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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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.

O’Higgins

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

Ingredients

aciete
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
cilantro

Instructions

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mohinga

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 !!

Mohinga

Ingredients

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

Broth

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

Instructions

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
 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Veripannkoogid

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)
butter

Instructions

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
 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kublai-khan/

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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
 

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tarator

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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
 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


 

Sep 212015
 

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Malta achieved its independence on this date in 1964 (Independence Day) after intense negotiations with the United Kingdom, led by Maltese Prime Minister George Borġ Olivier. Under its 1964 constitution, Malta initially retained Elizabeth II as Queen of Malta and, thus, nominal head of state, with a Governor-General exercising executive authority on her behalf. In 1971, the Malta Labour Party led by Dom Mintoff won the General Elections, resulting in Malta declaring itself a republic on 13 December 1974 (Republic Day) within the Commonwealth, with a president as head of state.

I’m going to give you a slightly lengthy (sorry) historical overview of Malta because the island nation is exemplary of the histories of so many nations of Europe which for thousands of years have been pushed and pulled in numerous directions as one invader after another took over, before settling into self rule. My point is, of course, that each wave of invaders left its mark on local cuisine which developed its own style out of this crucible of influences. You can skip to the recipe on rabbit in red wine if you like. There you will glimpse why the dish is important to Malta’s self identity.

Pottery found by archaeologists at Skorba resembles that found in Italy, and suggests that the Maltese islands were first settled around 5200 BCE by Neolithic hunters and farmers who had arrived from Sicily, (possibly the Sicani). The extinction of indigenous dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on Malta. Prehistoric farming settlements dating to Early Neolithic period were discovered in open areas and also in caves, such as Għar Dalam. The population on Malta grew cereals, raised domestic livestock and, in common with other ancient Mediterranean cultures, worshiped a fertility figure represented in Maltese prehistoric artifacts exhibiting the proportions seen in similar statuettes, such as the Venus of Willendorf. The culture apparently disappeared from the Maltese Islands around 2500 BCE. Archaeologists speculate that the temple builders fell victim to famine or disease.

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After 2500 BCE, the Maltese Islands were uninhabited for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants, a culture that cremated its dead and introduced megalithic structures, or dolmens, rather smaller than those of the Sicani, to Malta. In most cases there are small chambers here, with the cover made of a large slab placed on upright stones. They are claimed to belong to a population certainly different from that which built the previous megalithic temples. It is presumed the population arrived from Sicily because of the similarity of Maltese dolmens to some small constructions found in other islands of the Mediterranean sea.

Phoenician traders, who used the islands as a stop on their trade routes from the eastern Mediterranean to Cornwall, joined the local population on the island. The Phoenicians inhabited the area now known as Mdina, and its surrounding town of Rabat, which they called Maleth. After the fall of Phoenicia in 332 BCE, the area came under the control of Carthage, a former Phoenician colony. During this time the people on Malta mainly cultivated olives and carobs, and produced textiles.

During the First Punic War of 264 BCE, tensions led the Maltese people to rebel against Carthage and turn control of their garrison over to the Roman consul Sempronius. Malta remained loyal to Rome during the Second Punic War and the Romans rewarded it with the title Foederata Civitas, a designation that meant it was exempt from paying tribute or following the rule of Roman law, although at this time it fell within the jurisdiction of the province of Sicily. Punic influence, however, remained vibrant on the islands with the famous Cippi of Melqart, pivotal in deciphering the Punic language, dedicated in the 2nd century BCE.

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By 117 CE, the Maltese Islands were a thriving part of the Roman Empire, being promoted to the status of municipium under Hadrian. When the Roman Empire split into Eastern and Western divisions in the 4th century, Malta fell under the control of the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire from 395 to 870, being ruled from Constantinople. Although Malta was under Byzantine rule for four centuries, not much is known from this period. There is evidence that Germanic tribes, including the Goths and Vandals, briefly took control of the islands before the Byzantines launched a counterattack and retook Malta.

