The day has arrived and the UK will decide its fate in a few short hours of whether it remains part of the European Union or shuffles off into the sunset solo. I thought it would be improper if Gastrotastic didn’t wade into the debate. Before, anyone decries me for having no business in the matter, having married and decamped to leafy and very far away from Blighty Lagos, I have strong credentials to get involved: firstly, I was born in the UK, Kent no less, the child of, whisper it, migrants, although back in the day the term was ‘political refugee’!
Some of the most vivid memories I have are not just of the trips to Brixton Market to get the ingredients to chow down on all things UG, but of trips to the delicatessen to discover the wonders of Europe via their amazing food. My mother, who as a young woman had travelled across much of Europe was always keen to instill with us a spirit of culinary adventure. And so our first trips to the various delicatessens dotted across London were all about discovering the textures and flavours of our new home. Add to this our family’s love of a slap up meal and dining out was added to the mix of foodie forays.
In case you hadn’t guessed I am completely #TeamRemain, but if you are still unconvinced by the food benefits our continental cousins have brought to your table, check out my food favourites from Europe, whittled down from an epic long list! And a little love letter to my UK favourites too!
Wow, those Hapsburgs were not playing when it came to cakes and puddings! If you can tear yourself away from snapping everything in 1st District in Vienna (old-school architecture porn if there ever was), then get yourself to a proper old school coffee house and order slice of Sachertorte. Chocolate cakes have been done in many a variation…and oftentimes the magic comes in the additions but apricot jam with another layer of dark chocolate on top is my official version of choco-heaven. The tart apricot brings the surprise to proceedings, and the dark chocolate icing is so gloriously luxe and decadent. This is grown up pudding eating. Fine, you can have some whipped cream on the side, but absolutely no sugary additions, dare to submit to death by chocolate. The best one I have had EVER was, obvs in Vienna in the Café Gloriette, overlooking the summer palace, as you do.
Okay, I know everyone would have assumed that I would opt for their biggest luxury food export which is chocolate, but Austria got their first with the choco=accolades. For me, the best thing food wise from Belgium is not moules-frites (although they are fan-f’ing-tastic), or beer (I am overall not a fan of the hops) but it is their pâté. And in particular Ardennes Pate. Consisting of an unholy trinity of pork fillet, pork liver and pork belly, this is the one pâté I defy anyone not to enjoy eating. Best with super thin cut baguette, lightly toasted and if you are really making things festive Gastrotastic style with a couple of cornichons on top.
Tarte aux Citron, Steak Tartare, Vacherin, Champagne, Bouillabaisse,
This whole post could be about French food, and I am not just referring to the spectacular-spectacular that is the cuisine in its fine-dining format. Let’s be honest here, even a ham sandwich is taken to the next level by our Gallic cousins! But if I am forced to distil it to my five greatest hits; for pudding I would say Tarte au Citron because NO ONE does patisserie like the French, and the sharp demi-sweet filling with the shortest of pastries is heaven.
Next on this list is steak tartare; the genius lies in the elevation of raw ingredients into something magical (beef, egg, chopped onions and capers) could only ever be French.
For cheese it is all about baked Vacherin, although an honorable mention to the wonders of ripe Brie both chomped with the perfect baguette, although purists might beg to differ.
To drink, my happy=place will always include a glass of chilled champagne; as Winston Churchill quipped; ‘in victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it’; but let all the pretenders (I am talking to you Cava, Prosecco and Sekt), bow down and concede that no one does fizz quite like the French do! Last, and definitely not least is Bouillabaisse. This is NOT a fish soup. This is an ode to the sea and all her edible treasures. You really cannot go wrong if you team robust familiar friends from the ocean such as turbot, monkfish and mullet with inexpensive and undesirable cousins such as rockfish and sea robin. Shellfish are a must from mussels to crab and if one is blowing the budget a langoustine artfully placed atop makes this last supper of one’s life worthy.
