Fried Chicken: Everybody Loves It Including In London And New Orleans

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As last week was going to be tough for me, my mother surprised me with an emergency food parcel. This, among other things, contained two chicken dinners. A (potentially) nutritious and tasty food that brings a particular kind of comfort, chicken is everything that anyone might want in a meal. Oh, unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan that is, but more on that later.

Chicken is humanity’s meat. In his book Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? The Epic Saga of the Bird That Powers Civilization”, Andrew Lawler points out that there are more chickens alive today than cats, dogs, pigs, cows and rats combined, and that chicken is eaten on every continent, apart from Antartica (because of the risk they might pose to the penguins).

Pork is popular across east Asia and Europe, but is prohibited under Muslim and Jewish dietary laws. Lamb is particularly beloved of most ethnic groups in the Middle East and is practically the national food of New Zealand and Wales, but is as exotic as reindeer or kangaroo in the US. Beef cannot be eaten by Hindus and has a whiff of English and American nationalism that can leave a bad taste in the mouth today. But in a world where we disagree on so very much, we mostly all agree on chicken, and that very much includes London and New Orleans.

“For London, fried chicken is as much a culture as it is a cuisine,” David Clack wrote in Time Out London. I certainly never walk far after leaving the house before tripping on a chewed-over bone, a result of how chicken shops have thrived in London in recent decades. Clack’s article explains that this is because, as chicken is so popular all around the world, chicken shops have done well amid London’s multiplicity of ethnic communities.

Fried chicken appeals as much to the middle classes as it does to immigrant communities, and has been a bit-player in the saga of London gentrification. Dishes such as wings, chicken burgers and nuggets have followed the hamburger in getting a gourmet upgrade and London has recently seen a spate of posh chicken shop openings, such as Chick n Sours and Wishbone. Tottenham restaurant Chicken Town, meanwhile, represents a laudable effort to produce a healthy and also affordable version of chicken shop food while training up young people from historically underprivileged Tottenham to work in the hospitality industry.

You could say that to examine fried chicken eating in London is to examine London itself. Channel 4 documentary series The Chicken Shop, filmed at Clapham’s Rooster Spot, did just that, claiming to present “a unique portrait of contemporary life, illustrated by fried chicken, the staff who serve it and the customers who buy it”. More recently, “Chicken Connoisseur” Elijah Quashie’s collection of London chicken shop reviews entitled “The Pengest Munch” has gone viral on YouTube. “I genuinely don’t know what life [in London] would be without [chicken shops],” he told The Guardian.

Thanks to a profusion of world-class hyperlocal dishes, fried chicken is not as prominent in New Orleans as it is in London or elsewhere in the South. But people still eat plenty of it, whether in smartish French Quarter restaurant Fiorella’s, or in locally-founded chain Popeyes.

As in London, eating chicken in New Orleans is a window into the city’s culture and history. Chicken has been enmeshed in social rituals throughout New Orleans’ past. Chickens plays a part in some voodoo ceremonies. Slaughtering a chicken is traditionally the climax of the “courir”, the Cajun country version of Mardi Gras. Louisiana was the last US state to ban cockfighting, doing so in 2008.

How fried chicken is eaten in New Orleans today also reflects current social issues, again as in London. In its entry for world-renowned Treme fried chicken restaurant Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a recent edition of the Lonely Planet guide to New Orleans refers to the “offputting” sight of outsiders driving in for a “fried chicken from the ‘hood experience”. Here there are hints, if slight, of issues including gentrification, crime, racism and how the negative effects of an unhealthy diet disproportionately affect the poor. These plague New Orleans, and London too.

But, continues the entry, “the chicken is pretty damn good”. As ever, the meat of this bird can transcend divisions and difficulties through bringing the simple satisfaction of being well-fed. And, it seems, this applies even to those firmly committed to a plant-based diet. Round the corner from where I live in London, and with very long lines, an outlet opened last month serving up – what else? –“vegan fried chicken”.

Image: Thy Khue Ly

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Ice Cream Memories In London And New Orleans

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We London people like ice cream more than you might think, given that our climate for most of the year is not ideal for this frozen delight. But we don’t mind not having the weather for it – in fact, I’m sure I remember reading somewhere or other that more ice cream is consumed in the UK in the winter than in the summer.

