My Passion for Pisco

My passion for pisco_the fidgety foodie

Pisco sours and ceviche – the quintessential Peruvian combo

My obsession with pisco predates my adventures in South America.

I’ve always had a fascination with the ‘sour’ and its perfect balance of four ingredients – spirit, egg white, sugar syrup and citrus. Success depends on getting the balance between them just right.

The amaretto sour was the entry point for me. Made with what I can only describe as liquid marzipan, it almost felt like cheating. Surely a mocktail in disguise? From there it was a quick slide towards its Latino cousin, the pisco sour. It wasn’t that long ago that it was rare for bars to even stock pisco so I’d often make them myself. It was around the time I worked for hospitality giant Merivale, and I remember incurring the wrath of Merivale’s head of bars at the time when he discovered I was blending the cocktail rather than shaking it (a crime in the world of mixology). I arrived at work one morning to find a photocopy of the recipe from a cocktail bible with the method highlighted for my benefit. Noted Paul.

Regardless of protocol I still blend my pisco sours. Because no amount of shaking (and I can shake!) matches the foaminess that blending creates.

My passion for pisco_the fidgety foodie

The port of Pisco

So… what is pisco? It’s actually a brandy, made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit. When the Spanish rocked up to Peru, they decided to start making it rather than importing something similar from Spain. The spirit used to travel to Spain via the port of Pisco so they decided to call it… Pisco.

Genius.

My passion for pisco_the fidgety foodie

Pisco tasting in Ica, Peru

With pisco sours a firm favourite of mine for a while now, it was always a dream of mine to visit the home of pisco. Or rather homes. Because depending on who you ask, pisco is from Peru and Chile and the two countries have bickered for years over ownership of the Appellation of Origin.

So, what’s the difference? Different grapes to start with. Peruvian pisco is distilled to proof in copper pots while Chilean is aged to a higher proof then cut back with water and stored in oak barrels. The Peruvians use the whole grape, the Chileans distil only the skin. Peru is filled with old-fashioned, tiny producers and Chile is dominated by larger, more commercial operations.

My passion for pisco_the fidgety foodie

Pisco cocktails for every palate

I’ve now tried pisco in Chile and Peru and because I prefer my pisco ensconsed in a sour, I would be hard pressed to tell the difference to be honest. I was more interested in the way each culture drank their pisco. In Chile they love a piscola – pisco and cola. It didn’t really work for me, but nothing mixed with cola really works for me (yes I’m talking to you Fernet & cola – the national drink of Argentina).

  1. My passion for pisco_the fidgety foodie

    El Pisquerito was one of my favourite bars in Lima

The Peruvians will shot it at home and drink pisco cocktails when out. When it’s not a pisco sour it’s usually a Chilcano, a refreshing mix of pisco, ginger ale and lime, served in a tall glass with lots of ice. I was a big fan of this drink. Read More

7 delicious things to eat in Brazil

the fidgety foodie_7 delicious things to eat in Brazil

Feijoada – Brazil’s national dish with all the trimmings

I’m not sure if it’s the samba or the caipirinhas but Brazil has always held an allure for me and I found the food scene intoxicating. This is hardly a definitive list, more a top 7 scenario – stay tuned for part 2.

the fidgety foodie_7 delicious things to eat in Brazil

Yes it’s deep fried sushi and yes it works

Deep fried sushi

Did you know that Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan? So the ubiquity of sushi joints was not a surprise. What was a surprise was the, how should I put it… originality of sushi the Brazilians have perfected. Would you like mango in your California roll? What about a strawberry and cream cheese hand roll? Deep fried sushi? All are in scope for the Brazilians. I’d been warned about a signature of Brazilian sushi, the Hot Philadelphia, so naturally had to try it. They start with salmon and rice in nori seaweed. What’s the big deal, right? Well then add cream cheese and deep fry the whole thing. In all fairness it actually tasted delicious, but any sushi connoisseur would surely be shaking their head.

the fidgety foodie_7 delicious things to eat in Brazil

Bolinhos de bacalhau 

“Whatever you do DO NOT leave Rio without trying these” said my Brazilian friend Rodrigo. I am never one to ignore a local’s recommendation, particularly when it’s a variation on fish cakes. In his eyes these torpedo shaped patties made from bacalhau (dried and salted cod), potatoes, eggs, parsley and onion are the defining dish of Rio. I must concur he was right as I saw them on almost every table every time I went out to a boteco to drink. When in Rio I did as the Cariocas do so ordered them a number of times and they never disappointed.

the fidgety foodie_7 delicious things to eat in Brazil

Feijoada from the Academia da Cachaca in Leblon, Rio

Feijoada

As Brazil’s national dish this is an obvious addition to the list but given its fame I was surprised at how elusive it was. Sure every buffet had a version (but by definition anything on a buffet table can only reach certain heights) and that was the first time I tried it, but I wanted to try it in its full glory with all the trimmings – and for that you have to track down certain restaurants and eat at certain times, namely Saturday or Sunday lunch.

the fidgety foodie_7 delicious things to eat in Brazil

Succulent cuts of meat along with off cuts in this feijoada

Feijoada is dish of slow cooked black beans stewed with a variety of meaty off cuts, ranging from salted pig’s ears to beef tongue. The traditional accompaniments are rice, farofa (toasted cassava flour), collared greens, bacon and orange to help cut through the richness of the stew. It’s an epic meal and pretty much all you’ll need to eat that day.

the fidgety foodie_7 delicious things to eat in Brazil

Feijoada with rice, farofa, collared greens, bacon and orange

The iconic dish was created by the West African slaves brought to Brazil by the colonial Portuguese but is now considered a dish that feeds the soul of the whole Brazilian population. Just make sure you fast before you eat it. Read More

Memoirs of Russia

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

Would you like a menu with that?

