Fryers delight

FISH

 

Sometime during the summer in the early to mid-1980s, when I was living in Kent, two young people came to stay with me from land-locked Hungary. Because travelling opportunities were limited and money was short in the Communist country, people did not travel abroad as much as people in Western Europe. My two guests had never seen the sea, except in photos and on the TV or cinema screen.

One evening, I drove my guests to the Kent coast to see the sea. We parked by a beach. As soon as we had stopped, the two lads leapt out of my car and ran into the sea fully clothed. That is how excited they were to see real waves and the sea.

After experiencing the sea, they asked me about ‘fish and chips’, which their English teacher in Budapest had mentioned. We walked to a nearby fish and chips shop and placed an order. When the fillets of fish arrived wrapped in crisp golden batter, my friends looked at them, wondering whether or not they had been served pieces of fish. They had never seen fish prepared like this before.

Fish prepared, fried and covered with batter, as it is served in British fish and chip shops is actually not a dish of British origin. According to that mine of knowledge Wikipedia, it was the Sephardic Jews, who settled in the UK from the 16th century onwards, who introduced fish prepared this way. Alexis Soyer (1810-58), the famous 19th century chef wrote in his A shilling cookery for the people, published in 1854:

There is another excellent way of frying fish, which is constantly in use by the children of  Israel … In some families … they dip the fish, first in flour, then in egg, and fry in oil“, which is more or less what happens in a fish and chips shop. 

This leads me to the real subject of the article: a reccommendation. There are many highly-rated fish and chips shops (‘chippies’) in the British Isles. The ‘Fryers Delight’ is one of them. This unpretensious shop, whose decor seems unaltered since the day it opened back in in 1958, serves excellent fish with superb chips cut in the shop’s kitchen, all fried in beef dripping. I have eaten there twice, and look forward to my next visit. The staff are friendly, and the prices are very reasonable and the food is good value for money. 

The FRYERS DELIGHT, which is open from noon to 10pm every day except Sunday is located at:

 19 Theobalds Rd, Holborn, London WC1X 8SL

Let loose in the kitchen

There is no love sincerer than than the love of food

George Bernard Shaw

Most people think highly of their mother’s cooking. Many people thought highly of my mother’s cooking. She was an early disciple of Elizabeth David, the cookery book writer who introduced Mediterranean cuisine to British kitchens.

My mother regarded our kitchen as her territory. Being highly protective of my sister and me, she would not let us near the cooker nor sharp knives. However, she was quite happy to have us accompany her in the kitchen for two main reasons. One was to give her company while she cooked. Another was to do the washing up of crockery and cutlery. I did not much mind keeping her company, but washing up was not much fun.

Eventually, in the 1960s we acquired a dishwashing machine. This did not prove to be much of a labour saving device because my mother insisted on us, often me, washing every item before putting them in the machine. And, unloading the dishwasher and stacking everything away was as time consuming as washing up manually.

Sadly, my mother died young in 1980. By then, my sister had left home. As my father had no interest in cooking, the kitchen became my own territory. At last, I could begin to use the cooker and all of the kitchen utensils that my poor mother had guarded so jealously. This did not compensate for losing a beloved parent, but it did open a new door in my life experience: the art of food preparation.

My love of cooking commenced. At first, I followed recipes from an excellent series of cookbooks published by the Sainsbury’s supermarket company. Then, I experimented with Indian food guided by a cookbook written by Madhur Jeffrey. Later, I made use of a very practical Chinese recipe book written by Ken Hom and published by the BBC. For middle eastern dishes, I was guided by the well-known Claudia Rosen, who has also written a very good book of Italian recipes, and a superb one by the lesser known Arto Haroutian. For Hungarian food, the book by George Lang is hard to beat. Since marriage, I have been guided in the art of cooking by my wife, who is a superb cook.

I suppose that over the years I have become a ‘foodie’. ‘Foodie-ism’ seems to run in my family. My sister, a very competent cook, ran a restaurant in Italy for about 15 years; she was the chef. My mother’s sister was an excellent chef and her two children, my cousins, have inherited her culinary skills. Our daughter has also inherited the foodie gene, both from me and my wife, both of whose parents had discerning palates.

There are those who consider food simply as fuel. They are missing out on one of the pleasures in life, which I value greatly: the preparation and enjoyment of cooking and eating.

Let me end by wishing you all A DELICIOUSLY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Claim your steak

STEAK

When I was much younger, my parents often took my sister and me to eat dinner in restaurants.

Before we looked at the menu, my late mother used to examine the plates and cutlery on our table. If there was a blemish on the cutlery or a crack or chip in the porcelain, the waiter would be summoned to replace the defective item(s). Often this delayed the arrival of any food. If we looked reproachfully at my mother, she would say:

“You can eat off cracked plates if you like, but I am not paying good money to eat off bad plates.”

