Thursday, October 31, 2019


If you happen to read Chaka! Through the Fire, the autobiography of Chaka Khan, you’ll become aware of a moment in Detroit, after Chaka has played a gig at the Fox Theater,  go into a White Castle on the way back to the hotel.

White Castle is, as they say, an American regional hamburger chain with 377 locations across 13 states, mostly in the Midwest, though there did used to be at least one in New York City.  This is a White Castle in Detroit though I can’t swear it’s the one Chaka’s crew went to.  

White Castle is famous for its rather small hamburgers, though they obviously do other things too, including fish sandwiches.

Chaka is reluctant at first but then wouldn’t you know it, but things develop in the course of the journey, 'by then, I had a taste for a fish sandwich or two. By the time we reached White Castle, thinking about how tiny their sandwiches are, I’d upped the number to four.’

They arrive at White Caste, a few of them go in, Chaka stays in the limo.  She decides things are moving too slowly so she goes into the White Castle to hurry them up.  This has foreseeable consequences.
‘In my impatience, I’d forgotten that I wasn’t a “regular” person, or at least, I couldn’t live like one.  Clearly my presence was causing chaos.’ so she returns to the limo.

‘When Lisa (one of the backing singers) and the others finally emerged with the food – oops. Lisa had eaten two fish sandwiches too many while waiting for the others.
‘“Girl” I was halfway mad. Between the waiting and my appetite ... I really wanted my four!’
So she sends Lisa back in.
‘When Lisa came out she was trailed by one of the counter girls, with a huge, free bag of fish sandwiches.
‘How beautiful.’
Yes indeed what could be more beautiful than a fast food worker giving free food to a rich diva. Did Chaka give the girl a big tip? If so, she doesn’t mention it in the book.  She says gave the girl a hug.

There is in fact a joint in Barcelona named Chaka Khan,  that styles itself a ‘gastro bar exotique‘.  As far I can tell (I mean, their menu, which I've seen online, is long, labyrinthine, multilingual and inscrutable) they don’t serve fish sandwiches.

Monday, October 28, 2019


Maybe you read about this; people dying in British Nation Health hospitals having eaten sandwiches that contained listeria, which came from the Good Food Chain company, which has now gone out of business, amid accusations of a cover up. 
Now, I gather that for most people listeria is a fairly mild infection, causing food poisoning, but if you’re vulnerable - say a hospital patient – then it can kill you. And apparently it kills 46 people a year in England and Wales, though I don’t know how many of those are in hospital at the time.

And it turns that listeria seems to be everywhere, and is even acceptable within legal limits all over the food industry.  My information comes from The Times which accompanied the article with a version of this picture by Andrew Testa of somebody making sandwiches.  In fact I don't think this photograph was taken at a Good Food Chain facility.

And I did find this somehow alarming.  Partly because the filling looks so meager, but far more because the sandwich maker is obviously pressing the prawns into the bread and getting mayo all over his (or possibly her) fingers. 
And I did wonder whether I ought to be alarmed.  These days all kinds of professions wear safety gloves: manicurists and tattooists, for instance, and not least people in food preparation.  And maybe we’ve become squeamish.
Back in the day one assumed people always prepared food with their bare hands, so long as they weren’t dropping cigarette ash into your soup you thought you were doing OK. And in any case it doesn’t seem that the listeria at the Good Food Chain came from anybody’s hands, much less from a cigarette

And I kept thinking of the film Hiro Dreams of Sushi : a great chef, great sushi, and not a glove in sight.  And no listeria either, as far as I know.

I was also amazed to read in that Times article that more that 4 billion sandwiches are sold in Britain every year.

And how about this – there’a a sandwich factory in Worksop owned by a company called, would you believe, Greencore, that produces 3 million sandwiches a week for Marks and Sparks, Sainsbury’s and Boots.

And there’s more - set your face to stunned -  this company makes 900 (that’s nine hundred!!) different types of sandwich, including 300 new varities every year.  I’ll let that sink in.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


I’ve been reading Around the World in 80 Days – I had my reasons.  Somebody I know is supposedly organizing an exhibition of vintage photographs of all the places the fictional Phileas Fogg travelled through.