Personally speaking, this Londoner adores ice cream. I’ll eat it any old time, but it’s also my default choice on a restaurant dessert menu and my favourite prize for when I feel I deserve something special. I’ve celebrated a new job with pillowy swirls of frozen yoghurt sprinkled with my choice of toppings (brownie pieces and raspberries), and on my birthday this year I made a pilgrimage by myself to a new cafe in my neighbourhood to sample a creamy caramel “freakshake”. But my London ice cream memories stretch a long way back into my past.

Paddington Bear and his Knickerbocker Glories. How a maths textbooks – a US import, as it happens – taught me how permutations differ from combinations by asserting that “a double scoop ice cream cone with jamoca almond fudge on top and strawberry on the bottom is not the same as strawberry on the top and jamoca almond fudge on the bottom” – quite true, of course. Everyone loving impromptu hot chocolate sundaes at a New Year’s Eve party after the hostess mistakenly put salt instead of sugar into the apple pie. The Ben & Jerry’s music festivals on Clapham Common – unlimited free cones! The innovative gelaterias that make your ice cream on the spot with liquid nitrogen, require a secret password for certain flavours, or even whip up an icy treat up out of breast milk. The very traditional gelateria that has for generations been located in Primrose Hill near my parents’ house, and where I had my 29th (yes, 29th not 9th) birthday party.

But many of my most precious London ice cream memories involve my grandmother, very much a native Londoner, if mainly of its suburban south-west fringes. I think she loves ice cream almost as much as I do. I remember, when I was a only small child and she must have already been a mature lady, ordering “honey gelato, please” in unison with her in a restaurant we were at for a family party. Her coffee ice cream (recipe pictured) is legendary. To this day, we’re quite likely to both have a dame blanche for pudding if it’s on the menu when we meet for lunch.

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My grandmother’s coffee ice cream recipe

Perhaps because it also has significant Italian immigration in its history, New Orleans of course also has a rich tradition of making and eating ice cream. I’ve been in love with the city’s ice cream parlours for almost as long as I’ve been love with the city. I think I visited La Divina in the French Quarter on my very first day there, and I also have happy memories of attending an evening poetry readings around the cast iron tables in its little alley courtyard. Angelo Brocato (pictured) meanwhile, was one of the places I made a beeline for when I began to explore Mid City.

I’ve been thinking about all these ice cream memories a lot recently. Perhaps because this September it has been unseasonably hot in London, which happily has prompted more ice cream eating. But a favourite gelateria wasn’t open when I tried to visit, as it’s actually officially autumn now. Hot weather at this time of year can also lead to storms and flooding, unfortunately suffered by parts of the world both near London and near New Orleans in recent weeks, which reminded me of Ben & Jerry’s climate change awareness campaign – tagline: “If It’s Melted, It’s No Good”.

These things show that there are ebbs and flows in ice cream that reflect those in every other part of life. The sweet stuff symbolises life’s pleasures and can be a powerful connection to the precious things in our histories, but by its very nature also represents and reminds us of their fragility and fleetingness.

I read recently that La Divina closed its original Magazine Street outlet. Angelo Brocato moved in the late 1970s/early 1980s from the French Quarter to Carrollton Avenue and then, just after celebrating its 100th birthday, was forced to shut for over a year after Hurricane Katrina, which was held to be one of an array of key signs of the trauma inflicted on the city by the storm. The return of the business and its famous lemon ice was warmly welcomed by the city and even got an honourable mention in Treme.

And on that lemon ice: I never used to like it much. Nothing against Angelo Brocato, of course – I just found the sharpness from those citrussy juices and oils, which are of course the very essence of lemon and hence of lemon ice, too much. My granny, meanwhile, loves what we call “lemon sorbet” probably more than anything else in the ice cream family.

But when I was recently in New Orleans and visited Angelo Brocato, lemon ice/lemon sorbet was suddenly the only thing I wanted. And it was very good. Maybe I’m finally growing up and getting more sophisticated tastes after all those birthday treat sundaes, I thought. I found myself thinking about my granny too, wondering if something had happened to her, if my sudden craving was some kind of cosmic message. And actually, while there was no immediate emergency then and there remains much about her life to be thankful for, she has bad days sometimes. She celebrated her 93rd birthday this summer, with all that entails. It’s the lemon in the lemon ice. But it’s still very good.

