Instagram food fatigue

A good 80% of my Instagram feed is food. There are the odd bits of fashion, peaceful landscapes, beauty gurus showing off their freebies. I don’t really follow celebrities whose feed turns into publicity when a new film is out (but Dawn Porter is the best); any stranger who takes lots of pictures is an unwelcome addition in my feed because why would I be interested in a stream of unfamiliar faces?
I follow a few people who travel the world but not too many because the harsh office lights reflecting off the white plasticky desks are an especially bleak sight when compared to a picture of Birman temples. But food, food is accessible.

When I say food, I mean all kinds of food. The beautifully shot kind with artfully placed hands reaching for the central plate and flower petals scattered on the white linen; the mono-ingredient poetry of Noma chef René Redzepi, recipe ideas from the celebrity chefs, their pictures bright and sharp; the so-called “food influencers” with pseudo-pornographic shots of yolks oozing and fountains of cheese being slowly poured on a burger because clearly the London food scene knows no excess.
But I fear that after months –years– of endless mindless scrolling, I may be experiencing sort of Instagram food fatigue. It’s a thing. It happens.

Smoothies, smoothie bowls, perfectly round slices of bananas arranged in a semicircle, impossible-to-eat shakes that defy logic and probably laws of physics, burgers upon burgers upon burgers with shiny patties and melted cheese oozing out, avocados thinly slices and grilled and crushed and mashed and filled, orange-coloured eggs forever oozing onto sourdough, edible flowers, neatly arranged doughnuts, huge platters of sushi, coconut oil and cream and milk and water and sugar, bright green matcha items, #foodgoals, #foodporn, #foodisbae.

It seems that my relationship with food has been oddly shaped by a very limited number of trendy food items forever repeated and imprinted in my mind, half of which are unnecessarily #healthy and charged with cutesy pseudoscientific terminology like superfood, vitamin-packed, goodness, nasties. The rest are utter excess.

Food on social media seems to impart a double pressure: the one to try as many “cool” things as possible, and the one to be a conscious, healthy eater. And sometimes I am a victim of both.
But is this who I want to be? A maker of smoothies, a drinker of lukewarm lemon water, a calorie-counting kombucha-sipping consumer of kale and sweet potato, a self-righteous enemy of white foods by day; and by night, to keep up with the London food scene, the sort of person who gets bacon as a side and queues for a doughnut crossed with a croissant?

Lately, I have found myself getting home and just not wanting to think about food. Me. The person who daydreams about how to create egg yolk butter. The one who plans holidays around what to eat and spends hours researching how to best cook rice.

But this fatigue, the utter indifference I feel towards brightly coloured tacos served from a food truck in a converted toilet, makes me thing I need to take a break. I need some sort of beige-food diet. I find myself gravitating towards canned tomato soup. Broth made with a stock cube. Pasta with just butter. If you were to look at my Deliveroo history you would see that I’ve been ordering a lot from this Polish restaurant, its food almost exclusively beige, translucent, thick-skinned boiled pierogis that could not be any less photogenic, pork served with a hearty dose of mash, boiled cabbage, the sort that a grandmother would feed her family on a remote mountain somewhere. Food that feeds the heart rather than the camera.

So yeah, when a new Asian-fusion Mexican-inspired burger&chicken place opens in London, don’t mind me. I’ll be here eating my plain rice.

2016 food highlights, pt. 1

New Year’s day. Time to try out that new smoothie maker you got for Christmas. Have you been to the gym yet? Me neither. But yes, definitely tomorrow. Definitely. Kale juice?

Before I get into New Year’s resolutions, I have taken the chance to reflect on the food highlights of my year, every meal a part of a story, forever weaved with conversations, views, trips, IKEA furniture building sessions. If I ever wrote an autobiography, it would probably be a recipe book.

