Jul 162018

Today is an extremely important anniversary in the history of the struggle for independence from Spanish rule in South America. On this date in 1809 Pedro Domingo Murillo initiated an uprising in La Paz against the Spanish, which formally marked the beginning of the liberation of South America from Spain. In a speech to the people on this day he said that the Bolivian revolution was igniting a lamp that nobody would be able to extinguish. A similar uprising occurred in the city of Sucre simultaneously. This event is known as El Primer Grito Libertario de América (The First American Cry for Liberty).

The timing was, of course, critical: Spain was occupied with the Napoleonic Wars. In 1808, Napoleon had installed his brother, Joseph, as king of Spain (where he was deeply unpopular), triggering a major revolt of Spanish forces, who joined with Britain in the Peninsular War. The Peninsular War overlaps with what the Spanish-speaking world calls La Guerra de la Independencia Española (Spanish War of Independence), which began with the Dos de Mayo Uprising on 2nd May 1808 and ended on 17th April 1814. The French occupation destroyed the Spanish administration, which fragmented into quarrelling provincial juntas. As such, Spain was not in a strong position to fight rebels in South America, yet was still very much dependent on resources from the colonies. Nonetheless, there were royalist Spanish forces garrisoned throughout South America, and the fight for independence was no cake walk.

Although Spain maintained a tight hold on La Paz, communication between South America and Spain took months or longer by sea. At the turn of the 19th century, unrest against Spanish control was widespread among both indigenous populations and Spanish descendants born in South America (criollos). In 1781, for a total of six months, a group of Aymara people laid siege to La Paz. Under the leadership of Tupac Katari, they destroyed churches and government property. Thirty years later indigenous peoples conducted a two-month siege against La Paz. Meanwhile, criollos and mestizos in La Paz were chafing against government from Madrid.

Pedro Domingo Murillo was born in La Paz in 1757. His father, Juan Ciriaco Murillo, was from one of the city’s elite families, whereas his mother Mary Ascencia Carasco was of indigenous stock. Juan Ciriaco was ordained as a Catholic priest soon after Pedro’s birth (rules concerning celibacy were quite different at the time). Juan took charge of Pedro’s early education. It is thought Pedro first attended the Colegio Seminario de San Carlos, in La Paz, and then studied law at St Francis Xavier University of Chuquisaca (later renamed Sucre), but left before completing his studies. By age 21, he had married Olmedo Manuel de la Concha in Potosí, the high-altitude silver mining city at the foot of Cerro de Potosí. By age 24 he had two children, and had moved to Irupana. When Túpac Amaru began his rebellion in 1781 Murillo distinguished himself in the militia and was appointed lieutenant. Subsequently his father died, and he got into a long and complicated legal dispute with his father’s sister over the disposal of the inheritance, which was substantial. Because Murillo forged a number of documents, and claimed he had law license (which he did not), he was held in contempt of court and had to flee the authorities. He was finally pardoned in early 1789, and began working in mining.

As early as 1805, groups, of which Murillo was a member, had begun conspiring against the Spanish government, in the wake of Napoleon’s inroads into Spain, the overthrow of king Charles and refusal to accept his son Ferdinand as king. However, the conspiracy was discovered, and the conspirators were brought to trial. The Upper Peru regional government in Chuquisaca, the Real Audiencia of Charcas, became increasingly uneasy about these rebellions, as well as the loyalties of the local governor. Supported by the faculty of St Francis Xavier University of Chuquisaca, they deposed the governor and formed a junta on 25th May 1809.  A self-determination movement kicked off with the incessant ringing of the bell of the St Francis Xavier Basilica in Chuquisaca (nowadays Sucre). Meanwhile, Murillo was plotting back in La Paz, leading to outright rebellion on 16th July. At a self-appointed Junta Tuitiva (“protecting junta”) there a few days later, Murillo demanded the complete secession of upper Peru from the Spanish Empire.

To suppress what had become a serious insurrection, royalist troops were dispatched, some from the Viceroyalty of Peru and others from Buenos Aires. Though some regiments comprising indigenous people refused to intervene against a patriotic movement, the uprising was suppressed. Murillo had to flee, but was captured. He was hanged, along with others, on 29th January 1810, when he made the following statement:

Compatriots, I die, but tyrants won’t be able to extinguish the torch I ignited. Long live freedom!

In 1825, after the decisive victory of the republicans at Ayacucho over the Spanish army in the course of the Spanish American wars of independence, the city’s full name was changed to La Paz de Ayacucho (The Peace of Ayacucho).

Every 16th July in La Paz, the local populace honors the patriotic deeds of 1809. A regional celebration begins when the various national and local authorities collaborate to light the Torch of Liberty at what is called the house of the martyr. There follows a parade through central La Paz known as the “Parade of Torches” celebrating Murillo’s famous declaration.

Perhaps the most suitable Bolivian dish to honor Murillo is fricasé, a traditional soup/stew featuring pork, hominy, chuño, onion, garlic, and spices. Fricasé is a popular dish in Bolivia, and is often sold and eaten in the morning (sometimes as a hangover cure). Good luck finding all the right ingredients if you don’t live in South America. Chuño  is a freeze-dried potato product traditionally made by the Quechua and Aymara communities of Bolivia and Peru, and is known in various countries of South America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

To make it is a five-day process, involving exposing a frost-resistant variety of potatoes to the very low night temperatures of the Andean Altiplano, freezing them, and subsequently exposing them to the intense sunlight of the day. The word comes from Quechua ch’uñu, meaning ‘frozen or wrinkled potato.’ Some people substitute regular potatoes, but this is frowned upon. The aji pepper, or yellow pepper, is a very hot chile commonly used in Bolivian cooking, and hard find elsewhere. Fricasé is usually served with llajua (or llajwa) a spicy sauce prepared from locoto chiles and tomatoes along with quirquiña (Bolivian coriander) and other local spices according to taste. Ideally you should also have a crispy marraqueta (Bolivian bread) to soak up the broth. Preparation of this dish is not complicated, but it is a rigmarole (as you will see from the recipe). It is one of my favorites.



2 lb pork ribs or chops, cut in large pieces
½ cup aji amarillo  (see below)
12 black or white chuño (black is preferable)
¼ cup bread crumbs
1 can white hominy
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp dry oregano
4 cups broth


Scrub the chuño and soak them in water overnight.

Rub the aji amarillo into the pork. Heat the broth to near boiling and add the pork, garlic, salt, cumin Simmer for around 90 minutes, or until tender.

Simmer the chuño in a separate pot for about 20 minutes or until tender. Set aside.

Add the oregano and bread crumbs to the pork and continue to simmer for 10 minutes,  then add the cooked chuño and hominy and warm through. Serve in deep bowls with llajua (recipe below) on the side, and marraqueta.

It is common in Bolivia to put the chuño and hominy in the soup bowl first and then pour the fricasé on top, rather than cooking everything together. Cook’s choice.

Serves 4

Aji Amarillo

1 medium red onion, peeled and diced small
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
2 cups yellow chile sauce (see below)
1 cup beef broth
2 tbs canola oil


Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the yellow sauce, cumin, broth, and salt, and simmer until the sauce thickens.

Extra can be frozen for later use.

Yellow Chile Sauce


12 dried aji peppers
2 cups water


Cut the heads off the dry yellow peppers and remove the stems. Put them in a pot of boiling water and let them boil for about 30 minutes. When the skins start to get loose remove the peppers from the hot water and plunge them in cold water. Remove the skins. You can also remove the seeds if you want the sauce less spicy. Put the peppers and 2 cups of water in a blender and blend for about 2 min until very smooth.



2 large jalapenos, minced
2 large tomatoes diced finely
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 tbsp red onion, peeled and minced finely


Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly with salt to taste.

Nov 082017

On this date in 1901, the Gospel Riots, which had been taking place on the streets of Athens in November 1901, reached a climax when eight demonstrators were killed. The riots were primarily a protest against the publication in the newspaper Akropolis of a translation into modern spoken Greek, demotic Greek, of the gospel of St Matthew, although there were deeper issues at stake. The Riots marked a turning point in the history of the so-called “Greek language question”, and the beginning of a long period of bitter antagonism between the Orthodox Church and the demoticist movement over what form of Greek should be used both in the church and in official documents. In the aftermath of the violence the Greek Orthodox Church reacted by banning any translation of the Bible into any form of modern demotic Greek, and by forbidding the employment of demoticist teachers, not just in Greece but anywhere in the Ottoman Empire.

The issues involved are complex, but I’ll try to break them down succinctly for you. In the process I will continue my discourse on why people and their governments frequently spar over what should be the official language of a nation. Control of what counts as an official language is power. In Greece’s case you have numerous factors to consider because of the socio-political ramifications of the evolution of the language. Being simplistic, as always, you can break Greek into two significant language groups: classical Greek on the one hand, and modern Greek on the other. The two are mutually unintelligible, just as Latin and Italian or Anglo-Saxon and modern English are mutually unintelligible. The Greek situation is further complicated by the fact that classical Greek was used by schools, government, and the church well into the 20th century. Many people in positions of power felt that classical Greek was somehow “purer” than later dialects, free from the taint of “foreign” influences.