Main image: Kevin O’Mara

London’s “Edible Cocktails” And Why New Orleans Doesn’t Need Them

There’s a new trend in London: edible cocktails. Obviously, we’ve had the Bloody Mary for a while now, just like everyone else. But in skyscraper Heron Tower’s branch of Sushisamba you can now sample a range of “culinary cocktails”, the pick of which, I’d say, is the Tom Yam, a mix of coriander, ginger, lime leaf, chili and vodka, and served with an turbot nigiri.

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Over at the new branch of Ottolenghi in Spitalfields, where the food is inspired by a number of Middle Eastern cultures that I would say were always more about the food than the drink anyway, Yotam Ottolenghi has deliberately instituted a cocktail menu for, he says, people who “don’t normally order a cocktail”, where the drinks have the same flavours as his dishes. You could choose a martini flavoured with sumac or sage, a saffron take on a champagne cocktail, or a chili and hazelnut Old Fashioned.

There seems to be a particularly large number of breakfast cocktails out there at the moment in London. Perhaps this trend has something to do with Londoners’ bizarre mix of brazenness and guilt when it comes to all kinds of sin, and how we tend to see breakfast as both a redemptive recovery process and another dose of naughtiness.

I remember hearing about marmalade martinis being served at an illicit, yet bright and early, pre-Field Day party a few years ago, and now we have the Walk of Shame from the bar at The Jetty (which I wrote about in my last post) which is described on the menu as, “a London breakfast, infused smoky rum shaken with strawberry jam”. I tried it, and I can confirm it’ll certainly fix you up and mess you up, all at the same time.

Then there’s the most extreme breakfast-inspired food cocktail option which, thinking about it, was always going to happen, given all the faffing around with albumen for Pisco Sours there’s been here in recent years, and everybody’s longstanding obsession with bacon (bacon and maple syrup cupcake anyone?). Yes, it’s the bacon and egg martini. Invented at the London Cocktail Club, it’s a mix of smoked bacon-infused Jack Daniels, egg white, maple syrup, lemon juice and bitters. Yum.

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Now, wouldn’t it be good, you might be thinking, if there were food cocktails like this in New Orleans? (There may well be already, and I’m just not looking hard enough…) It’s the birthplace of the cocktail, after all, with the best food in the world. How about a Bananas Foster daiquiri? A spicy gumbo martini? Or, I don’t know, a po-boy…something?

In my view, no. Some things shouldn’t be changed. A Sazerac at the Carousel Bar. $0.25 lunchtime martinis at Commander’s Palace. A Bleeding Heart at Bacchanal. And food in New Orleans is generally good the way it is already, and doesn’t need to be shaken up.

I love London, but I sometimes find it stressful that here, unlike in New Orleans, it feels like people want things to change all the time – house prices have probably gone up, and probably by enough to buy a good few of those lunchtime martinis, just while I’ve been writing this. Yet at the same time nothing changes. We’re all engaged in a constant treasure hunt for the newest and best thing, that is usually also supposed to somehow also be the most authentic and simplest thing, but all too often turns out to be quite similar to whatever the last newest and best thing was, and not simple or authentic at all.

Recently I’ve found myself going back to the same old places, trying some things twice, and hoping to see the same people. This more circular way of life – I don’t regard it as necessarily “slower”, though that doesn’t need to be pejorative – is what some of the New Orleans residents I’ve known over the years have sometimes told me life in the city is like. Having never lived in New Orleans, I wouldn’t know. But if the stars ever align to put me in a position to find out, I don’t think I’ll be pining for a bacon and egg martini.

Images: Rob Greig/London Cocktail Club

How London Went Wild For Pepsi

This week I did something unusual, which is actually quite usual in London – and in New Orleans too.

It’s springtime here, but maybe not as we know it. Cherry ripe, burning bright, in the forests of the night…

Instead of admiring pink blossoms as I might normally be at this time of year, I entered this fantastical fantasy land – yes, it was that pink, and that tree is made of solid dark chocolate.

An abandoned Christmas panto stage set? Selfridges’ food hall gone to seed? No, actually a promotional exercise for Pepsi Max going by the beguiling moniker “The Cherry Rooms”.

We entered under a soft spray of the sticky stuff, nibbled leaves as we listened to gentle tinkling music via headphones (which makes everything taste sweeter, apparently), and the experience culminated with a steaming glass of ice cold soda topped with a marble-hard liquid-nitrogen frozen version of the fruit itself (my favourite, as it happens).

