Dining Solo in Santiago – fine dining at Borago

Dining solo in Santiago – Borago

Staying on in Santiago for a few days after my travelling companions depart gives me a wonderful opportunity to try out some of Chile’s finest food and drink, as well as testing Chilean service attitudes to solo diners. And Borago, rated in the top 50 South American restaurants, does not disappoint. One of the nicest touches is being seated with a clear view of the kitchen at work – combine this with the conversation with the staff around every plate (and bottle) as they were brought out and described one by one, and for once there was no need of the solo diner’s crutch, the book to read between courses.

I loved each and every plate, the great intensity of flavours plus the humour of the plating –  if I had to pick favourites from this night, they would be both the savoury and sweet mushroom dishes and the conger eel.

Starting with the snacks

The degustation is described as 10 dishes, but that doesn’t include the 6 “snacks” offered first, in two sets of three.

The first includes a potted cactus breadstick made from black lipped oysters; abalone and seaweed between crunchy papery thin crackers; and the unusual local shellfish, piure, filled with mandarine.

The second is a dish call “pig in stone” including a crackling cracker; a pate filled bricohe made to look like a popular breakfast sweet; and a take on the standard marraqueta (bread roll) and pepper paste, including a layer of ash on the paste, with the bread roll coming in a paper bag, as though I’m about to take it to work for lunch. With the snacks came Laurent Zapphire, Viognier 2013, D.O. Padre Hurtado.

Starting the main menu:

  1. Crudo of Venison from Patagonia (Deer tartare) was almost hidden under its forest of standing edible leaves – with a glass of Aquitania, Sol de Sol, Chardonnoir, 2010, D.O. Malleco.
  2. Salad of Plants from the Andes includes tiny apples and fermented quinoa, with a side of frozen snow – with Zarander Muscat, 2011, D.O. Itata.
  3. Chupe of Wild Pine Mushrooms is the most intensely rich flavoured mushroom pate, with mushroom crackers and edible wild leaves – with Polkura, G+ 1, Syrah, 2010, D.O. Marchigue, Colchagua.
  4. the Quails Nest is the most spectacular plating, with the edible nest, straw and egg nestled into a small tree, bonsai style.

    The menu then moves into the “rock sequence” with:

  5. Cremoso of rock plants, samphire/sea asparagus,  – with Koyle, Costa, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, D.O. Colchagua.
  6. Conger Eel (a saltwater eel from the ocean) in Quintay cooked with the blackened wrapping layer on the left, with a strong fishy paste covering the rock on the right – with Close Des Fous, Pucalan Arenaria, Pinot Noir, 2013 D.O. Aconcagua Costa.
  7. Veal in milk from a specific farm in Parral, – with  Re, Syragnan, Ensamblaje 2012, D.O.Casablanca

     And then the desserts

  8. Camanchaca and Rica Rica from Atacama – the coastal fog (camanchaca) inspires the egg in the atacama bush, while the the pink Rica-Rica flowers cover a sweet yoghurt dessert log among the stones.
  9. White Strawberries from Puren with sheeps milk ice-cream and an acidic herbal frozen snow – with Erasmo, Late Harvest, Torrontel 2010, Maule Leche de Alpiste-Melisa
  10. And the dessert of Pine Mushrooms – yes, a mushroom ice-cream, it is sweet, rich and delicious, with a sand of nuts and spices – with a Gonzales Bastias, Matorral, pais 2012, D.O. Maule Ulpo de Almendras – Safas.
  11. plus the surprise ‘frio glacial’, which looks like a spoon of ice-cream, and sends frozen vapour out your mouth and nose, a nice chocolately-mint to freshen at the end, you can’t help but laugh.



What (and where) has been your favourite “great food, great price” restaurant find in your travels?


Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, I paid full price for this meal, and at $99 including matching wines it has to be the steal of the century! see here for my full disclosure policy

4 good reasons to go to Kep, Cambodia

The perfect recipe for a joint birthday party with your best friend – travel with a group of friends and family to Kep, on the south coast of Cambodia. Which is exactly what my BFF Helen and I did recently. Why did we pick Kep? I’ve been there before and liked it a lot, it’s hot and coastal and very laid back. And it has a few extra attractions to seal the deal.

1. Crabs and peppercorns

Kep is famous for it’s bountiful supply of delicious crab. Next to the fish markets in town are a row of crab/seafood restaurants, built out over the sea on stilts. There is no better way to have dinner than to pick one of these restaurants and order up a large serve of crab in peppercorn sauce (Kampot peppercorns are another local speciality). Wash it all down with cold beers while listening to the sea wash under your floorboards, and get your hands very sticky pulling apart a dozen or so freshly cooked crabs, cut in half and covered in sauce. Or maybe the squid in peppercorn sauce for a change? There may be a power-cut while you are eating, it doesn’t matter, candle light will do nicely.

2. Kep Lodge

There has been a big increase of accommodation in Kep in the last three years (from a low base), but I’m sticking with my original favourite, Kep Lodge. A boutique lodge with only a handful of cabins and a big open air communal restaurant/bar and  pool, it’s a couple of hundreds of metres back up the hill, amongst lush vegetation, and it’s great value too – very affordable and very comfortable. My front deck with its armchairs and hammock was a great excuse for a siesta, and the pool and bar were both good options to cool off.

3. Rabbit Island

View my previous post to see why this is such a bonus: Rabbit Island.

4. Kep fish markets

In addition to spending lunch or dinner in the crab restaurants, a visit next door to the fish markets is a must-do. This is a true village market, with locals selling to locals, although there are often a few tourists with cameras wandering around as well. The crab traps are brought ashore here and their bounty immediately put up for sale, as well as the current catch of squid and a variety of fish. Many locals come here for a meal fresh off the BBQ, and it’s great lunch option for us too. There are stalls for clothes, shoes, homewares, basic electronics, and plenty of fruit and veges. And you can’t miss the durian, the smell is impossible to ignore. It’s a small market and a great place to browse, people watch, and chat with the locals.

Where would you like to have your next birthday party?

Eat Drink Hunter Valley

Top six tips for eating and drinking well in the Hunter Valley.

Mmmm, wine and food. Always gets my attention. The Hunter Valley is about a two and a half hour drive from Sydney and is a well known vineyard area, although historically not one of my favourite ones (I’m not a fan of the region’s most famous wine, Semillon, and I find the average Hunter shiraz a bit green, but that’s just me). Australia is blessed with many amazing wine making areas (and wine makers), enough for everyone to have their own favourites. One advantage the Hunter Valley does have is that it is the closest winemaking area to Sydney, and is a popular day-trip or weekender destination.

So when I am invited along on a long weekend with friends who happen to have great taste in food and wine, I answer with a very quick & resounding “Yes”. After three days and nights of sampling some of the best of the Hunter, here are my tips:

