Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cutting over to New Blog

It's been a long time, I expect no-one is still receiving feeds from this blog, but if you are.  I'm cutting over to a new blog: ... 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

To Japan with Love

I haven't blogged in about 3 years... must be that Japan inspired something in me, or maybe it's true what they said all along - blogs are for geeks... 

Either way, I happend to check my spam (blog) email the other day and was happy to see that "To Japan with Love" has been published... I think this is after about 4 or 5 years in preparation - that's one aspect that blogs have the advantage over books... 

Nice to see a few of my Japan articles in print... capsule hotels in Osaka, karei raisu and maratakaya (ramen in Toyama) all got the nod... on that basis alone, it must be a very good book.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Restaurant Review: Più di Prima, Madrid

This Italian restaurant proclaims itself "the best in Spain"... don't know about that, our neighbourhood restaurant in London is better.

- The location - 3 (central Madrid... dark, dim... the manager's foot is in a brace, perhaps he fell over a customer).
- The service - 3 (the waiter specialised in looking at other tables while talking to us... where's the love??).
- The menu - 4 (nice traditional fare).
- The execution - 3 (overcooked pasta, over sweet semi-freddo, the osso bucco ravioli tasted like 1yr old ragù).
- The cost - 2 (€120 2 people for dinner).

Total: 15/25 (60%).

Più di Prima...

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Restaurant Review: Ølsen, Madrid

Why trust an Argentinian superchef in absentia, cooking Scandinavian food in central Madrid? IKEA does better meatballs.

- The location - 5 (central Madrid).
- The service - 2 if you're American (and 5 if you're Spanish).
- The menu - 4.
- The execution - 2 (overcooked, underseasoned, cheap cuts of meat..).
- The cost - 3 (€30 for 2 at lunch).

Total: 16/25 (a surprisingly high 64%).


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Inspired by the restaurant scene...

Inspired by the restaurant scene in Spain (for better or for worse), zarzamora.blogspot has come out of its year-long hibernation. It is no longer based in Granada, but now in Madrid.

Our mission is to provide simple restaurant recommendations around the world. OK, we've got quite a bit of backlog, but here we go...

Our categories are:
- The location - accessibility, neighbourhood etc.
- The service - attention, knowledge..
- The menu - fancy, simple, interesting..
- The execution - how does it taste
- The cost - average cost

All will be rated 1 - 5: 1 "Andalucían poor" and 5 "Tokyo good".

All reviews will have a one line comment, sometimes witty, sometimes sad... but always correct.


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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A short poem about broadbeans

En Abril las habas para mi,
En Mayo las habas para mi caballo

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm Irish, but I'm not a Leprechaun

Irish Soda Bread

I came under a bit of flack recently for not “wearing my Irishness on my sleeve”. In an effort to redeem myself in the eyes of my compatriots I hereby bring you two pieces of my proud Irish heritage. Firstly, the unabridged and fully explained lyrics for Christy Moore´s “Lisdoonvarna”. Secondly the recipe for Irish Brown Bread (aka Irish Soda Bread), commonly eaten by American tourists and locals alike in Lisdoonvarna and all over Ireland.

So that you can all get your bearings.. this is what a Spanish person looks like inside a pub in Lisdoonvarna

How's it goin' there everybody,
From Cork, New York, Dundalk, Gortahork and Glenamaddy[i].
Here we are in the County Clare[ii]
It's a long, long way from here to there[iii].
There's the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, [iv]
And the Tulla[v] and the Kilfenora, [vi]
Miko Russell, Doctor Bill,
Willy Clancy and Noel Hill[vii].
Flutes and fiddles everywhere.
If it's music you want,
You should go to Clare[viii].

Oh, Lisdoonvarna[ix]
Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoon, Lisdoonvarna!

Everybody needs a break,
Climb a mountain or jump in a lake.
Some head off to exotic places,
Others go to the Galway Races[x].
Mattie goes to the South of France,
Jim to the dogs[xi], Peter to the dance.
A cousin of mine goes potholing[xii],
A cousin of heres loves Joe Dolan[xiii].
Summer comes around each year,
We go there and they come here.
Some jet off to ... Frijiliana[xiv],
But I always go to Lisdoonvarna.


I always leave on a Thursday night,
With me tent and me groundsheet rolled up tight.
I like to hit Lisdoon,
In around Friday afternoon.
This gives me time to get me gear together,
I don't need to worry about the weather.
Ramble in for a pint of stout[xv],
And you'd never know who'd be hangin' about!
There's a Dutchman playing a mandolin[xvi],
And a German looking for Liam Óg O'Floinn[xvii].
And there's Adam, Bono and Garrett Fitzgerald[xviii],
Gettin' their photos taken for the Sunday World[xix].
Finbarr[xx], Charlie[xxi] and Jim Hand[xxii],
And they drinkin' pints to bate[xxiii] the band.
.. Ain't it grand?


