I am in Athens, thoroughly ignoring the fact that in 1 month, I will be living in Berlin, with my husband and daughter. Instead L sleeps on the balcony and I spend a lot of my time horizontal, either with a food magazine, a food blog or re-runs of Fraser.
Every Monday I go to the neighborhood market. It is very unlike Borough Market in London in so many respects. The stallholders are older and their weathered hands are undeniable proof that they are the farmers and not some hippie kid dappling in a bit of weekend fun. And the prices! 2 kg of oranges for 1 Euro. These are “Taste the difference” kinds of oranges, so juicy that I often end up accidentally squirting orange juice when I am trying to eat them. The outsides are not shiny or polished but rather a matt powdery orange. It must be something they spray them with. But the taste! Outstanding!
And the stall holder who sells them hollers out the funniest things – “Not oranges but sweets! Not oranges but donoughts (lokoumia)!” And sometimes he just kind of does a kind of deep satisfied grunt “Hmmmmmmmmmmmm”! Strange stuff. He needs to compete with the banana seller across the way that sells bananas with a cigarette hanging perilously out of his mouth. He sounds like he talks through a voice box; “Aromes Bananas or Aromatic Bananas…..Aromatic….Bananas”. Because of his particular disability or ability as the case might be, I can always find the banana guy.
All that talk about seasonality and sustainability in London. Well I think they must have had a wake up call with the recent volcanic activity in Iceland that interfered with their deliveries. The markets here are entirely local and seasonal. Although I question the probability that 80% of the tomatoes they sell seem to come from Crete. That is the tipping point for whether you shell out a bit more cash for a tomato here, if they come from Crete.
Its only April though and the markets are full with tomatoes, aubergines (black and the stripped variety), small pale courgettes (so sweet I just let them warm up in the pan for a minute or two to take on the flavor of the garlic and butter), lettuces spattered with dirt and a sprinkling of slugs, garlic so sweet and young that it doesn’t linger on your breath after you have finished eating. Its really good produce. It spoils very easily however. Cucumbers are a soggy mess after one week. My aubergines started to sprout mould after only 3 days! Which is scary, not that the produce is spoiling but that in London, I have eaten a courgette after a month! They were still dark green, still firm without the slightest hint of mould? What do they do to the fruit and vegetables in the UK then? I think it is likely that they irradiate it. There is an interesting link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiationhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiation) that explains how it works.
The fish stalls intimidate me. For a few reasons. First, the second I approach the stall the stallholder fashions a paper cone receptacle and asks me what I want? “The squid are fresh, the fish are fresh, octopus…fresh”. But I am entirely un-familiar with what they are selling. I can identify the mackerel and maybe those little red fish are “rouget”, the curled ones there, could they be bream? I don’t have the opportunity to look at all his offerings and decide. And I don’t want to be hassled into a purchase, so I usually end up backing away shyly and buying some oranges from across the way.
The second thing I don’t understand is why some of the fish are curled up? Were they thrown on ice the minute they were caught and therefore have that funny shape? Or are they in rigor mortis? Things that one-year at Leiths did not teach me. Its sad and I am a little bit disappointed with myself that my consumption of fish is primarily of the Waitrose, vac-packed, salmon variety. Ach, well!
In my defense, I did buy some squid the other day, from the supermarket, which I tried to cook. I failed miserably. I tried to recreate the sauce I had at Barrafina in London. Shells in a delicious olive and lemon emulsion, salty like the sea, and strewn with straight blades of parsley. I cut the parsley exactly the same, even with my mother’s dull knife. I cleaned the squid, scored it, and as per Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s YouTube demonstration; put it in a very hot pan. Seared one side and then immediately turned it over. Took out the squid, added the lemon and the olive oil, swirled it together and off the heat added my chifonade of parsley. I plated it beautifully. The sauce was divine. The squid however was inedible. I couldn’t get my teeth to meet through the rubbery flesh. It was like chewing a piece of hose, one that was doused in a delicious sauce. Even my mother, who likes to find merit in anything I do, could not eat it. The most irritating thing of all though is the house was full to the brim of this delicious smell of seared squid, garlic and lemon.
We ended up eating canned tuna with a lettuce and cucumber salad.