Food sins in the city

I’m sure everybody knows the rhetorical question ‘What are we eating today?’or ‘What should I cook?’ Very often we can’t find a practical answer. An easy way out is the ‘Let’s go get Indian or Chinese food’ But where can you get it? The restaurant on the corner, the fast food one with the Call Nr. or the supermarket?

Inspired by an Italian blog presenting instant food inspired in the Italian cooking (http://www.einespressobitte.com/un-minuto-di-silenzio-food-disaster/) I want to show you and comment some of the International delicacies we can find in supermarkets.

First of all an introduction of one of the most famous chefs in German supermarkets must be done: He is Dr. Oetker, and he is a star in every cooking discipline, from a simple soup with noodles to a chocolate chip cake. Difficult? No way. I was referring to Dr. Oetker as a he, but maybe I’m wrong and it’s a she! Dr. Oetker, a mysterious character we may encounter in German kitchens… One thing I have to recognize that his or her recipes are almost infallible, provided you can read and follow steps accurately.

Dr._Oetker_Schokinokuchen

From the German Doctor 😉

 

There are other brands in our German supermarkets, for example, Knorr and of course the no name products of best buy supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl. These shops are famous for their super retail prices and their simple arrangements of products. In those places you find a simple rack with the open cardboard boxes showing the products and that’s it. They are also proud of having the fastest cashiers where you have to almost catch your products and put them in your caddy at an astonishing speed, almost like the Flash 😉 Nevertheless, you usually have to stand in line for a long time to be able to pay because of the 5 cashiers only one or two will be working.

Talking about international products in our supermarkets, what is one of the most popular Mexican products that you can find in every supermarket over here? Can you guess? Of course the vegetable mix, with kidney beans, red paprika and golden corn… Does it sound familiar to my Mexican readers? No? Of course not, we don’t eat that combination in Mexico. How about combining it with tuna? A Mexican tuna salad! Very simple.

However, we are more fortunate than our Italian friends, they find from the pizza burger, the newest Dr. Oetker’s creation to the spaghetti carbonara in the cup…  The French have not been forgotten. Dr. Oetker created a special line on the French cuisine, called le Bistro. All types of frozen ‘baguettes’ with several fillings, such as cheese and … Jalapeños!! Very French!

pizza_burger

The authentic pizza burger or burger pizza?

 

If you don’t know how to cook or let’s say read, or you don’t have time and love International dishes, you may then run to a mini supermarket at the gas station close to your place and grab a ‘Ristorante Pizza’ with salami, mozzarella and pesto. Lots of the so called Mexican dishes have to have red kidney beans and corn and the Italian ones, pesto of course.

Has Dr. Oetker ever been to Asia? I don’t really know, but another well known Mister, Mr. Knorr, surely has 😉  The choice of Asian specialties is huge. From Bami Goreng noodles to Asia Curry Noodles sweet ‘n sour. Very Asian!

As for people who worry about ecology and ecological products, Mr. Knorr offers the new Spaghetti Bolognese. The most “tomatoly” ( a word only invented for this sauce) Bolognese of all time with sustainable green tomatoes, especially enriched with many herbs. This is the new Knorr’s Bolognese with a fruity taste… Mmmm, I don’t quite understand the effect of the herbs in the fruitiness of the sauce, or are the sustainable tomatoes responsible? As everything is dried, made to powder packed in a small bag I still don’t get where the freshness comes from… Ah, it’s part of my imagination! The mind is very powerful indeed…

Our American friends have also a special selection of products, for example, the All American pizza! With chicken or barbecue and a thick dough, very American, of course.

To be fair, I have to mention the products we can find in mostly every kitchen, the different types of broth or soups where you only add water. This makes me think of another brand, Maggi! Do they also have international products? Italian friends, please, close your eyes and don’t read… Yes, they even have the ‘fix’ for spaghetti all’amatriciana!

