Green and wet

The heart of Central Europe_800

 

As a child and teenager, I did not like gherkins (pickled cucumbers). My parents ate them, but refused to buy them if they were made behind the Iron Curtain, for example in  Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Poland. They would only by jars of these green, wet vegetables if they were made in Western Europe, say in West Germany or Holland. You may well wonder why my parents were so fussy about the origin of their gherkins. The answer is simple. They were unwilling to buy anything from Soviet-dominated parts of the world because they felt, rightly or wrongly, that every penny they paid for goods from these areas would help the Soviet Union pay for yet another atomic bomb or some other military equipment that could be used against the West.

I did not worry me where my parent’s gherkins were grown and bottled, as I did not eat them. This was true until the late 1970s when McDonalds opened a branch of their hamburger restaurant chain in London’s Haymarket.

At first, I felt that I was too superior to enter a McDonalds, and developed an irrational prejudice against the company. Eventually, some friends decided to eat at the Haymarket branch andas I was with them and also a little curious about McDonalds, I joined them. I cannot recall which burger I ordered, but whatever it was, it contained slices of gherkin. I did not remove the gherkin as I might have done had I been served it a few years earlier. I bit into the burger and realised that it was the gherkin that made the rest of the burger sandwich delicious. From that moment onwards, I have become a gherkin afficionado.

I am happy eating gherkins anywhere. However, some of the nicest gherkins that I have found are those often served in fish and chips shops. These large, very tasty specimens often come Holland. Served from large glass jars, these gherkins are often known as ‘wallys’ (pronounced ‘wollees’) in London and South-East England.

Finally, here is something that you might not know about gherkins. The south of India, which I visit often, hasbeen a major producer and exporter of gherkins since the early 1990s. The soil condition in that region are perfect for growing the cucumbers that will be pickled. For more information, see: http://igea.in/.  Had these been around in the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain, I wonder whether my parents would have bought them.

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,