Defining classical Greek is not a simple matter either. There is the Greek of Plato and Homer, which was the standard for schools throughout Europe for hundreds of years. But then there is the Greek of the Bible, called koine Greek, the lingua franca of the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine empires down to the early Middle Ages. Koine itself had numerous dialects, but at least classical Greek and koine Greek were mutually intelligible. The differences are mostly a matter of vocabulary, and koine Greek’s grammar is much simpler than classical Greek’s. Modern demotic Greek shares an alphabet with classical Greek and not much else.

By 1901 the long debate known as the “Greek language question” had been underway for 135 years. Initial hopes that classical Greek could be revived as the language of the newly liberated Greek nation had proven illusory. As a compromise, a grammatically simplified version of classical Greek known as katharevousa glossa (‘language tending towards purity’) had been adopted as the written language of the new Greek state in 1830, (declared after a prolonged war of independence from the Ottoman empire). This meant that the spoken and written languages were now different. This was quite intentional. It was hoped that written katharevousa would provide a model for imitation, and that spoken Greek would naturally ‘purify’ itself by becoming more like this written form, and therefore more like classical Greek, within a matter of decades. To provide additional motivation, the current spoken or demotic Greek was widely condemned as “base” and “vulgar”, the damaged product of centuries of linguistic corruption by subjection to Ottoman despotism.

The plan did not work. After 50 years, spoken demotic still showed no sign at all of becoming ‘purified’ into something more like classical Greek. On the other hand, katharevousa was proving unsatisfactory in use as a general-purpose written language. Scholars could not agree on its grammatical rules; and as a purely written language with no native speakers, it could not evolve a natural grammar of its own. Its classical Greek vocabulary could not be used to write about the objects and events of ordinary life without sounding ridiculously stilted and unnatural.

The problem was compounded by the educational system. Until 1881 only classical Greek — not even katharevousa — was taught in Greek primary schools, continuing the tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church, which had exercised an effective monopoly over education for centuries. The Church had always taught the ancient koine Greek of the gospels and the Divine Liturgy. The children thus had to learn to read and write in a language they did not speak, or even hear outside church. This had been acceptable in previous centuries, when the schools had concentrated on training future priests; but it could not provide universal popular literacy.

By 1880 many Greeks were beginning to feel that katharevousa had outlived its usefulness, and that it might be distracting the nation from its real destiny. It was quite natural for the fragile young state of 1830 to have clung to the classical Greek written tradition as a symbol of its national identity, but 50 years on, many were looking for the true soul of Greece in the actual language spoken by the people, and in the oral traditions and folk-songs of the country, rather than in the ancient glories of the far distant past.

In the 1880s there was a burst of creative activity in this direction. Kostis Palamas led the New Athenian School in a renaissance of demotic poetry. The writer and journalist Emmanuel Roïdis pinpointed the deficiencies of katharevousa, and coined the word diglossia to describe the unhealthy split between the spoken and written languages; and finally, in 1888, Ioannis Psycharis published My Journey, which transformed the language debate. Psycharis proposed the immediate abandonment of katharevousa and the adoption of demotic for all written purposes. But he did not reject the relationship with classical Greek; on the contrary, as an evolutionary linguist, he argued that spoken demotic really was classical Greek, merely 2,000 years further along in its evolutionary history. As for written katharevousa, he regarded it as an artificial construct, scarcely a language at all. As a Neogrammarian, he believed that the essence of language was passed on by speech rather than writing.

Many agreed with him up to this point. But Psycharis went further. If demotic were to be used as the written language of a modern state, it would need a larger technical vocabulary. Educated everyday speech in the 1880s simply borrowed such terms from written katharevousa. For example, for “evolution” the word ἐξέλιξις was commonly used, altered to ἐξέλιξη to conform to the morphology of spoken demotic. Psycharis however regarded katharevousa as an artificial contamination of the naturally evolved Greek language, and rejected all such borrowings. Instead he coined the word ξετυλιξιά, which he claimed was the word spoken Greek would have evolved for the concept of evolution if it had been free of the corrupting influence of katharevousa. He created many such words on the same principle; his declared aim was to set up a revitalized, scientifically derived demotic as a new written standard based entirely on the spoken language, isolated from katharevousa and independent of it. This part of Psycharis’ doctrine split the Greek intellectual world. Some found the new coinages ugly and unnatural: Psycharis’ versions sounded like mispronunciations of learned words by uneducated people, who would be unlikely to be familiar with many of these words in the first place. Others were inspired by Psycharis’ vision and became enthusiastic supporters of his version of demotic. Psycharis is widely credited with turning demoticism from an idea into a movement, which steadily gained strength during the 1890s.

So, by 1896 classical Greek was established firmly in the Church, in secondary schools, and also in primary schools (with some katharevousa there since 1881). Katharevousa was still used for every kind of administration and for non-fiction literature, but in prose fiction it was just beginning to give way to demotic. In poetry, demotic had taken the lead. In 1897, however, politics became more important than linguistic theories.

Early in 1897 the Greek government embarked on military action against the Ottoman Empire, starting in Crete but developing into an attempt to conquer the strip of Ottoman territory to the North by force. The Greek armed forces (which had not seen action for 70 years) performed poorly against the Ottoman troops (who were more numerous, better armed, and advised by a German military mission). The short Greco-Turkish War (1897) ended in defeat and national humiliation. The episode became known as Black ’97, and all sides set about assigning the blame. The military defeat also raised fears that neighboring Bulgarians would seize the opportunity of Greece’s evident military weakness to invade. Participants in the language debate could not help being drawn into what quickly became a political snake-pit.

The Eastern Orthodox Church had never had theological objections, in principle, to translation of the Ancient koine Greek gospels into a more modern form of Greek closer to the spoken language. The first translation appeared in the 11th century and until the beginning of the 19th century as many as 25 had been published. Some of these translations were officially solicited by the Patriarchate at Constantinople, while others were the work of prominent theologians and monks. Solicited or not, these translations were done by members of the Orthodox church and so were not a direct threat to its authority. Starting in 1790, however, Protestant missionary societies opened missions all over Greece, the Levant and the Near East, bringing with them new translations of the Bible into the local vernacular languages.

The Eastern Orthodox Church regarded these Protestant-sponsored translations as attempts at proselytism, and therefore as a direct threat to its religious authority. Accordingly, in 1836 and 1839 two encyclicals were issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (and approved by the newly-independent Autocephalous Church of Greece) commanding that all translations undertaken by “enemies of our faith” should be confiscated and destroyed. At the same time all previous translations, even if undertaken by “our co-religionists”, were condemned.

Fast forward to 1901. Two translations of the gospels into modern Greek in that year. One was by the queen Olga Constantinovna who had served as queen consort of the Hellenes since her marriage in 1867 to King George I. She was only 16 when she first arrived in Greece after the wedding, and had won the respect of her adopted country by learning Greek within a year and engaging in a wide-ranging program of charitable and educational work, which did much to maintain the prestige and popularity of the Greek monarchy. However, as the decades passed and the ‘Bulgarian threat’ loomed larger in the North, her close family ties to the Romanov dynasty of Russia began to make her an object of suspicion to those who saw, or claimed to see, Pan-Slavic conspiracies behind every setback. After the trauma of Black ’97 these rumors of conspiracy became much more widespread, and therefore more useful to political opponents of the monarchy. Queen Olga undertook her translation of the Gospels from the best of motives. In the aftermath of Black ’97, she had spent much time in the military hospitals, at the bedsides of the wounded soldiers of the defeated army. However, when she tried to raise their spirits by reading the Gospels to them, she discovered that few could understand the classical Greek words; they called it “deep Greek for the learned”

The second translation was by Alexandros Pallis, a member of Psycharis’ inner circle, and an enthusiastic user and promoter of his new ‘scientifically derived demotic’. Pallis had also published his own work, starting in 1892 with the first part of his translation of the Iliad.  Pallis was making a particular linguistic point with his choice of material to translate. He wanted to show that demotic was capable of embodying the spirit of the founding texts of pagan and Christian Greek literature which included the Homeric epics and the four Gospels. As a devout Christian, he also felt a moral and religious imperative. Pallis spent most of his life working in the British Empire, becoming a British citizen in 1897, and came to share its general belief that all nations and peoples should have access to the Gospels in their own spoken languages.

On Sunday 9 September 1901 (Old Style), the front page of the daily broadsheet Akropolis carried the first installment of Pallis’ translation of the Gospel of Matthew, under a full-width headline reading “ΤΟ ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΕΙΣ ΤΗΝ ΓΛΩΣΣΑΝ ΤΟΥ ΛΑΟΥ”, or “THE GOSPEL IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE PEOPLE”. Akropolis was essentially the creation of one man, Vlasis Gavriilidis, who founded it in 1883 and played a major part in running it until his death in 1920. By 1901 it had established a solid reputation as the most progressive of Greece’s newspapers and one “of the few which cultivates a taste for general, non-political articles”.

