You can probably tell without any caption that this photo was taken in India, in Old Delhi‘s Khari Baoli spice market. The combination of bright colors and southeast Asian architecture is uniquely Indian, just hinting at the history and bustle contained within the walls, as the market is the largest in Asia and has been in operation since the 17th century. Flickr user The Delhi Way gives us a “taste” of what’s inside, even without showing any food or spices, and beautifully frames the scene.
Every spring for the past 500 years, Turkey has been celebrating the traditional Mesir Festival in the city of Manisa. Not only does the event encompass parades, concerts, and exhibits, but also the throwing of spices.
Mesir, also known as “power gum,” is a blend of 41 different spices made into a thick paste. The story of its origin is that the wife of the Ottoman Sultan Yavuz Sultan Selim and the mother of Süleyman the Magnificient, Hafsa Sultan, became very sick while she was in Manisa. Since there were no known treatments at the time, a concoction of herbs and spices was created, and actually ended up curing the ill woman. After that, mesir became a popular remedy for sick patients.
So how was the Mesir Festival born? Once demand for the cure grew, the mixture was wrapped in paper and thrown from the Sultan Mosque once each year. Now, thousands of people who attend the festival can stand at the bottom of the mosque and catch their own healing mesir paste. Other festival highlights to look forward to include skeet shooting matches, a canine beauty competition, a traditional mesir paste mixing ceremony, live music in the park, a Ukrainian art exhibit, and much more.
The Mesir Festival will take place this year on March 21-25, 2012. If you’d like to practice some traditional Mesir Festival singing to get you in the mood for the celebration, click here to listen to the official Mesir Festival song. For information on the celebration in general, click here.
Americans aren’t very creative when it comes to traditional holiday beverages (do, however, look for my upcoming story on Boulder’s banging mixology scene, which includes some killer contemporary winter cocktails). Historically, though, we’re more of an eggnog/mulled cider/hot chocolate kind of society.
I’m not knocking our Christmas beverages of choice. Properly made, they’re delicious, and certainly festive. But some countries really know how to roll when it comes to holiday imbibing (especially Latin America. One word: rum.).
Below, a compilation of some of the more interesting boozy holiday beverages from around the world that can be easily recreated in your own kitchen. Online recipes abound, and all of these are (almost) as tasty sans alcohol.
Coquito: Puerto Ricans are great because they’re not afraid to embrace their love of saturated fats (lard, coconut milk, etc.) or rum. In case you’ve been living under a rock, coconut is the new fat du jour (read more about its health attributes here). Everything in moderation, including moderation, as I always say.
Coquito recipes vary, but in general, this rich, blended Christmas concoction is a froth of spiced rum, condensed milk, coconut milk or cream of coconut, vanilla, and spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Some versions may include ginger or ground nuts, but it’s always served chilled, in a small glass. Heavy, yes, but both sexy and satisfying. Add some eggs, and you’ll have ponche, the Venezuelan or Dominican version of eggnog.
Mulled wine: Variations on this warm, spiced, sugared, and otherwise enhanced wine (usually red) are served throughout Europe. There’s Nordic gløgg redolent of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and bitter orange (and perhaps a helping of aquavit). It’s very similar to German glühwein made with lemon, cinnamon sticks, cardamom or ginger, and cloves; in Alsace (the French region bordering Germany), they also add vanilla bean.
In Bulgaria, greyano vino contains honey, peppercorns, and often, apple or citrus. Polish grzane wino is more of a traditional mulled wine, but they also make grzane piwo, in which mulled beer (try a Hefeweizen or Belgian ale which are lighter and sweeter) is substituted for the wine. Na zdrowie (“To your health”)!
[Photo credit: Flicker user Akane86]Ponche Navideño: Not to be confused with those other luscious ponches, this Mexican version is made with sugar cane, apples and/or pears or citrus, raisins, prunes, and tejocotes–an indigenous fruit used by the Aztecs, who called them texocotl. Add tequila, brandy, or rum; heat, and instant fiesta. At Christmastime, ponche vendors can be found on the street, ladling out cupfuls of good cheer.
Another popular Mexican holiday beverage is champurrado, a version of atole (warmed cornmeal thinned to a pourable consistency) flavored with chocolate. It tastes much better than it sounds, and is delicious on a chilly day.
Sorrel Punch: This Jamaican Christmas drink is made from the petals of a species of hibiscus (jamaica in Latin America), locally known as sorrel. In Australia it’s known as rosella, and where it makes a lovely, delicate, fruity red jam. This isn’t the same plant Americans know as sorrel or French sorrel. That’s a bitter wild green, which would make for a truly revolting cocktail, unless you’re one of those people who find wheat grass juice “refreshing.”
Dried hibiscus buds can be purchased at Hispanic or Caribbean markets; the recipe varies, but it’s usually some combination of the flowers, sugar, smashed fresh ginger, water, lime juice, and rum (dark is more traditional than light). Mix, stir, turn on your light box (fellow Seattleites know what I’m talking about), and crank your fave reggae CD. It ain’t the islands but it’s a nice change of pace from all that mulled wine.
