Saturday 13 November 2010

Colombian Food

I get asked very often "what is Colombian food like"!!! Let me start by answering this by giving you a background about Colombian food, and South American food generally. Colombia is just North of the equator, and well within the tropics, so of course our climate is very different to Europe. Although we have two short rainy seasons each year, this usually just means that it rains torrentially for half an hour a day, then the sun comes out brilliantly again. The temperature depends entirely on altitude. My own origins are in the coffee-growing region of Risaralda, a mountainous area west of the capital Bogota. Where I grew up (the small town of Quinchia), you could hitch a lift in a jeep and be down by the lush banks of the Rio Cauca in a hour, basking in hot sun (>30C) any day of the year. If you went up the mountains into Los Nevados del Ruiz instead, you could be throwing snowballs within a couple of hours - as long as your chest could stand the altitude!

tropical fruits are available all the year round, not just mangoes, papaya and pineapple (which we eat super-fresh by the slice from street vendors all the year round), but also guava, maracuya, and tomatillo. We love meat, and our beef (usually from zebu cattle, herds of which cover the mountain sides in some parts of the country) is every bit as good at Argentinian - though it tends not to get exported. Like the Spaniards, we also make full use of our pigs, and chorizos, morcilla and chicharron (fresh hot crispy pork belly pieces) are hugely popular. Colombia also has two coastlines - the Caribbean and the Pacific, and many huge rivers, including a stretch of the upper Amazon, so fish is excellent, very varied and always fresh. Trout is particularly popular, cooked with a variety of sauces, whilst various types of white fish are ideal for ceviche, the classic South American dish of raw fish marinated in citrus juices, mixed often with mild onion slices and a little sliced chili pepper, and garnished sometimes with fresh 'popped' corn kernels. This is an ideal party dish, as it can be prepared a couple of hours in advance, can be eaten just with a fork, and is zingy and appetising. On the Caribbean, coconut milk is often added to ceviche to give it a mild and fruity flavour. On the Pacific a stronger flavour of lime juice is typically preferred.

Like all cuisines, Colombian food has a starchy base. Potatoes come orginally from South America of course, and we have many types. Yuca - an African import - is another staple root vegetable. However rice is served with very many meals, and corn is particularly important. Instead of bread (at breakfast for instance) we usually have arepas - thick discs of reconstituted dried corn kernels, mashed with a little salt and then simply griddled. These are delicious straight off the griddle, spread with homemade butter or buttermilk, and perhaps topped with a slice or two of cheese, or some just-laid eggs from the chicken in yard which will typically have been cooked 'en caserola' - a bit like a cross between frying and poaching. If you have a stronger palate, some people swear by minced kidneys on top of arepas for breakfast. For a special treat, we enjoy arepa de choclo - these are made not with dried and reconstituted corn kernels, but with fresh sweetcorn which has been boiled, mashed, seasoned, then formed into thick patties - sweet, soft and slightly salty all at the same time, absolutely delicious when freshly grilled and buttered.

As in the UK, Christmas and the New Year are the time of year when families are reunited, though unlike you we usually have the benefit of doing this in lovely weather! Hence for us December and January are like Christmas, the New Year, July and August all rolled into one. Early in January, once the New Year celebrations are over, festivals and carnivals are held all over the country, but especially in Baranquilla, Manizales, and Pasto. The holidays seem to go on for weeks sometimes and large family groups seem to roam the country visiting far-flung relatives in all parts. Outdoor swimming pools and amusement parks all over the country are as busy as the beaches - and the bars. Personally I love to get out into the countryside horse-riding, especially it if means I can reach one of the more remote valleys, to enjoy swimming in one of our many natural thermal springs, or to eat fresh grilled trout fished out of the stream.

Everyone cooks. Many of the traditional Christmas specialities are ideal for getting children involved with their mothers, grandmothers and aunties in stirring natilla (a thick corn-based custard, flavoured with cinnamon). When set, but ideally still warm, natilla is served with bunuelos, fluffy sweet doughnuts with a slightly 'tangy' flavour which comes from being made with fresh (often homemade) mild white cheese. Tamales are another tradition at Christmas, and again ideal for sharing the effort. People 'muck in' to mix the corn dough, prepare the filling which is most often of chicken and vegetables, and wrap the assembled packages in banana leaves ready for steaming. Empanadas are also made in vast quantities - small 'pasties' which can be filled with shredded beef, or mushrooms and cheese, or almost anything! encased in a crispy fried cornmeal shell or a light flaky baked wheat pastry crust (very typical of Chile, but now also popular in the more tropical countries of the continent). These are always served with aji, a fresh relish of tomatoes, onions, chilis and lime juice which really gives these snacks some kick!

