I will always regret it. The year must have been 2002, perhaps even earlier. I had rented a flat in Barcelona to test recipes for my offal book and was there for 3 weeks. During that time, I could have easily gone to El Bulli whenever I wanted. I had a well-connected friend who would have organised it for me — in fact he had organised an amazing offal dinner at Can Fabes and an exquisite lunch at Ca L’Isidre where the owner gave me their recipe for tripe. But El Bulli was far and I was not so taken by molecular cuisine after a disappointing meal at the Fat Duck. So, I didn’t even try to get a booking. Then it became incredibly difficult to get in and now it is closed. Since then, I decided never to miss eating at a restaurant I was interested in even if it means travelling. Last year I went to Noma and I am just back from Faviken where I had the most amazing dinner followed by a terrific breakfast in the most serene if slightly ascetic atmosphere.
My first impression as I flew to Stockholm was both good and bad. Good because despite the plane being packed with children, it was a surprisingly restful flight with hardly any noise and lovely service — I should have added beautiful manners to the title of this post; every Swede I met on this trip was delightful except, that is, for the gruff sandwich tart lady (you will find her later in the post). They are really the most charming people in Europe! The bad impression which thankfully was fleeting was due to my vision of all Swedes as tall, blond and beautiful and there weren’t many on the plane. But this changed as soon as I landed. Wherever I went, I had to stop myself staring at gorgeous men and women. Fortunately, I was able to stare at the beautiful young man in the picture above taken at Saluplats Husman in the fabulous Hötorgshallen as he served us the most delicious meatballs and a wallenbarger (a very soft large meatball made with veal, eggs and cream).
For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will know about my camel hump adventures during the filming of Al Chef Yaktachef for Abu Dhabi TV. This was three years ago and from that day on, I have been wanting to write an article about camel hump. Finally I did. If you buy Lucky Peach’s Travel issue no. 7, you will find my piece with a picture of the sweet baby camel who gave up his life to provide me with the best camel hump I have ever eaten. Admittedly, I have not had so many but the few that I have tasted were nowhere near as good as this last one. And not so much because of my cooking skills, although I cooked it for less time than an Emirati cook would have, but mainly because the baby camel was a particularly fine milk-fed specimen. As a result, its meat was particularly tender.
If there is one food that is essential to most Arabs, it is bread and nowhere is it more essential than in Cairo which I like to call the city of bread. Wherever you go, you will see bread being baked, or sold, or consumed or simply carried home a little like the ubiquitous French baguette, except that in Egypt it is aysh baladi or shami that is the national loaf. Aysh means life indicating the importance of bread — elsewhere in the Arab world bread is called khobz — while baladi means local; it describes bread made with wholewheat flour while shami which means Levantine describes bread made with regular white flour.