Home » Articles posted by ColinAndMitch

Author Archives: ColinAndMitch

Sign Up To Our Very Tasty Newsletter

Loading

More To See

Happy New Year of the Rabbit

Year of the Rabbit begins 22nd January 2023 and celebrations will ensue. 

Like many festivals all over the world, such as Diwali, Eid and Easter, Chinese New Year is derived from the lunar calendar and is celebrated with food, family reunions and festivities. 

The animals associated with the years are based upon the Chinese horoscope. All twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac have different symbols and it is thought that people’s character traits can be reflected in those born in a particular year.

So the personality traits for someone born in the Year of the Rabbit could be deemed to be quiet, elegant, kind and responsible. The characteristics of Very Tasty World’s founders could be reflected in their zodiac animals because VTW has a compassionate, generous and very diligent Pig associating with a sharp, smart, recondite cheeky Monkey.

Year of the Rabbit

Our visit to China during the latter part of the New Year celebrations, known as Spring Festival, some years ago can be found in the post Gong Xi Fa Cai or Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year! It was a joyful time.

Food For the Festivities

Like many annual celebrations and gatherings this is the time for family and food with wide celebrations. Reunions and recipes join together in sociability and culinary joy.

Some of the more popular traditional dishes associated with lunar new year in China include a whole fish cooked with ginger, garlic and spring onion. Jiaozi – dumplings- represent coins which symbolise prosperity throughout the year. Long noodles suggest longevity and happiness and spring rolls signify wealth.

We have a recipe for baked whole fish cooked with ginger, garlic and spring onions using sea bass. The fish is always served whole as the head and tail represent the start and end of the year.

Year of the Rabbit

And it’s not all savoury. Sweet glutinous rice cakes suggest the possibility of moving up in the world and sweet rice balls which represent family harmony. Happy New Year!

More Tasty Recipes on VTW
More posts from SouthEast Asia

RECIPE: How to Make Costa Rica’s Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto is Costa Rica’s national dish. It’s so popular it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It comprises rice and beans cooked together and served with a variety of accompaniments – such as sausage, vegetables and eggs.

World's best breakfasts

Gallo pinto can be translated as “spotted rooster” and refers to the black beans dotted through the white rice, the colours of which resemble a speckled chicken. Costa Rican food is considered to be highly nutritious and gallo pinto is no exception, but importantly, it’s also hearty, filling and delicious.

The type of rice used is traditionally white long grain. Brown rice or short grain rice is okay to use if that’s what you have. Gallo pinto is great if you cooked too much rice for dinner the night before – it’s an ideal leftovers meal.

The sauce used in this dish is called Lizano. If you ask for salsa at a restaurant in Costa Rica they will bring Lizano. It is used to accompany many dishes and we managed to bring back a couple of bottles from our trip. It is a tangy, spicy (but not searingly hot) sauce that has a lovely piquancy. It’s available in the UK but often at a massively inflated price – we’ve seen it available at an eye-wateringly expensive £30 for two bottles! No, we didn’t buy it. Instead we’ve worked out a recipe using easily available sauces/spices that replicates the flavour pretty well.

Gallo Pinto Recipe (Serves 4)

Ingredients

2 cups long grain white rice (our cups are around 150 ml)

1 tin of black beans (240g)

2 Tbs Lizano sauce (if you can’t get this you need 1 Tbs brown sauce, 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1/2   tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp celery salt)

Clove or two of garlic (depending on how garlicky you feel), finely sliced or crushed

2 tsp cumin

1 egg per person

Lots of fresh coriander

Side Dish/Accompaniment Ingredients

Chopped vegetables – bell peppers, tomatoes, onion

gallo pinto recipe

Method

Cook the rice. We use a ratio of 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Our cups are around 150ml in size. Gallo pinto uses long grain rice.

We use a rice cooker which is absolutely brilliant for cooking rice (as well as other things) as we can just bung the rice and water in and set it off. If you don’t have a rice cooker a saucepan is fine – use the same ratio of rice to water. When the rice has absorbed all the water it should be done. It’s absolutely fine to cook the rice well in advance and let it cool, in fact, it’s probably better not to put hot rice into the gallo pinto. Sometimes if we’re having a meal with rice the day before, we’ll make extra rice and let it cool down so that we can have gallo pinto the next day.

Gallo pinto recipe

When ready to make the gallo pinto, gently fry the garlic in oil and add the cumin. Then add the rice and stir through.

Open the tin of black beans and add the entire contents – including the water.

gallo pinto recipe

Add 2 Tbs of Lizano sauce.

Gallo pinto salsa

If you can’t get Lizano you can make a reasonable approximation by mixing brown sauce and Worcestershire sauce with spices: 1 Tbs brown sauce, 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1/2   tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp celery salt.

Mix it all together gently.

Let the gallo pinto keep warm on a low heat while you fry an egg for each person.

Garnish with chopped coriander.

Gallo pinto recipe

For a more complete meal, stir fry some vegetables and serve alongside the gallo pinto.

Alternative – at the garlic frying step, add chopped vegetables such as onion or bell pepper and stir into the gallo pinto itself.

gallo pinto recipe
gallo pinto recipe

Gallo pinto can be eaten as a meal in itself but can also accompany other dishes. We enjoyed it with steaks, sausages and fried plantain amongst many other delicious ingredients.

Related Posts You May Enjoy

Costa rica chocolate
Costa Rica’s chocolate
Cotopaxi volcano Quito
Visit Quito in Ecuador
Costa Rica Two Toed Sloth
Visiting a Costa Rica wildlife sanctuary
Tortuguero
Turtle watching in Costa Rica
More posts from the Americas
More Tasty Recipes on VTW
More posts from SouthEast Asia

The Gassho Farmhouses of Rural Japan

It’s not often that we use the word ‘unique’ because very often things described as such usually aren’t. Unique, that is. But there are some villages in rural Japan that are the only examples of their kind and they offer a fantastic glimpse into traditional life in the Japanese countryside.

rural Japan Ainokura

The historic mountain villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama have been designated as UNESCO heritage sites and were historically quite isolated from the rest of the world. The villages Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go, and Ainokura and Suganuma in the Gokayama region are located in central Honshu, on the Shogawa river valley, across the borders of the Gifu and Toyama Prefectures.

Ogimachi is probably the most famous of the villages and is known for its light-up events, where the whole village turns their lights on in winter-time and visitors come from far and wide to marvel at the beauty of a snowy wonderland.   These are scheduled events and hugely popular. Reservation is essential, not only for staying in the village but also for attending the viewing and some transportation options.

Initially when planning our winter trip we thought that Ogimachi would be the obvious place to visit but unfortunately everybody else thinks that too. It was impossible to find accommodation in this lovely village, even when trying to book several months in advance. But we had a Plan B which worked very well indeed. Ainokura is smaller and quieter but similarly delightful.

Getting to Ainokura in Rural Japan

We had been staying in a business hotel in the lovely city of Kanazawa on the western coast of Japan and, as we planned to return there, left our main luggage at the hotel and just took an overnight bag with us. We then caught the shinkansen (bullet train) from Kanazawa to Shin-Takoaka. It is possible to catch a bus to Ainokura from Shin-Takoaka – the journey takes just over an hour or so – but we caught possibly the cutest train ever to Johana and caught our bus from there.

Japan cute train

Japan cute train

Ainokura can also be reached from Toyama. The shinkansen goes to Toyama and it’s possible to catch a bus from there. It is feasible to visit the village as a day trip from both Takoaka and Toyama but we recommend staying overnight.

Our bus to Ainokura left from Johana station and we embarked on a pleasant journey through the Japanese countryside. A short walk from the main road took us into the village.

rural Japan

A word of warning: If you are visiting during the winter the area can experience a lot of snowfall –  2-3 metres on occasion. This may mean that occasionally buses can’t get through and are delayed until the roads can be cleared. It’s worth bearing this in mind when planning your onward journey.

Staying in a Gassho Farmhouse

The farmhouses are called ‘gassho’ which means ‘joining hands in prayer’ due to their very steeply pitched thatched roofs. Because the area experiences such heavy snow in winter, the roof design ensures that snow falls off the building quickly and this helps prevent the structure being crushed by its weight.

The houses have three or four levels – the top levels are not living areas but used for various industrial or farming purposes, such as making washi paper or rearing silkworms.

The front and back have a large gable with windows to let the light in.

