The SW Food Blog en vacances!

It’s bloody annoying how Morocco has two ‘c’s and Marrakesh has two ‘r’s. For a time, prior to my departure, I was using the letter r and c interchangeably and in varying quantities which is quite similar to my experience of Moroccan food; tagine or cous cous in reciprocal amounts.

I haven’t ever stated it in my blog before, partly because I don’t want to be shoehorned into an area of the foodie community which I don’t belong, but I don’t eat meat. I almost wish I was a vegetarian because that would be a much easier label to wear. I will keep you guessing as to what I do and don’t eat because, quite frankly, the whys and wherefores do not matter. Anyway, I struggled to find SW-food person-friendly eatings in Morocco (there you go – I’ve just had to retype that several times in order to banish those wriggly red lines from my page).

Tagines have the promise of a slowly cooked lamb which is succulent, tender, richly flavoured in it’s own juices, and delicately uplifted with a rainbow of spices that terra Maroc has to offer. Even for someone like me, there’s scope with chick peas, flaked almonds, prunes, aubergines, and all manner of pulses and vegetables. The fact I went for two weeks in Morocco without coming across so much as a lone chick pea was, in my mind, quite a surprise. Even for someone such as the Welshman, whose vocabulary when it comes to describing food is ‘nice’ or ‘tasty’ i.e. most things that are edible – said that the dishes were ‘surprisingly bland’. He eats meat for your information. Spices, where present, were rarely identifiable. Cous cous dishes’ flavour came principally from vegetable stock, and vegetable stock alone. Having said that, cous cous is something the Moroccans do extraordinarily well. You’ll not find anything fluffier this side of Battersea Dogs Home.

There is more to Moroccan cooking than tagines and cous cous. Moroccans are the trailblazers of the north African breakfast scene. The former protectorate of France will oft give an early morning nod to their European colonials in the form of a croissant. But the real gems are msemen (fried semolina and flour pancakes). They’re a bit like Indian paratha, and after you’ve doused them in honey or date syrup (so, so good) and rip into them with your teeth, they’re chewy and flaky all at the same time. Beghrir too is another Moroccan pancake which most people will recognise as a giant, although significantly-thinner crumpet. Let me hear a boom-ting when it’s coupled with freshly squeezed orange juice and a thick slug of grainy coffee! Oh yeah!

Moroccan breakfast msemmen

Surprises in came in the form of fresh fish. Essaouira is a medium-sized touristy town on the western coast which thankfully still thrives independently of the tourist scene, as a fishing port. This means every day you can pick a fresh fish down at the fish market (fish souk), have it gutted and scaled, before taking it to the cooks at the back who will season and cook it to your requirements. They’ll serve it with a salad Marocain (dressed and diced tomatoes and onions), olives, bread, and some frites if you ask nicely. For two of us it was about a four quid each.

Salad Marocain, olives and bread

Cooking your chosen fish at the Fish Souk in Essaouira

Another surprise was in the Djema El Fnaa. Come 8pm when the sun has set, the food stalls set up. Walking through them, hungry, and not knowing what you want, or even showing the faintest of interest – you’re fair game for the hustlers who want bums on seats. If you listen to anything I say in this blog, then go to the stall selling calamari at the eastern end. You’ll know which one I mean, because it’s the one where you’ll struggle to find a seat. Fried pieces of fish, fried sole, chips, salad Marocain and an aubergine dip, it’s all pretty simple. That means it can’t fail to go wrong. And it doesn’t.

Djemaa El Fna

Minty goodness

One last thing before I close. Make sure you have a dentist check up after you return, much like you might visit your doctor for vaccinations before you go away. If you get the all clear and have no cavities, then you’ve been spared. Tourists have been known to have had teeth fall out after just looking at a mint tea. Six sugars in one mint tea is apparently the national average in Morocco.

SW11 Battersea – Adulis – Eritrean dining & restaurant review

I rarely eat Chinese food. Do you know why? Because I have never eaten any Chinese food which has knocked the socks off me. Sure, I should probably go to China and experience it first hand, but do you have £614 (that’s the first value that came up on an unnamed flight price comparison website, which might be spelled Kayak backwards…er). Admittedly I could go to Soho, but I wouldn’t know the first place to start in among the hanging Peking duck and sex stores (they really should have hygiene laws for that sort of thing). Why then, is ‘a Chinese’ the nation’s favourite dish? This I will not comprehend, just as I will not comprehend those who think Staffordshire bull terriers are cute. ‘An Indian’ however, I can understand.

North African food is something I have experienced, and I will admit, was not something that I’d write home about – apart from perhaps their moreish breakfast pancakes – which themselves are not that dissimilar from an Indian paratha. And, despite living in Nigeria for a small percentage of my youth, west African cuisine has also passed me by. I want to say I’ve tried Ethiopian cooking, and I have, but only in Brick Lane and it was very very salty. Enter Adulis, an Eritrean on St John’s Hill, Battersea. The gateway to my African palate.