The translation itself occupied the right-most column, under a sub-heading quoting (in Greek) St Paul’s words: “So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how shall it be known what is spoken?” (1 Corinthians 14.9) The long editorial, starting in the left-most column, was written by Gavriilidis himself and is headed “Akropolis is continuing the work of the Queen”. However, it placed Pallis’ version in a very different social setting from that of the Queen. He wrote:

Who amongst the peasants and the workers, who even among the merchants and the clerks and all those who have not completed secondary education can understand the language of the Gospels? No one.

Rarely, perhaps for the first time, has the vernacular language taken on such a godlike gentleness and sweetness and harmoniousness as in the language of Mr Pallis. It is as though one is listening to the tinkling of the bells of a distant flock, such as those that first greeted the Birth of Christ.

As you can imagine, the battle lines were drawn and the Gospel Riots of November 1901 were the result. Language problems remained for a further 75 years as Greece’s political spectrum continued in its complications, including the coup of the Colonels in 1967, who went on to support katharevousa as superior to demotic Greek, which they argued did not really have a grammar and was vulgar in every respect. Katharevousa became so closely identified with the Colonels that when their unpopular regime collapsed in July 1974, support for katharevousa and enforced diglossia crumbled with it, never to recover. The new democratic government of Konstantinos Karamanlis then set about language reform for one last time. The Greek language question was finally laid to rest on 30 April 1976, when Article 2 of Law 309—still written in katharevousa—stipulated that modern Greek should be the sole language of education at all levels, starting with the school year 1977–78. This law defined modern Greek as:

 … the Demotic that has been developed into a Panhellenic instrument of expression by the Greek People and the acknowledged writers of the Nation, properly constructed, without regional and extreme forms.

I wouldn’t exactly class this as a rigorous definition, but you get the point. You also perhaps now, assuming you have waded through all of this, understand a little more how language usage can arouse deep passions.

To be a little quirkier than usual I’ll give you a recipe for tsoureki, Greek Easter bread, first in demotic Greek, and then in English. The original Greek recipe is from this website https://www.argiro.gr/recipe/tsoureki-2/ The translation is mine (rather loose for clarity). My training is in classical Greek, but I can manage with demotic if pushed. I am sure that for most readers the Greek is simply an aesthetic appendage, but I hope there are some who can read it. I’ll give notes before the English version.


Υλικά Συνταγής

700 γραμμ. αλεύρι για τσουρέκι
1-1/2 κύβος νωπή μαγιά 40 γρ.
200 γραμμ. χλιαρό νερό
120 γραμμ. βούτυρο γάλακτος
180 γραμμ. ζάχαρη κρυσταλλική
3 αυγά
1 κ.γλ. μαχλέπι
1/2 κ.γλ. κακουλέ
1/2 κ.γλ. γλυκάνισο
1 πρέζα μαστίχα


Για να πιάσουμε τη μαγιά, διαλύουμε – θρυμματίζουμε τον κύβο μαγιάς σε μπολ, προσθέτουμε το χλιαρό νερό και 1 κ.σ. ζάχαρη από τη συνταγή και αλεύρι τόσο ώστε να έχουμε μια αραιή ζύμη (περίπου 150 γραμμ.).

Τ’ ανακατεύουμε πολύ καλά. Σκεπάζουμε το μπολ και την αφήνουμε σε ζεστό μέρος κοντά σε καλοριφέρ ή στις εστίες για περίπου 20΄ και δεν κουνάμε ούτε μετακινούμε το μπολ.

Μετά από περίπου 20΄ θα δούμε ότι έχει ανέβει και στην επιφάνεια έχουν σχηματιστεί φυσαλίδες. Σε κατσαρολάκι σε πολύ χαμηλή φωτιά ή σε μπεν μαρί λιώνουμε το βούτυρο, προσθέτουμε τη ζάχαρη και ανακατεύουμε καλά μέχρι να διαλυθεί η ζάχαρη.

Τότε ρίχνουμε τ’ αυγά και με σύρμα και γρήγορες κινήσεις ανακατεύουμε καλά. Προσοχή στη θερμοκρασία των υλικών, η εστία να είναι στο 1. Σε γουδί χτυπάμε το μαχλέπι, τη μαστίχα και τα σποράκια (το εσωτερικό) κακουλέ με 1 κ.σ. ζάχαρη (από τη συνολική ζάχαρη της συνταγής).

Κοσκινίζουμε το αλεύρι σε λεκάνη. Προσθέτουμε τη μαγιά (που έχει γίνει πλέον) και το μείγμα αυγό-βούτυρο-ζάχαρη. Προσθέτουμε κακουλέ, μαχλέπι, μαστίχα και αρχίζουμε να ζυμώνουμε μέχρι πλέον η ζύμη να μην κολλάει στα χέρια. Ίσως χρειαστεί να πασπαλίσουμε λίγο αλεύρι επιπλέον.

Σκεπάζουμε το μπολ με τη ζύμη και την αφήνουμε να διπλασιαστεί σε όγκο, περίπου 1 ώρα εάν είναι σε ζεστό σημείο. Όταν φουσκώσει η ζύμη τη χωρίζουμε σε τρία μέρη. Πλάθουμε τρία φιτίλια και τα πλέκουμε σε κοτσίδα. Εδώ αν θέλουμε μπήγουμε κόκκινα αυγά στην ένωση.

Το τοποθετούμε σε λαμαρίνα στρωμένη με λαδόκολλα και το σκεπάζουμε πάλι για να φουσκώσει και να διπλασιαστεί σε όγκο. Πριν το φουρνίσουμε το αλείφουμε με χτυπημένο αυγό και νερό.

Έχουμε προθερμάνει καλά το φούρνο στους 160-170°C και το ψήνουμε για 45΄ μέχρι να φουσκώσει καλά και να ροδίσει. Αν θέλουμε να γυαλίσει, όταν το βγάλουμε απ’ το φούρνο τ’ αλείφουμε με λίγο βούτυρο.

Το τυλίγουμε με μεμβράνη αφού κρυώσει για να μην ξεραθεί.

I have added some comments in square brackets to my translation for clarity. Some of the ingredients for tsoureki need explanation and may not be easy to come by. The recipe calls for “flour for brioche” for example, for which I use plain, unbleached flour. Mahleb is a Greek spice made from cherry pits from a special species of cherry, Prunus mahaleb. It’s an essential flavoring, and there’s really no substitute. Mastic is a tree resin used in Greek and Middle Eastern cooking. You can sometimes find it in pharmacies or health food stores as Arabic gum (NOT gum Arabic) or Yemen gum. The recipe does not mention dyed eggs in the list of ingredients but includes them as an option in the instructions.  For Easter it is traditional to add a red-dyed egg to the bread. Also note that some cooks make a straight braid, others a circle.


700 grams flour for brioche
40 gm fresh yeast
200 ml lukewarm water
120 gm unsalted butter
180 gm granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp mahlepi (mahleb)
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp anise
1 pinch of mastic


Dissolve the yeast in a bowl with the warm water and 1 tablespoon of sugar from the recipe. Add a little flour to make a thin dough (about 150 grams). Mix the ingredients well, cover the bowl and leave it in a warm place near a radiator or a hotplate for about 20 minutes. Do not move the dough or the bowl. After about 20 minutes you will see that it has expanded and bubbles have formed on the surface.

In a saucepan on a low heat or in a double boiler, melt the butter, add the [remaining] sugar [minus another tablespoon] and stir well until the sugar dissolves. Add the eggs and whisk vigorously. Pay close attention to the temperature of the ingredients. [A double boiler is best so as not to scramble the eggs. You want an emulsion.]

Use a mortar and pestle to grind together the mahleb, mastic, cardamom, and anise with 1 tbsp. sugar (from the total sugar of the recipe).

Sift the [remaining] flour into a basin. Add the yeast/flour mixture, and the egg-butter-sugar mixture. Add the flavorings, [mix well to form a dough], and start kneading until the dough does not stick to your hands. You may need to sprinkle on some additional flour.

Place the dough in a bowl, cover it, and allow it to double in volume (about 1 hour in a warm spot). When the dough has risen [punch it down and] divide it into three parts. Braid the three parts. If you want, you can add red-dyed eggs at this point.

Place the braid on a sheet of paper and cover it again to inflate and double in volume. Before baking, brush it with beaten egg and water.

Preheat the oven to 160-170°C and bake for 45 minutes, until it rises well and browns. If you want to glaze it, when you take it out of the oven, brush it with some [melted] butter.

Wrap the loaf with cooking wrap after it has cooled to prevent it from drying out.

Aug 312017

Today is the anniversary of the independence of Trinidad and Tobago (officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) from the U.K in 1962. It remained part of the British commonwealth until 1976 with queen Elizabeth II as head of state until 1976 when it became a republic. Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island country situated off the northern edge of the South American mainland, lying just 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and 130 kilometres (81 miles) south of Grenada. Bordering other Caribbean nations to the north, it shares maritime boundaries with other nations including Barbados to the northeast, Grenada to the northwest, Guyana to the southeast, and Venezuela to the south and west.


The island of Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498 to the capitulation of the Spanish Governor, Don José María Chacón, on the arrival of a British fleet of 18 warships on 18th February 1797. During the same period, the island of Tobago changed hands between Spanish, British, French, Dutch and Courlander colonizers, more times than any other island in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago (remaining separate until 1889) were ceded to Britain in 1802 under the Treaty of Amiens.

