Saturday, March 05, 2011

The World’s 10 Greatest Takeaways

A heavily edited version of this appeared here (Top 5 without the intro) so I thought I'd get the original out there, complete with photos. Enjoy.

I recently suggested to my publisher that my next book should be a cookbook called ‘Fuck Foodies’, but for some reason they weren’t that enthusiastic about it. I’m still bang up for it if anyone’s interested, as I reckon the one thing that is so wrong with food right now (apart from the shite recipes and shallow personalities of the celebrity chefs) are what’s know as FOODIES. Just the name makes me cringe, let alone seeing one at work with their middle-class aspirations, melon balls and parma ham. I much prefer the term FOODHEAD. All this ranting brings me to the freshest form of food right now – street food – or as we call it here in the UK – the takeaway. The world’s top chefs (the ones that are actually cooking and not mincing around on the TV) are now plundering street food in a desperate attempt to pimp up their menu and inject a much-needed spark of originality into their restaurants.
For me the most exciting aspect of street culture is the food. No doubt about it, as food is the one thing that unites everyone in the world regardless of race religion gender…we all have to eat, no matter what. For the last 20 years I’ve been travelling the world discovering and writing about street culture and it is on those streets that I’ve had to eat, and this is where the street food comes in. The one thing I’ve always been really dedicated to, is the search for something new to eat on whatever street I happen to be schlepping along. I spot an opening, a window of opportunity, and I’m always like – go on, surprise me! And so I rock up, study the menu and order something I’ve never eaten before. If the food is good (and 9 times out of 10 it is) I then spend the rest of the day working out how to cook it at home; to recreate, the taste that I experienced on the street. Anyway enough about me, here are my top ten places around the world to get a decent bit of tucker to chow, without having to ponce it up or grease a maître d.

10 – Hotel Indépendence, Segou, Mali
Dish to Check: Capitane and Fries

I was seated next to the toilet on the shitty Air France plane from CGD, and arriving in Bamako late at night was a blast of hot air and complete madness. My contact had not managed to sort out the VIP treatment off the place (as promised) and when I got to the immigration hall it was total Babylon. There were no queues, enforced yellow fever jabs for those who hadn’t sorted it prior to arrival, and a bun fight without the buns for the attention of the two sleepy looking officials waiting to check passports. I got stuck in and resigned myself to a massive wait. Then a mirage appeared: a confident Malian Official striding through the masses, blatantly shoving them out of the way in her official capacity. She strode up to me and showed me a clip board with my name on it.
‘Is this you?’ she asked.
Yes. I nodded, so glad for some way out of there.
‘Then follow me!’ and away we went, pushing the others out of the way. A couple of guys began shouting at us, but this was sorted with a shout and a stare from my new friend.
9 hours later I’m in the middle of fucking no-where in a place called Segou. It’s 125 in the shade and I’m feeling a bit faint. After a day shooting the shit out of everything I’m ready to die but then I get served in the Hotel Indépendence. Best food in Mali by far: Basically fish and chips by the pool, knowing that the president sleeps and eats here when he’s in town. The place is run by two legendary playboys from Beirut, who know how to cook up some shit, and know a thing or two about hospitality.

9 – Café Marhaba, 36 Back Piccadilly, Manchester
Dish to check: Chicken Karahi and Garlic Naan

From Vegan veggie to supreme Indian and Pakistani dishes, Manchester has it all covered and with its baggy history coming to life in the very laid-back Northern Quarter, it serves it all up with a unique attitude. I try to spend as much time as possible here (usually with Sam from Central Station Design) and th place I eat every time I’m here is the Café Marhaba which isn’t a restaurant, but more like a corridor, serving the best halal tandoori cuisine this side of Karachi. When I asked the cook about his food he described it as ‘Manchester Curry’ but it’s much more than that. The place has a guy whose sole job is to make naans and then slap them into the tandoor with a dirty-assed tea towl. A bowl of curry and a naan is all you need here. I usually go for the chicken karahi, but their chicken tikka kebab is a killer starter if you are a fat fuck.

8 – Eat Vell Hotel, Main Street, Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, India
Dish to Check: Egg Biryani & Rassam

The highlight my trip round India was meeting John and Heather Roderick in a small hill station called Kotagiri, high up in the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu, Southern India. John ran the local restaurant – the Eat Vell – and after I’d eaten everything on the menu he invited us round to his house for dinner one night to meet his wife, Heather. I’d heard lots of ‘horror’ stories about kidnapping, getting ripped off, drugging and other bullshit, and so I was a little on my guard as I walked around to their bungalow with a box of assorted booze, but the evening was wicked, the company was great (John and Heather were Anglo-Indian and spoke better English than I did) the food amazing and the drink flowed (serious hang-over). I ended up spending a month living with them, and this was when I discovered what it was really like to be Indian; listening to unbelievable tales of life, love and death of the average Indian; tales that you wouldn’t hear on the tourist trail. Anyway, enough of the schmaltz, John is a brilliant Indian cook and he taught me the basics of Indian cookery... His Egg Biryani & Rassam is the nuts. Never bettered.

