Monthly Archives: December 2013

Tales from Home: in a Rural Kitchen or, at most, Pottering about the Garden

Rural Trending

Natasha Hughes gave up the exciting city life of Fulham for a small market town in south Wales. Her first reflections come after spending some time staring at a field.

Rural trending AutumnEverything starts in the cities. They’re a bit like the CERN super-collider: with so many people whirling round each other, the logic goes, the collisions are bound to throw up something of interest. A zoology student from the wilds of cajun Louisiana bangs into a pool-playing entrepreneurial Glaswegian and lo, the next taste phenomenon – ‘You’re Snookered’ Gumbo In A CupTM – is sold off the back of a swamp-splashed Chevy until Kate Moss is seen clutching one at Glasto, at which point the cult becomes a staple and the men in black polo-necks move on.

Such encounters just aren’t as likely in Little Nethers. They probably don’t happen much even in Ludlow, despite there being plenty of Ludlowers longing to ingest swampwater gumbo.

Oddly, however, the cities don’t seem to have the edge on emerging food cultures. Food festivals, for example, are simmering pots of invention, opportunity, and sticking it to The Man, enabling small producers to sell their dreams to the public in increasingly delicious and planet-friendly forms. One might expect these cornucopia of food and consumers to be especially concentrated in the capital; but no. London certainly does hold more food festivals per head of population than the rest of England, but it holds fractionally fewer than Scotland, and just one-third as many as the (clearly obsessed) Welsh.*
The exciting new trend in London, if I’m channeling Twitter correctly, is street- and river-food. Fair enough. But my bit of countryside can boast an ‘ethical venture’ trying to create a new kind of community farm; a collective that wants to use a bit of our field for
allotments; and a weekly jive class where, between throwing a few shapes on the dancefloor, a local small farmer does a brisk sideline in handgrown produce. (He doesn’t do bags, so you have to take one yourself or look a bit odd in the pub afterwards, clutching bunches of carrots and celery. Come on now, keep up; you don’t expect bags in the country, do you? Honestly, city folk, tsk, etc.)

In addition, the local eateries seem just as keen on breaking food barriers as those in Fulham. Last week I went to one Cider & Food Matching and one Vegetarian Taster Event (you don’t get Dinner any more, they’re all Events) — would I have gone to more, had I still lived in the big city? Doubtful.

It almost seems a shame. You’d think out here you could get away from the mad hubbub of sliders, fennel pollen and blondies, but no. Maybe it’s social media — or maybe new food cultures spring into being simultaneously at every point in the culinary universe. Perhaps we should ask CERN.

Footnote: *From The Taster’s calendar (p33-35), which lists all the food festivals his slaves could find: 3 million Welsh—19 festivals. 5m Scots—9 festivals. 8m Londoners—14 festivals. 45m English— 45 festivals.

Tales from the Mosh Pit: the Exciting Food Diary of a Globetrotting DJ

Ramly Burgers and Why You Need To Go to Kuala Lumpur Right Now and Eat One

Matt Thomas spent 13 years touring America, Australia, Japan, Russia and Europe. Many delicacies have been given to (or forced upon) him, which he has kindly agreed to share in this series. First, he tackles the egg-coated burgers of Kuala Lumpur. Foodies of a nervous disposition, look away now.

ramlyburger_cropped

After years of globetrotting, I pride myself on being a bit of a junk-food connoisseur. I’d like to claim that the hours frittered away in departure lounge food courts were forced upon me — but it would be a lie. I love junk food, from the rice-porridge of Jakarta to the crispy coronary event that is Philadelphia Scrapple. I love the huge spiced street burgers of Novi Sad; the dark & heavy heft of Guarulhos SP Burgers; and I mourn the lost legendary Kitchen Burger of Copenhagen Airport Terminal A.

For me, a great burger is one thing: dirty. I seek the juiciest, sauciest, sexiest, junkiest of junk food — the quintessence of filth, if you will — and, having found it, I lovingly devour it & possibly stuff down another.

So. For 200 years, Chinese junks and their pirate crews haunted the Straits of Johor — the waters that separate the gleaming city-state of Singapore from the sweltering  Malaysian forests. But as I looked down from a flight to Kuala Lumpur, I had junk of a different sort in mind. A fast food so tasty that smugglers risk jail time to bring it into Singapore, where it is banned to this day. I speak of the Ramly Burger.

12 hours, 1 gig & 7 vodka limes later, a gig promoter and I entered a deserted square  at 4am to queue for a Ramly.

The first surprise was the venue: not a shop or bar, but a handcart. The Ramly empire, it turns out, is a simple franchise of the key ingredient (meat patties) and official packaging. The exact preparation is left to individual chefs; which explains the fierce loyalties that rage around specific Ramly stands.

We ordered two Daging Specials (the most famous version) and watched our somewhat wizened burgermeister set about his art. With nothing more than a fish slice, he deftly slit open a beef patty and squirted numerous sauces inside — Maggi-Würze seasoning, sweet chilli, ketchups, mustards, mayonnaises. I began salivating like a French mastiff, pawing fretfully at the ground. I may have whimpered.

Having stuffed a tidal wave of condiments inside the patty, our chef sought to prevent it bursting back out again by cracking an egg onto the hotplate, beating it into a large thin omelette, adorning it with yet more sauce & then, before my astonished gaze, encapsulating the burger & its contents in a neat parcel of egg. And when I say ‘neat,’ I mean ‘immaculate’ — this thing had hospital corners. Chopped onions, cabbage, carrot & cucumber flashed across the hotplate & onto a bun that’d been quietly crisping for the past minute. The creation was handed over and, with a certainty born of experience, my promoter passed me a fistful of paper napkins, saying, “You’re going to need these.” I took the first bite.