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Malta became involved in the Muslim–Byzantine Wars, and the conquest of Malta is closely linked with that of Sicily that began in 827 after admiral Euphemius’ betrayal of his fellow Byzantines, requesting that the Aghlabid dynasty invade the island. The Muslim chronicler and geographer al-Himyari recounts that in 870, following a violent struggle against the occupying Byzantines, the Muslim invaders, first led by Halaf al-Hadim, and later by Sawada ibn Muhammad, looted and pillaged the island, destroying the most important buildings, and leaving it practically uninhabited until it was recolonized by the Muslims from Sicily in 1048–1049. It is uncertain whether this new settlement took place as a consequence of demographic expansion in Sicily, as a result of a higher standard of living in Sicily (in which case the recolonization may have taken place a few decades earlier), or as a result of civil war which broke out among Muslim rulers of Sicily in 1038. The Muslims introduced new irrigation, some fruits and cotton – and the Siculo-Arabic language was adopted on the island from Sicily which would eventually evolve into the Maltese language, the only Semitic language of Europe (heavily influenced by Italian dialects), and the only Semitic language to use the Roman alphabet. The Christians on the island were allowed freedom of religion; they had to pay jizya, a tax for non-Muslims, but were exempt from the tax that Muslims had to pay (zakaat).

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The Normans captured Malta in 1091, as part of their conquest of Sicily. The Norman leader, Roger I of Sicily, was welcomed by the native Christians. The notion that Count Roger I reportedly tore off a portion of his checkered red-and-white banner and presented it to the Maltese – forming the basis of the present-day Maltese flag in gratitude for having fought on his behalf – is founded in legend. The Norman period was productive; Malta became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Sicily which also covered the island of Sicily and the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. The Catholic Church was reinstated as the state religion with Malta under the See of Palermo, and some Norman architecture sprung up around Malta especially in its ancient capital Mdina. Tancred of Sicily, the last Norman monarch, made Malta a feudal lordship or fief within the kingdom and installed a count of Malta. As the islands were much desired due to their strategic importance, it was during this time the men of Malta were militarized to fend off capture attempts; the early counts were skilled Genoese corsairs.

The kingdom passed on to the House of Hohenstaufen from 1194 until 1266. During this period, when Frederick II of Hohenstaufen began to reorganize his Sicilian kingdom, Western culture and religion began to exert their influence more intensely. Malta formed part of the Holy Roman Empire for 72 years. Malta was declared a county and a marquisate, but its trade was totally ruined. For a long time it remained solely a fortified garrison. A mass expulsion of Arabs occurred in 1224 and the entire Christian male population of Celano in Abruzzo was deported to Malta in the same year. In 1249 Frederick II decreed that all remaining Muslims (who were not Moors) be expelled from Malta or forced to convert.

For a brief period the kingdom passed to the Capetian House of Anjou, but high taxes made the dynasty unpopular in Malta, due in part to Charles of Anjou’s war against the Republic of Genoa, and the island of Gozo was sacked in 1275. A large revolt on Sicily known as the Sicilian Vespers followed these attacks, that saw the Peninsula separating into the Kingdom of Naples.

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Malta was ruled by a Spanish Aragonese dynasty from 1282 to 1409. Relatives of the kings of Aragon ruled the island until 1409, when it formally passed to the Crown of Aragon. Early on in the Aragonese ascendancy, the sons of the monarchy received the title, “Count of Malta”. During this time much of the local nobility was created. However, by 1397 the bearing of the title “Count of Malta” reverted to a feudal basis with two families fighting over the distinction, which caused some conflict and led the king to abolish the title. Dispute over the title returned when the title was reinstated a few years later and the Maltese, led by the local nobility, rose up against Count Gonsalvo Monroy. Although they opposed the count, the Maltese voiced their loyalty to the Sicilian Crown, which so impressed Alfonso V of Aragon that he did not punish the people for their rebellion. Instead, he promised never to grant the title to a third party, and incorporated it back into the crown. The city of Mdina was given the title of Città Notabile as a result of this sequence of events.

In 1530, Emperor Charles V of Spain gave the islands to the Knights Hospitaller under the leadership of Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order, in perpetual lease for which they had to pay an annual Tribute of one Maltese Falcon. These knights, a military religious order now known as the Knights of Malta, had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522.

The Knights, led by Jean Parisot de Valette, Grand Master of the Order, withstood a siege by the Ottomans in 1565. The Knights, with the help of Spanish and Maltese forces, were victorious and repelled the attack. Speaking of the battle Voltaire said, “Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta.” After the siege they decided to increase Malta’s fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbor area, where the new city of Valletta, named in honor of Valette, was built. They also established watchtowers along the coasts – the Wignacourt, Lascaris and De Redin towers – named after the Grand Masters who ordered the work. The Knights’ presence on the island saw the completion of many architectural and cultural projects, including the embellishment of Città Vittoriosa, the construction of new cities including Città Rohan and Città Hompesch and the introduction of new academic and social resources.