One big bad advert? Yes. Fun? Hell, yes. And, like many things that are fun in this town, it reminded me of New Orleans.

First, the generous quantities of tasty food and drink – and let’s not forget that more than one cola hails from the American South. Second, the fun and sheer zaniness of it all.

And third, the reminder in the uncomfortableness of a promotional exercise for a sonewhat objectionable substance posing as a theatrical/artistic event that culture can’t be separated from money and commerce and politics, however much you wish it wasn’t so.

You can interpret that in New Orleans terms how you like – meanwhile, for now, I’m happy with the sugar rush.

Why You Need A Skull-Shaped Sugar Spoon

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I came across this skull-shaped sugar spoon a little while ago in the bookshop of the National Theatre in London, and was immediately drawn to it.

It seems to me to be that it could be seen as a good combination of the fascination with the macabre you find all over Louisiana and the English obsession with tea which traditionally would always have a couple of spoonfuls of sugar stirred into it.

“When the spoon is used to scoop sugar,” a description says, “the granules create a skull-shaped mound – a reminder to use less perhaps, or just ghastly fun.”

This duality in the spoon could act as an emblem of the New Orleans see-saw between the Catholic tradition of penitence and an instinct to maximise pleasure as life is short. It also reminds me of the British tradition of telling fortunes from tea leaves, which might promise all kinds of exciting things but are always under the shadow of the one certainty in all our futures.

Using the spoon in London or New Orleans would also be a reminder of the huge problems with obesity in both the UK and America. Obesity is a public health issue, but what can be forgotten is that it’s also a political one – a correlation of obesity with urban poverty due to complex factors including a lack of access to healthy food and the filling comfort of junk food can make body size another way to stigmatise already marginalised groups.

If you go deeper into the politics of the food chain, sugar can leave a very bitter taste in your mouth indeed. The spoon could be a reminder that much sugar reaches London or New Orleans today through unjust systems of global trade.

Going back in history, sugar is closely connected with the murderous horrors of slavery in the US and Caribbean, not only through the economics of its production and sale, but also more viscerally – there are reports of enslaved people being punished by immersion in boiling cane liquid, or by being coated in sugar and left outside to be attacked by flies.

This connection of sugar with slavery might have been most visible in the Americas, but a vast amount of wealth from the sugar trade reached London. The history of the abolitionist movement in the UK, closely associated with London’s Stoke Newington near to where I live, includes the 1791 boycott of sugar from the American plantations.

These days however it is possible, especially if you buy fair trade sugar, to enjoy king cake or Tottenham cake or any other sweet treat without too much of a guilty conscience. The spoon and its symbolism is by no means redundant, though: reminders of a less-than-sweet history are always valuable – and too much of the sweet stuff is still likely to bring your inevitable death just that little bit closer.

A Louisiana Sandwich in London

This Friday, I spied a sandwich in the cafe near my office that I just had to have: a “Louisiana tuna melt”.

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Mmm – doesn’t look that great, does it? And, no, it didn’t match the standards of the legendary Louisiana sandwiches that I’ve been lucky enough to eat over the years.

There’s the quarter-muffuletta from Central Grocery on Decatur, for example – I dare you to try to consume a whole, or even a half, one. I have a big appetite, but this New Orleans-special sandwich, reportedly invented at this very store by Sicilian immigrants many years ago, is bigger.

Done properly, it’s made of mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone, sandwiched together with olive salad on a round Italian sesame loaf with the crisp yet soft texture that’s characteristic of the city’s breads, and which makes them European and not-European at the same time.

It’s my leaving-New Orleans sandwich for some reason – I ate my first one in Memphis after the long train journey up the Mississippi; my second in Louis Armstrong Airport waiting for a flight to Houston; and my third when jetlagged at home in London, improvised from not-quite-right British ingredients but pulled together by a jar of Boscoli olive salad I’d received as a present and carried home in my suitcase.

Then there’s the smoked duck, cashew butter and pepper jelly sandwich served up at renowned New Orleans chef Susan Spicer’s restaurant Bayona. Now I have to confess that I’ve never had this one, but I’ve read so many delectable accounts of what it tastes like that I almost feel I have.

I particularly want to try this sandwich because duck is special in my family – we often have it for big-occasion meals, and it’s a favourite of my sister, who now lives very far away, even further from London than New Orleans. My dad, meanwhile, once served up duck to a nephew of a US president, but that’s a long story for another time.