The Ramly is an experience. The overload of vinegar & sugar I’d been expecting from the torrent of ketchups never arrived. Pepper & chilli combined with egg, meat & Maggi to create a monumental savoury taste, yet balanced by the sweet sauces. The vegetables, far crunchier than Western lettuce & tomato, made for a more satisfying bite. Subtle it was not: this was a great Hollywood blockbuster of a burger that threw everything at me.
I’m not surprised Singapore banned the Ramly. Friends — the Ramly is the dirty junk-food triumph of Malaysia.

Matt DJs, mixes and plays keyboards. Marvel at his work on kingunique.com

British Street Food

A History of British Street Food, as seen by The Taster. This article appeared in our Winter 2013 issue

British Street Food

Signs that something was happening to British streetfood first appeared in the 2000s, when the Nationwide Caterers Association set up streetfood.org.uk to support street vendors and hawkers. Since then, interest has exploded. 2009 saw the first British Street Food Awards; this September, aided by Boris Johnson, they attracted 4500 visitors, and competitors from across Europe. Night markets have set up to rival those in the developing worlds; and inspiration taken from the American trend for turning old trailers into mobile food-stalls. In terms of popular culture, it was significant that, in June,The Sunday Times Style Magazine (not known for its grassroots feel) ran a spoofy article noting the emergence of ‘Chicken Shoppers.’ According to Style, these upper-class gourmets, having never eaten anything less constructed than an expensive salad, are now addicted to the slop and savour of streetfood; their children want to be burger-van men when they grow up. Less spoofily, a provider of luxury suites in Kensington is arranging streetfood tours to show its clients the ‘secret’ London.

The revolution was always lurking. Cheap air fares (especially for long-haul journeys), rich baby-boomer parents and the normalisation of gap years have enabled many young Britons to spend time in countries where streetfood is part of the national diet. Out of necessity, streetfood ingredients in developing countries are typically fresh, seasonal, local and nutritious — a far cry from our tradition of dubious hot-dogs and plastic icecream. Many British streetfood stalls are a) manned by very young people; and b)  sell Asian and Eastern fare. Where British tourists once returned with straw hats, they now bear jars of kimchi.

Food at home also began to show up the deficiencies of British streetfood. Restaurants had undergone their own revolution in the 1980s, when the notion arose that the quality and freshness of ingredients mattered as much as, or possibly even more than, elaborate methods of preparation. In the 1990s these ideas transformed pubs into gastropubs. Many of these recreated British classics — pies made with the choicest steak and handmade pastry, say. Ultimately this led to enterprises such as Bubbledogs (the bar which pairs  Champagne and top-end hot dogs.) In retrospect, such ideas were bound eventually to filter on and into the street.

Social media and mobile communications have played a part. The logistics of contacting and organising vendors and venues for pop-up and mobile food events would, in the past, have been a Herculean labour, involving hours of telephoning and typing. Part of the appeal of streetfood markets is their apparent spontaneity (even if, in fact, an awful lot of planning has taken place beforehand — all hail Health & Safety!)

An unexpected boost for streetfood came from the 2008 economic crisis. The backlash has varied in tone — from Banker Hatred to Retro Thrift, to new respect for the environment and for ethics in general. The message now is that lunch is no longer for wimps: chasing profit for its own sake is mindless and boring; social responsibility is cool and exciting. Streetfood fits right into this mindset; it is tempting to range current streetfood buzzwords — ‘artisan,’ ‘authentic’ and ‘passionate’ (passionate vendors, passionate customers) against those of big business: ‘efficient,’ ‘synthetic’ and ‘commercial.’ The market organiser KERB is very clear that its markets are not just about their food (delicious though that is); it also lays great emphasis on its social idealism (see box, left).

The Taster suspects that at least part of the charm and success of streetfood is due to its loudly-proclaimed ethos. Streetfood is thrifty. It is chilled-out (no table manners! no washing-up! eat from a bag and throw it in the recycling bin!). And it is stunningly unpretentious and democratic: anyone suffering from career envy or facelift envy or celebrity-overload or any of the old, toxic values, can find an instant antidote in the fun, judgement-free environment of a streetfood market. No wonder they’re gaining popularity. Vive la Revolution!

Winter Tipple

The Taster loves to order wine and other drinks online, direct from British microbreweries and vineyards. Here, some of those in the know volunteer their personal favourites, matched up to seasonal ingredients.

Aperitif

The Taster offers its own suggestion for a winter cocktail. Take a glass of something sparkling, add a glug of sloe gin, and (optional) another of cranberry juice. (If you’ve bought a load of cranberries, try pressing them yourself for really fresh juice.) This recipe transforms the most dubious, left-over-from-last-week’s-party, fizz into a delicious treat.

Seafood + Sparkling Rosé
Fish + Sparkling White

A bottle of fizz from Daws Hill Vineyard (see Pork + Apple Champagne, below). Photograph © Vidya Crawley
A bottle of fizz from Daws Hill Vineyard (see Pork + Apple Champagne, below). Photograph © Vidya Crawley

Nigel Morgan, owner-director of Daws Hill Vineyard, says: ‘My favourite combinations are a seafood risotto with our Sparkling Rosé, and a Dover sole & beurre blanc with our sparkling white. The acidity cuts well through the richness of the sauce and, together with the proteins, enhances the mouthfeel; but it’s not so overly acidic as to ruin the cream.’
Sparkling British wines and Apple Champagne — dawshillvineyard.co.uk

Pork + Apple Champagne

Nigel also recommends: ‘Our Apple Champagne is ideal with pork — it’s a classic apple and pork combination. It tastes even better when the pork has been marinated in Apple Champagne the night before.’