The multitudes, they flocked and thronged,
To hear the music and the songs.
Motorbikes and Hi-ace[xxiv] vans,
With bottles - barrels - flagons[xxv] - cans.
Mighty craic[xxvi]. Loads of frolics,
Pioneers[xxvii] and alcoholics,
PLAC[xxviii], SPUC[xxix] and the FCA[xxx],
Free Nicky Kelly[xxxi] and the IRA.
Hairy chests and milk-white thighs,
And mickey dodgers in disguise.
Mc Graths, O'Briens, Pippins, Coxs,
Massage parlours in horse boxes.
There's amhráns[xxxii], bodhráns[xxxiii], amadáns[xxxiv],
Arab sheiks, Hindu Sikhs, Jesus freaks,
RTE[xxxv] are makin' tapes, takin' breaks and throwin' shapes.
This is heaven, this is hell.
Who cares? Who can tell?
(Anyone for the last few Choc Ices[xxxvi], now?)


A 747 for Jackson Browne[xxxvii],
They had to build a special runway just to get him down.
Before the Chieftains[xxxviii] could start to play,
Seven creamy pints[xxxix] came out on a tray.
Shergar[xl] was ridden by Lord Lucan[xli],
Seán Cannon[xlii] did the backstage cookin'.
Clannad[xliii] were playin' "Harry's Game",
Christy was singin' "Nancy Spain"[xliv].
Mary O'Hara[xlv] and Brush Shields[xlvi],
Together singin' "The Four Green Fields".
Van the Man[xlvii] and Emmy Lou[xlviii],
Moving Hearts[xlix] and Planxty[l] too!


Everybody needs a break,
Climb a mountain or jump in a lake.
Sean Doherty[li] goes to the Rose of Tralee[lii],
Oliver J. Flanagan[liii] goes swimming in the Holy Sea.
But I like the music and the open air,
So every Summer I go to Clare.
Coz Woodstock, Knock[liv] nor the Feast of Cana[lv],
Can hold a match to Lisdoonvarna.

There is only one thing more Irish than a good politically-fuelled bar song, and that is “Irish Soda Bread” (you can tell it’s Irish because it has Irish in its name). I have to thank my parents for this recipe; my Mum for baking it almost daily when we were kids and my Dad for having high cholesterol and thereby requiring it as part of his diet.

Disappointingly, I have often tried to recreate our family recipe, but failed. The bread invariably turned out too damp, too hard etc. Here is a great recipe from Maureen Tatlow’s humblingly called “Back to Basic Cookbook”.

Recipe (makes 1 small loaf[lvi])
450 g flour (½ plain flour and ½ wholemeal)
1 tsp salt
1 level tsp bread soda
1 tsp caster sugar
30 g butter
300 ml buttermilk (or natural yogurt, milk and lemon juice)

Given that it took me many attempts to find a good recipe and get this to work, it is rather depressing that Maureen calls it a “quick ‘n easy” bread, but if it encourages you to try it.. so be it.

It is interesting, and a testament to the lady, that Maureen packs more tips and tricks into her 1 ½ pages on soda bread than all that I could find in that other noble Irish institution Ballymaloe’s “The Ballymaloe Bread Book”. Most interestingly Maureen explains the background for this national treasure. Bicarbonate of Soda didn’t arrive into Ireland until the early 19th century. It was here that, as Maureen says, it met its destiny in “wonderful tangy Irish buttermilk”. She goes onto explain the chemistry; alkaline bicarbonate combines with acidic buttermilk to create enough gas in order to raise a loaf of bread. The Irish renamed bicarbonate of soda “bread soda” and so it began…


Here are some of the basics that one should consider when making Irish soda bread:

Preheat the oven fully to 220C. The creation of carbon dioxide begins the instant that “wet and dry” touch. Ensure that the oven is fully preheated before you mix the ingredients.

They say that only real Irish wholemeal can be used to make Irish Soda Bread. This may be a rumour spread by the manufacturer... either way the owl is pretty fierce looking.

In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients together. Rub the butter through with your fingertips until dispersed. Make a well at the bottom and add nearly all the wet ingredients. Don’t take too long at this point as the chemical reactions are already starting.

Note the flagrant disregard for instructions.