  1. What goes really well with wine? Cheese! The Smelly Cheese Shop at 188 Broke Rd, Pokolbin is a ‘must visit’.  Not just for your cheese supplies, it also has a large and tempting range of other delicatessen items, an amazing range of gelato flavours, and a barista making you a fresh cup of coffee. Stock up for a picnic lunch or a dinner at your accommodation. This comes in particularly handy if you are planning to cook dinner in, and the entire neighbourhood has a power cut from 6:30pm for about 3 hours – with an endless supply of wine and good cheeses, plus a roaring fireplace, this becomes a positive, not a negative. (yep, that really happened).
  2. Brokenwood Vineyard is a Hunter Valley icon, with a very friendly and professional cellar door.  They are also a stand out exception to my “shiraz is too green” rule for the Hunter – Brokenwood make a wonderful range of sophisticated, well balanced shiraz, including their flagship Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz (94 points Robert Parker for the enthusiasts out there). If there is a group of you, and you want to taste some of their top end wines, phone ahead and book into the private tasting room and get the special treatment. One new tip I picked up there was that in winter, the staff liked to drink the Tawny (can’t call it port any more) warmed up – 20 seconds in the microwave in a small glass will do it, perfect when there is a frost settling in overnight. Oh, and Brokenwood is just across the road and about 20 metres down from the Smelly Cheese shop – very convenient.
  3. I don’t know if he is there all the time but there was a man with a market garden stall outside the petrol station on the outskirts of Cessnock (on Wine Country Drive), we stocked up on boxes of fantastic in-season mandarins, tomatoes, and apples. (Good for the one token healthy thing for the weekend).
  4. On the way into Cessnock is a garden centre called Simply D’vine, with a sign boasting “best coffee in the Hunter Valley”. This is not an idle boast, and you don’t need to take my word for it, as every local we talked to agreed strongly with this hypothesis. The garden centre is fun to visit and has a variety of market stalls and shops inside as well, but the real gem is the cafe, also called Simply D’vine. Open for breakfast and lunch, the quality of the food is outstanding. Between us we sampled a plate of Parfait Liver on brioche toast with a beetroot relish, and the creamiest mushrooms on toast with soft boiled eggs – the aroma had us salivating for many minutes before the dish arrived. Spoiler alert – get into this place soon, it can only be a matter of time before this chef opens his own restaurant and does dinner service as well, but for right now we know where to find him.
  5. It’s a frosty Sunday morning, with clear blue skies and a warm middle of the day. What to do? How about a 40 minute stroll in the sun down the backroads to Beltree Restaurnat for a long, lovely lunch, and then another 40 minute stroll home again. Yep, that’s a good plan. Beltree Restaurant (Hermitage Rd) bills itself as rustic italian (couple Jess and Guy, the front of house and chef respectively, previously lived in Positano where Guy trained under a Michelin starred chef). The adobe building used to be a cellar door, with a de rigour cosy fireplace. The food is rich but not too heavy . How about  King Mushrooms, truffled potato mayonnaise & soft egg? Or a roast pork share platter of various cuts of suckling pig & belly, pork sausage, apples and prune? Or maybe balsamic duck with beets, chard, chilli, almonds and grapes? Or maybe go all out, share all of them and wash it down with some Otago pinot noir and big Tuscan reds. For a few hours. Yes, a good plan indeed. A good thing we were walking home afterward, although we probably were staying a bit too close for it to really help.
  6. And in case all of that is not quite self indulgent enough, try staying at the Thistle Hill cottage. It strikes me that the word ‘cottage’ may be a bit of an understatement for a luxurious building with two large bedrooms and private ensuites, at either end of a large dining/lounge area (with a splendid wood burner fireplace of course). The breakfast is deservedly quite famous here, but I won’t reveal their secrets, you’ll have to go try it for yourself.

I’ve definitely warmed to the Hunter Valley after this trip. We just scratched the surface, it would take a couple of weeks to try all the food and wine options, but it was a pretty good start. So give me some tips for next time – which places did you enjoy when you went to the Hunter?

Degustation relaxation in Mendoza, Argentina

Wine tasting can be a tiring business, it needs real stamina. Mendoza is quite rightly a world renowned wine region,and I have already spent a day exploring and tasting by car, and another day of the same by bicycle. Now I feel the need for a little time out. My lodge owner comes up with two suggestions for me. I can either spend a day rock-climbing, or I can do a long degustation lunch at a winery restaurant (with matching wines of course).

ready for the degustation to begin
ready for the degustation to begin

Surprisingly I chose the long lunch. Now that might not sound very different to wine tasting, but this time I can sit in one spot for hours and it all comes to me, instead of getting in and out of a car door dozens of times in a day. So off I go to the Casa Del Visitante, at the Familia Zuccardi Vineyard for a spot of degustation relaxation.