Game + Claret

George Davies, owner of Wild Game Direct, discovered his favourite game-wine match when he was given it as a gift. He says, ‘Berry Bros & Rudd’s claret has fruited flavours (bramble and blackcurrant, with warm woody notes), rounded, but with not too many tannins. It matches all our products currently in season: pheasants, partridges and venison.’
Seasonal game — wildgamedirect.co.uk
Good Ordinary Claret — bbr.com

Roast Turkey + Pinot Noir

Carl Dalwood, a historical cookery demonstration chef with a speciality catering firm, recommends a Pinot Noir to go with the slightly gamey, musky savoury flavour of turkey. ‘A fruity, lighter red like Pinot Noir will balance its blackcurrant lower tannin level and, not being the highest oaked of reds, will compliment the food.’
Celebration, themed or historical catering — tastertainment.com

Christmas Pud + Port

Carl suggests Port or a medium Sherry with Christmas pudding. ‘Port has the body to cope with the weight, flavours and  sweetness of the ingredients of the pudding, and can stand up to the density of the starch and richness. Port can fight its own battles!’

It doesn’t have to be wine with every meal. Microbreweries increasingly offer high-quality beers that can be paired with food, in the same way wine has long been paired, with excellent results. As head brewer Tom Jenkinson says, ‘Beer is a natural partner for food.’

Fish + Ale 

Tom Jenkinson, head brewer & director at the Chiltern Brewery, suggests pairing lighter foods to lighter beer: ‘Our John Hampdens Ale is smooth and floral, and matches well with salads, chicken and fish.’
John Hampdens Ale
chilternbrewery.co.uk

Beef Joint + Beer 

For roast beef, Tim Coombes, owner of Rebellion Beer, recommends his winter warmer, Roasted Nuts. Only available from November to February, this beer is a deep ruby, complex and flavoursome drink, packed with intense and distinctive malt & hop character. Tim says, ‘I personally like a nice powerful meat like a beef joint to match this nice powerful beer.’
Roasted Nuts Winter Warmer
rebellionbeer.co.uk

Additional reporting by Dr. C. of mYum Ltd Consultancy

Tales from Home: in a Rural Kitchen or, at most, Pottering about the Garden

Natasha Hughes gave up the exciting city life of Fulham to downshift to a market town in South Wales. Her thoughts on Christmas came after spending some time staring at a field.

This year, for novelty and simplicity, Christmas pudding will be represented by shop-bought icecream. As a nod to the festive season, however, it will be artisan’s orange & cinnamon icecream, lovingly drizzled with handmade fruitcake compôte sourced from a farmers’ market.

That’s what I boldly announced to the family. In defence of this decision (I continued, again with boldness), I have experimented with cooking Christmas dinners from scratch; with not cooking them from scratch; and with buying stuff in. And my conclusion is, that to insist upon handmaking everything is ridiculous. It’s not like the French bother (which explains all the pâtisseries).

We are a small family, and some members are not yet in Big School, which limits their debating skills. So I thought I’d got them cornered. But then my mother, who will be spending the Big Day with us this year, chipped in with, ‘Oh, lovely. And afterwards we’ll have the Christmas cake, and then the pudding in brandy.’

Hardly demoralised at all, I went on, not taking any nonsense, with the bald statement that we are not having sprouts because everyone hates them. But, it turns out, we are having them. Not only that, but we are having them with chestnuts, and obviously the dish wouldn’t be complete without sage’n’bacon twists and a sprinkling of cranberry croutons.

I wanted a few root vegetables roasted neatly together beneath a goose. She wants (on top of all that) pigs in blankets, figs in Parma ham, cauliflower cheese and more bloody stuff covered in chestnuts. And bread sauce; apparently it’s not Christmas without bread sauce; and a special type of stuffing only she can make (I have already bought two types of stuffing).

We are now up to a minimum of three days’ back-breaking prep, rather than the couple of relaxed hours on Christmas morning I was aiming for.

She is making the gravy, so my jar of port & cranberry jelly has been hurled sniffily to the back of the cupboard. (I didn’t even buy it, it was a gift, alright?) We have agreed on the starter — prawns and smoked salmon — and the reason that agreement has been reached so happily is that she is going do all the fun decorative bits, while I deal with the salad drudgery.

I don’t have to take this, you know.

I am a grown woman with children of my own. I have held down a job, lived abroad, dived off the top board and had proper grown-up conversations with scary people like dentists and mayors.

I have made a builder finish a job properly, the way he said he would.
. . . None of this is going to make the slightest difference, is it?

Christmas 2013

Natasha’s thoughts on keeping cool, in our Summer 2014 issue, come after a mild case of sunstroke

Ice cubes are the new culinary fad in our house. Gitchyour ice cubes ere, laydeez and gennelmen, while they’re freezing! I got coloured cubes, striped cubes, cubes with a slice of lemon frozen inside, cubes for Pimm’s (containing mint leaves) and Ice Cube Originals™ (genuine cottage-industry tap water) — to you, madam, a mere 80 pence per cube . . .

