The thousands of gates of the Fushimi Inari are nestled on a mountain’s side in Kyoto. By design, the gates are hidden from view until the explorer is upon them. This is quite a feat seeing as they are large, bright and orange. They are pure magic to walk through and continue up the mountain for 4 kilometers. Also, the street food vendors selling takoyaki, sushi and ice cream with awesome sauce at the bottom of the mountain make the trip all the more worth it. Go. Now.
Not too long ago, I spent a long weekend in Kyoto. After 4 years in Korea, it was my first time in Japan. Pathetic. I tried to go several times before, but for some reason or another, it never worked out. It was an absolutely wonderful time. Kimono, yakitori, geisha, shrines, temples and sake. My friend and I found a very nice Couchsurfing host. He wasn’t exactly knowledgable of the city or very helpful with information and directions (it took him a while to figure out how to get from his home to the subway) but was very generous and kind.
The food was fantastic, of course. I had Okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake, of sorts) for the first time, gorged myself with takoyaki (octopus pieces cooked in a dough and slathered in sauces), tried grilled bamboo and got a little sloppy with shochu and sake.
The sights were gorgeous. I will be posting the best of the bunch here. I know they don’t always contain food knowledge or recipes, but I love sharing my travel photos. Enjoy.
You may have noticed my most recent obsession with Bali and the images I took there. It’s true. The plant life, ocean, natural landscape, food and general gorgeousness of Bali have really helped to inspire me this winter. Though the photos have thus far not included a recipe, they have all been leading up to this post.
I have been pretty fascinated with Kopi Luwak for some years now. Ever since I’d heard it was considered the most expensive beverage on the planet and was basically cleaned up cat poo, there was no turning this experience junkie around.
I enjoy thinking about the beginnings of foods. For example, who decided to eat blue cheese for the first time? Why did they think it would be a good idea? Who did all the fieldwork needed to figure out which mushrooms are edible and which would melt their insides? Why was it worth it to them? Who decided that soured milk, or yogurt, was ok to eat? And of course, who decided to pick up the droppings of a civet cat because they thought it would make an extra delicious espresso? I know many food traditions have been discovered out of need, but come on.
Kopi luwak got its beginnings in just that way. The civet, a cat like creature native to Indonesia, eats the choicest, ripest coffee beans as part of its diet. The beans then ferment in their digestive tract and come out whole because the civets are unable to digest them. Then, some people decided it would be a great idea to collect the wild civet poo, clean and roast the beans and call it a delicacy. A rare and expensive beverage. While in Bali, I made it a priority to seek kopi luwak out. My guide in Ubud brought me to an agro tourism farm called Bali Pulina. I was warmly greeted as soon as I walked onto the property and was given a small tour to show what they grew and produced. The place was beautiful. Several photos from my previous posts were taken there, including flowers, spices and one of the many amazing rice terraces that Ubud is known for.
In their little café, I was offered a free tasting of the beverages they produce and a fantastic overlooking view of the rice terrace. I sipped the teas, coffees and cocoas, tasting and enjoying them individually and comparing the results. They were all lovely, but I was far too focused on getting to the shop to buy luwak coffee. I finally got some. I brought it back to Korea and drank the shit out of that shit coffee. It produced a nutty, farmy coffee that was quite pleasant. It was exciting to compare it to the normal coffee I keep around the house and try it with different sugars and milks.
Unfortunately, with the slightest bit of research, I discovered information that made me regret having made my purchase. I found out that farmed civet coffee can never produce the desired results so sought after by coffee connoisseurs. This is because wild civets eat the ripe coffee beans as a part of a balanced diet including all the other things civets eat, while the animals on these plantations (often taken from the wild) are fed a diet made entirely of coffee beans. This is very unhealthy for the civets. And since there is nothing else in their guts, the beans don’t produce the desired flavours they once did. More importantly, farmed civets are often kept in horrendous conditions. They are shy and territorial by nature. Being kept in cramped cages so close to other civets is very stressful and often results in a loss of sanity and decrease in their health. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for food and wildlife that kept me naïve, but learning this was heart-wrenching and I no longer wish to support the production of this culinary rarity. Though I certainly did savour the small amount I acquired there.
I was perhaps a little ambitious with this recipe. I cannot actually say it was a success. In fact, it was mostly a failure. I tried very hard to pair coffee with various flavours with nauseating results. I poured some on quail eggs and potatoes, dipped in some toast and even a tiny bite of pan-fried fish. I tried tasting it with random ingredients around my kitchen. The only success with this experiment, thus far, is in making me feel ill. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, the reduction itself is quite nice (albeit bitter) in small doses. When I’ve worked out what to pair it with, I’ll post something magical. Suggestions are welcome!
Spiced Coffee and Red Wine Reduction
- ¾ cup strong coffee
- 1/3 cup red cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- a piece of fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter), cleaned and chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cardamom pods
- ¼ teaspoon whole lavender flowers
- ¼ teaspoon chopped dried lemongrass
While the coffee is still hot, pour it in a cup with the ginger, lavender, lemongrass, cardamom and cinnamon. Let the spices infuse for a 2-3 hours then strain.
Using a non-reactive skillet, pour in the wine, coffee and sugar. Simmer over medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat.
Taste your coffee reduction with various things around your kitchen. Have blind taste tests with your friends. Laugh at the faces they make.