Category Archives: Eat

Memories of Ghanaian markets

These are two excerpts from the journal I kept in Ghana..

– May 2006

“O Broonie!” This is what the kids in the street shout at me. It means ‘hey whitey’, but I’m told this is a term of endearment, not an insult as I first thought. It’s my first day in Accra and all my senses are being assaulted. Nyami, my eternally-grinning tour guide, decides it’s a good day to show me the city – despite the torrential downpour. The streets have been turned into rivers of mud and I’m trying in vain to avoid it. My flip-flops flick mud up the backs of my legs with every step and I have to stop at each corner to wipe it off. I give up on this futile exercise soon afterwards and instead tell myself that being caked in mud from the knee down is a good look.

Nyami takes me into Makola Market – the biggest and busiest in the country. It’s hot and the humidity is at about 95%. Its a bit like walking into the bathroom after someone has just taken a long, hot shower. He tells me they sell everything here from bread, to underwear, to umbrellas, to chickens. He doesn’t tell me they also sell pigs trotters, cows feet, giant snails and buckets of angry crabs. I stop to watch a young girl hack open a cows hoof with a machete; I’m grateful – when the bits of sinew and fat fly onto my legs – that they are still covered in mud. Nyami senses the experience is a bit much for this ‘whitey’ and very graciously takes me to a friends house to wash my legs and feet. I am beginning to realise that I have become squeamish living in London. Not that London is a particularly sanitary place, but this is my first taste of real ‘Africa’. Growing up in suburban Cape Town does not prepare you for this either.

Pigs trotter sashimi anyone?

I am yet to have my first supper in Ghana and suddenly have a vision of going home to my lovely Ghanaian host family to find the dinner table laden with boiled pigs trotters and snails the size of my fist. I imagine them sitting around the table with expectant faces and me being forced to eat the mutant molluscs. I doubt I would handle this situation very well. I am relieved when I get home and discover that spaghetti bolognese is on the menu. Its only the next morning I find out that it was made from goats mince.


– June 2006

It’s the day after Ghana beat the USA in the Football World Cup. Making it through to the 2nd round of the tournament is a first for these debutantes. I’m in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region, and Ghana’s victory last night prompted a spontaneous street party throughout the city. I came here with a group of fellow volunteers and we spent the night drinking Star beer, jumping up and down, and hugging everyone we passed.

It was a very happy night, but now its the morning after and I have a severe hangover. This is not helped by the sweltering heat and the humidity which is at its usual level of 97% – not ideal conditions for nursing a hangover. We have to go back to Accra today which, unfortunately for us, means a trek to the other side of Kumasi where the bus terminal is located. After crawling out of our ‘5 star hostel’, we navigate our way through the remnants of last nights celebration to the central market where we hope to find something resembling breakfast. This is Ghana however, and breakfast here rarely comes in the form of a fresh croissant and a cappuccino. Perhaps a stale bread roll and some jam if we’re lucky.

Not the best hangover cure

We arrive at the market and march straight into the heaving mass of people ahead. As soon as we’re inside I can smell that this is a bad idea. I can see a woman behind a small table – she appears to be selling a pile of honeycomb. Or perhaps its coral. Why would she be selling coral I wonder – we’re nowhere near the sea… As we get closer the stench confirms what she is selling. Tripe. Great steaming heaps of it. It doesn’t take long until we notice that there is a woman selling tripe at roughly five meter intervals in this market. And if its not a pile of tripe laid out neatly on the table, its a large enamel basin full of slightly rotting fish. The smell is incredible. I can hardly breath and am certain I will either faint or throw up in the next two minutes. Its midday, the sun is fierce, the market is busy and noisy and I feel completely disorientated. I keep bumping into people in my state of semi-consciousness and nearly walk straight into a table full of tripe. The rest of the group are in a similar position and we must look like a bunch of recovering heroin addicts. At this point the thought of eating anything here makes me retch and the relief is tangible when we finally make it out the other side. I can see the bus terminal and now have a three hours of motion sickness to look forward to in a dilapidated mini-bus along the most pot-holed road in Ghana.


Those Swedish bastards

So I went to this bastard restaurant with my bastard lover. We have a long weekend together in Copenhagen and southern Sweden and had spent most of our time being abused by Scandinavian weather fronts. We drive through gale force winds and torrential rain to get to the ferry port so we can cross over from Denmark to Sweden. Before we set off we can’t decide whether to take the ferry to Helsingborg, which sounds like a place where they drink each others blood, or drive over the bridge to Malmo.  Maureen, the wretched voice in the GPS, refuses to acknowledge the bridge even exists, forcing us to drive up north and get the ferry. We arrive at the port unscathed but a bit rattled after some hair-raising moments on the road (lots of verbal abuse hurled at Maureen).