The hardest thing I have to do all day is decide whether I am going for the 8 course or 12 course degustation. With a rare sense of restraint, I choose the 8 course menu (with 6 matching wines). My table is in a prime spot in a room with floor to ceiling glass and a view over the vineyards, on a sunny blue day. At times I am so distracted by the view and the food that I forget to take photos!

Cured trout from Tupungato with caramelised peas and kefir. This is a lovely light start.
Santa Julia Torrontés 

Cured Trout
Cured Trout

Lamb sweetbreads with sunflower seeds ice-cream and sweet eggplant foam.
Corn creme brûlée with brie, tomato marmalade and lamb’s kidneys. I can thank Colin Fassnidge at 4Fourteen in Sydney for getting me over my offal aversion, so that I am now excited instead of scared to see these dishes on a menu.
Santa Julia Reserva Bonarda 

Corn Creme Brûlée with lambs kidneys
Corn Creme Brûlée with lambs kidneys

Crunchy yolk wrap with tomato fondue and bacon chips. I still have no idea how they achieved a runny yolk inside a crunchy cooked filo, but it was delicious!

Crunchy yolk wrap
Crunchy yolk wrap

Lamb ravioli with smoked corn cream and crunchy leek. Crunchy leek, say no more.
Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda

Braised lamb rump with truffled beans puree. This is the most substantial of the courses, the rump is large and rich and delicious, and I realise that I am very very full already.
Zuccardi Q Cabernet Sauvignon 

Braised Lamb Rump with truffled beans puree
Braised Lamb Rump with truffled beans puree

And then there are 3 desserts to finish me off:

Torrontés grappa and raspberry sorbet with tangerine and cardamon gelee. Alcoholic sorbet and gel lollies are colourful and fun

Roasted squash tagliatelle in torrontés, cinnamon mousse, Malamado viognier and apple infusion. The sweetness of the squash makes it a great dessert ingredient.

roast squash tagliatelle (dessert)
roast squash tagliatelle (dessert)

Coffee truffle filled with chocolate and black olives, mascarpone and vanilla sauce, white brownie mousse. Maybe I am just too full by this stage but I wasn’t as wowed by this dish, the olives seemed overpowering in it.

Malamado Voignier

Coffee Truffle
Coffee Truffle

Mmmmm… time for a slow wander around the vineyard (to aid digestion) and then back to the lodge for a light nap I think. This has been a delicious and interesting way to wile away a few hours of the day, one that I would happily repeat.

Garagistes, the best way to spend a Sunday in Hobart

I am talking with my travel buddy about our coming long weekend in Hobart, Tasmania: “What shall we do on the Sunday?”. “We could rent a car and catch the ferry to Bruny island”. “Or go for a wine tasting drive”. “Maybe go to Port Arthur, get some history”. “How about a long Sunday lunch with the set menu at Garagistes?”. “Perfect, what could say Tasmania better than that!” 

And so we do. Forget “sightseeing”, I firmly believe the best way to get under the skin of Tasmania is to eat and drink, and right now there is nowhere better to do that than at Garagistes. Chef Luke Burgess, who did a stint at the world’s current no 1 restaurant, Noma, a couple of years ago, and his partners, have turned an old auto garage into a cool industrial dining and bar space. All black, brick and industrial, matched with sensuous pottery plates and bowls in all shades of grey scattered over large communal tables, Garagistes have been earning praise for their food and wine ever since they opened. The wine list is mainly natural biodynamic wines, and the food philosophy is cooking seasonally with local produce. The outcome is reputedly some of the most exciting food being served in Australia, and we want to sample it. There’s also a no booking policy, except for their renowned Sunday lunch.

A quick 15 minute stroll from Salamanca Place and we are pushing open the large heavy stylish steel door and are seated at one of the communal tables, with an aircraft engine sized heater located not too far away from us, keeping the Hobart winter chill away. Over the next three and a half hours, the following six courses, plus the warmth of service, kept us delighted, amused and satiated.

