As they say, what does not kill you, will make you better. I am always suspicious of things that are supposedly really good for you or things that will increase my sexual stamina. Usually these things are things that are terrible tasting.
Italians have an obsession with their intestinal and gut health. Drinking a little digestif, digestivo, is something many of them are accustomed to.
Digestifs are usually an alcoholic beverage that you enjoy at the end of meal. It is not meant to be downed like a shot. As with many things in Italy, most of the Italian digestifs are bitter. Oh how they love bitter here!
I have tried a few. Some made from walnuts and some made from arugula. The one made from arugula is a specialty of Ischia, an island near Capri.
If they are not too bitter, then they are often too sweet. When I tried the Ratafia, I was delighted because while sweet, it at least tasted good.
When it is hot in Italy, you want to order a “caffe freddo” (cold coffee) which is sort of like a coffee milkshake. It’s a bit confusing because it is not a “frappe” which is a different drink. I include a photo here so that you can see that a frappe is a coffee which is frothed to the point where it has a frappe/froth/head on top. A caffe freddo has milk added, a frappe does not.
When you see the slush machines spinning with coffee colored caffe freddo, you know that summer has arrived. A caffe freddo is different from an iced coffee or milkshake.
As an aside, the milkshakes in Italy are quite liquid and not unlike a caffe freddo except that they are not always as cold. Also, you can get a milkshake most of the year but caffe freddo is a summer thing.
Cacao juice tastes like nectar. Indeed, the Latin name for cacao is “theobroma” or “food of the gods”. To learn more, you can read the wikipedia entry of this blog. In Peru, this juice is called “mucilage” which is the technical term for the white pulp that surrounds the beans inside the cacao pods.
I first tried this juice at Kjolle (co-located with Central), Pia Leon’s restaurant. It was a hot summer day and sitting in the tall open sheltered space of Kjolle was a respite from the bleeping traffic outside. While Kjolle makes many other fancy drinks, this unassuming looking drink (it has a watery whitish tinge) was a revelation. It tasted a bit like lychee, mangosteen, or green apples, but had a taste all magically its own.
The other place where I have tried it was at Maido. Their version was in a Gin and Tonic cocktail. I asked if they could make me a mocktail. They did. The presentation was beautiful and their version of this drink was thicker, so more like mucilage, than at Kjolle. People remarked that it would make a good dessert. It was a longer relationship drink as well because of the thickness and richness. They served it with a side visual of theobroma and its cousin the majambo/macambo bean which is whitish in color.
Majambo can also be roasted and eaten. It has a mild nutty flavor. I first tried them at El Cacaotal in Barranco. Since I wrote the blog posting about El Cacaotal two years ago, that store has moved and blossomed. It is a lovely place to just chillax.
On a side note, a friend was planning to make some cacao juice and it made me wonder how ones does that. There is a whole process which can be read about here. As this site mentions, there is already a company that sells packaged cacao juice, so I see it becoming more and more commonplace. Having looked up a recipe on Google, I’m not sure that it entails more than extracting the fruit, maybe blending it for consistency, and then putting through a strainer (this is the method for making juice here in Latin America).
The sloe berries are blue when ripe and they grow on tall bushes/low trees (clearly my grasp of botany is limited) in temperate climes like Denmark. They look like blueberries but are super sour and probably not delicious in their raw state (my friend tried one and I surmised this from the look on her face).
To make a sloe drink, you pick the berries, freeze them for a few days, and then put them in to the alcohol (vodka? gin?), let them marinate for a few days. Then drink.
Last year, when on a bike ride through Amager Faelled in Copenhagen, I noticed this guy picking something from the bushes. After racing over to him like an excited puppy, I asked him what he was doing.
The berries matched his eyes, and he was accommodating enough to model the sloe berries for me.
It’s the third annual rum festival in Nassau, The Bahamas. Going on right now in the Fort Charlotte. Tickets cost $25 per day, or $60 for Friday-Sunday (pre-purchase online, I think). Tickets can be bought at the entrance to the festival. Fort Charlotte is about a mile from the cruise ship harbor. The stalls are all around the bailey of the fort making a natural path past the stalls. There are stalls selling rum, cocktails, rum cake, desserts, food, jewelry, plants (lettuce plant is not what I’d normally buy at a rum festival, but why not?), soap, tea, candy, t-shirts, and art. You can get samples, but mostly, it’s about shopping. There is music throbbing off the walls and pirates waiting to take a photo with you. There is even a Johnny Depp-look who is very willing to stare glaze-eyed into your selfie. Happening now, February 24-26. I’d recommend it if you like festivals, rum, and a street party… I bought jerk chicken and rum cake.There are also some voodoo elements… and cigars. Overall, not a great way to see Fort Charlotte because the dungeons and other parts of the fort are closed for the festival. But it’s a good use of the fort.
I’ll write more about the foods I tried in a later post. It was spicy!
I’ll admit that I’m nuts for coconut water. When I see fresh coconut water being offered, I immediately develop a thirst. I’ve had them in Aruba, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Denmark, Singapore, El Salvador (where the photo is from), Virginia, and many other places.
In some cultures, the coconut is revered. In Sanskrit, the coconut is called the “kalpa vriksha” or “the tree that supplies all that is needed to live.” In WWII, coconut water (the clear liquid inside the coconut), was used as emergency blood plasma. Amazing!
There is sometimes some confusion with coconut water and coconut milk. The water is the clear stuff inside (which takes a coconut nine months to produce and nine seconds to drink) and coconut milk is made from water mixed with grated coconut meat. Hence the white color.