Parties are big of course. More than in the UK (it seems to me), all age groups get together collectively, to talk, to eat, to drink, and often to sing and to dance! Live musicians often come to people's homes - it's very easy to hire a mariachi band in the big cities of the country. There will always be food, and in my experience there will always be a full hot meal for anyone who wants to sit down for that. Small groups will form to catch up on gossip over a plate of braised beef with potatoes, yuca and vegetables, crispy fried chicken, or mondongo (delicious spicy tripe stew), which will arrive unprompted like magic from the kitchen. Meanwhile most people will be chatting (or flirting) over drinks, whilst a continuous stream of snacks circulates - empanadas, chorizos, tamales, bunuelos, and maybe small plates of ceviche. The most traditional beverage in colombia by the way (apart from beer) is aguardiente, a aniseed-flavoured clear spirit, usually drunk neat. It can be an acquired taste for foreigners - thankfully the Latin American classics like Margaritas, Mojitos, and Caipirinhas are well known and usually expertly prepared.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Lulo, an exclusive Andean fruit

As a person that was brought up in the Andes in Colombia, I learned to love fruits from a very early age, thanks to my father’s passion and tradition of planting fruit trees, and in some cases naming the trees after kids. For me, the most delicious of South American fruits are mango, maracuya (passion fruit) and lulo. Lulo in particular has inspired me and given so much pleasure in our kitchen at Sabor, that early this year we decided to plant around 2000 trees on our farm in Quinchia, in the coffee-growing region of Colombia, and I would like to share with you all you some facts about this delicious fruit.

Lulo is an exclusively Andean which can be compared with gooseberry, kiwi and lime, and which has a floral aroma. Its scientific name is Solanum quitoense and it comes from the Solanum genus of the Solanaceae family. The Solanum genus also includes 3 food crops of global importance: tomatoes, aubergines and potatoes.

Lulo is indigenous to the tropical region of the , primarily(although it is now also grown in Central America). Its Colombian name 'Lulo' comes from the Quechua "ruru" which means fruit or egg. In Ecuador it is known as Naranjilla (little orange) for its acidity, round form and orange colour when fully ripe, although the pulp and juice remain green. The fruit's tartness is reminiscent of a Seville orange, the species used for making marmalade.

Lulo grows on a bush - it is a perennial which takes around 10-12 months to produce fruit. In Colombia it grows in warm climates between 800m and 2000m above sea level. Traditionally it is difficult to cultivate, as it is delicate and susceptible to disease and parasites, however new hybrids (not GM) are proving more fruitful. Traditional bushes are waist high, but our lulo de la selva grows 5-6 feet high, produces an abundance of fruit and retains a good flavour even after processing. The lulo used in cocktails at Sabor comes from a co-operative of luleros in Belen de Umbria, Risaralda in the coffee belt of Colombia, we hope very soon it will come from our family farm!!!!!!!!.

In South America the fruit is used widely in juices, milkshakes, jams and desserts. The juice has a floral aroma and is often blended with water (or milk) and sugar. The tartness can be subtly balanced with pressed apple or pear juice, with a dash of elderflower cordial.

In order to introduce lulo to the British palate, as part of our mission to popularise Nuevo Latino cuisine, Sabor turned to Fruto del Espiritu as a supplier. As well as Sabor, Fruto del Espiritu supplies clients such as the Dorchester Bar, where the a lulo twist on a Mojito has led to the Mulito. Another favourite is the Lulo & Amaretto Sour (which we created at Sabor), building on the natural tartness of Lulo. Fruto del Espiritu has also introduced lulo to over 50 schools and youth clubs throughout the UK as part of a Healthy Eating & Enterprise programme, where students have to create their own cocktails.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

The History of Latin Music in London

We would like to share this article about Latin music in the Uk, written by Amaranta Wright from Candela Live, a London base Latin music and culture promoters.

Notwithstanding the cheesy album covers, Candela explores the rich and idiocyncratic story of Latin Music in London to celebrate LaLinea's 10th anniversary festival this year.

It was 1981. I mostly remember the legs of dark, glossy-haired, poncho-wearing folk, as I squeezed through them to get to the front. There, I had full view of Gilberto Gil as he sung his acoustic version of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry. Perhaps it was the playful, sweet percussive serenity of his music, its simplicity and richness, or the sheer emotion it generated in the room. Whatever it was, it blew this nine-year-old away and I still thank the flaky babysitter, who ever she was, who failed to turn up that night, forcing my parents to sneak me into the Hammersmith Palais on a cold winter’s night. It was my first ever concert and it cemented my love for Latin Music forever.

The pioneer of Latin Music UK: Don Marino Barreto

Many would be surprised to know how long Latin Music has entranced audiences in the UK. Back in the 1940s Cuban bandleader Don Marino Barreto made his name playing to pilots on the Salisbury Plain during the Battle of Britain. After the war, Barreto passed his band over to Edmundo Ros who became the most successful musician in Britain, across the board.

