Saturday, January 05, 2008
Food helps me with unfamiliar territory, even if the food itself is unfamiliar. After learning about a favorite local snack or a culinary tradition, the people and sites in a city seem more accessible.
Borough Market in London, arguably the best food market I've seen, was exciting and intimidating. The exotic, world-famous ingredients and prepared items didn't feel real to me until I saw the first bakery stand with its huge stack of sizable brownies. Most of the market's pretentiousness fell away when I realized that the vendors at these internationally acclaimed booths were playing into people's food fantasies. They certainly got to mine. We hadn't even had lunch but I knew I wouldn't be leaving Borough Market without one of those 2 kg brownies (and an amazing grilled cheeseburger, hot hard cider, chocolate truffles and various samples).
Exploring a city isn't complete unless there are risks to accompany the comfortable culinary bonds. In London, I tried Korean food and authentic pub food for the first time, and Indian food for the second or third time. While these selections may not seem overly exotic, London is known for its international cuisine, and they're not among my normal choices for dining out.
Eating Indian delivery - chicken curry, tandoori chicken, two types of naan and a taste of a pumpkin dish - was a welcome change from finding food while sightseeing. The experience reminded me of the brightness and diversity of flavors in Indian cuisine, and I'm much more interested in trying new Indian restaurants in Richmond.
Korean food isn't quite as available in Richmond as other Asian varieties, although I do intend to locate a Korean venue here soon because of how much I enjoyed the experience in London. Kimchi, which we ordered as an appetizer, is made with spicy, fermented cabbage and other crunchy vegetables. We also had a plate of fish pancakes, which were steaming hot and mild in flavor. Lauren raved about bibimbap, which is an entree that comes in a heated stone bowl. Rice and vegetables are the standard components of bibimbap, along with a choice of meat (I had pork), and an egg is cracked on top of the other ingredients. It cooks as you stir it into the rice, and blends all of the layers together in a delicious and fragrant meal.
The culinary adventures I had in London added to my understanding of the city and of British culture, and the memories I have from the trip will continue to enhance my eating habits at home.