Wednesday, June 29, 2022

TOUGH GUYS DON’T EAT SANDWICHES. OR DO THEY?

I was doing one of my periodic rereads of Raymond Chandler, and inevitably new things leap out at you every time.  (Of course the sexual weirdness just seems weirder and weirder.)

This is the only picture I've ever seen of Chandler with a drink in his hand:


I’m well familiar with the martinis, the gimlets, the (surprising) Yorkshire pudding, but this time I was struck by the sandwiches.

 

In the High Window Marlowe says to some poor counter hand, ‘’Give me a cup of coffee, weak, and a very thin ham sandwich on stale bread.  No, I better not eat yet either.  Good-by.’

 

Earlier the book he goes to the Tigertail Lounge, orders ‘a martini and a sandwich’ and sits in ‘a shallow booth.’  What kind of sandwich goes best with a martini? 

 

And then, The Long Goodbye he goes into overdrive

‘I went to the drugstore and ate a chicken salad sandwich and drank some coffee. The coffee was over-strained and the sandwich was as full of rich flavor as a piece torn off an old shirt.  Americans will eat anything if it is toasted and held together with a couple of toothpicks and has lettuce sticking out at the sides, preferably a little wilted.’

 

This seems extremely harsh on Americans and the American sandwich, and also (if you ask me) inaccurate. 

 

Many of us have done a lot of pondering about which actor would be the perfect Marlowe.  Bogart’s OK by me, but I still think Mitchum is the MAN.

 

I can’t imagine Bogart’s Marlowe sitting down to a sandwich, much less making one.

 


But here’s Mitchum in the Michael Winner version of The Big Sleep, doing some sandwich construction.  Hard to tell if tooth picks are involved, but he is in England. I'm guessing not.




 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

LONDON - NO PLACE FOR FOOD RUBES

The other weekend my very distinguished movie-world pal was in town from Berlin (not chiefly for my benefit) but we met on Sunday afternoon along with the lady friend, and after a walk in Regent’s Park we felt the need for cheesecake.

 

After much searching we ended up in EL&N, Market Place, just north east of Oxford Circus, very possibly in Fitrovia. They’re all over the place – one at least in Dubai.

 



It was, I think you’d have to say, a gendered space, all pink, and full of girls with low cut flowery dresses and spray on tan.  But I’m the kind of dude who can cope with that. 



The shoutline of EL&N according to its website, is ‘Most Instagrammable café in the world.’
  

So obviously I didn’t put the above pic on Instagram, not least because frankly it didn’t look all that fabulous.

 

It tasted fine but since it cost 8 quid I did feel mildly ripped off, like I was some rube who’d fallen into a hideous tourist trap.  Which I suppose I was.

 

It was that kind of day.

 

Later four of us went to possibly the least authentic Japanese restaurant I’ve ever been to, Tonkotsu on Dean Street, Soho:

 



There was not a Japanese person in sight either as staff or customer, though the food was perfectly OK. The 'seasoned egg' tasted much better than it looked.

 


But our waiter – name of Fernando (I know because it said so on the bill) - charged us for a course we sent back because we hadn’t ordered it.  We only realized this after we’d paid up and left.  Of course we were fools not to have scrutinized the bill for waiterly malfeasance at the time, but sometimes you don’t want to have to do that. Call me a rube.  Perhaps you already did.

 

 

Friday, June 17, 2022

CHOP

 A few days ago I picked up a copy of PPC 112 - 



that’s ‘Petits Propos Culinaires’ – a title guaranteed to keep out the riff raff, and 

subtitled far more engagingly, ‘Essays and notes on food, cookery and cookery

books.’  

 

Inside, among others, was an extraordinary article titled ‘Chinese Chopsticks’ by A.R.T. Kemasang who I’d never heard of but is apparently, or was in 2018 when the magazine was published, an Indonesian writer and researcher living in London.  I think it’s a man though I can’t be 100% sure.

 

Kemasang is very pro-chopstick especially the Chinese version. He’s less keen on Japanese chopsticks because they have pointed ends.  He writes, ‘The Japanese most probably use the pointed ends of their chopsticks as the prongs of a fork, to stab some of the food especially the spherical shaped meat balls.  It is, as you may guess, an action natural to predators of all kinds.’

 

Well I probably wouldn’t have guessed that, but it’s when we come on to noodles that Kemasang gets especially intense. Yes, we know that chopsticks can be used to eat noodles, he says, but why haven’t the Italians invented an equivalent for eating spaghetti?

 

In a footnote he adds, ‘the best brains in the Occidental world have failed to fashion the right tool for eating spaghetti … Europeans invariably fashion special tool(s) for each specific requirement such as, inter alia, fish fork, oyster fork (andoyster knife), sucket fork, bread knife, cheese knife, ham knife, steak knife, knives for fish, onion etc, spoons for caviar, honey, ice cream and salt, marrow spoon, mustard spoon, olive spoon, apple/pineapple corer, (boiled) egg scissors, cherry pipper, nut crackers, nutmeg grater, mote spoon etc. etc.’