I also crave this sandwich for the way of thinking it seems to represent as well as its flavour – when people write about what can sound like an overly jazzed-up take on a classic PB&J, they often comment that it’s actually simple and good value (currently $15) as well as delicious, which for me is an essential ingredient of truly good food.

Finally there’s my ultimate Louisiana sandwich, the one I go and have without fail as soon as I arrive in New Orleans: the fried shrimp and oyster po-boy from French Quarter deli Verti Marte. Former chef and writer Anthony Bourdain loves it; I love it, and, soft and crisp, spicy and sweet, it always makes me feel like the part of me that lives in New Orleans is home again.

So no, this London sandwich – a hot tuna and cheese combo on focaccia with some red chillis – didn’t quite compare. But actually, it wasn’t too bad. Eating fish on Friday always feels right to me. Melted cheddar on toasted bread is never a bad idea. And the gentle heat of the pepper slices was a tasty and unusual addition to a lunchtime standard.

It was warm and filling, familiar and yet surprising – a good end-of-the-week treat that made me a little bit happier. Its ingredients might differ from those you’d find in a real Louisiana sandwich, but these are certainly characteristics I associate with the food there that I love.

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Good Friday Gumbo

Yesterday, Good Friday, I was cooking dinner for some of my favourite people, so I decided to make one of my favourite dishes from my favourite cuisine – New Orleans gumbo.

I used “LaDonna’s” “Creole Gumbo” recipe from the Treme cookbook inspired by the HBO TV series, a beautiful work of art and a wonderful philosophy treatise as well as a cookery manual. I’m slightly sad it’s now somewhat splashed and spattered, but I find all my very favourite cookbooks end up this way.

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I probably should have made gumbo z’herbes, a greens-based version designed to suit Lenten dietary restrictions and traditionally eaten in New Orleans on Maundy Thursday.

If you’re tempted by the thought of this, a recipe (along with some interesting thoughts about the dish) can also be found in the Treme cookbook courtesy of “Albert” and Leah Chase of renowned New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase.

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But my guests love seafood and sausage, so I had to go for the classic version.

Like all good cookery projects, this one started with a stock of great ingredients: meat, fish, vegetables, spice.

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First, roux and okra. This combination of a French cooking technique and an African vegetable is a sign of the rich mix of influences on New Orleans cusine. Okra can be hard to find in London; the ones I bought at the Turkish greengrocer near where I live came all the way from Mexico. 

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Gumbo can also have filé powder in its base, an ingredient derived from the sassafras tree and first used by Native Americans, another significant part of the Louisiana melting pot. But it’s almost impossible to source in the UK, so I left it out.

Next, appropriately for an Easter dish, the “holy trinity” – bell pepper, onion and celery. I wish I could have used the extra big and tasty Fenland celery I grew up with during my childhood in low-lying and watery East Anglia, which always reminds me a little bit of the Louisiana wetlands. But it’s out of season at the moment.

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Then the rendered sausage. We don’t have andouille or Creole hot sausage in London – “LaDonna” says in her recipe that she’s never seen Creole hot sausage outside the city. So I used my imagination and picked a mixture of Spanish chorizo and black pepper beef sausage.

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I made the fish stock from Scottish langoustines, that might just have come from the waters around the Isle of Skye near to where my parents have a cabin.

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Gradually the ingredients start to come together. First, the roux and okra are added to the stock, then the sausage, and then the vegetables and shrimp meat.

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The pot simmers, and the flavours blend.

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Towards the end of the cooking process, I added some shell-on langoustines I’d reserved – in my family, you’re not eating seafood if you’re not getting sticky hands and sauce on your shirt!

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Creole spice blend is the final addition, and is yet another ingredient that’s commonplace in New Orleans but hard to find here – so I made my own: black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, paprika, thyme, oregano, basil and what you could call “delta salt”, another part of my East Anglian childhood.

As I mixed these together and smelled the sweet herbs, spice and soft heat, I thought I could sense the Italian influence on New Orleans cooking.

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The cooked gumbo rests for a while, and is then reheated and finally ready to serve, traditionally over hot white rice.

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I also added some garlic-buttered French bread and a celery leaf and parsley salad dressed with olive oil, white wine vinegar and lemon juice. And it all must have tasted all right as all that was left at the end was washing up.