Don’t over mix the dough. There is an inclination to over handle the bread dough. This only elongates the gluten and thereby toughens the bread. You also want to avoid dissipating the gas. It is interesting that Maureen recommends a spoon for the mixing; this lowers heat and thereby reduces gluten elongation further.

A further note on the science. It sounds like I’ve got a bit of a thing against Ballymaloe at the moment, but, hey! If you’re gonna get enemies, why not start with Cork. Their recipe also differs from Maureen’s in a number of interesting ways:
- On a like for like basis, Ballymaloe uses 36ml more milk. Most liquids (including milks) act in order to bind gluten together (toughener).
- It does not recommend the use of lemon or sugar. Both sugars and acids act as tenderizers in the formation of gluten.
- Ballymaloe recommends mixing by hand. At higher temperatures (i.e. those transmitted by the hand), gluten develops more readily through the absorption of water.
These 3 reasons could explain why the Ballymaloe bread has a tendency to turn out a little heavier and with a tougher crust… excuses, excuses.

Aim for a dough that is soft, but not sticky or sloppy. Lightly flour the worksurface and roll the dough out. Pat into a single round. Place upon a lightly floured baking tray. Cut a deep cross with a sharp knife and prod each quarter to “let the fairies out” (I have no idea where this expression came from… I’ll make something up if you like). Bake for 20 minutes at 220C before reducing to 200C for a further 20 minutes.

Check the bread is done. Tap on the underside, if it sounds hollow, it’s done.

Eat the bread quickly. Bread is best served fresh. If you don’t have that much appetite, freeze once it has cooled and sprinkle any air exposed bread regularly to prevent the crust becoming too hard.

Calories are all in vogue at home at the moment (something to do with 1 month of Christmas diet followed by 1 month of Central American diet). I did a bit of investigation; it seems that Irish Soda Bread contains about 140 kcal per slice.

So… there we are… my attempt to put my Irishness back on my sleeve. I hope that I’ve succeeded, and I’ve failed… well, you can just feck off…

