Category Archives: International Bites

Adventures in Japan: “What am I eating?” – Part I By Paul Rest

japan-articleMy trip to Japan happened in the early 1990’s. I had planned to meet a business contact in Tokyo, however my host family lived in Kyoto so that became my destination for the first ten days in Japan. In preparation, I read and studied about Japan for months before the trip, including taking lessons in basic Japanese phrases. I also studied and practiced Soto Zen Buddhism for many years so I had some familiarity with the culture and knew some of what to expect.

Since Kyoto was the first destination, I boned up on this unique city. It was one only a few Japanese cities that the allies did not bomb during World War II. Harold Stinson, the Secretary of War (as cabinet post was called then) had seen photographs of Kyoto in a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC issue and fell in love with the city. As a result sections of the city were centuries old. Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 794 until 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. The oldest surviving (fires were a constant problem then) structure in Kyoto is the pagoda at the Daigoji temple that dates to 951.

After what seemed an endless flight, our jumbo jet landed in Osaka. My host’s daughter came along as a guide and interpreter. Her father picked us up and off we went to Kyoto. We arrived in the early evening and were immediately taken to the dinning room to eat. My host family ran a busy hotel in Kyoto that included a restaurant. After a dinner that I don’t remember due to jet lag, we were escorted to our rooms. I promptly fell into a deep slumber.

At 5:00 am the large temple bell across the street from my room began tolling. It took me two hours to stumble out of bed, the bell still ringing in my ears, and stepped into the tiniest shower I had ever been in then or since. I dressed and got on the elevator to go to the dining room. Two women in traditional kimonos were on the elevator when the door opened. I remembered to give them the traditional morning greeting in Japanese, slightly bowing my head. They responded politely but I could sense they wondered who this gaijin* was? This would not be the last time this happened.

Arriving in the dining room I saw that on the far end of the room was the buffet area divided into two sections. One section contained traditional Japanese food. The other section was all “Western” food. The Japanese side contained dried fish, fish flakes, miso soup, tofu, various pickled vegetable dishes and of course rice. The “Western” side contained eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, butter, jams, orange juice and coffee. My stomach said, “Let’s do the Japanese later.” So I filed up my plate from the “Western” side. Everything tasted a little different, although I loved the Japanese bread. It reminded me of challah.

I discovered people in Kyoto like in so much of the world traveled best with a full stomach. Although they had street vendors that interested me, my first memorable food experience was in the smallest of noodle shops imaginable. Think of a restaurant the size of your grandmother’s kitchen. You have the picture. And the actual cooking area if you can call it that, was an even smaller area off to one corner facing the street. The place was located on a street next to the Gion district. This was the famous district originally built to house and feed visitors to a famous nearby shrine (Yasaka Shrine). It evolved into area for geisha (or geiko as the women in the Gion liked called themselves, “artists.”)

People were scrunched together inside like sardines but no one was complaining. All you heard was the sound of udon noodles being happily slurped into hungry mouths. My dish was udon shrimp tempura. A large shrimp was put in the middle of the bowl. It was the most perfect piece of tempura I’ve ever eaten. The noodles, well, they must have been made in heaven they were so good. And the broth was just the right combination of everything-pungent miso in a liquid that was not too heavy or too thin. The only other udon dish comparable to this that I’ve had was in a small café next to the covered market across from souk in Tel Aviv (but that’s another story).

We all left the restaurant satisfied in a way that only great food can do when filling stomach but also touching the soul. A cold March rain started as we began walking to our next adventure.

*A Japanese word meaning “foreigner,” or any non-Japanese.

Read part II here and Part III here


Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at paulfrederickrest@gmail.com.

Written by Paul Rest / Edited, Karie Engels Giffin

Image: Free access via Pixabay from the Internet

Conflict Café returns for a second year to serve up more peace through food

PrintConflict Café, an innovative pop-up restaurant launched by peacebuilding charity International Alert, is returning to London for its second year from 9 September – 3 October 2015 to inspire more strangers to ‘break bread’ and start conversations about peace through food.

The restaurant, which was named ‘Most inspiring pop-up of 2014’ by Time Out, will continue to showcase how food can unite, inform and provoke discussion, and will once again mark UN International Peace Day on Monday (21 September).