Trinidad and Tobago is the third richest country by GDP (PPP) per capita in the Americas after the United States and Canada. Furthermore, it is recognized as a high-income economy by the World Bank. Unlike most of the English-speaking Caribbean, the country’s economy is primarily industrial, with an emphasis on petroleum and petrochemicals due to its large reserves and exploitation of oil and natural gas.

Trinidad and Tobago has a complex ethnic mix of peoples because of the history of colonization. British rule led to an influx of settlers from the United Kingdom and the British colonies of the Eastern Caribbean. English, Scots, Irish, German and Italian families arrived. Under British rule, new estates were created and the import of slaves did increase, but this was the period of abolitionism in England and the slave trade was under attack. Slavery was abolished in 1833, after which former slaves served an “apprenticeship” period which ended on 1 August 1838 with full emancipation. An overview of the populations statistics in 1838, however, clearly reveals the contrast between Trinidad and its neighboring islands. Upon emancipation of the slaves in 1838, Trinidad had only 17,439 slaves, with 80% of slave owners having fewer than 10 slaves each. In contrast, at twice the size of Trinidad, Jamaica had roughly 360,000 slaves.

After slaves were emancipated, plantation owners were in severe need of labor. The British authorities filled this need by instituting a system of indentureship. Various nationalities were contracted under this system, including East Indians, Chinese and Portuguese. Of these, the East Indians were imported in the largest numbers, starting from 1 May 1845, when 225 Indians were brought in the first shipment to Trinidad on the Fatel Razack, a Muslim-owned vessel. Indentureship of the East Indians lasted from 1845 to 1917, during which more than 147,000 Indians were brought to Trinidad to work on sugarcane plantations. They added what was initially the second-largest population grouping to the young nation, and their labor developed previously underdeveloped plantation lands.

The indentureship contract was exploitative, such that historians including Hugh Tinker were to call it “a new system of slavery”. People were contracted for a period of five years, with a daily wage as low as 25 cents in the early 20th century, and they were guaranteed return passage to India at the end of their contract period. However, coercive means were often used to retain laborers, and the indentureship contracts were soon extended to 10 years after the planters complained that they were losing their labor too early. In lieu of the return passage, the British authorities soon began offering portions of land to encourage settlement; however, the numbers of people who did receive land grants is unclear. East Indians entering the colony were also subject to particular crown laws which segregated them from the rest of Trinidad’s population, such as the requirement that they carry a pass with them once off the plantations, and that if freed, they carry their “Free Papers” or certificate indicating completion of the indenture period. The ex-Indentureds came to constitute a vital and significant section of the population, as did the ex-slaves.

Alongside sugarcane, the cacao (cocoa) crop also contributed greatly to economic earnings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1920–1930 period, the collapse of the sugarcane industry concomitant with the failure of the cocoa industry resulted in widespread depression among the rural and agricultural workers in Trinidad, and encouraged the rise of the Labour movement. This movement was led by Arthur Cipriani and Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler, who, in combination with his Indian partners (notably Adrian Cola Rienzi), aimed to unite the working class and agricultural labor class to achieve a better standard of living for them, as well as to hasten the departure of the British. This effort was severely undermined by the British Home Office and by the British-educated Trinidadian elite, many of whom were descended from the plantocracy themselves. They instigated a vicious race politicking in Trinidad aimed at dividing the class-based movement on race-based lines, and they succeeded, especially since Butler’s support had collapsed from the top down.

Petroleum had been discovered in 1857, but became economically significant only in the 1930s and afterwards, as a result of the collapse of sugarcane and cocoa, and increasing industrialization. By the 1950s, petroleum had become a staple in Trinidad’s export market, and was responsible for a growing middle class among all sections of the Trinidad population. The collapse of Trinidad’s major agricultural commodities, followed by the Depression, and the rise of the oil economy, led to major changes in the country’s social structure. Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from the United Kingdom on 31 August 1962.

Cricket is the national sport of the country. Trinidad and Tobago is represented at Test cricket, One Day International as well as Twenty20 cricket level as a member of the West Indies team. The national team plays at the first-class level in regional competitions. The Queen’s Park Oval located in Port of Spain is the largest cricket ground in the West Indies. Brian Lara, world record holder for the most runs scored both in a Test and in a First Class innings and other records, was born in the small town of Santa Cruz, Trinidad and Tobago and is often referred to as the Prince of Port of Spain or simply the Prince.

Trinidad and Tobago is known for its Carnival which manifests itself uniquely in different parts of the world. It is the celebration leading up to Lent which in predominantly Catholic countries is usually centered on parades (as well as food and drink).

Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of steelpan which it claims is the only percussion instrument invented in the 20th century. Steelpans were, and still sometimes are, an instrument born of poor necessity, crafted from old oil drums.

Along with steel drums came limbo, and the music styles of calypso, soca, parang, chutney, chutney soca, chutney parang, cariso, extempo, kaiso, parang soca, pichakaree, and rapso.

Trinidad and Tobago is known in the Caribbean for its variety of foods, which are an eclectic mix of Native American, African, Indian, and European influences.  The most famous street food is probably doubles, two pieces of flatbread filled with curried chickpeas.

Macaroni pie is a comfort-food favorite in homes across the islands.  It’s easy to prepare and works as both a main dish or side dish.  Use whatever good melting cheese suits your tastes.  Cheddar is the most common in the islands.

Macaroni Pie


8 oz elbow macaroni
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups melting cheese, grated
1 ½ cups evaporated milk
salt and white pepper


Cook the macaroni in abundant boiling, salted water until it is cooked al dente. Do not overcook. Drain and reserve.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked macaroni, eggs, cheese, evaporated milk, and salt and pepper to taste.  Turn out into a well greased baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes or until firm.

Serve hot, in slices.

Feb 122017

By strange coincidence this date marks two events that represent the beginning and the end of the Spanish rule of Chile.  On this date in 1541 the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago, establishing a permanent Spanish colony, and on this date in 1817 Argentine and Chilean troops defeated Spanish royalist troops at the battle of Chacabuco, effectively ending Spanish rule (although there was another year of fighting). One year later on this date – not by coincidence – Bernardo O’Higgins declared Chile an independent nation.

According to archaeological investigations, it is believed that the first human groups settled in the Santiago basin in the 10th millennium BCE. The groups were mainly nomadic hunter-gatherers, who traveled from the coast to the interior in search of guanacos (Lama guanicoe) during the time of the Andean snowmelt. About the year 800 CE, the first inhabitants began to settle due to the formation of agricultural communities along the Mapocho River growing mainly maize, potatoes and beans, and herding domesticated camelids.

The villages established in the areas belonging to ethnic picunches groups (called promaucaes by Incas), were subject to the Inca Empire throughout the late 15th century and into the early 16th century. The Incas settled in the valley of mitimaes, now in the center of the present city, with fortifications and sacred sites at Huaca de Chena and El Plomo. The area was the center for the failed Inca expeditions southward along the Inca Trail.

Pedro de Valdivia reached the valley of the Mapocho on 13 December 1540,  having been sent by Francisco Pizarro from Peru and having made the long journey from Cuzco through the desert rather than face crossing the Andes. Valdivia’s troops camped by the river in the slopes of the Tupahue hill and slowly began to interact with the picunches who inhabited the area. Valdivia later summoned the chiefs of the area to a parliament, where he explained his intention to found a city on behalf of king Carlos I of Spain, which would be the capital of his governorship of Nueva Extremadura. The natives accepted and even recommended the foundation of the town on a small island between two branches of the river next to a small hill called Huelén.

On 12 February 1541, Valdivia officially founded the city of Santiago del Nuevo Extremedura in honor of St James and of his native region of Spain. Following the norms of colonial rule, Valdivia entrusted the layout of the new town to master builder Pedro de Gamboa, who designed the city with a standard grid layout. In the center of the city, Gamboa designed a Plaza Mayor, around which various plots for the Cathedral and the governor’s house were selected. In total, eight blocks from north to south, and ten from east to west, were built. Each solar (quarter block) was given to the settlers, who built houses of mud and straw.

Valdivia left months later to go south with his troops, beginning the War of Arauco. Santiago was left unprotected. The indigenous hosts of Michimalonco used this to their advantage, and attacked the fledgling city. On 11 September 1541, the city was destroyed by the Michimalonco, but the 55 members of the Spanish garrison managed to defend the fort. The resistance was led by Inés de Suárez, a mistress to Valdivia. When she realized they were being overrun, she ordered the execution of all native prisoners, and proceeded to put their heads on pikes and also threw a few heads at the Indian forces. In face of this barbaric act, the Indians dispersed in terror. The city was be slowly rebuilt, giving prominence to the newly founded Concepción, where the Royal Audiencia of Chile was then founded in 1565. However, the constant danger faced by Concepción, due partly to its proximity to the War of Arauco and also to a succession of devastating earthquakes, would not allow the definitive establishment of the Royal Court in Santiago until 1607. This establishment reaffirmed the city’s role as capital. Until 1817 Chile was part of Spanish viceroyalties in South America.

