Follow Roads & Kingdoms on...

5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Sorry: Keeping Kosher is No Longer an Excuse Not to Eat Haggis

Jan.25.17

Sorry: Keeping Kosher is No Longer an Excuse Not to Eat Haggis

by Keren Landman

Haggis in Glasgow

The scene is about what you’d expect from any Jewish deli on a weekday afternoon: chopped liver, cream soda, old people talking loudly at each other over bowls of chicken soup. Which makes it all the more surreal when Mark Cohen gestures at a thimbleful of liquid on the table between us, then points at my plate. “That’s whiskey that you just pour over it,” he says. “To give it real Scottish flavor.”

This is Mark’s Deli, Scotland’s only kosher deli, which Cohen opened in 2007. On my plate is haggis—or at least, a special version of it.

In its original form, haggis is a rich hash of sheep’s innards, suet, oatmeal, onions, and spices, traditionally cooked in a sheep’s stomach. It’s been a potent culinary symbol of Scotland for centuries. Scots concede that it’s an acquired taste, but it’s ubiquitous at special occasions nationwide, and also at not-so-special occasions: many chip shops catering to late-night drinkers offer haggis pizza or haggis spring rolls.

Because the sheep parts in commercial haggis aren’t butchered according to Jewish dietary laws, the specialty was long out of reach for Glasgow’s small Jewish community. But today, I am sampling Cohen’s interpretation of haggis, which uses minced, kosher lamb, but none of the heart, lungs, liver, and stomach from the more traditional recipes.

Cohen’s family has been cooking for Glasgow’s residents since the 1930s, when his great-great-aunt ran a restaurant that fed, among others, Polish soldiers with nowhere else to go. His mother, Doreen, made her first kosher haggis for her catering clients in 1987. And although the city’s Jewish population is slowly shrinking, Cohen still turns out over 220 pounds of his haggis annually.

Most of this haggis production is for Burns Night, Scotland’s annual celebration of its national poet, Robert Burns, who wrote Auld Lang Syne. On or around January 25 at Burns Suppers nationwide, a host or a guest of honor will recite Burns’ Address to a Haggis to tables full of hungry people before ceremonially slicing open the haggis with a sword (or kitchen knife.) A grand meal follows, with the haggis usually accompanied by turnips, potatoes, (“neeps and tatties”) and whisky sauce.

The Burns Supper at Cohen’s synagogue always sells out because they can only seat 200. Cohen serves me his haggis the way he serves it at Burns Night: in a neat cylindrical shape under layers of neeps and tatties. The vegetables are a formality; the haggis is the star. It’s loose and lean as a pilaf, and has a toothsome, malty chew from the barley Cohen adds. A heady lamb perfume permeates every crumb, and while there’s none of the fat, silken mustiness of offal, in its place are the warmth of browned onions and black pepper. I eat it all.

At his synagogue’s celebration last year, Cohen had the honor of addressing the haggis. He recites the poem for me from memory and with gleeful drama.

Robert Burns is for all Scots, says Cohen, and a good delicatessen should be the same. “In New York City, deli food is just part of the culture—we’d like to develop that same ethos in Glasgow.”

The Universal Struggle to Get to the Bar Before Happy Hour Ends

Apr.24.17

The Universal Struggle to Get to the Bar Before Happy Hour Ends

by Saba Imtiaz

Wine in Amman

It is 5 p.m. in Amman, and I’m frantically dialing my bank in Pakistan to complain why a transfer hasn’t gone through. My Urdu seems accented and strange, as if I haven’t spent most of my life speaking the language.

I rush out of the house. It’s a Thursday night, the start of the weekend, and I want the same ritual as that of people working in offices everywhere–to get a drink. I emerge to the beginnings of rain, and shrug on a jacket and wrap my head in a scarf. It’s April, and yet I am still dressing like early winter.

I almost run to the stop for servees cabs: the shared-taxi service that runs in older Amman neighborhoods. There’s a queue stretching down the pavement. The servees cabs seem to be practicing their version of surge pricing. One servees says it won’t go downtown. Behind me is a guy dressed in head-to-toe workout gear, and incongruously holding crystal prayer beads.

We shuffle along in the queue. A guy passes by with a roll-on suitcase with a seemingly pregnant woman in tow, wearing a burqa and niqab. They ask for directions, and the queue is split between saying it’s a 10-minute walk and advising them to take a cab. They head off on foot. “Some people like walking,” says crystal beads man, to no one in particular.