Wassail: Did any American not grow up hearing about or actually going “wassailing,” aka carolling? This mulled British cider is synonymous with knocking on stranger’s doors and breaking into song. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to hit the wassail bowl after mandatory childhood post-carolling; parents should remember that singing in public is the worst possible form of torture for a geeky, tone-deaf pre-teen. Wassail has been a Christmas classic across the pond for centuries, so I’m sure generations of British children suffered the same fate.
Cola de mono: Although Chile is better known for its pisco sours (Peru also claims this libation as its own, but both countries produce it and they’re still duking it out over who actually invented this potent grape brandy) and wine, Christmastime means a glass of “monkey’s tail.” Combine aguardiente (sub pisco or a neutral firewater) with milk, coffee, vanilla bean, and cloves. I have no idea what this has to do with the tail of a monkey, but it’s a cute name. Uh, bottom’s up.
Grenada is so off the radar for a lot of Americans that it leaves a lot to be learned about the country. (For one, how it’s pronounced. Answer: “Gren-ay-da.”)
But here are some of the more practical tidbits that I learned while in the island country that might also serve you well on your visit:
Keep your swimsuits to the beach. An indecent exposure law forbids it elsewhere. Cover up, even if it’s just a little bit.
Don’t wear camouflage. It’s illegal to wear it in any color or format.
Ask before taking that photo of someone. It’s good tact in any situation (although goodbye to spontaneity), but I especially felt the need to in Grenada. In fact, a few people called me on it when I didn’t. My instinct was to snap photos left and right at the market, but I intentionally stopped to talk about and buy produce first.
US money. Yes, you can use it and businesses accept it.
Go SCUBA diving. Grenada has the most wreck dives (sunken boats) in the Caribbean.
%Gallery-77695%Drive on the left. (Also means walking on the left-hand side). But first, you have to get a local driving permit from the traffic department at the Central Police Station on the Carenage. Present your driver’s license and pay a fee of EC$30.
No need to rush the spice-buying. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy spice and all of the variations of spice products — for cheap, too. Consider buying it from the shopkeeper that you’ve just enjoyed a great conversation with.
Say yes to insect repellent. Mosquito bites ended up being the majority of my souvenirs.
Keep some cash on hand for your departure tax. The airport doesn’t accept credit cards for the payment. You can use either American or Eastern Caribbean cash. Adults: EC$50 (US$20). Children ages 2-12: EC$25 (US$10).
Stick to one elevation at a time. Grenada is blessed with wonders from the depths of the ocean to the heights of a 2,000-foot-high mountain. But it’s such a distance that you’ll want to avoid going SCUBA diving and seeing Grand Etang in the same day — you’re sure to get decompression sickness (the bends).
Wait to buy chocolate until later. No doubt you’ll want to bring chocolate home (Grenada Chocolate Company makes an especially good kind — plus it’s organic and made small-batch). But if you’re like me you don’t have a refrigerator in your hotel room, the chocolate is sure to melt, so pick it up at the end.
Hydrate. It’s easy to forget that you need to drink more than usual because of the weather — even when you don’t feel thirsty.
Do as the locals do. Go to the beach on Sunday for an authentic Grenadian experience — you’ll find local families lounging on the beach, and kids starting up soccer games.
Keep an ear to the local slang. For one, “bon je” (jai/jay) is used as an exclamation of awe. That said, understanding the local patois can be as difficult as learning any new language.
Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.
Here at SkyMall Monday headquarters, I love to host barbecues and dinner parties for my SkyMall Maniac friends. Typically, I grill up some of my custom-branded steaks, chill some beers and enjoy the good times. But lately my friends have been complaining that my steaks are bland. That they’re poorly seasoned. In fact, there’s talk of not attending my parties anymore and instead hanging out with someone who writes about the Blair catalog. Frankly, I cannot let that happen (mostly because I want to be the guy who writes about the Blair catalog). So, it’s time that I spiced up my meat with the Baseball Bat Pepper Grinder!
Most pepper grinders are maybe 8″ tall. Perhaps you have a restaurant-quality grinder and it’s pushing 12″. I scoff at your inadequate grinders. I’m a man. I need a grinder that exceeds 28″ and resembles a piece of sporting goods equipment that is in no way related to food. I need the Baseball Bat Pepper Grinder.
There’s no better way to season your food than by standing up, taking a full step back from the table and grinding fresh pepper onto your plate from a safe distance. Every year, literally one person is mildly inconvenienced by getting a pepper flake remotely close to his eye. You can avoid being that person and show people that you love baseball. You need the Baseball Bat Pepper Grinder.
Maybe I’m not articulating this clearly enough. Brainstorm! Let’s look at the product description:
Hit one out-of-the-park as a gift for your Dad who’s MVP of the grill. Feels and looks just like a baseball bat but professional quality grinder delivers effective spice control. Made in the United Kingdom…
First of all, nothing sells a product better than clever wordplay. Secondly, I never knew that spice control was an issue but now I fear that I need to control my spices before something tragic occurs. And thirdly, who better to craft the perfect novelty baseball bat than the British?
Finally, my steaks will be seasoned in a way that demonstrates my spice control. My guests will be satisfied. And I can get started on writing about my favorite Blair product.
Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.