Budapest is full of courtyards, beautiful corners hidden in plain sight and joining magnificence with a bit of romantic decay. I am a sucker for this kind of architectural detail and when a tenant arrived and took an old lift up to one of the upper floors, I imagined living in such dubious splendour. The courtyard was typical of our Budapest trip – although we certainly enjoyed the fancy restaurants and the famously splendid buildings, the best parts were the slightly down-at-heel places and the simpler eateries. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we uncovered insider’s secrets or got totally off the touristed paths. We were only in the city for a few days and Mama Lemur quite reasonably has less relish for trekking down alleys than I do. If we turned off the main trails, it wasn’t by far. Still, it’s an illustration of how easy it is to find moments of quiet beauty in this city, as well, as it turned out, of sublime meaty enjoyment. Read the rest of this entry »
Things have been a bit quiet on the blogging front as it has been a busy old time, chez Lemur. Mr Lemur has been finishing a major project and I have been organising a series of events that have eaten up a good deal of my usual cooking time. But we’re finally into Spring break and I thought I should come back with a bit of a culinary experiment. And what’s better to get the juices flowing than pigs’ ears? No, really, you have to trust me on this: pigs’ ears are totally delicious.
I’ve always enjoyed cold pressed pigs’ ears in Sichuan restaurants; the softness of the outside skin followed by a just yielding crunch of cartilage is a pleasing texture sensation and the long slow braising imbues the slices with deep umami flavours. When I was in my lovely local butcher the other day buying some pork shoulder, I noticed his assistant breaking down some pig legs at the back of the store. I remarked how nice it was to see the butchering being done right there and my butcher said, yes, we got three pigs in this morning. Maybe those amazing Sichuan restaurant ears popped into my head, because I asked him, without thinking, ‘do you have ears then?’ ‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘how many do you want?’ Then, he went off to the back of the store and came back a few moments later with a some ears wrapped up in paper. He didn’t even charge me for them! So off I went with my little bag of ears: what an adventure! Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been spending a bunch of time cooking from Fuchsia Dunlop’s fantastic Every Grain of Rice, especially its vegetable and tofu sections, but some of the cold dishes seem a bit labour-intensive for everyday cooking. I was pondering the Sichuan Numbing and Hot Beef, a party dish, really, that requires slowly simmering a whole beef shin before slicing it thinly for a crowd. And even this is Dunlop’s simplified version of an original that featured various cooking methods of tongue, heart and tripe. I love the combination of Sichuan peppercorn, cilantro and sesame but I wanted something for a weeknight dinner for two, not an impressive party platter. It struck me that, because the original is a cold dish, it might be susceptible to transformation into a yam, or Southeast Asian salad. Regular readers will know of my obsession with Thai and Viet main-dish salads, which can be quite hearty meals, but emphasise herbs and bright spicy flavours. I decided to commit what is probably a shameful bastardisation of a classic dish, and to experiment with a bit of fusion. I replaced the beef shin with a nice rare steak and the cooked sauce with a creamy sesame dressing. I think it ultimately turned into something quite different, but the result was addictive. The recipe could probably do with some revision – knock yourselves out if you have ideas for improvement – but as experiments go, it was pretty successful. Read the rest of this entry »
Ok, the island I’m referring to is Manhattan as much as Jamaica, but still. I have been to Jamaica and I ate really well, but most of my Caribbean-food-as-comfort experiences come from a place on 14th St that the Lemurs used to frequent with our old boss Miss L. With a Jamaican-Cuban background, Miss L knew all the best Caribbean joints and how to charm little extras from the staff. A dumplin here, a plantain there: we gossiped about our workmates in style when we ate with her. Anyway, Caribbean food is sadly no longer part of my everyday routine (although this reminds me I need to get my ass back to the Brixton market soon). I was pretty excited, then, to see a Jamaican storefront had opened near to the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton and we took the first opportunity to try it out for lunch.
Now, I should say, it’s a takeout place mostly, classic hole in the wall, so it doesn’t look much. More than that, it has a name that strikes me as mildly unfortunate, though it’s probably some Jamaican reference I don’t get. There are two branches in London, too, so it’s kind of a fast food mini-chain. Let’s just say you’re not going to eat here for the aesthetic experience and leave it at that.
As soon as we walked in, we knew it was going to be good. Firstly, it smelled delicious, redolent of long-braised meat and allspice. Secondly, there was a little girl behind the counter, arranging home-made cakes. When we came in, she shot in back to alert her grandma or whatever older relative was cooking back there that there were customers. Thirdly, there was a blackboard of specials, offering Jamaican classics like callaloo, saltfish dumplins and veggie rundown. It just felt like a real family business: it might be fast food when you eat it, but it is clearly prepared with love. Looking at the dishes on offer, we decided on a modest repast of curry goat, ackee and saltfish, rice and peas, and saltfish dumplins. It was only lunch after all.
Ackee and saltfish is one of those dishes I can never get past on a menu. I love it to an unreasonable degree. I actually ate this for breakfast the entire time I was in Jamaica, probably because it is a savoury breakfast that doesn’t include eggs. Egg eaters tell me that it offers some of the same pleasures as the egg (shudder). It is soft and creamy, custardy even, rich in mouthfeel but mild in flavour. It’s hard to credit that ackee is a fruit, but somehow it is and when sautéed with salt cod it’s just delicious. Mr Lemur is not normally a huge fan of this dish but he thought this version was the best he’d ever eaten and it was actually quite hard to prise the plate away from him.
