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Last week the Lemurs visited Thrifty Gal in South London, and went to a restaurant I’ve had my eye on in a while: Asmara in Brixton. I love East African food and I used to eat at Ethiopian restaurants in New York and – perhaps surprisingly – in Iowa City. African cuisines have been fashionable in certain upscale food circles for a while, what with the success of Marcus Samuelsson and the emergence of South African food, but most people still haven’t embraced local African restaurants in the same way that East or South Asian cuisines have been popularised. It’s a shame, as Ethiopian and Eritrean food is delicious and healthy, with lots of grains, pulses and greens and sophisticated spicing. Of course, Thifty Gal is ever leery of strange ethnic restaurants and it’s really a sign of her friendship and generosity that she comes along with me on these forays. What she wants are white tablecloths and a nice bottle of wine, but what Asmara offers seemed to me like a fair trade: half the menu is vegetarian so she got a level of choice unprecedented in non-vegetarian restaurants. Read the rest of this entry »

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Since most of my last post on London eating was consumed by the vitriol I was aiming at the pop-up restaurant fiasco, I thought it might not hurt to return to the wonderfulness of Brixton market. I went there with Caribbean food in mind but before my enormous Guyanese lunch, I came across a storefront selling freshly griddled Colombian arepas. Actually, it was Mr Lemur who discovered it – the man can nose out South American food a mile off. In the midst of a predominantly Afro-Caribbean section of Pope’s Road were a couple of shops focused on Latin American products and packed with Latino shoppers.

Out in front of Las Americas Butchers – which sells meat on one side and cooked foods on the other – was an old dude grilling cheesy arepas with a calm that can only be described as zen-like. I could have watched him lift and turn arepas all day. Actually, given how long it took for our order to cook, I kind of felt like I did. But that’s ok because while we were waiting, someone from inside brought out a paper plate of chicharrones to keep us going. I knew they were going to be good from the look of the hot meat dishes in the window. If there’s one thing you can be sure of it’s that Latin Americans know their pork, and these bites of pork belly and hot crispy skin were sublime. Washing the pork skins down with a sweet café con leche, Mr Lemur was in heaven.

When the arepas were finally deemed perfect by the zen arepa-master, we scarfed them down in a blur of breakfast happiness. I’ve always been a big fan of corn-based breads and Colombian style cheese arepas are a particular favourite. While Venezuelan arepas and Salvadorean pupusas are often stuffed with fillings, the Colombian ones are more like corn pancakes, often with cheese cooked through the dough. These ones were particularly cheesy and nicely caramelised from the griddle. For Mr Lemur, it was a chance to bust out his Spanish and for me it was a nostalgic reminder of New York, where cheap, greasy delicious Latin food is always within reach. But even if you don’t have a Latin connection, the combination of hot cheese arepas and café con leche (perhaps with a little fried pork if you’re that way inclined) is not one to be missed next time you’re in Brixton.

Las Americas Butchers, 26 Pope’s Road, Brixton, London, SW9 8JJ

I ate food served out of small vans twice in 24 hours this weekend and the two experiences could not have exemplified better what I love and hate about London. First, a hipster pop-up restaurant in Southwark, a one night only conceptual dining experience, learned about through word-of-mouth and ticketed online and second, a street food stall in Brixton market with some plastic tables and chairs set up opposite the recreation centre. Which do you suppose I loved and which made me seethingly homicidal? Hmm… Read the rest of this entry »

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