Wednesday, 30 September 2015

10 ingredients wildly popular in Ireland that are originally from Latin America

I'm on a streak of writing about food and after listing my newly acquired Irish eating habits, and letting you know about some relatively unkown facts about Venezuelan food, I started to think about the many ingredients that we share and I realized that there are lots of Latin American ingredients that are iconic in Irish food.
Some of them are probably no surprise, but you'll see a few unexpected apperances...

1. Tomatoes: A must-have of the irish breakfast, this fruit (yes fruit) was once thought to be poisonous. Grown first in Central America and western South America, it was already in the Aztecs' diet around 500 BC. It arrived to Europe around the XVI century and slowly grew on the local palates. 
The Irish way: As mentioned, rosted in the Irhish breakfast, but also in salads (everyone seems to love the cherry tomatoes) and rolls. 

2. Turkey: This bird, native to forest of the north of Mexico and the United States is one of the most popular poultry options (I'd say the second best seller, after chicken) and also, one of the most awkwardly named creatures you can eat: Europeans who discovered tought it was some sort of guineafowl, which they usually got from Turkey (the country). Then they started calling it "Turkey fowl" and then just "Turkey". By the way, in Turkey (the country), this bird is called "Indian" (perhaps in relation to its original French name coq d'Inde or rooster of India, which makes sense as Europeans kind of though America was India when they first arrived), and Indians (the people) call Turkey (the bird) "Peru". In Peru (the country), the bird is called "Pavo".
The Irish way: The ultimate diet meat, as it's lean and has lower calories than other meats. Have it in wraps and multigrain sambos, or go classic, and serve it Thanksgiving-style (more American than Irish but relatively popular here anyway) with stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Serve it differently: 

3. Cocoa: Despite popular belief, cocoa -which as you know is the main ingredient of chocolate- wasn't originated in Mexico (although you have to give it to the Aztecs, they were the ones that made it a big deal for the first time), but in the Amazon region in South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil). It made its way to what's now Mexico and then Spanish conquistadors took it back home where, unlike the tangy and bushy tomato, it became an instant hit.
The Irish way: The Irish are obsessed with chocolate. Every occasion has its own shape to eat it: Valentines's Day (red heart shaped), then Easter (egg shaped), then Mothers' Day (pink heart shaped), Halloween (spooky themes shaped) and of course, Christmas (rose shaped for some reason). Besides that, it's used for all types of sweets and confectionery such as chocolate digestive biscuits, rocky roads, brownies, etc.

4. Corn: a.k.a. Maize, this grain was domesticated in Mesoamerica during prehistoric times, it is kown to have been eaten at least 7000 ago in Mexico. It was so important that it became part of people's identity in many Mesoamerican cultures. The Mayans even believed that they were literally made from corn.
The Irish way: Almost exclusively two varieties: sweetcorn and popcorn. It is enjoyed mixed with tuna (really?) and in sandwiches and rolls (no self-respecting deli is complete without this ingredient). The popcorn type is commonly eaten not just in the movies, but as a prepacked snack in several flavours (lovely!), seen as a lighter alternative to chips.

Which takes me to...

5. Potatoes: I can't imagine Irish food without the potato. Which makes it easy to imagine it has a legendary Celtic origin or that ancient tribes harvested it and discovered its many uses. But in reality, the spud is Peruvian (and from the north of Bolivia) and it was cultivated at least 2.500 years ago (some say 10.000) by native peoples. It arrived to Europe through Spain in the XVI century and a few decades after it was growing in Ireland.
Its lower spoilage rate compared to other foods, its cheapness and its filling quality made it one of the main produces in the island. With millions of people eventually becoming dependent on the potato for food, and due to economic and socio-political circunstances unable to feed from anything else, the mid XIX century potato blight was devastating in the country.
More than a hundred years have passed and even though it will never be forgotten, things have change, happily for the best. And even though today, you can find food from all over the world in Ireland, the simple potato is still the most popular ingredient around.
The Irish way: Crisps, chips, smashed, baked, roasted, stuffed, in wedges, just the skins with bacon and cheese... (I'm starting to feel like Bubba from Forest Gump when he talks about shrimps)... It's only a matter of time to have potato ice cream and smoothies.