It will take place at House of VANS in Waterloo, a unique underground venue which will be transformed into a different region every week, encouraging diners to discover more about the conflicts and prospects for peace of each country in focus. In the wake of the ongoing Syria crisis, Conflict Café kicks off with a Middle Eastern theme, also featuring a special brunch by Honey & Co chefs Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich.

The focus will then shift to Nepal with chef Rajiv KC taking over the Café. Diners will have the chance to find out more about the challenges facing the country following the recent earthquakes and end of the civil war.

Esnayder Cuartas will introduce visitors to Colombian cuisine in the third week – a country that has been ravaged by civil conflict for the past 50 years.

Established Turkish chef Önder Ṣahan will then join forces with Armenian cook Natalie Griffith in the final week to devise a unique menu which celebrates the similar culinary traditions of these divided countries.

Ilaria Bianchi, Head of Communications at International Alert, said: “Following the tremendous success of last year, we’re very excited that Conflict Café will be returning to celebrate the food and culture of even more countries affected by conflict. The restaurant provides an interesting and unique platform for breaking down barriers and getting people talking about peace and conflict issues around the world.”

Honey & Co chefs Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich said: “For us, food is beyond conflict. Our cooking is a labour of nothing but love and an extension of our home. Food has that priceless power to bring people together around a table for a shared moment in a hectic world.”

Rajiv KC, who runs a Nepali supper club Rajiv’s Kitchen,said: “It’s a known fact that food brings people together, and when people come together with ideas and solutions, extraordinary things can happen. Food is also the best way to educate people about other cultures. We can learn a lot about a nation from its food, and once you understand them, you can build bridges.”

Conflict Café will run in partnership with Grub Club and Cult Events, and will be hosted at House of VANS. It is part of Alert’s annual Talking Peace Festival, a month-long series of events designed to spark conversations about peace through creativity.

Location: House of VANS, Arches 228 – 232 Station Approach Road, London SE1 8SW

Dates:

  • Conflict Café: Middle East – Wednesday 9 & Saturday 12 September (7pm onwards)
  • Conflict Café: Middle East brunch special – Sunday 13 September (12 noon onwards)
  • Conflict Café: Nepal – Thursday 17 – Saturday 19 September (7pm onwards)
  • Conflict Café: Colombia – Wednesday 23 – Friday 25 September (7pm onwards)
  • Conflict Café: Armenia and Turkey – Wednesday 30 September, Thursday 1 October & Saturday 3 October (7pm onwards)

Tickets: Tickets are available online at www.grubclub.com/conflict-cafe Early bird ticket offer, priced at £30, on sale until Wednesday 19 August 2015

Follow along at:  Twitter: @talkpeacefest Instagram: @international_alert Hashtags: #ConflictCafe and #TalkingPeace

Talking Peace Festival website

~Thai Coconut Custard with Mung Beans, Khanom Mo Gaeng – ขนมหม้อแกงถั่ว~

Pranee's Thai Kitchen

Heavenly Dessert

When I was young I could not resist eating Khanom Mo Gang – ขนมหม้อแกงถั่ว – Thai Coconut Custard with Mung Beans. One small parcel in a banana leaf was not enough for my hungry soul.

In Thai cuisine there are many kinds of Mo Gang Thai custard but two types dominate: one with egg, palm sugar and coconut milk, and another that includes cooked split mung beans or cooked taro. What makes this Thai custard so special is the coconut milk and fried shallot oil. These two ingredients set Thai Mo Gang apart from other custards.

One event that I have never forgotten was when my aunt purchased a little parcel of Mo Gaeng for everyone for breakfast and my brothers and sister woke to discover that their shares were gone. They have long ago forgiven me and forgotten this, but I still have lingering memories of the taste and my…

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Easy Vegetarian Chirashi-Sushi by Asako Fukuda Sullivan

Eating healthy does not mean sacrificing texture and flavor and changing your diet plan doesn’t necessarily mean rooting through your cupboards or tossing all of your food from your pantry. Simple changes and fresh additions to your grocery list and weekly menu are a great place to begin.

Late spring and summer are a great time to begin looking at fresh options as farmers markets are in full swing and farms are open for business. Many farmers are more than happy to give you a tour and answer questions about their growing practices, storage and preparation of  fresh fruits and vegetables. Some are by appointment only, so be sure to check their page or website first.