  1. Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato and heirloom radishes – the tonnato was a splendid mayonnaise enriched with fatty tuna belly.
    Tea brined quails eggs, tonnato + heirloom radishes
  2. Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress and saltbush – I was delighted to find a dish making leeks the hero!
    Chargrilled leek, horseradish curd, bay oil, truffled egg yolk, land cress + saltbush at Garagistes
  3. Poached striped trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon – a feast of strong creamy flavours
    Poached Striped Trumpeter, almond cream, toasted rice, chickweed, duck bouillon at Garagistes
  4. Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow – melt in the mouth richness, except the celeriac – it had been roasted in salt and was way too salty for my liking.
    Roasted onglet, smoked beetroot puree, roast celeriac, pickled onion, bone marrow at Garagistes
  5. Garagistes washed rind cheese – perfectly ripe and runny
    Garagistes washed rind cheese
  6. Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat – sublime cream and crunch mix.
    Pannacotta tradizionale, whey caramel, hazelnut, puffed buckwheat
  7. Accompanied by a french chardonnay, a local pinot noir, and in my case a Pedro Ximenez with dessert – thats some sightseeing I’d love to do every weekend! 

Did I really eat that? – weird and wonderful food in my travels

Discovering the local food has always one of my great enjoyments while travelling. Last weeks #TTOT reminded me of some of the more weird and wonderful foods I have come across in my travels, and also reminded me how one person’s weird is another person’s normal – it really depends on what you grew up eating.
Weird & wonderful food - bugs on sticks

Some of my favourite foods I only discovered while travelling (or at least discovered how good they could be in their home country compared to our westernised versions). I loathed oysters until I tried a freshly shucked Sydney rock oyster off a friend’s plate and ended up having to order him another dozen. Then there was ceviche in Peru and sashimi in Japan – yes, raw fish does feature a lot for me. There was the excitement of trying my first real pasta in Italy, first real burrito in Mexico, first banana pancake in Thailand, first chicken tikka in Pakistan, first croissant in France. Or the entire food menu of South East Asia, which has changed my tastebuds forever. But not everything I’ve tried went on to become a favourite, here’s a few of the weird and wonderful, the bad and the fabulous, that I  may never have sampled if I had not been travelling.

  1. Snails and frog legs.

    Perhaps surprisingly my first taste of snails was not in France, it was in Morocco – djemaa el fna in Marrakesh to be precise. Wandering the stalls for dinner, I was dared to try the bbq’d snails dripping in garlic butter – by a pasty-faced englishman who prided himself on only eating meat and spuds, with no seasoning. So of course I did, and they were a revelation – let’s face it, anything tastes great dripping in garlic butter. At least I went to Paris to try the frogs legs – just like chicken really. I’ve eaten snails many times since but the frog legs were a one-off.
    Weird & wonderful food - frogs

  2. Squashed prawn heads.

    In Tokyo, enjoying a teppanyaki feast, where the chef kept up a flow of dishes, chopping off the prawn heads and serving up succulent prawn tails in many ways. Then he gathered the prawn heads, smashed them flat on the hot plate so that the brains(?) ran out, fried them to a crisp and handed them over. I really wanted to try them and to not be squeamish, but I only managed half of one – it actually just tasted like a prawn chip but I couldn’t get past the texture (and the antennae).

  3. Tripe.

    I have one firm food rule – no offal (except pate, which I adore – oh well, rules are made to be broken). An overconfidence in my spanish skills lead to me ordering a cheap set price menu in Trujillo, Peru. I couldn’t quite figure out what the meat main was but using a process of elimination of the meats that I did know in Spanish, I decided it must be veal. It wasn’t, it was tripe. That was a very hungry day for me.