We booked a room at Yomoshiro ryokan, a delightful family run house.

rural Japan gassho

On arrival we took off our shoes and were offered an array of indoor slippers to wear. This is very common in all Japanese households, it’s considered very rude to wear outdoor shoes inside a house.

Our hosts were lovely and very welcoming. We were offered a cup of warm tea and a biscuit in the living area.

The living area has a sunken fire with a kettle suspended above the embers. The room was warm and toasty.

Gassho living area

Our room was in traditional style with tatami (reed) mat and futon bedding on the flooring. Usually the bed is laid out while you are enjoying dinner.

rural Japan gassho bedroom

The bathroom and toilet were shared with other guests and one thing that you need to remember in Japan is to change your indoor slippers for bathroom slippers when you use the bathroom or toilet.  And change them back – it is really easy to forget to change the slippers back and walking on the tatami in your bathroom slippers is like walking inside in your outdoor shoes.

Exploring the Village

We visited the day that our hosts reopened their accommodation after the new year holiday so unfortunately some of the attractions in the area weren’t yet open. There is a museum of traditional industries which demonstrates the paper making and silk activities of the region.

The village also has a folk museum that showcases traditional utensils, tools and musical instruments from the region.

There are a number of walks in the area. One of these is essential – a viewing area close to the village entrance where you can climb up the hillside to take that perfect shot of the village, nestled amidst the mountains.

rural Japan Ainokura

Back to the Gassho for Dinner

The costs of our stay included dinner and breakfast and this was a highlight of the visit as the food on offer was locally sourced, some even grown by our hosts. We dined with the other guests in the living area.

Our home-cooked dinner was utterly delicious. Char, a fish a bit like a trout, was salted and roasted on a spit in the fire.

Char fish cooking in fire

We were also served koi sashimi, vegetable tempura and a home-grown spaghetti squash, mountain greens, and simmered bamboo shoots, mushrooms and sweet potato.

rural Japan dinner

Rice accompanied the meal and we also enjoyed some local sake.

After dinner we were entertained with a documentary about the villages and then our hosts played some music using traditional instruments.

A lot of these are percussion, notably the sasara which comprises many wooden clappers which are strung together.

A Cosy Night’s Sleep

At bedtime we were provided with hot stones to put into our futons.

These stones had been heated in the fire and were placed inside ceramic boxes then wrapped in a thick cloth.

These were better than any hot water bottle we’d ever used, they retained the heat so well – they actually felt as though they were getting warmer through the night.

Breakfast the following morning was a traditional Japanese meal and also delicious. There were lots of fresh vegetable dishes, rice and miso soup.

Japanese breakfast

We were given the choice of a raw or boiled egg. We always choose raw egg. You mix it into the rice, which partially cooks the egg, add a bit of soy sauce to your taste and then scoop up the flavourful mixture with a piece of nori seaweed. You usually get a sour and salty umeboshi plum – a real wake-up call!

Staying in a gassho is a delightful way to spend time in rural Japan and is highly recommended. But… make sure you plan your trip and book early!

Related Posts You May Enjoy

Visit Yakushima Shiratani Unsuikyo
Visit Yakushima Island, Japan
Osaka restaurant japan
Restaurants in Osaka
Miyajima torii
The three best views in Japan
Studio Ghibli Museum cafe
Visit the Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo
More posts from Japan
More posts from SouthEast Asia

The Food of The Azores

The Azores are a tiny archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and an autonomous region of Portugal. Their location means that they are an absolute magnet for marine life viewing because they have resident whales and dolphins, as well as many migratory species, such as the blue whale, which pass close by to the islands each year. We spent a week on Sao Miguel, the largest island, enjoying whale/dolphin watching excursions as well as some activities on the island, such as mountain biking and kayaking. But we didn’t realise what a great foodie destination the islands are. In between the activities we enjoyed some fantastic food of the Azores.

We stayed in the main town of Ponta Delgada. It’s a pretty place and has all amenities within walking distance.

Cheese – Food of the Gods!

One of the things we noticed when travelling through the beautiful green countryside was the number of cows and also fields of ripening corn. The corn is actually more likely to be grown to feed cows than people.

With mild winters and lots of rain the vegetation is lush and that’s perfect for the cows who produce rich milk that is turned into cheese. We were surprised to learn that around 50% of Portugal’s cheese is produced in the Azores.

Another striking feature of the landscape is the plethora of hydrangeas that line the roads. The cows tend to ignore them so they become natural fences that look glorious in the height of summer. We visited just after they were at their best but they still looked very pretty.

There are various cheese shops in Ponta Delgada – King of Cheese and Prince of Cheese – they aren’t modest about the quality of the product!

Foodie Azores cheese
Foodie Azores cheese

It’s fun visiting the shops – you can let them know about your cheesy preferences and they will recommend particular flavours and offer you a sample. We were keen to bring some cheese home and they were able to vacuum pack some very large slices for us so that we could store them in our hotel fridge and get them on the flight home. They survived very well and made sure that we weren’t going to run out of cheese for several weeks.

Foodie azores

Sao Michel has a black rind and is the premier cheese of the island we were staying on. It’s a hard, very mature cheese with a lovely sharp flavour.

Sao Jorge cheese is produced on the Azorean island of the same name. It is a semi-hard cheese made from unpasteurised milk. It is milder than the other cheeses, with a nutty flavour

Vaquinha is from the island of Terceira. This one has a surprising initial creaminess for a hard cheese but this eventually flakes slightly. It is very mature, is almost spicy and has a real kick to the flavour!

Cheese is often provided as an appetiser at restaurants but this isn’t matured cheese, it is queijo fresco. It doesn’t have the fullest of flavour, in fact it’s pretty bland, so it is served with pimenta da terra (red pepper paste) which gives it a real pzazz, and it’s eaten with fresh bread. We were able to bring back a bottle of pimento de terra home with us.

What Goes Well with Cheese? Pineapple of Course!

There is a pineapple plantation, located just outside Ponta Delgada, easily within walking distance of the city centre. You can visit the greenhouses and see the pineapples growing.

Foodie Azores pineapple

There are also some displays and videos which show the process for growing these fruit. It’s interesting that they use a smoking process to trigger the flowering of the plant.

And there’s a café on site which offers a complimentary shot of pineapple liqueur and a teeny piece of toast with pineapple jam.

Foodie Azores

And, as we hadn’t had elevenses or lunch, we thought it would be rude not to enjoy a pineapple gelato, washed down with a caipirinha, a delicious cocktail made with crushed pineapple, lime and rum.

Foodie Azores
Foodie azores caipirinha

Everything Stops For Tea

The Azores also have a tea plantation, located on the north coast of Sao Miguel. The Gorreana Tea Factory was established in 1883 and is one of only two tea plantations in Europe. It’s possible to visit the factory and do a self guided tour.

Foodie Azores tea plantation
Foodie Azores tea plantation

There are infographics showing how the tea is processed and you can enjoy a cup of their tea as well as visit the inevitable shop and café. They produce both green and black tea. Both taste good.

Tea processing process

It’s lovely to be able to see the original machinery in action.

Tea roller
Azores Foodies tea
Green tea steamer
Tea left separator
Tea leaf separator

Volcanic Cozido das Furnas

The Azores are volcanic islands and some areas are still very geologically active. We enjoyed a day trip to Furnas towards the eastern end of the island.

Furnas lake view

The local town has fumeroles which regularly steam, squirt and belch hot water. The area has a distinct whiff of rotten eggs due to the sulphur. Some of the water has a yellow colour (see the photo below on the right). This is not geological but local people put in bags of corn on the cob to cook.

Furnas fumerole

Taro plants, known as elephant ears, grow in the warm water.  These have bulbous corms (like a tuber) which are edible and similar to sweet potatoes.

Foodie Azores

There are also some drinking fountains where you can taste the local water – it tastes very minerally and is an acquired taste for some. It’s also odd drinking warm water. These fountains are located just metres apart but the flavour of the water is surprisingly different!

Most trips take you to a viewing point to see Furnas lake, and then you descend to the lake itself. You’re not allowed to swim in the lake but it’s possible to go boating on it. And walking around the area reveals some more of the steaming landscape.

There are a number of fenced off areas containing mounds of soil with name tags. On closer inspection these tags bear the names of various restaurants. Lunch!

Foodie azores

Every morning the restaurants prepare meat and vegetables and place them in a large pot. At 5am these pots are buried in the volcanic soil. Around six hours later a parade of vans arrive (and that’s the cue to grab a place by the fence if you want to take photos) and each restaurant owner will dig out their pots (or invite a hapless tourist to help) from the perfect slow cooker which has been cooking the food using free energy from the ground. It’s a brilliant system. And the site isn’t restricted to restaurants. Local people can hire a hole and bring their own food for a picnic/meal later in the day.