In 1814, having been instrumental in the establishment of a popularly elected congress in Argentina, José de San Martín began to consider the problem of driving the Spanish royalists from South America entirely. He figured that the first step would be to expel them from Chile, and, to this end, he set about recruiting and equipping an army. In just under two years, he had an army of around 6,000 men, 1,200 horses and 22 cannons.

On January 17, 1817, he set out with this force and began the crossing of the Andes. Careful planning on his part had meant that the royalist forces in Chile were deployed to meet threats that did not exist, and his crossing went unopposed. Nonetheless, the Army of the Andes (San Martín ‘s force) suffered heavy losses during the crossing, losing as much as one-third of its men and more than half of its horses. San Martín ended up allying with Chilean patriot Bernardo O’Higgins, who commanded his own army.

The royalists rushed north in response to their approach, and a force of about 1,500 under Brigadier Rafael Maroto blocked San Martín ‘s advance at a valley called Chacabuco, near Santiago. In the face of the disintegration of the royalist forces, Maroto proposed abandoning the capital and retreating southward, where they could hold out and obtain resources for a new campaign. The military conference called by Royal Governor Field Marshal Casimiro Marcó del Pont on February 8 adopted Maroto’s strategy, but the following morning, the Captain General changed his mind and ordered Maroto to prepare for battle in Chacabuco.

The night before the clash, Antonio Quintanilla confided to another Spanish official his opinion of the ill-chosen strategy: Given the position of the insurgents, the royalist forces ought to retreat a few leagues towards the hills of Colina. “Maroto overheard this conversation from a nearby chamber and either couldn’t or refused to hear me because of his pride and self-importance, called on an attendant with his notorious hoarse voice and proclaimed a general decree on pain of death, to whoever suggested a retreat.”

All Maroto and his troops had to do was delay San Martín, as he knew that further royalist reinforcements were on the way from Santiago. San Martín was well aware of this as well and opted to attack while he still had the numerical advantage. San Martín received numerous reports of the Spanish plans from a spy dressed as a roto, a poverty-stricken peasant of Chile. The roto told him that the Spanish general, Marcó, knew of fighting in the mountains and told his army to “run to the field”, which refers to Chacabuco. He also told San Martín the plan of General Rafael Maroto, the leader of the Talavera Regiment and a force of volunteers of up to 2,000 men. His plan was to take the mountainside and launch an attack against San Martín.


On February 11, three days before his planned date of attack, San Martín called a war council to decide on a plan. Their main goal was to take the Chacabuco Ranch, the royalist headquarters, at the bottom of the hills. He decided to split his 2,000 troops into two parts, sending them down two roads on either side of the mountain. The right contingent was led by Miguel Estanislao Soler, and the left by O’Higgins. The plan was for Soler to attack their flanks, while at the same time surrounding their rear guard in order to prevent their retreat. San Martín expected that both leaders would attack at the same time, so the royalists would have to fight a battle on two fronts.

San Martín sent his troops down the mountain starting at midnight of the 11th to prepare for an attack at dawn. At dawn, his troops were much closer to the royalists than anticipated, but fought hard. Meanwhile, Soler’s troops had to go down a tiny path that proved long and arduous and took longer than expected. General O’Higgins, supposedly seeing his homeland and being overcome with passion, defied the plan of attack and charged, along with his 1,500. What exactly happened in this part of the battle is fiercely debated. O’Higgins claimed that the royalists stopped their retreat and started advancing towards his troops. He said that if he were to lead his men back up the narrow path and retreat, his men would have been decimated, one by one. San Martín saw O’Higgins premature advance and ordered Soler to charge the royalist flank, which took the pressure off O’Higgins and allowed his troops to hold their ground.

The ensuing firefight lasted into the afternoon. The tide turned for the Army of the Andes as Soler captured a key royalist artillery point. At this point, the royalists set up a defensive square around the Chacabuco Ranch. O’Higgins charged the center of the royalist position, while Soler got into position behind the royalists, effectively cutting off any chance of retreat. O’Higgins and his men overwhelmed the royalist troops. When they attempted to retreat, Soler’s men cut them off and pushed towards the ranch. Hand-to-hand combat ensued in and around the ranch until every royalist soldier was dead or taken captive. 500 royalist soldiers were killed and 600 taken prisoner. The Army of the Andes lost only 12 men in battle, but an additional 120 lost their lives from wounds suffered during the battle. Maroto succeeded in escaping, thanks to the speed of his horse, but was slightly injured.

The remaining royalist troops left Chile and retreated to Lima by ship. Interim governor Francisco Ruiz-Tagle presided at an assembly, which designated San Martín as governor, but he turned down the offer and requested a new assembly, which made O’Higgins Supreme Director of Chile. This marks the beginning of the “Patria Nueva” period in Chile’s history.

Chilean cuisine shares much with South American cuisines, being a mix of indigenous ingredients and cooking methods, and those imported from Spain, overlaid by other European elements.  But it is definitely distinctive.  I’ve been to Santiago many times because it is a hub for local airlines, and I have had frequent long layovers (including one overnight on the way to Easter Island), giving me the chance to sample local specialties.  The typical cazuela of Chile is very popular but it’s pretty ordinary – meat, potato, pumpkin, rice, and corn in a stew.  Let’s go out on a limb.  Here’s caldillo de congrio: conger eel stew, an absolute classic.  I’ll give the recipe in Spanish because I miss speaking Spanish. Hit the translate button if you are challenged.  If you can’t find conger eel you can substitute white fish but, of course, it’s not the same.  This is the simple recipe. More traditionally, a fish stock is prepared first using eel and fish heads, onions, and garlic.  Then it is strained and used as the cooking broth.

Caldillo de Congrio


1 cebolla cortada en pluma
2 zanahoria pelada y cortadas en rodajas
1 churadita de aji de color
2 tomates cortados en cuarto
1 hoja de laurel
2 rama de perejil
1 pizca de oregano seco
sal y pimiento
gotas de salsa aji
4 medallones de congrio sin piel
1 taza de vino blanco
¼ taza de crema liquida


En una olla, calendar a fuego medio el aceite. Agregar la cebolla y zanahoria y concinar 10-15min

Agregar el aji de color y revolver mezclar.

Anadir los tomates, hoja de laurel, rama de perejil y oregano y cocinar — 5min.

Sazonar con sal, pimento y gotas de salsa aji.

Anadir los medallones de congrio, vino blanco y agua

Hervir la mezcala, reducer el calor y cocinar 10-20min

Quite la cabeza de pescado de caldo. Saque las mejillas de pescado y añadir

A ultimo momento verter la crema.

Adorne con cilantro.

Jan 042017
 © Bettmann/CORBIS

© Bettmann/CORBIS

On this date in 1948 Myanmar, then known as Burma, became independent of British rule, and so today is Independence Day in Myanmar. British rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, from the Anglo-Burmese wars through the creation of Burma as a Province of British India to the establishment of an independently administered colony, and finally independence. Various portions of Burmese territories, including Arakan, Tenasserim were annexed by the British after their victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War. Lower Burma was annexed in 1852 after the Second Anglo-Burmese War. The annexed territories were designated the minor province (a Chief Commissionership), British Burma, of British India in 1862.

After the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, Upper Burma was annexed, and the following year, the province of Burma in British India was created, becoming a major province (a Lieutenant-Governorship) in 1897. This arrangement lasted until 1937, when Burma began to be administered separately by the Burma Office under the Secretary of State for India and Burma. British rule was disrupted during the Japanese occupation of much of the country during the Second World War.

During the 18th century Burmese rulers, whose country had not previously been of particular interest to European traders, sought to maintain their traditional influence in the western areas of Assam, Manipur and Arakan. The British East India Company, however, was expanding its interests eastwards over the same territory. Over the next 60 years, diplomacy, raids, treaties and compromises continued until, after three Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824–1885), Britain proclaimed control over most of Burma.

With the fall of Mandalay on 1 January 1886, all of Burma came under British rule. Throughout the colonial era, many Indians arrived as soldiers, civil servants, construction workers and traders who, along with the Anglo-Burmese community, dominated commercial and civil life in Burma. Rangoon became the capital of British Burma and an important port between Calcutta and Singapore.


Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralyzed Yangon (Rangoon) on occasion all the way until the 1930s. Some of the discontent was caused by a disrespect for Burmese culture and traditions such as the British refusal to remove shoes when they entered pagodas. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement. U Wisara, an activist monk, died in prison after a 166-day hunger strike to protest against a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.

On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered colony of Great Britain and Ba Maw the first Prime Minister and Premier of Burma. Ba Maw was an outspoken advocate for Burmese self-rule and he opposed the participation of Great Britain, and by extension Burma, in World War II. He resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was arrested for sedition. In 1940, before Japan formally entered the Second World War, Aung San formed the Burma Independence Army in Japan.