Here’s a list:

– Tea. I’ve always loved tea, but 2016 was the year in which I truly unlocked its powers. Something rather magical happens after a few years in Britain. Uttering the question “Tea?” becomes a sort of bizarre reflex and you find yourself repeating it whenever entering a room, sitting down on a sofa, or when trapped in an uncomfortable conversation or an awkward silence.

I’m referring to the English concept of tea here, the humble cuppa, a label-less bag of black tea dropped in hot water and then violently bashed around in the mug for a few seconds before being drowned by a generous helping of milk. Pale, weak, a lump of sugar to offset any residual bitterness – tea is a beverage that can comfort you beyond any other, and I am including wine in this statement. Tea is what you have when you get home after a long, bone-chilling winter day, the windows clouded and a pot bubbling on the hob. It’s what you sip on while you catch up on Gogglebox or flick through a glossy magazine. Tea is your rock when you wake up and cling to your duvet, dreading the very thought of leaving the house in the darkness. Amber-liquid courage. Also, great help for serial procrastinators. “Sure, I’ll do [insert task here]. Just going to make myself a tea first”.

– Tetote Factory‘s buns. I spent New Year’s Day eating my weight in these shiny Japanese buns and watching Mozart in the Jungle. It was probably my favourite day of the year.

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Sticks’n’sushi. Forever my celebration restaurant, forever a place that gives me bank statement-induced panic. Their scallops are just ridiculous. You can ready my review here.

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–  Scrambled eggs. 2016 is the year in which my boyfriend mastered scrambled eggs. I look away when he makes them to remain blissfully ignorant of the amount of butter that goes in them, but they are perfect.

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– Shackfuyu and its super instagrammable Kinako French toast with matcha soft serve. Damn you, Shackfuyu. You get me every time.

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– Roamers. In March, I flew to Berlin and my friend Hedda and I brunched our way to Berlin like there was no tomorrow, seamlessly knocking down smashed avocado and French toast in one fluid continuum. She showed me new corners of a city that, to me, is the one that got away. I taught her that if you wake up before 10, you may not have to queue for brunch. It was an enlighting trip but also, brunch at Roamers has me dreaming about it almost a year later.

– Pane frattau at Tiramisu. If comfort was a crispbread based egg dish, it would be this one.

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Beigel Bake’s bagels in all its juicy, spicy, starchy glory. Need I say more. Daytime friend, late-night friend, find-that-extra-bagel-in-your-bag-the-following-day friend.

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Takeaway Temakinho eaten in the sun. Man, I don’t know what it is about Temakinho, but its perfect blend of Japanese simplicity and unlikely flavour pairings which miraculously work make it so much fun. Salmon tartare and almonds. Bright lime and coriander on scallops. Even crushed nachos make it in there somehow. Fun.

It’s also opening in Soho which is very dangerous.

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– Maltby Street  Market, destination of many Saturday morning trips.

– The Athenian. In March, I moved. Their souvlakis fuelled many IKEA furniture-building sessions.

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  • Silk Road. Simple, unassuming, reliable Silk Road. Always there with its deliciously fatty lamb skewers, laced with cumin, gigantic chewy belt noodles swimming in savoury broth, simple long tables, cold beer. Kind of perfect for a bigger group (5-6 people) but if you’re not fussed abut sitting next to strangers, go. Now.

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Where to eat in Berlin: Roamers, Neukolln

This is the third installment of a series that I called ‘where to eat in Berlin’ but should really be called ‘things I like to eat in Berlin and I think you should try too if you have a chance’. To read all about the first restaurant, Tangs Kantine and Cocolo, go here and here.

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Roamers is genuinely tiny, adorned with cascades of all sorts of plants and flowers and herbs and greenery, with small wobbly tables all jammed in like in a game of tetris, where you’ll have to sit cheek to cheek with well-dressed intellectual-looking couples and big families and kids with their sticky toy cars.

In Roamers, they just love their greens. Rosemary is piled on a lavender cake, bunches of thyme adorn bright lemon loaves, sweet and sticky with syrup; fragile mint leaves are scattered on brownies. Every dish is beautifully plated with a side salad and generous bunches of herbs, served on a wooden board.

