‘Life is a combination of magic and pasta’– Federico Fellini
Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It is integral to cultural and national identities. It offers variety, novelty and it brings people together. Many people associate their earliest memories with certain tastes, which fill them with nostalgia (mine is pear drops and oranges, courtesy of my Grandad during long walks).
I would say, however, that the best thing about food is that it provides a fairly comfortable way to break out of your comfort zone. The excitement of trying a completely new taste- or combination of tastes- with all the suspense of not knowing whether you will love or hate it. This often happens when you are travelling and trying the local cuisine, but occasionally a local restaurant will surprise you, if the chef is feeling a little eccentric. With the advent of sites like foodporndaily.com , people are becoming ‘foodies’, who are increasingly interested in eating, cooking and critiquing food as a recreational pursuit.
I have always thought that it is rather a shame when people are picky with their food. Thankfully, I am not. So, for all of you budding foodies out there, here are the top ten foods that you should really give a chance:
(Warning- food porn alert)
When I was a kid, my classification for a cracking piece of bread was the following: bleached white within an inch of its life, tasteless and, of course, crustless. The ‘crustless’ part was largely for vanity reasons; I suspect the myth that ‘crusts will turn your hair curly’ worked as a counter-intuitive for many 90’s parents, who still thought the 80’s perm was universally desirable.
Since then, I have come to expand my bread horizons somewhat. Soda bread is a discovery I made a few years ago, and it is absolutely delicious. The kind that I know and love is of Irish heritage, although rumour has it that the native Americans came up with it first. The main difference between regular bread and soda bread is that the latter uses bicarbonate of sofa, rather than yeast. The texture is denser and it is less sweet than your average bit of Hovis, because there is less sugar and blackboard chalk crammed into it.
Anyway, this one is definitely worth a try- works best with jam or, my favourite Jewish staple, smoked salmon.
Green Tea Ice Cream
Green tea, for those of us who weren’t brought up with it, is an acquired taste. When you first drink it, it has a mild earthy taste to it that can put you off. If you persevere, however, it can become a staple part of your diet that provides a much-needed counterbalance to all the processed crap in Western food. It is also incredibly refreshing, and doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste that you can sometimes find with your PG Tips.
Many of you reading it, I suspect, will have already been through these steps of love/hate in your green tea drinking career. Which is why I want to point you towards green tea ice cream, which is absolutely gorgeous. This is originally a Japanese phenomenon, but in recent years, all the major ice-cream manufacturers, including Baskin Robbins and Häagen-Dazs, have caught on. Unlike most other flavours of ice-cream- which I often find heavy and insipid- green tea ice cream is light and refreshing. For the same reason, it also tastes great as a complement to intense chocolate desserts.
This stuff is bloody fantastic. Once again, olives are an acquired taste, but if you are one of those people who likes olives (50/50, apparently) then you must try olive paste. I first had this at my Turkish friend’s house, and loved it immediately- it is rich and full of flavour. I later discovered it at a sandwich bar in Italy, which I then frequented for about two months straight. It goes really well with good quality breads like foccacia, but it also works with pasta dishes. And, as my friend and I later discovered, it isn’t half bad with a cream cheese sandwich.
Surf n’ Turf
‘Surf n’ Turf’, also known as a combination of the luxury steak and lobster, is food for the gods. Both elements of it are highly calorific and lacking in health benefits…but they are so absolutely delicious that this should never matter. Admittedly, I would not recommend this one as an afternoon snack. But if you are in the mood for a huge indulgence, it is a combination that everyone should try.
Zucchini & Chocolate Cupcake
We are all used to carrot cake. But, surveying the shelves at Lola’s Cupcakes, ‘zucchini’ flavour certainly looked incongruous next to ‘Red Velvet’ and ‘Vanilla Dream’. I am so glad I took the plunge, because it was the best cake I have ever tasted. Chocolate cake by itself gets a bad reputation, because it often dries up and leaves the consumer with a stale, crumbly cocoa mess. But when you add zucchini, all these problems are avoided. The taste of the vegetable (not that it is a particularly strong one in the first place) is lost in the cooking process, whilst the finished baked good is left as moist as if you were chomping straight into a cooked zucchini. Fabulous!
I was introduced to this by a schoolfriend when travelling a couple of years ago. We were staying in an idyllic road in Florence which had bakeries, wine shops and a cheese shop- the kind of places that would go out of business in London, the minute someone mentioned a Sainsbury’s Local around the corner.
Eating burrata is like a trip to cheese heaven. It is technically a type of mozzarella, and its name translates to ‘buttered’ in Italian… but it is so much better than both these things. This is because, after it goes through the first stage of the curdling process, it is then plunged into hot whey and filled with double cream. Due to its richness, you would be hard-pressed to overindulge on burrata; it really would be like taking a spoon to your Clover. But nothing beats that moment when you cut it and it all spurts out, ready to be eaten with a simple salad, tomatoes or bread.
Kobe beef is yet another offering from Japan. According to what I have heard, the Kobe Kows live in a sort of slaughter-spa in the Kobe region of Japan, where they receive twice-daily massages from the breeders and are soothed with assurances like ‘No, no, darling, don’t get up’. It is also known for breeders to rub the cows with sake, a Japanese rice wine, assumedly to ensure that whilst on the ranch they have a bloody good time, no pun intended.
After living for a while in this heavenly place, the cows are killed in order to produce some of the most renown beef in the world. Rich; tender; at its very best, ‘melt-in-your-mouth’…and god, is it good.
Lavender Creme Brûlée
Lavender is not an obvious way to flavour your dessert. Fruit, yes, maybe a bit of mint if you are feeling daring. But lavender in creme brûlée is absolutely fantastic.
Granted, creme brûlée alone is gorgeous. But, considering the base ingredients are whole eggs and double cream, it does tend to get a bit heavy. Lavender provides a relief, by adding a refreshing, slightly minty flavour to it. It also gives your food a floral smell, which is surprisingly pleasant…
This is an amazing Turkish dessert, made from chopped nuts and honey wedged between layer of filo pastry. Whilst some people might be put off by the strange green tinge, this is just a result of the large quantity of pistachio nuts. It is incredibly sweet, but it is also so light that this shouldn’t matter. Of course, it’s always best to counterbalance it with strong black coffee to get you bouncing around the room!
I said earlier that ‘Surf n’ Turf’ was the ultimate indulgence. But, for some, a cheesy pasta dish is the worst of them all. To make matters worse, gnocchi is pasta stuffed with potato, which means it contains a double helping of the devil: Carbohydrate. Then you add the lashings of melted gorgonzola and you have set our society’s fear of simple carbohydrates and dairy into absolute overdrive.
Turning away from all that for a moment, this is one of the most delicious meals in the world. Add peppery rocket to break up the creamy taste, and enjoy. All credit goes to the Italians.