Now, it’s well known that Verne translations are a messy business, and that early English translators took terrible liberties with his novels.  The version I read was the current Collinsclassics paperback edition, which doesn’t even name a translator.  So some of the oddities may not be Verne’s, even so it’s a rum old novel.

The stuff about food is especially strange.  Early in the novel Fogg employs Passepartout to be his servant.  Fogg of course is very English, Passepartout is very French and may not be familiar with every aspect of English society in the late 19thcentury.  Even so when he goes to his room and finds a timetable of how Fogg spends his days, I’ll bet he was surprised to learn that his boss leaves his home in Saville Row at 11.30 in order to have his breakfast at the Reform Club.  

It gets odder, ‘His breakfast consisted of a side-dish, a boiled fish with Reading sauce of first quality, a scarlet slice of roast beef garnished with mushrooms, a rhubarb and gooseberry tart, and a bit of Chester cheese, the whole washed down with a few cups of that excellent tea, specially gathered for the stores of the Reform Club.’

Now there is, or was, a Reading sauce, and maybe Verne and his translator knew that.  But I can’t imagine that any English translator was so wayward as to think this was a reasonable breakfast, or that there’s any such thing as Chester cheese.  I stand to be corrected.

Things get livelier when Fogg arrives in India and has dinner in the Bombay Railway station where the landlord serves him ‘giblet of “native rabbit.”’

‘Sir,’ he (Fogg) said, looking at him steadily, ‘is that rabbit?’
‘Yes my lord,’ replied the rogue boldly, ‘the rabbit of the jungles.’
‘And that rabbit did not mew when it was killed?’
‘Mew! oh my lord! a rabbit! I swear to you - ’
‘Landlord,’ replied Fogg coolly, ‘don’t swear, and recollect this: in former times, in India, cats were considered sacred animals.  That was a good time.’
‘For the cats, my lord?’
‘And perhaps also for the travellers.’

Things pick up only slightly when they arrive in America at the International Hotel in Sacramento where there’s a kind of buffet.  ‘Dried beef, oyster soup, biscuit, (Singular?) and cheese were dealt out without the customer paying.  He paid only for his drink – ale, porter or sherry, if he fancied refreshment.’  Sounds a reasonable deal, though didn’t Brecht say something about cheap hunger and expensive thirst?

The 1956 David Niven film did bear some relation to the novel, the 2004 Jackie Chan film (which I think of as the Steve Coogan film) of the same name, bore none whatsoever.  

Interesting fact: there is no ballooning in the novel, at least not in the version I read.

Monday, October 21, 2019


Josephine’s, a Filipino restaurant in London’s Charlotte Street, is a place I often end up when I can’t think of anywhere more exciting to go, and I always end up enjoying it more than I probably would if I’d gone somewhere I thought was going to be more exciting.  It isn't quite as gauzy as in this picture, and never as empty.

I try not to have the same thing, every time though the dinuguan (translated on the menu as ‘black pudding stew’) is hard to resist. That’s it in the rear of this picture:

And in the front is deep fried milk fish.  I’m pretty sure I’d never had milk fish before but it was pretty good and the vinegar sauce made it even better.  I gather that milk fish has reputation for being boney but the restaurant, or their suppliers, had done a fine job of removing the bones.

I also gather, I mean I looked it up online, in 2007 the milk fish (chanos chanos) accounted for 17% of global finfish production behind only Atlantic salmon which has 40%.  I also learn that in 2009, Philippine milk fish production contributed to 14.03% of Philippine aquaculture production behind seaweed (70.23%) but ahead of tilapia (10.53%), though producing milk fish (I gather they’re mostly farmed) seems more of an achievement than raising seaweed.

Everything was good at Josephine’s, and at the bottom of the stairs as you go down to the loo there was a pile of free papers – Planet Philippines.  I took one. It contained a lot of ads for  immigration lawyers and remittance agencies but it also had a three page article titled ‘Chicharrific: Potion or poison?’ about Philippine pork crackling, written by one Claude Tayag, who it runs out is quite the Renaissance man, an artist as well as a restaurateur and writerThis is one of his pictures titled ‘Oyster shucking.’

