That’s Gold, darling! Horchata Series: Part I

Alboraya Horchata Big Bang

‘That’s Gold, darling!’ he exclaimed upon tasting a sample of the drink. So…who am I talking about? What is he drinking? And why am I opening up my blog post with a Spanish quote?

He is James I of Aragon (d. 1276),  who according to Valencian urban-legend*, was in a Spanish town called Alboraya **, for some reason… ***, when he came across an insanely delicious drink called ‘horchata’. And he clearly liked it!

The English translation in it’s original Valencian is  ¡Açò és Or, xata! 

Or, xata —– > orzata —- > horchata.

I highly doubt my first horchata encounter will similarly become centuries-old lore**** , but I’m going to share it with you regardless, because horchata is mind-blowing! 

So here’s how it went down…

Striking Gold: 

Tucked away on Hornby & Dunsmuir, lies a sizeable Mexican taco shop called La Taqueria. For weeks my boyfriend swore up and down that we’d been there before (although we hadn’t), and somehow we ended up going on Cinco de Mayo, just a few weeks ago.

The bar which we did not sit at…

La Taqueria Taco Shop

 

If you’re wondering whether there was a big hoo-ha going down to celebrate – I thankfully didn’t have any expectations going in*****. To be honest, it wasn’t really happening at this location festivity-wise. At least not during the time we were there – which was that weird in-between lunch and dinner period. Which is often, pretty dead for restaurants.

Additionally, the location is smack-dab in the middle of Vancouver’s business district, which is a very small yet literal ghost town on most weekends.

So anyways – we didn’t go there for ‘party-time’. We went to drink horchata. And eat tacos.

That first sip was divine!

It reminded me of a creamery version of orzata, an almond based drink that is super popular in Southern Europe.  I looooove anything remotely almond tasting, so I gave it my seal of approval. I also assumed it was made of almonds.

Here’s a shot of the horchata drinks we very specifically ordered. It reminds me of Maltese tea in this photo. All that is missing is the steam rising from the glasses and some pastizzi.

Glasses of Horchata

 

Gold indeed…

But I was wrong about the ingredients. The Mexican version I tried is made from rice, not almonds, and the first legit horchata recipe I tried (below) involves rice.

The North Star: 

As a starting point, I used this recipe to get an idea of what I should be using and doing… and then I just super winged it and improvised to my heart’s content.

  • I used half & half instead of regular milk – only because that’s what I had in the fridge.
  • I drained the last remaining globs of maple syrup into the mixture instead of sugar – substituting sugar with maple syrup always gives me elated Canadiana tingles.
  • I obviously had no cinnamon sticks handy, so I just used the ground kind – efficiency!
  • And I didn’t have a fine-enough sieve for my perhaps slightly over-ground rice and cinnamon mix, so I used a french press instead – MacGyver of the kitchen!

One thing I did follow was to allow it to infuse overnight. And I think it was all worth it in the end, because the following day we were able to enjoy this…

Homemade Horchata 

The boyfriend took the liberty of adding a dash of cinnamon and some gold flakes to the glasses before serving.

So elegant! I will definitely be making this drink again. 🙂

Also this little culinary adventure has opened up a rabbit-hole for me. More to come in Part 2 of the series. 

ps. For anyone that wants to know how to make a Spanish inverted (upside down) exclamation mark, like in this post’s title… it’s ALT/Option + 1 on a Mac. 

Side Notes: 

(*) Are legends the result of centuries old marketing?

(**) It’s a town in province of Valencia, Spain – on the West Coast (Mediterranean).

(***) maybe dodging more arrows to the face? Check out this guy’s story! Listen to this, in his written word:

“As I was coming with the men, I happened to turn my head towards the town in order to look at the Saracens, who had come out in great force, when a cross-bowman shot at me, and hit me beside the sun-hood, and the shot struck me on the head, the bolt lighting near the forehead. It was God’s will it did not pass through the head, but the point of the arrow went half through it. In anger I struck the arrow so with my hand that I broke it: the blood came out down my face; I wiped it off with a mantle of “sendal” I had, and went away laughing, that the army might not take alarm”.

(****) … and wow the 13th Century is ages ago!!

(*****) I literally only clued in on the ‘May 5’ connection part way through my meal.

 

 

Grilled Watermelon with Burrata

Grilled Watermelon Top View

Credit where credit is due. I owe my culinary discovery of grilled watermelon to my good friends Ed & Eka. They sure know how to throw a mean party.* The type an immaculately detail-oriented Martha Stewart would be proud of.

So cue my initiation to a life-changing grilled watermelon experience during early Summer 2016. Warning – once you try this there is no going back.  It’s like a B.C / A.D type transformation when it comes to watermelon-eating.

Really it is sooooo delicious.

All this to say…. Thomas turned our mini-watermelon into a truly stunning dish last night, and I want to relive it with you**!

He went with a super classic variation –  avocado oil (for grilling), olive oil & balsamic vinegar (for dressing), creamy burrata, fresh mint***, salt and pepper.