Burma was a major battleground and was devastated by World War II. By March 1942, within months after the British began the war in Burma, Japanese troops had advanced on Rangoon and the British administration had collapsed. A Burmese Executive Administration headed by Ba Maw was established by the Japanese in August 1942. Wingate’s British Chindits were formed into long-range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines. A similar US unit, Merrill’s Marauders, followed the Chindits into the Burmese jungle in 1943. Beginning in late 1944, allied troops launched a series of offensives that led to the end of Japanese rule in July 1945. The battles were intense with much of Burma laid waste by the fighting. Overall, the Japanese lost about 150,000 men in Burma. Only 1,700 prisoners were taken.


Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese as part of the Burma Independence Army, many Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, served in the British Burma Army. The Burma National Army and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942 to 1944 but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945. Under Japanese occupation, 170,000 to 250,000 civilians died.

Following World War II, Aung San negotiated the Panglong Agreement with ethnic leaders that guaranteed the independence of Myanmar as a unified state. Aung Zan Wai, Pe Khin, Bo Hmu Aung, Sir Maung Gyi, Dr. Sein Mya Maung, Myoma U Than Kywe were among the negotiators of the historical Panglong Conference negotiated with Bamar leader General Aung San and other ethnic leaders in 1947. In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Myanmar, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members.

On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, Burma did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities, and multi-party elections were held in 1951–1952, 1956 and 1960.

The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma Proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British. In 1961, U Thant, then the Union of Burma’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations, a position he held for ten years. Among the Burmese nationals to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of Aung San), who went on to become the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, and ultimately leader of Myanmar.


Mohinga is the national dish of Myanmar. In Burmese it means snack (mo) soup (hinga) and is ubiquitous in Myanmar. It is a breakfast dish traditionally, but, like eggs and bacon in the West, it is now a breakfast food served ALL DAY. Mohinga is also served with all the trimmings at formal functions and nowadays it is also sold in dry packets as a ready-made powder that is used for making the broth.


Street hawkers are the original purveyors of mohinga doing the rounds through neighborhoods where they have regular customers. They carry the soup cauldron on a stove on one side of a shoulder pole and rice vermicelli and other ingredients along with bowls and spoons on the other. It used to be available only early in the morning and at street pwès or open air stage performances and zat pwès or itinerant theatres at night. Trishaw peddlers began to appear in the 1960s and some of them set up pavement stalls making mohinga available all day.


There are different varieties of mohinga in various regions of Myanmar, of course. Rakhine mohinga has more fish paste and less soup. Its ingredients depend on their availability. However, the standard dish comes from southern Myanmar, where fresh fish is more readily available. The main ingredients of mohinga are chickpea flour and/or crushed toasted rice, garlic, onions, lemongrass, banana tree stem, ginger, fish paste, fish sauce, and catfish in a rich broth cooked and kept on the boil in a cauldron. It is served with rice vermicelli, dressed and garnished with fish sauce, a squeeze of lime, crisp fried onions, coriander, spring onions, crushed dried chillis, and, as optional extras, crisp fried fritters such as split chickpeas (pè gyaw), urad dal (baya gyaw) or gourd (bu thee gyaw) or even sliced pieces of Chinese donuts, as well as boiled egg and fried nga hpè fish cake.


Obviously you are not going to be able to create mohinga at home in anything like an authentic way, but I’ll tackle the problem two ways. First a video:

Next, a recipe. Some of the ingredients are going to be difficult, if not impossible, to find in Western markets. Rotsa ruck !!



½ cup peanut oil
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ red onion, finely sliced
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, finely sliced
2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp sweet paprika
3 tbsp cooked, crushed chickpeas
85 g toasted rice powder
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 red Asian shallots, peeled
2 hardboiled eggs, sliced
100 g boiled banana trunk or banana blossom
600 g cooked thin rice noodles
4 sprigs coriander, to garnish
4 snake beans, finely sliced
dried chile flakes


1 whole catfish, cleaned
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 litres cold water

Chile paste

3 lemongrass stalks, white part only, finely sliced
4 whole dried chiles
4 red Asian shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 cm ginger, finely sliced


To make the broth, add the catfish, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric and water to a large saucepan or stockpot. Bring to the boil over high heat and skim any impurities that rise to the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the broth then remove the fish meat from the bones. Set aside and reserve the broth.

Meanwhile, to make the paste, pound the lemongrass, chiles, red shallots, garlic and ginger to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

Heat the peanut oil in a saucepan over low-medium heat and add the turmeric. Next, add the chile paste. Add the red onion, lemongrass, ginger and garlic. Cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the flaked fish and coat in the paste. Sauté over low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Add the shrimp paste and paprika. Continue to cook, over low heat, for a further 5 minutes to infuse flavors.

Return the broth to the stockpot, place over medium heat. Add the crushed chickpeas, rice powder, fish sauce and flaked fish mixture. Season with salt and black pepper. Reduce heat simmer for 30 minutes. Add the red shallots and boiled egg. Add the banana trunk.

Divide the vermicelli noodles among 4 bowls. Pour the broth over the noodles. Garnish with coriander, snake beans and chile flakes to serve.


Aug 272016


On this date in 1991 the Republic of Moldova declared its independence as part of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The current Constitution of Moldova was adopted in 1994. A strip of Moldovan territory on the east bank of the river Dniester has been under the de facto control of the breakaway government of Transnistria since 1990. Otherwise, it is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east, and south. The capital city is Chișinău.


The history of Moldova as a political entity can be traced to the 1350s, when the Principality of Moldavia, the medieval precursor of modern Moldova and Romania, was founded. The principality was a vassal of the Ottoman Empire from 1538 until the 19th century. In 1812, following one of several Russian-Turkish wars, the eastern half of the principality, Bessarabia (where most of today’s Moldova is located), was annexed by the Russian Empire. In 1918, Bessarabia briefly became independent as the Moldavian Democratic Republic and, following an intervention of the Romanian Army, united with Romania. In 1940 it was annexed by the Soviet Union, joined to the Moldavian ASSR, and became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the USSR.


Is Moldova culturally or ethnically distinct from Romania? A good question that will get me in hot water in some quarters no matter how I answer. Moldova is obviously a political entity now, and has had a certain integrity over history despite the shifting sands of fate and time. You could ask the same question about Scotland and England and get much the same kind of answer (although, obviously, the circumstances are different). When asked, the vast bulk of the people of Moldova will say they are Moldovan – and may even say that they speak Moldovian – but there is an ongoing controversy about this. Is there a way to decide whether Romanians and Moldovans are the same ethnic group or not? Does the Moldovans’ self-identification as Moldovan and NOT Romanian constitute  enough evidence to consider them as a distinct ethnic group distinct and apart from Romanians or a subset? During the 2014 census more than 75% of people asked identified as Moldovan first, but there were numerous allegations that the ethnic affiliation numbers were rigged: 7 out of 10 observer groups of the Council of Europe reported a significant number of cases where census-takers recommended respondents declare themselves Moldovans rather than Romanians. Complicating the interpretation of the results, 18.8% of respondents that identified themselves as Moldovans declared Romanian to be their native language.

I don’t have a horse in this race so I’ll be a bit craven about the whole issue. Cultural and ethnic politics are largely about self interest, not about hard facts that can be independently verified by science (not that I would trust science anyway). From a distance, Romanian and Moldovan language and culture appear to be similar, but not identical. On the ground tempers flare about the subject. This has more to do with national politics than cultural realities. You can draw borders around nations, but not around cultures. Cultural identity is much sloppier. Go to the borders of any nation that has neighbors and you’ll see all manner of cultural mixing even though there is a tangible line separating one nation from another.

It would be convenient if there were a culinary solution to this conundrum, but there isn’t. Moldova has deep, fertile soil making it an abundantly productive agricultural nation producing grapes, fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, and dairy products, all of which have found their uses in the national cuisine. It’s very hard to distinguish Moldovan from Romanian cuisine, and can best be characterized as drawing inspiration and elements from many cuisines in the region, including Greek, Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian, with a great influence left by the cuisine of the Ottoman empire.


Arguably the best known Moldovan dish is also a well-known Romanian dish, mămăligă, a cornmeal mush or porridge that is a staple polenta-like dish on the Moldovan table, served as an accompaniment to stews and meat dishes or garnished with sour cream and cheese on the side (mămăligă cu brânză şi smântână) or crushed in a bowl of hot milk (mămăligă cu lapte). Sometimes slices of mămăligă are pan-fried in oil or in lard, the result being a sort of corn pone. Since mămăliga can be used as an alternate for bread in many Romanian and Moldovan dishes, there are quite a few which are either based on mămăligă, or include it as an ingredient or side dish.

mold4 mold2

Just to be craven to the end, I’ll give you a video on the cooking of mămăligă – “like mama makes.” Don’t worry if you can’t understand Romanian, the video is self explanatory, and gives a very good idea of how to make the dish (slowly with lots of stirring), and the consistency you are aiming for.

Aug 202016


Estonia has had to fight for its independence again and again throughout the 20th century. Today marks the latest (and one hopes, final) declaration of independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Estonia gained independence in the aftermath of World War I and the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920). In 1940 as a consequence of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and its Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939 Estonia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union. The majority of Western nations refused to recognize the incorporation of Estonia, de jure, by the Soviet Union and only recognized the government of the Estonian SSR de facto or not at all. Instead, such countries recognized Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian diplomats and consuls who functioned for their former governments, but in name only, and these aging diplomats persisted in this anomalous situation until the ultimate restoration of Baltic independence.

