Andorra is something of an anomaly in Europe.  Situated high in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, it covers an area of less than 200 square miles and has a population of just 85,000.  Andorra is formally presided over by two co-princes, neither of whom is actually Andorran – the president of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell – but since the passing of the first constitution in 1993, these roles have lost their political clout and become purely ceremonial.

Although not an EU member state, a cooperation agreement with Brussels has been in effect for almost a decade, and Andorra uses the Euro as its currency.  With an estimated 10 million visitors each year, the economy is heavily dependent on tourism, but the tiny principality also has a reputation for being something a tax haven.

Coca de pinyons

Just look at that lovely crumb structure: coca de pinyons

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Algeria, the largest country in Africa, forms part of the Mahgreb and is sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert.  As is the case in so much of North Africa, there is a startling regularity to many of its borders – a legacy, no doubt, of the colonial method of demarcation that effectively amounted to little more than drawing of lines in the sand.

Khobz eddar

Khobz eddar sprinkled with nigella seeds

The Berbers are viewed as the indigenous population of modern-day Algeria, but its past – and indeed present – has been shaped a great deal by foreign rule.  From its annexation into the Roman Empire in 24 AD to the Arab conquest of the 7th century or capture of the capital Algiers by the Ottomans in 1525, which brought much of the country under Turkish influence until the French invasion of 1830, Algeria has seen the rise and decline of a number of world powers. One of France’s longest-held overseas territories, Algeria only gained independence in 1962, following a bloody decolonisation war that lasted for the best part of a decade and left many dead on both sides.

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My love affair with Albania began purely as the result of a chance remark, right at the beginning of my Master’s degree.  We were half-way through our introductory session and conversation had turned course requirements, including the stipulation that we study at least one East European language.  One girl, who already spoke fluent Russian, wanted to know if she might be excused.  She was told in no uncertain terms by our coordinator of studies that no exceptions would be made, but that if need be she could always learn Albanian from scratch.

Needless to say, the girl in question did not sign up for Albanian lessons.  I, on the other hand, immediately emailed the relevant teacher when I got home that evening and asked if she might be able to fit me into her class, even though the deadline for registration has passed.  After two semesters’ hard slog through what can only be described as the worst textbook in the world, I headed off to Kosovo for an intensive language course.  At the end of the two-week summer school, I still had a few days to spare and ended up visiting Tirana, the capital of Albania, with a friend.  I was so captivated by that dirty, improbable, exhilarating city that I felt there was nothing for it, I would have to return as soon as possible.  I set about finding an internship for the following summer and it wasn’t long before I had two months’ work lined up in Tirana.


Golden brown, texture like sun…

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I can well remember the day – a Sunday in early October, while my older sister was away for her first term at university – when the US-led bombing of Afghanistan began in 2001.  The word Afghan suddenly took on a new meaning for me and lost its old, innocent connotations of hounds and coats.


Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what roht is made of.

It is disturbing to think that the military intervention has now been going on for over half my life.  I wonder sometimes if what was launched as Operation Enduring Freedom will be come to be viewed by historians as the defining conflict of my generation.  Though what it must be to grow up, to grow old against the backdrop of war, to have violence become part of the fabric of everyday life, I cannot begin to imagine.  The people of Afghanistan certainly do not have the luxury of simply being able to switch off their television sets or put their papers to one side, when the news of bloodshed becomes too much.

I have had a simmering interest in Afghanistan that has nothing to with war or politics ever since reading a magazine article about Turquoise Mountain, a charity that seeks to promote traditional Afghan crafts and regenerate an historic quarter of Kabul.  This, combined with the memory of an excellent Afghan meal at a restaurant in Munich a few months ago, meant that I was very much looking forward to going beyond the headlines and making my own little culinary foray into Afghan culture.

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A sauce to relish: adjika

Bounded to the north by the lofty peaks of the Caucasus mountains and with the waters of the Black Sea lapping at its southern shores, Abkhazia (Abkhaz: Аҧсны, Apsny, literally: ‘land of the soul’) was once a popular tourist destination within the Georgian SSR, particularly favoured by the crème de la crème of Soviet society. Since the fall of communism, however, the fortunes of this narrow strip of fertile land have changed considerably.

Simmering ethnic tensions between the region’s Abkhaz and Georgian populations began to turn violent towards the end of the Eighties and the Georgian declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 fanned the flames of the separatist movement. There followed a bloody war that left thousands dead and resulted in a mass exodus of almost the entire Georgian population. Abkhazia’s self-declared break from Georgia was formalised in 1999, but its independence is currently recognised by only a handful of UN members, most notably Russia, whose support is key in keeping the de facto sovereign state afloat, both economically and politically.  In the eyes of the Georgian goverment, the region remains Georgian terrority.  However, that is all by the by, as I am here, of course, to talk about food, not politics.

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