She said this in such a way that meant that really there was no way that any of us could eat off damaged crockery, even if we wanted to.

As the years went by, I used to look at my plate and cutlery carefully as soon as we sat down. If I spotted a defect, I used to casually lay my hand on it so that my mother would not see it. I was always hungry before a meal and wanted to get on with it rather than having to wait for perfect eating utensils to be fetched. Once any defective cutlery/crockery was replaced, the meal could be ordered.

My mother was fond of beef steak. Rather unfashionably for London in the 1960s, she preferred her steak rare, almost what the French call ‘bleu’. This simple request was the real test for a restaurant. Frequently, the rare steak would arrive cold. My mother would then summon the waiter or maitre d’hote.

“My steak is cold.”

“Madame, I will ask the kitchen to heat it for you.”

The steak would then be returned, and my mother would begin cutting it. Soon the waiter would be called again.

“My steak is no longer rare; it is overcooked. Take it away and bring me another one cooked rare and warm.”

Any restaurant that could get this right without fuss, won my mother’s custom. She would then return there frequently.

Today, rare steak is the ‘in thing’. Most good chefs and discerning diners prefer the insides of steaks to be red, if not bloody.

Writing of steaks reminded me of Monty Modlyn (1921-94), a radio presenter and journalist. Occasionally he would speak on the early morning Today programme on the BBC Home Service (now ‘Radio 4’). He would report on steaks and other meat he had eaten. He had a metal ball that he would drop onto pieces of meat. The depth of the indentation made by the ball’s impact was his measure of the meat’s quality. It all sounded a bit mad to me when I listened to him when I was a young boy. Apparently, what he was doing was quite sound. The quality of raw meat can be judged by indenting it with a finger tip and then watching how quickly the indentation disappears. If the meat recovers quickly, then the quality is likely to be lower than if it recovers slowly.

Chicken 65

HAMPI 2a

The state-run Mayura Hotel at Hampi is conveniently located in the midst of the extensive, picturesque ruins of the once very prosperous city of Vijayanagara. The former city was once the world’s second largest metropolis, but it was destroyed in 1565. I have stayed at the hotel on at least three occasions despite its shortcomings, some of which I will describe below. It is only fair to point out that the last time I stayed at this hotel was at least nine years ago. Things might well have improved by then.

On one occasion, we were driving to Hampi from Bangalore, and were running late. We rang the hotel to tell them that we would be likely to turn up by 6 pm. They replied that it would not be a problem: our room was waiting. And, so it should have been because check-out time was 12 noon. Whoever had occupied the room on the previous day should have vacated their room by noon.

When we turned up at the hotel, we were told that the room we had booked was still occupied. We were not pleased. The receptionist explained that the occupants of our room, who should have vacated it by noon, were still using it. We remonstrated and asked for an explanation. We were told that the family that was overstaying in our promised room had also arrived late the day before, and the hotel was kindly letting them extend their stay at our expense.  We were tired and not amused.

The receptionist and another member of staff settled us temporarily in a small bedroom while we waited for our room to become vacant and cleaned up. After a couple of hours, we were shifted to our allotted family room. There were several workmen in the bathroom. They were trying to turn off a jet of water, like a geyser, that was shooting up from the floor. They managed after about an hour.

There were no towels in our accommodation. By now it was well after dark. We asked for towels and were told that we could not have them because the person with the (presumably only) key to the linen cupboard had gone home.

At the end of one of our stays at the Mayura, we asked to have breakfast at 7 am, when the dining area was supposed to open. When we arrived promptly at 7 am, there was no staff too be seen. Apart from us, the dining area was empty. After a few minutes, I walked into the kitchen: it was empty. All of the kitchen and serving staff were standing in a crowd in a nearby room, their eyes glued to a television screen. We learned the reason when, eventually, someone came to look after us. The television was showing the funeral of the much-loved Kannada film star Vishnuvardhan, who died on the 30th December 2009. Vishnuvardhan’s family were dismayed because his loss was not so greatly mourned as that of another star Rajkumar, who had died three years earlier. People had committed suicide on hearing of Rajkumar’s demise. Nevertheless, our driver thought it would be safer if we drove with a photo of Vishnuvardhan attached to the window as a mark of respect. Without it, we might have been attacked!

During one of our stays, we were curious to taste what appears on many South Indian restaurant menus. It is something called ‘Chicken 65’. What appeared resembled breaded chicken nuggets. They were bland and tasteless – very disappointing. 

Some days later, we had dinner with an elderly Dutch couple, who were back-packing around India. It was clear to us that they had had enough of spicy food. We suggested that they ordered French fries (finger chips in Indian English), which, like omelettes and tomato soup, are almost always available wherever you are in India. Their eyes lit up at this suggestion. Also, we recommended that they order Chicken 65, which we assured them was not at all spicy. 