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Alligator Tacos

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It all started with alligator tacos. Not eating alligator tacos (this photo isn’t mine, sadly) though I’d love to try this Louisiana delight. No, this week I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had time to eat anything.

But I did manage to go for a run, during which I listened to a great podcast item about Mexican food across the US, including the Louisiana take on it, and also happened to go past my local Mexican restaurant at the same time.

Doing so made me think about Latin American culture in London. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I’m always on the lookout for anything New Orleans-related in my home city, and Latin America is a part of the New Orleans cultural gumbo.

The city has long historical links to Haiti and Cuba, and New Orleans has often been dubbed “the northernmost Caribbean city”. Much of the architecture of the “French” quarter is Spanish colonial in style, its distinctive features dating from Spain’s forty year rule of the city in the late eighteenth century. And in recent years, the city’s Latino population has grown rapidly, partly due to an influx of construction workers since Katrina.

The UK meanwhile has strong ties to the formerly British Caribbean nations, which have given London a rich Caribbean culture. However, Latin American influences in London are less evident. Until just a few years ago, for instance, it was pretty much impossible to get the kind of authentic and good quality Mexican food here that’s easy to find in many parts of the US.

Things are changing. I was recently fortunate enough to come across online magazine Jungle Drums that’s doing an amazing job of charting the presence of all kinds of Latin American culture in London, particularly Brazilian culture.

And on food again, I used to love going to Sabor, once a north London restaurant near where I live that, unusually for an eaterie here, served amazing food from all across Latin America.

Very sadly, Sabor closed in 2012, but is now up and running again in the form of a pop-up venture. I’m planning to sign up for their latest event and – who knows – maybe, just maybe, there’ll be alligator tacos on the menu…

Image: Alyson Hurt https://www.flickr.com/photos/alykat/

 

Cake Season

This time of year is king cake season in New Orleans. This starchy, sugary, often sticky, and totally scrummy sponge has its origins in the French gallette des rois, a treat for Twelfth Night to celebrate the visit of the three Magi to the baby Jesus. Like its French ancestor, New Orleans king cake comes with a baby, bean or coin hidden inside it, and the person who find this in their slice can claim to be king or queen for the day.

However, king cake has departed in style from galette des rois. In Paris these days, you’ll get a golden brown puff pastry tart with an almond filling, while in New Orleans you’re more like to find something akin to a brioche, often filled with Louisiana pecans and draped in sparkly icing.

Another difference between old and new world customs in this area is that gallette des rois is only eaten on Twelfth Night, while king cake is found in New Orleans from Twelfth Night until Lent – a.k.a carnival season. I always enjoy the series New Orleans newspaper the Times-Picayune, runs on king cakes in the city during this time featuring a different bakery every day. And I nearly always find myself checking if they deliver to the UK…

Once I even tried to make king cake myself (see photo). I don’t think mine would bear comparison to one from the Crescent City, but I took it into work and my colleagues did gamely eat it.

I’ve never been in New Orleans at this time of year to sample the real thing, but I understand it’s customary for colleagues and friends there to take turns to buy cakes to share, with the “king” or “queen” being obliged to get the next one.

We don’t have an equivalent seasonal tradition here, but making cakes and biscuits all year round is surging in popularity in the UK, as shown by the huge viewing figures for TV show The Great British Bake-Off, which completed its fourth series this year featuring a particularly fabulous ex-colleague of mine who I think deserved to win.

I’m a huge fan of this TV show, and it’s due in part to watching it that I discovered a baking tradition Londoners can call their own, closely linked to a part of the city little more than a cupcakes’s throw from where I live.

Tottenham Cake, named after the north London neighbourhood whose name it bears, is a simple oblong sponge, topped with pale pink icing and cut into squares. Unlike king cake, it doesn’t have a particular season, and is available all year round. However, like king cake it does have its origins in religious belief.

Tottenham cake was first made by Quakers living in this area, then a rural settlement some distance from central London. The shade of the icing comes from their use of the fruit from the mulberry trees growing in the garden of their meeting house (which are still there) to colour it.

The confection fits with the Quakers’ egalitarian and community-focused way of life. Like king cake it’s traditionally baked by friends for each other, and often with children in mind, and its square shape means it’s easy to transport, divide evenly and eat.

What’s more, the’s recipe’s short list of simple, cheap ingredients and its straightforward method mean that, whether it’s made at home or by a bakery, Tottenham cake is a treat that everyone can afford, tuck into and enjoy – and whatever city you’re in and at whatever time of year, that’s surely the definition of a good bit of baking.