The 1940s and 1950s and the Curious Case of a One Man Latin Allure

Arriving from Caracas, Venezuela, Ros became a sensation after Parlophone released Los Hijos de Buda in 1941. He went on to have several hits, including Rhythms of the South and Arriba and his albums sold briskly. His biggest hit, The Wedding Samba, even crossed over to the U.S. Top Five, selling three million copies in the process.

The charismatic Latino attracted the cream of London society to his appearances at the lavish Coconut Grove on Regent Street. The national headlines he made, when a defendant in a high-profile divorce case implicated him as a catalyst for his marriage's demise, only made him more popular. He even taught then-Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret to dance.

He owned three nightclubs in the West End, including the Coconut Grove site which he bought and renamed Edmundo Ros' Dinner and Supper Club, and was a DJ on Radio 2. His radio programmes became the ‘housewives choice’, as he tailored his Latin big band sound to the English ear by emphasising melody over rhythm. The cool society scene created by Barreto and Ros, opened the door for other Afro-Caribbean immigrant artists such as Rita Cann, the distinguished pianist who formed her own Latin Band in the 1940s. Ros was awarded the Order of the British Empire in the 2000 New Year's Honours List.

Playing to the stereotype of Latin cheese: the popular Edmundo Ros

The 1970s and 1980s and the Music of Latin Solidarity

During the 1960s, the popularity of Latin Music gave way to Beatlemania and the ascent of English pop. In the early 1970s, however, it came back in a different form, when political refugees started to flood in from the wave of dictatorships sweeping through Latin America, starting with the coup that overthrew socialist President Allende in Chile in 1973 to the US interventions in Central America of the 1980s. With the political migrants, many of whom were creative types and musicians, you had a developing interest in the Nueva Trova and Canción de Protesta (protest music) of the likes of Argentina’s Mercedes Sosa, and Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez. The exiled years of Brazilian legends Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso in West London added much allure to this cool London sub-culture.

In these de-politicized times, it is difficult to imagine political Latin music having widespread appeal, yet Andy Wood, La Linea promoter who started his career putting on concerts for the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign describes a buzzing scene that tapped into the broader politically activity in Britain at the time. “The Nicaragua Campaign had thirty full time staff and brought loads of artists. We had support from the Greater London Council (run by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone) who helped bring the likes of Rubén Blades, Inti-illimani and Silvio Rodriguez. This was before the dance class boom. People enjoyed dancing to live salsa, without worrying whether they were dancing on the one or the two.”

The Impact of Latino Immigrant Culture

Accompanying the influx of political refugees was an even bigger wave of economic migrants in the late 1970s, mostly from Colombia, fleeing both the political and economic terrors of a 40-year long civil war. A second Colombian wave came with the further economic slump caused by the busting of the drug cartels in the late 1980s. Today, Britain has the world’s third largest Colombian Diaspora, after the US and Spain.

Out of the spotlight, the Colombian community, known to be great salsa lovers, built their own thriving music scene in London. The Guardian writer Richard Williams remembers the Monday night in 1975 when a grungy punk-rocker pub, acted as stage for the first salsa band to across the Atlantic. A 29-year-old Héctor Lavoe, already a legend in the US and South America, played to a scrawny London pub crowd and, according to Williams “for a couple of hours made its seem like the only place to be.”

In the years to come, the sheer numbers of Latinos in London and their musical nostalgia ensured an audience for some of the salsa greats who came to play in London year after year through the 1980s– Colombia’s Grupo Niche, Gilberto Santa Rosa and El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Willie Colón and Venezuela’s legendary Oscar de Leon. to name a few.

The Colombians in London certainly played a big part in kicking off the Salsa club phenomenon. For, as well filling their own clubs, their party spirit spilled over into the mainstream Latin themed bars that were springing up all over London offering salsa classes. Paul Young, who jumped on the trend by congregating thousands of salsa fans in weekend Congresses says, “a lot of those people were introduced to Latin music and artists such as Tito Puente, purely through the dance.”

The allure of Latin rhythms allowed many British musicians such as pianist Alex Wilson and Robin Jones of Salsa King or DJs Snowboy and Gilles Peterson, to make a living off their passion for Latin music. But the influence hasn’t all been one way. You can hear the appreciation of English pop in the much of the music of Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, from London, London Veloso’s melodic tribute to the city to Gil’s stunning Brazilianisation of The Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye. Other migrating Latinos have infiltrated the English music establishment behind the scenes: Percussionist Roberto Pla, who started out with Boney M.,Venezuelan-Argentine Stereophonics drummer Javier Weyler or Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera from Colombia. As solo artists all have fused Latin rhythms with British pop and electronic styles.

The 'Latin Boom' of the 1990s

The years of Canción de Protesta and the Latino immigrant culture bubbling under London’s surface, coincided with the advent of World Music which was being promoted by mainstream music magazines such as NME. The influential music weekly displayed artists such as Bhundu Boys and Kid Creole and the Coconuts on the cover for the first time in Britain.