I had the privilege of touring the 21 Acres kitchen and talked with chef Asako Fukuda Sullivan while she was preparing 21 Acres Market “Food to Go”. I gained a bit more insight in to the local foods, growing practices and sustainable produce grown on site. Nothing is wasted in their kitchen and it was a joy to watch her work. She is warm, engaging and graciously put together a delicious recipe for our readers to prepare at home.

Basket of 21 Acres GoodiesAfter chatting with Asako, Brenda kindly took me on a tour of the Market below the kitchen, and it was  an intoxicating experience. The aromas of fresh herbs, artisanal products and creative displays are pleasing to all senses. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and more than willing to answer any questions you may have. Please visit this link for a schedule of demonstrations and classes

21 Acres Market features clean, pesticide-free produce and organic farm products, the Market is open year-round giving shoppers affordable options and the opportunity to support local farmers. “Food to go” items are prepared each Market day in the 21 Acres Kitchen.

If you would like to visit 21 Acres in Woodinville, you can find them at 13701 NE 171st St, Woodinville, Washington 98072  Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

A big thank you to the staff at 21 Acres! When prepping the recipe for the site, I left Asako’s notes as is, so that the  voice and “flavor” of her recipe isn’t lost.

Some notes from Asako:

People tend to think Sushi has to be fish, but it boils down to “vinegared rice.” It was historically a preservation method, and during hot weather like this, it is an excellent method to keep rice longer.

It is my understanding Sushi was invented to actually preserve the ‘cooked’ rice. A long time ago when folks didn’t have refrigerators and needed to take a lunch box along with them, vinegar or sour food prevented it from going bad. For the same reason, Japanese rice balls often have sour pickled plums as filling. In addition, Wasabi, though it is not sour, does the same thing and it prevents bacteria growth too. And, certainly, vinegar in the rice has citric acid and amino acid to help with digestion and recuperation.

I always use vegetables that are in season. I try to avoid most of the ingredients that Americans are not familiar with or deem to difficult to handle.  And, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to write a recipe when people have different “methods” for washing and cooking rice.

In answer to the question “why would you wash rice?” Asako answered: “When you store dry rice, you need to wash it right before you cook it. Washing will help getting rid of “bran flavor” and helps it to cook more plump. Whether you want to get rid of bran or not is a topic for another discussion.  Dry rice does keep a long time in the pantry, but don’t forget, rice is the same as other produce and it dries up. New crop rice and old rice have different moisture content, and you can adjust it by adding extra water. I normally start with 1:1 rice and water for new crop rice. You can go as much as 1:2 rice and water for cooking Japanese rice. It is measured by cup, not weight. Another thing about old rice is that rice bran includes oil, and that can go rancid. Washing rice well before cooking will help get rid of the old oil also.”

Easy Vegetarian Chirashi-Sushi

sushiplatedCOMPONENTS

Rice; Sushi Vinegar Mixture; Filling; Topping

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Cups Multigrain rice

Note from Asako: Your choice rice: brown rice plus barley, oat groats, spelt, emmer, einkorn.  Rice does not grow in Washington State, so we incorporate Pacific Northwest grown grains as much as we can.  My personal normal blend is white and brown rice 2/3 cup each, plus 2/3 cups of barley, oat and other grain mixture.

Sushi Vinegar Mixture

  • 8 Tablespoons Apple Cider vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons Sugar (organic cane sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons Salt

sushiingredientsFilling

  • 1/2 cup Radish or turnip (Julienne)
  • 1/3 cup Shiitake Mushroom (Julienne)
  • 1/3 cup Carrot (Julienne)
  • 1 Tablespoon Sesame seed oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Sake
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar
  • Salt (optional)

Topping

  • 1 Egg
  • 3 Sugar Peas
  • Nori seaweed (optional)

DIRECTIONS

The Rice

To wash the rice mixture: Place rice mixture in a bowl. First fill the bowl with cold water, then rinse the mixture quickly and drain all water. Fill water again, but this time only about ½ or less amount. Scrub rice mixture against each other about 30 times. Drain all water. Repeat filling and draining for 4 to 5 times to rinse the rice mixture until water is not so cloudy. Transfer drained rice mixture to the rice cooker or a heavy bottom pot with matching lid. Add 2 cups of water and set aside for at least 1 hour.

