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Friday, 24 June 2011

The Closet Gourmand

This piece has been published in Tim Hayward's Fire and Knives, Issue 11, but here's a teaser:

Man, I love London.  I really do.

It’s green, it’s clean, the air is so fresh and pure, it makes me want to close my eyes and inhale, deep into my lungs. London has more history than most history books can hold, architecture so stunning that sometimes I stop, in mid-stride, just to admire it. It’s proudly English, yet it’s chicly cosmopolitan, and if you pay attention, you can hear a 100 different languages, all in a single day. I love the crisp English accent, and I love the dry brilliance of British humour.  I love that I get my haldi powder at my local Sainsbury’s and that Chicken Tikka Masala is more widely available than Yorkshire Pudding.  I love that the work-day ends at 6 and that my friends have interests and hobbies that don’t involve the office. I love the vast green expanse of Regent’s Park, the magnificence of Westminster, the dark, brooding solitude of Moorgate on a weekend. I love tennis at Wimbledon and I love cricket at Lords. I love Ribena, and I love Coronation Chicken and I love a good old D-shaped Cornish pasty. And I love the picture perfect English summer that Enid Blyton told me about when I was a child – blue, blue skies, flowers in colour, that gentle breeze through my hair, the sun streaming into my bedroom, waking me up. And you know what, I don’t even mind the grey skies anymore – the rain is simply an excuse to stay home. And cook. And write.

But, amidst all this love, there is, sadly, a “But.” But, just one. And it is this: if there’s one thing that London can do better, much better – it’s good Mexican. I’ve rummaged through “Where To Eat In London” books, asked all my foodie friends, clicked through 19 pages of goooooooooogle, and sorry to be dramatic (and totally unoriginal), but Bono really says it best – “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for...”

I must admit, this boggles the mind. See, I was walking around aimlessly the other day (which I seem to do a lot of these days) and came across a restaurant offering – wait for this –‘Vegan Sushi.’ Umm. Ok, “No, Thanks” obviously, but the point is – I am willing to wager (quite a bit) that you’re highly unlikely to find a ‘Vegan Sushi’ restaurant even in Japan. So clearly, when it comes to food, London doesn’t, by any standards, lack in diversity. But, I mean, ketchup with chopped up onions, is Salsa?

Now, I’m by no means a Mexican food purist. Of course, I’d willingly do the Mexican Hat Dance for some Chile Relleno, but frankly – dare I admit it – I love Tex-Mex.  I lived in New York for 12 years and when people ask me what I miss most about it, I have to admit Mexican food (authentic, cheap and available around the corner) is always up there. So yes, I genuinely adore sizzling fajitas and melting quesadillas and big, stuffed burritos. Yum, Yum and Yum. There, I’ve said it. I love Tex-Mex. But good Tex Mex. Please? London, are you listening?

So, after much searching and exploring and commuting to the very end of every colour of the London tube network, all to my great disillusionment, my Mexican-food fervour had reached a Celine Dion type level. So imagine my excitement when...

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