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Tucked away in a grey corner of Neukolln, every detail in Roamers is reminiscent of nature itself, the porous wood, the aromatic herbs, fragile plants growing out of the stone animal heads on the walls, their list of peculiar infusions (they serve fresh rosemary and thyme tea).

The roamer’s beans were a starchy, warming, soft comfort blanket covered with spicy tomato salsa, a beautifully runny egg, its yolk sticky and oozing, and coriander. The scrambled eggs were a perfect creamy canvas for the breakfast salad and its vibrant dressing to shine.

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We shared a side of French Toast (that’s totally a side) which was incredibly fluffy, just sweet enough, its corners almost blackened by the burnt syrup and the middle fluffy and creamy.

I’m going to make a big claim: Roamer’s is my favourite brunch place. Of all time. In the whole world. There, I’ve said it. It’s not often I get to gorge on French toast and then feel good about it because of how green my plate looked.

 

Roamers

Pannierstraße 64, 12043 Berlin

 

Pane frattau, of sorts

Raise your hand if you find recipes daunting. Yep, me too.

I mean, when it comes to baking, recipes are my bible. I cling to every word, obey even the most menial of instructions, weigh ingredients obsessively, time the exact number of seconds needed to whisk eggs and sugar. Baking is like cooking blind – you have no idea what the dish will actually become. You have runny, sticky dough and have to pray that it will turn into a dense pancake or fluffy bread.

But cooking, man, I don’t know. I can’t follow recipes. I stray. While I take comfort in religiously obeying my cake recipes, cooking ones always seem so… long. Just too long. It may be the never-ending lists of ingredients, the confusing measurements (a quarter of a ginger root, chopped. Three whispers of crushed garlic), or maybe just the fact that I can see and taste the food transforming in front of my eyes, which gives me false sense of control. I don’t know.

So while I observe the wonderfully shot, polished recipes of Lady and and Pups, frowning at a list of ingredients that I wouldn’t even know where to find, wondering if I do have time to marinate my chicken for six hours while the bread is proofing and I knead my hand smashed noodles – also do I need an ice cream bucket in my life? – I just want to make something that involves a few ingredients and a few steps. I’ll just bookmark that turmeric butter chicken recipe and never click on it again.

So this is a take on Pane Frattau, a Sardinian dish which I first tried in a little cafe in Ealing (figures). It’s layers of Carasau bread, softened, with tomato sauce and a poached egg. Well, in my case, fried, because I don’t understand how anyone could choose poached over fried. It’s beautifully simple, if a little lazy, but somehow the bright passata and the sticky egg old on soft, chewy bread just make for a perfect meal.

I know, I speak about obscure ingredients and then I make something with Carasau bread? I know, I know. But you can find this moreish, thin crispy bread in any M&S and some larger supermarkets.

Pane Frattau

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Ingredients (serves 2):

3 or 4 leaves of pane carasau

a little hot water

half a bottle of good tomato passata

2 eggs

olive oil

some grated pecorino cheese

 

Pour some hot water onto each leaf of bread and let it soak for a a coupe of minutes, until soft. Move to a skillet or any oven-safe tray, spoon over some tomato passata, add a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Crack the eggs into the dish and bake in the over at 180° for 10-15 minutes, until the eggs are done. Sprinkle with pecorino and, if you have spare burrata, throw that in there too (why not?). Burrata makes everything better.

 

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A perfect trip to Maltby Street Market

It all starts before twelve, just before most Londoners will show up, sluggish from too many drinks the night before and seeing the early hours of the day, and crowd the narrow ropewalk.

