Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Oh America – the melting pot; a place where food cultures and national cuisines, clash, fuse together, and metamorphize to become something spectacular and new.  Take the Scotch egg I had a Morrison, a Scottish-inflected gastropub in Atwater Village, a few miles up the road from where I live.

I grew up faced with bad Scotch eggs.  I liked sausage and I could cope with hardboiled eggs, but put them together and they made me retch.  I’m made of stronger stuff these days but I still don’t exactly seek out Scotch eggs.  Some of them can be very bad indeed.

The Scotch egg at Morrison however contained a soft-boiled egg, which must be a really tricky thing to pull off in a restaurant, and the sausage is venison!  ALL RIGHT!!  It looked much like this, photographed artfully by my pal George Esguerra :

I’d never had anything like it, and I don’t suppose I’ll get it again unless I go back to Morrison, which I will probably do.

Across the street from Morrison is India Sweets and Spices (above), a supermarket selling delicacies, and indeed staples, from the subcontinent, and occasionally from Britain, e.g. Robinson’s Barley Water.

         I wandered in, pre-Morrison, and bought a few things, including a packet of boil in the bag Smoked Indian Cottage Cheese, aka Paneer Tikka Masala.  Now I had never tasted smoked Indian cottage cheese before, and even after having eaten the contents of this pack, I’m still not sure that I have.  The pack looked like this:

But the cheese actually tasted like small lumps of polystyrene in a nondescript red sauce: the lumps squeaked horribly if your teeth sank into them.  There was no hint of smoke.  They were awful.  The reality looked like this:

Not remotely like the image on the pack.  Still, at least I can say I’ve eaten something I’d never eaten before.

Then at the weekend we went to San Diego and had breakfast in a place called the Field (above), an Irish pub brought over in pieces from the old sod, and reconstructed in the Gaslamp district. The chef was Hawaiian, and he came round and introduced himself, and I was able to tell him that the Rasher and Cheese Boxty I was eating - imported Irish bacon and Irish Cheddar cheese wrapped inside a boxty and topped with homemade white wine sauce - was amazing and it looked like this:

I had never tasted anything quite like it. OK, I’d had all the ingredients but never in this configuration, and a homemade white wine sauce for breakfast (though I did wonder whose home) just sets a man up for the rest of the day.  It was wonderful.

Also In San Diego one evening, at a loss for what to eat, and not feeling all that picky, we ended up in a fondue restaurant that pushes “interactive” $45 set meals that include cheese fondue starter, salad, meat fondue mains, and chocolate fondue desserts. 

I think a purist would argue that if it don’t contain cheese, it ain’t really a fondue – the Swiss even railed against Brillat-Savarin for his 1812 fondue recipe which they dismissed as scrambled eggs with cheese.

We settled for the starter and salad, and although I'd certainly had fondue before, I’d never had it quite this way: an electric hot plate in the middle of the table, a double boiler, the fondue constructed table-side by a slightly over enthusiastic waitress.  We get a lot of over-enthusiasm in California, but it’s preferable to so many of the international alternatives.

But here’s the beauty part, the restaurant was part of a small chain called – maybe you guessed - The Melting Pot.  Oh America, my newfound smorgasbord!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


One or two distractions (otherwise known as making a living) have rather slowed down the blogging, but while we're waiting here are some gourmet (or at least food) - related images of Jayne Mansfield.  It is said, i.e. I found it somewhere online, that she was once offered the chance to become Miss Roquefort Cheese but turned it down because she thought it would be bad for her image.  

So, here she is shopping, or at least pretending to shop for the benefit of the camera:

And here she is cooking, or at least pretending to cook for the benefit of the camera:

And here she is, and yes a camera is certainly involved, but apparently actually eating a sandwich, and drinking a Coke:

An all-American girl, apart from the (alleged) Satanism, obviously.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I’ll bet you were as thrilled as I was to read the news last month that Andras Borgula, artistic director of the Judafest celebrations in Budapest, was planning to break the record for the world’s tallest kosher sandwich.  Apparently he’d approached the nice folk at Guinness World Records who told him there was no such thing as a record for the world’s tallest kosher sandwich, but if he wanted any chance of getting in the book he’d better make it at least two meters high; about seven feet.

Now I’m sure that the nice folk at Guinness meant well but really a seven foot sandwich is a mere nothing in the annals of sandwich construction.  The non-kosher record was apparently created at the Uday Samudra Leisure Resort, in Kerala, India in October, 2007, and it got to 50 feet.  It used 350 slices of bread, 100 pounds of cucumber and tomatoes, 88 pounds each of boneless chicken, sausage, ham, apple, and mayonnaise, 55 pounds of fish, 165 pounds of lettuce, 77 pounds of onions, and 330 pounds of butter.  Much of which sounds fairly kosher to me, apart from the ham obviously, but I’m no expert in these things. It's here apparently, though it's scarcely visible underneath the scaffolding.