How about instant typical German dishes? You can find almost everything starting from the famous “Jägersauce” or “Hunter’s sauce” a little bit similar to a gravy to add to your “Schnitzel or pork steak that you’ll still have to buy. To accompany your meat, you can choose among many side dishes to serve on a Bavarian meal such as “Kartoffelknödel”, or potato dumplings, the ready fix mixture for the salad with “real” herbs and the “Bayrische Creme” or Bavarian creme for dessert. Do vegetarians have a choice? Yes, they may buy the instant “Käsespätzle”, similar to gnocchi, but smaller and served with melting cheese… a little bit like maccaroni and cheese, no problem.

maggi_sauce

Fresh and tasty…

 

So, cooking international meals at home isn’t that difficult! Long live the chemists! 😉

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Madame Mallory and bureaucracy

Imagine a nice village in the South of France. The smell of herbs, lavender, thyme, rosemary… The quietness of a house out of the village with a marvelous sight and a restaurant with the best French cuisine ever. Does this sound attractive enough? To vary your meals you may want to eat at the other restaurant in town, an Indian specialty restaurant. In the middle of nowhere?

Sometimes we have dreams that seem risky or impossible to achieve. Other times destiny or life, as you may want to call it, puts us on a difficult path and we have to throw away our initial plans or way of life. This happened to a numerous Indian family living in Mumbai who have to leave their country and get to Europe to try to rebuild their lives. However, their first choice turns out to be cold, wet and with vegetables and fruits that have no soul. Therefore, they move again searching for a nicer place. “Destiny’ takes them to France where after some initial difficulties they can finally open an Indian restaurant.

The film “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with Helen Mirren is being shown in German cinemas as “Madame Mallory and the smell of Curry’.

Mme Mallory and Hasan

Madame Mallory cooking

(Image from http://www.badische-zeitung.de/kino-11/36-komoedien-dramen-und-dokus-aus-aller-welt–87671108.html)

The difficulties in the film are sometimes funny and sometimes rough or cruel and they involve love, hate, jealousy, talent, friendship and family… Would it be so easy in real life to move to a foreign country, let’s say in Western Europe, and simply open a restaurant? I sincerely doubt it…

In the case of the film, this part was obviously skipped because if not it would have turned into a paper war against the ministries and the immigration offices 😉

At the beginning of the film while entering the Continent the family members are asked some questions about their profession, time they plan to stay in the country, etc. This shows a little bit of it…

Some countries are more willing to receive foreigners and to let them live in their territory, others not really. All around Europe radical groups have been spreading and attacking in word and some times even in actions ‘foreign’ looking people. Who is foreign in a country? Is a person who got there as a youngster, has lived there for years, worked and paid taxes still a foreigner? France adopts immigrants more easily than other countries and helps them to settle. Some nationals believe that immigrants get too much and that they are entitled to too many social benefits while French aren’t. This leads to outbreaks of radical groups and foreigner hate.

Germany would love to receive more and more immigrants… Really? Only those young, highly educated, with lots of experience in their professions and willing to work under conditions that not many Germans would accept. In this case even bureaucracy would work smoothly and they would get the necessary help for their paperwork.

Back to our example in the film, what kind of bureaucracy, that is government administration, would the family have to deal with? I imagine at the very first, they would have had to get the visas and then the residence permits. Afterwards, the working permits, then the license to open a business and especially a business in the food area would require lots and lots of permits and fees… I don’t know, if they could have open their place in the first year. It is of course not impossible…

Now, the children… I never saw them going to school, writing their homework and learning French! This last task would take longer. I don’t really know how it works in France with children and schooling. In Germany all children have to go to school and there are only the official schools in the neighborhood. So, imagine the children who have to go to Elementary school and who don’t speak German =:-o

Bureaucracy… What does it really mean? The word bureau or office is hidden in there and office has to do with paper… Paperwork! Some countries love paperwork more than others, I suppose. In Brazil, for example, everything has to be officially recognized or you cannot even buy a cell phone. You need to have a residence permit with the necessary ID card and number and you have to have a Tax number to show that you ARE paying taxes. I still remember the very crowded offices where you have to get your documents and where you have to get your signature registered and approved. Without these steps, as I told you before, you can’t live as a person… After accomplishing all this and while living there, if you pay in the supermarket with your bank card you always have to say your tax number and sometimes your ID number, too. To get into any building because for example you have an appointment at the doctor’s or are going to a business meeting you also have to register at the entrance and give all your numbers. By the way you should know them by heart. If you don’t do so, you become immediately a suspect… of what? Of anything.