(I wish he’d listed the strawberry huller, one of which I bought for my mum and I think it was the most successful present I ever gave her.)

 

Kemasang seems to think this inventiveness is in some way a bad thing, but if these things are uniquely Occidental, I do wonder how the Chinese open oysters or crack nuts.  Not with a chopstick surely.

 

And in any case I had to look up a few of these ‘tools’ – not least sucket fork and mote spoon.

 

The mote spoon, I learn, is a kind of tea spoon with a perforated scoop to filter loose tea from a cup, and also had a spiked handle to unclog tea from a teapot spout.  I had no idea.  It looks like this



Likewise the sucket spoon was for eating sucket - a 17th century desert consisting of dried fruit and citrus peel in a syrup.  But as you see below the sucket spoon has a bowl at one end and a two-pronged fork at the other, which I’d say makes it a spork (op cit).



I never knew there was any such thing as an onion knife or a marrow spoon though I can see that they would both occasionally be very useful.





It also seems to me that inscrutable those Occidentals have indeed devised an implement or two for eating spaghetti.

 

The multipronged fork:



and more commonly the revolving, wind up fork:

 



I’m not sure how well these work. Personally I’ve always been pretty happy with an ordinary western fork for eating spaghetti but I’m glad I don’t have to eat it using chopsticks.  

 

But wait – OMG – my researches reveal the existence of something called a chork – a cross between chopsticks and a fork.  I don’t want or need one and yet I feel pleased to know  that such a thing exists.




 

 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

SANDWICH CONTEMPLATION

 A man contemplates a big sandwich

 

Photo by Caroline Gannon

 

It's a New Yorker from the caff at the Wellcome Collection, run by Benugo - cheese, turkey, bacon, in small quantities with a positively minute quantity of salad, though no shortage of bread.

 


The man knows it is by no means the world’s biggest sandwich, which according to the Guinness Book of Records would be this one:

 



from Wild Willy’s Chill and Grill, in Michigan which weighed over 5000 pounds,  but of course that's not a sandwich that anybody could buy and eat.  It was sold off in pieces - and a piece of a giant sandwich is just a small sandwich.

 

Nevertheless the man thinks he has never before bought a sandwich like the New Yorker, with such a ridiculously high bread-to-filling ratio.  Much of the bread remains uneaten.

 

Later that same weekend the man watches a video of the Queen and Paddington Bear comparing marmalade sandwiches.  The Queen keeps hers in her handbag.  



He keeps his in his hat.  

 



Neither sees the need for wrappings. Are her handbag and his hat full of leaked marmalade?  We don’t know, and we can only guess at the bread-to-filling ratio.

 

Monday, May 30, 2022

DRIPPING WITH DIGNITY



 Some of the most contested lines in the popular canon can be found in the theme song of the cartoon series Top Cat – do an online search if you don’t believe me.  And this was obvious even to me as kid watching the show back in the day.

 



Hoyt Curtin was the show’s musical director so I assume he wrote the music and perhaps the words too, though I haven’t found absolute confirmation that he was the lyricist.

 

Thanks to online scholarship we now know that the opening verse runs

Top Cat! 
The most effectual!
Top Cat! 
Who's intellectual!
Close friends get to call him "T.C.," 
Providing it's with dignity! 

 

That last line caused all the trouble.  I mean how exactly do you call somebody TC with (or without) dignity?  I suppose ‘respect’ would be the modern translation. Not that it mattered at the time since I had no idea those were the lines.

 

My best guess (and remember I was young) was that the last two lines ran

 

Close friends get to call him "T.C." 
Stroll right in, get whipped into tea.

 

Although even at the time it didn’t seem that Top Cat was much of a tea drinker. And there was another version I sometimes sang to myself sand that ran

 

Stroll right in, there’s dripping for tea.

 

I knew that couldn’t possibly be right, but we were in the north, and dripping was ubiquitous, though I don’t think we ever actually had it for tea.  It was more of a supper thing.

 

And having been in the North in recent days, we went into the Sheffield Moor Market and bought some pork dripping attributed to Waterall Brothers of Percy Street, Sheffield. 

 



It contains pork fat AND lard, as well as salt glucose and Colour E150 - that'll be in the jelly).  It’s pretty good, although as is always the way, it isn’t quite the dripping of Proustian memory.

