Monday, July 29, 2013

EDIBLE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN LEGACY


There's way too much food on this blog now. Or, at least, that's the impression I get when I have a look at the front page and all I see is pictures of different Trinidadian dishes and words describing them. After all, this is not a food blog, not really. That one is

If you know the other one, though, or looked at it now, then you're aware of the fact that it's only for baking, for all sorts of sweet delicacies. So if I want to share a recipe for something other than a cake or pie - as I do now, not just information about food like in the DiscoverTrinidad series - then I have to use this blog. 

In a way, this is like traveling. And with this specific recipe I'm about to share with you, we travel in space and in time. We travel to Burgenland, Austria. And we travel to my childhood. 

I don't want to go into the history of the Austro-Hungarian connection, because I have no idea if you're interested in reading about this on my blog or not and I don't want to bore you more than the default level of my usual stories - if you fall asleep completely, who's going to read this? If you do want to read more here instead of searching around the interwebs, then let me know, it's something I love sharing. The one thing that's important here, that I have to mention is that said connection between Austria and Hungary is something that we see every day, here in the East of Austria, close to the border. It's palpable, it's everywhere. Even though the days of the Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia are long gone, almost one hundred years, everything surrounding us and indeed making us who we are bears witness of the times we shared: food, names, culture, language. 

Again, I'm not going to go into details unless you ask me to. This is but a glimpse. 

But a good one, because it's delicious! 

I want to teach you how to make Grenadiermarsch, or Gránátos kocka, as it's called in Hungarian. It's a very simple dish made of very few ingredients: pasta, potatoes, onions, paprika and a little vegetable oil and salt'n'pepper. There's places where bits of bacon or sausage are added, but not in my version, I call that blasphemy! This here is the version of Grenadiermarsch that I call the one and only because, to me, that's what it is. The one my mom used to make for me, the one I make now. A taste of Burgenland, a taste of Austria, a taste of home. 

Description for the less sentimental reader: a meal rich in carbohydrates (balanced by the salads on the side), completely free of meat and therefore perfect for vegetarians. And even great for vegans, once you use egg-free pasta. 

Here's what you need if you want to make it for one to two people: 

1 big potato 
1 medium onion 
noodles* 
paprika powder 
vegetable oil 
salt, ground black pepper 

* Really and truly (and madly and deeply, of course) this has to be prepared with Fleckerln, a typical and traditional, Austrian type of pasta that I don't know if you can get anywhere too far from this country. But you can try. And if you can't get them, use any other type of pasta you like that's small - like ricciolini (these come closest, I believe), short fusilli or rotini, conchiglie, farfalle or orecchiette. If you're super dedicated, you can take fettuce or fettuccine and break them into little squares. 

Now to the actual cooking. 

This is easiest if you prepare ahead, because then the preparation of the actual dish takes very little time. If you can, boil the potato before and just leave it in the fridge until you make the Grenadiermarsch, it needs to be completely cold, so you can't just boil it right before cooking the rest of the meal. Cut it into little cubes with sides about the size of your thumbnail. 

What you do boil right as you start cooking is the pasta, then you set it on the side because we won't need it again until later. 

In a big pan, heat some oil and then throw in the finely chopped onion. Roast it on medium heat, we want it glassy and soft, but not brown. Once it's that way, add a tablespoon of paprika powder and stir it all, turning the onion orange-red. If this looks very sticky, add a little more oil. Now, add in the potato cubes and stir it all together, so they take the same colour of the paprika. Roast just a little to soften a bit more. This is the moment to add the salt, just make sure you don't use too much. 

Last, add the pasta and just stir everything together until it's evenly orange and hot. 

The ground black pepper is not, typically, added into the pan, that's something that everyone can add to their own plate, along with more salt, if they feel they need more. 

I used four big potatoes, so this fed six people.

