Category Archives: odds and ends

unripe chestnut

Who knew? Not me. Definitely not ready for roasting on an open fire. Interesting, though.


crunch and chew?

This reminds me of the Simpsons where they make a very quick joke in the Kwik-E-Mart: Gum ‘N’ Nuts – together at last. Why would you want both together?

john waler whisky

Ha! It was supposed to be 90 proof, but there was no way that was true. Still, it helped keep the cold at bay in the desert.

betel nut

Ah, betel nut, my blood-red nemesis, the mouth-cancer breeder of SE Asia. Betel nut is a stimulant that has been around for ages, chewed with a bit of lime to give the brain a high and turn the mouth a vibrant crimson colour. The huge numbers in this industry are what gave birth to the enormous number of betel palms on the island, part of which caused such terrible devastation in last year’s typhoon. It’s hard for the government to control as well, as a lot of people grow it on their own land and sell the nuts to others under the table. To control this would take massive amounts of people that the government just doesn’t have.

The taste is quite strong at first (see Christine’s father’s expression as he has his first taste as evidence), as is the stimulating effect, which is why you’re supposed to spit the first mouthful out. I swallowed it once and it made my head spin for an hour afterward. You keep chewing and spitting or swallowing, enjoying the lightheadedness, until the whole thing breaks up or you’re sick of the taste, whichever comes first. Truck drivers use it a lot to keep going on the roads, which is why women on highways in betel nut booths often dress skimpily – they want the most business. It’s usually a job requirement.



Christine’s old Spanish teacher invited us out for a Salvadorean homemade dinner – papoosas! They’re made with a special white corn flour mix from El Salvador – you just add water – and then stuffed with whatever you want: chicken, pork, shrimp, cheese, beans, anything (oh, another stuffed food item!) Fry them up and then serve them with a tomato sauce and a salad of veggies in vinegar and you’ve got a snack/meal that can be found anywhere in El Salvador. Mmmm, makes me want to visit there and try all of these. We tried making them ourselves: forming the cup, stuffing it, then sealing it. Chris fared much better than I did; everyone could tell which ones were mine.

weird cakes

You want weird cakes? Well, Taiwan has exactly what you ordered! First off, cakes are made to look good, not to taste good here. I have had decent-tasting cakes, but only because they’re things that I like – chocolate with strawberries, for example. For the most part, they taste about as good as the box they came in with a bunch of sugar added. However, they can be rather entertaining to look at.

They only use frosting – no fondant here – but they make some rather interesting designs. For example, for the hard-core partier’s birthday, why not get them a beer cake? A package of cigarettes may also play well, though I’d avoid it for celebrating a cold turkey anniversary.

The fashionista’s party won’t be complete until she has the Louis Vuitton handbag cake sitting on her table. Want to give what everyone really wants? Give a money cake! Want to impress your son’s friends? How about a cake in the shape of rhino beetle (this is actually quite a popular thing here, so it makes sense in that way). And, of course, who wouldn’t want a cake shaped like a giant cartoon dog turd to celebrate the day of their birth.

Why they have these weird desires, I don’t know. I want to order at least one to take a picture and send it to Cakewrecks, only they’re not wrecks – they’re actually quite well done! Too bad they don’t taste as good as they look.

drink what the incas drink

Well, I not all of these were enjoyed by the Incas and their predecessors, but you get the idea.

Two beverages that cannot be missed while in Peru are Inca Kola and the pisco sour. The first is a bubble-gum sweet, radioactive-yellow tinted pop sold everywhere. It is very popular, outselling Coca Cola by…I’m not sure. A lot. I liked it a lot and drank it when I could. No caffeine!

The pisco sour is the signature alcoholic drink of Peru. Pisco is rather like grappa, the Italian liquor made from grapes. Kind of like a Peruvian grape brandy, I’ve heard it described. It’s also made in Chile, but the Peruvians are fiercely protective of it, citing national pride. There’s a lot of that down here. Either way, it’s a pretty strong, pretty tasty drink that, again, you can buy in every bar in Peru. It’s topped with beaten egg whites.

Other drinks reach further back. Chicha is an old, old drink made from corn. The alcoholic version was made by communally chewing corn (that’s right, sharing spit), then letting the remains sit and ferment until you had booze. We tried some, and though it wasn’t too alcoholic-tasting, it was definitely fermented. I rather enjoyed it. You can buy chicha in almost every town in Peru, you just have to keep an eye out for a pink/red flag (most commonly a plastic bag tied to a stick) hung outside of a home. That means CHICHA HERE.

Even better was chicha morada, a non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn. This was probably our favourite drink, consumed at every possible opportunity. Of course, it was best when homemade, but you could buy it in a two-litre bottle as well. It was often made with bits of pineapple or apple in it, giving it a slight fruity taste. Oh, man, I’m drooling just thinking about it! You can find a recipe from Cocinando con Carmen at the end.

Coca tea is another ancient drink, one often used to help with altitude sickness. It’s much weaker than chewing the coca leaves themselves, but still delivers some of the benefits. After every meal, this is one of the options you receive – the other two are anise tea and chamomile. I enjoyed my coca tea with a touch of sugar.

I don’t know if the Incas drank quinoa juice, but lots of people do now. It’s a popular breakfast food/drink, as a matter of fact. Hot, filling, and tasty, it’s usually sold on the street. A quick recipe for it from Cocinando con Carmen can be found at the end of the article.

Lastly, the drink that’s wrinkled the most noses – essence of frog. I tried this in a market in southern Peru, where the guy selling it to me told us that 10-15 people come by every day to get their healthy frog juice. He was one of many, many sellers in town. It’s not just frog, there’s also carob extract, half of a banana, carrot and beet juice, a raw quail egg, water, honey, and maca (a kind of powdered root). It didn’t taste too bad, kind of sinister juice. Chris likened it to juice made with pond water. I don’t know if there’s a direct connection, but I was rather ill that night. We’ll never know. Oh, and just so it’s clear, the frog was alive right before I ordered the drink – it’s killed and skinned on the spot.

Mmmm, thirst-quenchers.

Chicha Morada

3 L water
1/2 kg purple corn
1 tsp whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 pineapple
Brown sugar and lemon juice to taste

1. Cook the purple corn, cloves, cinnamon, and pineapple skin in the water for 10-15 minutes.

2. Strain and let cool. Add the sugar and lemon juice if you wish, then add the pineapple, chopped into small cubes. Cubed apple can also be added.

Quinoa juice with apple

1/2 c cleaned quinoa
1/2 kg apples, cut into quarters
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tbsp cloves
sugar to taste
1/2 c brown sugar for colour

1. Put 2 litres of water, quinoa, apple, cinnamon, and cloves in a pan. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer. When the apple is cooked, remove it and blend/smash it, put it through a sieve and return liquid to the pan. You can skip the sieve if you like. Drink is finished when quinoa is rather soft and mushy.

2. To give the drink some colour, heat the sugar in a pan. When it caramelizes, add it to the pan. Add extra sugar to taste until desired sweetness is reached.