 



The picture above is from Top Cat The Movie (which apparently everybody hates).  I can't really see what they're eating or about to eat, but it probably isn't dripping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Thursday, May 26, 2022

GOOD MORNING


If you find yourself in Broomhill, in Sheffield, you may well catch sight of the Nam Song Ca Phe, a Vietnamese joint that serves meals all day.  So obviously you might go in there for breakfast.  And as you sit down at the table and  look at the menu you’ll probably be tempted by this offering:

 

BÁNH MÌ OP LA FRYUP £11.95 

SWEET CHILLI SAUSAGE, BACON, BEEF, TWICE FRIED TOFU, SRIRACHA FRIED EGGS, SAUTEED SPRING ONIONS, DAIRYLEA CHEESE TRIANGLE, TOAST & PATE 

 

And you might think, as did I at first, that this item was a product of well-meaning immigrants who hadn’t quite got the grasp of the full English breakfast. Well you, and I, would be wrong.

 

Photo: Caroline Gannon

As soon as we entered it was conspicuous that there was nobody working there who looked at all Vietnamese, neither front of house nor in the kitchen, which you could see into from the dining room.

 

The explanation, perhaps even a mission statement, can be found on the website.

 

ON OUR GAP YEAR WE WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO 

EXPERIENCE THE INCREDIBLE COUNTRY OF VIETNAM. 

THE PLACES, THE PEOPLE, THE ATMOSPHERE,

THE FOOD AND THE COFFEE. SIMPLY UNREAL.

 

ALL WE WANTED TO DO WAS TO BE ABLE TO RELIVE THIS EVERY DAY SO WHEN WE GOT BACK TO THE UK WE CREATED NǍM SÔNG!

NǍM SÔNG (MEANING FIVE RIVERS IN VIETNAMESE, AN ODE TO OUR FOUNDING CITY OF SHEFFIELD WHICH IS BUILT ON SEVEN HILLS & FIVE RIVERS) IS AND ALL-DAY-ALL-NIGHT COFFEE SHOP, RESTAURANT AND BAR SERVING UP OUR FAVOURITE VIETNAMESE FOOD, DRINKS AND OF COURSE THE LEGENDARY PHIN FILTER COFFEE.

 

There’s more but that’s enough for anyone.  The ‘legendary phin filter coffee’ can be seen at the top of this post.

 

The breakfast duly arrived looking like this:



And no, I wasn't quite as troubled as I look in the photograph below.


Photo: Caroline Gannon

Everything tasted pretty good but you did have to wonder if it all belonged on the same plate.  I could certainly have done without the pate, and probably without the Dairylea triangle but I’m not complaining. The eggs were decent and the beef was terrific.

 

There was too much food, of course, but that was probably the whole point.  We honestly didn’t need to eat again for another 7 hours. And didn’t.

 

Now, I have never been to Vietnam, though I have been to a reasonable number of Vietnamese restaurants both in the UK and in the States.  Would you find anything like this in a restaurantion Vietnam?  Well I suppose so, otherwise why would the Brromhill folk have tried to replicate it?  But I can’t find evidence for this.

 

On the other hand a little light research (I mean I didn’t get much further than Wikipedia) tells us that ‘In the Nguyễn dynasty, (which lasted from 1802 to 1945) the 50 best chefs from all over the kingdom were selected for the Thượng Thiện board to serve the king. There were three meals per day—12 dishes at breakfast and 66 dishes for lunch and dinner (including 50 main dishes and 16 sweets)’

 


So who’s to say that somewhere among the 78 dishes there wasn’t an English fry up. It’s what they call fusion.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

FREE IMPROV SANDWICH

 St John Restaurant put up this image on Instagram:

 


The caption was, ‘”Creating a sandwich is like jazz,” says Fergus (Henderson). “You must find your unique sounds.”  Fergus always orders the Egg Mayonnaise sandwich from the chalkboard bar menu, and requests the addition of brown shrimp or anchovy.  The perks of being the boss.’

 

I’m not sure that creating a sandwich is really very much like jazz but I would never argue with Fergus Henderson.

 

 


And then Fuchsia Dunlop put up this image on Instagram: 

 



with the caption, ‘Scotch woodcock (a scrambled egg and anchovy dish, no bird involved) and crab on toast …” A Scotch woodcock is a version of the Welsh rarebit – the anchovies can be on top of the egg (as in the pic) or below the egg as in Gentleman’s Relish.  

Both would be OK by me.
 

I decided the kitchen gods wanted me to make an egg mayonnaise sandwich with anchovies.

 

The truth is I never willingly make an egg mayonnaise sandwich without anchovies so I boiled my eggs readied my mayo and anchovies and in due course began assemblage.  

But the fact also is that I never willingly make an egg mayonnaise sandwich without smoked paprika - and I suddenly realized I’d run out.  I’m not prepared to drive to the supermarket just for a jar of smoked paprika, so I improvised.

 Here is my egg mayonnaise sandwich with anchovies and ... turmeric. 

 




It tasted pretty good. To be honest I think that was because of the egg and the mayonnaise and the anchovies rather than the turmeric.  Does turmeric really have much taste at all? I don’t think so, but I stand to be corrected.  But it looked reasonably jazzy.


Do you want to see a picture of a young Rachel Riley (of Countdown fame) dressed as an egg salad sandwich?  Well, of course you do.