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The Knights’ reign ended when Napoleon captured Malta on his way to Egypt during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1798. Over the years preceding Napoleon’s capture of the islands, the power of the Knights had declined and the Order had become unpopular. This was around the time when the universal values of freedom and liberty were promulgated by the French Revolution. People from both inside the Order and outside appealed to Napoleon to oust the Knights. Napoleon’s fleet arrived in 1798, en route to his conquest of Egypt. As a ruse Napoleon asked for safe harbor to resupply his ships, and then turned his guns against the Knightd once safely inside Valletta. Grand Master Hompesch capitulated, and Napoleon entered Malta.

During 12-18th June 1798, Napoleon resided at the Palazzo Parisio in Valletta. He reformed national administration with the creation of a Government Commission, twelve municipalities, a public finance administration, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the abolition of slavery and the granting of freedom to all Turkish and Jewish slaves. On the judicial level, a family code was framed and twelve judges were nominated. Public education was organized along principles laid down by Napoleon himself, providing for primary and secondary education. He then sailed for Egypt leaving a substantial garrison in Malta.

The French forces left behind became unpopular with the Maltese, due particularly to the French forces’ hostility towards Catholicism and pillaging of local churches to fund Napoleon’s war efforts. French financial and religious policies so angered the Maltese that they rebelled, forcing the French to depart. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily, sent ammunition and aid to the Maltese and Britain also sent her navy, which blockaded the islands.

General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois surrendered his French forces in 1800. Maltese leaders presented the island to Sir Alexander Ball, asking that the island become a British Dominion. The Maltese people created a Declaration of Rights in which they agreed to come “under the protection and sovereignty of the King of the free people, His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”. The Declaration also stated that “his Majesty has no right to cede these Islands to any power…if he chooses to withdraw his protection, and abandon his sovereignty, the right of electing another sovereign, or of the governing of these Islands, belongs to us, the inhabitants and aborigines alone, and without control.”

In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire and was used as a shipping way-station and fleet headquarters. After the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Malta’s position halfway between the Strait of Gibraltar and Egypt proved to be its main asset and it was considered an important stop on the way to India. This was a vital trade route for the British and thus, the Maltese people took great advantage of the alliance aand several culinary and botanical products were introduced in Malta, including wheat (primarily for bread making) and pigs.

In the early 1930s the British Mediterranean Fleet, which was at that time the main contributor to commerce on the island, moved to Alexandria as an economic measure and to be out of range of Italian bombers.

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During World War II, Malta played an important role owing to its proximity to Axis shipping lanes. The bravery of the Maltese people during the second Siege of Malta moved King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis (unique a the time) on 15 April 1942 “to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. Some historians argue that the award caused Britain to incur disproportionate losses in defending Malta, as British credibility would have suffered if Malta surrendered, as British forces in Singapore had done. A depiction of the George Cross now appears in the upper hoist corner of the flag of Malta.

Post-war Malta saw increasing calls for independence which was granted, after considerable political turmoil in 1964.

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Malta’s history and geography had a major influence on its cuisine. Having to import most of its foodstuffs, being positioned along important trade routes, and having to cater to the resident foreign powers who ruled the islands, opened Maltese cuisine to outside influences from very early on. Foreign dishes and tastes were absorbed, transformed and adapted. Italian (specifically Sicilian), Middle Eastern and Arabic foods exerted a strong influence. The presence in Malta of the Knights of St John and, more recently, the British brought elements from farther afield.

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The Knights came from many European countries; particularly, France, Italy and Spain. They brought influences from these countries. Aljotta, for example, a fish broth with garlic, herbs, and tomatoes, is the Maltese adaptation of bouillabaisse. The Knights’ contacts and wealth brought also food from the New World; it has been suggested that Malta may have been one of the first countries in Europe (after Spain) where chocolate was first tasted.

The British military presence and, later, mass tourism from the U.K., introduced British food products, condiments and sauces such as English mustard, Bovril, HP Sauce and Worcestershire sauce which are still a subtle, but pervasive, presence in Maltese cooking. While the Maltese word “aljoli” is likely to be a loan word, the Maltese version of the sauce does not include any egg as in classic Italian aioli; instead it is based on herbs, olives, anchovies and olive oil. Similarly, while the Maltese word “taġen” is related to “tajine,” in Maltese the word refers exclusively to a metal frying pan.

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There are a number of junctures in which development in Maltese cuisine related to issues of identity. The most significant example is the traditional Maltese stuffat tal-fenek (stewed rabbit), often identified as the national dish, which quite possibly started off as a form of symbolic resistance to the hunting restrictions imposed by the Knights of St John. The dish was to become popular after the lifting of restrictions in the late 18th century (and by which time the indigenous breed had multiplied and prices dropped) and the domestication of rabbits.