The curry goat was similarly fab – that’s the picture at the top of the post. The goat wasn’t at all goaty; I actually don’t mind a bit of goatiness but some people find it too strongly flavoured – here it was tempered by loooong slow cooking. The curry looks quite plain but it had layers of flavours, a careful hand with the spicing and all the pleasures of biting choice meat off of bone. A bit of bone marrow too – result!
We knew we didn’t really need more food than that, but one of the cooks came out to tell us about his saltfish dumplins and, well, we could hardly say no, could we? When they arrived they were comically enormous, giant fluffy monoliths of dough and fish. They would have been perfect to dip in a coconutty veggie rundown, but as it was we were too full to do them full justice. They were serious dumplins though.
Washed down with a glass of Ting (what else?), we left in a state of complete Caribbean food happiness.
Cummin Up, 2A Preston Rd, Brighton BN1 4JQ
As a film-loving Brightonian, I’ve long been a fan of the Duke of York’s cinema, but it has always struggled with the size limitations of the admittedly lovely building. Late last year, they opened up a new space at the Komedia with two screens and a cafe-bar and I was thrilled to hear that they now have a kitchen serving snacks and more substantial meals. I’ve always thought that more cinemas should serve proper food: I often want to eat something before a film but don’t necessarily want an elaborate ‘dinner and a movie’ situation. Being able to meet friends for a drink, a light meal, and a film all in one place is a no-brainer and happily the Duke’s at Komedia has pitched it just right. There’s a varied menu but their central concept is the hotdog: not the questionable Coney Island variety but the modern, reinvented hipster dog with locally-sourced sausage and inventive punchy toppings. Its rare to see American food done well in the UK so clearly I had to investigate… Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for my vegetarian and vegan readers–who impressively continue to read despite my love for all things porcine–so I wanted to post a little something meatless to start the week off. Lemur friend the Geek Goddess gave me Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice as an un-birthday present (because she is the kind of awesome friend who knows you are stressed out and responds with cookbooks!) and it has a brilliant range of vegetable dishes from Sichuan province and beyond. I particularly loved her simple meatless version of ma po tofu: meat works more as a flavouring than as a main component of the dish in its traditional form, so it is actually relatively easy to replace the meat with other umami flavours. The real pleasure of ma po tofu for me is the contrast of soft, cooling tofu with the fiery, oily, tingling chili and Sichuan peppercorn sauce and this version focuses your attention on precisely that experience. I know there are people out there who are yet to be converted to tofu and I think this might be one of the dishes to do it. It’s making my mouth water just looking at the picture. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve long been a fan of XO sauce, possibly because Dim Sum Go Go restaurant in New York makes an amazing spicy-fishy-umami version to slather on its otherwise light and delicate shrimp dumplings. As a 1980s invention designed to connote luxury, it’s probably a terribly déclassé aspect of Hong Kong food culture, but I don’t care, I love it. Still, I’d never have thought to make it if not for a coincidental series of events. First, I was given the Momofuku cookbook for Christmas. It’s a fascinating read and a lovely book but incredibly cheffy: many of the recipes require you to have made a bone stock that takes three days and some special dashi before you even begin. It’s unapologetically impractical. But one thing did stand out – a recipe for XO sauce that required two things I just happened to have: lots of good quality dried shrimp and lots of good quality leftover ham. As it happened, I had a big bag of plump pink shrimp I’d brought back from Vietnam and a vacuum-sealed pack of 5-acorn Serrano ham scraps I brought from Barcelona. It was kismet! Thus began the XO sauce experiment. Read the rest of this entry »
Lovely lemur friend M gave us some dried chilies for Christmas and when the cold snap hit, it seemed like the perfect time to use them in something deeply warming and savoury. It turned properly cold here last week and I think everyone had some version of the same idea: comfort cook meats! There was an unprecedented queue at the local butcher and he told me everyone had been buying braising meat to the point that they had actually run out of pork belly. I swithered a bit and decided on a chicken and a few plump house-made chorizos. Nothing makes me feel quite so thrifty as using every part of a chicken and the chorizos reminded me of the Mexican chilies awaiting me at home.
Red rice is a hearty and very unassuming dish. It can be as simple as rice cooked with a tomato-based salsa and as such, you might think of it as a side dish rather than the main event. But it’s a palette made for variations and additions, and I like to add a bit of meaty flavour and a load of dark greens (it absorbs seemingly limitless amounts of them) to turn it into a one-pot meal. Besides, Mr Lemur has a bred-in-the-bone Latin American love for plain rice dishes and, after all, some of the world’s great dishes begin from nothing more than rice and chicken. This is one of those dishes that seem to involve a lot of steps but few of them call for close attention. It takes more time than effort so it’s the perfect thing to make over a weekend and it will feed you happily for days. Read the rest of this entry »
The Lemurs spent the holiday season home in Glasgow and while it’s nice to relax in the bosom of one’s family, it’s also really important to me to get out and spend some time in the city. We were en route to a festive party but wanted to have dinner first – we anticipated a long and alcohol-fueled night and didn’t want to drink on empty stomachs. Sadly, we failed to realise that our host was making vast piles of delicious food, so we ended up eating twice, but that’s another story. We fancied Malaysian food and we’ve eaten at both formica-tabled Rumours Kopitiam (famously rude staff but good roti canai and laksa) and the slightly classier Asia Style (good, but tones down the Malaysian flavours). Neither were quite what we wanted, but I discovered that a new Malaysian restaurant has opened in the last year or so, called Banana Leaf. It’s been getting good notices online, and, located on Cambridge St, couldn’t be more convenient, so off we trotted. Read the rest of this entry »