         Anyway, in Budapest, Borgula and a group of volunteers prepared 400 kosher sandwiches, the idea being to stack them one on top of another to make what they described as a towering club sandwich: which suggests they don’t really know what a club sandwich is.  The individual sandwiches contained kosher turkey, hummus and pickles.  Well, Mr. Borgula is no doubt a provocateur and funster but surely somebody should have told him that, at best, he’d be making the world’s tallest stack of kosher sandwiches, not the world’s tallest kosher sandwich.  Anyway, that’s all now irrelevant.

The whole thing was a fiasco. Borgula ran out of bread just as the pile reached 1.9 meters.  But, “even if we had more,” Borgula said, “the tower was start[ing] to fall apart.”  I’ve only found one picture and it’s this:

And clearly he isn’t even making a stack of sandwiches, he appears to be making just a low hummock.  Where’s the sport in that?  And in fact I think that if you were a purist you might even object to that Indian record breaker.  A sandwich that needs a scaffolding really isn’t a true sandwich if you ask me.

If you want a big sandwich, this is a big sandwich:

It was made in Zocalo Square, Mexico City in 2006, a single construction weighing 6,991lbs (3,178kgs), containing lettuce cheese and ham, and recognized by Guinness as the world’s biggest sandwich, if quite clearly not the tallest.

I admit I have no idea how culinary matters go in Iran, but even so I was surprised to hear that in 2008 there was an attempt to set a new world record, this time for the world’s longest sandwich.  It was, I read, though don’t altogether believe, a stunt aimed at get Iranians to eat more healthily, and the sandwich was to be partly filled with ostrich meat, which contains half the fat of chicken.  That is no doubt true, but I’ll bet you need to slather on a fair amount  mayo to make it palatable.

The sandwich was intended to be 1,500 meters long, containing 700 kgs of ostrich meat and 700 kgs of chicken, and it was put on display in a public park in Tehran, where the good folk from Guinness were standing by to measure it.  Unfortunately the crowd was so determined to do some healthy eating that they started tucking in to the sandwich before it could be measured.  Where are the religious police when you need them?  Chaos ensued.  The sandwich was demolished and gone in a matter of minutes, leaving the Guinness representatives with a problem, though I’d have thought they might have considered the event for some other category.  Has 700 kgs of ostrich ever been so swiftly eaten?

The current record for the longest sandwich is held by three combined teams from the Lebanon. They made their sandwich in Hazmieh village, Beirut, in May 2011, and they really did put some work into it.  They had 4 specially constructed movable ovens so they could bake one long continuous piece of bread. The dough was divided into sections and rolled out, but then recombined by further rolling.  Then the movable ovens rolled over the top of the bread cooking it as they went. 

I’m seriously impressed, though doesn't the diameter look just a bit thin?   It was in fact a chicken sandwich though zested up with pickles, mayonnaise, red vinegar, salt, mustard, white pepper, lemon juice, kammoun spices and coriander.  But then anything tastes pretty good with all that on it. However the sandwich measured a “mere” 735 meters, less than half the intended length of the Iranian attempt.    

Sandwiches have been on my mind lately because have just published their International Club Sandwich Index 2013, (that's it above, though you'll have to go to their website to read it properly) comparing the prices of sandwiches around the world.  I can’t say that I eat many sandwiches in international hotels, but I’m sure some do. use “the classic hotel staple of a chicken, bacon, egg, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich as a barometer of affordabiliy.”  Geneva comes top with $30.45.  New Dehli comes 28th at $ 9.11.  The index doesn’t say anything about the quality or quantity of these international hotel sandwiches, but my guess is that none of them is quite as big, tall or long as they ought to be for the money.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Here’s a thing you don’t see every day, in fact I’ve never seen anything remotely like it before, although as you can see it dates from a few years back, so it’s not exactly breaking news.  It’s from the website belonging to Heritage Auctions, reporting that they sold a “huge” piece of Civil War hardtack for a little over a thousand dollars; “huge” here being synonymous with four and a half inches square.

This is a perfectly genuine sale, as far as I can tell, and I note that there were five bidders.  And I guess there are plenty of collectors prepared to pay a thousand dollars for a desirable Civil War souvenir, but still …

What amazes me, is that the auctioneers say it’s “one of the largest” they’ve ever seen, but only ONE of the largest, so not the VERY largest, so does that mean there are some pieces around that are five inches squares, six inches square?

Then we’re told that these things are “now quite scarce” – so only QUITE scarce – whereas you and I might think it’s amazing there’s even one of them in existence.  Which only goes to show how ignorant I am (and I suspect you are too) about the history of collectible hardtack, but I suppose we knew that already.