7 – Curry Quest, 89 Durban Rd, Mowbray, Cape Town
Dish to check: Bunny Chow

When the South African government began bulldozing District 6 – a multi-racial district of central Cape Town in 1966 – the dispersed inhabitants were mostly sent to new-build apartment blocks in a dusty desert-like plain outside of Cape Town called the Cape Flats. By the year 2000 the Cape Flats had become a no-go area for most whites, blacks, policemen and any other person who simply wants to live. The gangs run the place, gangs that go by names like The Young Americans, Hard Livings, Nice Time Boys, Mongrels, Scorpions and Laughing Boys. Most gang members like their tik, guns, customized/modified cars, hip hop and dagga (weed). They speak in Cape Slang, a mix of English, Afrikaans and Cape Malay. These are not black Africans. They are Muslims, descendants from Malaysia. Commonly referred to as Cape Malay or Cape Coloured. These are the real South African gangsters. Forget Tsotsi. That was just a crap film compared to what’s going on in the Cape Flats.
The food of choice for these good people is the Bunny Chow, a recipe originally from the streets of Durban, South African, home to the largest Indian population outside of India, but today the Bunny is now eaten all over SA. The dish originated from when some kids wanted some curry from a street stall and didn’t have any plates, and so used a holed-out loaf of bread instead. So it’s half a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with a meat curry. Lekker! And you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Bunny than the one served up (fast) at Curry Quest.

6 – Sabich Charnihovski, Charnihovski Street, Tel Aviv
Dish to check: Sabich

Tel Aviv by day is what I imagine Beirut must have been like before it fell. Coffee kiosks everywhere, people chilling and chatting in groups in the sun in the wide central reservations, plenty of youths sporting dreads and skaters galore. Sub-cultures are important round these parts — which is a seriously good indicator of the psyche of the place, and everyone seems to be smoking dope like it’s going out of fashion. The one thing that really stuck out is that there is no sign of trouble. Day and night there are people walking the streets, and it's one of the most laidback places I've ever been, the polar opposite to LA or JoBurg, and it has a real bohemian sense. The only reminder that I'm in Israel are the occasional soldiers strolling nonchalantly about packing some serious firepower …
Whenever my brother Pilpeled picks me up from the airport he takes me straight to my favorite Sabich spot. On the way we always pass a kid sat on the kerb with his laptop, jacking someone's WiFi, like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing on a Sunday night. The Sabich tastes like nothing else, and each takeway place has its own twist; adds its own secret ingredients. It’s basically pita filled with spicy fried aubergine, boiled egg, lemon juice salad, tahini, hummus and potato. Sounds like shit but tastes so fucking good.

5 – 20/20 Vision, the road behind the Noveltel, Kigali, Rwanda.
Dish to check: Goat Brochette with fried half potatoes

On the third day I was in Kigali, I was nearly kidnapped. I’m in the roughest part of town to watch a crew of local guys doing some parkour, and we draw a bit of a crowd. Not sure how many but it gets out of hand and the 10-or-so Rastas we’re with who are supposed to be providing security, can’t control the situation. It is out of hand and so I chip down the road and some of the crowd follows. A guy who’s clearly off his tits starts to make trouble when someone in my crew rolls a cigarette, banging on about not smoking weed, and if we do we have to buy it from him. We try to talk to the guy but he is so fucked and ranting that this is when I realize that we have to get the out of there. This nutter has a few mates with him (all completely off their heads) milling around trying to stir things up and so I flag down a cab and get in there with my minder. Half an hour later we meet up with the rasta guys who were supposedly looking after us (yeah right!) in a café back in their area. They stroll in laughing and one of them turns to me and says – ‘those guys back there – they were going to take you!’ I ask him what he means and he says ‘Kidnap. They were planning to kidnap you!’ My arse goes for a second, and he sees this. ‘But do not worry. We would have fought them. It would have been ok. Really!’ You certainly live for real when the day might be your last!

The local street food dish is the Brochette, which is a goat kebab. Other local food seems to revolve around the Rwandan buffet, which is a bit hit or miss in Africa! I spent a few hours hanging out in a place called 20/20 Vision in a street near to the Novotel (locally know as the Hovotel as it’s full of beautiful whores) eating wicked Brochettes, sipping a cool beer, and watching the locals eating drinking and getting down. The place is made up of booth in the form of miniature round thatched huts, the speciality is the deep fried half potatoes, which went down well with me. A couple of knackered TVs blast out local music and pirated US RnB videos as well as football and other shit sporting events, but that just adds to the ambience. When I came here there were some old drunk Germans with a few of the larger local working girls, who took a shine to me and kept waving me over, obviously preferring me to their older, square-headed johns. I kept my head down and eat my food.