In the 1980s new policies of Perestroika and Glasnost were introduced in the Soviet Union, and political repression softened. From 1987, a cycle of mass demonstrations featuring spontaneous singing eventually collected 300,000 Estonians in Tallinn to sing national songs and hymns that were strictly forbidden during the years of the Soviet occupation, as Estonian rock musicians played. On 14 May 1988, the first expression of national feeling occurred during the Tartu Pop Music Festival. Five patriotic songs were first performed during this festival. People linked their hands together and a tradition had begun.

In June 1988 the Old Town Festival was held in Tallinn, and after the official part of the festival, the participants moved to the Song Festival Grounds and similarly started to sing patriotic songs together spontaneously. On 26–28 August 1988, the Rock Summer Festival was held, and patriotic songs, composed by Alo Mattiisen, were played.


On 11 September 1988, a massive song festival, called “Song of Estonia”, was held at the Tallinn Song Festival Arena. This time nearly 300,000 people came together, more than a quarter of all Estonians. On that day citizens and political leaders expressed, through the voice of Trivimi Velliste (Chairman of the Estonian Heritage Society at the time), of their ambition to regain independence.

On 16 November 1988, the legislative body of Estonia issued the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration. In 1990 Estonia was the first Soviet republic to defy the Soviet army by offering alternative service to Estonian residents scheduled to be drafted. Most Estonians, however, simply began avoiding the draft.

The Singing Revolution lasted over four years, with various protests and acts of defiance. In 1991, as Soviet tanks attempted to stop the progress towards independence, the Estonian Supreme Soviet together with the Congress of Estonia proclaimed the restoration of the independent state of Estonia and repudiated Soviet legislation. People acted as human shields to protect radio and TV stations from the Soviet tanks. Through these actions Estonia regained its independence without any bloodshed.

Independence was declared on the late evening of August 20, 1991, after an agreement between different political parties was reached. The next morning Soviet troops, according to Estonian TV, attempted to storm Tallinn TV Tower but were unsuccessful. The Communist hardliners’ coup attempt failed amidst mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow led by Boris Yeltsin.


On 22 August 1991, Iceland became the first nation to recognize the newly restored independence of Estonia. Today, a plaque commemorating this event is situated on the outside wall of the Foreign Ministry, situated in Islandi väljak 1, (Iceland Square 1). The plaque reads; “The Republic of Iceland was the first to recognize, on 22 August 1991, the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia”, in Estonian, Icelandic and English. On September 6, 1991, the Soviet Union recognized the independence of Estonia and the country was admitted to the UN on September 17.

I’ve given a couple of Estonian recipes before and you can search for them if you are interested. Today is also World Mosquito Day http://www.bookofdaystales.com/world-mosquito-day/ where I mentioned recipes using blood. In an ironic way, blood is also a suitable ingredient today, in that the coup was bloodless. Estonians actually use blood a lot in their cooking and blood sausages with lingonberries are a favorite.


Blood pancakes (veripannkoogid) are probably a novelty for some, so I’ll give a recipe for completeness even though you’ll probably have a hard job finding either blood or barley flour. Blood (pig’s blood) is usually sold frozen and needs to be thawed before using. It should contain an anti-coagulant to stop it clotting. Some recipes call for a mix of half barley flour and half rye flour. Some also add an egg to the wet ingredients.



2 cups/5 dl culinary blood, thawed
½cup/1.5 dl stock
1lb/500 g barley flour
1 tbsp marjoram
salt and black pepper
1 egg, beaten (optional)


Place the flour, marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl. Mix the stock with the blood and egg (if using), and add to the flour to form a batter. It does not have to be beaten to death, just combined well. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Heat a small amount of butter in a medium sauté pan. Add in a ladleful of the batter, swirl it around to evenly coat the bottom, and let cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat. At this point you can eith flip the pancake to cook on the other side, or slide it under the broiler. I tend to do the latter because these pancakes can easily break, especially if you omit the egg.

When cooked, slide on to a plate and serve with butter melted on top, sour cream, or lingonberry preserves. It is also customary to serve these pancakes with an apple salad.

Dec 292015


On this date in 1911 Mongolia declared independence from the Qing dynasty of China. The National Revolution of 1911 in China ended over 200 years of Qing rule, though it was not until the Revolution of 1921 that de facto independence from the Republic of China was firmly established. The area of what is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic empires, including the Xiongnu, the Xianbei, the Rouran, the Turkic Khaganate, and others. In 1206, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, and his grandson Kublai Khan (see link below) conquered China to establish the Yuan dynasty. After the collapse of the Yuan, the Mongols retreated to Mongolia and resumed their earlier pattern of factional conflict, except during the era of Dayan Khan and Tumen Zasagt Khan. In the 16th century, Tibetan Buddhism began to spread in Mongolia, being further led by the Manchu-founded Qing dynasty, which absorbed the country in the 17th century. By the early 1900s, almost one-third of the adult male population were Buddhist monks. During the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, Mongols established the Temporary Government of Khalkha on November 30, 1911. This was before the abdication of the last Qing emperor and the establishment of the Republic of China.


Mongolia is the 19th largest and one of the most sparsely populated independent countries in the world, with a population of around 3 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by grassy steppe, used by nomadic pastoralists, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south.


Mongolia is colloquially known as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky” or “Country of Blue Sky” (“Mönkh khökh tengeriin oron”) because it has over 250 sunny days a year. The geography of Mongolia is varied, with the Gobi Desert to the south and with cold and mountainous regions to the north and west. Much of Mongolia consists of steppes, with forested areas comprising 11.2% of the total land area. The highest point in Mongolia is the Khüiten Peak in the Tavan bogd massif in the far west at 4,374 m (14,350 ft). The basin of the Uvs Lake, shared with Tuva Republic in Russia, is a natural World Heritage Site. Most of the country is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, with January averages dropping as low as −30 °C (−22 °F). A vast front of cold, heavy, shallow air comes in from Siberia in winter and collects in river valleys and low basins causing very cold temperatures while slopes of mountains are much warmer due to the effects of temperature inversion (temperature increases with altitude).


The pastoral nomads of Mongolia make up about one-third of the population. They are self sufficient and live on the products of domesticated animals such as cattle, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, and goats, as well as game. Meat is either cooked plain, used as an ingredient for soups and dumplings (buuz), or dried for winter (borts). The Mongolian diet includes a large proportion of animal fat which is necessary for the Mongols to withstand the cold winters and their hard work. Winter temperatures get as low as −40 ° (which is the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit !!) and outdoor work requires large energy reserves. Milk and cream are used to make a variety of beverages, as well as cheese and other fermented products.

Traditional Mongolian cooking methods (with a good video) are covered in this post:



Buuz are a very common style of dumpling, similar to those found in Eurasia, Russia, and Italy. Dough is made from flour and water, filled with chopped meat, and then boiled or fried. Here is a very comprehensive video on all manner of buuz. It’s in Mongolian but has subtitles in 12 languages, including English.

Nov 282015


Today is a triple anniversary in Albania, celebrating the first time the black double-headed eagle flag was raised by Skanderberg in 1443, independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, and the new parliamentary constitution in 1998. Big one. Here’s a brief history lesson to situate the three dates. Good luck not getting confused.


Albania as a semi-distinct region emerged from the pre-history of the Balkan states around 3,000 BCE, in early records of Illyria in Greco-Roman historiography. The modern territory of Albania had no counterpart in the standard political divisions of classical antiquity. Rather, its modern boundaries correspond to parts of the ancient Roman provinces of Dalmatia (southern Illyricum), Macedonia (particularly Epirus Nova), and Moesia Superior. The territory remained under Roman and Byzantine control until the Slavic migrations of the 7th century. It was integrated into the Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century.

The territorial nucleus of the Albanian state was formed in the Middle Ages as the Principality of Arbër and a Sicilian dependency known as the medieval Kingdom of Albania. The area was part of the Serbian Empire, but passed to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.

Ottoman supremacy in the west Balkan region began in 1385 with the Battle of Savra. In the conquered part of Albania, which stretched between the Mat River on the north and Çameria to the south, the Ottoman Empire established the Sanjak of Albania (also known as Arvanid Sancak), and in 1419 Gjirokastra became the principal town of the Sanjak of Albania. Beginning in the late-14th century, the Ottomans expanded their empire from Anatolia to the Balkans (Rumelia).


Flag Day

By the 15th century, the Ottomans ruled most of the Balkan Peninsula. But their advance in Albania was interrupted in the 15th century, when George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero who had served as an Ottoman military officer, renounced Ottoman service, allied with some Albanian chiefs forming the League of Lezhë and fought off Turkish rule from 1443–1468 (his death). Skanderbeg frustrated every attempt by the Turks to regain Albania, which they envisioned as a springboard for the invasion of Italy and western Europe. His unequal fight against the mightiest power of the time won the esteem of Europe as well as some support in the form of money and military aid from Naples, the papacy, Venice, and Ragusa. It was during a battle on this date in 1443 that Skanderberg first used the double-headed flag as the nationalist emblem.