I am itching to get going. What if happy hour is over and I have to pay full price—money I really can’t afford to throw away–for a drink?

A servees rolls up, and I don’t even care if it’s not going downtown. It’s going somewhere. Four of us pile in and pay the driver; a little over a quarter of a dinar for a ride that would cost four times that in a cab. I then take another servees to go to a different neighborhood. My head is throbbing slightly; I’m starting to wonder if the running around is worth it for a drink.

I disembark at Café de Paris in the Jabal al Lweibdeih neighborhood. Nine years ago, when I last lived in Amman, it was perhaps the only café here, a bare-bones place that served passable coffee, with large windows looking out onto a sleepy little neighborhood. Now this district is where the hipsters and expats hang out, and Café de Paris is now a bar—all dark wood and old-school stools. In the corner, a street artist sips his beer.

I strip off my jacket and ask the bartender: “Is it still happy hour?” “Until 8,” he says. I could have taken my time, I guess, but I’m here now. My glass of red wine arrives. I watch out the window. Other people come in and light cigarettes. The staff brings in what seems to be a week’s worth of vegetables.

I take a sip. It’s okay wine, but this is my sole luxury this week. I am glad to not be home writing another pitch or checking my bank account. It’s finally 5 p.m., and I’m like everyone else, trying to let go.

When Living in a World of Absurdities, Try Whisky

Apr.21.17

When Living in a World of Absurdities, Try Whisky

by Niren Tolsi

banner-5-oclock-2

South Africa’s largely peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994 was feted as a “miracle,” yet 23 years later, we are not Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow children”: race and class tensions bubble on the surface, often popping angrily into the nation’s eye like blobs of fat from a frying pork sausage.

The country’s new constitution is considered one of the most progressive globally, but the scandal-ridden administration of President Jacob Zuma appears increasingly authoritarian and unconstitutional. Zuma has also set up a shadow state of spies and intelligence networks while the repressive policing of grassroots communities who organize politically is pervasive.

These are the things we live with, but often try to drink away.

Drinking is something that South Africans—according to the World Health Organization, the 19th booziest nation in the world last year—do well. This tradition stems from celebrating life—especially when it could be taken so quickly by the apartheid state’s police and army in previous decades—by living hard. This inclination now often begins with “Phuza Thursdays” (Drink Thursdays) all the way through the weekend into “No Regrets Mondays.”

South Africans’ red eyes and the bleariness of the past few weeks have not been from a typical hangover, though. It started with the national mourning of Ahmed Kathrada, the anti-apartheid struggle veteran and Robben Island prison contemporary of Nelson Mandela.

At Kathrada’s funeral, politicians and activists held him up as a paragon of the anti-apartheid struggle, a non-racialist whose ethics and morality were disappearing from a new generation of politicians more interested in self-aggrandizement and conspicuous consumption. The president was criticized for destabilizing the economy by pursuing a kleptocratic agenda of “state capture.” This was to allow his network of businessmen cronies to gain control of government through their politician lackeys and then pillage the state’s coffers.

The country was on tenterhooks, expectantly waiting for Zuma to drop the hammer on the much respected finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, considered one of the few remaining people in the Cabinet standing in the way of widespread looting.

A few days after the funeral, Zuma did sack Gordhan. In the dead of night. He announced a Cabinet reshuffle that sent South Africa’s currency, the Rand, plummeting, and saw ratings agencies downgrade South Africa’s credit rating to junk status.

Borrowing, and drinking, was going to be a lot more expensive.

People were riled. Leaders of Zuma’s own party, the African National Congress, broke ranks and criticized his midnight reshuffle. Opposition parties took to the streets in protest, and even the chattering classes left their dinner tables for the barricades, all calling for Zuma to resign.

Public opinion was turning against a man more interested in the fortunes of his family than that of the country. But this just sent Zuma’s own spin machine into overdrive. “White monopoly capital” had to be destroyed, his defenders said, for “radical economic transformation” to happen: hence Gordhan’s sacking. Government was going to act in radically new transformative ways so as to address socio-economic inequality, the new finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, said. The ostensibly radical Black Land First movement, which had been chanting down capitalism while calling for urgent land redistribution, went off to defend the mansions of the notorious Gupta family—Zuma’s businessmen cronies—from protesters.