To cook the rice:  If you are cooking it in a pot, start heating the pot with high heat.  It is important that the pot has a matching lid, and you do not open the lid from beginning to the end.  Steam will build up in the pot, and opening the lid will change the cooking process.  When it boils and steam is coming out from the side of the pot, reduce to low heat.  If using electric heat stove, set it medium low heat to make sure it is not too cold that it does not get cooked.  Let it cook for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, do not open the lid yet, and just turn off the heat and leave it for another 10 to 15 minutes.  The steam will keep cooking the rice, and it will make it soft and plump.

While rice is being prepared, make the filling.  Julienne radish/turnip and add 1 tsp of salt if desired. Wait for 5 minutes until it starts sweating.  Massage the radish to squeeze more water off the vegetable.  Squeeze out liquid as much as you can and set it aside.  Heat sesame seed oil in the medium size sauce pot, add julienne mushrooms and carrots.  Stir-fry for a minute then add sugar, sake, and soy sauce.  Add ½ cup of water and cook at medium heat until water boils down to about ½ amount.  Set aside.

Blench snow pea for topping.  Boil water in a pot and blench snow peas in the boiling water for 1 minute.  Drain water.  When cool, cut them into strips.  Set aside. Break one egg in a bowl, then heat and lightly oil a small to medium size fry pan to cook the egg just as you cook a crepe. When the frying pan is hot, pour the well-mixed egg and spread it thin on the pan.  Lower the heat and cook it until the surface is almost dry.  Flip it on a cutting board and cool slightly. When it is cold, roll it up and slice it into thin strips. Set aside.

While rice is still warm, mix in the vinegar mixture.  Add vinegar, sugar, and salt in a cup and mix well.  Slowly pour the vinegar mixture into the cooked rice while mixing.  Taste and add more vinegar mixture as necessary.

Finish it off: Mix the filling mixture (radish, and stir fried mixture) into the prepared rice and blend well.  Stir gently to avoid becoming pasty.  Plate and top it with egg strips and snow pea.  Enjoy!

AsakoAsako Fukuda Sullivan, 21 Acres Kitchen Manager

Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Asako came to the U.S. approximately 25 years ago. Her favorite memories from her childhood were visitings farms, foraging and fishing, to finding wonderful seasonal harvests with her father. Her love for cooking was nurtured with her mother’s Japanese traditional and French culinary training.

Previously working in the field of International sales and marketing, Asako traveled to many countries on every continent, experiencing a variety of food cultures around the globe. When she needed to move on from her busy adventures, she returned to the Patisserie and Baking program at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Art to fulfill her lifelong passion for cooking.

After working for several restaurants and caterers, Asako joined the 21 Acres Kitchen team where her love for the food and nature that her parents cherished is a great asset. You will likely see her in the kitchen baking, or creating Japanese and Asian inspired fares for the Farm Market and organization meetings and events.                                                                                                                                          


 

 

International Bites: Lamb & Eggplant Kebabs with Baharat

Note from the Editor: We have been implementing many changes to the site, this is first of many to come. International Bites is part of our Destinations category and we are excited to be debuting this today.

We thank Grand Circle Travel, our first IB contributor, for the  recipe below. As we grow this section of Your Home, we would love to hear from you, our readers. If you have a location you would like to see featured, travel tips or recipes you would like to share please send an email to Karie@YourHomewithKarieEngels.com We look forward to hearing from you!

Along with French, Chinese, and Italian, “Turkish cuisine is supposed to be one of the top four cuisines of the world,” write 19-time travelers Natalie and Tom Baran. They discovered the truth of this claim on our Crossroads of Turkey vacation, and their best meal was in an old caravanserai, a place traders from all over the globe once rested from their travels. The traditional meals served here were more humble in preparation than the ones being served to Ottoman sultans, but many of the ingredients—lamb, eggplant, and a heady array of spices—are the same. Whether home-cooked or haute cuisine, the foods of Turkey today still reveal the intersection of many worlds coming together.

Baharat refers to a spice paste used all over the Middle East for preparing grilled meats and vegetables, each culture refining the mixture to reflect its own traditions. Turkish baharat is distinct for its inclusion of mint, which adds brightness to the earthy flavors of the spices, and the hint of heat from the cayenne. To maximize the melding of the baharat flavors, make sure to marinate the lamb for at least a few hours, or—better still—overnight. It’s a recipe with centuries-old roots, so patience for one night is worth it.