Three major attacks (Siege of Krujë (1450), Second Siege of Krujë (1466–67), Third Siege of Krujë (1467)) were launched against Albania by the great Ottoman sultans themselves, Murad II and Mehmed The Conqueror. Albania was almost fully re-occupied by the Ottomans in 1479 after they captured Shkodër from Venice. Albania’s conquest by Ottomans was completed after Durrës’ capture from Venice in 1501.


Independence Day

Albania remained under Ottoman control as part of the province of Rumelia until 1912, when the first independent Albanian state was founded by an Albanian Declaration of Independence following a short occupation by the Kingdom of Serbia. The formation of an Albanian national consciousness dates to the later 19th century and is part of the larger phenomenon of the rise of nationalism under the Ottoman Empire.

At the All-Albanian Congress in Vlorë on this date in 1912, 83 leaders declared Albania an independent country and set up a provisional government. The official Provisional Government of Albania was established at the second session of the assembly held on 4 December 1912. It was a government of ten members, led by Ismail Qemali until his resignation on 22 January 1914. The Assembly also established the Senate (Albanian: Pleqësi) with an advisory role for the government, consisting of 18 members of the Assembly.

Albania’s independence was recognized by the Conference of London on 29 July 1913, but the drawing of the borders of the newly established Principality of Albania ignored the demographic realities of the time. The International Commission of Control was established on 15 October 1913 to take care of the administration of newly established Albania until its own political institutions were in order. Its headquarters were in Vlorë. The International Gendarmerie was established as the first law enforcement agency of the Principality of Albania. At the beginning of November the first gendarmerie members arrived in Albania. Wilhelm of Wied was selected as the first prince.

In November 1913 the Albanian pro-Ottoman forces had offered the throne of Albania to the Ottoman war minister of Albanian origin, Izzet Pasha. The pro-Ottoman peasants believed that the new regime of the Principality of Albania was a tool of the six Christian Great Powers and local landowners that owned half of the arable land.


A short-lived monarchical state known as the Principality of Albania (1914–1925) was succeeded by an even shorter-lived first Albanian Republic (1925–1928). Another monarchy, the Kingdom of Albania (1928–39), replaced the republic. The country endured an occupation by Italy just prior to World War II. After the collapse of the Axis powers, Albania became a communist state, the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania, which for most of its duration was dominated by Enver Hoxha (died 1985). Hoxha’s political heir Ramiz Alia oversaw the disintegration of the “Hoxhaist” state during the wider collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the later 1980s.


Constitution Day

The communist regime collapsed in 1990, and the former communist Party of Labour of Albania was routed in elections in March 1992, amid economic collapse and social unrest. The unstable economic situation led to an Albanian diaspora, mostly to Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Germany and North America during the 1990s. The crisis peaked in the Albanian Turmoil of 1997.

Albanians ratified a constitution on this date in 1998, establishing a democratic system of government based upon the rule of law and guaranteeing the protection of fundamental human rights. Albanians approved its constitution through a popular referendum which was held in November 1998, but which was boycotted by the opposition. The general local elections of October 2000 marked the loss of control of the Democrats over the local governments and a victory for the Socialists.

This telegraphic history lesson should give you an idea of the complexity of Albania’s past in political and ethnic terms, which, of course, impacted the regional cuisine. It is a Mediterranean cuisine heavily influenced by Italian and Turkish traditions. Tarator, is a soup, appetizer, or sauce found in the cuisines of all the former Ottoman Empire regions, and is popular in Albania. It is cold soup (or a liquid salad), popular in the summer, made of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, ground walnut, dill, vegetable oil, and water, and is served chilled or even with ice. Fried squid is a common accompaniment. Here’s a basic recipe if you need one.




2 – 3 cucumbers
500 g yoghurt
½ cup walnuts
3 – 4 cloves garlic
olive oil to taste
dill to taste


Beat the yoghurt with crushed, minced garlic, ground walnuts, freshly chopped dill, finely diced cucumbers, oil, and salt. Dilute with a little cold water, then chill for several hours or overnight.

Serve sprinkled with finely chopped dill.

Sep 302015


On this date in 1966 Botswana, officially the Republic of Botswana (Lefatshe la Botswana), became independent within the British Commonwealth. Botswana is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa. The citizens refer to themselves as Batswana (singular: Motswana). Botswana was formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, but adopted its current name after becoming independent. Since independence it has maintained a strong tradition of stable representative democracy, with a consistent record of uninterrupted democratic elections.

Botswana is topographically flat, with up to 70% of its territory being the Kalahari Desert. It is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, and Zimbabwe to the northeast. Its border with Zambia to the north near Kazungula is poorly defined but at most is a few hundred meters long.


Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world. Around 10% of the population lives in the capital and largest city, Gaborone. Although once one of the poorest countries in the world—with a GDP per capita of about US$70 per year in the late 1960s—Botswana has since transformed itself into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, now boasting a GDP per capita of about $18,825 per year as of 2015, which is one of the highest in Africa. Its high gross national income (by some estimates the fourth-largest in Africa) gives the country a modest standard of living and the highest Human Development Index of continental Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the 19th century, hostilities broke out between Tswana inhabitants of Botswana and Ndebele tribes who were making incursions into the territory from the north-east. Tensions also escalated with the Dutch Boer settlers from the Transvaal to the east. After appeals by the Batswana leaders Khama III, Bathoen and Sebele for assistance, the British Government put Bechuanaland under its protection on 31 March 1885. The northern territory remained under direct administration as the Bechuanaland Protectorate and is modern-day Botswana, while the southern territory became part of the Cape Colony and is now part of the northwest province of South Africa. The majority of Setswana-speaking people today live in South Africa.

When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 out of the main British colonies in the region, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland (the High Commission Territories) were not included, but provision was made for their later incorporation. However, their inhabitants began to be consulted by the UK, and although successive South African governments sought to have the territories transferred, the UK kept delaying; consequently, it never occurred. The election of the Nationalist government in 1948, which instituted apartheid, and South Africa’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961, ended any prospect of incorporation of the territories into South Africa. An expansion of British central authority and the evolution of tribal government resulted in the 1920 establishment of two advisory councils to represent both Africans and Europeans. Proclamations in 1934 regulated tribal rule and powers. A European-African advisory council was formed in 1951, and the 1961 constitution established a consultative legislative council.


In June 1964, the UK accepted proposals for a democratic self-government in Botswana. The seat of government was moved in 1965 from Mafikeng in South Africa, to the newly established Gaborone, which sits near its border. The 1965 constitution led to the first general elections and to independence on 30 September 1966. Seretse Khama, a leader in the independence movement and the legitimate claimant to the Ngwato chiefship, was elected as the first President, going on to be re-elected twice.

The Tswana are the majority ethnic group in Botswana, making up 79% of the population. The largest minority ethnic groups are the BaKalanga, San or AbaThwa also known as Basarwa. Other tribes are Bayei, Bambukushu, Basubia, Baherero and Bakgalagadi. In addition, there are small numbers of whites and Indians, both groups being roughly equally small in number. Botswana’s Indian population is made up of many Indian-Africans of several generations, from Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, South Africa, and so on, as well as first generation Indian immigrants. The white population speaks English and Afrikaans and makes up roughly 3% of the population.Since 2000, because of deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe, the number of Zimbabweans in Botswana has risen into the tens of thousands.


Fewer than 10,000 San are still living the traditional hunter-gatherer way of life. Since the mid-1990s the central government of Botswana has been trying to move San out of their lands. The U.N.’s top official on indigenous rights, Prof. James Anaya, condemned Botswana’s actions toward the San in a report released in February 2010. The San are very well known to anthropologists because fieldwork among them has greatly advanced the study of human prehistory and overturned many long held, but false, notions concerning foraging and domestication. Generally the San reject materialism, wealth, and personal power which makes them endearing to many, but relatively powerless in modern geo-politics.


The official language of Botswana is English although Setswana is widely spoken across the country. In Setswana, as in many Bantu dialects, prefixes are extremely important. These prefixes include Bo, which refers to a country, Ba, which refers to a people, Mo, which is one person, and Se which is a language. For example, the main ethnic group of Botswana is the Tswana people, hence the name Botswana for its country, the people as a whole are Batswana, one person is a Motswana, and the language they speak is Setswana.


The traditional foods of Botswana are generally fairly basic, including a lot of boiled grains, such as sorghum and maize – staples of much of Africa in one form or another. However, mopane worms may be a little exotic for Western tastes. They are the caterpillar stage of a common moth that are harvested by locals and either eaten directly (raw or cooked) or preserved by drying or smoking. You can buy them canned online, preserved in brine.

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Seswaa is a traditional meat dish of Botswana, made of beef, goat, chicken or lamb meat. It’s usually served as a festive dish for weddings, parties and the like, so seems perfect for Independence Day celebrations. Fatty meat is boiled on the bone in big kettles over an open fire until tender (with a lot of salt), and then shredded or pounded. It is often served with pap (maize meal) or sorghum meal porridge. You should use tough, stewing cuts which you can boil for a very long time. You don’t need a more detailed recipe but here’s a video I like because the commentary is in Setswana.