Sansho Pepper – This sparky peppercorn is traditionally ground and sprinkled on grilled eel in its native Japanese islands – although as you can see from the picture, it’s wriggled free of being typecast and is now making guest appearances on everything from cocktails to ice cream. What’s the appeal? Well, rather than simply firing up the palate it creates tingling, citrussy pops on the tongue – a little like cool lemon balm but far more intriguing.
TRY IT – In London, on plump slices of mallard breast at Soho’s Koya Bar, or scallops and the rim of a Yuzu Martini at Dalston’s Jidori. At Pen Yen, the Japanese restaurant at Soho Farmhouse in the Cotswolds, it’s whisked with butter to drizzle on asparagus. Over in New York, David Chang adds it to fried prawns at Momofuku Nishi, and Chikarashi makes bowls of Hawaiian poke with sansho salmon. For a few skewers of original chicken sansho-yaki, though, head to Tokyo’s Bird Land Ginza, As for the strawberry sorbet, that’s called the Tunnel of Love and it’s the marvellous creation of Parisian food truck Glaces Glazed. Eel ice cream anyone?
JUNGLE JUICE – On the league table of extraordinary island cultures, Papua New Guinea must rank very, very near the top. Some 850 distinct languages – almost half the total number of languages in the world – are spoken in PNG. Much of its flora and fauna remains uncatalogued. More than a century after first contact between its indigenous peoples and European explorers, rumours of fresh encounters with ‘lost’ tribes continue to circulate. In short, PNG is imbued with a thrilling sense of the possibility of discovery that is unmatched anywhere else on the planet. How curious, therefore, that it only discovered alcohol so recently, thanks to the foreign traders and adventurers who began to arrive in the late 19th century.
These days it’s mostly beer. But if PNG has a national drink, it’s jungle juice, a simple concoction made from fruit (bananas are best), sugar and yeast. If the fermented juice is subsequently distilled, it’s known as steam. Producers of steam grade it according to quality, though your correspondent failed to discern any significant differences during the furtive fieldwork he undertook in a shanty on the edge of Mount Hagen, a hardscrabble mining town in the Western Highlands. The fieldwork was furtive because distilling steam is illegal, as it’s widely recognised as an aggravating factor in the violence, road accidents and tribal conflict that bedevil this magnificent island. Better to have a Coke instead. Or just a banana, straight up.