The UK has good food and here is why

Dear Reader,

Traveling always gives me ideas and myths to break. Today I am going to break the British Bad Food myth.

I went back on an exploration to my second favourite country in Europe, the UK, my home for few years. A trip down memory lane, basically, and as such an important culinary destination as well.

british_mugs
At breakfast in Piccadilly I found delicious coffee in these delicious mugs.

We all know that the United Kingdom is rightfully recognised for many contributions throughout history (did you know, for example, that printed press was invented in England in the 1534?) and for some obscure reason food has never been one of them. I remember friends complaining about the excessive amount of meat and specifically lamb in most menus, or the plain taste of fish and chips spots all around London. Often the subject of ridicule, even the locals sometimes seem to not appreciate their cuisine.

fish_and_chips_uk_stanito
Fish and Chips on Notting Hill street.

I’ve heard similar opinions on Canadian food and even the US, and while I might actually agree there, I prefer to stop and focus on the UK first.

I started thinking of what the reasons could be. Is it because Britain’s cuisine scene is saturated with a myriad cultures settling in and highlighting their flavours? Maybe because the most iconic dishes don’t have an understandable name that give an idea to an outsider or seem unfussy? Take the Yorkshire Pudding, Shepherd’s Pie. And my new favourite, the Guinness Pie. Unless you enquire about the recipe, you can’t know what they’re made of. The pressing presence of international cuisines does not mean that British simple sauces dishes should be overlooked, let alone mocked.

Why do people believe food in the UK is bad?

After done some research and asking around, the answer is: History, of course.

England’s monarchs were all different in tastes and dislikes. Kings. Often Queens. Britain saw an enormous change and addition to its fashion style and culinary creativity in the 16th century given the alliances built with European powers and eagerness to explore. In England this is particularly true and documented in many letters found at the hand of reform seekers. French sauces and the growing saffron in England became an inspiration.

english_breakfast_stanito_london
The famous English Breakfast kept me energised the entire day. This one I had at Cafe 1 in Bethnal Green.

Then we come to the Victorian age. While famous for bringing all sort of innovations and entertainment in the country, the Victorian age somehow threw a disapproving eye on exciting food especially if inspired from abroad. The traditional English Breakfast is in fact a Victorian invention mostly prepared and served in the upper and upper-middle classes, such as bankers.

Then the WW II came. Food rationing persisted for many years after the war’s end, giving the Brits an almost permanent greasy-pastry menu of dishes. Under the rationing period, many ingredients were unavailable and so substitutes of inferior quality and canned food took over and became wildly used.

popularbritishdishes-mushy_beans
Canned peas.

The 1990s saw the emergence of reinventing things. Many chefs looked around and revitalised old recipes with new ingredients in an effort to bring in some culinary excitement and leave behind the old plain days. Plus low cost airlines made it easy for British people to eat better quality dishes and realised they could demand better quality from their home-country kitchens. More on the cuisine reinvention is found here.

I think that was the right move. The New British food, if prepared with the adequate ingredients and passion, is actually quite amazing.

Advertisements

How to make Tacos with Stanito

Dear Reader,

as easy as it sounds, Mexican tacos are a work of art that takes time, dedication and passion. Stanito is going to teach not how to cook (I’ll leave this for next post) but how to prepare it on your dish and eat it.

Today I’m introducing to you the Blue Taco tortilla, that you can find in central-south of Mexico and which is characterised by a nice blue color. It’s really blue. It’s not because it’s gone bad of because of fungi. The tortilla is blue because it’s made out of blue corn, a kind of corn you find in central-southern states of Mexico with a unique blue pigmentation due to a high amount of anthocyanin that also acts as antioxidant.

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito_1_presentation

First of all, you take the main course core food and place it on the tortilla. Make sure you put in the middle so that you have pace to add the next ingredients.

Exhibit A: Stanito is having breaded-fish taco

Once you placed the piece of fish on the tortilla, it is mandatory that you add guacamole. It’s a must, if you don’t do this it is a direct insult to Mexican Cusine world (and to Stanito!)

Exhibit B: Stanito is placing the guacamole in an orderly fashion

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito_6

Because this is a fish taco, it is mandatory that you add lemon to it because fish requires this mostly all over the world or in those countries where people really know about food 🙂 (Mexico and Italy)

Exhibit C: Stanito is carefully putting lemon on the piece of fish to highlight its delicate taste

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito_5

Mexicans like their food spicy and tasty, which means that if you have sauces in front of you, use them. They also like onion a lot, something that Stanito treasures very heartily. So gently place the onion on top of the fish and next to the guacamole.

Exhibit D: Stanito in this case is placing onion rings, which makes everything a bit more difficult because when the time comes to fold the tortilla the rings will break of won’t stay easily in it.

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito_4

Give one last check to the taco. Check that you have everything you want in it, no onion ring is missing, and if you feel like adding chilli this is the time to do it.

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito_2

Now you enjoy this delicious creation 🙂

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito

And why not combine it with one of Mexican most famous drinks? Beer with clamato sauces.

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito_clamato_drink

Buon appetito!