Ruthless entrepreneurial daydreams aside, I’ve been spending an unusual amount of time rummaging around in the freezer, now that the kitchen has transformed into a greenhouse. (Sorry if this isn’t a consideration in your area; British weather, don’t you love it.) Rationally, I know that leaving the freezer door open is counterproductive — apparently, the heat released at the back cancels out the refreshing blast in front — but it feels as if it’s working. Plus, I end up sorting out the food and eating everything in a timely fashion, the way you’re supposed to. Nothing in my freezer is more than a few months old.

I’ve noticed the older generation takes a slightly different approach to freezers. My mother’s American kitchen giant is a final, possibly eternal, resting place for various of its contents. And that’s quite apart from the bulging chest freezer in the garage, which can never be defrosted because it contains far too much food to fit into freezer bags and bathtubs.

Aha, I hear you cry. Why not eat some of the food first, then defrost it?

I did once spend a few weeks chiselling ancient chickens out of the upper layers. This merely sent my mother into a wartime rationing-related panic, which saw her buying two chickens and a duck for every fowl that was excavated, so the attempt was abandoned.

The last time I returned home there were choice cuts of frozen pterodactyl at the back of one of the lower shelves, three mammoth steaks and a tub of Coronation Dodo. And a clutch of ammonites, that I’m certain would be of great scientific interest if only we could prise them out of the blue ice strata. Oh, and the garage was full of paleontologists standing around discussing core samples.

(Well, it could have been.)

It makes me think my ice cube fad is perfectly sane, in comparison. Even if the occasional error does lead to startled guests discovering unidentified bits of shrubbery defrosting in their G&T

Natasha’s thoughts for our Spring 2014 issue, on wildlife in the British countryside, come after spending some time sitting on a tuffet

If I had thought about the animal kingdom at all, I’d imagined it would be restricted to the normal rural idyll — nothing more challenging than a few sheep gazing over the back garden fence, maybe the odd hedgehog trundling up to see what the sheep were finding so interesting, that sort of thing. The day a tiny child lurched into the house, happily shrieking, ‘Sheeps! Sheeps!’ while a woolly head watched interestedly on, was nothing short of lovely. Baa-ings and the cries of hysterically excited toddlers resounded across the garden, to the fields and beyond, and all our life decisions suddenly seemed to be justified.

But with fields, come field spiders. Great big ones.

Obviously I don’t mind spiders. All part of the circle of life and so on.

They’re fond of bathrooms. This morning, in the shower, a large-ish specimen was spinning oddly on a thread near the taps. Being a conscientous David Attenborough fan, I took care not to splash it or disturb its little world. Then I realised the spider was not spinning idly. The reason it was swinging about was that it had a small beetle pinioned between its legs, from which it was rapturously sucking the life juices.

It was a bit quease-making, to be honest, so I cut the shower short.

As I leaned over the sink to brush my teeth, two more eight-leggers popped (quite literally) out of the woodwork. The smaller of the two entered into a Dance Of Death with the larger — a prospective mate, it seemed; but not a very enthusiastic one. She lunged; he jumped a startling distance backwards (to be fair, so did I). She appeared to enter a trance. He advanced again; I swear there was an audible snap as her mandibles closed on the air he had vacated a split second before.

I closed the bathroom door with the uncomfortable suspicion that, freed from the restraining effects of a human witness, scenes of undreamt-of savagery would be erupting in a dark arachnid world of horror.

I wasn’t driven out of the bathroom by spiders. I want to make that clear. That would be ridiculous in a bona fide country-dweller like me, as opposed to some citified weakling.

What has this to do with food? Nothing. Breakfast was cereal again. I didn’t fancy frying any fat, juicy, grublike sausages, or black pudding. (I see now that the crumbly bits look exactly like disintegrating bluebottle.)

Aaaaaaanyway. You must excuse me, while I return to the bathroom where a little job awaits. A part of the natural rhythms that we country folk accept as part of the cycles of life.

I have to wash Madame Wincy’s silk-wrapped, mummified ex-suitor out of the soap dish

Tales from the Mosh Pit: the Exciting Food Diary of a Globetrotting DJ

Matt author pic 2OFF THE PLATE:
DJ DIET

DJ Matt Thomas has sampled many street and secret foods in his 13 years of world touring. In our Spring 2014 issue he answered The Taster’s questions about life, and cuisine, on the road

THE TASTER: Do you get a lot of free lunches?
MATT: It’s usually only when you go abroad that you get taken out to dinner. And if you go somewhere really exotic then, unless you explain you’re interested in food, you’ll be taken somewhere pretty safe. They think you want pasta; you have to tell them you’ve done swimming in the shallows, now you want the good stuff. Until I twigged this, I spent a lot of time in hotel restaurants eating Estonian versions of Italian pasta dishes, or generic American steak & chips. Or else they take you somewhere fancy, somewhere they think is going to impress you. There’s a bit of a fashion among DJs at the moment to frequent a certain Japanese chain — but, whether you’re eating junk or fine dining, what’s the point of travelling 16 hours just to eat something homogeneous?

So how do you find the good stuff?
After a while I came up with the key phrase, ‘Please take me where you go yourself when you’ve finished work and can’t be bothered cooking.’ That’s the best way. Local food is often really wow and off the plate, but you have to make it clear you’re willing to take the risk.