St John’s Hill is a street fast becoming something of a hub for those looking for casual, great food done well. Only last week did the Fabulous Feast take place and no doubt you’ll all have heard of Ben’s Canteen’s whose social media following accurately reflects the tastiness of their offerings.

Unfamiliarity means sometimes we neglect to see great things which lie right under our noses. But not me! No! I am not a sheep (a tendency which might not ultimately win me any Darwin awards). That aside, Eritrean food was on my radar.

Appearance wise, Adulis is a really, really nice restaurant. And I can’t say fairer than that. Extremely tastefully decorated – there are no gimics – it is spilt over two levels and last Wednesday night the place had a buzz which sounded like it could have been a Friday.

I enjoyed the £15 two-course meal which was put on as a result of the Fabulous Feast festival. With it came honey wine…given the choice between your average blanc de blanc I would always go for something drier, but on this occasion the sweeter version of the Miès was far more palatable (the Welshman and I were given both samples to choose from). Not sure if it is really my thing, but blimey, that stuff could get you seriously pissed. I was assured that being organic, a hangover could be swiftily avoided. Where was this valuable information when I was drinking neon bottled drinks in the student union circa 2005?

Eritrean food is eaten with the hands, which the Welshman’s relished; his Neanderthal eating habits are only marginally more refined than a dog. But rolling up the injera and grabbing morsels of the tasting dishes was almost like biting into temporary samosas. Injera is a traditional bread which is flat, made with yeast and has a vinegary-sour taste – it soaks up all the juices. Think of a sour crumpet with a similar texture to boot, and you’re not far off. Eaten plain, they’re not all that, but the acidity is neutralised and compliments the robust, mealy flavours and textures of the accompanying pulse dishes. These pulse dishes (the vegetarian beb’ainetu) included spiced lentils which were plainer (less spicy) than the more familiar dahl; cooked spinach was quite garlicky and had a sweeter than expected taste. There was a much spicier dish which stood out, but for the life of me I can’t remember its name (or indeed how one  might pronounce it). It was fiery and delicious.

The meat beb’ainetu

The Welshman had the meat version of the platter, and in general the dishes looked and were flavoured in a similar manner to that of the vegetarian – save for the addition of either lamb or chicken. He mentioned that the chicken in one of the dishes was a little dry for his liking, but then you’ll have to take his word for that. The dishes which were presented to us were all a type of ‘stew’ and I would have liked to have seen a little more variety in the textures. I think choosing one’s own dish off the menu would probably give a more representative impression of what Eritrean food can offer in terms of texture. So I guess that means I will have to return to Adulis at some point. Life could be a lot worse!

Service was awesome. I refuse to believe you can get service like that in London. Apparently you can. At Adulis. Plus you can also be part of a coffee ceremony which was similar to what I’ve experienced on Brixton Station Road.

Eritrean coffee ceremony

Should I sum up what I’ve written in some corny, cliché-ridden paragraph? Probably. I’ve done it before.  However, just try Adulis. But if you do – make sure you’re hungry. You’ll know what I mean after a couple of pieces of injera!

I was a guest at Adulis restaurant as part of St John’s Hill’s Fabulous Feast.

Adulis on Urbanspoon

SW11 Battersea – The Fabulous Feast

Naughty, naughty blogger! No blogposts for ages. But before I chastise myself for a paragraph and you move elsewhere, I have the excellent excuse that I was away on holiday. In Morocco, in case you were wondering. A blogpost on my culinary travels is imminent.

Meanwhile, I’ve landed in back in south west London with a thud (that’s a metaphor, not a literal representation of my tagine-related bodyweight) and I’ve completely settled back into my old routines and kitchen habits.

It’s also nice to be greeted with a number of events on the culinary calender south of the river. First up this week, is The Fabulous Feast up on St John’s Hill in Battersea. I thought I’d jump in and tell you all about it now (before the self-indulgence of my holiday) because it starts today. Fortunately, it continues for the whole of this week.

And a fabulous feast The Fabulous Feast is! For those who aren’t personally acquainted with the lovely St John’s Hill in Battersea (the hill on the right as you turn out of the odious Clapham Junction station) it’s a road (wonders will never cease) with a huge array of restaurants and drinkeries. This week participating venues will be offering special £15 menus, showcasing the best of their culinary flair. I’m heading to Adulis to sample some Eritrean specialities. I will of course let you know how it goes.

And on Saturday 19th, you can be a fly on the wall (albeit much more hygienically), seeing what goes on behind the scenes of a restaurant – including watching demonstrations and understanding cooking processes, meeting suppliers and load more. The ‘open kitchen’ events will be organised and run by host venues. A list of confirmed events are listed on the St John’s Hill website. If you don’t fancy trying your hand at filleting fish at Fish Club (my top pick), then you can always just head to the street between 11am and 5pm, where the road will be lined with stalls full of ready-made goodies to tuck in to.

Sounds like that’s the weekend pretty much sorted then – and it is only Monday!