Brett Schilke, a guest writer, shares his food journey to Slovakia. He went in search of bryndzové halušky (sheep cheese dumplings), a national dish, but discovered a lot more! ♣
Brett Food Venturing in Slovakia
I arrived in Slovakia after an exhausting 36 hours of travel, made worth it by two things: the promise of keeping my country-count equivalent with my age just in time for my birthday; and the opportunity to hunt down a fascinating story in the towns and villages of the Low Tatras mountains.
I happened onto this adventure when I was challenged by Venilde to turn an upcoming trip to Eastern Europe into a proper excursion by finding and telling the most interesting food story I could muster. After several hours of deep Googling, I had a short list of the foods and cuisines Eastern Europe seems to be known for, but one rose to the top: bryndzové halušky (sheep cheese dumplings) of Slovakia. They seemed to be the most unique food on the list—and quite likely the most delicious—and as soon as I learned these simple dumplings even lay claim to their very own eating-and-cooking world championships, I knew they must be something particularly special.
Bryndzové halušky, a staple food in traditional Slovak cuisine, is considered by some to be the country’s national dish. The dish is simple—small boiled dumplings made from a potato flour, similar to the Italian gnocchi, and a soft sheep cheese from the country’s plentiful mountain inhabitant. The dumplings are traditionally topped with bacon and often served with sheep milk to drink.
Interestingly, the raising of mountain sheep in Slovakia dates back to the 1500s when Walachian settlers (folks from the region of present-day Romania south of Transylvania and east of the Danube) came to the area and established the first villages. The mountainous terrain and climate of the Tatras were not conducive to much agriculture or animal grazing, but they were great for goats and sheep who knew how to climb.
A Kia, a Farm, and a Dumpling Festival: An Epic Quest Begins
Knowing we had to venture into the mountains to discover and tell this story, my partner-in-crime Carter and I set out to rent a car. The three hour ordeal at the rental agency and ensuing two days on winding mountain roads included more hand gestures and broken laws than I care to admit publicly.
We signed the documents for our clearly-Google-Translated “1.4L Kia Rio Vending Machine,” started the engine, and tuned into the first Slovak radio station we could find. We were off on a dumpling quest.
Dumpling Quest Stop # 1: Salaš Krajinka
Our first stop was a farm and restaurant complex called Salaš Krajinka (I will loosely, if inaccurately, translate this as “chalet with a view”). There were dozens of people milling about the rather touristy destination, which included a farm where they raise & milk sheep, and process and sell cheese of all varieties. Nestled among the grounds were pastures, gazebos, a cheese shop, a bakery with a pastry house, and a restaurant where they served about a dozen varieties of halušky along with many other Slovak specialties.
Taking a seat and ordering up our very first bowls, we were disappointed to find nobody around spoke English or seemed at all interested in answering our questions, and seated next to a fan, we couldn’t even grab an audible recording of the first dumpling-induced moans of delight.
Nonetheless, I was thrilled to get my hands on some traditional bacon-topped sheep cheese dumplings and learned plenty through the simple pleasures of degustation.
Dumplings. Cheese. Bacon. My German blood and Wisconsin roots told me this was a dish I could get behind.
Nobody at the farm was too eager to speak with us, but Carter used his skills in interspecies diplomacy to get one stoic young fellow to share some thoughts.
Dumpling Quest Stop # 2: Zázrivské Halušky 2016 (A Competition in Cooking and Eating Dumplings in Zázrivá, Slovakia)
With our first taste of halušky under our belts, we were ready to find more of the story. So we climbed back into our vending machine and took to the open roads, with a recommendation in hand from a friend to visit the town of Zázrivá, a place you know is going to be great because of its abundance of Zs.
The village of Zázrivá dates back to 1556 and is today home to just under 3,000 people living in the Orava region of Slovakia, surrounded by 5,000-foot mountain peaks.
During the weekend we were there, part of the village was transformed into a folk celebration of Slovak traditions—music, dancing, drink, and, most importantly, sheep cheese dumplings. In fact, the festival–Zázrivské Halušky 2016–was named for and dedicated expressly to the national dish.
Sheep were brought down from the hillside near the festival, and then penned and milked in the traditional fashion. The milk was boiled and cheesemaking was completed on-site. Carter even got to dip his finger into the sheep’s milk fresh from the udder (quickly followed by a squirt of hand sanitizer).
Live folk performances and cooking competition were the highlights of the day. While musicians played and sheep were being corralled, teams from around the region competed Iron Chef-style to make the best halušky from local ingredients.
More bowls were served up, and with a sly smile from the woman serving, we lived large and added onions to our second serving of the dumplings. We had gotten our fill of halušky and had certainly discovered why it was worth having a World Championship, which would take place two weeks later in another nearby mountain town populated by just 142 people.
We were feeling a little light on our story. Sure, we had trekked into a mountain range in a tiny Kia that struggled up every incline. But…what I really wanted to find was that tantalizing intersection between people, food, and the things that drive them both.
Then I saw this little hut.
I did not know what it was, but felt a certain draw to it, and decided I absolutely had to go inside. And that is where the story came to life!
To hear the rest of the story and the end of our food adventure, enjoy this audio clip.
♣ I am thankful to Brett for taking on the food challenge on his recent trip to Slovakia during summer of 2016. He’s a creative storyteller with a twist. Brett, Ďakujem ti!
One of my earthly delights is to eat “farm to table.” This is precisely what a friend bestowed upon me as I was treated to a tasty lunch at Harley Farms Goat Dairy. You want super delicious (did I say, SUPER DELICIOUS!) goat cheese?! This is it!♣
Harley Farms Goat Dairy
Located in Pescadero in the golden state of California, we learned during the farm tour prior to our lunch that the land where Harley Farms occupies today was owned by a Portuguese family some 90 years ago as a dairy farm. Sue Harley, originally from the United Kingdom, came to the U.S. and years later started the goat farm which now has 200+ alpine goats on 9 acres.
As 14 or so of us lunch guests gathered for the tour, we soaked up some sun rays while drinking lemonade made with lavender and honey while devouring a selection of their cheeses. The honey lavender cheese was my favorite!
The Harley Farms cheeses—chèvre, ricotta, feta, and fromage blanc—have won global awards. The farm sources herbs and edible flowers for its cheeses and food dishes directly from the garden on the premises.
For lunch, we dined upstairs in the barn, originally the haystack. The long dining table and upright chairs are made from a tree that had fallen on the property some years back.
For lunch, we enjoyed ravioli with Harley Farms chèvre and ricotta cheeses as the first course, followed by the main dish of salmon with double roasted potatoes and a cucumber salad mariated in vinegar. The vinegar in the cucumber salad was a delectable surprise!
The shop at Harley Farms is full of wonderful locally-sourced products, including their cheeses along with oil, honey, and vinegar.
