I'm really excited to share the first of a new series that I'm starting here on the blog: travel and a recipe. A huge part of my cooking involves borrowed elements from other cultures, especially from friends of mine who are from somewhere else--from Bulgaria to Venezuela to Mexico. I've decided that I should incorporate this sort of "culinary exploration" into my travels, as well.The idea is to expand my horizons by trying something totally new and different wherever I go. My Nica Punch cocktail isn't particularly exotic, but it does incorporate some Nicaraguan staples: lime, ginger, jamaica, and rum (Flor de Caña, to be specific, which is part of the Nicaraguan fabric of life, and a top-notch rum, to boot).
Nicaragua is a hard place to pin down: part expat surfer haven, part fishing community, part poor and resilient (its the 2nd poorest country in the Western hemisphere, behind Haiti), and splashed with a generous dose of neon-tropical color and baseball fanaticism. The locals where we were staying lived in cinder block houses where the doors or windows were merely bare holes to let the tropical air in. Farming, for them, is not the romanticized vision that many Americans have of a peaceful, agrarian lifestyle: farming is a way to survive in a country where roughly 40% of the population is un- or under-employed. We saw mothers washing clothes in buckets outside and little girls scrounging through the brush for firewood. We saw men milking their cows in the morning. The country is fertile, with fields that are filled with rice and mangos and coconuts and plantains. However, I got the distinct impression that tourism, not fruit, will be the key export that lifts these communities out of poverty.
This is not to say that life in Nicaragua is rough. Rather, I was impressed by the kindness and happiness of everyone we interacted with. We were lucky enough to spend 2 hours chatting with a taxi driver that was willing to listen to my choppy Spanish and reciprocate with a wealth of information about Nicaraguan life. His message was roughly this: it can be hard to make ends meet, but family is paramount and our country is warm and beautiful. Warm and beautiful indeed.
Now a couple of comments on the recipe: you may already be familiar with jamaica juice from your local Mexican taco joint. If not, its basically a sweet, red juice made from hibiscus flowers. You can find mixes at most Mexican grocery stores. As for the ginger syrup, I made mine by combining 1 cup shredded ginger root, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup water and bringing it to a boil. Boil until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce to a low simmer for 15 min. Strain the syrup through a sieve and store in an airtight container in the fridge (I transported mine to Nicaragua in a Ball jar). Of course, to prepare the cocktail simply combine all ingredients over ice and stir well. Garnish with a lime slice and sip outdoors on a warm summer night.