--------------- eh, rather extensive footnotes ----------------

[i] Cities in Ireland. Cork is the second largest in Ireland, with a population of 123,062. Dundalk in Louth, Gortahork in Donegal and Glenamaddy in Galway. New York is a city in North America.
[ii] One of the 32 counties of Ireland; located on the west coast
[iii] Possible reference to the famous 1912 marching song; “It's A Long Way To Tipperary”.
[iv] References to famous natural sites in County Clare. The Burren is approximately 300km square of limestone rocks. The Cliffs of Moher rise 120m from the Atlantic Ocean. AKA: The “cliffs of insanity” in the movie “The Princess Bride”.
[v] Taken from the Offical Ireland Mid West website; In Tulla, "There is also a Post Office (doubling as a souvenir shop) and a library - please note, the opening hours are peculiar"... say no more.
[vi] Kilfenora is a town of historical importance in County Clare, it is the site of an early monastic settlement.
[vii] Famous Irish fiddlers.
[viii] Reference to the famous music feastival of Lisdoonvarna that ran in the years from 1978 to 1983.
[ix] Town in County Clare, famous for having a Christy Moore song written about it, its spa, music feastivals and a matchmaking contest in September every year.
[x] On the last Monday of every July Galway hosts the famous horse-racing feastival. This is a seven-day race meet.
[xi] Dog racing; famous in Ireland.
[xii] Activity of swimming in underground caves. Particularly prevelant in the Burren area, Co. Clare.
[xiii] Famous Irish singer. Wikipedia mentions that he was, interestingly, one of the first Western artists to perform in Russia.
[xiv] Frijiliana, town in Malaga. Malaga receives a great number of Irish visitors every year, looking to enjoy some sun and fine local Pizzas.
[xv] Dark beer made from roasted malts or barley. It originated in Ireland. The most famous is a small local brew called “Guinness”, first brewed in 1756 in Leixlip.
[xvi] Don’t get too excited; reference to the musical instrument rather than the culinary slicing instrument.
[xvii] Famous Irish musician of Uilleann pipes and whistle. Has recorded with Christy Moore.
[xviii] Famous Irish musician, ego and former Taoiseach.
[xix] Ireland’s first and still leading (in terms of sales if not content) tabloid.
[xx] Finbarr Harte, Irish country star. He may be one of Ireland’s greatest country stars as he is included on a CD of 40 country stars called “Ireland’s Greatest Country Stars”.
[xxi] Charles Haughey, former Taoiseach of three terms. His lifestyle has been revealed as somewhat extravagent and receipts of more than 8million pounds in donations somewhat illegal.
[xxii] Irish music promoter.
[xxiii] Colloquialism of “beat”.
[xxiv] Line of Toyota vans popular for their size and ability to carry large quantities of rubbish, drink and people... most often in that order.
[xxv] Popular measure of spirits in Ireland; thought to be 70 cl, but opinions vary, probably due to the timing of the question.
[xxvi] Meaning fun or enjoyment, or a impure version of cocaine that contains water and “cracks” when heated. Apparently derived from the English use “to crack a joke”, although this may be a case of the English simply claiming credit for a great Irish invention... (that’ll go down well at home).
[xxvii] Irish teetotalers... limited popularity.
[xxviii] Pro-life Amendment Campaign (PLAC), pro-life lobby group that surfaced during the 1983 abortion referendum in Ireland with the aim of asserting the explicit right to life of the foetus, equal to that of pregnant women.
[xxix] Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, UK pro-life organisation opposed to abortions .
[xxx] Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, the Reserve Defence Force of the Irish army
[xxxi] Famous for the 1983 hunger strike in defence of his innocence.
[xxxii] Irish for “song”.
[xxxiii] Irish open drum, played vertically on the knee.
[xxxiv] Irish for “fool”.
[xxxv] Radio Telefís Éireann, Ireland´s publicly funded broadcaster.
[xxxvi] Generic name for the Klondike Bar, a dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream square coated with a layer of thin chocolate.
[xxxvii] Influential American singer-songwriter, famously played at the Lisdoonvarna music feastival.
[xxxviii] Irish musical group famous for playing traditional music.
[xxxix] Frequent serving measure for previously mention stout.
[xl] Famous Irish racehorse, winner of the 1981 Epsom Derby. Kidnapped in 1983, rumoured by the IRA, and never found.
[xli] Earl of Lucan. The 7th Earl famously went missing in 1973 and has never been seen again. Declared dead by the High Court in 1999.
[xlii] Lead vocal and guitar for the Dubliners.
[xliii] Irish folk music band famous for the theme tune to Robin of Sherwood, the theme to Harry's Game and sprouting Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (Enya).
[xliv] Famous English journalist of the 50´s and 60´s who died in a light aircraft accident on the way to the Grand National.
[xlv] Canadian singer-songwriter.
[xlvi] Irish singer-songwriter.
[xlvii] Van Morrison, Irish singer song-writer. “Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)” features amongst his songs.
[xlviii] Emmylou Harris, country music singer from Alabama, USA. Released the Daniel Lanois produced “Wrecking Ball” in 1995.
[xlix] Irish folk-rock band of the eighties, Christy Moore was a founder member.
[l] Irish folk-rock band of the seventies, Christy Moore was a founder member.
[li] Former Minister Justice in the Haughey government of 1982. He resigned when it was revealed that he had authorised phone tappings of two journalists. Haughey resigned as leader of Fianna Fáil and subsequently as Taoiseach when it was revealed that he knew of the tappings.
[lii] International beauty competition hosted in Tralee every year.
[liii] Famous right-wing politicion in the Dáil from 1943 to 1987.
[liv] The Virgin Mary, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist were rumoured to have appeared in Knock in 1879. It has since enjoyed the visits of about half a million pilgrims annually.
[lv] Marriage feast where a young man was rumoured to have turned water into wine.
[lvi] Irish slang for head butt. Although probably not in this context.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

I'm not kiddin it's like an orange on a toothpick

What luck! Coming back from Suchitoto today we happened across the largest cauliflower in the world. It was returning after winning the contest that I can only assume took place somewhere in the west of El Salvador. Not only was it the largest, it was also the smartest; it was able to give us directions through San Martin in order that we could avoid a FMLN party.

Suchitoto was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century. It was the original capital of El Salvador until it was moved to the present-day, San Salvador, located in the Valle de las Hamacas (Valley of the Hammocks). It is well worth the visit for the beautiful, church, colonial buildings and the excellent restaurant "Los Almendros de San Lorenzo".

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

ZICO... even better than the real thing

ZICO takes water to a whole new level
ZICO is 100% pure coconut water with natural flavor essences. With five essential electrolytes, more potassium than a banana, low acidity, no fat, no sugar added, and no cholesterol, ZICO is the natural, refreshing way to hydrate and replenish. Drink a ZICO and live it.

On the way to the town of Panchimalco, in the outskirts of San Salvador, a local coconut seller was able to give us the perhaps even more natural equivalent to ZICO. Although it did not come in a blue carton, he swore that it was just as natural as its stateside competitor.