A great place for families and kids of all ages, I highly recommend a visit to Harley Farms, whether just for a tour of the premises or to savor a lunch or dinner. Heads-up that their scrumptious food events book months in advance! ♣
Peru continues to be at the forefront of a food movement that celebrates the incredible ingredients and flavors that come from the Andes and the Amazon along with its thousands of years of food history. During my food mecca to Lima, I enjoyed savoring creations from food entrepreneurs in established eateries to alley food boutiques that mix locally-sourced foodstuffs into combinations that blew my palate.
My addiction in Lima quickly became the pisco sour! ♣
Lima: A Food Mecca
Lima is the “Gastronomical City” of Latin America. The capital of Peru, Lima was founded in 1535 and originally named as Ciudad de los Reyes (City of King). As a food mecca with award winning chefs and restaurants, this is where my love affair with comida Peruana (Peruvian food) was crystalized.
Now famous for its spicy and savory dishes, Lima was brought to the world stage around 2008, including in a feature by Bon Appétit which described Peru as “….blessed with an almost ludicrous variety of natural resources, from the great seafood of the Pacific coast to the vegetables of the temperate highlands of the Andes to the wild tropical abundance of herbs and fish from the Amazon.”
My “first date” with comida Peruana started at Panchita that specializes in ancient and contemporary Peruvian comida criolla (Peruvian creole food) by combining fresh ingredients and seasoning that honor the tradition and culture of Lima. This restaurant is located in the Miraflores neighborhood, the top foodie destination in Lima.
At Panchita, my friend Sheila who lives in Peru and I indulged in seco de cordero (lamb stew), slowly cooked in a cilantro sauce with yuca (also known ascassavaor manioc), frijoles (Peruvian beans), andpapas (Peruvian potatoes).
Cilantro was introduced by the Spaniards. Frijoles are called “the king of the bean” due to their buttery flavor, discovered in a cave in the Peruvian Andes prior to the Inca Empire. Yuca was a staple food for the pre-Columbian people in the Americas and is often featured in indigenous art. There are thousands of varieties of Peruvian papas, one of three main staples of comida Peruana (more below on papas).
We also indulged in delectably prepared tamalitos, a typical dish of the Amazona region in Peru. Tamalitos are similar to the tamale from the Pervian coast, but are smaller and drier. Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC and used as ‘mobile’ food for their armies, hunters, and travelers.
Our dish included 5 tamalitos, each with its own unique edible taste—choclo (a field corn, also known as Peruvian corn or Cuzco corn, known for its large white kernels from the Andes – video); maíz (type of corn fromCuzco, also known as the food of the Inca); verde (prepared with white corn and green corn husks – video, recipe); alcachofa (made with artichokes and yellow corn); and marchita (a no-thrills version).
Lima embraces food histories from four continents. Peruvian cuisine is an unique fusion of flavors and textures that draws on ingredients from the local Andean culture (including Inca cuisine) with those introduced by others over the centuries from Europe (Spanish, German, and Italian), West Africa, and Asia (Japanese and Chinese). More recently, there has been a local presence of Arab cuisine.
The first settlers to have reached Peru around 6,000 BC are likely to have migrated from Asia. These early nomadic tribes relied on hunting, fishing, gathering of fruits and plants, and migrant agriculture. By 5,000 BC, small communities were cultivating potatoes, chili peppers, and maize. By the time the Incas came to power in the 1400s (they originated as a pastoral tribe in the Cuzco area around the 12th century), they survived mostly on maize and potatoes planted on steep hillsides which are still visible today.
Let us not forget the ancient rich grains that originated in Peru—quinoa, kiwicha, Kañiwa, maca, and tari—are traditional foods of Peru and increasingly seen in cuisines worldwide.
Spanish rule over three hundred years in Peru from 1528 to 1821 had a significant influence on Peruvian cuisine. The Spanish introduced lamb, beef, chicken, and pork which have become part of the country’s cuisine. In particular, Anticuchos—skewers of marinated, grilled chicken, pork, and beef—are found everywhere today at top restaurants to street vendors, and trace their roots to the Spanish colonial era.
The Spaniards also introduced European crops, including wheat, barley, beans, rice, and other foods such as cilantro as mentioned earlier.
Potatoes—Corn—Chili Peppers: Three Main Staples of Comida Peruana
Many Peruvian dishes make use of potatoes, corn, and chili peppers—the main staples of comida Peruana.
Potatoes: There are over 3800 types of different types of potatoes in Peru, considered the “Potato Capital of the World.” Seriously! Papas in Spanish—and originally referred to in theQuechua language to simply mean tuber—potatoes may have been domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Andes of southwestern Peru and northwestern Bolivia.
The oldest verified archeological findings of potatoes were found in the coastal area of Ancón in Central Peru dating 2,500 BC and later found in the Altiplano site of Chiripa on the east side of Lake Titicaca. In the Altiplano, potatoes were a key food source for the Inca Empire.
Today, China and India are the largest producers of potatoes, but Peru continues to produce the largest amount of potato plant varieties. And, new varieties were just discovered in Peru earlier this year, announced by the country’s National Institute of Agricultural Innovation. Potatoes not only continue to be a main staple in Peru, but worldwide.
You can hear Peruvians say “Soy mas Peruano que la papa.” (I am more Peruvian than a potato.)
Corn: There are 35+ varieties of corn in Peru, more than any other country in the world. Corn comes in lots of colors, including white, red, yellow, purple, black, and mixed.Archeological evidence indicates that corn was likely domesticated in Mesoamerica and from there made it south to Peru.
Corn is integral to Peruvian ancient, regional, and contemporary dishes. Corn is used to make tamales, humitas (or humintas), and tamalitos (including the ones we had at Panchita; see above), made in a range of colors and flavors (sweet and savory). Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC. Ancient civilizations used tamales to feed their armies, hunters, and travelers on long distance voyages.
Corn is also used for chicha morada, a drink made from purple corn, and chicha de jora, fermented corn beer. During colonial times, corn was used to make humita and bread for special events, like the Inti Raymi (Sun Festival). Soltero, a dish made with corn along with beans, tomatoes, onion, and fresh cheese, is from Arequipa.
Choclo (also known as Peruvian or Cuzco corn), a type of field corn with giant size kernels, is one of the most widely consumed foods in Peru. It is white and grows only in the Sacred Valley near Cuzco in the southern Peruvian Andes. This corn was cultivated in Peru around 1,200 BC, and while others have tried to grow choclo in other parts of the world, the kernels do not grow as large as in Peru. Choclo is served with ceviche and other dishes; toasted and salted it is served in restaurants and bought from street vendors; and ears of choclo served with cheese are popular street fare.
Chili Peppers: There are over 300 varieties of aji (Peruvian chili pepper), an essential ingredient to Comida Peruana.Aji armadillo (Peruvian yellow chili pepper) is considered the most important ingredient in Peruvian cuisine. Other top varieties include aji rocoto, aji panca, aji mirasol, and aji limo. Peru has the highest cultivated diversity of Capsicum chili peppers as this is where the five domesticated species of chili peppers were introduced, grown, and consumed prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.
Now, Peruvians love (LOVE!) a good salsa (sauce), and most Peruvian sauces contain aji along with herbs and lime juice. These sauces are served with just about anything, and most meals come with at least three or four different types. A salsa intensifies the flavor of local dishes, and salsas range in flavor from mild to spicy to hot.
Salsa Criolla is the most popular, prepared with aji armadillo, red onions, and limón Peruano (a highly acidic, tart Peruvian lime with a unique flavor like no other).
Salsa de Aji(yellow chili sauce) made with aji armadillo and oil is a must indulgence. This sauce is prepared from moderately to extremely hot and accompanies fish and meat dishes, fries, and even bread. It is a true rush devouring this sauce!
Rocoto relleno, a stuffed pepper that uses a super hot Capsicum chili pepper as the star of the show, is originally from Arequipa. This chili pepper is stuffed with ground beef, garlic, and hard-boiled eggs, topped with cheese, and then baked. If you like spicy, this is for you and me!
National Gastronoical Treasures: Ceviche + Pisco Sour
Now, a love affair with comida Peruana must include ceviche, Peru’s national dish; and pisco sour, the national drink. Both use limón Peruano, a key ingredient to Peruvian cuisine.
Cebiche!In Peru, it’s cebiche! The name of this dish may be spelled variously as cebiche, ceviche, or seviche. The classicceviche dish is made simply with raw fish cut into cubes (usually sea bass) and marinated (“cooked”) for just minutes in limón Peruano, salt, onion, and aji. It is served cold with choclo and camote(sweet potato) usually included to add balance to the dish’s texture. The marinade is know as leche de tigre (tiger’s milk).
While the Peruvians started the ceviche craze, the dish dates to the colonial times. It was the Spaniards who introduced the lime to Peru (and other citrus fruits), however, there is archeological evidence that the Incas preserved raw seafood with a fruit juice indigenous to Peru. The dish itself could have originated in Spain with roots to the Moors who had a significant influence on Spanish (and Portuguese) cuisine during their hundreds of years of rule in the Iberian Peninsula.
I tried tiradito, a local Japanese sushi-style inspired variation of the classic Peruvian ceviche dish, introduced by Japanese immigrants. It is made with sushi-grade fish sliced into thin strips instead of cubed and marinated just before it is eaten. I’m its newest fan!
Where’s the Pisco Sour!?!The pisco sour was invented in Peru, a drink made with Peruvian pisco (fermented grapes), limón Peruano, sugar (or syrup), egg white, and ice. This cocktail originated in the early 1920s in Peru, and today is found everywhere.
There are three types of pisco—Puro (Pure), Acholado (a blend) and Mosto Verde (green). The Quebranta grape is the strongest of all grape varietals used to make pisco.
The first grapevines were brought to Peru by Spanish settlers sometime in 16th century, most likely on route from the Canary Islands. The first winemaking was in Cuzco, and the most prominent and largest vineyards of the 16th and 17th century in the Americas were located in the Ica Valley in south-central Peru. According to our friends at Panchita, Negra Liston and Mollar are the first grape varietals that reached Peru, and the grape Quebranta was their offspring, born in the Iqueño desert, located in Ica Valley.
While at Panchita, I learned and found it amusing that local folklore has it that in the 1950s pisco sour aficionado Peruvian President Manuel A. Odria could not find a single bottle of pisco sour left in the palace. This led to the minister of the interior asking pisco producer Don Themistocles Rocha to urgently replenish the stock at the palace. Well, something happened during the distillation process and the batch of pisco that resulted tasted a lot different, and the pisco Mosto Verde (green type) was born!
Peru produces some excellent red wines. To accompany our dinner at Panchita, my friend Sheila wisely chose a 2011 Intipaka Valle del Sol No. 1, a dry blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and Shiraz grapes, for us to enjoy.
During my gastronomical journey in Lima, I came to appreciate that comida Peruana TRULY celebrates locally-grown and sourced ingredients for its traditional and contemporary cuisine. Indigenous groups understood the relationship between what they ate with where it came from, nutrition, and health. Today, Comida Peruana celebrates this connection.
From place to place—whether big or small, acclaimed or upcoming, engineered by a chef or a makeshift cook—I asked what we were about to eat and from where it came, the answer was mostly always food products and ingredients that were locally sourced and grown. Peruvian Chef Gaston Acurio—who has established Peruvian restaurants worldwide and a global ambassaor for comida Peruana (including La Mar Peruvian Cebicheria in San Francisco—is well known for raising awareness of local ingredients. My food experience in Lima created a sense of connection to the food I was eating not to mention the incredible multi-dimensional flavors unique to Lima.
I am fortunate to have excellent Peruvian restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and more and more of them worldwide to fall in love with as I wander; yet, the best comida Peruana is still found at its origins in Lima. ♠
On a future trip to Lima, the Mistura Food Festival—“la feria gastronómica más importante de Latinoamérica”—is a must. It is a gastronomic event with hundreds of restaurants, street food vendors, farmers, food learning stages, and more that takes place annually in September in Lima, attended by 600,000+ food curiosos.
There are so many excellent food venues in Lima. La Pinta Restoarte is a restaurant in Miraflores I found rather by accident (best way to explore!) in the midst of upscale restaurants. This place celebrates art with good food, and is located in an old colonial house with large murals and serves Menu del Dia. The upstairs with several small tables and more murals seats no more than 15 and is a delight. Try the fried plantains or the chicken with corn and bean sauce.
**All photos and images are copyrighted work of Venilde Jeronimo unless otherwise noted.
Easter Island is full of mystery and wonder. The island’s Moai statues stand in silence, but Umu Rapa Nui (Easter Island curanto)—the island’s most traditional dish—speaks volumes about the island’s culture and history. As I explored the island and marveled at the oral stories from the islanders (…and ran the half marathon at Easter Island on June 5), I came to understand why Umu Rapa Nui continues to be the celebrated dish of today.
Easter Island is a magical place that seems untouched at times. ♣
Isolation in the Pacific Ocean: Unknowns + Intrigue
Easter Island, a special territory of Chile, is one of the most remote islands in the world. The island’s isolation in the Pacific Ocean makes it challenging to fully trace its history and culture, but at the same time made it possible to develop its uniqueness from other cultures. Easter Island’s triangular shape emerged out of volcanic eruptions—from three main volcanoes named Rano Kau, The Poike, and Mauna Terevaka—that happened thousands of years ago. Today, all Easter Island volcanoes are dormant.
How did people get to this remote island? Radiocarbon dating and archaeological studies establish early settlement in Easter Island between 1100 to 1200 AD. It may have been Polynesians—known for their remarkable sea navigation abilities—who braved 1,600 to 2,000 miles (2500 to 3200 Km) in canoes from the Marquesas Islands.
These early settlers may well have come from South America, supported by archaeological evidence of the sweet potato, a crop that originated in South America and favored by the Polynesian society, indicating a historical linkage between these two areas. Similarities in languages also tie the Polynesians and the island people.
Known as Rapa Nui, the island became know as Easter Island (Isla de Pascua in Spanish) when the first Europeans arrived on the island on Easter Sunday on April 5, 1722 led by Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen. The epicenter on the island is Hanga Roa (means “wide bay”) where the majority of the 6,000+ islanders live.
The 800+ Moai—head statues though most have bodies found atop ceremonial stone platforms called ahu—are the island’s cultural hallmark. Locals and oral tradition will tell you that it was Hotu Matu’a, a Polynesian King and the island’s first chief, who brought the first Moai to the island. Today, most experts acknowledge that it was the first settlers (1100-1680 AD) who sculpted the stones, using raw material from the volcanoes and carving the statues with stone made hand tools.
The Moai continue to baffle historians, scientists, and other curiosos to the origins of these stone giants, including why they were constructed, how they were moved, and why the majority face with their backs to the sea. Experts suggest the statues were positioned inward so they could watch over their island’s descendants. Interestingly, a more speculative idea is that the mindset, lifestyle, and diet of the islanders before the Europeans arrived may have focused “inland,” that is, on the land rather than the sea and may, in part, provide some insight into the lack of seafood in the diet of the islanders’ ancestors.
Easter Island’s Food Footprint
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, archeological excavations suggest islanders lived off cultivated crops, mainly sweet potatoes. Taro, yams, sugarcane, plantains, turmeric, and arrowroot were also grown—most likely introduced from the Marquesas Islands. The islanders also lived off berries and eggs from seabirds. Fish provided some protein, but fishing was not a major activity. Villages most likely had cooking shelters, earth ovens, chicken coops made of stone, and stone-walled gardens.
Rapa Nui people developed special cultivation systems such as Mana Vai, a subterranean system with protected walls that conserved humidity and protected the vegetation. Some plantations did not have walls but were often weakened or destroyed from rainfall.
Entire family was involved in agriculture, and the Ariki (social class of noblemen) determined the dates for cultivation and harvest, based on the positions of the heavenly bodies.
Plantations were Tapu (taboo) until the first fruits of the harvest were offered to the king in ceremonies and festivities.
Banana trees were introduced by the first Polynesians. There are 7 different varieties on the island alone, and they are present everywhere.
Early inhabitants brought chickens, but no pigs or dogs. Rats, likely stowaways on the canoes, provided a source of protein for the islanders.
Fishing was restricted for most of the year, and only the Royal canoe, Vaka Vaero, was allowed to go fishing in the winter. Eating fish was restricted to important people on the island. During open season, women fished close to shore while men fished in the open seas.
167 specifies of fish have been found around the island with approximately 28% exclusive to the island.
The islanders are proud of their food and cuisine traditions. The islanders continue with small farming plots. Sheep and cattle, introduced by the Europeans, are the primary sources of meat. However, most goods are brought to the island and sold in stores.
Island cuisine is sourced from products native to the island as well as from flavors and foods introduced to the island over hundreds of years. For the most part, the Chilean cuisine has replaced the native diet. The dishes and cuisine on the island benefit from having fresh sea products though increasingly limited amounts due to overfishing.
Fish used in island cuisine include tuna, mahi mahi, swordfish or kana kana, and seafood include shrimp, rape rape (a small local lobster native to the island), and other lobsters are bountiful in island dishes.
Sweet potatoes, plantains, yams, taro, and sugarcane are the cornerstone of island cuisine.
Hot Stones + Earth Ovens
The islanders have a tradition dating back hundreds of years of cooking food in an uma pae, an earth oven.Umu Rapa Nui (Easter Island curanto) is cooked in an uma pae and the island’s most traditional dish. This dish is popular in the south of Chile, and is a community dish to be enjoyed with others. Of historical interest, archeologists found a 6,000 year old curanto dish in Puento Quilo in Chiloé Archipelago, and curanto may be one of the oldest food dishes in the world.
Today, Umu Rapa Nui is made pretty much the same way as it was by the island’s ancestors. Basically, the dish is cooked in a 1 to 3 foot (up to 1 meter) deep hole. Wood is placed at the bottom of the hole and covered with stones. It is heated for several hours.
Once the stones are hot…hot…hot, preparation for cooking the curanto begins. The hot stones are removed with a layer of stones remaining at the bottom.
A layer of plantain leaves are placed on top of the hot rocks. Then, the fish, meat, chicken and vegetables are placed on top of the leaves and covered with stones, and covered again with more leaves and stones as it cooks for several hours. In some variations, the food is wrapped in the plantain leaves.
Finally, it is all covered with plantain leaves, rocks, and dirt to cook for several hours. It is a very, very slow and long process.
Scrumptious! While all the meats and vegetables were well prepared and seasoned, the mouth-watering sweet potatoes were a special treat.
More Earthly Delights
You can not miss the traditional tuna empanadas that are fried and stuffed with fresh tuna from the island, or the many other fish dishes on the island. Apparently, we did not have any qualms about trying most of these juicy sea wonders!
Giant Moai that stand in silence. Extinct volcanoes. Ancient Polynesian people. Unique flavors and food traditions. Rapa Nui—no place like it. ♣
A special thanks to Vai Te Mihi and the wonderful people at this establishment for cooking a curanto just for a group of us to relish and, most importantly, to experience the island’s tradition of cooking in an earth oven. Following our private dinner, we enjoyed the show with unique Rapa Nui music and dances. Mauru-ru! Muchas gracias!
**All photos and images are copyrighted work of Venilde Jeronimo unless otherwise noted.
ToDAY (May 19) is by birthDAY. My 50th birthDAY. A birthday celebration is not a celebration without a cake.Birthday cakes come in so many different shapes and sizes—some with breathtaking cascades and bursts of sugar flower anemones, peonies and lilies to others with curvy tiers accented with whimsical characters and themes. Just like a birthday celebrant, a cake has its own personality. ♣
Cakes, candles, and birthday celebrations stem back to the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, and extended into the Western culture.  Cake and bread were considered pretty much the same food with the only difference being that cake was sweet. The tradition of putting candles on a cake is believed to have begun in Ancient Greece. The Greeks made round cakes to honor Artemis, the moon goddess. They placed lit candles to represent the glow of the moon, and the smoke from the candles carried their prayers and wishes to the Gods.
The Romans were the first civilization to celebrate birthdays for non-religious figures. Romans celebrated birthdays for friends and families, and the government created public holidays to observe birthdays of prominent citizens. Everyone regardless of social status was able to celebrate a birthday with a cake. The Romans served flat rounds (cakes) made with flour and nuts, leavened with yeast, and sweetened with honey. Those celebrating a 50th birthday received a special cake made of wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and grated cheese. Yummy!
Of historical interest to me—perhaps to you too—the Christian Church considered birthday celebrations evil for a few hundred years of its existence due to original sin and as it was considered a pagan ritual. Around 4 AD, Christians began to celebrate the birthday of Jesus as the holiday of Christmas, and birthday parties were accepted by the church.
The first birthday cake as we know it today was made in modern-day Germany. In the 15th century, German bakeries made one-layer cakes for birthdays. A candle was placed on the cake to represent the light of life. By the 17th century, a cake was common for birthday celebrations. These cakes—which took on ingredients (flour, sugar, and eggs) and shape of contemporary cakes (layers, icing, and decorations like flowers)—were considered a luxurious splurge, mostly for the wealthy due to high price of the ingredients.
The journey of the birthday cake mirrors culinary and confectionery developments. In the 18th century, food (including sugar for these cakes), materials, and tools (for instance, baking utensils) became more accessible and affordable. In addition, the industrial revolution led to advances in mass production, leading to large bakeries that catered to pre-orders. The result: the price of cakes went down and the number of cakes baked went up.
Today, most cultures celebrate birthdays with cake, candles, and a birthday song. The number of candles is usually the age of the celebrant. Some make a silent wish while blowing out all the candles—in one breath—and it can not be told to anyone or it will not come true!
As I turn 50, what a wondeful gift to celebrate another year of life with family and friends. And…a bit of history about birthday celebrations—let them live on!
Images: 1. My mom Cristiana Maria made my favorite: Cake with fresh lemons and raspberries from my parents’ home garden. The berry sauce drips on the sides. Delic! 2. Celebrating my birthday with family. (Photo credit: H. Lehrheuer)
**All photos and images are copyrighted work of Venilde Jeronimo unless otherwise noted.
A wise friend advised me to daydream while I ran the 2016 Big Sur Marathon a few weeks back (April 24) in Monterey County, California. As I crossed the half way mark at Bixby Creek Bridge, my daydreaming turned into curiosity about agriculture in this area. The California Coastline from Big Sur to Monterey was lush and green as we inched towards the 26.2 mile (40K) finish.
I roamed around for a few days with visits to Folktale Winery & Vineyards, the Farm Stand at Earthbond Farm, and Strawberry City Farm. As a result of these visits, here, I dive into the history of grapes, strawberries, and organic farming in California. Agriculture flourishes amidst the cool coastal climate in Monterey County, and what a beautiful location to complete my 100th foot race. ♣
Later, these Franciscan friars carried vines northward including into Monterey near Soledad Mission, and further north into Sonoma where the first vineyard was planted around 1805. The Mission grape dominated California wine production until 188o.
The first commercial wine maker in California was Jean-Louis Vignes, an early French settler to the Los Angeles area during the Mexican era. In addition to growing the Mission grape varietal, he brought Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux in France which disrupted the dominant Mission grape. By 1850, Vignes was the largest wine producer in California.
Moving forward, in the 1960s large wineries began to flourish in Monterey County with pioneers including Paul Masson, Mirraou Vineyards Wente Bros and Chalone Vineyards that claims to have the oldest producing vineyard in the county. J. Lohr Winery, Almaden Vineyards and others followed in the early 1970s.
Today, Monterey County lies within the Central Coast wine region, one of the California wine regions, often divided into 4 main regions—North Coast, Central Coast, South Coast and Central Valley. Monterey County includes 9 unique appellations—Monterey, Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone, Arroyo Seco, San Bernabe, San Lucas, San Antonio Valley and Hames Valley. The region boasts 175 unique vineyards, 80+ vintners and growers, and 40,000 acres of wine grapes.
The hidden jewel to this region’s viticultural success is the cold waters of Blue Grand Canyon—the deep submarine canyon brings fog and moderate temperatures to the area—that infuses an unique style into the region’s wines. While 42 grape varietals flourish throughout the region, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the top two due to the largely cool climate.
California produces some of the world’s finest wine with approximately 90 percent of American wine produced in this state. California would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world if it was an independent country. Monterey Country wine contributes to the state’s success.
After the marathon, a friend took a few of us wine curiosos to Folktale Winery and Vineyard where we spent an enchanting afternoon tasting and learning about its sustainably-farmed vineyards, nestled in the oak-studded hillsides of Carmel Valley along the Carmel River. The vineyard was originally founded in the early 1980s as Chateau Julien, and in 2015 it was acquired and renamed by Gregory Ahn and Jonathan White.
Folktale is committed to responsible farming and innovative techniques to preserve the land for future generations while producing the best quality grapes for its wines. The vineyard onsite at the winery is farmed 100% organic and grows Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes.
The Folktale Sparkling Brut with its light bubbles put an instant cheeky smirk on my face. The sound coming from the Spanish guitars made the tasting room come alive with its whimsical decor and stunning views of the garden patio. It is not a place you want to leave, and I found myself strolling through the vines on the beautiful grounds, and chatting with the friendly and knowledgeable staff the following day. It is a magical place just like the winery’s name. A must return.
Strawberries: Second Top Crop Grown in Monterey County
Strawberries have a fascinating history. Strawberries were cultivated by the Romans and used as a medicinal herb in the 13th century. Today, all strawberries grown worldwide can be traced to the 1700s when a hybrid variety was developed in France by breeding wild strawberries brought from Virginia in the United States with others from Chile. The first important American variety, the Hovey, was grown in 1834 in Massachusetts.
There are so many varieties of strawberries; I will never look at another strawberry the same way! In California, commercially, there are over a dozen varieties grown with the Camarosa strawberry the most planted; Salva, Chandler, Diamante, Aromas and other varieties are also grown.
Approximately 3 billion pounds (1.36 billion kilos) of strawberries are grown in the United States, and 88% are from specialized farms in California with 25% of this total from Monterey County, the second top crop grown in the county. The value of the California strawberry crop is approximately US$2.6 billion (€2.3 Euros). The warm sunny days and cool foggy nights are ideal for growing strawberries in California along with the state’s 12-month growing season, contributing to higher strawberry yields than any other growing area in the country.
At mile 24 of the marathon, volunteers passed out fresh strawberries, and they were the sweetest berries I had ever tasted! Throughout the remainder of the day, strawberries were calling my inner curiosity. Well, as it so happened, as I headed north to return to the San Francisco Bay Area, I found myself passing strawberries fields right and left on Highway 156 in Salinas and got a sudden tingling desire to make a stop. As I maneuvered onto a side road, there was a sign a bit down the road that said Strawberry City Farm. Perfect!
Salinas Valley, located in Northeast Monterey Country, is approximately 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean and enjoys a cool coastal climate. It is one of the major valleys and most productive agricultural regions in California, including a key area for growing strawberries.
I parked off road and walked up to the strawberry fields. I spoke to a few workers who were very busy, working long hours as the strawberry peak harvesting season was here. The strawberry harvest runs from April to June in California where up to 10 million pint baskets of strawberries are shipped daily. It was a pleasant cool day with a slight coastal breeze as I walked alongside the strawberry fields for a little longer.
Earthbond Farm founders Drew and Myra Goodman made a commitment to grow organically, and started with a 2.5-acre raspberry farm in Carmel Valley in 1984. That same year, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) which rocked my world and made me question everything, including what I was putting in my body as food. (I’m a proud three-time cancer survior in remission for years!) I have been eating Earthbond Farm organic fruits and vegetables for over two decades, and was super excited to finally visit the Farm Stand at Earthbond Farm in Carmel Valley. Their farm, located in San Juan Bautista in neighboring Benito Country, has grown to 50,000 acres.
Earthbond Farms is part of California’s long history in organic farming and sustainable agriculture. In 1979, the state passed a new law establishing a legal standard for organic production, and the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) is one of the first organic certification agencies in the United States. CCOf’s organic certification standards were used as the basis for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP), making “certified organic” federally regulated.
California leads with the most certified organic farms, land in organic production and organic sales in the United States. In 2014, California recorded 2,805 organic farms of approximately 20,000 organic farms, ranches, and processing facilities as announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in early 2015. Worldwide, there are more than 27,800 organic producers; California produces 90% or more of U.S. sales in several crops with the top three being lettuce, grapes, and strawberries. 
Monterey Country—with its own Monterey County Certified Organic program—was the first county to be registered as an organic certifier with the State of California and to be accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture. County growers, like the Goodmans, were part of leading the organic produce revolution in the state.
Portuguese Food + Cuisine—More than just Bread & Wine
To indulge my curiosity in the history of Portuguese food and cuisine—given my Portuguese roots—I dive into Portugal’s rich past. In a Food Series on Portugal, I will explore in separate posts the influence and legacy of the Romans, Moors, and Europe’s Age of Discovery. I will also share my experience with unique foods and dishes of São Miguel, the largest of 9 volcanic islands in the Azores where I spent my childhood before immigrating to the San Francisco Bay Area with my family. These stories are meant to wet our appetites into the influencers of Portuguese food and cuisine.
I do not shy away from Portuguese bread and wine, the two main staples of Portuguese cuisine. But, there is so much more! As we will discover, Portuguese cuisine is considered Mediterranean, yet its simple, rustic foods with unforgettable and rich flavors make it distinctive.
Join me in this gastronomical journey. ♣
Romans in the Iberian Peninsula
The Romans ruled the Iberian Peninsula for six hundred years with the first invasion around 210-219 BC. The Romans established a capital in Olisipo (modern day Lisbon) in 60 BC that became the Roman’s strategic administrative center for the province of Lusitania, and rooted Christianity in Portugal during 3 AD. By 5 AD when the Roman Empire had all but collapsed, the Romans had built an extensive network of roads, bridges, and aquaducts; established a legal system; and brought Latin, leading to the Portuguese language.
The Romans startedagriculture in the Iberian Peninsula by building large farming estates (latifúndios, Roman villas) that produced olives, olive oil, grapevines, wine, grains (like wheat), onions and garlic—all in existence today in Portugal’s traditional and regional foods and cuisine.
The Romans introduced wheat (and barley and other grains) that was used to make bread (pão), the main staple of Portuguese food today. While cheese, wine, pork, and other foods are eaten regularly, bread is eaten daily. To signify the importance of bread to Portuguese everyday life, the Museu do Pão (Museum of Bread), situated in Seia (in northwestern slope of Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in Portugal) is dedicated to bread.
For centuries, Portuguese breadmaking relied on the use of sourdough as a leavening agent. Some Portuguese breads still use sourdough today while others are made with the more recently discovered Baker’s yeast. Depending on the preparation and texture of a type of bread, Portuguese breads can be called cakes (bolos).
Interestingly, bread is still the main ingredient of typical recipes in Alentejo—where the Romans introduced wheat and built large farming estates as mentioned above—including in bread soups like açorda. While bread is the main ingredient, açorda is of Arabic origin, dating most likely to the Moors. (More on the Moors and their influence in a future blog in this Portuguese Food Series.)
There are many Portuguese types of bread today. While each region may have its own local bread, most Portuguese breads are made with one or more types of flour—wheat, corn, rye and oat—with wheat as the most common. Let’s take a look at some pãos.
Pão de Trigo (wheat bread), a crusty loaf traditionally baked in a wooden oven made from wheat cereal, is found throughout Portugal but more typical in the south.
Papos secos (rolls), originally baked in brick ovens, is the most popular bread eaten in Portuguese homes and restaurants. The roll is crusty on the outside and very soft in the center. Its shape is uniquely Portuguese and made mainly from white flour today.
This smaller bread is not only for breakfast, but used in sandwiches (super delicious with linguiça), as a side for soups and stews, and because of its soft center, ideal for dipping and absorbing sauces. It is eaten throughout the day.
Pão de milho (corn bread) is an artisan-style bread usually made with wheat and corn flour, and believed to originate in the northern region of Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro. Pão de milho is an artisan-style bread usually made with wheat and corn flour, and believed to originate in the northern region of Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro. Unlike other bread dough, scalding hot water is used to pre-cook the corn flour that speeds up the cooking, and the dough does not need to rise for hours. I have memories of eating pão de milho baked by my dad straight out of the oven, smothered with butter dripping down the sides.
Most enjoy this artisan bread with Portuguese caldo verde, a popular soup in Portuguese cuisine, made with Portuguese couves (kale), potatoes, olive oil, salt, onion and Portuguese linguiça—a smoke-cured pork sausage with paprika, garlic and pepper. Linguiça is less spicy and less firm than Portuguese chouriço that can also be used in making this tasty soup.
Grapes (Uvas) and Wine (Vinho)
Ancient civilizations had an impact on grape growing and wine production in Portugal, but the Romans the most.
As noted earlier, agricultural production in the southern regions, including in Alentejo, is dominated by large producers influenced by the Roman estates in contrast to the northern regions with small producers. Let’s look at Alentejo (in the south) and Douro (in the north) as two distinctive wine areas.
The Alentejo wines are of the highest quality, and this region leads Portugal’s wine production with half of the country’s wine.
The wine in this area is traced to the time of the Romans as Roman winemaking used large clay amphoras (talhas de barro) for fermentation still used today in this area, referred to as Alentejo style. The other red style wine produced in this region is more modern and fruit intensive, and responsible for making the Alentejo one of Portugal’s most important red wine regions. Large companies—including Sogrape and Aliança—have invested heavily in modern, commercial winemaking in this region, increasing attractive wine production to meet higher demand than supply from this region.
There is archaeological evidence for wine production in the Douro region dating to the end of the Western Roman Empire during 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Key to this wine production area is its microclimate as well as the Douro River that allowed the Romans to transport wine and other goods in the Iberian Peninsula.
Today, the Douro wine region is best known for port wine (vinho do porto), produced exclusively in this demarcated area in picturesque quintas (farms) on vertical slopes stretching down to the Douro River. Port is a fortified wine, made by adding Portuguese style brandy (aguardente) that stops the fermentation and leaves residual sugar in the wine, increasing the sweetness and alcohol content. Port is Portugal’s best known distilled alcoholic beverage, and the country is the global leader in quality port production. This area also produces non-fortified table wines.
Port is produced mainly from a handful of castas (grape varietals), and has several distinct styles, including Ruby Port (your standard red port), Tawny Port (blended port of red grapes that gets its ‘tawny’ coloration name from the duration it has aged), Vintage Port (your top quality port from a single harvest, aged in wooden barrel with only about 1% of all ports worthy of a vintage label, and not to be consumed younger than 15 years), and White Port (your non-traditional port made with white grapes).
Port wine can be paired with many different kinds of food. It is most commonly served at the end of a meal (usually dinner) with a selection of cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and sweet desserts (including chocolates) or then as an after dinner wine.
Whilevinho verde is not a wine region or a grape varietal, a focus on Portuguese wine would not be complete without vinho verde. This wine originates in Minho in the far north of Portugal which has been producing wine since the Romans. The Romans Seneca the Younger and Pliny made reference to vines in the area between the Douro and Minho rivers. There are many small growers in Minho unlike the larger estates in the Alentejo in the south.
Vinho verde literally translates as green wine, and is a young wine to be consumed right after bottling. This region is populated mainly by small growers and the vines were grown traditionally on high trellises or poles (vinha de enforcado). This practice, no longer popular for cultivation and harvesting, allowed the farmers to grow other fruits and vegetables under the vines as a food source for their families.
Vinho verde can be white, red, and rosé, and there are 30 different grape varieties allowed in the vinho verde DOC with a handful of white and red grapes considered the best to cultivate. This wine can be consumed as an aperitif or with a light or more sophisticated meal. This inexpensive wine is very popular with the Portuguese, and a staple in restaurants and in homes.
The Portuguese take olive oil very seriously. It is essential to Portuguese cuisine for cooking and flavoring meals. Olives are eaten as appetizers, served alongside dishes, and used in many Portuguese dishes, including in the cod dish Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá.
The Olive Oil Museum in Moura, located in the Altentejo, is dedicated to Portugal’s olive and olive oil history and industry. ♣
A glimpse of Portugal. (From top left to bottom right: Street in Óbidos; old street car in Lisbon; fruit market in Algarve; wine barrels in front of Porto Cruz port house; restaurant promoting sardines, grilled fish, tapas and wine on its menu; outside patio at Porto Cruz for wine tasting and nibbles; Casa Oriental in Porto (closed in January 2016 but hopefully will re-open) that sold tea, coffee, chocolate and other delicious dry goods and produce.
**All photos and images are copyrighted work of Venilde Jeronimo unless otherwise noted.
My journey to Puerto Rico to run a half marathon this past week led me to discover that the piña colada (means strained pineapple) has been the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978. This sweet cocktail made with rum (a sugar cane byproduct), coconut cream (or coconut milk), and pineapple juice topped with a wedge of pineapple or a cherry (or both) has been a favorite of mine for years! Well…as a food curioso I had to find out more about this world famous cocktail.
Let’s take a look at the history of sugarcane, rum production, and the piña colada. Exploring all of this while in Puerto Rico would not be complete, of course, without tasting rum, known to the locals as ron. ♣
The first ox-powered sugarcane mill in Puerto Rico was established in 1523 on the west coast in Añasco. With time, a proliferation of small water-powered mills (known locally as ingenios or trapiches) emerged on the west and south coasts of the island. Sugarcane became a major industry in Puerto Rico, and by the mid 19th century, there were over 700 sugarcane plantations on the Island. Hundreds of sugar mills produced raw sugar until 1873 when the steam-powered central sugar mill, San Vicente, was built. In the early 20th century more than 40 central sugar mills produced raw sugar on the island (and sent to the Unites States to be refined).
Credit goes to Ponce de León for introducing rum to Puerto Rico during his governorship. An amazing discovery was made during the sugar making process. By boiling sugarcane juice, it produced molasses, and when mixed with water and fermented, rum (a distilled spirit) was the result. In 1911, the Puerto Rican Distilling Company began distilling operations in Arecibo. Over time, rum production in Puerto Rico became a major industry with distilleries on the north, west and south coasts. Besides exporting sugarcane, Puerto Rico began making rum, a byproduct of sugar.
Rafael Arroyo is known as the father of Puerto Rican rum due to his research focused on the rum-making process from fermentation to distillation. Arroyo’s rum-making improvements, new government standards for producing, blending and aging rum, and an aggressive marking campaign with the creation of Rums of Puerto Rico helped increase the island’s exports through rum after World War II. By the 1950s, Puerto Rico was producing high quality and lighter rums.
Per Puerto Rico law, rum has to be aged at least one year in oak barrels, yet many of the rums from Puerto Rico are much older. The color of rum is usually gold, amber, or white. White is the lightest and driest rum, favored by the locals. Gold rums, aged between four and six years (and longer) in wooden casks, are called ánejos. They are considered the most flavorful and distinctive of the island rums. Today, rum production in Puerto Rico is centered in Arecibo, Bayamón, Jayuya, Juncos, Mayagüez, and Ponce.
Top Puerto Rican rum producers include:
Serrallés—Founded in 1865 by Juan Serrallés, a Spaniard from Cataluña who began producing rum at Hacienda Mercedita. In 1903, Serrallés installed the first continuous still on the island, allowing greater quality control and increased production. It’s original Don Q brand was named aftere the legendary Spanish fictional character, and today, the distillery produces several Don Q brands, as well as Ron Llave and Palo Viejo.
Bacardi—Founded in 1862 and produces rums from its headquarters in Puerto Rico and is most commonly known for its Bacardi White, Gold, Select, 8 and 151 Rums in addition to mixed blends such as Bacardi Limón, Bacardi Dragon Berry and Bacardi Peach.