Have your hosts ever tried to warn you off the local food?
I’ve encountered gentle resistance in Japan. In Indonesia, they do a lot of frogs’ legs but they were hesitant about telling me about them. Once, on a five-day trip to Jakarta, my guide played it safe by taking me to a restaurant where they fill your table with 40 dishes, a bit like tapas.
Anything you don’t touch, they take away after 10 minutes, to be replaced by yet more plates. I found eight or nine things I ate quite happily. Each day after that, as my guide saw me eating more and more exotic stuff, he got more confident. By the fifth day, he’d grown bold enough to take me to this appalling-looking place. He actually said, ‘I know it looks bad, but no-one’s ever gone to hospital.’ It had a wooden heated cabinet with a glass front that was opaque with what looked like decades-old sprays of grease. Peeping through the murk, you saw this vision of entrails and unidentifiable animal body parts. I have no idea what I ate. I asked my guide to bring me whatever was tasty, I couldn’t choose because it all looked so awful. I don’t know what he brought me, but it was quite nice.

What’s the most magnificent spread you’ve ever seen?
Ten years ago, I was taken around Tokyo by a promoter who’d trained as a classical Japanese chef. He was unbelievably picky about what he ate and, also, he knew every hidden door and room that tourists never see. He took us to a tiny little place with two tables seating 16 diners. In the kitchen was an old guy, I guess in his 60s, cooking everything on his own. Each dish was only two mouthfuls and every one was perfect. I had one single cube of the most unbelievable slow-cooked pork I’ve ever, ever eaten. The fat had turned into a gossamer millefeuille crispy nothing. It evaporated as you bit into it. That is my favourite mouthful of food in my lifetime, to date.

Have you noticed any shifts in culinary cultures, across the globe?
American food has definitely got worse, in the sense that access to good food has become harder. It’s still there, but it’s difficult to find. In the late 1990s, in JFK Airport, you could get stunning classic American deli sandwiches — pastrami with pickles, for example — from little boutique places. But now corporatisation has taken over, it’s all McDonald’s and chain sandwich bars. The bread is full of sugar, the meat is bright red but tastes of nothing. Those places that fought their corner on making stuff that tasted fantastic, they are no longer winning.

Are any countries improving?
East European countries are more palatable for Westerners than they were when I started out. It’s a two-way process — British supermarkets often have Polish sections now, so consumers are more familiar with the ingredients — but East Europeans have definitely started blending their regional dishes with Western standards of cuisine.
Lithuanian food can be quite challenging: Lithuanian cooks use a lot of fat, and they like quite bitter tastes. One of my worst experiences was when they threw us in the deep end, in a themed historical Lithuanian restaurant in 2004: all peasant stews and steamed puddings — the first time I tried it, it was just awful. But now I sort of get it. I even like zeppelinai, which is a starchy potato mash moulded around a mince filling, and the whole thing steeped in oil. It’s a seriously lardy dish.

Worst ever food experience:
Once, for my official Christmas dinner, on a plane to Bratislava, I had turkey-flavoured salami. Official.
In 2001, I played a club in Moscow that didn’t exist. It was a horrible club: all about privilege and exclusion, its only purpose was for people to display they were rich and connected enough to get in. The clever trick was it really didn’t exist. Every time it played, the organisors built the entire club, from scratch, in the courtyard of a ministry building. They put in floors, stairs, everything. The curtains were hung on the outside of the ministry windows. When you came back the day after the gig, it was all gone.
When I arrived with my crew, the ‘club’ was blacked out because they were still putting the lighting rig together. The club had arranged a dinner of squid ink pasta and mussels for us. So we were sitting in a blacked-out room, eating black pasta with black mussels. I’ve had seafood poisoning before so I was being very careful, locating the mussels by touch. But then, somehow, I put a round bubbly thing in my mouth and it exploded. Soft and rotten. I almost threw up on the spot. It had popped and sprayed all over the inside of my mouth, I was envisaging being hospitalised after being infected with this thing. And then
. . . thank God, I realised my mouth was full of the flavour of a cherry
tomato.

What are the in-crowd quaffing these days?
Depends where you go! Corona is the big one in a lot of clubs now; also Jägermeister. The blingy drink is still Grey Goose vodka.

What’s your favourite country to eat in?
The level of food literacy, of expectations, in Australia is stunning. The Asian and Pacific cuisines there are unbelievable; Melbourne, in particular, has cafés and restaurants that are just staggering. The breadth of cuisines available in the suburbs is extraordinary; you get something similar in London but it’s more or less concentrated in the city centre. In Australia, it’s everywhere.

Have you ever been homesick for a specific food or dish?
Curry. I once spent six months in Australia. Their food annihalates ours in every way, except that they have not one decent curry house. It’s heartbreaking. They have curry houses, but whatever happened in the UK with Indian food just didn’t happen in Oz.

Do you have a favourite food to take on tour with you?
Snickers. Many countries now have nothing but awful American chocolate. And when you’re dying of a hangover, and the car has come to take you to the airport and there’s no time to eat, you need a Snickers.

Talking of Snickers (and seeing as this is The Taster’s chocolate issue), have you any further thoughts on chocolate?
Love it. Outside the UK it’s often awful. American chocolate is a tragedy. My fave is Freddo Frog. Cadbury’s. Freddo originally came from Australia (along with Caramello Koala — I’ve looked into this). I once saw a giant Freddo in an Australian petrol station and almost fainted — my dream chocolate, made five times bigger than normal — I reached out with trembling fingers but then a voice inside my head pointed out that, yes, but it’s Australian Freddo so it’ll taste of ashes. So I didn’t buy one. It would have hurt too much to taste the ashy giant Freddo and I couldn’t take that chance

 

Matt DJs, mixes and plays keyboards. Marvel at his work on kingunique.com

For Matt’s thoughts on speciality hamburgers in Kuala Lumpur, see our back issues section or get Back Issue 1. Continue reading for his thoughts on Indonesian noodles, from Issue 2:

Matt author pic 2oodles of noodles and
packets of bliss in indonesia

During 13 years of world touring, DJ Matt Thomas has sampled many odd, street, and secret foods. Here, he considers the philosophy & flavours of exotic packet noodles. Foodies of a nervous disposition, look away now.