6. Vanilla: You hear things like "French Vanilla", "Madagascar Vanilla" and "Tahitian Vanilla", so you might think that it's original from some of these places. But nop. It's Mexican, and its name means "small pod" ("vaina" is Spanish for "pod"). By the way, normally you see it as an extract or with luck, as thin black sticks, but it comes from an orchid (V. Planifolia). By now you won't be surprised if I tell you it was cultivated by the Aztecs and briught to Europe by the Spanish, but it might shock you that the majority of the vanilla-things you eat are actually flavour with artificial substitutes, as real vanilla is the third most expensive spice in the world (topped by cardamom and saffron). So if you want the real vanilla, check your ingredient list carefully and be prepared to pay.
The Irish way: A touch of vanilla syrup in coffee, or as flavour in custards, ice creams and sweet creams... Prety much the standard global way to use vanilla, though.

7. Peanuts: The most popular nut in the world, which is actually a legume, was domesticated and cultivated first in North Western Argentina (some say Bolivia, proably both as there were no borders in prehistory but that is not of my business). 
The Irish way: Peanuth butter bonanza! Smooth, crunchy, organic, with chocolate... in here, people literally buy it in buckets for home consumprtion (well, not everyone, but I see them in shops not meant for wholesaling so). Also salted or cevered in flavours.

8. Pecans: These tasty nuts come from the North of Mexico and the South of the United States. Both countries are still the biggest producers nowadays.
The Irish way: You'll find it on plenty of confectionery (commonly mixed with maple syrup) and salads. Sometimes if you're fancy, with turkey (the bird) or chicken.

The next two are not as traditionally popular in Ireland, but they are very trendy, widely available and I decided to include them in the list because they are tasty, healty and becoming bigger as I write.

8. Avocados: With the scientific name of Persea americana, it is clear that this green fruit (yup, just like the tomato, so basically guacamole = fruit salad) comes from the "new world", more especifically, from East-Central Mexico. Oldest evidence of avocados in the area are up to 10.000 years old.
The Irish way: Try to find a brunch menu in Dublin without Avocado on Toast, come on, I dare you. Besides that, lots of burrito places have it as guacamole, and some healthy delis offer it as well. It's becoming more and more popular by the day.

10 Quinoa: This grain that is actually a pseudo-cereal (what's with this deceiving food pretending to be vegetables and nuts and grains?) which originated in the Andean region (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia). Depending on who you ask, it's been known between 3.000 and 7.000 years ago. Since it's filled with most nutrients than other grains (or psuedo-grains), and it's very versatile (kind of like couscous), it is becoming a very popular ingredient, especially for the health and nutrition oriented foodies.
The Irish way: Find it at an absurdly expensive price in health shops and healthy restaurants. Commonly served in salads.

Again, some of them come as no surprise, but I find really cool that lots of Latin American ingredients have become part of the Irish diet and tradition, some recently, some centuries ago. 
And they are all so tasty and good for you! Yummy :D

Friday, 25 September 2015

5 eating habits I've picked up in Ireland (and 5 that aren't going to happen)

When in Rome do as the Romans do. 
That centuries old phrase never gets old and it's been one of my mottos since moving to Ireland. Not just because I feel that integrating to the local life is important, but because I've found that what Romans do here is usually great fun.


On this occasion, I'll focus on food and drink, and I'll share five habits that I didn't have in Venezuela and that are part of my everyday now, and five that I can't just get.

So, let's start with the adopted ones:

1. Ordering take away: I used to think that take away was just for pizza, and if I wanted to get chinese food, sushi or whatever, it was a waste of occasion to eat it home, as I like the idea of dressing up and going to a place, eating in and not having to clean up or worry about anything. However, that amount of places here especialized in take away foods (with no tables, just a counter), made me change my mind. Besides, on colder days, you still want to eat something different (by that I mean cooked by somebody else), but you're already in PJ mood.