Stuffat tal-Fenek

Ingredients

3 lb rabbit (including liver and kidneys), cut into serving portions (4 to 6)
2 onions, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tsp tomato paste
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
7 oz peas
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
light stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup red wine
flour
olive oil

Instructions

Season the flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the rabbit portions in flour. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and sauté the rabbit pieces, a few at a time until lightly browned on all sides.

Add the onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic and tomatoes to the pot. Pour about half the wine over the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Add the bay leaves, stock to cover, and tomato paste. Add the liver, kidneys and peas and simmer, covered, for about one and a half hours or until the rabbit is tender. If the sauce starts to dry out, add more wine. The sauce should thicken as it reduces much like coq au vin.

It is common to start the meal with some of the rabbit sauce served over spaghetti as a first course. The rabbit with vegetables and more sauce is the second course.

Sep 062015
 

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Swaziland, officially the Kingdom of Swaziland, sometimes called kaNgwane or Eswatini, is a sovereign state in Southern Africa. On this date in 1968 it became fully independent. Its neighbors are Mozambique to the east and South Africa to the north, west and south. The country and its people take their names from Mswati II, the 19th-century king under whose rule Swazi territory was expanded and unified.

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At no more than 200 kilometres (120 mi) north to south and 130 kilometres (81 mi) east to west, Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in Africa. Despite its size, however, its climate and topography are diverse, ranging from a cool and mountainous highveld to a hot and dry lowveld. The population is primarily ethnic Swazi whose language is siSwati.

The kingdom was established in the mid-18th century under the leadership of Ngwane III and the present boundaries were drawn up in 1881. After the Anglo-Boer War, Swaziland was a British protectorate from 1903 until 1967. The country is an absolute monarchy, currently ruled by Ngwenyama Mswati III. He is head of state and appoints the country’s prime ministers and a number of representatives of both chambers (Senate and House of Assembly) in the country’s parliament. Elections are held every five years to determine the House of Assembly majority. The current constitution was adopted in 2005.

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The Swazi settlers, then known as the Ngwane (or bakaNgwane), before entering Swaziland had been settled on the banks of the Pongola River. Prior to that they were settled in the area of the Tembe River near present day Maputo. Continuing conflict with the Ndwandwe people pushed them further north, with Ngwane III establishing his capital at Shiselweni at the foot of the Mhlosheni hills. Under Sobhuza I, the Ngwane people eventually established their capital at Zombodze in the heartland of present-day Swaziland. In this process, they conquered and incorporated the long established clans of the country known to the Swazi as Emakhandzambili.

Swaziland derives its name from a later king named Mswati II. KaNgwane, named for Ngwane III, is an alternate name for Swaziland the surname of whose royal house remains Nkhosi Dlamini. Nkhosi literally means “king”. Mswati II was the greatest of the fighting kings of Swaziland, and he greatly extended the area of the country to twice its current size. The Emakhandzambili clans were initially incorporated into the kingdom with wide autonomy, often including grants of special ritual and political status. The extent of their autonomy however was drastically curtailed by Mswati, who attacked and conquered some of them in the 1850s.

With his power, Mswati greatly reduced the influence of the Emakhandzambili while incorporating more people into his kingdom either through conquest or by giving them refuge. These later arrivals became known to the Swazis as Emafikamuva. The clans who accompanied the Dlamini kings were known as the Bemdzabuko or true Swazi.

The autonomy of the Swaziland nation was influenced by British and Dutch rule of southern Africa in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1881 the British government signed a convention recognizing Swazi independence despite the “Scramble for Africa” that was taking place at the time. This independence was also recognized in the convention of 1884.

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Because of controversial land/mineral rights and other concessions, Swaziland had a triumviral administration in 1890 following the death of King Mbandzeni in 1889. This government represented the British, the Dutch republics and the Swazi people. In 1894 a convention placed Swaziland under the South African Republic as a protectorate. This continued under the rule of Ngwane V until the outbreak of the Second Boer War in October 1899. King Ngwane V died in December 1899 during incwala after the outbreak of the Boer war. His successor Sobhuza was four months old. Swaziland was indirectly involved in the war with various skirmishes between the British and the Boers occurring in the country until 1902.

In 1903, after British victory in the Anglo-Boer war, Swaziland became a British protectorate. Much of its early administration (for example, postal services) being carried out from South Africa until 1906 when the Transvaal colony was granted self-government. Following this, Swaziland was partitioned into European and non-European areas with the former being two-thirds of the total land. Sobhuza’s official coronation took place in December 1921 after the regency of Labotsibeni, who then led an unsuccessful deputation to the Privy council in London in 1922 regarding the issue of land rights.