Back in town, the food is then served in the respective restaurants. A platter of meats and a platter of vegetables. (Vegetarians/vegans – the meat and veg will have been cooked together so if you want a veggie cozido, ask in advance and an unadulterated pot of pure veg can be supplied.)

The meats comprised pork, sausage, chicken, beef and blood sausage (Morcela) – all so soft and tender it could be cut with a spoon. It melted in the mouth.

The vegetables were potatoes, carrots, cabbage (which was served in large chunks so that it didn’t disintegrate during the cooking process) and the elephant ear yams.

Foodie Azores Cozida de Furnas
Foodie Azores Cozida de Furnas

Cozido doesn’t have any additional flavours added – the food is served just as it comes out of the pot. But while it doesn’t offer complexity, the juices of the meat provide lots of flavour and you really get to enjoy the taste of the meat and vegetables. And it really is a feast! All washed down with local wine and a nice honey cake (if still hungry) or a slice of delicious local pineapple (if that’s all you can manage) for dessert, it filled us up for the rest of the day.

Foodie Azores honey cake
Foodie Azores pineapple

A Little Bit of Foraging

While the hydrangeas add glorious hues to the countryside and are very much welcomed, Sao Miguel has a more invasive plant – the yellow wild ginger – which is far less popular. It spreads quickly and does take over the landscape very quickly.

The local university is looking into uses for the plant and it’s looking hopeful that the fibrous leaves may be a useful material to replace use of some plastics in future. It is a good pollinator and inside the long yellow flowers is a drop of nectar. You can pick the flower, bite off the end – by a couple of centimetres – and spit that out. Then suck on the flower and you can taste the sweetness.

Dining on San Miguel – Ponta Delgada

First of all, if you want to dine at a particular restaurant, book! We visited at the end of the busy season and struggled to get a table at the best restaurants for an evening meal. At one of the restaurants we pretty much bagged the last table. We arrived five minutes before opening and people were already queuing for a walk-in but were politely turned away. Another option is to visit the restaurants at lunchtime when it should be easier to get a table.

Our favourites were Gastronomo and Michel. Both are deservedly popular and offered foods of the Azores that were local specialities. We received a very warm welcome in each place.

Gastronomo, R. da Boa Nova

Their queijo fresco and pimenta da terra were freshly made (some restaurants provide you with the cheese on a plate and a bottle of sauce) and served on a ginger plant leaf (one of the uses for the invasive plant) accompanied by home-made bread, including a sweet bread (a bit like a brioche) which was a wonderful contrast to the cheese and chilli.

food of the azores
food of the azores

We shared a starter of black pudding and local pineapple which was an absolutely delicious combination of sweet and savoury flavours. The black pudding – a blood sausage – was one of the best we have eaten.

The Azoreans have a particular way of cooking steak. Bife steak with garlic and pimento and a fried egg.

Food of the Azores

Bacalhau is not specifically Azorean but is a hugely well known Portuguese dish. It comprises salt cod, cooked with eggs and olives and served on fries.

Food of the Azores bacalhau

Michel, Rua Engº José Cordeiro Antiga da Calheta 

We tried Azorean limpets and local shrimp to start with. Limpets are shellfish that are incredibly common all over Europe and, although we knew they were edible, had never seen them on a menu before. They have a tougher texture than a lot of shellfish but they were tasty.

Food of the Azores limpets

Pork and mashed yam (the elephant ears) and vegetables was utterly delicious.

As was the oven roast lamb.

food of the azores

A Tasty Puebla Food Tour

Puebla is just a couple of hours away from Mexico City and is a complete contrast to that glorious, sprawling metropolis. It is a delightful city to visit and the historic centre is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also a city of great deliciousness – the Puebla food scene is astonishingly diverse and exciting. After all, this is the city that claims to have invented mole poblano!

Puebla food tour

Getting to Puebla

We were travelling through Mexico on buses, which was a lovely way to see the countryside. The buses are largely comfortable and on time but journey times can be long. The bus stations are usually located on the edge of town, so we tended to use taxis to get to and from our hotels. Most of the taxi drivers were excellent and, even though the journeys were unmetered, the costs were pretty cheap – usually lower than $10. There was only one place where we got shafted by a taxi driver and that was in Merida (which is a lot more touristy) who overcharged us for a very short journey so it’s advisable to agree on a price in advance – and to be able to count in Spanish! When we arrived in Puebla we discovered a taxi rank where we could pre-pay our fare which made everything much easier.

The journey from Mexico City to Puebla took two hours. If travelling from Oaxaca, the travelling time is around five hours.

We were staying at the Colonial Hotel in Puebla, just a block away from the Zocalo main square. It’s a former Jesuit monastery, dating from the 17th century. We had an enormous room with the highest ceiling we had ever seen. Also, they provided a ginormous water dispenser in the room (you can’t drink the tap water in Mexico) and this was very useful.

 

Places to Visit in Puebla

On arrival we went straight to the zocalo, which is a lovely space filled with trees, sculptures and benches. We always find it useful to head for the tourist information office when we arrive at a new city, and Puebla’s is located on the northeast corner of this square, on the side opposite the cathedral. It was great chatting with the friendly staff who offered us a map of the area and list of attractions to visit, as well as some foodie recommendations.

Puebla was founded by the Spanish who had set up a trade route between Veracruz on the coast and Mexico City. The area was originally forested and hadn’t been populated by indigenous peoples, it was located between the settlements of Tlaxcala and Cholula. The soil is volcanic and as a result, the land is fertile and ideal for growing crops. The Spanish brought crops such as wheat with them and the food is therefore a fusion of local ingredients with European.

Puebla is a city filled with churches. It feels as though there is one on every street. It’s perfectly okay to wander inside although it’s advisable not to look around if a service is ongoing. There are two churches that are absolute must-sees.

Puebla Cathedral

Located on the south side of the zocalo, the Basilica Cathedral of Puebla, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, was one of the first cathedrals to be built in Mexico. It was consecrated in 1649. It is a huge cathedral.

Puebla cathedral

Like many large churches in Mexico, it has multiple domes and altars. The high altar is particularly ornate.

Puebla cathedral
Puebla cathedral

Church of Santo Domingo

The Church of Santo Domingo is remarkable for its chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. It is a classic example of new Spanish baroque architecture and in its time was considered to be the 8th wonder of the world. It was conceived in 1650 and completed in 1690.

Santo Domingo chapel
Puebla Santo Domingo chapel

The chapel is decorated with gilded plasterwork, the highly decorative and intricate designs are coated in 24-carat gold leaf.

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

The Biblioteca Palafoxiana is the first and oldest library in the Americas and is another UNESCO site. Chock full of some 45,000 books dating from the 15th century onwards and categorised according to the subject, you can wander through the library and view the shelves as well as some books on display in glass cabinets. It has a wonderful smell – just breathe in deeply to inhale the scent of centuries-old literature!

Biblioteca Palafoxiana Puebla
Biblioteca Palafoxiana
Biblioteca Palafoxiana book

Museo Amparo

This free museum and art gallery is a joy to visit and highly recommended. Set in two colonial-era buildings across multiple levels it has several permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Amparo Museum Puebla

The ground floor is dedicated to the pre-Hispanic history of the region and sets it in the context of world history. It has a huge number of fascinating artefacts with pieces dating from as early as 2500 BCE.

Museo Amparo Puebla
Museo Amparo
Museo Amparo
Museo Amparo

The building was the home of the Espinoza from 1871 to the 1980s, and this is reflected in the upstairs exhibits which are set out as rooms showing objects from the colonial period, including drawing rooms and a kitchen.

The Amparo has a terrific modern art gallery. There are also temporary exhibitions – we were able to enjoy an exhibition on 1970s feminism when we visited. It’s possible to spend several hours here so definitely set some time aside to explore this wonderful place.

Don’t do what we did and forget to go to the cafeteria on the second floor. Even if you don’t want a coffee or tea, there’s apparently a fabulous view of the city. We only learned about this after our visit. We’ll have to return.

Museo de la Revolución- Museum of the Mexican Revolution

This house in Calle Santa Clara was the home of the Serdán family and was the location of the first conflict of the Mexican Revolution which took place in 1910. President Porfirio Díaz had been in power for decades and was becoming increasingly unpopular. Aquiles Serdán was a supporter of revolutionary leader Francisco Madero and started planning an insurgence against the president.