More than anywhere else on the globe, Jakarta — the capital city of Indonesia, with a population to rival that of London — truly seethes with humanity. To take a night-time drive through the backstreets is the nearest a car journey can come to clinging onto a raft. Your vehicle progresses at the whim of a great, slow, river of people; while shoals of motorbikes spill freely across roads & pavements.

Noodles

There are more populous cities, but in none I have seen does life seem to be so much lived on the street. — All around, people talk, idle, shop in roadside kiosks, watch TV on tiny front porches, play cards on any available surface, shout into their ubiquitous Blackberrys, drink and eat. Oh yes, gentle reader, they most certainly eat. And if anything can claim to be the pin-up star of their cuisine, it is the noodle. Where British takeaway food has the chip-shop, Indonesia has the Mi Goreng fried noodle stall. This fixture of Jakartan streets offers freshly fried noodle dishes in a myriad varieties, featuring ingredients including (but not limited to) cabbage, pak choi, crispy fried spring onion, egg (poached, fried or scrambled), potato, cheese, chilli, sausage, shrimp, and the local favourite — corned beef.

moshpitcollageIn Britain, our experience of ‘real’ Asian cooking often comes via TV chefs. My experience suggests they may suffer from an ‘excess of authenticity’: an idealized world, in which only the most exotic ingredients jostle with each other in an artfully seasoned wok, possibly passed down since the Tang Dynasty, before being arrayed on a beautiful square plate on strict feng-shui principles.

By contrast, it was a happy shock to see Jakartians standing in the street, merrily heaping grated cheddar cheese onto noodles. For me, it was a sight to dissolve imaginary taboos. This reality, of dollops of ketchup & crispy fried eggs, is the little secret some of our more celebrated chefs endlessly deny us, an idea of Indonesian food no more grounded in reality than the emperor’s new clothes.

I spent five blissful days scoffing my way round Jakarta (and two nights DJ-ing, clad in — having seized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — the club’s enormous cuddly foam potato mascot outfit). I noticed that, just as the British artisan triple-fried chip has its more prosaic counterpart in the humble oven chip, so the authentic fried noodle has its instant equivalent. Indonesia has the largest instant noodle company on the planet (Indofood), which makes around 10 billion packs a year.

Before I got in the car back to the airport, my host and food-guru, Andrew Zulcarnain, ventured out with me on a special shopping mission. We parked at a local market building, underwent the obligatory mirror-under-the-car bomb check (such checks had engendered much contemplation of my personal safety when I first arrived in Jakarta; but having failed to explode for five days, I became blasé about the process) and trotted merrily inside.

We weaved through lanes of market stalls to reach a supermarket at the back of the building, where Andrew ushered me into what appeared to be Noodle Mecca. Two entire aisles of instant noodles were stacked to the ceiling, as in an Ikea warehouse, as bright & gaudy as a Hello Kitty convention. Gently pushing through the throng, Andrew drew me along the packed aisle, spurning the colourful lure of lesser brands that might tempt the noodle novice, until he located his favoured flavours — the Mi Goreng shelves. I returned to the airport with a bag of Indonesian staples — a spicy Rendang sauce (for a delicious, dry, curry-like dish); a jar of Nasi Goreng paste; and several packets of flavoured noodles produced by SuperMi, Indomie, and Mi Sedaap.

So, what turns a bowl of otherwise ordinary instant ramen into the full glory of the Mi Goreng experience? The answer lies in the five sachets per packet — yes, five sachets, a cornucopia of condiment. (To think, that I was previously confident that Smith’s Salt’n’Shake crisps were the apogee of sachet-centric excitement.) While the noodles bubble away you have a couple of minutes to inspect these pockets of delight: Minyak Bumbu, a thick orange oil, the specific contents depending on the flavour of noodle; Kecap, a thick sweet Indonesian soy sauce; Cabe, a zingy powdered chilli; Bumbu Sauce, a seasoning powder which can be added to the noodle water to make noodle soup; and Bawang Goreng, tiny pieces of crunchy fried spring onion.

How & when you deploy the sachets is part of the fun/a matter of life or death, depending on which noodle blog you read. I favour the ‘drain-till-dry, then toss ’em all in’ approach. Connoisseurs might hold the spring onions back while mixing the other flavours through; they can then be deployed as a garnish with undiminished crunchiness.

The combinations are endless, even before you’ve decided on the flavour of Mi Goreng. The Indomie brand offers Beef Rendang, Satay, and Pedas (Hot & Spicy) flavours, all of which deliver more than a nod to the dishes they draw their names from (unlike many of their tamer European counterparts). Mi Sedaap offers Goreng Asli, notorious for its crunchy fried onions; and Sambal Goreng, which tickles the taste-buds with hot & limey spice. But my guide, Andrew, preferred SuperMi noodles above all others.

Mi Goreng is most often eaten as part of a large, simple meal. Many of these are prepared in little more time than the noodles themselves. Indomie Mi Goreng, telor & kornet (noodles, fried egg & corned beef) is a prime example. The noodles are boiled along with vegetables such as pak choi, drained & stir-fried with the sachet flavourings, white pepper & maybe a dash of ABC Kecap Manis, then served with corned beef (fried or plain), fried egg & fried shallots.

It was enough to make my mouth water, for the first time in my life, at the thought of corned beef.