2. Go to the pub: In Venezuela, most people that go out for drinks do so in places with loud music and dance floors. The idea of a place where you just sit and have a pint is relatively unusual (perhaps recently a few places are introducing it but if there is no loudness and dancing, the mainstream public is not really in). And yes, there are bars in Venezuela but either they are the 5 Star Hotel ultra fancy/expensive ones, or the shady ones where things can end up Dothraki wedding style. Not my thing. Is it too much to ask for a nice, clean place where you can sit and have a chat with friends over a couple of beers, with some decent food and feel safe? Not in Dublin, where there are hundreds of places like that. Nice.


3. Online grocery shopping: Best thing ever. Don't get me wrong, I love grocery shopping, but in the last few years before moving, shopping in Venezuelan supermarkets became sad and scary (shortages, military control, absurdly long queues, etc). This still breaks my heart, but back to topic: the fact that I can get all the food I want with minimal effort is amazing, and even if I go in person from time to time, if I'm having a very busy week, I just buy my food online and it's here the next day. 

4. Having darker beers and/or craft beers: In Venezuela, we drink mostly lagers and it's ok. Under the tropical sun at 30 degrees you wouldn't feel like ordering the back stuff anyway. But here, the amount of options made me realize that these light golden beers are not really the ones I like the most. Now I usually get a red ale or pale ale. Cheers!.

5. Eating ice cream in the winter: The first time someone sugested we get gelato while walking on Grafton Street during a cold winter day I was puzzled. I thought they were joking. But you know what, who cares, there's heating everywhere and it's a great treat to hold while Christmas window shopping (did I mention that Christmas here starts in early September? Which I LOVE).

Runners up: Sandwich for lunch, eating scones, going to discount supermarkets, eating cheddar cheese, boil in the bag rice, using teapots.

But I won't lie, not everything has been so catchy for me, and there are a few things that I still find odd, or just plain unpleasant.

1. Having chips or chicken with pizza: chips with pizza? really? Besides it being a carbs overdose, just doesn't make any sense. Nor I understand the point of adding chicken as a topping to pizza. For me, it ruins it. Sorry not sorry.

2. Ordering fried chicken in an "Italian" takeaway: The one thing that I just don't get about takeaways (which as I stated in the first part of the post, I love) is how so many places advertise as "Italian" and they are actually a mix of pizza, kebabs, chinese and fish and chips. Mamma mia, WTF! I used to look for risotto or lasagna on their menus unkowingly of the situation, but now I see that if I want real Italian food, I better go out or make it myself.

3. Drinking energy drinks and sports drinks without doing sports: I see them in the bus, in shops on the streets... Seems like everyone likes to drink these drinks instead of plain water. Now that I think about it, I don't see many people drinking just plain water. I don't like energy drinks, and I just don't see myself adapting this habit.

4. Breakfast rolls: This bomb ussually include the ingredients of a traditional Irish breakfast (which is awesome), but all squeezed together in a half baguette (which is just too much). I'm not a vegetarian, but there is something about a roll filled with rashers, black pudding, bacon, sausage and butter that doesn't feel right to me.

5. Brunch at 2pm: Brunch is a word that combines "breakfast" and "lunch", so logic would dictate that is done between those hours (I like it around 10 or 11 am). But noooooooo, not in here. Not even the restaurants are ready for brunch in the morning (most open at noon). So if you have it at lunch time, then why is it called brunch? Is just lunch. Just luch. Really. 

