I am now back in the UK waiting for school to start, and I must confess I am missing a few things about home. However, for the past six months I’ve also been missing certain British foods but I’ll save that for another day.
First and foremost, the food I have a really difficult time accessing here in the UK is Vietnamese food. According to Wikipedia, the largest Vietnamese community is in Lewisham which is more south-east of London and I’m more north-west. Fortunately there is one Vietnamese restaurant (2 locations) in London that I can access pretty easily that’s pretty decent – Pho Cafe. Nonetheless, nothing beats homemade Vietnamese food. I just look at the photo below and I can smell the cha gio (egg rolls) fresh from the fryer… traditionally made with rice paper and filled with ground pork, glass noodles, shrimp, carrots and more. They take longer to cook, but when my Mom takes the time you are in for a treat. The proper way to eat them is with lots of fresh herbs. Take a piece of lettuce (Romaine is fine), add some cilantro/coriander and maybe some mint, place the egg roll in the middle, wrap it all up and dip in some nuoc cham (a salty-sweet dipping sauce made with fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, lemon/lime juice and chilli). In that bite, you’ll get an explosion of flavors and textures. First the refreshing lettuce and herbs, then the crisp of the fried rice paper, the warm meat filling and the salty/sweet/spiciness of the sauce. For some additional crunch or freshness, you might have a slice of cucumber on the side. These are seriously addicting. I went a little overboard last Vietnamese New Year and ate at least a dozen or more :-)
Cha Gio (Vietnamese egg rolls)
Another cuisine that isn’t that popular over here (but a bit more accessible) is Mexican food. Being a California girl, I really loooove Mexican food. Also having studied in Venezuela and having Colombian friends, I just really love all Latin food period! Excluding central London, everyday Latin food isn’t the easiest thing to get in the UK. There is the odd Mexican restaurant, but it just doesn’t seem to be as main stream as it is in the US. What IS popular though is making Mexican food at home. And by that I mean buying a fajita or taco kit (usually the Old El Paso brand) which comes with taco shells or tortillas, seasoning for the meat and packaged salsa. Basically the view of Mexican food is pretty commercial here, at least that’s been my experience. But that’s not to say that other dishes like tamales, mole or chilaquiles wouldn’t be popular here. Even less well known are empanadas, arepas or even the idea of a breakfast burrito (which I find a little funny since even McDonald’s sells a breakfast burrito in the US).
Anywho, the good news is that you can find pretty much all the spices you need to make Latin food. So I do my best to make what I know which isn’t really rocket science. I just do the basics – various salsas (pico de gallo, corn, bean or mango), guac, fajitas/tacos, etc. I do have to share a funny story about my first experience at a British supermarket a couple years ago. I was in the chip aisle (known as “crisps” here) and a lady who works there was showing a man where the tor-TILL-lah crisps were (meaning she did not pronounce it tor-tee-ya). Haha oh I nearly died…
Yas, Ana and I in '08 @ El Compadre
Right so the point is, I can make some basic stuff to feed my Mexican/Latin food cravings, but nothings beats properly made rice and beans (or chicharron, or empanadas, or cachapas, or arepas, or pan de yuca, or sancocho….sigh). A couple weeks ago, I flew out of LA for London and before I left I made sure to make a visit to one of THE best Mexican places in Hollywood – El Compadre. Well, correction, my Colombian friend Ana made me go :-) She came to visit me when I was living in LA two years ago, and it’s right around the corner from my old place. Needless to say we ate there three times in a few days. So a return trip was a must. And, as always, El Compadre did not disappoint. The place is one of those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that’s really dark inside. It has these great, old-Hollywood style brown leather booths. And occasionally there’s an actual mariachi band playing. They come around with their famous flaming margaritas too. It’s definitely a strange setting, but you know it’s good Mexican when the tortilla chips are warm and fresh. Even though it was dinner time, I had to get my favorite dish since it’d be our only chance to go there – huevos rancheros with carne asada. This may not look like the sexiest plate of food in the world, but I tell you – if only you could smell it! It’s the combination of earthy, creamy beans, moist rice, ranchero sauce, corn tortillas, fresh salsa, cool sour cream.. Mmmm.. I’m getting very hungry remembering this dish… Sigh, it’s too sad to reminisce any longer. Must try to re-create some day, but feel like it’s impossible without a Mexican grandmother or aunt to teach me secret family recipes.
Huevos Rancheros with Carne Asada
Now that I’ve made myself properly hungry, it’s time to go and cook dinner! But more to come soon about my British favorites and my a Michelin-starred lunch!
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