As soon as I catch a glimpse of the sea I know we are going to die. The water is black, frothy and churning like a giant washing machine. The Helsingborg Sea of Death. We queue for about ten minutes before driving onto the ferry and line up neatly with the other cars. Death is imminent. The ferry pulls out and JD cheerfully suggests we go upstairs to the shop. The enormous ferry has a supermarket and cafe on board but I’m not keen on doing any shopping or eating at this point. Despite its size, the ferry is rolling and dipping about in the Sea of Death like a dinghy. Everyone is lurching and crab-walking and the supermarket seems to be full of drunk people trying to do some shopping. I’m clinging to a rail outside the toilets peering through the window at the disappearing land and trying hard not to throw up.  Mercifully, the crossing only takes twenty minutes and the ferry driver successfully navigates his way across The Sea of Death. Its a relief to feel solid ground under the tyres even though we’re still being battered by howling winds. We discover later that the bridge to Malmo was closed because the winds were so strong that small cars were flipping over. Now I feel bad that we shouted at Maureen.  After a night of incessant howling winds and freezing temperatures in a hotel room that over looks a building site, we wake up to a calm and sunny Sunday morning.  We bundle into the car after breakfast and I programme ‘Master Johansgatan, Malmo’ into Maureen. We arrive at The Bastard an hour later. There are pigs everywhere; pictures of pigs, porcelain pigs in the toilets, pigs heads on the walls, and a sign of a pig with a fork in it hanging above the front door.

Outside The Bastard

All the staff look as though they’re from a Levis advert and either have radical hair or are covered in tattoos. Our waiter is from the first group and has a fantastic peroxided quiff.

Inside The Bastard

There is no menu, just a set six-course lunch which turns out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had. We are brought cured pork and salami with pickles and home-made bread, soft-boiled eggs with caviar, kohlrabi, radish and watercress salad, lamb frikadeller with bean stew, roast chicken with aioli and seasonal vegetables, and finally a passion fruit and lemon curd eton mess. This lunch seems like a worthy end to our treacherous journey  and I really hope to return for more ‘bastardurous’ food in the summer. These Swedish bastards really know how to cook.

The Bastard chef

My week of: Over-indulgence

This really was a week of excesses. An excess of food. An excess of alcohol. Even an excess of friendship. Actually, no. I don’t think there can ever be too much of that.  The week started pretty mundanely.  Monday was long and tiresome as Mondays often are. But Tuesday marked the start of a wonderfully indulgent week. My lover was in town and I was keen to check out Spuntino in Soho. They don’t take bookings and they don’t even have a phone, so I cleverly asked him to queue for a table while I finished up at work. By the time I got there our table was almost ready. I must comment on what an obedient house-husband he had been all week. Spuntino, or ‘Spunkvino’ as he calls it,  is a brilliant place and probably the only restaurant I know that encourages diners to deface the furniture. The menu is simple and the food is excellent. We had eggplant chips, ricotta & pea crostini, a selection of sliders (the spiced mackerel slider is amazing), mac ‘n cheese, coleslaw and to finish us off, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. This was a thing of beauty and is simply two slices of peanut butter ice cream filled with raspberry compote and sprinkled with crushed peanut brittle. Certainly not for people with heart problems but it was more delicious than you could ever imagine.

The 'peanut butter & jelly sandwich' at Spuntino

Wednesday went something like this: Wake up to a a greasy fry-up cooked by my lover. An omelette, streaky bacon, sausages, fried tomato, toast and coffee. Then to the station to say goodbye as he was leaving for Burgundy. Then eat ricotta cheesecake at Princi in an effort to cheer myself up. Then to work where I had a huge bowl of vegetable curry. Then general snacking throughout the evening on chocolate truffles and chocolate muffins. And later, not long before getting into bed, a generous slice of bakewell tart with clotted cream.

On Thursday I gave my stomach a short break from the onslaught but on Friday it saw an unprecedented amount of food. I met an old colleague who was in London briefly. We both have a thing for tequila so it seemed appropriate that we met at Cafe Pacifico.  I naively thought that we’d have a few margaritas and a good chat and then call it a night. Of course this was not to be. After a couple of margaritas, some tequila and a bowl of nachos with guacamole we were invited to have dinner at Hawksmoor where a mutual friend works.  A cheese ‘n chilli dog, a kimchi burger, a plate of triple-cooked beef dripping chips and a bowl of creamed spinach later I though I had just set a new world record for consuming the largest amount of calories in one sitting. This was not the end of our gluttonous feast however. We trundled out of Hawksmoor back to Cafe Pacifico feeling like two stuffed pigs for more tequila and margaritas.