4 – Nirulas, 23, Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi
Dish to check: Masala Chicken Tikka Burger

After a 48-hour cheap flight from Heathrow via Moscow and Dubai, I arrived at New Delhi Airport somewhat confused, almost tripping... As soon as the doors opened and I stepped out of the knackered old Russian plane into the warm November Delhi night I knew that I was truly out of my comfort zone – the sky was sunset red and hazed with pollution and the air smelt different. Welcome to the East. After a mass bundle at immigration I cleared the security of the airport and expected to be met by a crowd of beggars, but outside the arrival hall there was just few people lying down quietly by a wall and a pre-paid taxi booth. I climbed into a taxi and drove out into the Delhi evening looking for an address in Vasant Vihar. The taxi driver couldn’t find the address and when he eventually succeeded, the people I was staying with weren’t expecting me and were out for the evening at a Halloween party. Their house-keeper and security guard eyed my long hair suspiciously and made me wait in the garage for another 4 hours, the guard tapping his palm with his lathi, as he kept his eye on me. This was when it all got a bit much… Like a spicy dream, a repeating nightmare…
And then I got the munchies and had to go and get something to eat. Luckily there is a great mall in Vasant Vihar and there I found in-beween the Bangra mall rats, a branch of the Nirulas chain. The Tikka burger is the ultimate east-meets-west street food. A spicy tikka-marinated chicken burger in a bun with a side of fries and it was just what I needed to be able to go back and deal with the security guard hating on my English ass.

3 – Motorino Pizza, 319 Graham Ave, Brooklyn
Dish to check: Soppressara Piccante

When I'm in NY I never go above 14th street as the L(ower) E(ast) S(ide) is where it is at. It used to be the place for all the skaters/boho/artists/cool fuckers but then the twats with money moved in and forced the prices up and the dirty people moved out. But, since the 'recession' the place is getting back to what it used to be as the rents have dropped as no-one has any money - or no-one wants to be seen to have any money. I think they still have it, but New Yorkers are a weird lot as you never really know what is really going on in there. But over the water in Brooklyn things are a different matter. What happened was that all the cool spots in the LES got too expensive so all the artists, musicians and designers moved out to Brooklyn (DUMBO, Williamsburg) where the apartments were ten times as big and the cheap a tenth of the price. Soon some amazing food joints were springing up and without a shadow of doubt, Motorino Pizza in Brooklyn, is the don of the mozella covered dough disk. I fucking love this place as the food is mental and the atmosphere horizontal. The pizzas are properly authentic and even my Italian Granny would check these with a smile. The bloke who makes them is covered in tats and looks more like he should be selling you crank than the best Pizza in the US.

2 – Ciuri-ciuri, Via Leonia 18/20, Cavour, Rome
Dish to check: Arancini

Rome is a wicked mix of old-school and urban. It has the best climate (bearable winters and killer summers), the friendliest, fittest people and the food is off the scale. Okay it seems a bit expensive when you buy a drink in a bar, but there is always bar snack included in the price (Italian style tapas) – which is the best idea ever! The tourist spots (The Coliseum; the Vatican) are best avoided (unless you really want some ‘culture’ or are a nonce), as they are ram-jammed all-year round, just head for the little streets in and around the centre of town. This is where you’ll find the real deal holyfield. The Trastevere (left bank of the Tiber, just over the Ponte Sisto) area is one of the coolest spots you’ll ever hang out in – day or night. The streets are narrow and cobbled and lined with bars, restaurants, pizzerias, workshops, boutiques, and shops, but with street art all over the place and endless stream of beautiful boys and girls lamping past. But the best-kept secret is a great area called Monti, near the Cavour metro station. A lot of fashion houses, Indian, pizza and seafood restaurants, bars and cool spots where the more laid back locals hang out. There is an amazing Sicilian cake and snack shop just around the corner on Via Leonina just down from the metro station. It’s called Ciuri-Ciuri and they serve up the best street food called Arancini – deep fried risotto balls filled with either cheese and spinach or bolognaise. And then get some bomba (Sicilian cake) for afters…

1 – Street Kitchen – somewhere in London. Check twitter @StreetKitchen
Dish to check: Everything and anything.

There are a ton of decent food spots in London, such as the Lahore Kebab House on the Streatham High road, but the don of them all has to be the Street Kitchen. The place has such a great look – a silver stream caravan converted into a kitchen – and serves the most-tastiest, gourmet food you’ll ever get near a takeaway carton. This is proper Michelin-starred restaurant food bang on the street, with no waiting or booking and light on the pocket. This is the ultimate solution to all the phoney places giving it large and delivering nish. I asked Mark Jankle, one half of Street Kitchen, how the good people of London reacted to Street Kitchen.
‘We had a phenomenal response from the customers that tasted the Street Kitchen dishes. I don’t think that our customers had ever tasted such high quality and delicious food being served from a hatch in a trailer. In only two weeks we built up a very loyal customer following; scores of people would come every day at each location, many of them even twice a day. People would buy a box at lunchtime and come back hours later just to tell us how delicious the food was. We were bowled over by our customers’ enthusiasm, positive feedback, encouragement and support.’
Street Kitchen is re-launching April 2011 so pull up and check their twitter feed for where and when. Then go and check their food and then spread the word that you’ve tasted the future of street food.

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