However, the rebellion was foiled when members of Díaz’s government learned of their plans, and Aquiles, Máximo, Carmen, and Natalia Serdán, along with others, defended themselves inside the house from hundreds of soldiers who were shooting at them. Aquiles survived the gunfight and hid inside a hole under the floorboards where the revolutionaries had stockpiled their weapons. Unfortunately, he coughed when the authorities raided the house, so was discovered and later killed.

Museo de la Revolución

The house has been converted into a museum. It displays the living arrangements of the families.

It also gives lots of information about the background of the revolution and its outcome. There is also a room dedicated to the women of the family.

Museo de la Revolución

While the bullet holes on the exterior of the house look dramatic, they are actually fake. The building was renovated a few years ago and the workmen unwittingly rendered over the plaster, covering the original holes! After this mistake had been discovered the ‘bullet’ holes were drilled back in. If you look closely it’s quite clear that they could never have been made by bullets fired from guns manufactured in 1910.

Museo de la Revolución

Museo de la Revolución

There are some genuine bullet holes in the stone doorframe at the museum’s entrance.

Other Attractions

There are lots of other places to see in Puebla. These are some of the highlights:

Señor de las Maravillas is a 17th century carving located in the Temple of Santa Monica. It is said that the image of Christ was carved from a tree that had been struck by lightning.

Municipal City Hall, located on the north side of the zocalo, houses a museum and art gallery.

International Museum of the Baroque is housed in a very cool building designed by Toyo Ito and exhibits a large collection of baroque art.

Lucha Libre – if you like Mexican wrestling (and who doesn’t?) there is a lucha libre arena which runs fun filled events, where masked wrestlers battle it out in the ring every Monday.

Barrio las Artistas is a great place to hang out and view local artists at work. There are bars and restaurants in the area and there is often live music in the evenings.

A Puebla Food Tour

We had organised a foodie tour which was perfect as an introduction to the sheer unadulterated joy that is Mexican, and specifically Puebla, cuisine. We spent an afternoon wandering through the streets stuffing our faces with the most amazing food.

Street Food

In the little alley Pasaje Zaragoza, just off the northern end of the zocalo, is a street food stall which always has customers queueing for its delights – Tacos El Pasaje. This is a family business and, while this type of outdoor street food is not strictly legal, this stall has been around for such a long time it is looked over. There is even a sign above the stall. All the products are made in the morning and stored in a covered basket. The food remains warm most of the day.

Puebla food tour

The menu is handwritten – when a particular filling sells out, a line is struck through the menu and you miss out. Until tomorrow, of course. This was where we enjoyed a taco with deep-fried chipotle chilli stuffed with cheese and accompanied with creamy avocado. It was unctuous and not too spicy as the cheese calms the heat of the chilli pepper.

Puebla food tour taco

Our next stop was another family business, La Poblanita, a street stall located on Av5 Pte, just around the corner from the Zocalo.

La Poblanita Puebla

This was where we discovered molotes – a filled tortilla made from corn masa and deep fried. The filling was huitlachoche – corn mushroom – a fungus that grows on the kernel of maize. We had never come across these before and were blown away – the umami flavour was so intense. Our molotes were served with sour cream and salsa.

huitlachoche molotes Puebla food tour

At this stall, we also enjoyed carne (although carne means meat, in this case it was beef) pelonas, wheat bread sandwiches filled with delicious beef and refried beans, and served with with two bright and colourful salsas.

carne pelonas Puebla

History of Tacos

Tacos could well be considered to be quintessential Mexican food. What we didn’t know was that they are actually a fusion food, imported from the Lebanese community who emigrated to Mexico in the late 19th century. We were quite surprised to see kebab shop-style spits slowly revolving in shop fronts cooking luscious cuts of meat. Tacos became really popular but they evolved in order to adapt to Mexican tastes. Pork, a meat rarely seen in the Middle East, replaced lamb and then the dish incorporated the local inclination to embellish the tacos with all sorts of salsas, condiments, and additional flavours. In Mexico, more is definitely more.

Puebla food tour meat grilling

Taco Arabe are chargrilled pork tacos on a wheat bread tortilla. It’s a flatbread, a bit like a pitta but without the pocket – instead it is folded. We ate this with a sweet chipotle sauce and a squeeze of lime.

Taco Arabe Puebla

Al Pastor tacos have spiced pork inside a corn tortilla. We ate these with teeny chunks of pineapple, lime juice, coriander, finely diced raw onion, and a creamy avocado sauce.

Al Pastor tacos Puebla food

Most of the taco restaurants that we visited offered a number of salsas and multiple wedges of lime for the table. The etiquette for tacos is that they will arrive at your table either folded or open. If they are folded, open them up, add whatever salsa and additional flavours you want, roll or fold them up again, and scoff.

Our next stop offered some sweet surprises. The nuns at the convent on Santa Clara make cakes and sweets and these are sold in the lovely shop across the road.

Santa Clara sweet shop Puebla

Camotes de Santa Clara are a sweet potato cylindrical-shaped paste flavoured with fruit and honey. There are several fruit flavours available – we chose strawberry.

Camotes de Santa Clara

Tortitas de Santa Clara (torte from cake in Spanish) is a delicious fusion of Spanish biscuit base with a filling made from indigenous ground pumpkin seed and honey. A sprinkling of some of the local volcanic salt adds another dimension. This is a nice crumbly biscuit that has a lovely sweetness and smooth peanut butteriness of the pumpkin seeds.

Tortitas de Santa Clara Puebla food

A Magical Market

A short walk out of town, across the road (which used to be the river), took us to Mercado Municipal La Acocota. It was lovely exploring this market, which had so many stalls selling fabulous-looking wares.

Mercado Municipal La Acocota Puebla
Mercado Municipal La Acocota Puebla food

We also discovered the corn mushroom for sale.

huitlachoche Puebla food

We’ve never seen so many different varieties of chilli pepper!

But we weren’t there to shop. We also had plans to eat. You can’t say you’ve been to Puebla unless you have tried a cemita – a massive sandwich of very great deliciousness.

Samita is another family-run business with three generations all working together at the market. They have a fantastic reputation. You sit on stools around the stall and can chat with other customers. Everyone was delightful. The bread is very important in the cemita – it is a wheat-based roll – substantial and fluffy. We enjoyed a Milanese escalope with stringy cheese, jalapeno and avocado. 

Puebla food tour market cemita

The mega cemita has four fillings including escalope, boiled pork skin, ham, or sliced cheese.

Puebla’s most famous dish is mole (pronounced molay) poblano. It’s another essential dish to try when visiting the area. Over twenty ingredients are used in the most simple mole, including multiple types of chilli, a variety of nuts, and chocolate. The mole at this market is considered to be much more authentic than moles that you will eat at hotels, which are generally more sweet and less spicy. This is where the market stall holders come to eat their lunch – there is always a variety of moles on offer.

mole poblano stall at Puebla food market

The market’s mole was far more complex and sophisticated. It has a slow burn from the chilli and a mild, but important, bitter element. You get hit by heat in first mouthful but then your mouth gets used to it and can start to savour the other flavours which also include sweetness. This was a rolled tortilla, with no filling, topped with mole sauce, sesame, raw onion and strips of boiled chicken. Simple. Classic.

mole poblano puebla food tour

And finally, almost full to bursting point, we stopped off at a local cantina, actually inside an antique shop, where we indulged in a shot of pasita, a liqueur digestif made from raisins.

puebla pasita

It’s sweet and boozy and rounded off an amazing tour.

Fine Dining

The street food tour of Puebla was a fantastic introduction to this city’s delectable, diverse and delicious cuisine. We also have a restaurant recommendation for local food in a fine dining context (which we visited on a different day to the foodie tour). El Mural de los Poblanos is on Calle 16 de Septiembre and offers typical Puebla food. Again, this mole was more authentic than some of the more touristy establishments.

It’s very popular so it’s definitely worth making a booking. Also, we made the mistake of ordering cemitas as our starters (before we knew what they were) which turned out to be so enormous that we knew we wouldn’t be able to eat our mains if we ate them all, so the staff were very kind and boxed up the extra food for later snacking.

There is also a craft beer emporium, the Bilderberg taproom on Av 5 Ote, which we felt was important to investigate. They offered pints of local draft beer as well as tasting flights. They had a stout which was extremely good indeed, although it was only after we’d quaffed a couple of pints and tried to stand up that we realised that it was 12%! Those leftover cemitas came in handy soaking up the booze later that night to try to mitigate the hangover.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Puebla – there was so much to see and do and taste. We’d consider it an essential stop on any Mexico tour. We can’t wait to return!