The union of Austria and Hungary here is shown in two prominent aspects: the Fleckerln pasta is typically Austrian, while the paprika clearly marks the Hungarian influence. Look at any kind of dish that claims to be typically Hungarian and there will be at least some trace of that coindiment in it. And the Fleckerln, well they're the Austrian pasta. That's aspect number one, the combination of ingredients and tastes from the two countries into one magnificent dish. Aspect number two is the location of where it's eaten most. Burgenland, being the absolutely fascinating region that it is on the border between Austria and Hungary, also constitutes the centre of where the two cuisines collide, which is why I, being from there, grew up eating Grenadiermarsch. 

Now, back to the food. 

Maybe this will sound weird to you, depending on where you're from and what kind of foods you're used to, but this is supposed to be a meal on its own. It can be a side dish, but traditionally it's not. Accompany it with a generous serving of beetroot salad and cornichons and it'll be perfect. If you don't like beetroot salad or cornichons, a simple green salad will be fine as well. 


If you've made more than you need right away, here's a wonderful advantage to this food: it tastes awesome re-heated! And, here's a secret, just between you and me (as in, don't tell my mom, please): it's also really good if you don't even re-heat it and just eat it straight from the fridge the next day. 


This is the kind of food that will take people through bad times, feed lots with little and can be prepared in great amounts, like for soldiers. That's where it comes from, as far as I know. 

But it's also a food that gives a child strength for a long day at the playground. It's a food that builds a student back up after lots of studying and difficult exams. It's a food that brings moms and grandmas close, even if you cook it yourself because you're already a so-called grown-up in the big wide world. 

It's a food that let's you close your eyes as you eat and travel thousands of kilometres to where you grew up and where your family is, no matter how far away you are. 

And, again for the less sentimental ones: it's simple to make, it doesn't need much in terms of ingredients and is therefore pretty cheap, and it's for everyone (omnivores, vegetarians, vegans,... man, if you use the right kind of pasta, you can even make this gluten-free!). 


Dear readers' tastebuds, 
welcome to the traditional Austro-Hungarian kitchen.
Yours, 
-isa 

Friday, July 19, 2013

HOT PEPPER IS HOT


Something that must not be missed or left out when you eat anything in Trinidad is pepper. And when we say ‘pepper’ in Trinidad we don’t mean black pepper. If we mean that, we say it like that. When we say ‘pepper’, we mean the hot stuff. The little wrinkly peppers that make the best hot sauce ever. And you know what kind of dish we use pepper with? Yes, that’s right. All of them!

Eating curry? Put pepper on it. Eating soup? Put pepper in it. Eating pelau? Put pepper on it. Eating bake chicken and macaroni pie? Put pepper on all of it. And it doesn’t stop with local food. Eating a Subway sandwich? Have them put pepper in it. Eating pizza? Put pepper on it. Put pepper on everything!

Of course, if you can’t handle it, you don’t use that much. And you won’t be looked down upon or anything if you don’t eat any pepper. Maybe you don’t like it, maybe your stomach can’t handle hot and spicy food, maybe you don’t feel like it at some point. It doesn’t matter. It’s okay. Nobody would judge you if you don’t want to put pepper in/on your food at one point or ever, but there still is a certain pride that I see when it comes to pepper – even for people who don’t like eating it themselves.

Maybe it’s because Trinidad is where the (unofficially) hottest pepper in the world comes from: Scorpion Pepper. It replaced another kind of pepper from India a little while ago and now the number one hottest pepper in the world is Trinidadian. Unfortunately, that result is not official, but in our hearts we all know it’s true. 



I was told that the best pepper sauces you can buy are the ones made by Matouk’s. Another good brand (for any kind of spice, really, and even coffee) is Chief. Both of them are Trinidadian, so you’ll be supporting the local economy by buying them. There’s other sauces available from other places in the Caribbean, like Jamaica or Mexico. The one you see in the picture I don’t know personally, so I can’t tell you what it’s like but it’s also local.