  4. Silkworm pupae.

    I had a great day at an open air cooking school in Luang Prabang, Laos, learning to cook delicious chilli hot local specialties. Then our chef threw a handful of small white bug/caterpillar things onto the hotplate, gave them a quick fry-up and offered us a taste. “This is the favourite snack food of all our local children” he said, “they take handfuls of these to school with them every day to snack on”. Well, if it’s good enough for the children. After all, I am a Kiwi, we eat huhu grubs in NZ (except me, never had one). So I pop one in my mouth, send my mind to its happy place and bite down. Yum, crunchy, warm, delicious. I grab a handful and try some more. I might have to try one of those huhu grubs next time I am back in NZ.

  5. Cuy.

    it’s the national dish of Peru, so in Cusco I decide it’s time to try roast cuy. The cuy is a type of guinea pig. I try not to remember that as I order roast cuy for dinner. It gets served whole, lying on it’s back, little feet sticking up, little eyes looking at me. Thank goodness I am a farmer’s daughter – carve up the cuy breast meat and dive on in, it’s like a gamey chicken, and makes an enjoyable dinner.
    Weird & wonderful food - hamster

  6. Armadillo.

    I can’t even remember where I ate this, it might’ve been Mexico or Guatemala. I remember many of the small villages would stop the local buses using a makeshift tollgate, and we would be swarmed by food sellers. There was always a couple of people selling live armadillos, tied up like a live chicken at a market might be. But no, this is not a story of how I bought, killed and cooked my own armadillo. I did however try a dish of armadillo in a restaurant, I’m fairly sure it was in Flores, near Tikal, in Guatemala. Tasted like chicken, looked like crocodile.

  7. Chicken Feet.

    First sampled in London’s Chinatown as part of our Sunday ritual. Tastes so much better than it looks – it’s like the crunchy fatty chicken skin without the healthy white meat under it. Yummmm.
    Weird & wonderful food - Chicken feet

  8. Piranha.

    Staying at a lodge in the Amazon, fishing with basic hooks and line, there was something deeply satisfying about catching piranha and having the cook dish them up as our dinner stew later on that evening. Piranha are small fish with really big teeth, so while catching them was easy, taking them off the hook was a job reserved for the expert, to avoid too many lost fingers. They are not a good eating fish, each fish delivers up two fillets only an inch or two in size, so it’s a good thing we caught lots of them. That day, it was tourists 1, piranha 0.

  9. All things hoofed.

    I am going to hand number 9 over to East & South Africa and the amazing array of red meat, especially on the hoof. A nightly menu choice of springbok, eland, impala, kudu, gazelle, oryx, eventually I felt that I had sampled every member of the antelope family except bambi. I even extended the list to zebra, ostrich and crocodile. Some was old and tough, but most were delicious.

  10. The one that got away.

    In Beijing, at the Wangfujing night markets, there was a bizarre array of things on sticks – sea horses, scorpions, cockroaches. While most of us foreigners seemed intrigued, I only saw (older) local men actually bite into any of these. I wimped out completely and went for the “toffee grapes” stick – like toffee apples but with grapes – perfect!

So what local delicacies have you tried, and where?

Eat Drink Venice

Tourist pizza Venice
It is all too easy to go to Venice (or anywhere in Italy) and sit outdoors at a café, under an umbrella, on a plastic wicker chair – just like at home at a cheap Italian themed chain restaurant. And the food will be as bad (and more expensive) than those same theme restaurants at home. But it doesn’t have to be like that, just watch where the locals seem to go and give that a try instead. Back when I was a young backpacker I was pretty happy with over-cheesy, over-greasy faux-italian, but now I want to find the genuine local food, I want to eat and drink well in Venice.

First: What not to do.

There was a tourist restaurant, right next to my hotel, a block from Plaza San Marco (the Hotel Al Ponti dei Sospiri was brilliant by the way). On my first evening, succumbing to jet lag and sore feet from walking, I decided this would be good enough. It wasn’t. I didn’t make that mistake again for the rest of my stay. If the menu looks a lot like this one above at Trattoria Canonica, if it is headed “Pizza + Soft Drink” and has a special price in a big star, it’s probably best to avoid it.