With his stream of chart successes in the UK such as Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy, Kid Creole in particular became hugely influential in providing the Anglo audience with the bridge into Latin Music, says Andy Wood, “Kid Creole invented World Music before anyone had a name for it. By synthesizing Latin and Caribbean music for a wider audience, I would say he did what Edmundo Ros did, but for a different generation.”

This opening of the doors, together with the revival of traditional Cuban music, according to Wood, prepared the ground for the success of Buena Vista Social Club in the nineties. “The popularity of the Buena Vista artists was not the product of some big marketing master plan, as some people think,” says Nick Gold, executive producer of the Buena Vista series, “but the live performances, great reviews and word of mouth of an already receptive audience. The Wim Wenders film then made it into an international phenomenon.”

Then, of course, came the invasion of the commercial superstars via the US - Gloria Estevan, Ricky Martin, and Shakira - who provided the Saturday night anthems of London’s now prolific Latin-flavoured venues such as Bar Salsa and Havana and added to what the Evening Standard described as “The Latin Boom.”

This English and London Latino appreciation for a common sound culminated in the Latin mega-festivals that began with Salsa 2000 in Battersea Park, which had Celia Cruz, Oscar de Leon, Ruben Blades and Alberto ‘El Canario’ sharing the stage. This was followed by the launch of La Linea, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and Clapham Common’s Latin Splash, which drew 9,000 people in 2005.

The Future of Latin Music in London

The new generation: club culture taking Latin Music forward in the UK

The impact of the estimated 700,000 strong Latin American community (mostly in London) can been and in the many established yearly music festivals - Carnaval del Pueblo, Colombianamente and Colombiage - that are now part of London life.

The Latin music of choice has changed, however. “We always used to open La Linea with a salsa band,” says Wood. “But La Linea is about New Latin Music and sadly there is not a lot new happening in Salsa.”

The great bands such as Cuba’s Los Van Van that are able to reinvent themselves through the generations will always fill venues, but there is more interest now in fusion groups such as the Cuban Hip hop-timba project Orishas, or the electronic tango outfits Bajo Fondo and Gotan Project.

The new, however, still sits comfortablu side by side with the appreciation for traditional orchestras. Andy Wood remembers the double-Cuban bill he put on with Orishas and the legendary Orchestra Aragaon, which was like a passing of the baton.” When Orishas went on first, Orchestra Aragon band leader Rafael was looking distinctly nervous when he looked out to see all the girls who were throwing themselves at Orishas and said this doesn’t look like our audience. But in fact when they went on the same girls were dancing just the same in the second half, only they weren’t passing them their numbers.”

Meanwhile, a new Latin movement that London can call its very own is being created by the first generation of Latino-Brits, now coming of age and making their mark on London, mostly noticeably on the Club scene. Their music of choice is Urban Latin with its creative fusions of Afro-Latin genres Bachata, Bomba, Plena with Salsa, Hip–hop and House. The big names Tego Calderón, Calle 13, and Pitbull have already played in London to audiences that are the most eclectic yet. At La Bomba, London’s biggest Latin Urban party Jamaican, Asian, Arab as well as white and Latino Londoners. “Whereas the salsa scene began to alienate people with its obsessive focus on dance technique,” says La Bomba promoter DJ Joe Luis. ”This scene brings it back to the music and culture of the Spanish Caribbean. Its recreating that inclusive atmosphere and making it even more part of the ever broadening spectrum of British music culture.”

Sunday 15 August 2010


Soups are an important element in the South American cuisine. In my home they played an indispensable part of the main meal. Most South American soups originated in European kitchens, but a few like sancocho date back to pre-Hispanic times. In fact sancocho was the sacred dish of the Incas, who used it not only as energy food but also as an offering to the gods, asking for good health. With the introduction of pucheros or cocidos by the Spaniards local ingredients such as corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, squashes, peppers and yucca were used as ingredients

This is one of our Collaboration with Perfiles Magazine, A Latin American London Base Magazine.

Friday 16 July 2010

Sabor Reviewed in Umami Greek Magazine

"I begin with Sabor, in North London. Sabor is a very particular Latin-american restaurant, where each dish comes from another Latin America country. I really like the owner, Esnayder Cuartas from Colombia, who welcomed me in the restaurant as if I was his best friend. Once I had my first Mojito and Caipirinha, I felt like practing my Spanish and ordered a selection of empanadas, from Colombia, the Carribean and Bolivia, followed by a Peruvian Aji de Gallina; a marinated chicken breast fillet, served with sun dried tomatoes, herbs and golden Mayan potatoes; a dish that speaks of Sabor's name."

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Colombian Independence Day - 200 Years Anniversary

Sabor is proud to be collaborating with Vinopolis in the celebration of 200 years of Colombian Independence this year. For this event we have created a new range of cocktails using Colombian fruits, which will be served at a special event at Vinopolis on the evening of 20th July.