I hope these insights into the world of exotic low-cuisine might provide some help for those ‘food-face-fill’ moments. When we’re too tired for culinary creation, why not — instead of throwing yet another pizza in the oven — eat the most tasty, enjoyable & zingy instant noodles money can buy. And the good news is, you don’t have to trek to Jakarta. Authentic, made-in-Indonesia Indomie noodles are already on sale in some Asian-speciality grocers, or from www.indomie.co.uk. Put back those lesser noodles & try these little beauties.

ROAST PORK

If you’ve been to a food fair recently, you may well have scented the luscious aroma of hog roast on the air. Here, The Taster presents two paeans to pork, written almost 200 years apart. In his sensuous modern novel, The Food of Love, Anthony Capella describes a turning-point in the life of a lovelorn Italian chef. Further on, Charles Lamb gives a poetical view of the ‘child-pig’.

2004

The Food of Love, Anthony Capella 

Food of loveBruno rounded the corner of the piazza — which was hardly a piazza at all, but an open space around which the houses and a church were grouped. Outside a tiny bar, someone had set up a makeshift spit over a fire. A few people were milling around it, tending to the golden-brown piglet that was slowly rotating above the hot embers. Chairs and tables had been dragged out into the evening sun, someone was fingering an accordion, and one or two elderly people were dancing.

The piglet was a deep honey colour, its back blistered and split open where salt had been rubbed into it for crackling, and the ears, nose and tail were covered with individual caps of tinfoil to prevent these delicacies from burning in the intense heat. Even now several people were fussing over it: one turning it, another basting it with a lump of lard on a skewer, while a slim figure in an apron and a headscarf was opening the meat up with a sharp knife to see if the middle was done.

Stuffed whole suckling pig is a feast-day speciality everywhere in Italy, although each region cooks it slightly differently. In Rome the piglet would be stuffed with its own fried organs; in Sardinia, with a mixture of lemons and minced meat. Here, evidently, the stuffing was made with breadcrumbs and herbs…

He could make out each individual component of the mixture: finocchio selvatico — wild fennel — garlic, rosemary and olives, mingling with the smell of burning pork fat from the fire, which spat green flame briefly wherever the juices from the little pig, running down its trotters, dropped into it.

‘Hello,’ Bruno said politely to the person nearest to him. ‘My van has broken down and I’m looking for somewhere to stay the night.’

. . . Someone put a glass of wine in front of him, and a plate containing a few squares of crispy pork skin. He ate them gratefully, by now very hungry indeed. Eventually, after much discussion, the porchetta was lifted away from the heat to rest. But first, of course, there was pasta — great bowls of fresh green tagliatelle, made with spinach and just a hint of nutmeg, served with fagiole — fresh beans — and a little goose broth. No, not spinach after all, Bruno decided after a second taste: the green was from young stinging nettles. Rather to his surprise, it was excellent.

He was by now squashed between two large women, their accents so thick he could barely understand what they were saying. The gist seemed to be that someone had borrowed a tractor from someone else, but the brakes didn’t work properly, and then it had hit this poor three-legged piglet and killed it, so of course it had to be eaten straight away.  Trying to make a joke of it, Bruno remarked that in Rome all pigs had three legs, only for his comment to be passed up and down the table as seriously as if he had said that he was personally acquainted with the Pope. After that he tried to keep his mouth shut, except when he was eating.

This wasn’t difficult, since the porchetta was delicious. It was handed round not on plates, but wrapped in myrtle leaves, so that the bitter flavour permeated the meat. Everyone else had fallen silent too, and the only sounds were the satisfied sighs of the diners and the crunch of bones being chewed. The only light came from a couple of tiny candles and the deep red embers of the fire. Finally the bones were removed, or thrown to the small army of waiting dogs, and bowls of fresh peaches were brought out, served sliced and covered in sweet wine. Then the accordion struck up again.

. . . Someone sat down in the large lady’s place, and he turned to find that it was Gusta’s daughter. She had changed out of her cooking clothes and was now wearing a long, dark dress; a patchwork of silks and other shimmering materials. There was something almost Romany about it . . . Her hair was dark; as dark as the night behind it.

Lobster roast pork double
Anthony Capella is a food enthusiast and writer. This abridged extract is from The Food of Love paperback published by Time Warner Books  in 2004; the book has been translated into 19 languages and optioned for the screen www.anthonycapella.com

1825

A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig, Charles Lamb

. . . Of all the delicacies in the whole mundus edibilis, I will maintain it to be the most delicate. I speak not of your grown porkers — things between pig and pork — those hobbydehoys — but a young and tender suckling — under a moon old — guiltless as yet of the sty — with no original speck of the amor immunditiae [impure desires] yet manifest — his voice as yet not broken, but something between a childish treble, and a grumble — the mild forerunner of a grunt.

He must be roasted. I am not ignorant that our ancestors ate them seethed, or boiled — but what a sacrifice of the exterior tegument!

There is no flavour comparable, I will contend, to that of the crisp, tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted, crackling, as it is well called. The very teeth are invited to their share of the pleasure at this banquet in overcoming the coy, brittle resistance — with the adhesive oleaginous — O, call it not fat! — but an indefinable sweetness growing up to it — the tender blossoming of fat — fat cropped in the bud — taken in the shoot, in the first innocence — the cream and quintessence of the child-pig’s yet pure food — the lean, no lean, but a kind of animal manna — or, rather, fat and lean (if it must be so) so blended and running into each other, that both together make but one ambrosian result, or common substance.