5 ways to eat and drink well in Venice.
Venice Bacari
  1. The markets. Head to the Rialto markets first thing in the morning and stock up on your own supplies from the fruit and vege stalls and specialty stores. Bread, cheese, cured meats, sweet treats, can all be picked up for a picnic breakfast or lunch, sitting under a tree in cobblestoned square, or watching out over a canal. It’s all fresh, it’s tasty and there’s a huge variety
  2. Caffeine. No surprise that Italians do coffee well, and as I love my coffee black, I was in coffee heaven in the morning, sampling perfect little expresso and ristretto. For the best coffee go into the little ‘stand up” bars, where the patrons order and then drink their coffee while standing up at the bar – don’t look for sit-down coffee shops. A bonus first thing in the morning was finding I was drinking my coffee while standing next to Gondoliers, resplendent in their black and white stripes, who were knocking back their expresso shots and then putting some muscle into getting a perfect shine on the paintwork and gilding of their gondolas- fun to watch while drinking my coffee.
  3. Drinks. Prosecco is my local summer favourite, and of course you can’t be in Venice and not try the Bellini – Prosecco and peach nectar. You can pay a small fortune for bad service at the famous Harry’s Bar, or pay only half a fortune at any flash outdoor waterfront bar on the bigger canals, which is a nice way to watch the sun set in the evening. In cooler months I found there are some great red wines to sample from the surrounding region, particularly the pinot noirs (Pinot Nero).  
    Venice Bacari
  4. Bacari. These are the local taverns, mainly small, hole-in-the-wall places. Many double as stand up coffee bars in the morning. But it’s not just drinks, they also serve a selection of appetisers or small dish snacks, called cichetti in Venetian dialect. (It sounds something like “cheekattee” with accent on “a”.) You can create your own dinner or graze from one Bacari to another. Some may also have tables to sit at, some may have a dinner menu in addition to the cichetti, but most customers will be standing at the bar, ordering their wine and their desired snacks. It’s fair to say that I fell in love this this style of establishment, food, and drink, and sampled far too many of them. The variety and quality was amazing. Here’s some of the cichetti I sampled:
    1. a single boiled egg skewered with an anchovy,
    2. fresh sardines in tomato sauce
    3. Calamari in black ink sauce
    4. numerous versions of bruschetta – tomato, salmon and cheese; gorgonzola and walnut; raw white fish with tomato; prosciutto;.
    5. and the places I ate at included
      1. Al Stagneri on Calle dei Stagneri. It also has an amazing roof inside  – look up from your bar stool.
      2. Osteria De Carla in a laneway off Frezzaria – you’ll see it at the end of the tunnel, the bruschetta selection was phenomenal and went well with a cool prosecco; it also has a sit-down restaurant part but I didn’t try that.
      3. Bar Piccolo Martini, also on Frezzaria, had beautiful dainty fresh little sandwiches.
  5. Restaurants – I was very happy sticking to Bacari for lunch and dinner every day, until I stopped off at a cool wine bar for a late afternoon glass one day. Not only was the wine bar and it’s wine list lovely, but it was part of a cool restaurant with a mouth watering menu. I decided to splash out for the evening. The place was Osteria-Enoteca San Marco, on Frezzaria just west of San Marco Square – it was a modern take on Italian cooking, I can still taste the perfect gorgonzola and asparagus soufflé I had there.

Do you have a favourite spot to eat in Venice -do share!

Spicy cooking secrets of Zanzibar

This is a full immersion cooking class. I’m quashed into the back seat of the dala-dala(local minivan buses), escorted by the chatty Heelal and the quieter Sa’id, on my way to Afura’s house on the outskirts of Stonetown.  Heelal is one of the people who have set up this network of mothers who take tourists directly into their homes and teach them staple Zanzibar dishes. It gives the family a new way to earn money and us a chance to experience a small slice of their life. I’m also marvelling at how a thirteen seater van can so easily accommodate twenty  two passengers.