Tayag and his sources reckon that the word ‘chicharrón’if not the thing itself comes from Spain. He quotes Antonio Sánchez de Mora, head of the Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, Spain, as syaing ‘Chicharrón (the Spanish spell it with a double “r”) originated in the Andalusia region of southwestern Spain, where most of the colonial seafarers came from. It was in Cadiz, one of its five provinces, where the ships embarked to the New World.  They brought with them their food ways, including all things pork, especially its curing into jamón, tocino (bacon), chorizos, and chicharrón.’
This of course doesn’t explain which we get pork crackling in most parts of England.  This is a picture of Claude Tayag hard at work.

In his article Tayag makes some claims for the health fits of pork skin ‘fat that’s in chicharon is mostly mono-unsaturated, the same healthy kind of fat found in olive oil, avocados, and macadamia nuts. Some kinds of chicharon have as high as 40 percent of this “heart-healthy” fat. Seriously? I’m not kidding … It is also high in protein, comparable to the protein content of Greek yogurt, and has nine times more protein than potato chips. Since it has zero carbohydrates, it is Keto diet-friendly. It is the seasoning used, mainly salt, that raises blood pressure, which in turn could lead to heart problems. But it is also high in calories.’
Something of a mixed message there, and he concludes, ‘Like in most everything good that is bad (i.e., cigarettes, alcohol, chocolates, illicit sex, wink, wink), chicharon produces the “feel-good” chemicals (endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine) that make us happy when consumed, at least for a while. Well, my advice is to just avoid it or have it in moderation.  Choose your poison. Or potion (wink, wink).  Give me lard or none at all.’
This may have lost something in translation.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


If you’re in Sheffield and you buy a bag of pork scratchings from the Béres Pork Shop (established 1961), chances are it will come in the bag they use for their pork sandwiches, which bears the warning ‘contains crackle – only recommended for people with strong, healthy teeth.’  Health and safety gone porcine, innit?


However, should you go into the newish indoor Sheffield Market on the Moor and buy a bag of pork scratchings from Waterall Bros Ltd (established 1964) you’ll find it comes in a bag with no such warning, even though - and I’ve done my research on the subject – the Waterall crackling seems a good deal harder on the teeth than the Béres variety, and frankly the latter is tastier.  Looks better too.


And in the interest of research I went to have a breakfast pork sandwich at Lynne’s Café on Surrey Street.

         This came with a fabulous piece of crackling (also stuffing and apple sauce) and was absolutely great – but it also managed to come with no warning whatsoever.  

Two establishments that allow people to take responsibility for their own lives and their own teeth.  How very grown up.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


The website Food Sake Tokyo, which I don’t read as often as I probably should, has published a list of October Seasonal Seafood in Japan.
Are you ready for this?  I admit that I wasn’t.  

To start the ball rolling, this is what a fat greenling looks like, at least as an illustration:

The list is as follows: 

