Friday, 24 May 2019

May 2019 Favourites List

This Favourites List, I want to tell you all about Vinales in Cuba. Last month I gave you a brief rundown of my trip to Cuba this Spring. [Please see]. I wanted to tell you more about the little town of Vinales because it is such a beautiful and fascinating place. Situated in Western Cuba, Vinales is an attractive little town in a valley. The valley contains huge rounded mountains called "Mogotes". These formations are highly distinctive and unusual, only found here, in Puerto Rico and China.

Large Mogote on the outskirts of Vinales

Nestled in the countryside, Vinales is full of small wooden farmhouses and bijou Colonial style houses. Proudly painted in bright colours, the sunshine hits them, making them seem even more vibrant and striking. All around the town are farms dedicated to growing tobacco and corn. If you've ever smoked Cuban cigars, chances are the leaves which made them were grown in Vinales. The farmers here are required to hand over the majority of their crop to the government, who use these leaves to make the famous international brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo Y Julieta and Guantanamera. The rest the farmers are allowed to keep for personal use and for small scale cigar production. You can buy their homemade cigars directly from the farmers who will even let you try before you buy. If you want to have your cigar like Ernesto "Che" Guevara and dip the tip in honey, no problem. A little pot of honey is waiting for you. The local farmers also produce local honey for tourists to buy.

As with the rest of Cuba, there are elements of living in the past which coexist with life in the 21st Century. Smartphones and the internet are contemporary technology apparent all over Cuba, including Vinales, yet no other place had a greater preponderance of free WiFi. (Which was very welcome, given one needs the special Nauta WiFi scratchcards for internet access everywhere else in the country, only available from official ETECSA shops or for vastly inflated shops from the local touts.) The internet age lives alongside a more 20th Century pleasure of listening to the radio, with old valve radio sets from the 40s and 50s run daily in people's homes. Equally, even older practices are kept alive in the farms; hand harvesting of the tobacoo leaves, which are tied up in bundles and dried in huge hand made drying houses. The smell in these big drying barns is strong and surprisingly pleasant. Ox carts are used alongside ancient tractors. Pony and traps ply the streets instead of taxis. Rocking chairs are on every verandah, used to drink in the last sunlight of the evenings, where locals share in family chit chat and social time.  

Ox cart on the way to the farm

The local fruit and vegetables are flavourful and delicious, kissed by so much Caribbean sun. The people of Cuba might be somewhat isolated by the trade block, but they look to their own culinary history and modern cooking trends for inspiration. You will find Spanish tapas, Italian pastas and pizzas, and flavours of Mexico and Peru.

Vinales is close to Havana, so it makes an ideal place to visit when the energy and crowds of the city need escaping. It is breathtakingly lovely. I hope you will enjoy my pictures alongside the food writing and culture I have been enjoying this past month. 

Food writing and articles:

Foodism magazine decided to visit the Trang region of southern Thailand to discover the food traditions inspiring these dishes. A great piece of food and travel writing:
Wooden houses with a matching vintage car

London dining can be pricey, especially because of the markup on booze. Here is a list of London's best BYOB restaurants!

Chef Romy Gill: "I come from a simple family who taught me to fight for my rights and that attitude enabled me to fight for myself and others." Romy reflects on:  having no regrets, overcoming adversity of all kinds and cultural appropriation. From Seetal Savla:
Tobacco farm cat makes sure there are no mice around

Pasta bake influenced by the flavours of Greece, with slow-cooked lamb, orzo, olives and feta:

Grilled chicken with coriander and green pepper sauce - a new recipe for Springtime from Chef Angela Hartnett:

Asma Khan is the entrepreneur behind Darjeeling Express and a fabulous cookbook "Asma's Indian Kitchen". Here is her recipe for a simple Indian vegetable dish, with potato slices and cumin, Zeera (or Jeera) Aloo:
How to make chicken pie. By Felicity Cloake. Although I disagree that pies don't look good on Instagram!

Tobacco drying barn

The cafe near my work has old ketchup bottles full of their secret homemade chilli sauce. I think that Helen at Fuss Free Flavours blog has cracked their secret! This no cook kebab shop sauce looks exactly like theirs!

Simple yet delicious Thai homecooking: Kay Plunkett-Hogge's recipe (based on her time spent living and visiting Thailand) for pad krapow moo (pork stir fried with holy basil, chilli and beans). As featured on Kavey Eats:

Butter beans, cooked in onion, garlic, tomato, cinnamon and oregano. Baked beans, Greek style:

Traditional farmhouse

How to make the perfect tempura - Felicity Cloake compares and contrasts recipes from Luiz Hara, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Charmaine Solomon, Tim Anderson and J Kenji Lopez-Alt:
I would use organic white wine vinegar rather than bother buying champagne vinegar. But this butter bean, tarragon and cucumber salad looks like a fab packed lunch (keep the dressing separate in a jar):

My other writings:

Not food, but a blog post for my students. Many of them discovered last week they didn't get a pupillage. But there is so much they can do to improve their chances next time!

Old style rocking chair on a verandah


I Love My Friends - Stephen Duffy
Lost and Found - Jorja Smith


Deutschland 86
Derry Girls Season 2

Crazy Rich Asians

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.