UKRAINE: Vodka vs horilka

When the Russian invasion started, people here in Canada flocked to buy Ukrainian vodka as a sign of support (and because, well, it’s good). Liquor stores also pulled Russian vodka from their shelves. I’m not sure if Ukrainian vodka is still being produced and exported here – active warzone and all – but it’s still available on shelves.

There is an interesting semantic difference between “vodka” and the Ukrainian word “horilka” – they’re often used interchangeably. Some sources say that vodka was originally made from mixed grains, while horilka is made from just wheat, but since most are all made from various grains / potatoes these days, that difference isn’t really relevant anymore. Realistically, horilka is the Ukrainian name for 40%-ish clear spirits. Most bottles exported to Canada are labelled vodka, since that’s the term people are familiar with.

These are the two main brands of Ukrainian vodka available in Ontario – Nemiroff and Zirkova. Nemiroff has a historical connection going back to 1872, originally founded by a Count during the Russian Empire, then nationalized by the Soviets, and restarting as a private company in 1992. It’s unclear if it’s really a continuation of the company or a new company using the old one’s branding and distillery, but that feels like I’m putting too fine a point on it.

Zirkova has it’s own interesting history – the company was founded in Canada by Katherine Vellinga, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, but the vodka is entirely distilled and packaged in Ukraine, then the whole production run is shipped for sale in Canada. When the war started, she began to donate 100% of profits to humanitarian aid, turned the distillery over to medical sanitizer production, and worked to use it as a hub to help employees and their families to safety. It’s understandably unlikely that any more bottles will come to Canada, but there’s still over 7000 bottles in stock at the LCBO across Ontario right now.

As for flavour comparision – vodka tends to be hard really tell apart, especially with good quality brands since the better a vodka is, the purer and less flavoured it is. Side by side, I would say Zirkova is more neutral, while Nemioff is a bit sharper and grassier.

A really distinctively Ukrainian angle is the love of infusing flavours into vodka – chili peppers or horseradish are common, as well as berries or spices. There’s also a hot spiced version that’s kind of like a mulled wine. I’m going to make a few from the vodka, the recipes tend to be simple: put the flavouring in, let it sit for a few days or weeks, shake occasionally, strain, drink.

I’m trying spotykach (“stumbling”) with a recipe from Authentic Ukraine – vodka infused with spices like cinnamon, cloves, saffron (what I call “Christmas spices”), then boiled with some sugar and served cold. The straight vodka itself tasted wonderful after steeping for a week – cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg come out strongest, though the saffron isn’t too present. Boiling in some sugar makes it wickedly easy to drink, hence the name, and feels like it could be used in a lot of mixed drinks – instead of rum in a rum punch, or mixed with black tea would work great.

I’m also making a flavoured lemon horilka with a recipe from Ukrainian Diaspora. It’s very simple – take off some lemon peel with a vegetable peeler (the peeling is important so you don’t get bitter pith) and let it steep in vodka for a few days. It is also absolutely delicious – it’s got a strong, fresh lemon flavour that is beautiful. This is a total winner – it’s good on its own right out of the freezer, but mixing it with a bit of sparkling water knocks it out of the park for a summer drink. This also keeps in the freezer for a long time.

UKRAINE: Salo

We’re suddenly into hot summer weather here in Ottawa, so perfect for a little Ukrainian dinner al fresco out on the deck. I’m going to try something really Ukrainian: salo.

Salo is cured fatback (like pork belly but mainly fat rather than meat). There’s lots of ways to serve it – cooked into cracklings, mashed with raw garlic, or even included in chocolate (kind of like the bacon chocolate craze a few years back). I’m going to try it the truly classic way: cold of out of the freezer, sliced thin on bread or crackers, and accompanied with vodka, pickles, and other punchy things.

I picked up from Lakomka Deli both plain and smoked salo, as well as several jars of imported Ukrainian goodies from the brand Veres (Верес is Cyrillic, but I still want to call them “bepec pickles”). I’ve got:

  • Beans with mushrooms in tomato sauce
  • Garlic pickles with dill and horseradish
  • Adjika hot sauce
  • Roasted zucchini and tomato sauce with hot peppers

And of course, I served the whole thing with an ice cold glass of Ukrainian vodka, Zirkova One, plus some cherry tomatoes. The salo literally melts in your mouth, and vodka and pickles help cut the richness of the fat. I really love the smoked salo in particular, it’s got a beautiful flavour.

Adjika is actually a Caucasian hot sauce from Georgia, but it’s not surprising that these flavours migrated, probably through the Soviet era. It’s dark and thick, salty and smokey, kind of like a more spreadable gochujang. I ended stirring it together with the zucchini sauce (itself a lot like Balkan ajvar) to spread on top of the salo and that worked wonderfully.

NEW ZEALAND: Non-sauv blanc wine

I love New Zealand sauvignon blanc – it’s my favourite wine. New Zealand is justifiably famous for it – you can get dozens of different brands here in Canada. I recently tried Main Divide (it’s my new fav), Kim Crawford and Oyster Bay are always good standbys, and Cloudy Bay is a special treat. It’s such a treat that my dad would bring back a case of Cloudy Bay when he went on business trips to New Zealand in the 90s, since it wasn’t available in Canada then.