Say Irish cuisine and the first thing that normally people reply is Guinness or whiskey if they are the sort to have a liquid supper and if not then potatoes. But for me, it is the wonder that is Colcannon that everyone who visits Ireland should have at least ONCE in their life. Before the likes of Gwyneth and Beyonce got Kale into the public consciousness and firmly aligned with the clean eating movement, there was Colcannon. An incredibly delicious combination of potatoes, kale (or cabbage if you prefer), butter, cream and black pepper. You see, definitely BEFORE the clean eating movement, but ambrosial in flavour and texture and the ultimate winter warmer dish. Some accompany this with some sort of meat, but I have been known to eat whole bowls of the stuff all by itself.
PARMA HAM, MOZZARELLA, SPAGHETTI VONGOLE, RISOTTO, PORCINI, PARMAGIANA
Trying to write about Italian food like French is a complete stresser, because so much of it has punctuated my every-day, that it is hard to keep things brief. A month without pasta is like some sort of purgatory. Parma Ham, to me the king of all cured meats when on an antipasti plate that must include buffalo Mozzarella, grilled artichokes and vine ripened tomatoes drizzled with olive oil is a human rights issue.
Risotto teamed with porcini mushrooms are an earthy delight and if we are pimping our ride, shaved truffles on most things is the equivalent of hiring a string quartet to play Vivaldi whilst you dine at your kitchen table. Parmagiana eaten on its own, shaved on dishes, dipped in balsamic is waxy, creamy, wonderful. Dishes wise I am back in planet Pasta, this time Spaghetti Vongole: whether you do it Bianco with garlic, parsley, and olive oil or Rosso with the addition of tomatoes and basil, the clams, the stars of the dish, must be cooked quickly to avoid being a chewy mess and served hot.
SUNDAY ROASTS AND A FULL-ENGLISH
The era of being sniffy about British cuisine is over. About British chefs even less so. Many would argue that London long took over as the world’s food capital in terms of variety, excellent execution and cutting edge conceptual cooking. But let’s take a step back, keep things confined in these fair isles and distil to the essentials. For me typing this thousands of miles away in Lagos there are two meals with metronome regularity that I crave for that are from Blighty: a full-English Breakfast and a traditional Sunday Roast. A breakfast of champions, the sort that makes the rest of the day’s successes and failures secondary consists of two eggs (fried or poached but the yolk must run, run , run!) and nestled to the side are sausages. This is where I do sound a little bit little Englander, no one, but no one comes near the British sausage, Brautwurst whatever, Toulouse, too bad, God bless the British Sausage!! Lincolnshire and Cumberland please and make that two because I am greedy. Bacon cannot be forgotten and for me streaky rather than back is the way to go, and it must be cooked a little bit on the crisp side so that there is a contrast with the sausage. A grilled tomato is a must as are baked beans and a mountain of hot buttered toast and a bottomless cup of tea! Do this once at one of London’s Grand Hotels – Claridges, The Ritz, The Savoy all completely represent or equally nice in a different kind of way an old-school greasy spoon in a gritty neighbourhood.
My perfect Sunday involves Church followed by a traditional Sunday Lunch with all of the Sunday Papers strewn in front of me and nothing too taxing planned for Monday morning! Yes, roast lamb, pork and chicken are perfectly nice but for me it is all about Roast Beef, ideally Scottish and I am cool with topside or rib, it just must be beef and ideally still rosy pink in the middle. Horseradish sauce is the only condiment that will do. Potatoes MUST be roasted and done so in goose or duck fat. We can talk about cardiac issues in another post. Vegetables, be they leafy, like chard, cabbage, kale and spinach or floret in form such as broccoli and cauliflower, all are welcome, just NEVER overcooked. Gravy not from a packet but from a long suffering stock is an essential and Yorkshire pudding is a do or die affair. So many places try and perfect this but there are only two places to enjoy a traditional roast, either at someone’s house, as the carb coma that follows is no joke and you might need to recline, or in a pub where leisurely drinking can continue until you can move again.
So there we have it, my European Food greatest hits! A shout out to Spain for Manchego, Serrano, Paella and Quince. Thank you Sweden for the wonder that is Gravlax. Portugal small yet mighty and home to Port and Natas. Greece, things might have been a ‘mare of late but summer is not summer without vine leaves, Tzatziki and Taramasalata.
If this delicious food odyssey hasn’t persuaded you to vote #remain and continue being part of the glorious European food family, nothing will!