Related Posts You May Enjoy

Visit Quito
Visit Quito in Ecuador
Hiking in El Chalten
Hiking in El Chalten, Patagonia
Costa Rica Two Toed Sloth
Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary
Costa rica chocolate
Costa Rica Chocolate Plantation visit
Mercado Central Santiago market stall
Visiting the Mercado Central in Santigao, Chile
Maipo Valley
Visiting the Maipo Wine Valley in Chile
More posts from the Americas

Visit Ethiopia – Gondar and the Simien Mountains

Ethiopia is a country that is blessed with many amazing places to visit, whether you are interested in wildlife, history, landscapes, or archaeology.

We enjoyed a two week tour of Northern Ethiopia, starting in Addis Ababa, then travelling to Barhidar, Gondar, the Simien Mountains, Lalibela, Axum and Gheralta. During this trip, we managed to visit no less than four UNESCO sites. The area around the city of Gondar alone had two.

Ethiopia Gondar

We had travelled to Gondar from Barhidar. We stayed at the Jantekel Hotel, a couple of kilometres from the main attractions. It’s a modern hotel with the most delightful staff.

Ethiopia Gondar City

The city of Gondar was Ethiopia’s capital between 1632 and 1855. Prior to this the country’s leaders had moved throughout the country. It was King Fasil – Fasilides – who decided to settle and he chose Gondar.

There are a couple of legends connected with the reason that Fasilides chose Gondar as his capital. According to one story, Fasilides was out hunting one day when divine intervention led him to encounter a buffalo which showed him the way to the site. Another cited a prophecy which foretold that that the capital of Ethiopia would be a location that began with the letter ‘G’. Whether these are true, Fasilides was content enough with Gondar to establish his government there.

Fasilides was emperor of Ethiopia from 1632 until 1667. He was of the Solomonic dynasty and claimed to have descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (Fasilides was also responsible for the building of the Cathedral Church of St Mary of Zion at Axum, which is reputed to contain the Ark of the Covenant.) He built several castles, palaces and churches as well as a long wall, effectively turning it into a fortified city.

We explored many of the remarkable sites at Gondar. We suggest getting a guide who can show you the main sights and explain the history. It’s also worth considering finding transportation because the main sites are a few kilometres apart. We had arranged a guide who could pick us up from our hotel and take us to each location. We recommend a full day sightseeing – it was fascinating and hugely enjoyable.

The Fasil Ghebbi

The Fasil Ghebbi is the Royal Enclosure of the complex built by Fasilides.  It comprises a number of buildings that were constructed over the years, the most important of which include Fasilides’ castle, Iyasu I’s palace, Emperor Dawit’s Hall, Emperor Bakaffa’s castle and banqueting hall, Empress Mentewab’s castle, an archive, a library and a number of churches. The word ‘ghebbi’ means ‘enclosure’ so the site is surrounded by an extensive wall. It is possible to explore all these structures that have survived the centuries and there are no restrictions about entering the buildings.

What’s interesting about the construction of these castles is that they look very European, with some Arabic and Indian influences as well.

Fasilides Castle

Fasilides’ castle (which is sometimes referred to as the Egg Castle due to its domes) is the most impressive of all the structures. It has huge towers with crenelated walls which give it the appearance of a European mediaeval castle. High up in the castle was Fasilides’ prayer room. The view from the watchtower afforded views all around Gondar. It’s even possible to see Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake, on a clear day.

Ethiopia Gondar Fasilides’ castle
Fasilides Castle Gondar

The royal library was built by Emperor Yohannes, Fasilides’ successor.

Ethiopia Gondar royal library

Emperor Iyasu’s palace was apparently the most refined and sumptuous of the buildings with gilded decorations and plush furniture. Iyasu, who ruled from 1682 to 1706, was known as The Great and was the son of Emperor Yohannes I. Although Iyasu led a number of military campaigns he was also known as an emperor who wanted to reconcile religious differences amongst his people, holding councils to discuss and resolve ecumenical matters.

Gondar Iyasu’s Palace
Ethiopia Gondar Iyasu’s Palace

This gateway was accidentally bombed by the British. We were told that they didn’t mean to, they were helping Ethiopia defend itself from the second Italian invasion (1935-37).

The buildings are largely ruins – very few of the ceilings in the buildings remain, most are destroyed.

Ethiopia Gondar

Dawit’s Hall, named for the Emperor Dawit who ruled from 1716 to 1721, was also known as the House of Song, was a place for entertainment and feasting. Unfortunately the feasting came to an end when Dawit met his demise – he was poisoned.

Dawits Hall Gondar

His successor was the Emperor Bakaffa, Dawit’s half-brother, who ruled from 1721 to 1730 (and who married Mentewab, who became a highly influential empress) Bakaffa’s Castle had a huge banqueting hall.

Bakaffa Castle Gondar

The amazing Zamani project has mapped out 3D models of the main buildings as well as a panoramic view of the site.

Fasilides Baths

A little way out of the city are the Fasilides Baths, a compound thought to be constructed around the same time as the Royal Enclosure. The baths comprise the pool itself, a central tower, and a bridge to the tower which is used when the baths are filled with water.

Ethiopia Gondar Fasilides Baths
Ethiopia Gondar Fasilides Baths

The walls of the baths have slowly been taken over by the local trees.

Ethiopia Gondar Fasilides Baths

Fasilides baths are considered sacred and are filled just once each year, on the 19th of January, when Ethiopians celebrate Epiphany in a festival known as Timkat. Timkat translates as ‘baptism’ and the festival represents Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist on the River Jordan. It is celebrated across Ethiopia.

Mentewab-Qwesqwam Palace

Mentewab was Empress of Ethiopia from 1722 to 1730. She married Emperor Bakaffa (a son of Iyasu I), becoming his second wife. The first wife died in mysterious circumstances on the day of the wedding banquet, which does seem somewhat suspicious.

After the Emperor’s death, Mentewab was crowned as co-ruler of Ethiopia while her son, Iyasu II, was still a child, and she continued her reign after his murder and when her grandson Iyoas I came to power. She had enormous political influence.

She commissioned several buildings within the Royal Enclosure as well as a church dedicated to St Mary at Qwesqwam, a few kilometres from Gondar. Mentewab also built herself a rather splendid palace next to it, and this became her primary residence and was used as a retreat, away from the Royal Enclosure.

Ethiopia Gondar Mentewab

It had an impressive banqueting hall. Mentewab took a lover after Bakaffa died (her husband’s nephew, known as Iyasu the Kept, who was also a grandson of Fasilides) and was exiled because of it. We were told of a legend whereby she invited nobles to visit her palace, then locked them in and wouldn’t allow them out, even to pee. They were eventually released when they correctly answered a riddle. She didn’t have to take any more flak from them after that.

Ethiopia Gondar Mentewab Banquet Hall

The church and castle were destroyed in a fire in 1888 by Sundanese Mahdists during the sacking of Gondar. Restoration of the church started in the mid-20th century by the Italian occupiers and was completed by Emperor Haile Selassie. The remains of Empress Mentewab, Iyasu II, and Iyoas I, were interred in a glass toppedglass-topped coffin inside the church.

Mentewab church

There is also a small treasury at the site where it’s possible to view a centuries-old bible.

Ethiopian Bible

Debre Berhan Selassie Church and Monastery

This is one of the most important of the Ethiopian Orthodox churches. It was built by in the 17th century and its name means ‘Trinity and Mountain of Light.’

Ethiopia Gondar Debre Berhan Selassie Church

Men and women are allowed to enter, albeit through different doors, and shoes must be removed. Women who are menstruating or have had sex the night before are asked not to enter the church. It’s also requested that conservative clothes and a headscarf are worn.

While the exterior of the church isn’t particularly dramatic or compelling its interior is covered with vivid frescoes depicting tales from the bible.

Debre Berhan Selassie Church
Debre Berhan Selassie Church

The remarkable ceiling is covered with row upon row of cherubs looking down upon visitors and worshippers. The figures are painted in a style typical of the Ethiopian churches – known as the Gondarine style.

Ethiopia Gondar Debre Berhan Selassie Church

The Simien Mountains

After exploring Gondar’s amazing castles and churches it was time to take a long, bumpy drive to the Simien Mountains. This area is a national park and another UNESCO world heritage site. We drove to The Simien Lodge, via the small town of Debark, situated at an altitude of 3260 meters. The Simien Lodge is the only lodge in the central area of the park. It offered comfortable accommodation in our own private huts.