As for the Scorpion Pepper itself, I must say I like it. I tried it when I visited Tobago because my friend Ravi, who hosted me there, loves hot pepper in general and got a home-made bottle of Scorpion Pepper Sauce for his birthday, just a short while before I arrived at his place. You can’t eat it just like that and you can’t eat a pepper sauce made with just this kind of pepper, it’s way too hot for that. But you can try the sauces that contain Scorpion and see if you like it.

Even if you try it just once and then never have any kind of pepper again, I believe it’s a good idea to give it a shot to widen your tastebuds’ horizon.

They say even Chuck Norris couldn’t handle the Scorpion! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spot the difference!


At first glance, there are a million differences between Trinidad and Tobago and Austria. And they're all obvious. Really, they are. Maybe not at first glance, but they're still all right there. 

There's the differences that you don't have to look for at all, most of these are apparent even if all you know is their approximate geographical location. 

  • One country is in the Caribbean, the other is in Europe. 
  • One is an island nation, the other is land-locked. 
  • One is  tropical, with heat and whole months of rain, the other is temperate and has all four seasons, with a white Christmas like in the movies and all. 
  • One is mostly made up of hills/mountains and some plain terrain, the other reaches into the freaking Alps. 

Then theres the differences that you won't know by only knowing whereabouts the countries are located on a globe or a world map. These, you'll spot once you do some light investigation, or just look at the introductory paragraphs on their respective Wikipedia pages.  

  • One country has a size of 5,128 km², the other is spread over 83,871 km². 
  • One has a population of 1,226,383, the other has 8,219,743 inhabitants. 
  • One uses its own currency called the TT Dollar, the other uses the Euro. 
  • One used to be a colony, the other used to be a world power. 
  • One's main official language is English, the other's people speak mainly German. 

The next big difference, that's the one you find when you look more closely at the people who live in those two countries. Either you read about them or you go and meet them right there, but no matter how you go about it this difference will jump right in your face - literally. 

  • One country's ethnic mix is 40% East Indians, 37.5% Africans, 20.5% mixed and 2% other. That means that there's people of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds with all sorts of long-term histories mixed together, and very few "whites". The other country doesn't really have a mix, it's 91.1% Austrians and 8.9% other. Basically, that's almost saying that there are only "white" people and the majority of them share a history as well. 

The following set of differences goes deeper still, these are the ones you won't be able to see until you've at least visited those places. You can still figure them out through reading, as you can most things, but if you want to find them for yourself, it will take you a few days. 


  • In one country, you can get into a shared taxi or maxi wherever you want and get out wherever is closest to your destination. In the other country, public transportation is comprised of buses, trams and metros with pre-defined stops, no exceptions. 
  • One country's delicious fruits are imported to the other's entire continent, the other country's healthy, dark, bursting-with-seeds bread is unheard of in the first. 
  • Asking for pepper in one country will get you a sauce, in the other, a black powder. 


There's a million and more of those little things that differentiate Trinidad and Tobago from Austria and the other way around. But the truth is, those differences do not matter one bit. They don't count. In fact, they might even cancel each other out. There's always a "but" in between a pair of them, because one place might not have this but it has that. The other place has that but it doesn't have this. And so on and so forth. It's not important in the end. 

Fundamentally, those two places are the same where it matters. People have jobs in both countries, there's a social system that takes care of things like health and education in both countries, there's good infrastructure as well as beautiful nature in both countries. And for all you nay-sayers, you're right, there are bad politicians who make idiotic and/or horrible decisions regularly - in both countries. 

The thing here is that lots of people who do not know Trinidad and Tobago and only know that it's an island nation in the Caribbean automatically assume that it belongs to and forms part of what way too many people call the Third World. But it's not. It's a very well developed country that has a lot to offer to its residents as well as visitors - who it does not depend upon for income, something that also sets it apart from every other Caribbean island. 

