Manchester, 1990: Unfortunately, this B&B doesn’t offer a Continental breakfast. When I try a cracker with jam, I almost spit it out because it tastes so foul. When I look up from my plate, I see everyone in the breakfast room is staring at me. An old man at the table beside me coughs. ‘You can’t eat it like that, you know,’ he whispers. ‘You need to …..
…..dissolve it in milk. It’s called Weetabix.’
And so begins my introduction to my London trip….not that I got up to anything extraordinarily bizarre like that, save for bringing out my camera and brandishing it like a tourist.
That was the experience of my very good friend (and writer) S, part inspiration for my Dutch Mustard soup from so long ago…and my Roast chestnut soup, which I’m planning on making for Thanksgiving this year, should I find chestnuts. (And before you ask what a Nigerian in the Netherlands is doing celebrating Thanksgiving, my kids go to the American school so – but this is a post about London.) Sorry for getting side-tracked. And thanks again, S for providing the perfect intro to the UK and its pecularities!
Actually, whether or not I would go was in the ether for a while. Even though I had booked to attend a conference since May, I still wasn’t sure it was going to happen, kind of like Michelle of the Greedy Gourmet. The reason being that I am Nigerian with a Schengen rescidence permit…which is not access all areas in Europe, notably for the UK and so I had to get a visa and that’s not a simple process. It involves the perfunctory online form filling and selecting a date of an interview in Amsterdam (a mere ½ hour from where I live). And then there is the gathering of all the required documentation – bank statements, payslips, address in the UK, letter from your employer etc.
Thing was the only available appointment was on the 2nd of September and my trip was on the 8th but that wasn’t an issue was it? And so I put off booking flights just in case I didn’t get it. The hotel was firm but I could cancel up to 24 hours before so that was fine. After all I was going to get the visa same day, like the last time I applied the previous year – we had our interview, the visa was granted, we waited and then we got our passports back.
This time, I expected it to be no different and so we went. And so we got interviewed and all the rest and then, when we were done…I said, so we’ll wait to pick the passports up then and the guy said no! I was a bit taken aback…but it turned out that they had a new processing centre in Germany and so we wouldn’t be getting our passports back same day. That was fine, till he told me when the passports would be back – on September the 8th! The day I was flying.
All said and done, I picked up my passports on the 8th, caught my flight in good time and arrived London safe and sound. Herein share I with you, the highlights of my trip, and not all the drivvle…of which there was little.
My hotel was in the heart of Westminster – 2 minutes from Westminster Abbey and another 5 from Big Ben. I got to see the protesters camping out in Parliament square – decrying injustices all the way from …to… Further down across the bridge was the London eye and County hall, jampacked with visitors. When the tourists stood around frantically taking photos….I joined them, to the utter amazement of my traveling companions from work.
See I lived in the UK for a good 3 and a half years, visited London numerous times and so..I wasn’t expected to be a tourist but things change, don’t they? In the last few years I’’ve started seeing things with a different eye. Trying to experience MORE of the places I go, trying to get under the skin and into the heart of the city. And that’s where photography helps me out – helps me capture memories, scents, scenes and much more.
On the 2nd evening I was there, my boss from work took us out to dinner.
It was at a nice Indian restaurant close to Leicester square, set on one corner of Cecil court, which is lined with antique shops of every kind – from books to stamps and other bits and bobs. Dinner began with a mix of dips and some Poppadoms – thin crips discs made from flour and spiced with whole coriander and cumin seeds. The dips were nice but the one I liked the most was what appeared to be fried, spiced coconut. When our second batch of starters arrived, I proceeded to serve up a lettuce salad topped with the coconut , drizzled with some light mango chutney and some yoghurt dressing – Flavour abundance it was. And that’s one I’ll be repeating ladies and gentlemen. I ended up eating messily, leaving crumbs of everything on the tablecloth…and there was not a child in sight!
My main was a Shrimp Biriyani, which was very nice.
The accompaniments to the meal were also nice – from a range of greens to other veggies, namely Okra which I had never had in this fashion. See I grew up on Okro soup and don’t make a picture up in your mind just yet. Hear me out. See African soups are not broths or drinking soups…. Most of them anyway. They’re ‘eating’ soups, made to accompany cooked flours (of cassava, yam, plantain, rice etc). The flours are cooked till they have the consistency of a thick mash or polenta and then they are formed into balls and dipped into soups.
As for the soups, they are of the thickened variety and Okro soup as we have it in Nigeria is made of a combination of grated okra and some spices with any meat or fish. Now Okro is quite , some say slimy but that sort of suggests evil, awful and Okro soup is nothing like that. And that’s how I’ve eaten it for the last 3 decades. So to have it stir-fried…wow, that came as a shock..and you know what? It wasn’t half bad. I may never cook it at home but I won’t be averse to trying it again at another restaurant.
And to finish the dinner off – a palate-cleansing dessert of Mango Kulfi, which is like ice-cream in taste and all though unlike its cousin, it doesn’t melt as easily.
But I must confess that the highlight of my trip involved that ‘proclaimed’ feminine vice – I say grace not vice but…differing opinions are welcome – SHOPPING. And not for the adornment of the body (well, not entirely true) but that for the nourishment and enrichment of the soul and stomach: food-related purchases. Yes, you guessed right. Everything from cookbooks to the tiniest Le Creuset pots made their way home with me. With barely a disaster save for my lovely upside down glass dish – which broke! I was gutted. Debenhams had a great sale and I got some small loose-bottom tart tins from there.
At John Lewis, I got a fish scaler, fish tweezers, some cheesecloth and spice bags but it was at TK Maxx, sibling to TJ Maxx in the US that I got the most. I bought cookbooks – 5 delightful ones for a total of under 25 pounds.
I also got some Le Creuset pots, which I’ve always – you know the brightly coloured, constant shine, heavy cast iron pans, which I’ve seen at DOK. Anyway, since I didn’t travel first or business class, there was NO way I was getting them. Instead I came back with mini stoneware versions, perfect for ‘From microwave to table’ as opposed to ‘From oven to table’. Sure they won’t be able to take more than salsas or dips or sauces but who cares, I have Le Creuset stuff. I’m growing my collection and someday when I’m old, I’ll be able to display them all!
All in all it was a great trip. I was glad for the time of refreshing…. And all the delicious things I got to sample. Promise to tell you all about it soon – coming up in Part 2.
So are you like me? On a constant hunt/quest for bargains. A collector of all things…almost thinking of reasons for buying them and where you’re going to store them or what you’ll say to your house partner be it husband, mother or friend???
My justifiable reason (not excuse!) is that I need it. I’ll find a place for it. I’ll use it..and I almost always do except when I’ve kept it in a corner and forgotten all about it though I always remember at a very appropriate time…like my skewers. So, tell me all about you and your habits!