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Category: travel

Vietnamese Coffee and First Impressions

It’s ironic how “they” always say that first impressions are the ones that count. I think it’s not really always true, or at least not always accurate…but here are mine of Vietnam.

When we landed, a car was waiting to pick us up to take us to the hotel. We were escorted in style with comfortable air-conditioning through a busy road lined by rice patties and fields. But as we drove, it was hard to soak in all the contrasting views. Here we were sitting in a luxury automobile with the driver and one of the concierge ladies from the hotel, with wifi included so we could get online or make a phone call (like we did on Skype to my parents), while outside there were a complex array of views passing by. The road was full of vespas and motorbikes, loaded with not only people (most wearing masks to protect against pollution and air contaminants) but everything you can imagine; the rice patties on the sides of the road brought images of a quintessential Asia seen in travel and history books; the houses looked like something out of a European fairy tale crossed with Indian or South American influence, with their very tall and many-storied look and colourful facades; and yet through this semblance of peacefulness, there is an underlying chaos all around with horns honking, fumes blowing out of cars and motorbikes, and even a water buffalo or two trying to cross the same road we were driving on.

Vietnam is a country trying to embrace and adapt to the modern world, yet it is riddled with a political system that would seem anything but Communist (everyone seems to be an entrepreneur) and a history that usually equates to invasions, suffering and wars. The Vietnamese seems like a strong and resilient people; a people with hope and hard-working ethics; and a people who want to bring their nation into the 21st century quicker maybe than they are really prepared for.

I couldn’t help but think all of this, and kept rehashing that only about 30 years ago, this country was at war, and one of the bloodiest and most tragic wars remembered in recent history. From a Vietnamese perspective, especially in the north, the latest war is called the American War, and was started by the invasion of the Americans. They have also been invaded on numerous occasions by China, from whom they have a rich historical legacy, and by the French.

But on the street, all that one sees is a frenetic kaleidoscope of colour, people, mopeds, and rapid movement, sprinkled with elements of an ancient culture, which is still very strongly pulsating.

So, my first impressions of this beautiful country were anything but orderly (what a contrast from “alles ist in Ordnung” mentality of the Germans!).  And to make matters a bit more disconcerting, I was suffering from jet lag and lack of sleep from our 12-hour flight from London and our little excursion into Macau (I’ll share about that soon, as well as a delicious recipe).

I was in serious need of sleep, but too excited to get any. And, so once at the hotel, I ventured out to see a pagoda and a temple along the West Lake of Hanoi.

I quickly learned that I should’ve gotten some rest, especially if I wanted to be lucid enough to remain alive on the streets. Crossing the road in Hanoi and Vietnam for that matter is a question of keeping calm, having a determination of steel, and carrying on…there are no rules of the road and very few traffic lights that are adhered to. Therefore, one must cross the street amidst hundreds of mopeds zooming by, other people crossing, and an incessant noise, as well as uncomfortable fumes lingering everywhere. I know a few friends back home, who probably wouldn’t venture out more than once in a chaos like this!

But being successful at the effort is definitely rewarding! There’s a magnificent world to be discovered if one does. The first pagoda I visited was Tran Quoc. It’s not the first one I’ve seen in my travels, but it was the first one in Vietnam. It’s quite impressive mostly because it’s on a little peninsula on the West Lake and is truly picturesque. I didn’t dare ask if photography was allowed, and simply started taking pictures and waited to be reprimanded. However, I never was and there were many other taking pictures, including locals. (I’m usually more respectful, mind you, but I was a bit tired to be coherent.)

After the pagoda, I walked along the tree-lined avenue to the end of the lake, where there was a temple to be discovered. Along the walk, locals were fishing with bamboo canes, selling exotic fruits and lounging around. It was all very peaceful, except it was constantly interrupted by the noise of all the mopeds driving by.

The Quan Thanh Temple dates from the 11th century and is one of the four sacred temples of Hanoi. Although it’s not as impressive as other temples, it’s worth a visit for its historical value, as well as being very close to the Ho Chi Mihn Mausoleum complex, which I realised a few days later when we visited that area.

