A Fork in the Road
regular feature on traveling and dining. She will also list
any culinary points of interest in the featured region.
A Fork in the Road:
Letters on Traveling and Dining
of fire, crisp, slightly charred, with smoke its only seasoning,
the duck was sublime, one morsel enough to produce a moan. Roasted
by my friend Alice Ross--who teaches historical cooking on Long
Island--its perfection had been achieved by hanging it from
a bottle jack (or vertical spit) that turned it slowly in front
of the flames on her hearth. But lusciousness is only one of
the reasons the memory of that duck is with me still.
more important is that when I bit into it, I felt transported
to a different time, one when that singular ingredient--fireplace
smoke--was a familiar accent in most of the cooked foods a
family ate. The texture and flavor of the duck were subtly
different from that of any bird I had ever eaten before, and,
by providing a taste of the past, they opened my eyes--and
mouth--to the idea of what I now think of as edible history.
that is how I came to begin this "A Fork in the Road" on London
with the story of a meal eaten in the United States.
I had been interested in the history of American food before
that. But Alice's duck made me understand that I could learn
about it not only by reading, but by eating, by using my senses
and my mouth. That, in turn, made me see that I could learn
to understand more about less-familiar cultures in the same
way. Traditional foods and flavors chronicle a country's past.
(That may seem obvious, but not all of us realize it.) Think,
for example, of fish and chips, jellied eel, and curries,
each, in their own way, a traditional English food with some
to do a column about these dishes. But, on the assumption
that playgoing is on the must list of any of you who visits
this great theater city--its oldest standing playhouse, the
Theatre Royal Drury Lane, was first opened in 1663--I also
wanted to write about eating in the West End, London's major
theater area. Finally, I combined the two.
it was to the Marquess of Angelesey, a Covent Garden pub,
that we headed in search of food after an evening show, wanting
to calm our hunger with that famous English specialty, fish
and chips (the English refer to the latter as "chipped potatoes";
we call them "french fries"). There, overlooking the area
where George Bernard Shaw's Eliza Doolittle hawked her flowers
in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, close to the
Royal Opera House, St.Paul's (the exquisite 17th-century Inigo
Jones church), as well as myriad boutiques and restaurants,
we were served perfectly fried pieces of fresh cod in beer
batter accompanied by an equally well-prepared heap of crunchy
chips. Lightly sprinkled with salt and a little malt vinegar,
every mouthful was a pleasure.
a traditional combination, fish and chips is said to have
had its beginnings in the second half of the 19th century
among the English working class in the industrial North, as
well as in London. (Malin's, thought to have been the city's
oldest fish-and-chips shop, was founded in London's East End
in 1868.) Though probably better now than it was back then,
when the frying oil was likely to be overused and the fish
possibly not the best, this is still humble fare. But when
it is good it is more satisfying than one would ever imagine
it to be. Try it accompanied by a Young's Lager.
of Anglesey, 39 Bow Street, WC2E, (0171) 240-3216.
Anguilla, the common eel, may not be a food to make most Americans
lick their lips. In fact, few of us will even try this succulent
fish. But how wrong we are. As the English know well, eel,
properly cooked, is among the tastiest of all water creatures.
(Improperly cooked, this delicacy, which begins its life as
tiny spawn near the Sargasso Sea, can bounce like a rubber
ball and taste like one, too.)
are a variety of British eel preparations--eel pie, eel and
mash (eel and mashed potatoes), and eel stew--but it is jellied
eel that concerns us here. Long popular with Cockneys, as
well as other eel-loving types, in its heyday it was generally
hawked from street stalls or bought in special shops.
from little more than the fish itself, and perhaps an onion,
some parsley, and water that according to an e-mail from Philippa
Davenport, esteemed food writer for the London Financial
Times, was in the 19th century often flavored with "chilli
vinegar," it, too, is a very simple preparation. Fancier versions,
says Davenport, might be cooked with cider, or fish stock,
or wine. Most often, the eel gels naturally.
when old-style street fare is less readily had and the specialized
shops are fewer in number, it is more difficult to find examples
of this good dish. I did discover some, however, at Sheekey's,
a recently redone Edwardian fish restaurant that specializes
in traditional British seafood dishes. According to Alan Davidson,
editor of the eagerly-awaited, soon-to-be-published Oxford
Companion to Food, jellied eel found in a restaurant instead
of a street stall, is usually suspect, "a gimmick." But I
was lucky. The glistening eel, an appetizer, was toothsome,
lusty, and truly evocative of times gone by. Try this restaurant,
too, for its potted shrimp, fish pies, and mackerel in mustard
28-32 St. Martin's Court, WC2, tel 0171-240-2565.
slightly farther afield, Veeraswamy, is still within walking
distance of the theaters of the West End. Founded in 1927
by Edward Palmer, a descendant of an English Lieutenant General,
and a Mughal Princess, the establishment, now modernized,
is the oldest Indian restaurant in London.