My perfect trip to the market starts when it’s still relatively quiet, so I can grab a thin, somewhat fragile jamon sandwich from the Tozino stall, a gentle reminder that the simplest food can be the most perfect, the bread crusty but soft and chewy; salty, marbled slices of jamon iberico, so thin they’re translucent, and a fresh, bright tomato puree. I could choose to sit inside, a sultry Spanish bar, and pick at plump green olives while sipping on sweet, thick sherry, but when it’s too nice a day to that, I eat the small sandwich standing. I also get some jamon for later, and on that note, I pop into St John’s to buy a perfectly round sourdough loaf, and of course a a couple of doughnuts, the vanilla-speckled custard almost spilling out.

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At this point, my mood normally decides the next stop: it could be a Stilton, Pear and Bacon Toastie, impossibly rich and decadent, sharp with blue cheese and sweet with pear chutney; I could have hearty tartiflette, cheese oozing on soft potatoes, especially on a cold day. Today, a warmer day, Hansen&Lydersen‘s jewel-hued smoked salmon on sourdough somehow hits the spot, again as uncomplicated as a Saturday afternoon. The small tamales stall also offers the most plain-looking, comforting little rectangles of warming corn husk and bright tomatillo chicken, spicy enough to keep things interesting.

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It’s now past 1 o’ clock and I can just about squeeze through the crowd, and that’s how I know it’s time to grab a coconut coffee from the Asian coffee place, handcrafted, which I’m not entirely sure what it means as I normally tend to steer clear of coffee – but the deep richness of their take on it, spiked with coconut milk, creamy, sweet and somehow exotically scented makes it the perfect companion for a rainy day.

It’s a short walk to Druid Street market, much smaller and quieter. There’s a stall selling Japanese knives with a man proudly telling stories from his trips to Osaka. A girl is arranging painfully beautiful pottery, hand thrown bowls and mugs painted in muted hues of blue and grey.

A bearded man is char grilling oysters when someone from New Orleans approaches him to tell him of how he knows the family that invented the round barbecue he’s using. They discuss grilling techniques as he shucks the Oysters, with their marbled, knobbly shells. My favourite way to have them is still raw, their mineral taste reminiscent of sea water, childishly pretending to be at the seaside, but I’m in awe of the way he competently places them on the fire, a generous slab of butter on them, a spice rub, some bright red hot sauce. A squeeze of lemon and it’s time to go home.

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Maltby Street Market

Ropewalk, London SE1 3PA

Open Saturdays and Sundays

Chinese Laundry Room, London – a review

As is often the case, I discovered Chinese Laundry through the impossibly styled, polished, saturated pictures of Instagram. Seen through colourful filters, these small tables crammed with perfectly arranged plates, and just the right amount of movement (a manicured hand holding chopsticks; a cardigan-wearing arm reaching for some bread), are somehow capable of giving you food envy and a start of salivation.

Yet, by definition, this medium cannot convey in any way the flavour of a dish, its aroma, the warm feeling in your mouth and belly, its texture. Then why am I so attracted to these pictures, why do I follow these as if they were recommendation from a favourite kitchen critic? Maybe there is an element of shameless shallowness, of searching the aesthetically pleasing, of wanting to eat photogenic food. Time Out rushes in defence of brown food; and while I agree with the argument (a curry will never look particularly photogenic, unless you pile edible flowers on it; and as far as the rainbow cake/bagel/soup trend goes, if you’re eating something of a hue that does not even exist in nature, you probably need a cup of green tea), I think there is more to a picture of food.

If you know food even a little, if you love it, a photo will be enough to decide whether the tomatoes are ripe, whether the mango was stringy, if the fried batter is soggy or impossibly crisp. There is a lot you can tell from a bidimensional picture, even if its colours are artificially enhanced.

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In the case of Chinese laundry, pictures of geometrical dumpling omelettes, and sides of pale milky buns, trickling onto my Instagram feed, looked spanking fresh, and astonishingly not swimming in oil.

Things that the beautiful photos did not manage to convey: flavour. Buckets of flavours.

Chinese Laundry is a small, narrow restaurant with adorable dusty green walls adorned with retro Chinese prints – the idea behind the restaurant is to recreate the 80’s in China. The decor, as well as quirky, has a warm, homely feel to it.