So, if both countries have their pros and their cons, they're both stable and beautiful and inhabited by people who might not speak the same language but are equally nice (most of the time), then what is it that does set them apart? What's the one true difference between these two wonderful places? 

I'll tell you. 

As always, the devil lies in the detail. So deep down that you can't figure it out through reading - superficial or extensive - or visiting or any of that, only by living in both places. There's tiny things that will show you why there's more than an ocean between Trinidad and Tobago and Austria. And one of those in particular made me realise all this, made me think about differences and made me want to talk about which are real and which ones aren't.

That one thing is what it all boils down to, in the end, after peeling away all the ideas of what might be real but is only in our minds. Something that is completely and utterly normal here and would seem completely and utterly ridiculous there. It's the breach that can't be crossed, the one thing that - for me - will forever mark the true difference between these two countries that I love.

And it's the fact that the toilet paper (Yes, I really am talking about toilet paper, bear with me.) in my bathroom here in Favoriten, Vienna, Austria, is one hundred percent different from the toilet paper in my bathroom in St. James, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 

Not only is it three-ply. 

Not only is it light pink. 

It smells of peaches. 

Unbreachable. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

BETTER THAN SWEET'N'SOUR


You’re probably wondering what that might be, that thing that is better than than sweet and sour. Let me tell you: it’s sweet and spicy. Sweet and hot!

It’s an unusual mix, at least for me and probably also for most other Austrians. I don’t know about you, maybe where you’re from that’s normal, but I was very surprised and, I’ll be honest, a little sceptical when I first heard about this and then saw it for the first time. Until I first tried it. Then it was over. No more doubt, no more question.

I was hooked!

On what? I know, I still haven’t told you what exactly it is I’m talking about. Sorry, trying to be mysterious and build up some suspense before making the big revelation.

It’s chow!

Chow in Trinidad is not only a name for dog food (which I believe should be renamed to avoid confusions and gross comments). It is also the name of a snack that is typically eaten at the beach, but can also often be found at limes, or in any kitchen on a random afternoon. Because it’s actually not limited to sunshine and sand kind of days, you can have it anytime you want. It’s always refreshing and good.

It’s when fruit is marinated in a spicy marinade that carries flavours like lime, salt, garlic and chadon beni – among others. The main, most important and most prominent ingredient is the finely chopped chadon beni. It’s what gives the chow the bulk of its flavour and it also accounts for its colour: green. Also very important – and responsible for the little kick you get from eating chow – hot pepper.

Chow is most often made from mango (mostly green, sometimes ripe) and pineapple. The mango is cut in stripes and the pineapple in slices, then the fruit sits in a jar full of the fiery and spicy sauce to take in all the flavour and make the transition from regular pieces of fruit to a delicacy that you probably won’t find anywhere else. At least, I haven’t. Don’t worry, though. It’s not extremely hot, so if you’re not a pepper-lover you won’t suffer at all, you’ll still be able to enjoy a piece of two of chow before you have to take a break and let the taste buds on your tongue breathe for a while before continuing. 



Those who don’t make chow at home, all by themselves, will usually buy it on the road that connects the city of Port of Spain with the northern coast of Trinidad, the one from Maraval to Maracas (and then on all the way to Blanchisseuse). Once you pass through the mountain range and come out on the Caribbean side, there are a few roadside stops that not only offer beautiful views over the ragged cliffs and lush forests on that coast of the island, but also a wide selection of snacks and treats. You can buy all sorts of things there, like salt prunes and milk toffee and crunchy peanut or sesame bars – and chow.

Usually, a bag of chow costs five dollars, ten dollars for pineapple. You get a bunch of pieces of marinated fruit in a little plastic bag, complete with some of the sauce to intensify the flavour until you finally get around to eating it. That’s assuming you’re actually bringing the treat to the beach with you.

But I’d understand if you can’t, I’m among those who munch right away. Waiting impossible.