Cooking class in Zanzibar village
Cooking class in Zanzibar village

A curry cook-up

Travelling through Tanzania provides many opportunities to try the local curries. The Zanzibar version has no curry powder or tumeric at all, it focuses on the spices that grow on the island, and I’m here to learn to cook it. In a large pot over the charcoal brazier, we add a sliced onion into the hot oil. I struggle to peel and roughly chop three potatoes and a small eggplant with a blunt knife, at least it is easier to grind a generous amount of garlic and raw ginger with the mortar and pestle – using at least half a handful of each, more if I want a strong curry. A further wrestle with the knife as I peel and chop three tomatoes and it’s all added to the pot over the hot coals. After five minutes of cooking weadd a peeled and chopped mango – firm but not green. A couple more minutes and we add 5 tbsp of tomato paste and then mix in a cup of water to get the right consistency.

The final ingredient is four small fried fish. We use sardines, crispy fried, but any small strongly flavoured fish will do it’s similar to adding fish sauce in other parts of the world. It simmers until the potatoes are soft, and then we take it off the heat and let it settle while we prepare the other dishes, including the chapatis to mop it up with.

Cooking class in Zanzibar village
Cooking class in Zanzibar village

Spicy samosas.

This is another dish adapted to Zanzibar’s plentiful spice supply, and easier to master than the chapatis. By this stage I have lost all feeling in my legs while sitting on a very low wooden stool. We peel four potatoes, chop into four pieces, boil till soft and then mash. Meanwhile we finely slice a red onion, and in the mortar we pound together two tbsp each of cardamon and cloves and two tsp of rock salt. All of these are added to the mash and set aside until the pastry is ready.

The dough is much easier to make than the chapati dough. Afura rubs 3 tbsp of soft butter into 2 cups of plain flour. We start adding about 1/2 a cup of water, bit by bit, kneading it in as we go until the dough is smooth, but not elastic like the chapati. We divide the dough into small golf ball sized balls. Each ball is rolled out into a rough rectangle about 10-12 inches long and 4 inches wide, and then cut into 3 rough squares. A spoonful of mash is placed in the centre of each square, and then the dough is folded in half diagonally over the mash, and the two unfolded sides are folded over again to seal the samosa. Now its time to cook in a deep pot of very hot oil – we test the heat by adding a small piece of spare dough first, if it puffs up and cooks immediately, the oil is hot enough. We cook in batches until golden brown on the outside, and stack on a plate to drain.

Cooking class in Zanzibar village
Cooking class in Zanzibar village

Eating the spoils of the cooking.

Lets face it, one of the best things about a cooking class is eating the dishes afterwards, and my mouth has been watering for a while over all these amazing spice smells we have been cooking up. So its time to rip off some chapati and use it to scoop up some curry, nibble on a samosa and wash it all down with cups of masala tea. Its all delicious, and luckily we’ve cooked large quantities which means the extended family all get to eat it as well. I sit cross legged on the floor with two of the men, Sa’id and one of Afura’s sons. I ask if Afura is joining us for the meal, and Sa’id tells me that she isn’t, as she is not hungry now. The penny drops and I ask if, as a Muslim household, the men and women always eat separately, and Sa’id tells me that they do. I ask then why am I eating with them, and they reply that it is OK for a female guest to eat with the men. I suspect they mean that they are prepared to ignore their customs when it is a paying guest, but it’s their house and their rules, so I tuck into my little feast, happy that half of each dish we have made has been taken to  the next door room where the woman are eating. At least I get to pay the pre-agreed price directly to Afura, for her to split amongst the others involved, so I leave hoping that in spite of the eating arrangements, she has some real control over this business.

Cooking classes are still an embryonic business in Zanzibar, so if you are interested in doing a cooking course you may be able to arrange it through your hotel, or I can recommend you arrange it direct with Heelal:

Heelal Tours & Safaris Ltd; Mr Denge, Manager;  Mobile +255 7733 20121;  email dengeramadhan@hotmail.com