Another important discovery, which helped me immensely with my jet lag and concentration is Vietnamese coffee! On my way back to the hotel, I just couldn’t keep my wits together any longer and had to stop for a strong dose of caffeine to wake me up. And wow, what a discovery! I love coffee. I love the aroma when it’s being ground and brewed. And although I could drink it more often than I regularly do, I don’t because I usually get very nervous with more than two cups. But Vietnamese coffee is different. It looks menacing with its dark colour, but as it’s a smoother version of Java, it’s easier on the nerves. Or at least, it seemed so to me.

The Vietnamese serve the coffee in a little cup brewer with condensed milk on the bottom. And although I’ve pretty much given up sugar, I couldn’t resist for two reasons: one, it was safer than drinking coffee with “fresh” milk; and two, it is simply delicious! And well, I must add a number three: I love anything different and drinking it as the locals do just made it more fun.

I had numerous Vietnamese coffees while in the country and even bought an individual brewer and some coffee. I just wish I would’ve bought a couple more brewers and also more coffee to last a while…

But fortunately, as the Vietnam Lonely Planet explains, Vietnamese coffee is exported all over the world. “The best grades are from Buon Ma Thuot and the beans are roasted in butter.” Maybe that’s the reason for the delicate aroma and smooth flavour? Additionally, LP points out, the following, which I didn’t pursue unfortunately, but found interesting: “Lovers of weasels and strange things should get their hands on ca phe chon (‘weasel coffee, No 8 of the signature Trung Nguyen brand). These coffee beans are fed to weasels first, then harvested from their droppings before being sold to you.” Ha! Now, that’s different alright! I, however, bought No 7 of the Trung Nguyen brand unknowingly, which probably has a less colourful process, but tastes just as delightful.

Over the course of the days we were in Hanoi, I managed to have at least two cups of coffee per day. And we even visited the Kinh Do Cafe, which is famous for being the setting of Catherine Deneuve’s morning coffee during the making of the film Indochine. If you’re in Hanoi, don’t bother, unless you’re a fanatic of the actress and want a picture of the film’s poster or are in the neighbourhood.  There are plenty of more inviting coffee shops in the city.

I did miss out on one opportunity though and that was trying caphe trung da, coffee with “a silky smooth beaten egg white” (and one could say a Vietnamese version of cappuccino)… so I had to try this at home and hope that it’s close to the original. 😉

CAPHE TRUNG DA

Ingredients:

1 cup of Vietnamese coffee

sweetened condensed milk to taste, or honey and milk to taste

1 egg white

Process:

Place a teaspoon or more of sweetened condensed milk or honey, if you prefer, in the bottom of the serving cup or glass.

Place the ground coffee in the Vietnamese brewer with piping hot water over a cup or glass. (If you do not have a brewer, use your regular coffee method to serve yourself a cup of coffee.) Allow all the water to pass through the brewer. (Add milk at this time as well.)

Beat egg white until stiff peaks form and place over the brewed coffee.  Serve immediately. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if so desired.

(I have to admit that without the sweetened condensed milk, the flavour of the coffee is not the same. So, if you eat sugar, at least give this a try once the “real” way! ;-))

 