In the period between 1923 and 1963, Sobhuza established the Swazi Commercial Amadoda which was to grant licenses to small businesses on the Swazi reserves and also established the Swazi National School to counter the dominance of the missions in education. His stature grew with time and the Swazi royal leadership was successful in resisting the weakening power of the British administration and the incorporation of Swaziland into the Union of South Africa.

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The constitution for independent Swaziland was promulgated by Britain in November 1963 under the terms of which legislative and executive councils were established. This development was opposed by the Swazi National Council (liqoqo). Despite such opposition, elections took place and the first Legislative Council of Swaziland was constituted on 9 September 1964. Changes to the original constitution proposed by the Legislative Council were accepted by Britain and a new constitution providing for a House of Assembly and Senate was drawn up. Elections under this constitution were held in 1967. Swaziland was then briefly a Protected State until 1968, when independence was regained.

Following the elections of 1973, the constitution of Swaziland was suspended by King Sobhuza II who thereafter ruled the country by decree until his death in 1982. At this point Sobhuza II had ruled Swaziland for 61 years. A regency followed his death, with Queen Regent Dzeliwe Shongwe being head of state until 1984 when she was removed by Liqoqo and replaced by Queen Mother Ntfombi Tfwala. Mswati III, the son of Ntfombi, was crowned king on 25 April 1986 as King and Ingwenyama of Swaziland.

At present human-rights problems in Swaziland include, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. State Department, “extrajudicial killings by security forces; mob killings; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees; police impunity; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech and press and harassment of journalists; restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists; discrimination and violence against women; child abuse; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community; discrimination against mixed-race and white citizens; harassment of labor leaders; restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.”

Not exactly a model country. But I do want to stick to my new principle of not necessarily condemning a whole country because of the actions of its leaders. Rather it is important to highlight abuses to bring attention to them. Swaziland has a long history of absolute monarchy and attendant tyranny. We can hope that things are changing.

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Swaziland cuisine is based largely on porridges made from maize, sorghum, or pumpkin depending on the season, and meat, especially goat. As is common throughout southern Africa, dried meat, known as Biltong, is very popular.

Indigenous peoples of southern Africa, such as the Khoikhoi, preserved meat by slicing it into strips, curing it with salt, and hanging it up to dry. After European settlers (Dutch, German, French) arrived in southern Africa in the early 17th century, they improved the curing process by using vinegar, saltpeter, and spices including pepper, coriander and cloves.

The need for preservation in the new colony was pressing. Building up herds of livestock took a long time but with indigenous game in abundance, traditional methods were available to preserve large amounts of meat such as found in the eland in a hot climate. Iceboxes and fridges had not been invented yet. Biltong as it is today evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon-travelling Voortrekkers, who needed stocks of durable food as they migrated from the Cape Colony north and north-eastward (away from British rule) into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek. The meat was preserved and hung to be dried for a fortnight after which it would be ready for packing in cloth bags.

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The most common ingredients of biltong are:

Meat
Black pepper
Coriander
Salt
Sugar or Brown sugar
Vinegar

Modern-day ingredients sometimes added include: balsamic vinegar or malt vinegar, dry ground chili peppers, nutmeg, garlic, bicarbonate of soda, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and saltpetre.

Prior to the introduction of refrigeration, the curing process was used to preserve all kinds of meat in South Africa. However today biltong is most commonly made from beef, primarily because of its widespread availability and lower cost relative to game. For the finest cuts, fillet, sirloin or steaks cut from the hip such as topside or silverside. Other cuts can be used, but are not as high in quality.

Ideally the meat is marinated in a vinegar solution (grape vinegar is traditional but balsamic and cider also works very well) for a few hours, this being finally poured off before the meat is flavored.

The spice mix traditionally consists of equal amounts of: rock salt, barbecue spice, whole coriander slightly roasted and roughly ground, black pepper and brown sugar. This mix is then ground roughly together, sprinkled liberally over the meat and rubbed in. Saltpetre is optional and can be added as an extra preservative (necessary only for wet biltong that is not going to be frozen).

The meat should then be left for a further few hours (or refrigerated overnight) and any excess liquid poured off before the meat is hung in the dryer.

Here is a video of Alton Brown that can be adapted for the ingredients and method above. Using a box fan is very useful in temperate climates, and for speed.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/altons-beef-jerky-recipe-0170068.html