Served in immaculate white-and-blue  porcelain, breakfast was wonderfully crafted: a crispy scallion pancake with egg and bacon to binge on, aromatic teas served in small matte teapots, bright-yolked soft boiled tea eggs, their back decorated by mesmerising patterns; a fiery, comforting dish of stir fry dumplings. The side of little milky buns –something extremely pleasing in the consonance of coronals – features one of my absolute favourite foods of all times, for no particular reasons: mantou, the softest, chewiest, palest bun, in two versions: a plain steamed bun served with a sharp, almost sour spicy sauce, and a golden version, I can only assumed deep fried, accompanied by condensed milk spiked with peanuts and toasted sesame.

I went again for dinner, this time a slightly less photogenic one due to dim lighting, and loved the food nonetheless. The plates are fairly small but not quite as small as they make them to be – two plates with some rice and of course mantou, still warm in its wooden basket, were quite filling. The sweet basil pop corn chicken, fried to perfection, meat soft and supple and a crispy batter laced with aromatic sweet basil, was the sort of dish that you could find yourself craving at all times of the night and day.

The aubergine, which always deserves love, was grilled until its pulp was almost creamy, with slight sour notes, and topped with chopped peppers and peanuts for texture, its subtle smokiness perfect on steamed white rice.

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Other dishes I stole bites from included cumin-rich lamb skewers, soft and juicy; aubergine with hot smoked salmon; crispy silken tofu; a delightful and refreshing starter of courgette with raspberry, all with incredibly friendly service – when our waiter was telling us of the town in China he went to college to, I didn’t ever want to leave.

So yes, I suppose Instagram may only tell you so much – but when it gets it right, boy, does it get it right.

Where to eat in Berlin: Cocolo, Kreuzberg

This is the second installment of a series that I called ‘where to eat in Berlin’ but should really be called ‘things I like to eat in Berlin and I think you should try too if you have a chance’. To read all about the first restaurant, Tangs Kantine, go here.

I adore any cuisine that can be classed as ‘Asian’. I love plain steamed rice with glazed, sticky meat, the tender filling of dim sum dumplings, the fresh herbal notes of Vietnamese food, the crunchy, nutty quality of Thai dishes, the toungue-numbing power of Sechuan pepper,  and the clear simplicity of Japanese ramen. I love it all.

And while I adore instant ramen, of the Korean kind that comes in a red plastic cup with a sachet containing a magically savoury and spicy powder, it’s proper Japanese ramen that I find myself longing for, especially in winter.

Nothing quite like ramen to beat the cold. A beautifully crafted bowl of milky, savoury broth, silky, thin slices of pork; crispy seaweed, chewy mushrooms, starchy noodles. An this is where Cocolo comes into play.

Now, Cocolo is busy. Very busy. You may have to wait and you’ll certainly have to share long tables with strangers, but that’s ok, because Cocolo’s ramen has that shiver-down-your-spine quality which makes it all worth it.

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The meal starts with the most delicious ginger lemonade, homemade, aggressively fizzy, with droplets dancing on the surface, served in a rustic, unpolished mug. I have had a lot of supposedly ‘homemade’ lemonades in my life but nothing quite like this one.

Their ramen is just beautiful. I went for tonkatsu, the creamy and milky broth that’s both savoury and delicate, the deep flavour of meat and bones and time; marbled slices of porkiness tha fall apart in their liquor, pork belly with its crunchy crackling and a layer of unapologetically trembling fat that melts in your mouth, a soft boiled egg, its sticky yolk bright orange, and finally a piercing pink slice of pickled ginger. And the humble noodles, slippery, chewy, just hard enough, to mop it all up. Ramen is a simple pleasure but it’s so much greater than the sum of its parts when done the right way.

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Cocolo Ramen X-Berg

Paul-Lincke-Ufer 39-40, 10999 Berlin, Germany

Cocolo Ramen X-berg