

http://www.lasnazarenas.com.ar/

posted under Argentina | 124 Comments »

The World’s Piggest Festival – San Daniele del Friuli, Italy

June26


When the warm weather sets in, thoughts in Northern Italy turn to pig. Or, more accurately, prosciutto. This wafer thin ham is a national obsession, and every year on midsummer’s eve, the small town of San Daniele throws a ham party to end all ham parties.

At the festival, farmers from all over the region show up to showcase their wares. There’s a ham lottery, a ham awards ceremony, and plenty of ham-related music courtesy of local bands. This year there was also a protester in situ, whose tasteful leather placard proclaimed ‘The Pig Is Not What It used To Be!” But tantalisingly neglected to elaborate.

San Daniele is to ham what Southern France is to wine, with a myriad of ham-makers big and small scattered everywhere. As with vineyard hopping, it’s the done thing to pop around sampling from different producers, buying hunks here and there to store at home.

So prior to the evening ham festival I was kindly whisked around several producers, courtesy of PR heavy-weight Cohn&Wolfe, who arranged a three day eat-athon, in which myself and other journalists were never more than half an hour from a thousand calorie meal.

Part of this involved the obligatory tour of the factories in which we were kindly allowed to ruin several hams, by becoming involved in the production process. This included smearing pig fat over the rindless upper thigh of the preserved pig leg (see below, I clearly have a gift).

A successful trip all round, and not only because I got to add to my growing collection of plastic shoes and hairnets.

The Aria de Festa is an annual event on midsummers’ eve. www.prosciuttosandaniele.it

posted under Italy | 140 Comments »

Iceland – Sheep’s Cheek and Brain Jelly

February28

More Thorreblot! This time the miscellaneous meat-leavings after all the testicles and rotted shark have been dispensed with. On this occasion I was privileged enough to attend a real-life Thorreblot celebration local-style, which involved lots of vodka and villager-type entertainments as well as plates laden with putrefied basking shark and many-bits-of-sheep.

Blurry picture of sheep's head with brain jelly

My plate here shows both why I never intend to try out for professional photography and the various sheep-heady brain jelly type bits and pieces which make up the mix. Sheep’s cheek – much as you would expect – fairly dry and a lot like other types of meat. But I was not quite as enthusiastic as the locals how picked the entire skull clean.

Brain jelly was like a meat jelly really, not much else to report. If you like jellied meats then it was pretty good. If that’s not your thing (not mine) then it’s not horrible, but you’re better sticking to the vodka.

Thorreblot party - note high ratio of alcohol to food

Certainly the Icelanders threw plenty of vodka down whilst we all watched local villagers perform very entertaining skits about local life. In my vodka addled state I like to think I understood some of it.

posted under Iceland | 129 Comments »

Iceland, Snaefellsnes, Rotted Shark

February14

So begins my culinary tour of Iceland at a time when the locals are digging in for some of the least savoury cuisine of the year. Mid-winter is ‘Thorreblot’ time in Iceland, which roughly translates as the time to eat the animal parts which are otherwise forgotten about.

Rotting shark meat - hanging in more ways than one

Testicles, brains, cheeks and other innards make it onto the menu, but most infamous is Iceland’s putrefied or rotting shark meat. This food was personally singled out to me by a floppy haired TV chef whose name escapes me as ‘the worst thing I have ever eaten’ and it made Gordan Ramsey actually vomit. So it would be fair to say I was intimidated.

Incredible how adaptable the human nose

The place to eat rotted shark in Iceland is the prime (only) site of manufacture – a tiny small-holding to the north of the country which catches and rots the shark ready to eat.

You can smell the place long before you see it, and the aroma of rancid urine piques the nostrils if not the appetite at disturbingly heightening levels the closer you get. I met with the very accommodating owner, who took me to see the hanging meat, and cut me off a good size wedge fresh from the shark.

At the shark farm – ‘here’s one I caught earlier’

The meat is a beautiful white/yellow colour and looks so much like cheese you’d be forgiven for mistaking the two – with the exception, of course, of the ammonia vapours tunnelling up from the rotted flesh.

I took a small piece, swallowed rapidly, and found it really wasn’t that bad – like strong cheese. Emboldened I made for a larger piece. Big mistake. This bit was sizable enough to need chewing and the texture is of toughened plastic. Ammonia streamed up my nose, making my eyes water as I tried to choke the meat down. But it wasn’t bad enough to gag – Gordon was over-reacting. Or possibly, given his career, in ownership of a finer palate than mine.

Bjarnahöfn shark farm, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, near Stykkishólmur. There are only three settlements in the north of the country so you won’t have a problem finding it – just ask a local and follow your nose. It’s about six hours drive from Reykjavik.

posted under Iceland | 105 Comments »

Iceland – Sheep Testicle Terrine

February2

Continuing in my Thorreblot (mid-winter animal innards-fest) tour of Iceland I’m expanding beyond rotting shark and deeper into parts of sheep more usually made into hot dogs.

The Thorreblot Buffet

First up is sheep testicle terrine – a smooth blend of testicles with some other bits of offal and plenty of lard to stick it all together. As with my other experiences of testicles (culinary, obviously) the taste is pretty good. And the terrine presentation made it in many ways more palatable. Overall though, the dish comes with some quite strong spices which ruins it for me, and I didn’t eat more than a few mouthfuls. Being as the traditional Thorreblot spread doesn’t vary much past pastes and pates of sheep innards, however, I found myself returning to it as a means of filling up. Generally though I stuck to the bread.

Sheep testicle terrine and lots of other lovely miscellaneous meat stuff

This particular Thorreblot-style buffet was found as the Viking Hotel just outside of Rekyavik, and they also do Viking kidnaps for bored corporate types (seriously – your party arrives and are ambushed and carted off by men in horned helmets). The hotel also augments the nightly dinner offering with Viking style musicians, which whilst not taking away from the general un-palatability of the food, had a commendable grip on the ridiculousness of their jobs.

Musicians serenading guests to sounds of The Beatles

The Viking Hotel, Hafnarf Jordour (mid-way between the airport and Reykjavik) www.vikinghoteliceland.com

posted under Iceland | 108 Comments »
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