Ainame 鮎並 fat greenling (Hexagrammos otakii)
Aka garei 赤鰈flathead flounder (Hippoglossoides dubius)
Amaebi 甘海老sweet shrimp (Pandalus borealis)
Ankou  鮟鱇monkfish (Lophius litulon)
Asaba garei 浅羽dusky sole (Lepidopsetta bilineata)
Asari 浅蜊Japanese little neck clam (Ruditapes philippinarum)
Awabi abalone (Haliotis sorenseni)
Babagarei 婆鰈slime flounder (Microstomus achne)
Baka gai 馬鹿貝surf clam (Mactra chinensis)
Benizuwai gani 紅頭矮蟹 red snow crab (Chionoecetes japonicus)
Botan ebi ボタンエビBotan shrimp  (Pandalus nipponesis)
Chidai  血鯛crimson sea bream (Evynnis japonica)
Hakkakuor tokubire 八角sailfin poacher (Podothecus sachi)
Hata hata   sailfin sandfish (Arctoscopus japonicus)
Hime ezobora 姫蝦夷法螺  sea snail (Neptunea arthritica)
Hirame olive halibut (Paralichthys olivaceus)
Hokkai ebi or hokkai shima ebi 北海海老Hokkai shrimp (Pandalus latirostris)
Hokke 𩸽arabesque greenling (Pleurogrammus azonus)
Hokki gai (uba gai姥貝hen clam (Pseudocardium sachalinense)
Hokkoku aka ebior amaebi 北国赤蝦 Alaskan pink shrimp (Pandalus borealis)
Hon maguro (or kuromaguro黒鮪bluefin tuna (Thunus thynnus)
Hotate gai 帆立貝 Japanese scallop (Mizuhopecten yessoensis)
Ibodai 疣鯛butterfish (Psenopsis anomala)
Inada いなだyoung amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)
Itoyoridai 糸縒鯛  golden threadfin-bream (Nemipterus virgatus)
Kaki  牡蠣oyster (Crassostrea gigas)
Kamasu 大和叺barracuda (Sphyraena japonica)
Katsuo   skipjack tuna or oceanic bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis)
Kegani 毛蟹horsehair crab (Erimacrus isenbeckii)
Kemushi kajika毛虫鰍sea ravenor toubetsu kajika (Hemitripterus villosus)
Kinki or Kichiji 黄血魚thornhead (Sebastolobus macrochir)
Kinmedai 金目鯛  splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)
Kitsune mebaru狐目張or mazoi fox jacopever(Sebastes vulpes)
Kuro gashira garei 黒頭鰈cresthead flounder (Pleuronectes schrenki)
Kurosoi 黒曹以jacopever (Sebastes zonatusschlegeli)
Madako 真蛸octopus (Octopus vulgaris)
Madaraor tara 真鱈Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus)
Magarei 真鰈littlemouth flounder (Pleuronectes herzensteini)
Maguro  tuna (Thunus thynnus)
Maiwashi or iwashi 真鰯spotline sardine  (Sardinops melanostictus)
Mako garei 真子鰈marbled flounder (Pleuronectes yokohamae)
Masaba or saba 真鯖 Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus)
Masu trout (there are many types of trout – see nijimasu, sakuramasu)
Matara or tara 真鱈  cod (Gadus macrocephalus)
Matsukawa gareior tantaka or takanoha 松皮鰈barfin flounder (Verasper moseri)
Meji maguro    young Pacific bluefin tuna
Mizudako 水蛸North Pacific giant octopus (Octopus dofleini)
Muroaji 室鰺Brown-striped mackerel scad (Decapterus muroadsi)
Niji masu 虹鱒rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Nishin Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii)
Numagareior wakagarei 沼鰈starry flounder (Platichthys stellatus)
Sake salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)
Sakura masu or yamame 桜鱒cherry salmon (Oncorhynchus masou maso)
Sanma 秋刀魚Pacific saury (Cololabis saira)
Sawara  Japanese Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius)
Shako 蝦蛄mantis shrimp (Oratosquilla oratoria)
Shiira mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus)
Shijimi 大和蜆corbicula clam (Corbicula japonica)
Shirauo 白魚icefish (Salangichthys microdon)
Shishamo 柳葉魚capelin (Spirinchus lanceolatus)
Souhachi 宗八鰈pointhead flounder (Cleishenes pinetorum)
Sukesou dara Alaska pollack (Theragra chalcogramma)
Suna garei 砂鰈sand flounder (Limanda punctatissima)
Surumeika 鯣烏賊Japanese flying squid (Todarodes pacificus)
Tachiuo 太刀魚cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus)
Tarabagani 鱈場蟹Alaska king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus)
Tsubugai つぶ貝whelk  (Buccinum undatum)
Ugui Japanese dace (Tribolodon Hakonensis)
Unagi Japanese eel  (Anguilla japonica)
Wakasagi 若細魚Japanese smelt (Hypomesus nipponensis)
Warasa Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)
Yanagi no mai 柳の舞yellow rockfish (Sebastes steindachneri)

Of course I’d heard of many of these, and quite a few didn’t seem especially exotic.  Somehow I find it cheering to imagine Japanese gourmets eating whelks – they seem so English seaside.

But then there was a whole other world of (to me) previously unknown seafood wonders – many of which sounded very appealing: the flying squid, the olive halibut, the arabesque greenling – which is actually a mackerel, which doesn’t in itself sound all that exotic, but then you discover it looks like this:

I'm thinking the slime flounder could probably do with a name change, and frankly it looks much better in some pictures than others

But as for the splendid alfonsino it sounds just ace, and really does look the part: