Food Culture: The Snail Challenge

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Maybe you remember my last food culture post a while back – I wrote it during my time in Mexico and I shared my adventure of eating chapulines. Well, today I want to talk about another culinary experience that broadened my horizon: escargots. Yes, that’s right, those little seemingly slimy, squirmy creatures that like to carry their house around and sometimes get stepped on when they appear on side walks. Ever since taking French in high school and learning about French cuisine, I had been both intrigued and put off by the idea of eating snails. I mean, seriously – I wondered:

– how would you get them? (do people catch them in their own garden? Do you buy them?)
– how would you cook them? (do you take them out of the shell or leave them inside? Do you just stuff seasoning inside the shell and shake it or something?)
– and how would you eat them (do you suck them out of the shell somehow? Break the shell?)

Well, some of those questions were recently answered when I had the opportunity of trying snails for myself at my neighbours’ place. One of the guys living next door to me and my flatmates is from France and he was celebrating his birthday with the gang from his flat and a few other guests. We headed over to congratulate him and join the party. Not long after entering the flat, I spotted a tray full of snails sitting on the kitchen counter, apparently left over from the meal. I was so surprised! After years of wondering I felt the answers had suddenly been served to me on a silver platter. I immediately turned to our host with a bright smile and asked if I could try some. They were put back in the oven to heat up and I knew I would only have to wait a little while before finding out if I really had the guts to eat a bunch of snails.

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The moment came: I was told to take a stick and poke around inside the shell to get hold of the snail, then take it out and eat it off the stick. The snails had been bought at a store. They were cooked in the oven, still inside their shells with some herbs added and you used a stick to eat them. All my questions were answered and the most astonishing thing for me was – I actually liked them! They say you should try something seven times before deciding whether or not you like it – well I didn’t really count, but I would say I had more than twice that many snails. It didn’t go quite so well when my host proceeded to offer me some oysters…I didn’t get past trying one. Maybe next time… 🙂

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¿qué es…?

P for pozole
P for pozole =) delicious soup made from elote (corn)

One of the most important questions when you’re learning a new language is “what is X?” It is extremely useful for finding out a whole lot of vocabulary from friends and figuring out the things you encounter in every day life. I found it invaluable during my time in Mexico! I mean – I had started learning Spanish in high school, went on to study Spanish at University and lived in Spain for about a year – but Mexico is not Spain and along with a new country, places, customs, expressions and cuisine – comes new vocab!
I often found myself using that helpful little phrase – ¿qué es X? and learned a lot of new words as a result – most of them to do with food =) Mexican food was one of the things I certainly learned to love from day one! Right inside the airport arriving in Mexico City I found a place to try delicious chocolate – the Mexican hot chocolate – and molletes – sort of like pizza baguette =D
Then I got to enjoy the hospitality of some Mexican friends and was spoiled with even more amazing things – like sope and sopa, quesadillas, tacos, elote, tamales, mole and agua de jamaica…the Mexican cuisine is undoubtedly and unforgettable experience.
But in case the words themselves don’t mean much to you, I shall share a short explanation and pictures for some of them.
So here’s my ABC of new Mexican Spanish vocabulary =)

A – Agua de Jamaica = yummy drink, like a cold tea, made out of the petals of a flower
B – Borrego = oveja/sheep

C for chicharrón
Ch for chicharrón

C – Comal = like a rectangular flat frying pan on the stove…except its not a pan
Ch – Chido = guay/cool/awesome usually used in a phrase like “que chido”
Chicharrón = fried pig skin, can be bought in the market or in bags sort of like chips
D – Durazno = peach (probably should have known this just never remembered…)

G for gordita
G for gordita

E – Elote = a type of corn, so yummy with mayo, cheese, chilli and lemon
G – Gordita = a type of flat bread made from corn flour and filled with beans, cheese, sauce etc.
H – ¡Híjole! = expression of surprise or being impressed

J for jitomate and t for tomate
T for tomate and J for jitomate

 

J – Jitomate = tomate/red tomato
Jugo = zumo/juice
L –  Lagartija = lizard: already knew this one, but its one of my favourite words and I saw a lot of them in Mexico, so it deserves an honourable mention =)
M – Mole = an amazing sauce made out of like 12 types of chilli, almonds, peanuts, chocolate in some regions…

N for nopal
N for nopal

N – Nopal = a type of cactus eaten here, tried some =D was yummy
O – Órale = slang expression
P – Padrísimo = súper guay, genial/ sweet, amazing, great
Pozole = amazing soup made from elote (corn) apparently recipes vary greatly from region to region, the one in the village was  great!

Q for quesadilla
Q for quesadilla

Q – Quesadillas = at first I thought it was tortilla filled with cheese folded in half – and that was sometimes true, but it could also be filled with other things =)
R – Rancheras = music heard all over Mexico, usually played by Mariachis, loved the emotion and drama of these songs, have a few stuck in my head still
S – Sope = this amazing flat bread out of cornflour eaten with beans, cheese and spicy red or green sauce)

T for tuna
T for tuna

T – Tomate = parece tomate pero de color verde y se usa para salsa picante /a green fruit that is called tomato in Mexico
Tostadas = crisp tacos covered in e.g. chicken or beans, cheese, sauce
Tuna = the fruit of the nopal  (cactus)
U – Uvi = “2” in the Mixtec of the region where I was
V – Vitamina ‘T’= all good typical Mexican dishes beginning with “t” like tacos, tamales, tortillas, tostadas, tortas
X – Xochimilco = beautiful region in the Federal District with great market places and old canals that can be toured on colourful boats
Z – Zócalo = meaning “plinth”, a famous plaza in the centre of Mexico City – there are Zócalos in other cities too though

X for Xochimilco
X for Xochimilco: beautiful region in the Federal District

So that’s some of what I learned, ate, saw during my time in Mexico, hope you enjoyed the ABC =)
its not quite complete – if you have a suggestion for a Mexican Spanish word with a letter I’m missing please feel free to write it in the comments below =D

FOOD CULTURE: Chapulines

chapulineshmmSo I tend to take lots of pictures of food.
Because I enjoy food – the many different types of dishes, spices, combinations that are common around the world and how the simple, every day type of meals can become such a major part of a home culture, community or family. We have a bunch of meals in my family that I would say are family tradition and that I have never tried anywhere else…and going new places always involves trying new things and sometimes means being brave enough to try something that might not be…well…what you would consider incredibly delicious or appetizing.

After three weeks in Mexico I have tried lots of amazing things – but yesterday I finally got to taste something that I had been especially looking forward to: Chapulines

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The state of Oaxaca is famous for its good food and the Chapulines are part of that tradition.

People here catch them, wash them or soak them in water and prepare them with lemon and garlic. I had tried grasshoppers before in Thailand – but they were slightly bigger, spicy and sort of crunchy. I looked at the two ladies selling the Chapulines here in the market place and they just smiled at me as one of them ripped the legs off a grasshopper and handed it to me. It was kinda soft and as I put it into my mouth and I could definitely taste the lemon juice. Not bad. Definitely something worth trying.
So I bought 15 pesos worth of chapulines – a small bag full.

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Back at the house we were all kinda hungry and started putting together a lunch with various leftovers, salad and vegetables. We already had tortillas, salsa and guacamole on the table – so I figured I would add the grasshoppers to the menu. I fried them with some onion, hoping they would get crunchier, and then made myself a huge taco with about four tablespoons of Chapulines, some guacamole and spicy green salsa. The first few bites were pretty good. I felt rather brave and figured this could really become part of my regular diet…but then by the time I had eaten about 2/3 of my tortilla I began to wonder if this would, on second thoughts, remain a rare experience for…special occasions…though they say you have to try a food at least seven times before you can say you don’t like it – I guess there is a difference between trying one or two grasshoppers and eating a whole bag full…

but if you ever get the chance – I definitely recommend you try them.
They’re cheap, somewhat exotic and a great source of protein =)

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Feel free to comment =D

The oil-yumminess-ratio

Chicken tikka with lemon rice, raita, lentils and mango chutney
Chicken tikka with lemon rice, raita, lentils and mango chutney

Last weekend was largely about food. Food, friends and fun.
And the most important place of action: the kitchen.

There’s a bunch of us who grew up in Pakistan and/or Thailand and went to school together but now live somewhere in good old Germany. At some point someone began to suggest reunions and the idea caught on – some get togethers being quite large and pre-planned, others small and spontaneous. I find them to be a bit of a break from normal routine, a time where you don’t need to explain why “where are you from” is such a difficult question and can catch up, talk about life, God and the universe just as easily as any random, silly topic you feel like or just shut up and silently enjoy the sun – and most of all, the food. I would say that is what these reunions generally have in common – no matter who, how many or where – all you need is a kitchen and the right ingredients.

I love cooking Pakistani food. And I love eating it.
Somehow I feel there must be an oil-yumminess-ratio.
Because the more oil we use preparing these dishes…the more incredible it all tastes.

So we had rice with onions and various spices.
And boneless chicken in a delicious spicy tomato, ginger, onion, garlic etc. sauce…
and barbequed chicken that had been marinated in incredible tikka marinade for like 24 hours
and lemon rice with nuts and mustard seeds
and yellow lentils and raita (a yoghurt dish) and this funky mashed potato stuff
and homemade roti – which is basically a type of flat bread made from flour, salt and water.

Paratha and fried egg
Paratha and fried egg

And then you can add oil to that and the roti magically turns into – paratha. The best breakfast ever. In my opinion at least…I recommend you try it with fried egg. Lots of oil. Really yummy.
You can also eat it with chickpeas or omlette and a bunch of other things. Even with nutella – but that’s sort of not typical, I just like almost anything with nutella.

To go with the paratha you drink a perfect cup of chai.

During the reunion, we used more oil and butter in two days than I usually use in two weeks…
But it was so worth it – it was so yummy.
The place to be – definitely the kitchen.

I would so like to cook this stuff more often…but somehow I feel the smell of oil, onions and garlic is not always so appreciated in Germany =)
maybe I will work on a more “neighbour friendly” version of these recipes…but then that would go against the yumminess-ratio. What a dilemma…

Tortilla Española

TortillaThe other day I learned how to prepare a simple yet delicious highlight of the Spanish cuisine: the Tortilla Española. It consists of potatoes and egg with the optional addition of onions and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner or any time in between! I was surprised to find it served with bread the first time I had the pleasure of trying this dish – but it really does taste great as a “boccadillo” (sandwich with white bread kind of similar to baguette) – a friend of mine even ate it with jam once!

So here’s the way I was taught how to make it (by a friend who is actually from Paraguay BUT has lived in Spain many years and is an amazing cook =) so I trust her recipe and expertise!)

TortillaIngredients:
6-8 medium/small potatoes
8 medium eggs
1 ½ onions
1 ½ – 2 cups oil
salt

Preparation:

  1. First slice the potatoes into very thin slices, halve the onion and chop it into fine onion rings
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the potatoes and onion
  3. Fry for about 10 minutes (or until it seems ready – didn’t really look at the time, sorry!)
  4. Drain the potato-onion mixture (the oil can be kept for cooking other stuff)Tortilla
  5. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the potato-onion mixture
  6. Add salt to taste
  7. Pour half of the mixture into a frying pan – depending on the size of the pan and the thickness your prefer you can make one or two tortillas (little or no oil necessary)
  8. Let cook for a little while (maybe 3-5min or until you can flip it)
  9. If you’re brave try flipping the tortilla like a crêpe…or just cover the pan with a plate and turn it around quickly – then put the tortilla back in the pan to cook on the other side for another 3 minutes or so (some people prefer to flip it several times until evenly cooked)
  10. Serve with bread and enjoy!

If you’re Spanish – feel free to comment/criticize, share your own secret recipe =)
If you’re not-Spanish – feel free to try it out and let me know how you like it!

Branching out…or pasta with tomato sauce

The average student's lunch
Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes!

The idea came to me a few months ago while I was washing up after preparing my meal for the next day. I refined it while eating a walnut brownie accompanied by a glass of milk. What started out as an idea for another post turned into an idea for a blog-branch: because sooner or later any student is sure to get sick of pasta with tomato sauce! In Freiburg I cooked elaborate meals the first semester or two, but soon realised that I was spending way too much time in the grocery store and kitchen…and too little time at my desk or in the library. So the cooking habits changed. (Somehow that had little effect on the study habits, but that’s not the point) I befriended myself with the University’s lovely Mensa/Cafeteria – an excellent opportunity to socialize too. Cooking became something occasional – just for fun. Moving to Madrid made me realise that the pasta-tomato-sauce-student-cliché can be frighteningly close to the truth. I did eat in the Cafeteria here – once. Paying 5,15 Euros for a meal – no matter how much the equivalent would cost in a restaurant – is not my idea of a student budget! So I’m back in the kitchen. But no longer “just for fun” or when I feel like it…almost every day. (I want to take this opportunity to give all mothers – and cooking fathers – a symbolic pat on the back for all the cookin’ they’ve done for their maybe not always so grateful kids…I’m feeling very appreciative of those meals just now!)

So where am I heading with this? Well, I did try to be creative – but lack of time being a major issue, I often ended up with: pasta and tomato. Ok, not always tomato sauce – sometimes I’d make it pasta and tomato salad: it’s even quicker! But then, one can’t go on like that indefinitely…so I spent one weekend cooking meals to freeze – like…lasagne (does that have tomato in it?) And not feeling like I’d advanced much, it suddenly hit me – there’s more sauces out there! Like…mushroom sauce! So I made a mushroom-minced-meat-onion-cream sauce to go along with…my pasta. Some improvement, I’d say! It was the first step in the right direction…they say learning is something you do your whole life and I guess that besides learning Spanish, cultural stuff and biology – I’m also learning how to manage my time effectively and budget my finances in order to get food on the table – well, in my lunch box.

Paella
Paella – one of the Spanish dishes I love and want to learn how to make =)

So what about the blog-branch I mentioned? I was thinking that maybe I’m not the only student out there obliged to cook rather often and with somewhat limited resources and limited experience….so as Calabacinera* (gotta love Zucchini =) hehe) I will post whatever I cook up and hope for comments, improvements and most of all – suggestions for what to cook next! Must fulfil the criteria of being quick, simple and purse-friendly…

And besides being something useful in every day life – recipes have A LOT to do with being a sort-of-nomad! Every place has it’s own special dishes – the world is full of different smells, tastes, spices…it’s one of the things I love about travelling and getting to know new cultures! So feel free to join me on a culinary journey and to try out random recipes from Germany, Spain, Pakistan, Thailand, the USA…or my own imagination =)

*recipes will be published as posts under the category “Calabacinera”; calabacín = Zucchini