Our only criticism of the place was that meals had to be taken as a buffet (there is no choice to eat anywhere else), which wasn’t a problem per se, but all the food was international – there were no Ethiopian options, which was disappointing. It was also quite pricey but that is understandable as the food has to be brought in from the nearest town.

The lodge also claims to have the highest bar in Africa, so we made sure to enjoy post-exploration beers in the evenings.

Monkey Magic

On our first day we enjoyed hiking in the area. The landscapes are spectacularly beautiful. Walking through fields scented with wild thyme we encountered groups of gelada monkeys, which are also known as gelada baboons, bleeding-heart baboons, or lion monkeys. They are found only in the Ethiopian highlands. They look like baboons but are monkeys and are characterised by their long, shaggy golden coats, which look like lions’ manes, and a heart-shaped patch of pink bare skin on their chests.

Ethiopia gelada monkeys

The gelada spend much of their time foraging for grass or herbs in the grasslands but sleep on the ledges of nearby cliffs at night, in order to avoid predators such as servals and leopards as well as domestic dogs.

Ethiopia simien mountain gelada

They have a complex society and the different groups move together as troupe through the day.

We met researchers who were monitoring the monkeys andobserving their behaviour. They had spent some time recording the social dynamics between the groups as well as monitoring diseases.

Unlike baboons, the gelada have a very gentle nature (at least with human visitors – we did see some play-fighting and chasing each other!). They are quite relaxed about people walking among them. Obviously we had to treat them with respect and keep a reasonable distance, but it was an absolute joy to be able to get so close to these wonderful creatures.

Ethiopia gelada monkey

The baby monkeys were having such a fun time in the trees!

Ethiopia Simien mountains

Viewing Spectacular Views

The following day we visited Chenek to see the Kurbet Metaya viewpoint, a wonderful vista overlooking the mountains. The viewpoint is actually a gap in the cliffs revealing views of the mountain faces and a beautiful valley.

Ethiopia Simien Mountains

We continued to explore more of the area. As ever, it’s always worth looking out for other travellers pointing at something in the distance. In this case it was a rare and endangered Walia Ibex, found only in these mountains. It was actually quite some distance away at the foot of a cliff – this was the camera’s best possible zoom picture!

Walia Ibex

Then we returned to Gondar for one more night at the Jantekel hotel before we caught our flight to Lalibela. The hotel served traditional Ethiopian meals in enormous portions! This is injera, a bread made from teff flour, filled with doro wat, a spicy chicken stew. Injera doesn’t look particularly appetising but it tastes great. It’s fermented and has a lovely sour flavour.

Ethiopian Traditional Bread Injera

More Posts About Africa

Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary – Caño Negro

Beautiful Costa Rica is well known for its amazing wildlife. This relatively small country in Central America has twenty-three national parks, three of which are UNESCO sites. We took a trip from the east coast to the west, visiting many wildlife parks. The tourism infrastructure is really well developed with easy transportation between locations and many tour operators that can offer trips to various attractions. Having enjoyed Tortuguero, where we had been lucky to see a greenback turtle nesting, we moved onto La Fortuna de San Carlos, close the Arenal volcano, in the middle of the country. It is an ideal location to use as a base to explore this region and there are loads of exciting activities to undertake in the area, from caving to wildlife viewing.

Arenal area

One of the trips we enjoyed was to the Caño Negro wildlife sanctuary. As with most tours in Costa Rica, there are companies in La Fortuna that can arrange the trip and will pick you up from your hotel or guest house. It’ll take a couple of hours to get there from La Fortuna. Our guide was a naturalist who was not only knowledgeable about the local wildlife but was also really keen to tell us all about the fruit that grows in the region as well.

The Caño Negro, close to the Nicaraguan border, is a Costa Rica wildlife sanctuary which has the status of a national park, a Ramsar wetland of international importance, and one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country.

Costa Rica wildlife sanctuary Cano Negro

Boat Trip on the Río Frío

Once at the Caño Negro you can board a boat and enjoy a fascinating cruise up and down the Río Frío.

Costa Rica wildlife sanctuary Cano Negro

Wildlife viewings are pretty much guaranteed. Good guides will be able to spot plenty of birds, reptiles and mammals and, importantly, be able to point them out so that you can take pictures. Of course, you may not get to see the more elusive residents: the cougars, jaguars and ocelots, but there were plenty of monkeys, iguana, caiman, beautiful birds and, of course, sloths to see.

Howler monkeys are the loudest monkeys in the area. Their calls can travel 5km! They use the vocalisation to communicate with each other and establish territory.

Costa Rica wildlife

White faced monkeys, also known as capuchin monkeys, look adorable but are very naughty. They are regarded as the most intelligent of the monkeys in the region but can be quite vicious, fighting over the fruit in the trees and stealing from each other.

White faced monkey Costa Rica
White faced monkey
White faced monkey

This beautiful kingfisher got lucky catching a fishy snack.

Costa Rica wildlife sanctuary Cano Negro

And this egret was having a good wade searching for food.

egret cano negro costa rica wildlife sanctuary

And there were plentiful iguana hanging around in trees and on the surrounding fields.

iguana in tree cano negro
Costa Rica iguana in tree

The anhinga is also known as the snake bird because when it swims in the water you can only see its elongated neck, which has the appearance of a snake gliding through the river.

Costa Rica wildlife sanctuary Cano Negro
Snake bird cano negro

The Jesus lizard, or to give it its correct name, basilisk lizard, derives its moniker from being able to run across the water on its rear legs. It is possible for the species to do this because they have little scales on their back toes which form webs that trap water and air bubbles underneath them. If they run quickly enough the bubbles underneath these webs prevent them from sinking into the water. The lizards are able to swim if they go too slow.  

Jesus lizard Cano Negro

We sailed past a nonchalant caiman.

caiman on cano negro

Sloths are probably the creature that most visitors to Costa Rica definitely want to see. On this excursion we saw a Two-Toed sloth, hanging around in the tree, which is what sloths do best.

Costa Rica Two Toed Sloth

There are two species of sloth in Costa Rica: Two-Toed and Three-Toed. (We did see the Three-Toed Sloth, but on the Pacific coast, not on this river trip.) They are absolutely fascinating creatures – they appear to be incredibly lazy but this is largely because they have a very slow metabolism and most of their time is spent in the tree canopies. They have a multi-chambered stomach that is capable of digesting tough leaves but the digestion process takes a very long time. Once they are up a tree they will stay there for several days, only coming down for a poo, which happens once week. Pretty much everything else happens in the trees – eating, sleeping, mating, even giving birth.

Costa Rica Two Toed Sloth

They are often covered in green algae, with which they have a symbiotic relationship, the algae providing them with some nutrition. In turn, the sloth’s fur, which retains water well, is an idea environment for the algae to thrive. It also helps provide camouflage – the sloth’s natural predators include ocelot and jaguar.

The species have been around for 65 million years, so there’s probably something to be said for taking things easy in life!

A Downpour

The river trip was hugely enjoyable but as we were travelling in the mid-season in June/July (it is rainy but not hurricane weather) we did experience something of a downpour. When it rains in Costa Rica, it rains! (Some areas we visited receive around 5000mm annually.) The showers at this time of year are extremely heavy but usually short-lived, lasting no more than twenty minutes to half an hour. The boat had a roof and our captain kindly rescued some kayakers who were enjoying their gentle paddle on the river until they got a complete soaking! They were hugely relieved when we picked them up and they stepped aboard looking somewhat bedraggled. We always recommend bringing wet weather gear if travelling at this time of year.

Cano negro downpour

Feeling Fruity

After the boat trip through the wildlife sanctuary, lunch was provided. It was quite common at the end of most excursions we enjoyed in the country. We were treated to a fruit feast.

Costa rica fruit platter

One of the wonderful things about Costa Rica is the utter deliciousness of the fruit. Around the Arenal Volcano area the soil is incredibly fertile and on our way to Caño Negro we saw vast plantations growing all sorts of fruit. In fact, the tour guide stopped the minibus a couple of times to buy some fruit from local sellers, so that he could offer us a taste. He also provided a running commentary throughout the journey telling us about the fruit industry in Costa Rica.