Dubai & Ginger Infused Strawberry and Celery Chilled Soup

View of Dubai, with early morning fog, from our hotel in Deira
I was disappointed today, as I planned on going out for a walk along the Thames. But the weather is not cooperating with me and I decided to stay indoors. Exercising outdoors in London means going out even in the rain and cold weather (even in the summer), but I’m from southern Spain and I am apprehensive when it comes to walking/running and getting all wet.
That got me to thinking that if I lived somewhere warm and with eternal sunshine like Dubai, I wouldn’t have that problem. But then again, in Dubai, people like to stay indoors to avoid the heat and humidity of the street! I guess one can never win….
We visited Dubai in September last year. As we arrived at our hotel in Deira, near the unfinished Palm Island, it was early morning around 6am and the heat was just starting to get intense. There was a light fog lingering over the city, which threatened to blur my sightseeing later in the day. It turns out that September has the highest humidity of the summer months because as sea temperatures have reached a peak in August, there is a tendency for warm, humid air to reach the coast. Fog is a regular occurrence during the early morning because of this warm air mixing with the cooler night temperatures.
However, we are die-hard travellers. So, heat and humidity were not going to stop us from exploring the city. Dubai is one of the seven United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula. It is probably the most well-known, as it is famous for the original Jumeirah Palm Island, the World Islands and also now the tallest building in the world, Burj Al-Khalifa. By the way, the Burj (tower) was going to be named Burj Dubai. But as the emirate was hit hard by the financial crisis, it had to be rescued by Abu Dhabi, one of the other seven emirates of the U.A.E. So, in honour of the Khalifa of Abu Dhabi, the tower’s name was changed to what it is today.
Dhows on The Creek
On our first day in Dubai, we explored the old part of town. Dubai is a trade city par excellence, acting as a broker between the East and West. The Creek, the waterway into the city from the Arabian Gulf (also known as Persian Gulf), is packed with cargo boats from Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Oman, India, Yemen, Somailia and Sudan, with merchandise from these and other countries.
These boats, called dhows, are long, flat wooden vessels used typically in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea to transport goods. They are a marvel to see and it is interesting to understand just how they stay afloat, when they do not look so sturdy and are precariously loaded with maybe several cars, a truck, and a warehouse’s worth of merchandise.
Passenger abra, traditional wooden water taxi
Passenger abra, crossing The Creek
Loaded dhow, leaving Dubai
Heading past the Dhow Wharfage, our first discovery was the Spice Souq. Ah.. I was in heaven! It is probably my favourite souq in Dubai and a walk through it, is a pleasure for the senses. The market is not a tourist attraction, but rather a working souq, so you can find many household things, such as glass and plastic containers, being sold here, alongside the exotic spices. We let our noses and eyes pave the path, as the pungent aromas lead the way.
The Spice Souq

Heading away from the souq, we stumbled onto some interesting streets, where all kinds of merchandise was being sold. We even found a shop with flamenca dresses!
Street, off of the Spice Souq, with other merchandise
(even flamenca dresses! – albeit rather ugly and outdated)
Wheelcarts, waiting to be used
As we started the day so early, we were ahead of any tourist crowds there could be. So, by the time we arrived at the Heritage House, it was just opening. The Heritage House is a renovated 1890s courtyard house that once belonged to Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk, the founder of the Al-Ahmadiya School, which we also visited later. The house offers a unique opportunity to see how a rich pearl merchant lived.
Dubai’s pearl industry, which was the mainstay of its economy for centuries, died out in the early 1900s, in large part due to the Great Depression and the discovery by the Japanese of how to cultivate pearls artificially.  However, vestiges of this historical industry can still be seen today in parts of Deira, where the wealthy pearl merchants, fishermen, divers and others involved in the trade lived and worked. Many of the traditional wind towers have been restored, along with the houses, and can be viewed today, as part of the Shindagha Heritage Area, in Bur Dubai.
 Enjoying a short reprieve from the heat at the Al-Ahmadiya School
Lunch at the Afgan Kebab House, near the Naif Mosque
After a delicious and filling lunch, it was hard to get motivated in the intense humidity filled the streets of Deira. So, we headed to The Creek to walk along the waterside. There we hopped on a traditional wooden taxi, called an abra, and for just Dh1, we crossed to the other side to Bur Dubai. According to the Dubai City Guide, by Lonely Planet, 15,000 people cross the Dubai Creek each day on abras! It’s an interesting experience, especially since not too many tourist take these water taxis; so it’s a fun way to mingle with the locals. And since you’re at water level, it’s a cheap way to enjoy a much needed cool breeze and a lovely view of the wharfage and skyline.
Entrance of Silk Souq, in Bur Dubai
 Silk Souq, Bur Dubai
Wind tower, at Sheikh Juma Al-Maktoum House, in Bur Dubai
Lebanese cold mezzes at Shabetan Restaurant, inside the Radisson Blu Hotel
The next day, I explored on my own, as it was Sunday, the Islamic world’s Monday. First stop: Dubai Mall. In one word, WOW! It’s the world’s largest shopping mall, with 1200 stores, an aquarium, indoor amusement park, and an Olympic-sized ice rink! Dubai has a lot of “largest”, “tallest”, “most” appellatives, as it is trying its utmost to become the Las Vegas of the East, or the playground for the rich in the East. And Dubai Mall is just one example. The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, inside the Dubai Mall, has the “world’s largest acrylic viewing panel”, as is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records.
 