Drink up! (part 2)

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After such a long delay since my last post, I’m sure you’re thirsty for the alcoholic installment of my mini-series on the drinks of London and New Orleans.

Drinking in London. Drinking in New Orleans. Quite frankly, it’s hard to know where to start – both of those topics would give you enough material for several long shelves of books, so I’m going to confine myself to alcoholic drinks and drinking habits that have a special connection to either city and, where possible, both.

My hometown is the city of gin. It originates from the European mainland, but here we have our own special “London gin” – an especially excellent version of the beverage recognised by the EU that must, among other requirements, use high-quality alcohol, predominantly natural flavourings, and limited sugar. Top of my list of New Year activities for when my hangover passes is to visit the Sipsmith’s distillery in west London, now the only place to be making London gin in the city.

Gin has played no small part in London’s history. Traditionally the drink of the poor, it’s long been blamed for social problems in the city, depicted most famously in William Hogarth’s engraving Gin Lane. These days, now the vodka boom of the 1990s and 2000s has passed, there’s barely a Cosmopolitan or Moscow Mule in sight in London’s best bars. Instead they’re enthusiastically reclaiming gin as part of a wider trend for all things speakeasy, and just a little bit down and dirty, that the more complex of the two key cocktail spirits suits down to the ground.

Now we’re on to cocktails, I’d better mention New Orleans, which claims to be the birthplace and spiritual (sorry) home of these drinks. This claim is disputed, not least by some in London, but what can’t be denied is that New Orleans has a distinguished list of cocktails it can call its own.

But, although it’s not the case for the city’s most famous cocktail, the Sazerac, many alcholic concotions beloved in NOLA are linked to London through their use of gin. With the frothy and tropical Ramos Gin Fizz the link probably starts and ends there, but in the case of the Pimms Cup a real connection between the two cities is detectable.

The Cup is strongly associated with Napoleon House, and I understand that in New Orleans you think of it as your own. But we in London, and the UK as a whole, treasure this fruity treat, ideally served with cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream on a green lawn, as our quintessential summer drink.

Beyond these cocktails, I’d say mixed drinks in New Orleans are all about rum, bringing the city’s Caribbean connections to the fore. There’s the famous Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane, but whenever I’m in the city I like to drop by the Pirates Alley Café for a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, or a drink containing rum at least. And I was pretty excited to read recently that you can do tours of the New Orleans Rum Company distillery. Sadly, we make no rum in London, not really having the necessary climate for sugar cane, though we do have a large Caribbean population, and we certainly love to drink it.

Here are some things we now do in London however, if only recently, that I think of as crucial parts of the New Orleans drinking experience. Number one: cocktails on tap – we haven’t quite got to putting them in washing machines yet, but give us time. As a side note, I think there’s a long and rich history of links between doing laundry and drinking in New Orleans – think Checkpoint Charlies, Cosimo Matassa or even the Maple Leaf – and London too that I hope to explore more in the future.

Number two: go-cups, which I recently saw advertised in Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes, a bar near where I work though, thanks to our weather, we don’t have the same on-the-street drinking culture as New Orleans. Interestingly, like some of New Orleans’ best bars, Jaguar Shoes has gone from being fabric-focused to drinking den – the site used to host a womenswear importer.

Changes like these happen in every city, and how, where and what people drink are signs of the times. Therefore it’s significance that go-cups are being banned in Bywater and drinking is being heavily regulated in Dalston, my neighbourhood in London. More to come on this topic in a later post.

To end this one on a final toast to the rich heritage of drinking in both cities, I’d like to explain the picture that goes with this blog. It’s a glass from a vintage cocktail set I lugged back from my trip to New Orleans this summer. When I say lugged, I mean lugged – we’re talking hand luggage.

If you’re a skier, or a golfer, or if you have a family, you’re allowed to check in one extra piece of luggage to make your life more fun or easier – but not if you’re a single girl cocktail drinker. At least “single girl cocktail drinker” doesn’t often overlap with “terrorist” for those who use profiling techniques in airport security – otherwise I might have had to give up my beautiful glasses and accompanying carousel altogether as there are some potentially pretty dangerous pieces of metal and glass in there. Thanks for that at least, American Airlines. And for enduring that trip, I think I deserve a drink. Cheers!