South Africa is a country of absurdities, my friend Master T agreed, pouring a double-shot of Glenmorangie whisky into a glass.

Absurdities, indeed. The kind that started to flow more easily than the amber nectar down our throats. The new buzzwords of “radical economic transformation” to destroy “white monopoly capital” was dreamt up by an anodyne-looking blonde working at a British publicity firm, Bell Pottinger, it was revealed. The campaign—paid for by the Gupta family—had extended to “paid Twitter” and “bots” trolling relentlessly on social media and the setting up of pro-Gupta online news sites (the family already owns a news channel and a newspaper). Even the Black Land First movement was allegedly nothing more than a Gupta front. Gigaba, the new finance minister, reprimanded one of his advisors for suggesting that the amorphous, yet to be defined, “radical economic transformation” could include nationalizing mines and the Reserve Bank and appropriating land. Then Gigaba jetted off to Western capitals to reassure investors that not much had changed.

Whisky brings warmth and lucidity, but there is never enough ethanol to act as an eraser for the absurdities of this life.

I took another glut, nevertheless, and asked Master T why he had also bagged us some 2M beers from Mozambique. “To drink to Zuma’s days in exile there,” he chuckled.

South Africa is a place of absurdities, but we have learned to laugh in the face of them. Whisky helps.

Asking for a Friend: Does This Slovenian Spirit Actually Exist?

Apr.20.17

Asking for a Friend: Does This Slovenian Spirit Actually Exist?

by Dave Hazzan

Ruda in Ljubljana

On our final night in Slovenia, our hosts asked us if we would like to try some of their ruda. It came in a clear, unlabelled glass bottle, with sprigs of grass and slices of lime inside. It was the color of mint-flavored Listerine. They said they’d made it themselves from a local herb they’d collected out in the hills. It tasted quite pleasant for a hard liquor, like a limey, herbal schnapps.

Slovenians are hard drinkers, even by Central European standards. They consume a respectable 11.6 liters (about 10 quarts) of pure alcohol a year, which places them 24th on the World Health Organization (WHO)’s rankings of the heaviest drinking nations.

They have two major beer breweries, Lasko and Union, both of which produce very little for export. What they do export, a lady at the Union brewery told me, mostly goes to Slovenians abroad, like Melania Trump. Plus there are all the local artisanal and microbreweries. (Which is not to say Melania drinks Lasko or Union. I’m pretty sure she’s blasted 24/7, but that’s just a theory.)

Slovenians are also incredibly proud of their wine, and boast 28,000 wineries around the country. This equals an astonishing one winery for every 71 people. Again, most of that is drunk happily at home.

Finally, on the spirits end, there’s a whole line of brandies and liqueurs to send you over the edge. Borovnicke is a special kind of nasty, a sweet, syrupy blueberry liqueur that tastes like Robitussin. On the other hand, there is Viljamovka Paradiso No. 4, a clear pear brandy that is mellow, slightly sweet, and a brilliant accompaniment to an evening watching Slovenians go about their business in the central market.

But there is no ruda on the menu. Our hosts told us you can’t buy it at a shop or find it on a menu. You’ve got to roll up your pants, get out there into the wild, and pick the ingredients yourself.

I went online to verify this information for myself, and I could find nothing. Ruda doesn’t exist at the Slovenian liquor store. It doesn’t exist on Google. It doesn’t exist on any websites dedicated to Slovenian liquor, country liquor, or liquor of any sort. Ruda is not real—except we drank it.

Had our hosts played a joke on us? I had double-checked the name and spelling when they gave it to me. Had they invented the stuff? Were they giggling away, because they’d really just fed us grass and lime ethanol?

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume ruda is all over Slovenia, just kept hush. It’s in the cities, in the hills. Ruda exists if I will it to.

The Surreal Historical Coincidences of Today’s Berlin, Plus Beer

Apr.19.17

The Surreal Historical Coincidences of Today’s Berlin, Plus Beer

by Bella Peacock

Beers in Berlin

Berliners are moths to the light, unanimously drawn outside by the first rays of sun. Joining the congregation, I grab a beer from the Spätkauf, the term for the iconic convenience stores run by cheerful Turkish men that speckle Berlin’s street corners. In summer, the stores become the city’s most vital institution, providing cheap, cold beer on warm afternoons.