The kimchi burger at Hawksmoor

And as if the previous nights feast was insufficient, I headed back to Spuntino with friends on Saturday night for round two of their menu conquering exercise. This time, besides sliders, salads, shoe-string fries and pizza, we thought it a good idea to order all the desserts on the menu.  Everything except the pineapple ice cream. We didn’t want to seem greedy. Our waiter who seemed impressed by our appetites brought our chosen selection of sweet things: brown sugar cheesecake, strawberry & coconut mess, chocolate pecan whiskey cake and the previously mentioned peanut butter & jelly sandwich. After devouring the lot and washing it down with wine and negroni’s I felt quite proud of my efforts and surprised that my stomach had not burst. I was missing my lover and sad that he was not sharing the feast with us. I noticed a few engravings in our table – not professionally carved designs, but rudimentary scrawls and letters scratched into the surface. Re-living my misguided youth I decided to add a small dedication to our relationship. Using the end of my spoon I hastily carved our initials into the table hoping our waiter wouldn’t notice. I had almost finished when he suddenly appeared with the bill. I sat up with a jump hoping he hadn’t seen me. He had, but instead of politely asking me to leave he said “Oh thats okay, go for it”. I love this place. Oh, and the music is amazing.

With many peoples thoughts turning to 9/11 today, I thought it may be inappropriate to write about such trivial things. All I can say is that when I think about something as tragic as 9/11, I feel even luckier to have such great friends around me to share these experiences with.

Food Bucket

I could quite happily eat my way around the world. Here is the list of things I want to fill my face with before I kick the bucket. This list will increase as fast as my appetite does.

Whats on your list and have you eating anything on mine? Suggestions are welcome!

1) Eat a margherita at Da Michele Pizzeria in Napoli –

2) Drink tequila and eat fish tacos at SFT Tequila Bar in Mexico –

3) Have dinner at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen   –

4) Eat a pastrami sandwich at Katzs Deli in NY  –

5) Eat pistachio gelato at Gelateria di Piazza in San Gimignano   –

6) Try sauna Makkara (sauna sausage) in a Finnish sauna –

7) Eat crayfish on the beach at Die Strandloper in Cape Town –

8 ) Eat dulce de leche ice cream at Il Bombon in Buenos Aires  –

9) Eat the best pasteis de natas at Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon –

10) Have breakfast at Les Deux Magots in Paris   –

11) Drink a bellini at Harry’s Bar in Venice   –

12) Eat fresh coconut on a tropical beach                                                                      –  (no link for this – all you need is a beach and a coconut)

13) Eat sushi at Daiwa Sushi Bar in Tokyo –

14) Drink a mojito at Bodeguita del medio in Havana –

15) Eat a hotdog at Flukys in Chicago                                     –

Another roadside attraction

I have a rather serious bout of post-holiday blues.  I recently returned from my home town, Cape Town, and am now struggling to re-adjust to London’s eternal greyness. Cape Town was as beautiful as ever. Hot and sunny, fantastic food and wine and fabulous people. My trip revolved around eating and drinking for the most part. Lunch on the terrace at Terroir, a cigar on the balconey at Tokara, breakfast at Boulders, hotdogs at The Power & the Glory, and tequila at Polana were all highlights.

I spent a lot of time driving up and down the N2 and these mini-road trips reminded me of one of my fondest, or funniest (depending how you look at it) childhood food memories. My parents took me and my brother on holiday about twice a year, usually up the Garden Route or to the Cedarberg. These trips were broken up by pit stops along the way to feed our hungry mouths. Sometimes a wimpy burger and a lime milkshake (my personal favourite), allthough the milkshake often caused severe car-sickness, forcing my dad to screech to a halt on the side of the freeway so I could leave a lovely green puddle of puke on the roadside.

And sometimes we stopped at one of one of those roadside picnic sites. Those iconic concrete installations in the middle of nowhere. They always seemed to be in the most desolate god-forsaken places. Not a soul in site. Occasionally a car or truck would whizz past, kicking up dust and also causing a welcome breeze. A brief respite in the stiffling heat. Mum would haul out the tupperware containers and plastic tumblers. Homemade tuna sandwiches, Nuttikrust biscuits, fruit juice, hard-boiled eggs. Hard-boiled eggs with yolks that always went a strange greyish colour. Sliced in half and sprinkled with salt, I regarded them as a rare delicacy. I don’t remember eating them at any other time than sitting on a concrete bench halfway up the N2. The derelict concrete bench with graphic reminders of previous road side buffets. Etched into the side of the table would be a couples undying love for eachother; “T 4 R 4 eva!”                                                    And sometimes not so romantic.  While we sat happily eating our hard-boiled eggs my parents tried to ignore the writing scribbled on the table next to the sandwiches: “letitia se hairy p**s woz here”.

Bumbling around Borough

Banana bread in a bottle

Consecrated cauliflower?