Runners up: crisps sandwiches, tomato soup, rocky roads (and many candy-covered traybakes), 

Are there any eating habits you've adopted after moving to a new country? 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The ultimate guide to finding Venezuelan food in Ireland

Venezuelan food is relatively unknown outside Venezuela, and even though this is changing and in the last few years many Venezuelans have opened different types of food businesses all across the globe, it's still hard to find in Ireland.
Unless, you know where to look.
Gathering information from social media (mostly Facebook) I compiled this list, which is a work in progress (please contact me if you'd like to be included or know something that should be noted). In here, I hope to help you find the different options that several Venezuelan cooks, entrepreneurs and bakers are making fresh in the emerald island.

Comida Venezolana Take Away
Description: Homemade vegan traditional Venezuelan cuisine. Especialises in typical menu (pabellon) with vegan mechada (shreded seasoned veggies).
Contact: 083 161 7125
Delivery: Yes.

More information

Como en Casa Venezolana
Description: Seasonal Venezuelan food, especializes in Christmas food, in particular, hallacas (cornbread stuffed with beef and pork sweet & savory stew).
November and December only.
Contact: 083 457 1169
Delivery: No.
More Information

Sabanero Venezuelan Artisan Cheese
Description: Traditional Venezuelan-style hard and semi-hard white cheese and "suero" (salted buttermilk) made with natural ingredients in Galway. They also make  ready to cook cachapas (sweet corn flat bread) dough.
Contact: 089 441 7292
Delivery: Meeting point in Dublin's City Centre, delivery can be arranged.
More Information

Sabor & Garlic
Description: Traditional and modern Venezuelan dishes, catering service. Made by Venezuelan chef Nestor Montes.
Contact: 085 281 9663
Delivery: Take Away (meeting point agreed).
More Information

Caro's Food
Description: A mix of international food and Venezuelan specialities. Novelty and wedding cakes, traditional and gluten/sugar free sweets and confections. Catering and finger food (including tequeños a.k.a. Venezuelan cheese rolls).
Contact: 085 281 9663
Delivery: Take Away (meeting point agreed)
More Information

Gachi Cake
Description: Homemade cakes, novelty cakes, quesillo (flan), tres leches cake, arroz con leche (rice pudding). Also, Venezuelan-style finger food (including tequeños a.k.a. Venezuelan cheese rolls).
Contact: 083 193 0873
Delivery: Take Away, delivery can be arranged.
More Information
Al Punto Snacks
Description: Catering for events of all sizes. Venezuelan and Latin American style finger food, canapes and pastries.
Contact: 087 386 6683
Delivery: Yes.
More Information
Description: Venezuelan and South American style sweets, biscuits and confectionery. Especializes in dulce de leche (arequipe, cajeta, milk caramel spread).
Contact: 086 371 2096
Delivery: Can be arranged.
More Information

Bonus Points!
While compiling this list, I ran into another interesting food business, not exactly Venezuelan, but nearby (Brazil).

Description: Balanced, natural, protein rich ready to eat meals, especially created for people with active lifestyles.
Contact: 089 982 1038
Delivery: Yes.
More Information

More bonus points
Also, there are some Dublin based businesses with Venezuelans cooking, that have allowed them certain room for creativity, so you might find an occasional taste from home in the menu.

Sasha House Pettite: Cafe, deli and bakery where Eastern European and French influeces converge, and thanks to the pastry chef Nancy Dayana, you can find some Venezuelan and Latinoamerican style treats every now and then. Her eclairs have been praised by local experts, including a great review from Lovin Dublin.
More Information

KC Peaches (Nassau Street): Cafe and restaurant/wine cave, with an international mix of offers. Venezuelan chef David Ochoa is behind a Venezuelan Night where traditional food is served and paired with the restaurant's wines.

Finally, as I said in the beginning, this is a work in progress and, if you'd like to be included in the list (or know a business that it's not here and should be) please let me know! 
Whether you're...
A chef of pastry chef slowly sneaking Venezuelan recipes at your workplace's menu, 
An entrepreneur trying to launch a product or selling it at farmers markets and through social media.
A person who simply loves cooking and sells some tasty, well made homemade goodies.
Please keep in touch. Venezuelan foodies in Ireland say hi!