Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Reading Nigel Slater's post in this weeks Observer, publicising his new book.

Interesting idea - the actual, real food that characterises the British food identity, past and present. Jammie Dodgers, tea cakes - those glutinously addictive marshmallow and chocolate wafer domes. The perfect way to eat a kit kat. Obsessively. Keeping the tin foil perfectly unruffled. And nibbling off the chocolate sides in precisely the right order.

It made me foggily remember our first family visit to an upmarket restaurant. Blakes, of Stillorgan, then a wine red plush carpet seventies slice of steakhouse delight. Waiters in uniforms with red waistcoats. Velour. A rare fabric in my life, and one unfamiliarity convinced me expressed exclusivity. That curious working class feeling stuck with me for many years, far into my twenties. That sense of being fundamentally out of place I always tended to experience in anything above bistro level.

Dressed in my best, striped, pink green and white cotton grandad shirt, and a pair of subchinos. I was an odd shy child, and the dinner was, in part, I think, to commemorate something I had done. Or achieved. Or had done to me successfully.

It's curious how quickly the memory of a smoke filled restaurant at evening time has become nostalgic.

I do remember thinking that it was a strange way of celebrating, as I barely ate anything as a child, and became cantankerously close-minded in the presence of anything that wasn't mince stew. At my fathers instigation, (i.e he picked up the menu and ordered for me, checking with occasionally with me by saying "You'll like it") I ordered steak, through my somewhat optimistic proxy, fried onions, potatoes, with peas on the side.

And I remember liking the experience. I remeber it, perhaps, as the first moment when I bagan to expand my ideas of what was good to eat. When something, even something so simple, was capable of pleasantly surprising me. It took a good couple of years for my horizons to expand to anything like a reasonable degree. The memory of that journey in my life is filled with all sorts of pleasant nooks and crannies. Moments that stay with me, that remind me of things, that are filled with associations.

The smell of raw onion, and fresh mince frying on a pan, as my father pounded out more fresh, homemade hamburgers on a Friday or Saturday night to wean us off the frozen, corn husk and soya packed variety. With black pepper. Black. My mothers Dublin coddle, combining all sorts of things in an addictively warm and homely set of concoctions. I can remember the smell and taste of the very first one she cooked. Corn on the cob with fresh butter. Frozen peas. Frozen peas.

It got me thinking about the food that makes up or sense of ourselves in Ireland. But thats another post.


Lorraine said...

nice post Abulfia - I always remember feeling out of place in restuarants too, it was far from sole and fillet I was brought up on. Even today everyone still looks uncomfortable in the more upmarket establishments!! All I remember is too much chicken kiev and fish fingers:) Thank god I met an Italian to save me!!

Abulafia said...

Fish fingers. Man. I'd murder a pack of Birdseye's right now. With a small tin of Batchelors beans, and some home cooked chips.

It's strange how much some things change, eh?