Edmundo Fernández—A small rum producer administered from generations of the Fernandez family since 1871. Its Barrilito is the only blended rum that is actually blended before it is aged. What sets this rum apart is the particular blend of family secret ingredients, the aging as well as the barrels used.
As the national drink, piña colada is everywhere! After several discussions with Puerto Ricans and some research, I did not find information on how this cocktail was proclaimed the national drink, but there is a good amount of history on the cocktail itself. August 16 is Nacional Día del Ron (National Rum Day).
The piña colada was resurrected in the 1950s/1960s with the popularity of Coco Lopez by inventor Don Ramón López Irizarry, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, who received government support to discover how to extract the rich coconut cream from the pulp, popular in desserts. Instead, he discovered how to combine cane syrup and coconut milk to replicate the consistency of the coconut nectar. Coco Lopez became a culinary phenomenon, inspiring bartenders and chefs to experiment with this new discovery. Thus, Coco Lopez soon became the basis for the famous piña colada.
The piña colada gained in fame in Puerto Rico from 1978, and it received worldwide attention after Rupert Holmes released his 1979 song, “Escape: The Piña Colada Song),” which became a popular hit around the world (“If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain…”)
There are many variations of the piña colada, all made with different proportions of the core ingredients (rum, coconut milk or cream, and pineapple juice) with restaurants, hotels, and resorts making it with other ingredients as their signature cocktail.
I was surprised to see the amount of Puerto Rican libations made with rum. The classic sangría, prepared in Spain with dry red wine, sugar, orange juice, and other ingredients, has thousands of variations throughout Puerto Rico. The sangria blend I had at La Casita Blanca had a hefty dose of the island’s rum with root beer!
Coquíto is a drink traditionally served in Puerto Rico, served in shot glasses. Coquíto is made with rum, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, and vanilla, topped with cinnamon or nutmeg. Puerto Ricans enjoy this drink during Christmas and New Year’s along with an array of desserts, like arroz con dulce (rice pudding). This Puerto Rican style rice pudding is made wih sticky rice cooked in spices, ginger, milk, coconut milk, raisins, and rum.
Puerto Rican’s version of rum punch is made with dark rum which adds sweetness and depth. This rum punch includes lime along with orange liqueur, grenadine, and pineapple chunks and served in punch glasses.
While in Puerto Rico, I thoroughly enjoyed tasting a variety of rums and other rum-infused cocktails.
Along with the rum tastings, I tried traditional Puerto Rican cusine, locals refer to as cocina criolla, traced back to the original inhabitants of the island—Arawaks and Tainos—who lived on corn, tropical fruit, and seafood. When Ponce de León arrived with Columbus in 1493, the Spanish added beef, pork, rice, wheat, and olive oil to the island’s foods in addition to the sugarcane. The slaves from Africa who worked on the sugarcane plantations brought okra and taro (know in Puerto Rico as yautia).
For lunch at La Casita Blanca, frequented by locals, I indulged in a bacalao (cod fish) with rice dish.
The aroma from the kitchen was from Puerto Rican sofrito, a blend of herbs and spices that give native foods their distinctive taste and color. Sofrito is a potpourri of onions, garlic, coriander, and peppers browned in olive oil or lard and colored with achiote (annatoo seeds), imparts the bright-yellow color to the island’s rice, soups, and stews.
Puerta Rican flan was the dessert served, flavored with rum. We left this jewel of a restaurant with their home-made pique sauce. ♣
Memories from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
**All photos and images are copyrighted work of Venilde Jeronimo unless otherwise noted.
I inquired about coffee while traveling throughout this beautiful country, visited small farms, and did some research. And…how could I credibly share the Vietnamese coffee story without drinking lots of coffee!
Coffee is a significant source of income and remains a huge part of the Vietnamese economy, second only to rice in value of agricultural products exported. Coffee growers have their challenges: improving quality, reducing the dependence on chemicals, and producing a more consistent organic product. Vietnam also faces deforestation, efficient land usage, and the existence of explosive bombs still in fields in some provinces, among others.
Vietnamese coffee, a signature drink where the coffee is mixed with sweetened condensed milk, is a treat. Soaking in the flavors of our coffee in a cafe in Hoi An, we spoke with the owner who wanted to source more higher quality beans, preferably Arabica, for his customers. Given the country produces mostly Robusta coffee beans (versua Arabica), and the government places restrictions on importing coffee beans (for instance the popular Sumatra or Colombian beans) to protect the local coffee industry, he does not have a lot of choices. He is proud of sourcing his milk—the high quality Dalat Milk—from the highlands of Central Vietnam. In the Central Highlands, Buon Ma Thuot is considered the country’s “coffee capital.”
I have been fortunate to experience and explore many places. For me, the people make Vietnam a remarkable place. Their inner souls spoke to me as if we were having a candid verbal exchange. Let us remember the rich history of the Vietnamese and what we can learn from them, including their humility and humanity.
**All photos and images are copyrighted work of Venilde Jeronimo unless otherwise noted.
In the Jordan Valley, I found dates. Lot of dates. The Jordan Valley is the lower course of the Jordan River, from where it exits the Sea of Galilee in the north to the end of its course where it flows into the Dead Sea in the south. ♣
Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years. They are believed to have originated around what is now Iraq, and have been cultivated since ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt, possibly as early as 4000 BC. The Ancient Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine and ate them at harvest. There is archaeological evidence of date cultivation in eastern Arabia in 6000 BC.
There is also archeological evidence of date cultivation in Mehrgarh around 7000 BC, a Neolithic civilization in what is now western Pakistan. Evidence of cultivation is continually found throughout later civilizations in the Indus Valley, including the Harappan period 2600 to 1900 BC. In later times, traders spread dates around South West Asia, northern Africa and Spain. Dates were introduced into Mexico and California by the Spaniards in 1765, around Mission San Igancio.
A date palm cultivar, known as Judean date palm is renowned for its long-lived orthodox seed, which seems to have successfully sprouted after accidental storage for 2000 years. This particular seed is presently reputed to be the oldest viable seed. Fossil records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years. Wow! A date is a single seed bearing fruit from a date palm tree which can take up to ten years to produce enough fruit for harvest. Today, areas of the Middle East that produce dates have their own varieties.
Back to Jordan, exploring the country this week I saw date palms everywhere. These sweet, succulent fruits exist around the desert areas of Jordan and thrive in this desert climate. The varieties of dates are endless with basically three main groups based on their sugar content: soft, semi-dry, and dry. I tasted blonde ones, dark ones and the Mejdool date which is considered the almighty of all dates. I enjoyed them in salads, stuffed with almonds, covered in chocolate and coconut, and in several dishes.