 The cave/tunnel leading to the main building of the Aquarium, where you can come nose to nose with sharks, mantas, and other fish

Floor decor at the Dubai Mall 

 I’m sure you’ve seen this in the news!
 Me, with Burj Al-Khalifa in the background
Bloomingdale’s in Arabic!
Olympic-sized Ice Rink, inside the Dubai Mall

Attached to the Mall, and outside, is the Dubai Fountain, which has a spectacular water and light show in the evenings, and the Burj Al-Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It’s quite an amazing view from the 124th floor, where the Observation Deck is located. In fact everything about it is amazing, even the full one minute it takes for the elevator to transport you up the 442m in the air to the public viewing area from the ground floor.
View from Observation Deck of the Burj Al-Khalifa

The following day, we explored bits of Jumeirah, which is the modern, newer area of Dubai, and where most of the “western” expatriates live. The poorer workers from Pakistan, India, and other parts of the world, live in Deira and less expensive areas.

Dubai is a city of adaptation, change and growth. When the pearl industry died out and oil was discovered, the city jumped on the bandwagon and evolved in part to what it is today. As the Dubai-tis are understanding that oil is not an unlimited resource, they are embracing the tourist, technology, film, and communication industries with fervor. You can see a lot of examples of this new path in the city’s growth in Jumeirah. 

One such example is the Jumeirah Mosque, which offers free tours and is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to non-Muslims. It almost seems like it was built for this purpose alone!

A lovely English lady, who told us she was married to a native Dubai-ti, and has been living in the Emirates for over 15 years, conducted the tour and educational piece for our group. We all had to take off our shoes and the women in the group had to cover their heads, with scarves. Luckily I had planned in advance, and had a scarf ready. But the mosque offers wraps for use inside to tourists who forget them. Photography is allowed and although I felt a bit disrespectful taking pictures, I did indulge in a few. We learned about Islamic religion and culture, as well as a bit of Dubai history. The U.A.E. is one of the most open Islamic countries in the world, and foreigners do not need to cover up. In addition, pork and pork products can be sold (to non-Muslims) and eaten in Dubai, as well as alcohol can be consumed by non-Muslims.

Jumeirah Mosque
 Jumeirah Mosque
Our group, inside Jumeirah Mosque
Digital clock, which states the time that the sun rises, and the five prayer times to be observed

Also in Jumeirah is the famous Burj Al-Arab, the iconic symbol of this ever-growing city. It is the sail-shaped building, home to a 5-star hotel (some people say it’s 7-star hotel, but that seems to be nonsense). It’s beautiful and alluring from the outside, as one approaches it along the causeway to the man-made island where it stand majestically. Inside, it’s a bit gaudy and glittery, but ever so impressive. As you cannot enter the hotel just to have a look, the only way in is to either stay there, of course, or book a reservation at one of the restaurants.
So, we booked Afternoon Champagne Tea. It wasn’t cheap, at about 80 USD per person, but we were left with little choice, as the rest of the options were even pricier. (By the way, according to the Lonely Planet edition we have, the tea consists of unlimited champagne, which is not the case. Only one glass is included in the price.)
The service and attention were exquisite. But then again, all service in Dubai is exquisite, except for maybe in the hustle and bustle areas of Deira. The views are magnificent. In fact, you can see the Jumeirah Palm Island from the Skyview Bar, where tea is served, and also other parts of Jumeirah Beach.
Cappuccino with 24-karat Gold Dust
Burj Al-Arab, as we left. The picture is blurry because my camera was trying to adjust to the hot and humid outside, after being indoors for hours!