Lamb and Eggplant Kebabs with Baharat

  • Difficulty: Involved
  • Print
Serves 6 – 8

Baharat spice pasteBaharat Spice Paste

  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika (preferably Hungarian)
  • 1 tsp. dried mint
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 Japanese or other small eggplant (about 1 1/4 lbs.), cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 medium red onions, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Lamb & Eggplant Kebabs with BaharatPreparation:

  1. Make the baharat spice paste, mixing the oil, lemon juice, tomato paste, garlic, salt and pepper, and all remaining spices in a medium-sized bowl. Reserve two tablespoons in a small bowl for later use.
  2. Add lamb to the medium bowl, coating the cubes thoroughly with the paste. Cover bowl and marinate the lamb, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours or up to a full day.
  3. Twenty minutes before forming the kebabs, lay the eggplant slices out flat on baking sheets or pans, and sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Let stand for 15 minutes.
  4. Thread cubes of lamb onto the skewers, alternating with chunks of red onion. Set aside.
  5. Lightly rinse the salt off the eggplant, drying the slices with a paper towel. Make eggplant-only skewers, threading the skewer horizontally through the skin of each round (crossing the slice and exiting through the skin as well), so that the skewer will lie flat.
  6. Add ¼ cup oil to the reserved baharat paste to make a marinade. Brush the eggplant kebabs generously with the mixture.
  7. On a grill set to medium high, grill the lamb for 10-12 minutes, turning every 2 or 3 minutes, until the meat is browned on the outside but still faintly pink in the center; grill the eggplant kebabs for 9-11 minutes, turning once or twice until both sides are soft and browned. (If your grill has hotter and cooler areas, cook the lamb in the higher-heat area and the eggplant in the lower-heat area).
  8. Serve the kebabs on a large platter, with lemon wedges.

Content provided by Grand Circle Travel  and Follow Grand Circle on Facebook

Trai Ham-Da Lat Organic Weasel Coffee Farm by Christie Kiley

cup-black-coffeeI love coffee as much as the next person, but I think I was born to drink coffee.  Really.  One of my earliest memories is when I was a young girl, barely four years old, and my mother had taken me to a friend’s house where the ladies gathered around a table for afternoon coffee. The smell of coffee was delicious. I am not sure what it was at that young age which gave me such a longing for coffee, but I wanted to taste it.

I was in the room adjacent to the coffee party, more than likely playing and doing things that a four year old-girl might do, but what I was really doing was waiting for them to leave the table.  When they finally did, I walked up to the table and to my dismay all the coffee cups were empty.  Rather than turning away I scooted to each seat to sip out the very last drop. Though the four year-old me could not tell you what it was like or why I enjoyed it, I can still remember what the coffee smelled like that day and how it tasted.

Growing up, I was not allowed a cup of coffee until I was about fifteen and even then I was only permitted one cup on a Saturday morning.  My mother often prepared a pot of coffee with a mix of common roasted beans with another flavored roast like vanilla or cinnamon.  As I grew older, coffee became not only a means to satisfy a tasty morning fix, but a boost to begin the day.

In my early twenties as I was working in kitchens, coffee was a means to make it through the long arduous hours.  As I learned about food and making certain dishes for the chefs I worked under, my wisdom of the art of maintaining natural flavors and characteristics through cooking many dishes grew.  This learning transcended into other parts of my life, including how I would enjoy coffee.  I started drinking Americano coffee, no cream, no sugar.  It was not too strong and I could enjoy and appreciate good coffee without any adulterations of milk or sugar or any other added flavoring.  Later I would try different roasts, different preparations and I was amazed of the vast variety of aromas, flavors and texture of coffee.

It has been a few years since my epiphany and I have tried coffee in a few parts of the world, each one unique and different.  There has been the fair share of horrible cups of coffee or over-extracted espresso.  When one has had enough of those, you can really come to enjoy and savor a perfectly made coffee drink.

Organic Weasel CoffeeI am on the road again doing a bit of travels and I find myself in Vietnam.  One of my main reasons for choosing this country to visit is for its culinary delights.  To my pleasant surprise, other than the food, the coffee here is delicious.  The rich, thick, yet smooth nectar is without a doubt a jumpstart to my day, and the taste inspires.  It does not take a coffee-snob to notice at first sip how different and how good the coffee is in Vietnam.