He didn´t have any graphs demonstrating its beneficial effect on the human body, neither could he quote any suitably firey slogan. He must have sensed my scepticism as he immediately tried to prove the heritage of his product. He told us how each morning he climbs the nearby trees (think of this as the local convenience store) and picks choice coconuts. He loads these into his van and spends the day selling to the locals and random Irish people that stumble his way.

Whilst he was not able to produce any certificates to back up his somewhat extravagant claims, he did have a large knife so I thought it best to agree. Since going to his retail outlet, I have been impressed at the size of his franchise; travelling through El Salvador and even into Guatemala I have seen a number of his roadside shops...

If you aren´t lucky enough to have a conveniently available coconut tree, you can buy ZICO online at

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Platform 9 ¾ for the Central Food Market of San Salvador

The other day we went for the morning to the central market of Salvador. The market is located at 6 Calle Oriente, between 23 and 27 Avenida Sur in the neighbourhood of La Mermeja. Another slightly more unfortunate (but relevant) landmark is that of the General Cemetary.

Little did I realise that I was in fact going to a place that doesn´t seem to exist. It´s the Hogwarts of food markets. The reason for this is that, outside of the market itself, it is extremely difficult to find information or reference to its existence. The web speaks very little of it and more surprisingly local blogs (admittedly these seem to be mostly written by North Americans) don´t mention this jewel of markets. Ever since going to the market, I have been part pleased and part distressed by the shock of locals when they are told. Two factors seem to cause this reaction and both reflect problems that lie at the heart of the drive to develop and open the market of El Salvador. .

Firstly, you can not mention El Salvador without referring to the gang problems that it is currently facing. La Prensa Grafica [i] recently reported on the murder rates in Latin America. El Salvador did not fair well. The murder rate in El Salvador is approximately 55 per 100,000. Comparison rates are Honduras 41, Guatemala 38, Colombia 34, Venezuela 23, Costa Rica 8. Yesterday a marero (gang member) was shot dead while eating shellfish in the market. Interestingly, the murder rate for Washington D.C. is 47, Spain and Ireland both sit at 2 murders per 100,000.

La Prensa Grafica
Secondly, the disparity amongst the populations of El Salvador also goes some way to explaining this lack of information. The poverty rate [ii] has fallen from 60% in 1991, but with a rate of 35% households in poverty, it is still a country of disparities. In the past years the development seems to have slowed, El Salvador ranked 103 in 2000 in the Index of Human Development, 5 years later it sat at 104. This is most simply illustrated in where some parts of the population shop and where others only dream of. Although the trip to the central market is only 15 minutes, it is a journey that is seldom, if ever, made by some locals.

The market that doesn´t exist is located in the center of San Salvador. The surrounding streets are a collection of free market stands, cd copies and parking lots. The market itself is arranged over the interior two floors. You enter at the bottom into what is the predominant food section of the market.

Here are some of the highlights of the market...

Corn being stripped and prepared in order to make tortillas
After they are boiled, ground and used to make pupusas.

Manzanillas. This is the Castillan for chamomile, but in El Salvador relates to a small apple fruit.

Granadilla. More familiarly known as a variety of the passion fruit. This exotic fruit´s seeds are eaten. El Salvador promotes the export of this fruit, particularly to the southern regions of Mexico.

Toilets. You can enter the toilets with paper or without. It costs 10 cents, and could be considered a wise investment.

Pacaya. This is the flower of the Palmácea; the palm tree. These are typically [iii] cooked, sliced down the center, stuffed with cheese and cream. We had them for lunch today, “unusual” was the general response.

Casco de Morro (on the left). The well-known horchata from Spain is made with chufas. That of El Salvador is made from the seed of morro, rice, sugar, pumpkin seeds, ground cocoa, cinnamon and sesame seeds. The empty morro shells can be used to make everything from candle holders to maracas... the latter are more tuneful. Here is a simple recipe for horchata:

Ingredients (for alot)
1 lb morro seeds
1 oz cinnamon
2 whole nutmeg
2 oz coriander
24 thick peppers
4 lb rice

Toast the rice slowly. Add the other ingredients and leave to golden. Grind all the ingredients. This may be stored in sealed bags for as long as you require. When you want to prepare the drink, use 2 dsp to one glass of liquid. For a litre use 3 cups of water, 1 of milk and 8 spoons of powder.

Casco de Armadillo (on the right in the above photo).
Crunchy on the outside; for the previous occupant, tragically empty on the inside.

The church of Calvario of San Salvador. This forms part of the view from the upper floor of the market... just behind the pupusa stands.

[i] Tim´s blog
[ii] ANEP Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada; ENADE 2005
[iii] Rellenos de Pacayas