After lingering as long as we could and were allowed, we headed back to our hotel for the night. On our way out, I tried to take some pictures of the impressive lighting on the building, but my camera lens couldn’t adjust to the hot and humid outside, after being indoors, in an air-conditioned place for so long! By the way, we were told at our hotel, that all the buildings must keep the air-conditioning on extra high, even when it is not so hot out, because the humidity causes condensation to occur, creating rain inside the buildings, if the a/c is not used! So, needless to say, one freezes inside and melts outside.

Mall of the Emirates, where Ski Dubai is located
Nice ride, waiting for its owner outside the Mall of the Emirates

On all my trips, I love to pick up literature that I find in the hotels and places we visit. On this particular trip, I picked up some magazines, which offered insight into the daily life of expatriates, as well as locals, in Dubai. Also, it had quite a few interesting recipes, one of which I’m sharing below.
As a side note: Arabic is written from right to left, and books and magazines, and the Qu’ran all open in reverse from their western counterparts. Magazines which are made for both audiences have two halves: one, as in the West, and then you flip the magazine around to read the Arabic version! Very creative.
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Ginger Infused Strawberry & Celery Chilled Soup
Ingredients
  • 2-3 tsp of olive oil
  • 15g of white onion, chopped
  • 2g of garlic, chopped
  • 200g celery sticks, cleaned, peeled and chopped
  • 400g of strawberries, cleaned
  • 220ml of cold water
  • 6ml ginger juice or 6g of fresh ginger, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • celery leaves and/or physalis for garnishing (optional)
Process
In a pan, heat oil and saute onion, garlic and celery until soft. Add the strawberries and saute for a minute. Set aside to cool.
Place the mixture in a blender, add cold water and blend until you achieve a smooth consistency. Add ginger juice/grated ginger, salt and pepper.
Strain the soup using a fine strainer, if necessary, then pour into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
To serve, pour the soup into small glasses and garnish with celery leaves and/or physalis or a simple grissini stick.
I recommend peeling the ginger with a spoon

London 2012 Olympic Games, and Holland Heineken House

It’s an amazing time to have the opportunity to be in London. Twenty-twelve has been full of excitement so far: the Diamond Jubilee and now the 2012 Olympic Games.
 Tower Bridge with the Olympic Rings

 Another view of the Tower Bridge, from the Tower of London
Penultimate Day of the Torch Relay
Since we moved here in January, we thought it would be tremendously hard to achieve tickets for the games, however, it hasn’t been at all. In fact, there are still tickets available to many events and for sale through the official website and also via the National Olympic Committee houses, such as the Holland Heineken House.
The Holland Heineken House is amazing! We attended the days events there yesterday and I couldn’t have been more impressed. The Dutch are fascinating people, who at the drop of a penny will dress up in orange, head to toe, if necessary, to show their support for their countrymen and patriotism. The Holland Heineken House is the “traditional meeting place for the various echelons of the Dutch sports world during the Olympic Games. It is the official, national house of the Netherlands where NOC*NSF (Netherlands Olympic Committee) is the host and where Heineken facilitates and organises the venue. Holland Heineken House started during Barcelona 1992.” Therefore this year, it celebrates 20 years of existence and support for the Dutch athletes, their families and countrymen.
NOS Live from the Holland Heineken House

At the venue, one can find not only Heineken, but other Dutch companies with booths, engaging the public and selling their merchandise, as well as a restaurant, food and drink kiosks, a music and dance hall, facilities for national television (RTL and NOS) and radio stations, reception rooms for sponsors and athletes, and a plethora of fun! During the day, we could watch the games live on big TV screens, enjoyed the excitement shared by everyone in the venue and even were surprised by the visit of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Crown Princess Maxima, who walked around and greeted the crowd.
Excited crowd, when Prince Willem-Alexander & Maxima arrive at the HHH
I’m not Dutch, but my husband is. And I must say I’m impressed by many things that the Netherlands does, and this is one of them on my long list.
 Holland Heineken House, at Alexandar Palace
 