The average cup costs around fifty cents to a dollar, which will get you a cup of chocolatey mocha tasting cup o’joe, traditionally mixed with a couple teaspoons of condensed milk.  It is by far a treat and in the sweltering tropical heat of late April and May in the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh you can get it served with ice, and iced coffee does not get better than this!  If you venture to Ho Chi Minh and walk around the streets surrounding the main market you can find stalls and cafes selling coffee by the gram or you can sit and have a cup for around two or three dollars.  For the locals, this is expensive.  However, luckily for travelers this is more than affordable and a way to enjoy some of the best coffee Vietnam has to offer.

Ho Chi Minh was getting a bit too hot for my taste, so I decided to travel up north into the southern Highlands area to a town of Da Lat.  Traveling through town, you see many Vietnamese-type architecture and homes, but outside of the obvious visuals that you are in another country, it is not unlike many suburban or rural center towns you might find outside of Denver or in Northern California.  It is more of a rural lifestyle, though the center of Da Lat can still be a buzz with hundreds upon hundreds of scooters getting off to their daily lives from early morning until the sun sets.

D5D36C3B4FI decided to get out of the buzz and take a tour to see the countryside outside of Da Lat town center. My guide and I traveled by motorcycle on windy mountain roads making frequent stops to take photographs of valleys covered with vegetables, strawberries and of course, coffee bushes.  There are numerous valleys, each one as green as the next with glints of rich burnt orange soils that seem to gleam under lush green vegetation.  One of our stops was the Trai Ham-Da Lat Organic Weasel Coffee Farm.

Being an avid coffee lover from a very tender age, I have wanted to visit this place after hearing about it a couple years ago. It was better than Christmas morning.  For those of you who are not familiar with this brew, this coffee is made by removing the beans from the excrement of a weasel.  I will explain the process in more detail in a moment. Once the beans are separated, they are dried and roasted (almost) as normal coffee.  It has the reputation for being one of the most expensive coffee in the world, averaging around $100 per kilogram.

The coffee plants in Vietnam were originally brought over from Columbia by the French.  The area of Dalat about 100 years ago, was called ‘Dalek’.  ‘Da’ translates as ‘from the water’ and ‘lek’ is the name of the minority people here who were mainly hunters and gatherers.  When the French arrived and settled here, the local people were taught how to farm.  Today, there are few of the Lek people left since they have integrated with other Vietnamese peoples.  In the sixties and seventies during the Vietnam War, Dalat was one of the only places where fighting did not take place.  Because of its safe haven and rich soils from ancient volcanic grounds, this became the perfect place for the French to settle and grow roots in many ways.

There are three species of coffee bushes in Vietnam. The most common is the Robusta, followed by Arabica, and lastly, the most rare and expensive, Moka. The Moka berries tend to grow at different times with varying sizes on just one branch.  Each bean is picked by hand and only if it is red and ripe. The average coffee plant requires eight to nine months to grow one crop of coffee for the year and this is so, for Moka plants.  However, with the various growing times of the beans on the Moka bush, individual berries ripen rather than the entire bunch. It may take three to four passes through the coffee plantation over a period of a month to month and a half to harvest all the berries.  Though Moka is the most expensive and rare, it is never sold as pure Moka bean coffee. If the beans are not sprayed with something, such as rice wine, mixed with other ingredients such as tea leaves or other local agricultural products during the drying/roasting process, the flavor of the coffee can be sour and almost unpalatable.

Turning our attention back to the weasel coffee, two of the top questions you might have right now are, why on earth would anyone want to drink coffee from the excrement of an animal and why would they pay so much? I know this, because I shared similar sentiments before I arrived. After learning about the production of Vietnam’s coffee, especially this particular coffee, I fully understand why it costs so much and why the final cup is so amazing.

Terraced Coffee Plants in Vietnam / Wikipedia

Terraced Coffee Plants in Vietnam / Wikipedia

In the wild, the weasels jump from bush to bush and eat only the ripest of berries.  These critters are coffee berry connoisseurs.  Because of their keen sense of smell, they only choose the best to snack on and they snack a lot!  At this farm the weasels are kept on premises, free of predators, and fed only the best, ripe beans by their owners. They are still choosy and only eat the beans they like the best.

