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Ask the experts: raicilla, Spanish cooking courses and a foodie weekend in Bristol

Our panel answer your culinary queries, including where to learn to cook in Spain and the best vegetarian food in Colombo.

By National Geographic Traveller Food
Published 9 Jun 2019, 18:00 BST
Hart’s Bakery, Bristol
Hart’s Bakery, Bristol
Photograph by Mike Lusmore

I’m heading to Bristol for the weekend. Where would you recommend to eat?
Bristol’s dining scene has evolved beyond measure in the two decades I’ve lived here and it’s now a thriving hub for good food and drink, with a strong focus on the ethical, local and sustainable. The best days begin in a bakery. I love Hart’s, The Bristol Loaf and Assembly Bakery for good coffee and indulgent treats. After a stroll around the docks, head to Cargo at Wapping Wharf — a collection of fine independent establishments housed in funky shipping-containers. There are many options here, but my favourites are Root for plant-heavy small plates, Box-E, a micro restaurant with big ambitions, and The Athenian for epic souvlaki. While long-standing local favourite Bell’s Diner recently closed, it’s boisterous sister restaurant Bellita remains great for tapas, while Bomboloni offers seriously good fuss-free Italian cooking. Meanwhile, for Sunday lunch try The Cauldron — Bristol’s only 100% fire-fuelled restaurant, open for brunch and dinner, all cooked over flames. Finally, there are many great small breweries across the city, including my local, Lost and Grounded, which regularly opens up its taproom. Check out the East Bristol Brewery Trail for ideas of where to visit. Genevieve Taylor, Bristol-based author and food writer 

I’d like to go on a cookery course in Spain. Are there any you’d recommend?
Finca Buenvino, in the unspoilt mountain region of Sierra de Aracena in Andalusia, is a country house where chef Jeannie Chesterton and her family immerse guests in local food, wine and customs. This includes visiting the Cinco Jotas ham-curing cellars, sherry tastings and cooking traditional dishes. Prices start from €950 (£835) for four nights, including accommodation. Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen is also based in Andalusia, in the pretty hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera on the Costa de la Luz. Annie offers courses based around tuna, sherry and tapas, as well as various group trips further afield. Four-day courses start from €1,250 (£1,070) per person, including accommodation. Alternatively, learn about the Basque Country’s culinary heritage in San Sebastián. Originally from New York, chef Gabriella Ranelli set up Tenedor Tours here in 1997 and offers a real insider experience. Choose from a single-day class making pintxos (small snacks), or a longer itinerary that includes visits to local producers. Prices start from €250 (£220) for a single-day class, including a walk around the market and gourmet shops of the Old Town. Annie Bennett, Spain-based food and travel writer

Raicilla seems impossible to find in the UK, so I’d like to bring some home from my next trip to Mexico. What do I need to know?
Raicilla is an offshoot of mezcal, and the drink of choice these days in Mexico. A single-distilled white spirit made from the sap of the Maximiliana agave, a native succulent plant, it’s produced principally along Mexico’s Pacific Coast and in the Sierra Mountains of the central-western state of Jalisco. It’s made by roasting the root of the agave (known as the piña) in adobe ovens before fermenting the sweet smoky juice in oak and distilling it. Similar mezcal-like drinks are made throughout Mexico, but raicilla is among the best-known. Drunk neat as a shot, it’s often made and sold informally for local consumption, though several companies are now marketing more refined versions. The largest is La Venenosa, but I prefer the more artisan Estancia — it’s smooth, lightly sweet with a note of hibiscus and only a hint of the harsh smoke you usually get from mezcal. Raicilla is hard to come by outside of its region, even in Mexico, and few varieties are exported. However, it can be sampled in Mexico City at cool bars including Bósforo, La Nacional, La Vulgar and Corazón de Maguey. MisMezcales, a small shop in the trendy Roma neighbourhood, sells several brands — a 750ml bottle of Estancia brand will cost you about £30. Nicholas Gilman, food writer and author of the blog

How easy is it to find vegetarian food in Colombo?
Every meal in Sri Lanka is a celebration of fresh fruit and vegetables, and two dietary staples are coconut and rice. The island, which grows several varieties of each, is home to dishes such as hoppers (rice flour pancakes), string hoppers (disc shaped rice noodles), kiribath (rice cooked in coconut milk), pittu (ground rice with coconut) and pol sambol (spicy shredded coconut). When it comes to Sri Lankan rice and curry, this covers an intricately spiced array of individual dishes (many based around veg such as pumpkin, okra, aubergine and jackfruit). These are served with rice and various types of chutney and sambol — a spicy condiment. With the latter, it’s worth noting some versions contain fish. As for where to eat, there are plenty of wonderful places in Colombo. Start the day at Renuka City Hotel with kola kanda — a porridge of rice, coconut, green vegetables and herbs — followed by egg hoppers and sambol. For lunch, indulge in rice and curry at local hotspot Upali’s. And at sunset, sip on an arrack sour (a rum cocktail) on Galle Face Green. This is one of the best spots for street food, with vendors selling snacks such as samosas and kottu (chopped roti with curry, eggs, vegetables and/or meat). Karan Gokani, director of Hoppers

Published in Issue 5 of National Geographic Traveller Food. 

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