With the World Cup starting in three days (thanks to work I’ve been counting down for a year) I thought it highly apt to dig back into my Russia files. I’ve raved about the Georgian food in Russia and a brilliant cooking class in Moscow, but what else did I take away from visiting the world’s largest (and often most provocative) country? Well mainly food of course…

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

A snapshot of Russian history told through vodka.

Vodka
And vodka obviously. Vodka is drunk like water in Russia. So it’s no surprise when you learn that the name stems from the Russian word for water, ‘voda’. It’s everywhere, and I was warned not to buy the dodgy cheap stuff, i.e. 1/2 litre for anything less than 200 Rubles (or about AUD$4.50!). That stuff can actually kill you. The ‘good stuff’ is still a quarter of the price you pay in Australia so what the Russians regard as expensive was still a bargain for me.

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

And even more vodka…

Naturally I had to check out the Vodka Museum which was a shrine to the stuff and told of its history and the role it has played in society and history. Take the tour and you get a complimentary shot of vodka (for research purposes only of course).

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

Choose your poison and your fridge.

And it wasn’t uncommon to find a vodka fridge next to a soft drink fridge. Even the Russians need to stay hydrated.

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

Picking pickles leaves me pickled pink

Pickles
I do love myself a pickle. I took great joy in fishing out pickles from salty brine while in Estonia and was happy to see a similar attitude to pickles in Russia, i.e. bring them out for every meal and feel free to snack on them in between. The pickles always hit the right balance of tartness and sweetness with me, and I even enjoyed the rogue dill fronds that would inevitable be wrapped around each one.

the fidgety foodie_memoirs of Russia

My favourite cranky Russian stall holder and her pickles.

There were entire pickle counters at the food markets where I managed to extract a couple of samples from a perpetually cross looking matron. Then of course there were plenty of tubs filled with homemade pickles lining the streets in smaller towns. I loved how it was entirely acceptable to buy a couple of pickles and eat them as you went about your day. Read More

17 reasons why I am just like Nigella

the fidgety foodie_17 reasons why I am just like Nigella

Nigella in conversation with Maeve O’Meara at the Opera House

Exactly two years ago I fangirled shamelessly through this post on why I love my foodie hero, Nigella.

Nigella was back in town recently which means I am back in adoration mode. But this time our likenesses really struck me. Time and time again during her two talks (naturally I went to both), I found myself thinking, she’s just like me. Or rather I’m just like her. So here are the 17 reasons why, direct from Nigella herself.

“It’s a long time not to eat. Missing a meal would make me panic.” 

This was Nigella’s response to the question ‘Have you tried the 5:2 diet?” and I completely agree with her. I am flummoxed at how people survive for a day on a boiled egg and cup of black coffee and could never, would never do it.

the fidgety foodie_17 reasons why I am just like Nigella

A section of my bulging bookcase of cookbooks

“People would faint at disapproval if they knew how many cookery books I owned.”

I would love to know what number that is. For me it’s 113 and steadily rising. And yes a good chunk of those are Nigella’s books.

“Food shopping is very pleasurable.”

I LOVE food shopping and can spend hours in a supermarket, especially if it’s an international supermarket. Granted I am not shopping for a family of six however the size of my trolley often suggests I am. I remember how much I loved the Thursday night shop with mum when I was little and I take great pleasure in examining produce and products, comparing value and picking up random new finds to have some fun.

I love salt.”

I love it so much I often commit the culinary sin of salting my food before tasting it. I hope dearly that I’m never put on a low sodium diet, it would be the end of me.

the fidgety foodie_17 reasons why I am just like Nigella

Me eating spanakopita at around 18 months. The only thing that’s really changed is my taste in socks.

Food memories conjure up feelings of safety, the smells take you back and give comfort.”

My earliest memories all involve food. Hell, ALL my memories involve food. And nothing gives me greater comfort than my yiayia’s cooking, or the smell of a barbeque. ”Food says a lot about identity… we develop bonds through food’ Nigella noted to sociologist Hugh Mackay. One meal with a Greek family is all that’s required to prove this point.

“How do people live without leftovers?”

I live for leftovers. I cook for the aforementioned imaginary family of six and then portion out leftovers for lunch and future dinners. There’s nothing better than arriving home late and tired knowing there is a home cooked meal waiting to be reheated.

the fidgety foodie-17 reasons why i am like nigella

“Over half the recipes in this (new) book are vegetarian.”

Nigella noted that despite embracing every food type voraciously, she subconsciously leans towards vegetarian food much of the time and I am quite similar. I love meat but I rarely buy it, for a mix of health, environmental and fiscal reasons. I tend to save juicy steak and pork ribs for restaurant dining and dig into vegetables, seafood, pulses and whole grains at home. Which interestingly enough is a standard Mediterranean diet – perhaps I am more like my Greek islander ancestors than I realise. Read More