For more information about real Good Food click here and here! 🙂

Katsudon talk

Stanito eating Katsudon Shibuya
Stanito in front of her Katsudon order which typically in Japan is sided by Misu Soup

© Stanito, 2013

Dear Reader,
small talk in Tokyo on a very hot summer night at midnight… I had landed couple of hours before and then I was starving and dreaming of one of my favourite Japanese dishes: katsudon!

Someone: “Katsu what?!”

Stanito: “Katsudon :O never heard of it?”

Someone: “No, what is it?” Continue reading “Katsudon talk”

Italian Myths and Truths

What happens when most people hear you’re Italian:

Foreigner A: “Ahh buongiorno Tonino!”

Foreigner B: “Ah I love cheese”

Foreigner C: “Ah pasta, I love Italian pasta, I’m sure you eat pasta every day, lucky you!” Continue reading “Italian Myths and Truths”

Rome & Real Good Food – Part 2

We are back on track discovering new fantastic places, very good original Roman food, hidden osterie, unnoticeable restaurants, disguised cuisine heavens, as most best places deceive our eyes, Stanito kept sniffing gems out!

Following the trattorie category (for further information on Italian Food Places categories, please click here), the latest one that Stanito found is called Er Grottino der Traslocatore, meaning The Little Cave of the House Mover (some of the names of osterie and trattorie really deserve deeper analysis). Continue reading “Rome & Real Good Food – Part 2”

Rome & Real Good Food – Part 1

Dear Reader,

Finding a good place to eat in Rome can be a real trick, especially for foreigners. It is a fact that in the historic center of Rome most restaurants, trattorie and osterie that look very nice are also the most touristic spots and not necessarily the best ones. Trust me on this one. Most of these places will have their menu (with English translation) posted outside so that tourists can check on all the dishes and prices before sitting down. You can easily recognize them because of their crowded location, see Piazza Navona for example. And for my experience, the best places to eat are those with no signs at all, like Il Timoniere and Il Porchettaro.

Apart from typical restaurants (where you get a full service and many courses) I have always found the best typical food in smaller and less crowded places like trattorie and osterie, where the absence of hordes of tourists allow a much better and dedicated service. Trattoria is more like a “familiar” kind of restaurants (most of them are run by a family), smaller and less formal, and generally located in an alley or side street. Usually a member of the family –the mother or father – will be managing the kitchen, while another member will be dealing the cash and serving at tables. These places are certainly more relaxed and allow you to enjoy a more homey food. Il Timoniere is the best example I have for trattoria.

IMG_1157© Stanito, 2012

The entrance is completely unnoticeable, looking like a normal building.

IMG_1163© Stanito, 2012

This place is where I’ve tried probably the third best tiramisú of my life, exquisite, creamy tiramisú. I don’t have a photo of my broccoli side dish but I can tell you it was absolutely amazing.

IMG_1164© Stanito, 2012

And above is Giulio, the owner of Il Timoniere along with wife and daughter. The place is small, exclusive, and familiar, every day a different dish so of the three times I’ve there I never had the same dish. He doesn’t use publicity to get his clients relying only on spread of words. And yet, the place is always full.

Always going down on the ‘level scale’ (of formality, not quality), we now come to osteria. If trattoria is considered a lower-level restaurant, then osteria will be even lower. Osterie are generally noisy, you can hear dishes clashing in the kitchen, the chef mumbling in high volume, a TV on with a soccer match and bellied-supporters sitting right under it and yelling at it, and waiters that can be distracted by the TV (did I ever tell you that soccer is sacred in Italy?).
The menus are very funny as well: sometimes they are written on paper tablecloth that will be removed after you finish, or maybe they won’t even have a menu, they will tell you what they have for that day. Since the service is normally very relaxed (the waiter will indeed stop several times to watch the soccer match) you will see how these are fun familiar places where the importance is only good food.

This is how I came to Dino & Tony… Work lunch with colleagues, only two of us were the Italians so we felt the need to introduce the newcomers to real good and cheap food. The best choice was Dino & Tony.

IMG_1078© Stanito, 2012

Now, a little recommendation before entering this place: do not feel intimidated by the yelling and shouting from the chef to the main waiter, it’s normal and part of the comedy!

Both men, in their late 50’s, are grumpy and complaining about each other, the whole time. Dino, the chef is constantly yelling “What the hell is this coffee still doing here?! Are you asleep, you miserable old man?!” to which Tony will reply by using inappropriate language as self defense while serving at tables of people completely amused by their humor.

Their specialty is tonnarelli cacio e pepe, which is basically thick spaghetti flavored with pecorino cheese (sheep cheese), oil and sage. Absolutely divine. They have a generic entrance (known as antipasto) which never changes, some pieces of pizza, ham and cheese.

The service is a bit slack but good in the end, this is because Dino and Tony spend so much time arguing with each other that eventually they forget for a few seconds that they’re either holding someone’s dish or fork. At some point I remember asking for an ice-cream, and Tony said “No, we have better things dear, I’ll get you a nice frozen coffee that we personally prepare, you’ll love it!” so ok, no ice-cream for me I guess!

By the end and about to leave our table, Dino comes to us because he wants a nice photo with foreign customers. And there he is 🙂 all proud of himself. The photo? Wasn’t really our idea, but he insisted 🙂 How could we deny him the pleasure of having his photo taken with such international table?

Totally recommended.