Another item that points out to my mind when dealing with anything official and bureaucracy. I don’t know why, but you’re always looked as a suspect… You don’t really feel comfortable, as if we all had something wrong to hide. Is this part of the bureaucrats school? I imagine the teachers in the bureaucrats academy: “make them feel guilty, because for sure they are. Make them suffer and don’t let them leave here fast. They have to remember us and talk about us”

In Germany bureaucracy consists of many different special forms, strict and spare opening hours, lots of rules and dont’s, but at least it works. Once you’ve read all the papers and have understood the complicated bureaucrat’s German language, then it will work. Another good thing is that they usually give you an approximate time when you will be able to get your paperwork done, and things will be ready usually on time or even before the mentioned date. That I love!

I believe that the German government loves bureaucracy and I was amazed when I found out (well, taken from Wikipedia) that “The German sociologist Max Weber argued that bureaucracy constitutes the most efficient and rational way in which human activity can be organized, and that systematic processes and organized hierarchies were necessary to maintain order, maximize efficiency and eliminate favoritism. But even Weber saw unfettered bureaucracy as a threat to individual freedom, in which an increase in the bureaucratization of human life can trap individuals in an “iron cage” of rule-based, rational control.” I also now know why a place and an Underground Station in Munich is called Max Weber. And believe it or not I always lose my way or take the wrong train in precisely that station!

Max-Weber-Platz

Max-Weber-Platz with Underground station in Munich

(Image from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/23093419)

In other countries it doesn’t work this way and I know that I am going to miss German bureaucracy (to a certain extent ;-))

And last but not least, after watching the nice movie we enjoyed an Indian dinner and I didn’t think, not even for a tiny moment, about paperwork. Enjoy the film and your food and till next time.

 

Mexico and its food

Mexico’s cuisine has a very long tradition and an immense variety of dishes influenced by history and its geographical situation.

The very basic ingredients all over the country are corn, beans and chili peppers in all their varieties. There are many vegetables, fruits, herbs and animals that can only be found in traditional dishes in the country. Because of that mosaic of flavors and colors Mexican cuisine has been declared by UNESCO as one of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.

Although all Mexicans are more or less familiar with their specialties, there are dishes that are almost exclusive to one of the 31 federal states and can only be found there.

I can also say that there are the brave Mexicans, who eat almost everything and are used to eating very spicy or very hot food. There is also the not so brave kind… I have to confess that I belong to the second one because I don’t like chilies and I’m not used to eating very typical food.

In my last trip to Mexico I started the gourmet tour in a very well known restaurant called “El Cardenal” in the south of Mexico City. The cardenal, in English cardinal, is a red bird found in North and South America, and just to remind some of my European readers, Mexico is in North America, neither in Central nor “Middle” nor South America, and this last one is not to be confused with Latin America.

We were celebrating three birthdays on the same day and had a very large table. The friendly waiters shared their seasonal specialties and we ordered some starters and a small tequila shot with lemon slices and salt.

I was very excited to have my first Mexican dinner and looked expectantly to the plates that they were serving. They brought some guacamole, the very typical one only with creamy avocados, coriander, lemon juice and green chili peppers. This type of guacamole is usually used as a sauce for either quesadillas or chicharrón, which is pork rinds fried till it gets golden and crusty. Not the best dish for a cholesterol reduced diet 😉  And just to clarify the term quesadillas, those are corn tortillas filled with cheese. If they are hand made and the dough is a little bit thicker they can be filled with potatoes, or squash blossoms (flor de calabaza).

I knew these two starters and enjoyed them with white cheese and warm corn tortillas. Following these two, they brought two nicely decorated stoneware plates with some white stuff with herbs. I didn’t know what it was, but got a little bit suspicious asking my sister what it was. “Mmmm… escamoles”, was her answer rolling her tortilla ready to serve herself a big portion. I started unwinding my Mexican memory and remembered what it really was, saying aloud: “ Oh, my goodness. Those are ants’ eggs! I think I’ll pass!” Some of the guests were delighted and attacked the plate with lots of tortillas while I watched thinking, well, it’s like insect caviar. However, I was a coward and didn’t try them.

IMG_1369

Escamoles

The next dare was served in another stoneware dish called cazuela. In this case I had no doubt, they were what they looked like: worms! They served the specialty of the months of May and June in Central Mexico, the worm that only grows in the agave plant or maguey. They are called Maguey worms. One of the agave plants, the agave tequilana form the Tequila region in Mexico is used to produce tequila.
I could sit next to the escamoles and continue eating my tortilla with guacamole. However, the sight of this dish, was too much to bear for me, so I asked the Maguey worm fans to take them to their side of the table. I was saying that I’m a “bad” Mexican because I don’t like exotic things and I really admired our Russian guests that night who really tried and even liked the worms… not with vodka, but with tequila.