NZ sauv blanc has a really distinctive taste, mineraly, dry and tart like gooseberries. Sometimes you hear it described as “cat’s pee” – which actually has been used in branding. I remember bottles of Cat’s Pee On A Gooseberry Bush being popular several years back.

But as much as I love their sauvignon blanc, the point of Locally Foreign is to try new things! I’ve gone out and picked up three bottles of New Zealand wine, none of them are sauvignon blanc. I looked for a red, a rosé, and a white. I was warned that NZ chardonnays are can be pretty oaked, which I personally dislike, so I went for something completely different!

Loveblock Gewürztraminer – A vegan wine (yeast doesn’t count?) from Marlborough – it’s dryer than other Gewurtzes, with a distinctly lychee flavour and some nice floral and orange water hints. I really like this – it’s less sweet while still being fruity.

Hãhã Rosé – From Hawke’s Bay around Napier on the North Island. A Merlot and Malbec blend, aroma reminds me of cranberry juice. Nice and dry, with some raspberry notes. It’s pretty light in flavour, but I appreciate how it’s a bit tart. Would be a decent summer picnic rosé. Hāhā translates from te reo to “delicious” (though when used as a verb, it could mean to be out of breath).

Kono Pinot Noir – Kono is a Maori-owned winery from Marlborough, named after a style of welcome basket. They produce a pretty wide range of wines – sauvignon blanc, chard, rosé, several pinots – as well as grow fruit, make cider, and farm oysters (sounds like you could have a pretty good winery tour there). Their pinot noir has an earthy old wood scent, while the flavour makes me think of black cherries – it’s nicely tart and acidic, without too many tannins. There’s a little edge of oak, which I don’t personally love, but it doesn’t dominate.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Doubles with extra toppings and a Carib

Had a nice little takeout Trinidadian dinner – I ordered some doubles from BESS, a Caribbean restaurant near my house. Doubles are an amazing street food from Trinidad and Tobago – bara (fried dough) topped with curried chickpeas and lots of sauces. They can be served with a second bara on top, or open-faced.

The ones that I picked up had a nice tamarind sauce and cucumber chutney on them. Without any added sauces, they’re quite salty, a little bit spicy, and the flavours work together well.

I decided to boost them a little with some Trinidadian toppings from a Caribbean grocery. I added some kuchela to one of the doubles – kuchela is a pickled green mango relish with lots of spices and a bit of heat. It blended really nicely with the tamarind, adding some additional tartness.

The other double I hit with some hot sauce – Matouk’s Calypso Sauce. It’s a wonderfully spicy sauce – aged pickled Scotch Bonnet peppers are the first ingredient. It’s bright and flavourful and didn’t overpower the flavour of the double, but also was hot enough to make me break a sweat.

Washed it all down with a Carib Lager – Trinidad’s biggest beer. It’s a straightforward lager, and goes well with spicy food.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Rum Punch

There’s a lot of variations of rum punch all around the Caribbean, some with lots of fruit and juice, some more like a highball – I’m going for the latter. I’m making this classic version from Trinidadian mixologist Raakesh Madoo from the video below:

It also a great lesson on cocktail prep and construction – the mise en place and the presentation being crucial!

Sadly, I couldn’t find any rum that was both dark and from Trinidad, so I hope folks will forgive me using a dark Cuban rum instead (I’m not that sorry, Havana Club’s 7 year old rum is great). This is a fantastic drink, really well balanced, with lovely citrus tartness from both the lime and the orange garnish, and great aroma from the nutmeg and bitters – and yet it doesn’t overpower the rum. Sipping it slowly lets it mellow more as the ice melts (also, it’s pretty strong).

Cheers!

Two other things – I didn’t know Angostura bitters were from Trinidad, and I just learned that ripe oranges are green normally, and only turn orange when exposed to cold – like in cold storage to ship ’em up here to Canada.

CHILE: Camahueto

At the start of the month I shared my attempt at a Chilean pisco sour with the Chile subreddit. There were lots of positive comments, and one user suggested another pisco drink, the camahueto. A camahueto is a mythical one-horned bull from the Chiloé archipelago in southern Chile – if you plant pieces of its horn, new camahuetos will burst from the earth with such force as to cause landslides.

To make a camahueto:

3 parts pisco

2 parts ginger ale

1 part goma syrup

basil leaves

pineapple cubes

ice

Reddit user ctccl

Goma (or gomme / gum arabic) syrup is a bit tricky to get, so I’m going to use simple syrup instead. They’re both neutral sweeteners – the gomme syrup really just makes things a bit smoother texture-wise. It’s also used for frothed egg drinks like Peruvian pisco sours to keep the froth up. I’m also going to use a non-alc ginger beer instead of plain ginger ale, normal ginger ale in Canada is really bland.

Oh that’s tasty. Ginger, basil, and pineapple go great together, and the bright smooth pisco melds in perfectly. Eating the pineapple chunks after finishing the drink is mandatory, they soak up the other flavours and are a treat on their own.

