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Sofia's Letters from London #4
by Sofia Gkiousou
2007-01-12 09:44:39
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Coming from a Mediterranean country, the first thing you realise about London is that it’s difficult to get accustomed to the food. Even for me, a dedicated cook of Greek cuisine and experimental fusion (which translates to ‘I’ll cook whatever’s in the fridge'), it is difficult not to feel a pang of nostalgia for ingredients from back home.

Seasoning is a big problem – oregano just doesn’t smell the same here - as well as your favourite chocolate – my mum still mails me some. But the biggest loss is vegetables and fruit, which needless to say, is imported to the UK, more expensive and a lot less tasty.

Let’s take tomatoes for example. I can get cheap tomatoes at my local supermarket, in bumper packs. But because they have a long journey to make, they are cut prematurely and they mature ‘on the road’ as it were. The result is that they might be cheap, but in terms of size and taste they are far below standards. On the other hand, I can also buy ‘organic tomatoes’ or ‘vine-ripened tomatoes’ which are from one-third to doubly more expensive than the ‘normal’ variety. Of course, they taste lovely, like tomatoes should taste.

I know some of you are now reading in disbelief but it is a genuine – if merely cultural – problem. It’s not just about eating, but it is also about the preparation, the recipes, calling my mum or dad to ask about the seasoning or the timing, choosing the right sides, sitting down all together and talking, drinking and naturally judging the food. So for food-mad Greek people it’s a good thing that there is choice.

In fact, there is so much choice that the other day we ordered organic fruit, vegetable and fish from an independent shop. The whole package was unusually expensive, delivered at home and extremely tasty. Nevertheless, we can’t afford such an expense – no matter how important our food is – so we will have to go on buying the ‘organic’ ranges from the supermarket.

Yet the fact that such a service exists, with ‘organic’, locally available items from independent small farms, seems hard to believe. It is an expensive service, with recycled packaging, potatoes that still have the dirt on them, a driver that happily introduces himself and a customer service agent that calls you to check if everything went well. Not to mention great tasting food.

This superb service, this superb food is reminiscent of a more Victorian era, when the butcher sent over his apprentice to deliver the high quality meat for the banquet via the service staff door. This, I tell you, is the era of the newfound bourgeois obsession with food. The market may have driven the prices down but it has utterly destroyed the quality. And I think this can be true for a lot more products than fruit and vegetable.

So, your average bourgeois, bon vivant or simply good food lover resorts to paying a lot more than what is acceptable for decent produce. And I don’t blame the market only. I also blame this newfound popularity of cultural products on cooking, health-related to dietary habits, popular shows trying to get people to loose weight quickly.

This week it is the cabbage diet, last week it was the grapefruit diet, tomorrow it will be the anchovy diet. It’s all about the hot chef or the great diet show presenter. It’s all about healthy options and great recipes.

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Eva2007-01-11 13:41:46
You are making me miss the local fruit&veg market I had across the road when I lived in Italy... it certainly isn't the same in Ireland.. But then on the other hand the Guinness is better here ;)

Thanos2007-01-11 19:30:33
Living further north from UK and a real fun of Greek cuisine, well with a good excuse :), I really do feel the problems!!!

Eva, have pint for me, that's another thing I have missed!!! You find Guinness in Helsinki but ...is not the same!

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