Monday 14 June 2010

What if Latin America Ruled the World?

Some of us at Sabor went to Colombiage for the first time just a couple of years ago; this is a festival of Colombian literature, music, cinema and even gastronomy, which has been held at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith for the last couple of years. During that weekend in 2008, we were captivated by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera's interview with Gerald Martin, who at that time had just published a biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (highly recommended).

Since that time Oscar has become a good friend and regular customer of Sabor, and we were excited when we heard that he had a book of his own coming out, to be titled 'What if Latin America Ruled the World?'. Oscar's earlier books have been aimed at the academic community, but this promises to be a great read for any members of the general public with an interest in the broad sweep of history and geo-politics, especially if they are particularly interested in Latin America.

We don't think we can improve on what his publishers have to say about the book, so we've reproduced their introduction to it below - it's well worth a read.

"For most Europeans and Americans, Latin America is still little more than their underdeveloped sibling, its inhabitants pitching up in Madrid, Paris and London, or struggling across the Rio Grande into the USA. It is a place of exuberant music, mesmerising football, extravagant beauty, fantastic literature, drug-trafficking and guerrilla warfare – in short, exotic, dangerous and exciting.

In this counterintuitive and hugely engaging book, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera sets the record straight about Latin America’s role in world. He shows that, far from fitting its stereotype a region of banana republics and idealistic utopias, the peoples of Latin America have risen up and now stand together. Taking control of their own destinies and resources while distributing rewards, Latin Americans have resisted some of the worst consequences of the unfettered market policies associated with deregulated finance, demand sustained by debt, resource depletion and ‘free trade’ that have wreaked havoc elsewhere. Retelling the story of Latino peoples from their pre-Columbian origins through the Spanish and Portuguese ascendancy and the British commerce and piracy of the Caribbean, to the IMF and ‘the end of history’ until today, this book shows that the official story of globalisation is wrong and misleading.

After having witnessed South American countries fare better than most during the current Great Recession, make their mark in global debates about climate change and assume their role as world leaders, as in the case of Brazil, the rest of the world seems ready to listen. Making its presence felt from Quito to Shanghai, from Brazilia to London and from Buenos Aires to New York, Latin America no longer specialises in losing.

While the world acknowledges the continuing importance of the US in international affairs, few have noticed that with Spanish language and culture in the ascendant the US is quietly but quickly becoming the next Latin American country. In fact, Guardiola-Rivera argues, the next Barack Obama is more than likely to be of Latino origin.

Oscar introduced the book to British audiences during the Hay Literary Festival –the most important of its kind in the United Kingdom, and one of the most reputed literary festivals in Europe - last 31 May. The highly qualified audience attending Hay gave the book a very warm welcome, and the ‘preview’ copies of the book sold out in less than a day. Oscar will be appearing in several venues presenting his book and speaking of its wider implications in the context of the celebrations of the bicentenary of independence in the Americas. On 11 June he will appear at Birkbeck College. On 27 June, Oscar will be at the Trycicle Cinema in London for the ‘Women in Power’ workshop and film exhibition. On 29 June, Oscar will join historian Eduardo Posada-Carbó at the British Library to celebrate the bicentenary of independence in Latin America and the Caribbean, after having talked to Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan at UCL’s Bentham House on the same day. On 14 July Oscar will be at Sabor for a special fundraiser on behalf of Latin American arts festival Colombiage, featuring a selection of readings from his book, and a book signing session. Copies of What If Latin America Ruled the World? will be available for purchase that day.

This is an unmissable opportunity to share what many critics and commentators are already calling ‘an experience’ with Oscar. His appearances in person always involve a fun and deeper experience, as confirmed by the attendants to this years’ Hay Festival and University of East Anglia’s reputed encounter of storytellers from around the world. ‘It’s the man, not just the book. You have to go and see him!’, says Kevin Conroy Scott from London-based literary agency Tibor Jones. On 14 August and 27 August, Oscar will be appearing at the Edinburgh Literary Festival, before travelling to the USA in September for the American launch of his book. In the second part of 2010 Oscar will be at Southbank, and on 16 November in conversation with the author of Gabriel García Márquez’s biography, Gerald Martin, at the Instituto Cervantes in London. Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, the most reputed and widely read newspaper of Brazil, is preparing a feature on the book including an interview with the author. He is scheduled to appear on radio and television in Britain, Spain, Mexico and the United States during the first leg of his book tour.

Both a hidden history of the modern world from the silver peso (the world’s first truly global currency) to Latin America’s clever use of its grassroots politics, new economics and culture, aimed at developing the region’s rich resources, and an imaginative vision of the world to come rooted in a sure understanding of the past, What If Latin America Ruled the World? is essential and entertaining reading."