Behold him, while he is doing — it seemeth rather a refreshing warmth, than a scorching heat, that he is so passive to. How equably he twirleth round the string! — Now he is just done. To see the extreme sensibility of that tender age, he hath wept out his pretty eyes — radiant jellies — shooting stars —

See him in the dish, his second cradle, how meek he lieth. Wouldst thou have had this innocent grow up to the grossness and indocility which too often accompany maturer swinehood? Ten to one he would have proved a glutton, a sloven, an obstinate, disagreeable animal — wallowing in all manner of filthy conversation. From these sins he is happily snatched away,

Ere sin could blight, or sorrow fade
Death came with timely care

He is the best of Savors. Pine-apple is great. She is indeed almost too transcendent . . .  too ravishing for mortal taste, she woundeth and excoriateth the lips that approach her. She is a pleasure bordering on pain — but she stoppeth at the palate — she meddleth not with the appetite — and the coarsest hunger might barter her consistently for a mutton chop.
Pig — let me speak his praise — is no less provocative of the appetite, than he is satisfactory to the criticalness of the palate. The strong man may batten on him, and the weakling refuseth not his mild juices.

Unlike to mankind’s mixed characters, a bundle of virtues and vices, inexplicably intertwisted, he is good throughout. No part of him is better or worse than another. He helpeth, as far as his little means extend, all around. He is the least envious of banquets. He is all neighbours’ fare.

His sauce should be considered. Decidedly, a few bread crumbs, done up with his liver and brains, and a dash of mild sage. But, banish, dear Mrs. Cook, I beseech you, the whole onion tribe. Barbecue your whole hogs to your palate, steep them in shalots, stuff them out with plantations of the rank and guilty garlic — but consider, he is a weakling — a flower.

A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig is one of Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia, which began appearing in The London Magazine in 1820. Lamb (1775-1834) had a distinctive quirky style which has always ensured him a cult following. As well as the Essays, he and his sister Mary are best known for their Tales From Shakespeare. The Charles Lamb Society is still going strong (charleslambsociety.com), as is the Bulletin, its long-running journal devoted to ‘all things Elian’.

THE NOBLE HAGGIS

Anyone who is interested in food will enjoy Burns Night and, more particularly, the Haggis. Culinary legend, symbol, and delight, its earthy flavours reflect the sere, austere, haunting landscape of its origin; of reflected worlds in mountain lakes, of untamed stags and quite possibly Jurassic waterlife. The Taster salutes the Haggis, compliments him on his Tartan, and suggests the following for a Traditional Burns Night Supper.

Preparations
You need not be Scots to host a Burns Night. All you need do is use the term ‘Scots’ (as opposed to ‘Scottish,’ the mark of an irredeemable Sassenach) and never spell Whisky with an E (that would be Oirish Whiskey, an it please yer honour). Just ask a Scots chum or two to Address the Haggis. The Taster is pleased to report that, the one time it did this, it transpired that none of the Glaswegian and Edinburgh personalities so invited had ever Addressed the Haggis in their lives; and they were very pleased to be asked to do so.

Piping in the Guests
A piper welcomes the guests. If you can’t source a traditionally-clad piper, a download of Scottish Airs will do.

Selkirk Grace
A short but important prayer, to be read by the Host (or designated speaker). Also known as Burns’s Grace at Kirkcudbright (pronounced “kurk-uh-bruh”). It goes: ‘Some hae meat and canna eat / And some wad eat that want it / But we hae meat and we can eat / And sae the Lord be thankit’

Piping in the Haggis
Guests stand to welcome the star attraction, ideally delivered on a silver platter by a procession of: Chef, Piper (or Bearer of the Ceremonial iPod), Those Who Will Address the Haggis, and Whisky-Bearers. Guests clap in time to the music until the Haggis reaches the table.

Addressing the Haggis
The Haggis-Carver/Addresser now seizes his, or her, moment of glory. They may ad-lib, if they wish, or (given the pressure of expectation) read from a script. They cut the Haggis along its length (“trenching its gushing entrails”) at the appropriate point. (It may be advisable to make a small cut in the Haggis beforehand in the privacy of the kitchen, to allow the escape of steam and prevent any superheated explosions of gore all over the guests.) During the final, triumphant line — ‘Gie her a haggis!’ — the Addresser should raise the Haggis to at least shoulder-height, to which the audience should respond with rapturous applause.

Toast to the Haggis
The Speaker requests the audience to join in the toast: typically, “The Haggis!” The Haggis may be baptised afresh with a splash of neat whisky before serving. If the procession withdraws for its noble cause (to be cut up in the kitchen), guests should clap during the withdrawal.

Menu
The traditional starter would be cock-a-leekie soup. This may be prepared according to tradition, requiring anything up to 24 hours’ hard labour beforehand; alternatively, we understand, a tinned version is available. For the main course, the Haggis is accompanied by neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes — as nice as you choose to make them, with cream, butter, nutmeg etc); followed by sherry trifle or ‘clootie dumpling’ (search online); cheese and bannocks (flatbread — search online again); and malt whisky. Scots salmon and/or vegetarian haggis are also acceptable.

Entertainment
Burns songs and readings. Or perhaps not. It depends how many literature graduates you know/are able to inveigle into the evening, However proceedings go, though, it is only polite to conclude them with a Toast to the Memory of Robert Burns.

Auld Lang Syne
The Host requests guests to stand and belt out a rousing rendition of the famous tune. Carriages home will then, if the Host has any sense, be ordered.

For Auld Lang Syne, my dears — for Auld Lang Syne!

(For the wording of the Address and Auld Lang Syne, buy a copy of The Taster – see “Want to Subscribe?” on the home page.)

Lobster Haggis