After a while, the chips were served along with a plate of chicken pieces that did not resemble the Chicken 65, which we had ordered a couple of days earlier. Our new friends tasted this dish, and their eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. What had been served to them as Chicken 65 was far from bland; it was fiery hot. It seemed to us that the chefs in the kitchen paid little attention to what was ordered by the customers. We later learned that Chicken 65 is supposed to be hot and spicy. What we had been served before we met the Dutch people, was definitely not that dish.

The spicy dish was originally created at Buhari’s Hotel in Madras in 1965, hence the 65 in the name (see: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/the-hows-whys-of-our-chicken-65/article5042658.ece).

While we were staying in the hotel one visit, a tour group of Italians had dinner one evening. One man, who had had enough of spicy food, shouted out in a hysterical voice: “I want chicken, plain chicken with salt, nothing else, just chicken and salt, no spices, just chicken and salt.” He kept repeatng this, and we thought: “He should be so lucky in this eatery”.

Despite its elements of “Fawlty Towers” hospitality, the Mayura is a lovely place to base a few days of exploration of the substantial  ruins of a once great city.

HAMPI 3

Veggie mush

I became such close friends with my former PhD supervisor, ‘Doc’, and his wife ‘Wink’, that I accompanied them on their long summer holidays in Greece.

PLAT 77 Campsite with moon

Camping at Platamon in 1977

Every year they drove down to northern Greece with their caravan, which they towed with their aged Land Rover. I accompanied them on several journeys during the late 1970s. Also, I used to join them at their favourite camping spot, a patch of uncultivated land just south of Platamon in northern Greece. This scrub-covered sandy area is now covered by a village known as Nea Pori.

On one occasion, I arrived at Platamon on a train, which I had boarded in Belgrade. It must have been almost 11 o’ clock at night when I disembarked. I was hoping that I would find my friends camping in their usual spot.

As I walked from the station through the village on my way to the camping spot, I passed the grocery shop that Doc and Wink always used. Its owners were sitting at a small table on the street outside it. They recognised me and invited me to join them in a drink. I was handed a tiny glass, such as one might use for shots of strong spirit, and they filled it with beer. We knocked glasses together and I downed the tiniest portion of beer that I have ever drunk. Then, they told me that my friends had arrived and were camping in their usual place. I walked there through the darkness, and saw them fast asleep under the awning. As silently as possible, I erected my tent and went to sleep. Fortunately, I did not disturb them.  

The railway station was at the north end of the centre of Platamon, well beyond the shops that Doc visited. Whenever we drove into Platamon, Wink would rush to it because there was a small newsagent’s stall near it. She was hoping to find a copy of an English newspaper. She did occasionally but it was always a few days out of date. Apart from her, there were few others in Platamon who would have wanted to read an English paper.

By the time that we returned from Platamon, the sun would have been setting for a while, and it was time for our sundowners and olives. Doc used to prepare supper (dinner, if you prefer). He often fried the fresh fish which we had just bought in Platamon. He was a good cook. The fish or meat, if we were eating that, was often accompanied by a mixture of vegetables that included onions, aubergines, peppers (green or red), and tomatoes. It never contained garlic because he did not like it. These were stirred together in a pot until they were cooked.

Doc referred to this dish as ‘veggie mush’ (pronounced ‘moosh’). When I told him that the dish, which he believed to be his own creation, resembled the classic French dish ratatouille, I could see that he was flattered that his own creation could be compared to something enjoyed by gourmets.  

The sky at Platamon was frequently cloudless. Where we were camping there was little ambient light so that the night sky could be seen easily. We used to stand looking up at the star-filled canopy that covered us. Shooting stars shot over us frequently, momentarily altering the map of celestial objects that twinkled down at us. Doc would stand with me and point out the various constellations.  He showed me how to identify the North Star. We stood in a glorious silence that was only occasionally interrupted on some evenings. Otherwise, we could neither hear the sea, the sound of whose waves were lost in the dunes that were between us and it, nor the trains that ran along the tracks a few hundred yards to the west of us.

 

The lost sausage

Sausage

While I was a PhD student, there was another person, ‘Ali’, doing research for his doctoral thesis in our lab. He was a devout Muslim from one of the Gulf States. During Ramazan, he fasted as required. This he could handle easily but abstaining from cigarettes during the hours of fasting was a trial for him.

Our PhD supervisor, whom we called ‘Doc’, and his wife both worked alongside us in the lab. They were not only first-rate scientists but also warm-hearted people. Doc’s wife played in an above average amateur philharmonic orchestra. Several times a year, the orchestra put on public concerts. These were held in halls in the area about 20 to 30 miles west of central London. Doc’s wife used to invite us students to attend these concerts if we wanted. This invitation included spending a night at her family home.