Tuesday 1 June 2010

A Brief History of Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most fascinating of all the foods that South Americans Indians gave to the world. The cacao tree originated in the Americas, probably in the basins of the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers, where most species of cacao are still found. Cacao grows in shady tropical forests protected from the strong sun. Wild Cacao must have spread from Amazonia to other regions and probably was domesticated in Central America. When the Spaniards arrived in what is now Mexico they found the Aztecs using cacao beans to make a drink that was so special that it was served to the emperor in gold goblets. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac, which is why the emperor drunk so much of it. This sweetened drink was made with toasted ground cacao beans, hot or cold water, and spices such as achiote (annatto) or ground hot peppers. It was accessible only to the ruling class and nobility because cacao beans were so expensive (they were, in fact, used as currency by both the Aztecs and the Mayas).

The Name of the drink, Xocoatl, may be related to Quetzalcoatl, who it was believed taught the people how to grow and use cacao. The Nahuatl word for the cacao tree is cuauhcacahuatl. Our word for the processed cacao is chocolate derived from the Aztec xocoatl, which probably meant 'bitter drink'.

At the begining of the conquest the Spaniards found xocoatl unpalatable. In addition to the fact that it combined cacao with odd spices (and no sugar), it was prepared by beating it to a foamy consistency. By 1591, some Guatemalan women had created tablets that could be dissolved in hot water and sweetened sugar to make a chocolate drink. Only then did the Spaniards take a serious interest in chocolate, and in 1631 they brought some cacao beans to Spain. There they began making elaborate mixtures of cacao beans, sugar, spices, almonds, and hazelnuts, all ground together to make a paste that was eventually exported to others countries in Europe. Even so, it was not until 1928 that C. J. Van Houten developed a process for making cocoa powder for drinks and cacao butter for solid chocolate.

When this sweeten European creation returned to the land of cacao's birth a few years later , it quckly became a drink of the Andes countries.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Hay Festival in Cartagena

We are delighted to share this article about the Hay Festival in Cartagena, written by Kevin Conroy Scott, a literary agent at Tibor Jones & Associates that also promotes and represents Latin American writers such as Juan Gabriel Vasquez and Oscar Guardiola Rivera in the UK . Kevin is also on the board of the Colombiage Arts Festvial. This article was published by the NewStatesman on 21 May 2010

Hay while the sun shines

Kevin Conroy Scott

Published 21 May 2010

Kevin Conroy Scott reports from a Latin outpost of a British literary festival

Ian McEwan is milling around the beautiful
courtyard of the Santa Clara Hotel in Cartagena, Colombia. "The temperature here is wonderful," he says. "This must be the temperature of paradise." The British novelist is in town for the Hay Festival Cartagena, one of six international offshoots of the annual literary event in Hay on Wye. But what exactly is a festival like this doing in a place like Colombia?

Despite its many problems and its strict class system, Colombia is going through something of a renaissance. The country's president, Álvaro Uribe, has been in power since 2002 and has presided over a period of relative calm after 30 years of violence in which drug cartels funded paramilitaries in the jungle, who in turn protected the cartels' business interests (almost 80 per cent of the world's cocaine comes from Colombia). Uribe's solution was aggressively to tackle the narcotics trade in the jungle while providing more security in major cities.

It has been a controversial strategy, drawing criticism from human rights groups. Senior figures in the Uribe administration have themselves been linked to drug trafficking and right-wing death squads. But eight years on, Colombia is arguably a safer place. Or at least it feels that way.

In Cartagena, the "Venice of the Caribbean", time stands still as horse-drawn carriages pass down lantern-lit streets and the voices of street vendors float on the tropical breezes. I asked Peter Florence, Hay's founder, how he felt about the festival coming to Cartagena. "For most countries, security is taken for granted. But security is new for Colombia. And that security feels like an adventure."

Among the authors attracted to Hay Cartagena is Mario Vargas Llosa. His talk was dominated by the buzz phrase of the festival, "perpetual presidents". Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Colombia's feared neighbour, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, were mentioned as culprits. "Perpetual presidents have left their countries in disaster," Llosa said through a translator. "As a Peruvian I have a lot of experience with this." This was greeted with raucous laughter and applause. Later I met a business teacher from Cartagena, and asked her about the audience's reaction. "Uribe is trying to change the constitution to remain in power for a third term in the same way. But most Colombians don't want to change because we think things are good now."

In Cartagena there is a sense that there are now two Colombias. At one of the many lavish parties hosted by Bogotanos with second homes on the coast, a live salsa band played while empanadas and aguardiente were served by the pool. When I returned to my hotel in Getsemani, the working-class quarter just outside the old town, I met a French economics professor who had retired to Cartagena. He told me that "64 per cent of Colombia is owned by 0.04 per cent of the people. That's where all the problems stem from."

It is often said that periods of great instability produce great art. If this is true, I asked Juan Gabriel Vásquez, a Colombian author whom many tip as the heir apparent to Gabriel García Márquez, is Colombia going through a golden age during this time of relative quiet? "I don't think conflict leads invariably to great art," he said. "If it did, Colombia would have produced nothing but masterpieces since 1810."