Maxima & Willem-Alexander
An athlete signing autographs

Dutch spirit at the Holland Heineken House
Dutch RTL commentator, getting ready for the live show, in which we were lucky enough to participate 
The day before, Saturday, we attended our first Olympic event: Women’s Foil Fencing. We had never watched fencing in person, so it was very interesting and exciting to learn about the sport, its history, and how the competition takes place. From our seats, we were fortunate to view the previous Gold Medal fencer, the Italian Valentina Vezzali, who this year took Bronze.
We were impressed by the participant from Tunisia, Ines Bourbakri, who played a quarterfinal match against V. Vezzali and lost 7 to 8. What a way to show skill and training.
The way that the fencing competition works is three rounds of 3 minutes each, with the participant with the highest score wining, or whoever reaches 15 points first. We watched the first half of the day, which concluded with the quarterfinals.
China vs. Poland
Fencing has been present at the Olympic Games since 1896, the year of the first modern Olympic Games. From the London 2012 website, “Although sword fighting dates back thousands of years, fencing as we now understand it really came of age as a sport in the 19th century. A tense, compelling battle of wits and technique, the sport is one of the few to have featured at every modern Olympic Games”.
In today’s fencing, the participants have suits, helmets, and swords, which are electronically wired, so that it’s easier for the referees to distinguish between foiled and real attacks. The platform upon which they perform is also wired, so that the public can view which player wins a point. It’s a bit annoying to listen to all the beeps going on back and forth during the hours of matches. But it’s also very informative to be able to see what is really going on in front of us.
We had an exhausting, but electrifying (no pun intended ;0) half day at the fencing event!
And on Sunday, the Women’s Cycling competition literally swooshed nearby our house. So, we went to see it and take really quick pictures. The participant from the Netherlands, Marianne Vos, won the Gold Medal for her country. (We later helped celebrate this at our afternoon at the Holland Heineken House.)
 Part of the peloton
The arm of Marianne Vos, who won the Gold Medal
We are fortunate to be able to join in these historical celebrations and look forward to the rest of the Games! There are a number of side events, exhibitions, and festivities taking place as well, all part of London Festival 2012.
If you are in London or are coming to the city for the Games, don’t forget to check out everything the city is offering now!

Chocolate Pasta with Prune & Apricot Chicken

Gut & Gerne Schokolade Shop, Duesseldorf
Last week, I was in Duesseldorf, Germany, for the day and as I was walking around the Altstadt (old city), near the Rathaus (city hall), I stumbled across a quaint little chocolate shop. What caught my attention initially was the window dressing: a chocolate fondue pot pouring over with mouth-watering, melted chocolate and a bunch of packages of chocolate noodles! Yes, chocolate noodles!
I had never heard of them or seen them before (after 4 years of living in Germany and previous visits to this city), but apparently they are well-known in Germany. And of course, I couldn’t resist the temptation, as you can imagine… so I entered.
The Gut & Gerne Schokolade shop, on Burgplatz 3-5, is a true delight for any chocolate lover. It’s offers an assortment of chocolates for drinking, baking, and cooking, pralines, truffles, liquors… anything chocolate, they have it… and of course, the chocolate pasta, which intrigued me so much. They also have a cafe attached to the shop and offer chocolate seminars. So cool! After a good perusal, I decided I just had to take a package of pasta home with me.
Even the packaging is inviting, don’t you think?
So, I’ve been home a week and hadn’t touched the pasta, because I refused to make a sweet dish out of it. The package comes with a recipe for “caramelised chocolate noodles” involving sour cherries and vanilla ice cream. And I’m thinking of making some with a vanilla sauce, so typical of German desserts. But not yet.
Last night, I was inspired by a recipe I was reading for chocolate-prune cake. Now that sounded like a good pairing to me. So, here’s the recipe below for prune and apricot chicken, paired with chocolate pasta.
Prune & Apricot Chicken, with Chocolate Noodles
Ingredients, for two persons
  • 250 g of chocolate noodles (I used half the package I purchased)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • olive oil
  • 500 g of chicken breasts, cut into squares
  • fine cornflour (I use Maizena brand – cornflour is gluten-free, by the way)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 12 prunes (cut in half if they are large)
  • 12 dried apricots (cut in half if they are large)
  • 2 tablespoons of pickled baby onions
  • 100 ml of red wine
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or a 1/2 a vanilla pod can be used, be sure to take it out before serving)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
  • soy sauce
  • olive oil
  • chicken broth
  • table salt
  • fresh ground pepper
Process
In a pasta pot, bring water to a boil, with a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a dash of olive oil. Add pasta and cook, 9-10 minutes. When pasta is al dente, remove from heat and drain.
In the meantime, clean and cut the chicken in squares. Season with salt and pepper. Roll in cornflour, and shake off excess.
In a wok or skillet, add 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and saute until golden brown. Add the carrots and saute an additional 2 minutes.
Add the red wine and reduce. Add a dash of soy sauce, and enough chicken broth to slightly cover the chicken. Add vanilla, cinnamon, prunes, apricots and pickled onions.
Simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is tender and the sauce is thick.
Guten Appetit!