The pineapples were a revelation. Even the freshest pineapples we’ve ever eaten in the UK (often from Costa Rica!) were nothing compared to the organic local fruit. Most pineapples that are grown for export are treated chemically where they are stored (they can last up to a year) and ripened after they have arrived at their destination. It is such a shame that so many pineapples are grown this way – it isn’t good for the environment and the fruit’s flavour isn’t as good as it could be. Compare that to an organic pineapple and the taste is completely different. The local fruit had a really rich vibrant flavour, both sweet and tart.

The pineapple is actually a flowering plant. Only one flower grows each year per plant and it is only possible to gain a pineapple in three successive years. The first year’s is the biggest and these are the ones that are usually exported overseas. The second year’s pineapple is smaller and would generally be used for the local market or taken to a processing factory where it would likely end up in a tin. The third year’s fruit will be very small and will become juice.

Costa rica fruit pineapple

There’s a perception in many western countries that oranges should actually be orange. But many oranges aren’t as luridly orange as those classic fruit from Seville. The oranges in Costa Rica might not look the part but taste just fine. Bananas are another fruity staple of Costa Rica and plantations can be seen all over the country.

Many of the fruits grown in the country are familiar as they are exported around the world. However, there are some more unusual offerings which we were delighted to discover. Rambutan, also known as Mamon Chino, which apparently translates to Chinese Sucker, is a bizarre looking tropical fruit. You have to peel the pretty and colourful soft spikes to reveal the clear coloured flesh. They look similar to grapes or lychees and have a comparable texture although the flavour is very different, sweet and slightly sour, and nowhere near as perfumed as a lychee. There’s a seed inside that you need to be aware of – don’t bite too hard!

Costa rica fruit rambutan
Costa rica fruit rambutan

Noni is smelly and tastes bitter but apparently has health benefits. It’s not a fruit you would eat for pleasure. Some people mix it with other fruits in smoothies to disguise its flavour.

Costa rica fruit noni

In Costa Rica you are guaranteed to enjoy at least ten of your ‘five a day’.

Related Posts You May Enjoy

Turtle Watching in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Costa Rica cacao
Costa Rica Chocolate Plantation
More posts from the Americas

Recipe: How To Make Japanese Simmered Pork Belly – Buta no Kakuni

Japanese simmered pork belly is a rich, indulgent dish that is sweet, savoury, sticky and utterly sumptuous. Pork belly is a really fatty cut of meat but fat means flavour and the process of cooking the pork for a long time ensures that a lot of the fat will melt away. Any fat that remains is soft and juicy.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

In Japanese, buta means pork and kakuni derives from two longer words: kaku- to cut into cubes and ni – simmer.

It is traditional to serve kakuni with a drop of Japanese mustard called karashi (辛子 or からし). Karashi is a bit darker yellow than most other mustard. It does not really have much acidity in it (unlike other mustards) and very hot. It is perhaps closest to hot English mustard, which is a good substitute.

How to Make Japanese Simmered Pork Belly (Serves 2)

Ingredients

Portion of pork belly per person (allow around 150-200g per person depending on how hungry you are)

Water

Stock cube – dashi stock if possible or you can make your own

2 spring onions, sliced into 2-3cm chunks plus another for garnish

2 inches of ginger, peeled and cut into strips

16 tbs (1 cup) of water

4 tbs (1/4 cup) soy sauce

4 tbs (1/4 cup) cooking sake (if you can’t get sake, white wine will be a good substitute)

4 tbs (1/4 cup) caster sugar

4 tbs (1/4 cup) mirin (if you can’t get mirin, add a little more sake and sugar)

Generous splash of rice vinegar (we like this to counterbalance some of the sweetness of the dish)

simmered pork belly flavourings
glaze ingredients

Method

Place the pork belly in a frying pan and sear on both sides for a couple of minutes.

pork belly sealing

Place the pork belly in a pot and cover with water. Add the stock cube, spring onion and ginger. Turn on the heat and bring the water up to a simmer. Simmer the pork for 2 hours or until nice and tender. Alternatively, you can do as we do and use a pressure cooker. Just prepare the pork as above and cook at pressure for 40 minutes.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

When the pork comes out it should be wonderfully soft and close to falling apart (but not actually falling apart). Cut the pork into chunks – about 2cm length. We also decided to cut off the rind at this stage.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

Don’t forget to keep the stock – it will make a wonderful base for ramen noodles or soup. You can pop it into the freezer if you’re not going to use it immediately.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

Put the water, soy sauce, sake (or wine), mirin and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil.

perparing the glaze
preparing the glaze

Carefully place the pork chunks into the pan and press down so that the sauce completely covers them.

creating the glaze

(In retrospect we should have put the pork into a deeper pan – a casserole dish – because the sauce did splutter a lot and because there was sugar in it, it stuck to our hob which made clearing up a bit of a nightmare!)

pork belly glaze

Reduce the sauce until it has almost become a paste – it will have coated the pork and caramelised on the underside. It will look glossy and luscious.

Japanese simmered pork belly

Serve atop plain white rice garnished with chopped spring onion. It is often accompanied with a splodge of karashi. We like adding some pickled ginger as well.

Japanese simmered pork belly recipe

More Tasty Recipes on VTW
More posts from SouthEast Asia
More posts from Japan

A Chiang Mai Tour in Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and is a lovely place with a very laid back vibe. There are plenty of things to see and these aren’t just confined to the city itself. There are loads of activities to suit all interests – whether cultural or natural – both around town and into the wider countryside. It’s definitely worth spending time exploring this lovely city and surrounds, whether on an organised Chiang Mai tour or exploring independently. We spent five days in and around the region and combined our own exploration with some guided walks which were great for understanding the history of this delightful city.

An Old City With Walls and A Moat

Chiang Mai was founded by the Lanna King, Mangrai, in 1296. The Lanna people were from Northern Thailand and the name translates to ‘Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields.’ Mangrai had established the city of Chiang Rai in 1262 as the capital of his kingdom and later, following both friendship pacts and wars with other local kingdoms, he moved further south. Due to its location Chiang Mai was vulnerable to invasion from the Taungoo Dynasty of the Bamar People (from Myanmar) and the Mongol empire. As a result it was heavily fortified with both a moat and a high city wall, which remain to this day. The old city is surrounded by an extremely pretty walled canal with four gates.

Chiang Mai city wall and moat
Chiang Mai city wall and moat
Chiang Mai city wall gate

Old Town Chiang Mai Temples

Chiang Mai has well over a hundred temples and it is a pleasure just wandering through the city to discover the many gems that the city to offer.

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man is the city’s oldest temple, located by the north east corner of the walled old city. It was constructed at the behest of King Mengrai.

Wat Chiang Man Chiang Mai tour

The wihan of a temple is the assembly hall and there are two at Wat Chiang Man. Both contain very old and highly revered Buddhas.

Wat Chiang Man Chiang Mai tour

The chedi, also known as a stupa, is traditionally the oldest part of a temple. Wat Chiang Man has an elephant chedi, called Chedi Chang Lom, where fifteen stone elephants support the golden relic chamber.

Chiang Mai Tour Chedi Chang Lom

Wat Phra Singh

Another important temple, Wat Phra Singh, was constructed in 1345 by King Phayu, the fifth Mangrai king, who wanted to build a chedi for his late father’s ashes. It was enjoying a face-lift when we visited, so we didn’t see it in its full glory.

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh Wihan Lai Kham was constructed to house the precious Phra Buddha Singh statue.

Wat Phra Singh Wihan Lai Kham
Phra Buddha Singh

The interior also contains some fascinating murals.

Wat Phra Singh mural

A common – and striking – characteristic of many temples in Thailand are the naga – semi-divine creatures that are a cross between a human and serpent. These are the guardians of the temple – they may look dramatic and a scary but their purpose is generally thought to be protective. It wouldn’t be appropriate to have a holy place guarded by demons.

Wat Phra Singh Wihan Luang Chiang Mai

The roofs of many of the temple buildings are beautiful- highly decorative and elaborate.

Chiang Mai Tour

Chiang Mai Cultural Centre

Slightly out of town on the Prapoklao Road is the Chiang Mai Arts and Cultural Centre which used to be the royal hall. It runs evenings showcasing northern Thai food and culture. You can join in to enjoy a delicious meal followed by entertainment such as dancing, martial arts and traditional games.

This delicious Northern Thai dinner comprised a number of dishes including Hin-Lay curry (pork), minced pork in a chilli-tomato paste, crispy-fried pork skin, crispy noodles, fried chicken, stir-fried vegetables and fried banana and pumpkin.