Addendum: The Chilean subreddit has informed me that this is an extremely uncommon drink – I’ve only found one or two other references to it online, however, the other reference is from a Chilean pisco cocktail book. It’s still delicious.

CHILE: Chacarero

I went back to Vancouver’s Puro Chile for dinner last night. Last week I tried a completo with a glass of jote, today I stopped back for a chacarero sandwich with a frosty pisco sour on the side.

A chacarero is steak sandwich topped with cooked green beans. I’ve never tried green beans before on a sandwich, but it was delicious! This one was warm shredded grilled steak, with al dente green beans, tomato, onions, jalapeno, and spicy mayo all on a focaccia-style loaf. Absolutely wonderful – sadly this specific sandwich is weekends-only but my god it was good.

I had it with a nice pisco sour – this was more Peruvian-style with egg whites (more details on Chilean vs. Peruvian pisco and my own attempt at one here) and was nicely tart with lots of lime.

CHILE: Chilean wine

Here in Canada, Chile is most famous for its wines – every wine shop has a selection on Chilean wines, mainly reds. While I do like wine, I’m not particularly a wine connoisseur, so I’ve pulled in someone who is – my dad! I’m in Vancouver right now, staying with my parents, so my dad went to JAK’s to pick some Chilean wines that we’ve never tried before.

Tarapacá Gran Reserva Carmenère – Tarapacá is one of Chile’s oldest still-producing wineries, with over 145 years active. They’re located in the Maipo valley, the heartland of Chile’s wine country. As for the taste, I found it’s big red, lots of berry notes and a bit of spice, but not chewy. My dad’s take: “Horrible bouquet but excellent taste, lots of tannins without being too heavy”.

Emiliana Adobe Chardonnay Reserva – I genuinely wasn’t aware that Chile made white wines, I’m so used to seeing rows and rows of red. I really like this one, since it tastes more like a sauvignon blanc than a chardonnay, with a tart green grape fruitiness. Dad was on the same page too: “good non-oak chard, has the nose of a New Zealand sauv blanc, grassy taste.” It’s from the Casablanca valley, near Valparaiso.

Undurraga Sibaris Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon – Also from Maipo. Fruity red with a lot of tannin in the aftertaste. Dad’s take: “very light for a cab sauv”.

CHILE: Completo with jote

I’m in Vancouver right now, so I stopped by a new Chilean restaurant downtown – Puro Chile on Denman. They’ve got all kinds of Chilean fast food, including big meat sandwiches, hot dogs, and mixed drinks. It’s a great spot – the staff was really lovely and friendly. They’ve also got South American football going on a screen (Colombia vs Argentina, with many yellow cards!)

I ordered a completo – a big hot dog topped with sauerkraut, fresh tomato, and mayo. It was delightfully messy and hit the spot. Sauerkraut is a common topping in Chile, coming with the waves of German immigration in the 19th century.

I washed my completo down with a big glass of jote (“black vulture”) – a mixed drink that’s half red wine, half Coke. And it….was actually pretty good! The wine tones down the sweetness of the Coke, and it turns into it’s own unique brew, like a spicy sweet wine. It’s popular with students in different parts of the world – it’s called kalimotxo in Spain and motorină (“diesel fuel”) in Romania.

CHILE: Podcasts

Valparaiso – Source

I’ve found an interesting variety of podcasts about Chile so far – unfortunately, they’re almost all from non-Chileans or expats. I can’t seem to find podcasts by Chileans in English (it’s not that widely spoken there), but this selection of podcasts does give a lot of interesting colour and context!

Wine 101: Chile – A brief look at the history of Chile’s wine industry, and a discussion of the huge variety of, well, varietals that are grown there today.

The Chile Today Podcast – This is the closest I got to a Chilean podcast in English – a pair of American expats living in Santiago sharing both news and tidbits about life in Chile. I listened to a recent episode that covered both elections, and several things in Chile that ex-pats may find challenging – mail, making new friends, Chilean Spanish, etc. An interesting linguistic point is that “carne” usually means “red meat”, so vegetarians may still be served shrimp or chicken!

BBC Cold War: Stories from the Big Freeze – The Coup in Chile – Part of BBC’s extensive history podcast on the Cold War, an overview of the CIA-backed coup that brought Pinochet the power, including testimony from witnesses and from Americans involved.

Summer In The Mix 2017 – For a music break, enjoy these dance mixes from Chilean DJ Danilo Perkelman for Flash FM, a techno/EDM radio station.

AQ Podcast: Chile’s Uncertain Future – A discussion with a Chilean political scientist over the recent elections and the decision to introduce a new constitution. It’s a conservative and market-focused discussion, but it raises interesting comparisons to constitutional change and issues of economic stability in other Latin American countries.

BBC Discovery: Megadrought in Chile – BBC investigating the serious drought conditions that have persisted in parts of Chile for now about a decade – natural cycles sent into overdrive by climate change. They also speak with Chilean experts and scientists about how people are attempting to adapt to the drought and the water restrictions (or lack thereof) in place.