I spend a crazy amount of time watching cookery channels, reading food & culinary magazines, catching up on restaurant reviews and reading cookery books. And when I mean ‘Reading’ cookery books, I mean cover-to-cover… like normal people read novels.
My friends and family know me so well that the safest bet for a Christmas/Birthday gift for me is a cookery book. Their only dilemma lies in how to find one that I don’t already own. I always tell them to look for the most random, weird & unique titles possible and avoid the more popular ‘Usual suspects’. As a result of this, I now own more than 220 carefully chosen food related books (or my bibles as I like to refer to them).
I have books of every description. I collect them. From the popular writings of famous Chefs to books based solely on ingredients (i.e. 50 things to do with Pumpkin), or variations on a particular dish (i.e. 101 Soup recipes). I have books published in French, Italian, Farsi, English and Spanish. I have taught myself to have a pretty good knowledge in these languages for the names of vegetables, meats, fish and so on.
I have recipes for Char-Broiled Squirrel (From South Carolina) to ‘Bastilla’ (Moroccan Pigeon Pie) as well as some of the more tame things like simple pastas, chicken dishes and not forgetting good old Persian ‘Khoresht-e-Ghormeh Sabzi’, which equates to culinary Nirvana for me. I once joked that it they bottle its scent, I would wear it as a Perfume. Eau-de-Ghormeh Sabzi. I like it. It gives a whole new meaning to the Persian saying “Kallash booyeh Ghormeh Sabzi Meedeh” (Her/His head smells of Ghormeh Sabzi) Because in my case that would literally apply!
To further prove my reputation for being a Gastro-Geek… A few years back, during a 2 month stint in hospital, I found that some of my closest friends and family started to bring me cookbooks as gifts, instead of flowers or fruit! Their logic being that a decent bouquet in London costs around £50.00 and that’s the cost of 2 good cookery books. What a lucky girl I am! My favourite read to date is still “Nobu – The cook book” and the story of the trials and tribulations that Chef Patron Nobu Matsuhisa endured, prior to meeting Robert De Niro and becoming an internationally renowned giant in the Culinary world.
London is a veritable ‘Melting-Pot’ of culinary & cultural influences. There is literally not a single cuisine on this earth that you couldn’t find in some cramped corner of this crazy, yet tiny, City. When I travel, I find it much harder to satisfy my bizarre culinary cravings. For example, don’t go to Berlin looking for the perfect Chinese meal. And ‘When in Rome’ or any other part of Italy for that matter, stick to local cuisine. Italians are notoriously patriotic, and the best offerings tend to be local and regional cuisine. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to highlight the latest direction that British Cuisine has started to take. The trend? Using local and seasonal ingredients first. For us Brits, this is a new approach.
But the French will argue that they have been doing it since the beginning of time. Naturally, it’s the French that claim to be first at everything, but they do have a valid point. The Italians, who in my opinion, observe this rule even more than the French have been practising this ethos for even longer. Italy is divided into 20 regions (or Reggia). For example, Naples is in ‘Campania’ and Genoa is in ‘Liguria’. And for the Italians of these various regions, it is literally inconceivable that they would use ingredients native to any other region, other than their own. And why should they? What has worked for them for centuries continues to work for them today. Of course there is the odd exception to every rule, but the smaller the town (i.e. not Cosmopolitan Cities like Rome & Milan) the more you will find people sticking rigorously to their beliefs of using local and seasonal produce.
There is a great divide between the Northern and Southern Italians. Even to this very day, underneath the surface (and also quite blatantly on the surface) they have a scathing hatred for each other. The Northerners see the Southerners as peasants and thieves (despite this being a very ancient and dated stereotype) and the Southerners despise the Northerners for being cold, dull and passion-less elitists. They even call Northerners (rather offensively, I’m assured) “Polentoni” – This refers to their mass consumption of the Northern regional staple of Polenta (Corn meal or Maize meal). But despite this endless silent civil-war, you have to admire the Italians, they certainly know how to enjoy life and the highlight of the average Italians day is meal time. Italians wake up in the morning to hearty breakfast with a Cappuccino. (And just to mention here that Cappuccino is actually a breakfast beverage, and it is a dreadful faux-pas to order a Cappuccino at any other meal time in Italy. Mamma Mia! Don’t do it!)
Lunch is usually a large meal, followed by a 2 hour nap (and yes, they do this midweek too!) and then dinner is the great feast, usually consisting of course-after-course of endless dishes, which tends to last anything up to 4 or 5 hours easily. They start with ‘Antipasti’ (anything from deli meats, to little mouthfuls of cheese or roasted vegetables), followed by ‘Primi Piatti’ (this could be Pasta or a Risotto) and then ‘Secondi Piatti’ (usually meat or fish)… There can often be other courses inserted amongst these, but usually the direction turns to dessert and sweets followed by Liqueurs. To us, this sounds like a substantial wedding feast, and I think our final course would need to consist of ‘Alka Seltzer’ or ‘Pepto Bismol’ but very often this is a simple weekend family meal, nothing special at all, just the usual gathering of their nearest and dearest.
There is something to be said about having regular gatherings around a table of food, with your nearest and dearest. It is definitely in our Persian culture to do this, but sometimes traditions thin-out over the years, and we become estranged to our relatives, and perhaps only get together for Nowrouz and when ‘so-and-so’ is in town. I really do feel food brings people together. Sitting here in my living room, I remember when I was a kid, maybe 6 years old or so, and in this very room I can close my eyes and see all my Grandmother’s cousins laughing and eating. Glamorous, well dressed, elegant women gossiping about things I was too young to understand, but now realise were their own brand of ‘Girly Gossiping’.
To this day, my living room sees its fair share of girly gossiping, and general congregation around whatever food I have prepared. I love nothing more than tempting my friends with the offer of food and good company, as it usually carries a 100% success rate in delivering people to my house! So I tell you, size zero’s can kiss my ass (both the proverbial ass and the fleshy one that I’m sitting on right now). If being thin means I have to restrict my diet to ‘string beans & alfalfa sprouts’ then I’ll pass. Food is the crux of life. Without it, we would have fewer stories to tell each other, and often a meal is the best place to tell our stories to each other. In short, without good food, life would be as bland as a Macro-Biotic diet. So “Eat, Drink & Be Merry” for life is too short!
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