They tear open the outer part and only eat the sweet coffee beans that lie inside.  Now, to explain perhaps the least appetizing part.  When the beans are in the weasel’s stomach, they soak up the acids which add character to the beans.  Once they are, uh, well, pooped out, the  bits are collected and put outside to dry in the sun.  Depending on the weather, they may sit in the sun for up to a couple weeks or a couple months.  Before they go off to roasting, they separate the beans from the excrement and spray them with rice alcohol and allow them to soak in the sun for an additional couple weeks or up to a month.

Following this lengthy period of time, they are roasted, ground and made into that perfect cup.  This is not done with a machine.  The Vietnamese have fashioned the perfect one shot coffee filter.  It is simple, easy for any coffee and I will be adopting this method for the occasional coffee break.

restaurant-beans-coffee-cup-largeThe ‘filter’ is a little cup made of stainless steel or aluminum with small holes punched in at the bottom. The filter sits on a ‘plate’ with small holes that allows it to rest on the rim of the coffee cup.  A couple spoonfuls of grounds are put in the cup and pressed down with a little pressing plate, which remains on top.  To make the coffee, a small amount of hot water around 80 to 90 degrees (just under boiling) is slowly poured over the grounds just to wet them and get them packed in.  After a few seconds the cup is then filled only half to three-quarters and then a lid is placed on top.

A closed vacuum is created allowing the water to slowly seep, filter through the grounds and pass through the metal cup, then into the drinking cup.  Some very small grounds pass through, but because it is so slow, they all fall to the bottom before it is finished.  It takes only a couple minutes and the coffee is ready to enjoy.

The color is so rich and dark you can see its texture as it awaits you in the cup.  The aromas are like those of the moist coconut flesh you snack on after drinking its water.  The aroma of coconut mixes in with chocolate volcano cake and toasty vanilla.  The sip is the perfect blend of dark coffee and semi-sweet chocolate.  It does not need any sugar or cream.  The texture all its own coats your mouth like warm honey and is smooth and naturally just sweet enough.

So why is it so expensive?  The process to make the coffee beans ready for roasting takes over a year and a half!  The selection process alone by these animals is similar to the selection process of Grand Cru wine grapes.  The process, not to mention the aromas and flavors of this coffee deserve a Grand Cru status.  It was and is by far the most interesting cup of coffee I will ever to have.

I was fortunate to only pay around $3 for the cup and if you find yourself in Dalat, Vietnam, I do encourage you to visit this farm and at least try a cup.  A 300 gram of the beans will run you around $20.  I say it is well worth it.  Maybe save that for yourself or share it with your other coffee feign friends.  I think I might.

International Sommelier and Chef Christie Kiley has over a decade of combined experience in both restaurants and wineries. While working in kitchens under talented chefs, she spent nights off serving guests in the dining room.

Her passion for food began overflowing into the wine industry and while laboring during wine harvests in Napa, she learned the nature of the product from soil to bottling. Experience working the back- and front-of-the-house in restaurants, wineries in sales, and as a food and wine educator, Christie has vast knowledge of the two industries.

Christie is currently living in Buenos Aires, where she received her Fourth level International Sommelier Certificate from the Escuela de Argentina Sommeliers (EAS) after two years of study.   She is now travelling to fine-tune her knowledge and delve into the gastronomy and cultures around the globe. She works as a freelance writer to share her cultural experiences.

Thai Spicy and Sour Soup with Shrimp

Cooking with a Wallflower

A combination of spicy and sour, this Thai soup is a perfect remedy for a cold dreary day. Filled with shrimp, tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions, this soup is very flavorful and delicious.

Thai Spicy and Sour Soup with Shrimp | Cooking with a Wallflower

It’s cold, cloudy, windy, and rainy. Guess what that means? It’s the perfect time for soup!

In Thai, this soup is called Tom Yum Goong, or Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns. It’s spicy from the chili peppers, slightly sour from the lemon juice, and very fragrant from the lemongrass and kefir lime leaves. This soup is a wonderful combination of so many different flavors. You will love it as much as I do.

Not only that, if you have overripe tomatoes and have no idea what you want to do with them, this is the perfect solution! The tomatoes will be cooked and soft so you won’t notice that they’re too ripe. Every time I have too…

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