Then the entertainment started with some dancing and martial arts…

Chiang Mai cultural evening
Chiang Mai cultural evening

…before we moved outside to see some fire-based martial arts and a cute lion dance.

It is a bit touristy but was a fun evening out and an introduction to the culture of the region.

Temples Further Afield

If you don’t get templed out in Chiang Mai itself, there are many more wats to visit in the area surrounding the city. If you don’t have a pre-arranged tour, it’s possible to reach them by taxi. These can easily be arranged with local hotels and hostels. It’s worth agreeing a price first and consider asking for a round trip where the taxi driver will wait for you to explore the temple before taking you back. Both Wat Inthrawat and Wiang Kum Kam, located a few kilometres from the city centre, were definitely worth exploring.

Wat Inthrawat

Wat Inthrawat is one of the best preserved wooden temples in the region. It’s located in the Hang Dong district around 10 km south of Chiang Mai, in the village of Ban Ton Kwen. Small, but perfectly formed, this temple is still in its original state.

Wat Inthrawat Chiang Mai

It has a wihan built in the Lanna style with typical nagas at the entrance steps.

Wat Inthrawat nagas

The roof has three tiers and also features some impressive and very decorative features at the tips of each tier. The quality of the craftsmanship is remarkable.

Wat Inthrawat Chiang Mai

Wiang Kum Kam

Around 5km southeast of Chiang Mai lies the archaeological site of Wiang Kum Kam. This former city was built by King Magram. It was originally the capital of the Lanna in the 13th century but Magram decided to relocate to Chiang Mai, situated at an altitude 12m higher, due to serious flooding at this site. Although the area remained inhabited for several centuries it was finally abandoned after a massive flood which deposited a huge amount of sediment over the buildings. Much of the city has now been excavated and it’s possible to explore the ruins. It’s an extensive area and you can ride around the site in a horse drawn cart or tram. It has a visitor centre, located on Rte 3029, which has loads of information about the site and that’s also the place where you can pick up transportation. It’s possible to visit several temple complexes.

Chiang Mai Tour Wiang Kum Kam
Wiang Kum Kam
Chiang Mai tour Wiang Kum Kam

Wat Chedi Liam is the highlight of the complex. At over 30m tall, and taking the form of a pyramid structure, it has five main tiers. Each of these contain twelve Buddhas, three on each side, located inside their own alcove. It remained relatively unaffected by the floods over the centuries and remains a working temple.

Wat Chedi Liam

Activities in Chiang Mai’s Wider Area

Although it’s possible to spend quite some time exploring the city there are also loads of trips to take in the surrounding area.

This orchid farm was a pretty distraction for short while on the way to Mae Sa.

Chiang Mai orchid farm

Mae Sa Waterfalls

Located in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, around 30km from Chiang Mai, Mae Sa offers a series of ten waterfalls spaced a few hundred metres apart. You can follow the pathway alongside the falls to enjoy a pleasant walk and swimming in the pools is allowed, if you desire. It’s not a challenging hike at all – just a pleasant stroll up a gentle incline. It gets quite crowded at the start of the trail but as you hike towards the upper falls the crowds melt away and you can enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. There are picnic spots along the way, so it’s possible to pack bathing suits and some tasty food to make a day trip if you fancy having a more relaxing time.

Mae Sae waterfalls
Mae Sae waterfalls
Mae Sae waterfalls

Elephant Sanctuary Visit

Visiting an elephant sanctuary is a very popular activity. There are loads in the area but do check which are responsible and ethical and make sure that they do not exploit the elephants. Many sanctuaries no longer allow elephant rides but focus on caring for and interacting with these remarkable creatures.

We visited a sanctuary a couple of hours away from Chiang Mai which is home to several elephants, all of whom have been rescued from the logging industry or from giving rides to tourists on iron chairs, a practice that really damages the elephants’ backs. When the sanctuary learns about elephants that are being mistreated they locate the creature and offer as much money as they can afford to convince the owners/abusers to sell their elephants. Each elephant has its own mahout (handler) who is responsible for its welfare. Set in 135 acres, the majority of the land is dedicated to growing food for the elephants. Tourists help provide much needed income to support the work of the sanctuary. Elephant riding (even bareback) is no longer allowed. We were able to meet the elephants and hand feed them – although some just helped themselves.

Chiang Mai elephant

Elephants are highly intelligent creatures. Their brains weigh about 5kg. They are also emotionally intelligent; they recognise and interact with other elephants and have likes and dislikes just as we do. In fact, elephants that really hate each other need to be kept separated at the sanctuary. They also make judgements about the humans they interact with and, if they decide they don’t like someone, will refuse to co-operate with that person. Also – those cliches about elephants are true. They really have terrific memories. Thai people believe that you can judge an elephant’s character by the shape and quantity of its tail hair. Indeed, tail hairs are considered a sign of good fortune (and are sometimes kept as a lucky charm).

Thai elephant sanctuary

We went for a walk with an elephant called Tom Parr, a large male with long tusks. Tom Parr was very calm and co-operative, but was apparently scared of chickens and cars. He adored going into the jungle – many elephants who have been rescued from the logging industry have been traumatised and refuse to go back into the forest; they are never forced to go where they do not wish to.

Tom Parr knew very well that we had some sugar cane on him.

Chiang Mai elephant

All the elephants are bathed at the sanctuary at least once a day. Tom Parr was very much looking forward to his bath and eagerly walked into the water and sat himself down. We joined him in the pool, which is fed by a local river, to give him a well-deserved wash. We showered him with water and scrubbed his skin and tusks. He was so happy. If he had been a cat, he would have been purring.

Throughout the experience we had been wondering whether we would need to ‘muck out’ the elephants at any time, something we had been quite prepared to do. However, the sanctuary had made arrangements such that the tourists’ exposure to poo was minimised. In fact, they even had a pooper-scooper chap on hand at the pond, ready to scoop any errant dung that the elephants generated into a bag and prevent the tourists getting too filthy. The sanctuary offers showers so you can wash down afterwards and change into your own clothes. The dung is often used to make paper.

A Chiang Mai Tour – Street Food and Markets

Back in the city, you’ll find that there are a number of bustling markets to explore, notably the night market which is a short walk away from the old city. On some nights of the week certain streets are closed to traffic and stalls pop up. These are really popular so expect crowds.

Of course, markets wouldn’t be markets without food stalls and Thai street food is amazing. The markets often have plastic tables and chairs nearby – they are not necessarily associated with any particular stall – so you can order your food and then take it to any table to enjoy at leisure.

Chiang Mai street food

One of the best street food dishes is som tam – green papaya salad. Green papaya is shredded into a large wooden bowl and then pounded with beans, carrots and tomatoes. Sometimes little shrimp are added although you can ask for them to be excluded if you are vegetarian. Chillies, lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce are added to the mix and pounded to release the flavours giving that characteristic Thai combination of sweet, sour, salt and spice. Be warned though, those teeny Thai chillies are hot! The dish is then adorned with crushed toasted peanuts for added crunch. On a warm, humid evening, it’s the perfect dish for a refreshing snack, preferably accompanied with a nice cold beer.

Som Tam

Related Posts You May Enjoy

Visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Temple of Heaven Beijing
The Temple of Heaven in China
How to make Thai green curry
Recipe – how to make Thai green curry
Moo larb
Recipe – how to make moo larb

More posts from SouthEast Asia

Noodle Review: President Fuku Beef

BRAND: President
FLAVOUR: Fuku Beef
TYPE: Normal (bowl)
No. OF SACHETS: Three – soupbase, flavour oil/paste and dried veg
WEIGHT: 85g
COUNTRY: Thailand

President Fuku Beef with a plastic fork noodles

Under license from Hong Kong the handily packaged Beef flavour certainly aims to please. There’s a reasonable portion and there’s even a fork provided which proves robust but I eventually ditched in favour of ‘old faithful’. Naturally cooking is never a problem with the all in ones but what of the all important taste considerations? Well there’s a nice spicy tang to the dish and a solid beefy flavour, crunchy veg and good noodles. But what’s that? Do I spot the dreaded noodle bowl downfall, the TVP chunks? No! They may look like TVP but they are bits of steak with just the right chew and lashings of flavour. Add that little pinch of Bonito powder to the proceedings and you have a great lunch, marred only by the slightest of plastic aftertastes. Take a good sniff though and the aftertaste disappears. Take one camping to be the envy of your friends.

https://www.verytastyworld.com/category/posts-about-food-from-all-over-the-world/instant-gratification/noodle-news-with-instant-reviews/