I think the best tasting ones I’ve had have been in Thailand at the airport. But maybe, it’s that when exhausted, getting rejuvenated with a fridge-cold coconut does the trick. Coconuts are restorative and have useful electrolytes which you need when exhausted or rundown. Like when jet-lagged. After all, castaways have survived on coconuts alone. Sometimes, a long flight can make you feel like you are adrift in an endless ocean of security checks and body odor.
*******Update: The location has changed! It’s now in the neighborhood of Quinta Camacho. Calle 69A, #10-05. *********
Yes, it’s a speakeasy, not illegal, but kept a secret like back in the days of prohibition. Yes, it has no name. Yes, it’s not well known yet…
The craft cocktails are good. That’s the important thing. The drinks have names like “J Bird” and “Shi-taque” and “Ayguey” (or something like that) and other cleverness. The drinks are gin or whiskey based with infusions and chartreuse as ingredients. They are refreshing, strong, and delicious. The bartender takes great care making the drinks as he mixes, shakes, squirts, dusts, and coddles the drinks (Plus, he has a magnificent beard).
It’s the kind of place where one can hear oneself, and ones friends talk (although it’s so dark you may not be able to see them) because the music is blues or other old school music played loud enough to enjoy but not so loud that you have to yell. The two booths have chains which activate a red light when you want to call for service (so you get to yank their chain). Fresh water is always served with the drinks to make sure that you won’t be hung over the next day.
The location has changed! It’s now in the neighborhood of Quinta Camacho. Calle 69A, #10-05. No longer secreted behind the Pan Asian food restaurant, Thom Ngon, on top of Xarcuteria near Parque 93. Go up the stairs and ring on the doorbell. Someone will open the little window (just like in the prohibition movies) and let you in. Maybe. The owner says that he wants this place to stay secret and hidden so that only those who like a good hand crafted drink will hear about this place by word of mouth. He says that he doesn’t want the meat market “seen scene” (my description) types here. We shall see.Unlike the other speakeasy, this place does not have food or snacks. Yet. Our waiter, Jesus, told us that snacks like peanuts or albondigas (meatballs) will be coming soon.
But no fish fillet sandwich… which some of us wanted… did I mention that the drinks are strong?
Going out has become a form of theater and the secret speakeasy of Bogota delivers (just like the one in Buenos Aires). It’s called NN (because it’s a secret) and the name is a coded part of the front, a shop called Miss ElaNNia. One has to make a reservation with one of the waiters. I don’t have the number. You’ll have to find a friend who can make the reservation.
On the appointed night, one shows up at Calle 71, No. 5-65. The location is on a quiet street off of Septima, a main road. It is possible to see glimpses of something grand through the windows, but ignore that to get more out of the experience. The front is a shop selling kitsch. You need to go into the shop which actually has cute items for sale.
At the appointed moment, a brilliantined waiter will appear and lead you to the back. Once you enter, you walk through past the kitchen, up winding back stairs, only to pop out on the other side of the looking glass. This entry makes the experience feel clandestine.
The staff play their roles well even if the service is a bit slow (take your time and drink in the ambiance). The inside of the restaurant is luxurious. They have large round tables with booth seating allowing for parties of ten. There are also smaller tables for intimate conversations. While the cathedral style painted ceiling adds a palatial feel, the restaurant still manages to feel cozy. The music spans Frank Sinatra, Erasure, and more modern beats, interrupted with live jazz from the balcony.
The food was French or European and some of the dishes were good. The food was of mixed quality. But, the desserts and ambiance made up for it. The cheese fondue was more of a cheese soup than a fondue. The creamed spinach with bacon was delicious. The steamed mussels with fries was not special. They also have salmon and Beef Wellington. I’ll be back to try more of the menu and get my own portion of spinach. Including several bottles of wine and desserts to share, we each paid around 120,000 pesos (50 U.S. dollars) for dinner, tax and tip.
The gilded brownie is actually a combination of soft mousse and utter decadence. Appropriate for a Bogota entering its golden age.
There’s a well known secret about Buenos Aires. Actually, there are more, but here are two gastronomic ones.
One is that there are “secret” restaurants to go to (sort of like the inadvertent secrets in Dhaka). The concept is a fixed menu in someone’s home and you pay a suggested amount. It’s all sort of furtive and illicit, therefore enticing. The concept is the same as in Washington, DC and other cites.
In BA (that’s what the they call Buenos Aires), I went to a former secret restaurant. Instead of being located behind the closed door at the back of a garage, it’s now open to the street. Called Nola, it was started by a Louisiana expat, and it serves some good ol’ food. It was the best fried chicken in the city. The fried chicken has crispy batter. The sweetbreads with red pickled onions makes a savory bowl of crunchy goodness. The cornbread was more like a bread pudding and the tea, it was sweet. Best go early for BA, around eight, so that you don’t have to stand while eating your chicken. As the place filled up, the patrons spilled out onto the sidewalk through the open front. The restaurant looked like a former garage. They have a few desserts as well, including a cupcake sized blueberry pie. While the prices were not cheap, Nola was as sweet as its pie.
The second secret in BA is the “speakeasy,” A speakeasy refers to a bar that is hidden, just like back during Prohibition in the U.S. In current-day BA, these are bars with a fake entrance. The one that I went to had an innocent looking bakery as its facade. We went in and walked to the back “brick” wall. I imagining a secret knock or handshake would be required. But, we simply told the hostess that we wanted to go “to the back” and she let us through. Once through the looking glass, we entered a world of Victorian England, and I half hoped to see Johnny Depp swish or sway past wearing a cape. Alas, other than the disproportionate number of tall blondes, the only swaying I saw was a short gold lamé skirt that glittered and glistened as its owner made forays to the powder room.