course, the history of the British and India goes back centuries
before that, beginning with the spice trade and reaching its
apex during the period of the Raj, the days of Empire. As
a result, the colonial British became accustomed to eating
the foods of the subcontinent. Inevitably, therefore, when
the Raj began to fade and many of the crown's subjects found
themselves returning to England, they carried back with them
not only clothes and memories, but a taste for the spicy local
fare. Indian restaurants were one of the results.
appealing second-floor establishment, Veeraswamy has yellow,
green, pumpkin, and purple walls and, among many other decorative
notes, wonderful wooden temple doors. It isn't difficult to
look at some of the objects here and imagine the Indian and
Anglo-Indian worlds in which they were common.
food at Veeraswamy is drawn largely from what was once the
Kingdom of Hyderabad--a wealthy former state, the largest
in all India, and one famous for its sumptuous cuisine. Among
the curries we sampled and loved were the Malabar Prawn Curry
with a sauce of coconut, fresh tamarind, chiles and chunks
of green mango, and a pineapple curry with mustard seeds that
came as a side dish but that we would happily have eaten as
a main course. Also delicious were the crunchy and excellent
lali puri, a kind of wheaten "biscuit" with herbs, potatoes,
and tamarind, mint and chiles, and a great ginger sorbet,
very icy, but with the hot "shock" of the ginger so powerful
that it blasted right through the cold.
Victory House, 99 Regent Street, London W1R 8RS, tel 0171-
who have a professional involvement with food will be delighted
with the following news. K. Dun Gifford, president of the
Cambridge-based Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, has
announced the formation of a new educational collaboration.
Called Oldways Italia, it is the first of several similar
offshoots of Oldways that will be formed in Europe, and, ultimately
elsewhere, with the purpose of establishing exchange programs
to "enable writers, artists, physicians, nutritionists, retailers,
and importers to visit and learn about traditional foods,
wines, and cooking from their counterparts abroad." It is
hoped that such exchanges will help sustain increasingly threatened
"old ways," particularly those that relate to healthy cuisines.
are in Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, because it is
an area in which many old customs are still intact. This beautiful
region is home to foods such as the bread of Altamura (possibly
the best bread I have ever eaten), orecchiette, a small, ear-shaped
pasta whose indentation is perfect for catching sauce; lampusciuni,
bulbs of the wild tassel hyacinth, a specialty; lusty combinations
such as fava beans with chicory; good olive oil and wine;
and a dizzyingly sensuous cheese called burrata--imagine a
little balloon made of fresh mozzarella and filled with cheese
curds in heavy cream. It is also the land of trulli (houses
with conical roofs); of a magnificent style of architecture
called "Apulian Romanesque"; of fields of jewel-green grass
strewn with jewel-red poppies; of centuries-old farmhouses
fortified to hold off brigands; of countryscapes divided by
pale gray dry-stone walls; and of subtle Greek influences
(this was part of Magna Graecia, greater Greece).
chairman of Oldways-Italia is Luciano Sardelli, Minister of
Tourism for the Region of Puglia. Gifford and Sara Baer-Sinnott,
executive vice president of Oldways, also have key roles.
For information, write to Francie King at Oldways@tiac.net.
Food Lover's Guide to Paris
fourth edition of Patricia Wells'
The Food Lover's Guide to Paris has recently
been issued. Surely, one of the best of all gastronomic handbooks,
this indispensable compendium of restaurants, food shops,
recipes, and esprit is as much a guide to the food of dreams
as ever. Published by Workman at $16.95, it is 432 pages long,
and every single one of those pages will seduce you. Even
the index makes one's mouth water. If you don't need to read
this wonderful book for practical purposes (a trip in the
offing), then read it for pure pleasure. Wells is a fine writer
and her ability to bring to life for her readers the places
she describes is one of the great joys of this book. When
you have done reading, you can find even more current news
of the Parisian eating scene at Wells' Website--www.patriciawells.com.
A Worldwide Guide for Travelers
by Ten Speed Press,
Cybercafes: A Worldwide Guide for Travelers
has just appeared in its third edition. The book is light,
small, 350-pages-long, costs $9.95, and lists 650 cybercafes.
The author, whose name is given only as firstname.lastname@example.org.,
evaluates each cafe, gives you some sense of its size, and
lists its address, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address.
Unfortunately, if understandably, only cybercafes that responded
to the author's e-mail inquiries were included. Venice, for
example, which has no listings, in fact does have a place--not
a cybercafe, but a software and video disc store--where you
can check your e-mail. That would have been valuable information
in a city so popular with tourists. The shop is located in
the Calle Lunga alongside Campo Santa Maria Formosa.
it for this time
you down the road.
of A Fork in the Road: Liguria,
Italy; part I