An early evening meal was always served before the concert. Often, soloists were invited to share this pre-concert repast with other guests including whichever student(s) turned up.

On one occasion, Ali and I attended one of these meals. The main course was an English (and Scottish) dish called Toad in the Hole. This consists of sausages cooked in Yorkshire Pudding batter. When the ovenproof dish containing this speciality arrived at the table, the sausages were invisible. They were all concealed beneath the surface of the steaming hot batter.

‘Doc’ mentioned that although most of the sausages were pork, in deference to Ali they had included one or two beef sausages. However, neither he, nor his wife, nor the cook could remember where in the dish they had placed the beef sausages.

‘Doc’ was not only highly intelligent, but was also extremely practical. For example, he was a competent plumber and mechanic as well as a superbly skilled biologist. Often, he used to say: “I wonder why they waste time teaching children Latin and Greek. They should be teaching them plumbing and carpentry.” I digress. Doc’s solution to the problem of detecting the beef sausages kindly added for Ali, who did not eat pork, was as follows. Using a big knife, he cut grid lines across and through the meat-containing batter. Then, he lifted each of the resulting cubes of the Toad and examined the cross-sections of the sausages that his knife had cut through. Because the beef sausages were redder in cross-section than the pork, he was able to serve Ali his religiously acceptable food.

It was very thoughtful of Doc and his wife to think of Ali’s dietary restrictions, and to deal with the problem the way they did. This was typical of the couple’s great kindness. The devout Ali was gracious enough to eat his specially prepared portion of the dish without complaining that the pork and beef had been cooked together.

 

To see a recipe, one of many, for Toad in the Hole, click HERE

Garlic and parsley

PSX_20180917_175556.jpg

 

My late mother was a good cook. I know that you will think that often children praise their mother’s cooking however awful it is. In the case of my mother, her cooking was praised by many people, who still remember her skills in the kitchen many years after her demise at an early age. My mother was a keen disciple of the pioneering food writer Elizabeth David, who helped introduce Mediterranean cuisine to the British. Many recipes from the Mediterranean involve the use of garlic and parsley.

Although my mother did not permit my sister and me to cook in her kitchen, we were ordered to be in the kitchen with her either to keep her company and/or to do the washing-up. Our presence in the kitchen and proximity to a skilled cook engendered a life-long love of cooking in both my sister and me. When my mother died, I took over her kitchen and learned, by trial and error, how to cook. My sister did the same and ran a restaurant successfully for quite a few years.

Many of the dishes I cooked, and still make, contained copious amounts of garlic. This was not a problem until I qualified as a dentist, and moved to a practice in Kent, about 80 kilometres from London in distance, although it felt much further culturally and in many other ways.

Friends have often asked me whether the mouths that I treated emitted bad smells. The short answer is that although they might be malodorous occasionally, the dentist rarely smells them while treating the patient. However, the converse is true for the patient. In modern practice, the patient is often almost horizontal on the treatment chair. He or she can easily smell the dentist’s breath.

Soon after I began practising in Kent, I lived in local rented accommodation. I cooked for myself in the evenings, often preparing dishes with large amounts of delicious garlic.

One morning, Mrs G, a late middle-aged woman, attended my surgery. Soon after I had lowered the chair to a semi-reclined position, I commenced working on her teeth. In those days, the early 1980s, dentists did not routinely wear surgical gloves, nor did they wear facemasks. A paper facemask such as became ‘de rigueur’ after the beginning of the AIDs (HIV) epidemic, would not have prevented what was to occur after I began treating Mrs G.

After I had been at work for about a minute, Mrs G swept her hand in front of her mouth, and exclaimed: “Ooooh, Mr Yamey, you’ve been eating garlic.” I apologised, and from that day onwards I never ate garlic on a day before I was due to work.  

After I had been in practice for about twelve years, I began working in inner London instead of ‘extra-terrestrial’ Kent. My patients in London came from all over the world, and most of them ate at least as much garlic as I do. The garlic restriction that I exercised in Kent became unnecessary.

Parsley was another problem I faced when I first arrived in Kent. I used to buy my lunch at the local Tesco supermarket. Many of its employees were patients in the practice where I worked. In addition to sandwiches and potato crisps, I enjoyed eating something containing chocolate with my midday meal. Many was the time when the lady at the check-out till would hold my Mars bar or Crunchie up in the air, and then shout at the top of her voice: “Look what the dentist is eating.” I digress.

One summer’s day, I needed some parsley for something I wanted to cook. I entered the local Tesco and asked an assistant where this herb was kept in the shop. Surprised by my request, she answered: “Sorry, love, we only get that in at Christmas.” I was shocked. Only an hour and a half’s drive away in London, parsley was available throughout the year. The Medway Towns, where I worked, were trapped in a 1950’s time-warp when I first arrived there. By the early 1990s, when I shifted to London, the area was emerging gradually into the present.