*Note: we were slightly disappointed by the lack of intense chocolate flavour of the pasta, which we expected. I generally accompany the Prune & Apricot Chicken with couscous or quinoa.

Tapeo Sevillano (Tapas Sevilla-style) and Coquinas de Huelva

I was in Sevilla in late June-early July, and in time to enjoy the snail season, amongst other delights for the palate. Snails are commonly eaten in Spain, as caracoles (little snails) and cabrillas (a large, escargot size). The mollusk is in season from the beginning of Spring to roughly late-July, mid-August, depending on origin. Lately, the season starts as early as March, with these snails coming from Morocco. The harvest of the local snail typically starts in April-May.
Caracoles are typically served in small transparent glasses, where one can see the snails and the clear, spicy broth through the glass. When eating caracoles, Spaniards tend to make a lot of noise trying to suck out the little critters.
Cabrillas (pictured below) on the other hand are made in a thicker sauce, usually almond or tomato-based. It’s a delicious treat to dip some bread into the sauce and enjoy this in addition to the snails.
There are, of course, hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of tapas. In fact, one can make a tapa out of any dish. The origin of the tapa is obscured in legends and stories. But the general consensus is that bartenders starting placing a small plate on top of a glass of wine or beer or even a coffee to cover the contents and protect them from flies falling in, while the customers chatted between sips. In Sevilla, I’ve always heard that bartenders in coffee houses would send over a coffee or drink to the customers of the barber shops with a cover to protect the beverage en route across the street. Whatever the history, little by little, the tapa has evolved into an entire cuisine, which is quite sophisticated and a delectable way to experience the rich flavours of Spain.Spaniards like to have a few tapas and a cold beer, preferably a Cruzcampo, or a glass wine before lunch, usually eaten at home during the approximately two hour mid-day break from work. Tapas are also enjoyed in the evening, and times vary by region. In the south, where we eat the latest, one can usually find a tapa bar open from about 8pm onwards until 1am or later, if it’s summer and the evening is warm.

Another delicacy, which was in season during my visit, is coquinas de Huelva. Coquinas are a small, elongated clam found on the beaches of the coast of Huelva. My mother tells me many stories of how as a child, growing up there, she and her cousins would go “fishing” for coquinas during the summer. They are very easy to make and as addictive as eating pipas, or sunflower seeds (another typical Andalusian pastime)!
Coquinas de Huelva
Ingredients
  • fresh coquinas, about 1 wine glass per person (about 50 g per person), washed
  • olive oil
  • parsley to taste, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • sea salt
Process
In a skillet, pour about 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil, and heat up. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and the coquinas. Cook, moving occasionally, until the clams open.
Once all the clams are open, add the white wine and the parsley. Cook 1 minute or so and add salt to taste, if necessary. Remove from stove and serve immediately. Enjoy!
*Instead of coquinas (pictured), another variety of clams can be used. 
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