Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Meal 25. Portuguese Bacalhau com Natas

Though Hugo avows he eats this meal "all the time", he has to admit it's the first time he's prepared it himself. Usually he eats it at weddings or his mom makes it. The very Portuguese main ingredient is codfish, though this fish does not actually swim in Portuguese waters. It is such an important fish a whole book is dedicated to it: "Cod, the Biography of the Fish that Changed the World".

To make the dried and salted fish palatable, it must be left to soak in water for 24 hours to soften it and to remove the salt. According to Hugo there are 1001 ways to prepare it, but Bacalhau com Natas, codfish with cream and potatoes, is his favorite. One thing he didn't realize beforehand was that it would take 45 minutes just to shred and debone the fish! For the lazy cook, pre-shredded cod exists, but it wasn't available in Amsterdam, where Hugo lives now. He is originally from Coimbra, a beautiful old university town.
Of course the onions and potatoes must be fried only in Portuguese olive oil. Even our fruit juice is from a Portuguese specialty shop and the white port we drink was a present from a friend.
While the fish, red onions, potatoes and cream are in the oven, we talk a bit about Portugal's rich history. It used to be a very influential maritime empire, especially in the 15th and 16th century. Macau was the last vestige of this wide array of territories, and was turned over to China as late as 1999.
Hugo is actually researching one of the less tangible results of the his country's presence in India: the Portuguese creole language. The t-shirt he is wearing (at left) reads: "I got spat all over India", referring to the habit of spitting betel juice on-amongst others- innocent tourists.

Digging into the Bacalhau, I understand its appeal. It is real comfort food. I eat such a heaping the dessert, Tigelada, hardly fits anymore. This sweet custard is made with eggs, milk, sugar and port. Hugo serves "real Portuguese tea" to go with it, from the Azores. These islands, are the only part of Portugal where tea is harvested, and are a popular holiday destination.
We chat about one of the other, more typical, Portuguese export products: cork.
Wine bottles nowadays are often stopped with plastic corks, which Hugo explains, is more harmful to the environment, as it is not biodegradable or renewable, as natural cork is. I must admit, I had never given this subject much thought.

Now: an innovation on this website: links to recipes. Many people have asked for recipes. Though I did sometimes link to external recipe sites, from now on I'll try to give good English recipes for the dishes mentioned on the site.
Hugo's Portuguese Bacalhau com Natas

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Meal 24. Balinese Babi Manis

Cok, Wayan en Komang all are from Bali and are in the Netherlands to help out at the Pasar Malam Besar in the Hague, a big "Eurasian culture" festival. For Cok and Komang, it is already the second time they visit here, for Wayan (Komang's sister), it's a first. At left, she has created a miniature Bali at my parents' home, crouching the Indonesian way to peel the bawang merah (small red onions).
The white garlic, ginger and assorted plastic bags with chicken broth and noodles also are imported directly from Bali. I think the mie noodles have a strange blue tinge, and am happy that tonight we'll just have rice, with pork, tofu, tempeh and assorted vegetables. To assure that everyone will enjoy the meal, the spicy sauce is not added to the meat, but put in a separate bowl.
At right, you can see the basic ingredients of a Balinese sauce; first terasi (fermented shrimp paste), then garlic and the red onions. They so similar they are called white and red garlic (bawang putih and bawang merah). The knife is also typically Indonesian.

On Bali they are also Hindu, so beef is a no-no. Pork, chicken, fish, shrimp and the vegetarian tofu and tempeh are the main protein sources. Though I usually don't find tofu and tempeh that appetizing, Cok manages to make it crisp and tasty. At left you can see her chopping the tempeh.
When dinner is served, I notice that especially Wayan is handling her knife and fork with caution. It turns out that she is only using them because I am there...with my parents, she feels more at ease and just eats with her hands, like she would at home.
An interesing thing about Bali is how they name their children. Wayan is the first-born, Made the second born, Komang the third and Ketut the fourth. After that the cycle starts again! In this case, Komang is responsible for the family because he is the oldest son. Wayan is his adik, his little sister, the fifth-born. Because these names are so common, things can get a bit confusing with 200 Ketuts in one village. That is why nicknames are popular.
After dinner we watch "Garuda TV Yours!", the Indonesian channel here in Holland. Most of the shows seem to be made to attract tourists, but the show we watch is pretty interesting. It is about a family that had twins. According to Balinese adat, local laws, the birth of female-male twins must be treated differently. The so-called buncing twins are supposed to live in an isolated area for the first months of their lives. This show was about a young couple who lived by the adat laws, until the boy twin became ill. Disobeying the laws, they left the isolated hut they lived in to bring their son to the hospital. According to the local priests the couple now could not be sure of a pleasant after-life. Somehow, to be absolved, they were expected to pay the amazing sum of 400 euros to the priest. For Bali, this is an incredible amount of money.
So, with Komang and Cok we discuss what these young parents were supposed to do. They are definitely sympathetic towards the father's dilemma. It is difficult to obey laws if it means risking your son's life!