The Pope and his Popemobile have been causing major travel disruptions around London today. He is clearly better received in more third world countries with higher birth rates. Here, the focus has been on just how much the papal visit is costing tax payers, how much disruption his ensuing entourage will cause, and all the allegations of kiddy-fiddling within the church, rather than his ability to solve the worlds problems, his aura of eternal benevolence and his divine elucidation.  Being an atheist, I had absolutely no interest in being jammed between thousands of ‘believers’ along the side of the Embankment hoping to catch a glimpse of his Holiness. I would have loved a ride in his Popemobile though.

So, in an effort to avoid all religious revelry I headed to Borough Market with my flat mate, Sabina, and her aunt who was visiting from Tel Aviv. The first thing I noticed were the abundance of figs. Mostly from Turkey, they were soft and very ripe and gave me an idea for my lunch. With a P.O.A now, my next move was to Turnips stall for salad basics: leaves, a cucumber and cherry tomato’s.  Then to Neals Yard, the Holy Grail of English cheese. A few samples later I opted for a Tymsboro goat’s cheese from Somerset. Firm and creamy with a lemony tang covered with an ash and white mould.  And finally, some Pata Negra from Brindisa.

Borough Market is almost unbearably crowded and full of gawping, hungry tourists on a Saturday afternoon and I found a Melton Mowbray sausage roll gave me just enough energy to keep elbowing my way through the masses. Perhaps the Pope was here, that’s why it was so busy. Perhaps he was buying organic seed loaf for his communion. Earlier I had spotted  some purple cauliflower which I thought may have been brought in specially in honour of his visit.

This was all thirsty work, so before heading off home we stopped off at the local hostelry for an alcoholic beverage. Sabina’s aunt and I had a hankering for beer, very unusual for me I have to say, so we found ourselves at the Brew Wharf which has a rather impressive selection of local and imported beers. My sweet tooth seemed to influence my choice quite significantly and I ordered a bottle of Mongozo, a Kenyan, fairtrade, organic banana beer. Impossible, I think, to have any more green, eco-warrior credentials. With a decidedly more educated and refined palate, Sabinas aunt chose a bottle of Vedett Extra White – a premium Belgian white beer. We found a spot outside to enjoy our beers and, quite symbolically it seemed, the sun suddenly came out as we sat down and its golden rays warmed our faces as we sipped our beers.

Maybe Benjamin Franklin was right when he said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Fig & Goat’s cheese salad:

Ingredients: 3 ripe figs, some crumbly goat’s cheese, thin shavings of Pata Negra or Parma ham, cherry tomato’s, cucumber, salad leaves, honey, olive oil.

Method: Halve the figs, drizzle with honey and bake in a medium oven for 30 mins. Slice the cucumber, halve the cherry tomato’s and toss with the salad leaves and some olive oil – arrange on plate. Crumble goats cheese on top, add the shavings of parma ham, and place baked figs around the edge of the plate.

Franco Manca

Franco Manca is simply fabulous and fabulously simple.

The menu consists of 6 pizzas, 2 daily specials, and a very brief drinks menu which includes homemade lemonade and Monmouth coffee.

Tucked away in a hole in the wall kind of place in the heart of Brixton, this is possibly the last place on earth you would expect to find authentic Neapolitan pizza, but the locals have clearly managed to sniff this place out even with the competing redolence of the busy fish market next door. The queue of impatient and salivating patrons is routinely around the block nearly half an hour before Franco Manco opens at 12pm each day. The reason for this loyal and ever increasing congregation of followers is due to the unbelievably fantastic pizza.  This is a mecca for pizza lovers. The Holy Grail, in London at least,  for this humble Italian staple.

I try to visit Franco Manca at least twice a month to satisfy the regular cravings I get for their pizza. Part of the attraction for me is its unlikely location and its unassuming charm. A few wooden booths squeezed in between a fish market and a pound store and the occasional free entertainment provided by passing loony’s warning us the end of the world is nigh or of the imminent second coming. Always makes for an interesting listening while you’re devouring a creamed asparagus and wild boar salami pizza. This place is not trying to be anything other than a place to get excellent pizza. You’ll find an old tin of ‘something’ that probably contained the tomatoes on your pizza on the table with some cutlery and a few napkins casually shoved in it. The staff can be a little brusque but friendly enough given the turn over of people during an average lunch. They also all seem to have come from a local hippie commune. Or perhaps dreadlocks and facial piercing are part of the uniform.

And then more importantly, there’s the pizza. The pizza is, and I quote, “made from slow rising sourdough (minimum 20 hours) and baked in a wood-burning “tufae” brick oven made on site by artisans from Naples. This oven produces the slow levitation and blast-cooking process lock in the flour’s natural aroma and moisture giving a soft and easily digestible crust. As a result, the crust ( cornicione) is excellent and shouldn’t be discarded.” Nearly all the other ingredients used are organic and either locally sourced where possible or imported from Naples.