Love at first bite

pizza

 

Until I was  16 years old, I always went on holidays with my parents. Every year, we visited Florence and Venice in Italy. When I was 16, I decided that I would try touring on my own.  After spending some time with my folks in Florence, I set off alone on a tour of my own planning: Volterra, Grossetto, Orvieto,  and Cortona, hoping to visit some Etruscan remains on the way.

All went well except for one thing. In those days, I was extremely shy and unable to strike up a conversation with strangers. As the days passed, I travelled through Italy becoming increasingly lonely. I spoke to no one, and, unusually for Italy, nobody spoke to me. I would get very hungry, but often felt unable to step into any eatery. I would wander around feeling a bit hypoglycaemic yet unwilling to risk entering a restaurant or bar.

When I reached Orvieto, I stayed in a hotel that was close to a church whose bells struck throughout the night. One lunch time when I was wandering pathetically from one eating place to the next, I passed a place selling pieces of pizza. I was overcome by the delicious smell of freshly baked pizza. I bought a piece and loved it. This was the first time that I had ever eaten pizza. Being unadventurous in my food choices, such as I was as a teenager, but no more, I had always avoided pizza. However, when I tasted it in Orvieto, it was love at first bite.

I still enjoy eating pizza occasionally, but now I am not shy about entering the first place selling food as soon as I feel hungry.

Raw fish

raw

 

Japanese food was a relatively new addition to the Londoner’s diet in the early 1970s. It was then that I first tasted sashimi (i.e. raw fish).

Some friends including my future wife persuaded me, an impecunious PhD student, to join them at one of London’s few Japanese restaurants. This one was in St Christophers Passage that leads off Oxford Street. I ordered a serving of tuna sahimi. Four neatly cut cubes of tuna arrived in front of me. It was delicious. Fish had never tasted as good as this before. Cooking, however carefully done, removes something essential from the fresh taste of fish. The four exquisite cubes of fish soon disappeared. I did not order anymore because this tiny portion of sashimi  cost £7 Sterling, a huge amount in the early 1970s. The purchasing power of £7 in 1974 is roughly equivalent to the purchasing power of £66 today. Despite its enormous price, I became ‘hooked’ on sashimi

I must tell you that I left the Japanese restaurant with my hunger unassuaged. Without telling my friends, I sneaked off to a nearby … now, don’t frown disapprovingly … McDonalds outlet and filled up on junk food.

Fortunately, although not cheap, Japanese food, including sashimi, is relatively cheaper in London now than it was back in the 1970s,

Ignorance is bliss

Many decades ago, ‘M’ and his then young wife ‘F’, both Indian Hindus, settled in the UK. F observed Hindu dietary practices far more than her husband. In the early days after their arrival in England, the couple were not well off. Consequently, if they treated themselves to a meal in a restaurant, they chose one which was not costly.

M used to take his wife out to a Wimpy Bar for a treat. For those of my younger readers, let me explain that the Wimpy Bars were fast food joints, rather like a very inferior version of McDonald’s.

M and F used to order hamburgers. F ate them quite happily, believing that they contained ham and not beef, which contravened her Hindu dietary restrictions. M said nothing to disabuse his wife’s misconception about the ingredients of the burgers, as she greatly enjoyed them.

Many years later, M inadvertantly revealed to F that the hamburgers that she had been enjoying during many visits to Wimpy Bars, contained beef rather than ham. She was horrified to learn this.

Nowadays after decades of happy marriage, the couple have become quite prosperous. I guess that now they would not be seen dead in a Wimpy Bar.

Mashed potatoes

Some restaurants in India serve both veg (vegetarian) and non-veg (meat, fish, eggs) food. Recently, my wife and I were sitting near to a young lady in a very good Italian restaurant in Vadodara in Gujarat.

Our young neighbour is a vegetarian. She ordered a veg pasta and asked the waiter if she could have a portion of mashed potatoes. I know that pasta and mashed potatoes are an unusual combination, but that is what she wanted.

The waiter told her that she could not order mashed potatoes with a veg pasta. Puréed potatoes, which are pure veg, could only be served with a non-veg dish.