I’m on my way to Tempelhof, to where the sky is wide open. Once an airport, the field is now Berlin’s biggest park, a flat grassy expanse that stretches the entirety of a city suburb. Completely cleared with two huge concrete runways rolling down the center, the area has changed little since the airport’s closure.

Riding down wide streets, I follow the curve of the airport terminal. The building is steely, with tall, narrow windows. It has the clean, masculine geometry typical of Nazi architecture. The airport, largely built and designed under the Nazi regime, was once at the heart of Hitler’s vision of ‘World Capital Germania.’ The terminal was intended to be the gateway to a Europe commanded by the Third Reich. Today, it has become Germany’s biggest refugee camp. That’s some serious irony to mull over a beer.

While I chase the best plot of grass, I watch a father fold himself into a miniature convertible Range Rover with his toddler, the pair squealing as they race down the runway. A man wearing only tiny green hot-pants and a pair of rollerblades spreads his bare skin over the ground, evidently also keen on catching the sun. I choose a spot inside the community garden, beside a shelf of plant-filled shoes and tomato vines staked on bed springs. On top of a makeshift crate platform, I crack open my beer.

The first sun of the summer is a sigh of relief. After months of hibernating in my bedroom, the air against my bare skin makes my body feel loose and shiny. Or perhaps its the beer. My friend tells me a story about how the giant dismembered eagle’s head at the terminal’s entrance was actually a part of a much bigger statue, now mysteriously missing in some kind of controversy. I’m not sure if it’s true, but certainly Tempelhof, like Berlin in general, has become a sort of myth. Between its Nazi past and the stories of candy bombers throwing sweets to the West Berlin kids below, there’s something surreal to the place.

An Ibiza Drinking Story That Won’t Make You Want to Start the Revolution

Apr.18.17

An Ibiza Drinking Story That Won’t Make You Want to Start the Revolution

by Chloe Olewitz

Hierbas in Ibiza

The DJs spinning Balearic beats along the coastline of Ibiza time their sets to play the sun down into the sea. Rhythm and blues vocals croon over the meditative bass drone of some remix or another, and the air perks up with the smell of licorice. I trace the wafting aroma like a cartoon character following my nose to treasure.

Licorice in the air is the mark of Hierbas Ibicencas, an aniseed-forward herbal liqueur that forms the backbone of local drinking culture. Far away from the resort mess of San Antonio—and still tucked into the corners of authenticity that remain there—Hierbas is hailed as the true taste of Ibiza. Its lineage has been shaped by the passing centuries, from medieval monks brewing medicinal potions to secret formulas crafted by famous island families.

Perched atop the sea-facing wall of a neighborhood beach bar, I nurse a Hierbas on the rocks. The sun is falling into the Mediterranean on Ibiza’s western coast, but on this side, further east, the colors of the sky gently tint my glass as they darken slowly into night. The Hierbas is thick and syrupy, like medicine. It coats my glass and catches the oranges and pinks and reds of sunset at the sea.

Some say Hierbas is an elixir inspired by the mysterious island of Es Vedra, a tiny rock formation believed to possess rare magnetic properties. The urban legend persists, the magnets and the magic, superstitions lingering in spite of a definitive lack of evidence that there is anything geologically special about this place. Others swear by the medicinal history of Hierbas.

There are at least as many experiences of Ibiza as there are ingredients in its local drink: thyme, peppermint, rue, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, orange, and fennel layered between an aniseed base and the rest of a secret recipe. This place can be sanctuary, a hedonist’s retreat, or an escape from reality. Then there are the locals, families descended from the ancient people of this land and the history of Carthage and the gods, the Moors and the Vandals, Muslims and Catholics and Jews.

The ice in my glass melts, diluting the color and the heft of what Hierbas remains. Parents call their suntanned children away from the receding tide and the emptying beach. Back inside the bar, an Ibicenco couple downs shots of Hierbas before dinner. Dos chupitos. They pay no mind to the summer tourists. Dos más.

Once this island gets its claws in you, there’s no escaping its pull. Ibiza clings to consciousness like the legs of that last Hierbas crawling reluctantly down the inside of a rocks glass. Many of us carve some sense of home into this rock. Maybe it’s the sea, maybe it’s the dark. Maybe it’s the aniseed.

View All 420 Drinks