IMG_1370

Maguey worms

There were a lot of spicy dishes to my right and left, but as I had just arrived to Mexico, I ordered a medium beef steak with some beans and it was delicious. For dessert we had some tequila strawberries and guanabana sherbet. Guanabana is a fruit that tastes as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with some coconut and banana. Simply refreshing and delicious!

237px-guanabana

Guanabana, it’s not a mango.

My next culinary highlight was in Acapulco in the Mexican Pacific Coast. The day we got there we were served a delicious white fish steak in an Aztec marinade… This marinade is prepared with achiote (Bixa orellana) which is a small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. The name derives from the Nahuatl word ( language spoken by the aztects) for the shrub, āchiotl.  

Achiote can be found in the market or supermarket as a paste that is usually diluted in vinegar and some orange juice. It is a delicious marinade for fish, pork or white meat.

Another traditional recipe we had in Acapulco was “Pescado a la veracruzana” very similar to the “Pescado a la vizcaína”. It’s not scientifically proven ;-), but I dare to say that the style “ a la veracruzana” is quite hot and includes a lot of chiles of the chilaca sort. If you want to know more about chile you can read here http://www.eatmorechiles.com/chilaca.html

This dish was also delicious though it left my lips and tongue burning!

On our small boat trip surrounding the Acapulco bay we were served ceviche, or in other countries cebiche, made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with chili peppers. Additional seasonings, such as chopped onions, salt, and coriander, may also be added.

I was mentioning that the Mexican cuisine was influenced by its history. Before the Spanish conquerors arrived in the 16th century, there were no big animals such as cows, pigs, horses, etc. and therefore the native cultures covered their protein intake with insects, smaller animals and lots of fish and seafood. Nowadays we can also eat a lot of seafood in modern combinations such as the carpaccio of almeja (clam or mussel) that we had on our second day. The clam meat was very thinly sliced seasoned with a sweet, sour and spicy balsamico vinaigrette. Simply marvelous!

Back in the city… Two other excellent restaurants in Mexico City are “El Bajío” which can be found in different locations and where they don’t use chemical additives, such as artificial chicken broth, to their dishes. I had a mole enchilada, being mole one of the most traditional Mexican dishes with fried beans puree and rice cooked with tomatoes.  The word “mole” is also from the Nahuatl and it simply means sauce. We can find many different types of mole and in many colors according to the main ingredients. One of the best known, even out of Mexico, is a brown or reddish brown thick sauce that contains chocolate as a main ingredient. If we go back in history, one of the versions says that the word chocolate comes from the nahuatl word xocolatl, meaning “bitter water”. Xocolatl was a bitter beverage made from the cacao beans, not the creamy and sweet paste we know as chocolate. Other ingredients for mole are nuts, such as peanuts, almonds, and many spices such as cinnamon without forgetting the different types of dried chilies.   For more on mole, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(sauce)

If you cannot visit one of the very extense Mexican coasts you can go and eat or dine in the fish restaurant “ Los Arcos” in the Avenida Insurgentes in Mexico City. I had the best fish taco ever! It was fish “al pastor” or shepherd’s style. Its like the Greek gyros or turkish döner. You’d be disappointed if it weren’t spicy. So, yes, it was spicy, but not very hot. Tacos al pastor are usually of pork meat marinated with “adobo” which includes a red dry type of chili peppers called chile ancho. They serve it in corn tortillas with pineapple dices, raw onions and coriander. In this case instead of pork they used fish and it was a complete success.

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A fish taco

I also had the best shrimps ever! They were coated in flour, eggs and coconut, fried and served with a freshly made mango sauce. My father had a fish stuffed with shrimps in a hummer sauce.

I could tell you for hours about Mexican food, its origins, exotic ingredients and family recipes such as the chicken in cilantro sauce or the white fish in green sauce…and… and… and… as you may have noticed, Mexican food is not chili con carne, nor nachos nor tortilla chips with sweet tomato sauce, nor any kind of salad with kidney beans, red paprika, sweet corn or yellow cheese…

Frankly speaking, after describing all these dishes I got hungry and will go to the kitchen to serve dinner.
Buen provecho! Guten Appetit! Bon appétit! Buon appetito!