We overheard the waiter telling this to our neighbour. My wife, who always tries to be helpful, interrupted the waiter and told him to bring a small dish of mashed potatoes with the pasta. Eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, the waiter did as asked. Our neighbour was so happy to receive the mash with her pasta that she got up and gave my wife an affectionate hug.

I am not a vegetarian.

Although I have met numerous pure vegetarians during the 25 years I have been visiting India, I still find it hard to believe that there are so many people, who have never tasted meat, eggs, or fish.

A candle on the plate

I first visited India 25 years ago, arriving in January 1994. On the day before we left to return to the UK, my wife took me to Shezan, a restaurant in Bangalore’s Lavelle Road. This pleasant thoroughfare is named after a Mr Lavelle, who made his fortune at the (now disused) Kolar gold fields east of Bangalore.

My wife said to me that brilliant biryani, which I ought to try, was served at Shezan. We arrived at the restaurant, which was then housed in a picturesque colonial era bungalow.

Where this bungalow used to stand, there is now a modern office building called Shezan Lavelle. Since this was built, the restaurant has been situated at various other locations in Lavelle Road. Recently in late 2018, the Lavelle Road branch of this eatery has been discontinued. Shezan continues to operate in Cunningham Road, where there has been a branch for many years.

Back in 1994, I looked at the menu at Shezan and noticed that Chateaubriand beef steaks were being offered for the Rupee equivalent of 2 Pounds Sterling. I told my wife that I would have a steak rather than a biryani. After all, good biryanis were available in London, where a Chateaubriand used to cost eight to ten times the price at Shezan. The steak at Shezan was first class, and it continues to be so 25 years later.

Shezan used to be run by a man, who died in late 2018, and his elderly father. When we began bringing our young daughter to Bangalore in the late 1990s, we took her for meals at Shezan. Whatever was ordered for her arrived with a small candle flickering on her plate. The candle was placed in a hollowed out tomato that served as a shade.

In early January 2019, we visited the Shezan in Cunningham Road with our daughter, by now a young lady. The branch is run superbly by Aftab, a son of the recently deceased former owner.

Our daughter ordered a portion of Sholay Kebab, a slightly spicy chicken dish cooked with curry leaves. It arrived with a small candle flickering under a hollowed out tomato shell. Remarkably, the kindly Aftab had remembered our daughter after not having seen her since she was a small child.

Talking turkey

Until I was about fifteen, our family usually ate Christmas lunch at my aunt’s home with other relatives and friends. The centrepiece of the meal was often roast goose. My mother’s brother Felix used to try to entertain us youngsters with a story about Turkey Lurkey and his chums Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and Chicken Licken. He meant well, but his story, repeated annually, elicited groans from young and old alike.

One year, 1963, I was in Manhattan with my sister and parents on Christmas Day. That Christmas, I ate sirloin steak for lunch.

Many times during my late twenties and throughout my thirties, I spent Christmas in the English countryside with my PhD supervisor, his wife, and family. They served turkey for evening dinner on Christmas Day. They used to cook enormous birds capable of generously feeding twenty or more folk, yet there was never more than about ten or eleven of us around the festive table.

Everyone except me preferred white meat. One year, when I was asked my preference, I chose brown meat. My host cut off and then placed a whole turkey leg on my plate. It looked like an enormous club, such as might have been used by Fred Flintstone.

After 1994, I often spent Christmas in India. One Christmas Day, I fancied French onion soup rather than festive fare. A couple of years running, we ate Christmas lunch at Sunnies restaurant, which blazed the trail for fine dining with European food in Bangalore. The Christmas menu included the best turkeys I have ever eaten; they were juicy and very tasty. The turkeys at Sunnies were Butterballs specially imported from the USA.

Finally, I will tell you about an unusual Christmas Day ingredient, which I encountered at a place in Bangalore , which I will not name to save causing embarrassment. Several large roasted turkeys were being served at a buffet lunch. After I had enjoyed a serving of turkey, a friend of mine brought me his daughter’s plate, which contained a sizeable piece of uneaten Turkey meat and … a perfectly roasted large cockroach.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!