But Colombia is full of masterpieces. And people's attitudes towards culture are changing as the country begins to export more of it. The pop singers Shakira and Juanes have both sold millions of albums in the US and Europe. But what is more surprising is the international success of the telenovela, the Colombian soap opera. On my way back to London, I stopped in Bogotá and met the king of the format, Fernando Gaitán, the screenwriter/producer who created the global hit Ugly Betty. "Colombia is well known by everyone for its violence. So I thought it was very interesting to counteract that image," he said, surrounded by his awards in his penthouse office. "Colombia is a country that consumes its own culture. This is very rare. My work focuses on everyday lives, the matters that are universal, like love stories. It's the universal stories that travel abroad, not the stories of violence."

So does Hay Cartagena, with all its gravitas and prestige, need to reflect the more complicated texture of Colombian culture? The
London-based Colombian academic Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, author of the forthcoming book What If Latin America Ruled the World?, just shrugged. "Given that there are so few scenarios for rational discussion in my country, that Hay Cartagena exists is an unqualified good for Colombia." And there's new hope for Colombians who think their country is stagnant. In March, the constitutional court rejected Uribe's attempt to change the constitution to get a third presidential term. And now Colombia is in the grip of election fever. The former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus, is gathering momentum as the candidate of choice for the left-leaning student population looking to challenge the long conservative rule. They go to the polls later this month, so Colombia won't have a perpetual president any time soon.

Kevin Conroy Scott is a literary agent at Tibor Jones & Associates and on the board of the Colombiage arts festival

Thursday 27 May 2010

Empanadas Paisas

This is one of our Collaboration with Perfiles Magazine, A Latin American London Base Magazine.

Monday 17 May 2010

ChocQuibTown at Jazz Cafe

As we are music lovers we are delighted to see the mighty Afro-Colombian group Choc Quib Town make a rare UK appearance. They have won critical acclaim for their enticing fusion of hip-hop, dub, electronica and rhythms from Colombia's Pacific coast, and they will be appearing at the Jazz Café on Monday 24th of May - we have tickets for sale at Sabor.

Their innovative sond fuses funk, North American hip-hop, jamaican ragga, and elements of electronic music in order to produce elaborate beats. They also incorporate traditional rhythms from Colombia's Pacific coast such as bunde, currulao, bambazu, and aguabajo as well as other Latin American and caribbean rhythms such as salsa songo and guajira. Choc Quib Town shows that there's much more to discover about is more to discover about Colombian Music.
They also have a new album out called Oro, which led to them being nominated for best new artist at the Latin Grammy's last year. said that "what makes "Oro" (which contains music from the band's first two Colombian releases) so interesting is that every track finds a new way to interpret the traditional sounds of the country's Pacific coast". It was also very enthusiastically reviewed (four stars!) by the Daily Telegraph last week - they described it as "a sound that feels at once timeless and euphorically current".

Friday 14 May 2010

Latinos at Tate Modern 10 Year Celebrations

Tate Modern is celebrating 10 years this weekend. They have a Free Festival with lots of activities Like 'No Soul For Sale" A Festival of Independents arts Spaces from all over the world .

There are three Latin American Art Collectives participating, including Casa Tres Patios from Medellin Colombia, a non-profit, independent artist run organization based in Medellín, Colombia. Their mission is to promote contemporary art and to serve as a meeting place or intersection for artists of various disciplines and cultures. Through a continuing program of activities coordinated by local, national and international artists and arts organizations, they aim to promote exhibitions, artist residencies, competitions, conferences, lectures and workshops that focus on artistic and intellectual and cultural exchange and development.

Lugar a Dudas, an independent
nonprofit space, is located in Cali, first city of the department of Valle del Cauca. The city has a population close to 2.400.000 inhabitants and it is located in the southwestern zone of the country. Its purpose is to promote and disseminate the contemporary artistic practices. As its name suggests, Lugar a dudas (Room for doubts) is a laboratory for research, confrontation, reflection and critic. Its programs, events, exhibitions and workshops, aim to make visible problems and discrepancies of the context we live in; to stimulate discussion and to propitiate experiences that accompany transformations of the cultural sectors of Cali and the region.

Capacete Entertainment. Research residency program for artists, curators and critics in the visul field.

Thursday 15 April 2010


This is one of our contributions with Express News about the Chocolate, it's importance and uses in the South American Cuisine

Friday 5 March 2010


On Thursday 18th March the superb Colombian joropo band Cimarrón are coming to the Union Chapel in Islington. Performers like this bring back memories for me of my upbringing in Colombia, and in particular the diversity of musical and other cultural experiences which we were able to enjoy. I'm delighted to see troupes like Cimarrón coming to the UK and bringing with them their roots and their culture to share with us. Details of the concert may be found here - we are selling tickets in the restaurant.