 

The Egg

Spring has arrived with its milder weather, birds tweeting (twittering? that word has now got another meaning… should I better say chirping to avoid confusion?) and flowers blooming. Yes, its my favorite season!

Everywhere you can find splendid flower arrangements, rabbits, birds nests and eggs!

Eggs are a symbol of fertility and new life.  We can find them all around and in all forms and colors. The real ones, boiled and painted, chocolate ones in foil paper, fondant ones in the classical ovoid form or as sunny side up eggs, nicely painted wooden ones, plastic eggs, and, and…

The tradition of decorating eggs and eggshells is ancient and has been practiced all along history by many cultures. I’ve just found out that the Egyptians used to put them in their tombs. The early christians used to paint them red to remember the blood of Christ.

In East European Countries like Romania, Russia, Ukraine they decorate them with filigree patterns creating small masterpieces.

In Greece, they bake a rich yeast bread usually with a red egg in it, it’s called tsoureki. Other countries like Hungary have a similar bread with eggs for Easter.

pangriego1

Greek Easter bread

What came then first the egg or the hen? It’s a never ending discussion. It depends on the starting point of the discussion and of the participants…

egg or chicken

Who came first?

 

 

 

 

 

The egg has been inspirational for many ideas, not only coking. There is a famous nursery rime “Humpty Dumpty” by Mother Goose. If you want to have a look at the writer ;-), you can check it here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mother-goose

Does it have a meaning or is it a simple a word game?

Humpty Dumpty was a colloquial term used in fifteenth century England describing someone who was obese. The image of Humpty Dumpty was made famous by the illustrations included in the ‘Alice through the looking glass’ novel by Lewis Carroll. However, Humpty Dumpty was not a person.

(http://www.rhymes.org.uk/humpty_dumpty.htm)

In nature there are thousands of different types of eggs. We usually think of the ones we know like chicken, duck, goose and maybe quail among others. There are beautiful colored ones from little birds like the blue ones of a finch.   But not only birds lay eggs, fish also produce them. We enjoy them ( or rather not… yuk…) as the famous caviar. The most expensive one is the Beluga caviar form the beluga sturgeon in the Caspian See.  Other types of fish caviar are also enjoyable, for example those of salmon or trout.

Moving up in the zoological scale we find humans on top. Although a woman’s ovary has about 1 million oocytes or eggs at birth, only about 500 (about 0.05%) of these ovulate while the rest are wasted. If we imagine that a healthy young man with a typical ejaculate usually produces 300-500 million spermatozoa, that would create a lot of children!  However, we know that it is not that easy… Only a couple hundred spermatozoa survive in the acidic environment of the vagina to be candidates for successful fertilization.

This reminded me of Woody Allen with his always funny to watch “Everything you always wanted to know about sex…” (1972)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068555/?ref_=nm_flmg_wr_50

Continuing with fertility, sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span. After the fusion with egg cells during fertilization a new organism begins developing, starting as a zygote.  Funny name for a baby 😉

Where does everything begin where does it end?  Great thinkers like Aristotle and Plutarch proposed their own ideas on the puzzle. According to Stephen Hawking and Popular Science (the magazine), the egg came first as it evolved prior to birds.

Coming back to the egg and the hen I visualize the symbol of eternity:. A world egg or cosmic egg is a creation myth of many cultures and civilizations linking the egg to birth. It embodies the idea of a silent universe, all at one bursting into activity and chaos. There is no “first” in a cyclical view of time characteristic of many cultures and religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as other Dharmic religions. The belief of the wheel of time which regards time as cyclical and with repeating ages is also found in other cultures such as Mesoamerican (Aztecs, Mayan) and some native American Indians.

Let`s  continue enjoying the egg in all its forms, especially in mouth watering recipes for Easter.  How about…

…some eggs bendedict?

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Eggs-Benedict-The-Pioneer-Woman-287104?columns=4&position=1%2F45

… some asparagus with sauce hollandaise?

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Best-Basic-Hollandaise-Sauce-511714

… a tasty tortilla española

http://spanishfood.about.com/od/tapas/r/tortilla.htm

… Or an italian frittata?

http://www.incredibleegg.org/recipes/recipe/simple-frittata

Decide for yourselves, invite some friends, cook together and enjoy 🙂

Oh, dear! I almost forgot “the bunny”!  Don’t worry, you may read about “him” next week.