Check that out…. so yummy! And it looks like a pretty 3D psychological Rorschach test doesn’t it?

Grilled Watermelon Side View

 

It was fabulous and a great way to feast on Summer-worthy food during Memorial Day weekend! Aka the unofficial start to the Summer season.

Try it!

There are countless recipes out there for how to grill watermelon. Like notice all the variations from this one, to this one, and now this one,  and…. finally this one! One with cilantro & lime, another with blue cheese & prosciutto, yet another with pepper flakes …

It’s such a simple dish; yet you can keep it interesting & exciting by experimenting with different flavours****.  I love that.

Side Notes: 

(*) By that I mean culinary extravaganza! 😉

(**) ahem….brag

(***) Although basil works too.

(****) I’ve also encountered some memorable disasters like one recipe that called for way too much cayenne. Which I regrettably followed…. grr! The entire lot went into the trash sadly; was simply inedible.

Sunday Brunch at Chambar

Tajine from Chambar Restaurant

Located in a micro-hood called Crosstown*, Chambar is an award winning and long-standing ‘Belgian spiced with North African’ themed bistro. It’s stunning inside. They serve delicious food and boast a huge Belgian beer selection. There really is nothing quite similar to Chamber in this regard, which makes going there a unique experience. I like that.

So we impulsively went there for Sunday brunch. (Brunch Menu for the curious).

Thomas (the boyfriend) ordered the Fricassée (Braised short ribs, balsamic cipollini onions, potatoes, watercress, fried eggs, applewood smoked cheddar) and I ordered the Tajine (Spicy merguez sausage, saffron tomato stew, fried pita, raita, poached eggs, fresh herbs).

Both were delicious but if I’m to be honest…. I kicked myself for not having ordered a few waffles instead. I don’t know why I never ever order the waffles. I pretend to not crave sugar in the morning, but I most evidently do. And their waffles look so delicious. No photos sadly… next time I will try to remember!

Look at those apple matchsticks! Yummy.

Fricassée at Chambar Restaurant Side View

 

Here are my ‘Top Tips’ for Sunday brunching at Chambar: 

(1) Kind of a ‘duh’ tip but…. make a reservation if you’d like a table. Vancouver is notorious for long Sunday brunch line ups. I don’t know about you, but I don’t do lineups. Especially when I am hungry.

(2) If you’re the carefree reservation-free type and want to eat before noon … arrive early. Even if you intend on sitting at the bar. This place fills up fast, so sauntering in at 11am with no reservation is risky. We arrived at 10:45am and got sat in an area I didn’t like – a narrow high-top ledge section that is teeming with ‘service hustle & bustle’. As a Cancer-ascendant I especially don’t like it when I have heavy traffic/ loud activity happening behind my back.

(3) Alternatively, if you are a late-riser, swing by after the brunch-rush is over. Brunch is served from 8am to 3pm on Saturday & Sunday**. Even though this is a fairly large restaurant, with upstairs, downstairs and outdoor seating, you’d be surprised how crazy busy it can get between 11am – 2:00pm. Crazy busy and a line of 20 people waiting outside for a table.

(4) Go to the females’ washroom… if you are of that gender. One of the nicest in Vancouver!  I won’t give any more details… just go see it! 🙂

(5) A side of Focaccia… is a must if you order the ‘Tajine’ for brunch. From the three bread options I tried; the fried pita chips it came with, to the focaccia I pinched from my boyfriend’s plate, to the sourdough side I added partway through the meal… the focaccia was the best. Hands down.

(6) Enjoy the catwalk. All the staff at this bistro have the best & more eclectic style ever. I almost never check out what restaurant staff are wearing, but I cannot help myself at Chambar!*** I swear they must list ‘fashion sense’ as a non-negotiable requirement on their job postings.

(7) Leave the ‘Bon Matin’ alone if you are hungry.

Well, that’s all I have for now. All in all, a nice spot for brunch…. if you can get in!

A dinner review of this place is definitely next on my list, haven’t been there in the evening since last Summer!

Garnished with Mint & Cilantro.

Tajine from Chambar Restaurant Close Up

 

The pita chips are so tasty… but I like to sop up that sauce with a softer bread.

Tajine from Chambar Restaurant Top View

 

Side Notes: 

(*) Where the F is this? It’s right by the ‘Chinatown – Stadium’ tube station. Referred to as ‘Crosstown’ by true, long-time-dwelling downtowners, this micro-hood is boxed in by these four others – historic Gastown (to the North), historic and cultural Chinatown (to the East), preppy Yaletown (to the South), and the alternatively charged Downtown Core (to the West).

(**) The thought of a long busy shift like that still sends shivers down the spine of this lil ol’ retired server. I sure had my fill of crazy-busy and long shifts in bars, clubs and restaurants.

(***) The city is still recovering from a super bland ‘all-black, short and tight with heels’  omnipresent server look. So boring! I myself have noticed & personally experienced aspects of this, and seen a huge shift between 2008 – 2018 (the 10 years I have lived here).