In my early teens i became a member of a youth group in my home town Quinchia, in the department of Risaralda in the coffee region of Colombia, this group was set up by university students from our town, that having moved to Pereira, our departmental capital to continue the university studies, realised how little was on offer in our town for young people. The Corporacion Quinchia Nueva was set up, first as an study group, and it developed into a cultural organisation, in the absence of an official cultural organisation in the town. It consisted of various groups, such as sports teams, theatre, band and a dance troupe that was the most successful of the lot. By winning departmental folk dance championships and touring all around the country, this troupe developed to the point that it became the Ballet Michua, the official ballet company of the department of Risaralda. Folk dance had offered me a fantastic outlet in my youth, by learning about the different cultural regions of the country, and offering the opportunity of travel and broadening my horizon. Like the CQN there are many cultural organisations in Colombia, teaching young people about their roots, their communities and most importantly being an active part of the community.

Cimarrón is a seven-piece with spectacular, super-tight performances of joropo music and dance. Hailing from the vast Orinoco plains which stretch from Colombia into Venezuela, joropo is a fast traditional rhythm played on harp, bandola and cuatro accompanied by bass, cajon and maracas. Cimarrón fire up flawless virtuosity with a heart-stopping sense of drama.

Led by harpist Carlos Rojas and based in Colombia, Cimarrón have been experimenting with the music of their homeland for the past two decades, on the search for new musical horizons whilst staying true to their roots.

The mestizo people who inhabit the llanos [plains] on the great Orinoco river are descendants of Spanish settlers, African slaves and Indigenous Indians. This is cattle rearing country where life revolves around country ranches. Music accompanies the daily working tasks such as milking and cattle drives. The word Cimarrón, meaning wild bull, is a symbol of liberty in Los Llanos.

Find out more at or download their mp3 EP from Amazon.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

The Importance of Corn

As part of series of articles on gastronomy which Sabor has been contributing to Express News, we submitted the piece embedded below about corn. Corn was as important to the pre-Colombian inhabitants of the Americas as it is today.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Empanada History

If there was one theme which might bring war to Latin America, maybe it would be not football, not global warming, not border disputes, nor the disagreements between Chavez, Uribe and Correa - but the humble empanada.

The empanada can be (and at times has been) the subject of many debates and discussions about which is the best, the most original, the most ancient and most tasty. At the same time, this very dish is one of the elements which demonstrate that, despite borders and differences of names and accents, Latin America is a single entity.

The paisa, saltena, tucumana, llaucha, pucacapa, pastel frito, empanada argentina, pomonha - it doesn't matter where it's eaten, the pastry which
wraps and covers the filling, the secret heart of the empanada, the mix of flavours and the delicacy of the pastry is the same. The ritual of eating it and discovering its entrails is the same as that which allows humanity to discover the world and surprise itself with the true heart of things.

Empanadas in the Middle East
The most ancient references to the empanada are to be found in the very cradle of our civilisation. It's known that a dish very similar to the empanada was enjoyed in Persia centuries before the birth of Christ. Also, ancient Greece was know for its cereal-based pastries which were exported all over the Western world, including Armenia, Morroco and eventually Latin America.

Empanadas in Spain
In Spain, what originally considered an Arabic dish was eventually converted into a popular dish enjoyed by the general public. The delicate and individual Arabic empanada turned into the empanada gallega (Galician empanada), a dish of soft pastry filled with meat or fish.

Many Galicians came to America and brought with them their gods, their fiestas, their religious processions, their traditional dances, their language, their sins and of course their food. In this way, the empanada finally came to America, coming together with local produce and new forms of preparation to create something new and different, uniting what had existed before the arrival of the boats, and all that occurred afterwards.

The Empanada in the UK
The Cornish pasty is a pasty typical of the county of Cornwall, which despite having a history in a country far from those referred to above, has ended up being very similar. This dish has been known in the UK since the twelfth century, and is considered native to Cornwall, however in the present day the filling is typically of beef, onion (native to the Middle East) and potato (native to the Americas). At times though Cornish pasties have been produced with a surprising variety of sweet and savoury products - and sometimes both together.

In summary, the history of empanadas transcends national boundaries and the ages. At Sabor we always have them on our menu, sometimes to a traditional recipe and at other times using recipes which are uniquely our own, so as to prolong their appeal. Generally wheat flour is used, whilst in countries like Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador the pastry is made with cornmeal, which makes them more crunchy, and in the Caribbean they are sometimes made with a black bean pastry.

Generally empanadas are accompanied by a sauce which may be a little hot or spicy, e.g. Colombian aji, which is a mix of tomato, onion, coriander, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and salt, which gives us a very tasty mix of flavours.
If you would like to share your favourite empanada recipe, you can send it to me at If we use your material we would like to invite you for a free dinner for two with cocktails and wine.