Friday, December 21, 2007

Over rated & Over there

Every time I return to London I feel completely food-ed out. Although I am a good cook (I'm writing a cookery book and am obsessed with food), I eat or take out from restauants, bars & cafés in Manhattan maybe eight or ten times a week as my apartment is just too small for entertaining.

Many Manhattan-ites (especially the single 30-something variety) are in the same boat, which seems extraordinary to Londoners who eat out maybe once or twice a week: with a two course meal with a single glass of wine for one at, for example, Pizza Express (an average upmarket-ish chain) costing approx £30/$60, it's just too prohibitive to eat out in good restaurants frequently unless you have a generous expense account.

So in London we eat an enormous amount of more inexpensive cuisines: Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and more. For me it's not just a financial thing, it's a taste in part fuelled by the travelling I have done all over the world, both for pleasure and as a travel writer for a Sunday broadsheet and a major glossy travel mag.

These small, often family-run UK restaurants turn out extraordinarily good food, equal to the dishes you are served in resturants, hawker stalls, markets and street corners in Bangkok, Mumbai, Cochin, Hanoi, KL, Singapore and the rest. The Vietnamese restaurants on the Kingsland Road in Hackney, Indian in Southall...Chinese in the West End...

And goodness, I miss this in Manhattan where the food from these cultures is sub-par every single time. Greasy, soggy Chinese; Thai green papaya salad with no balance of flavour and shockingly, no chili; a Madras curry with no heat and no perfume; flaccid pad thai; Pho with overcooked noodles; dumplings with wrsppers seemingly made of shoe leather. I just do not understand why it is so, so, so bad, so inaccurate. All the spice and chili is stripped out of iconic dishes, leaving them as pale imitations of themselves. The only exception to this litany of execrable food is Mexican, which explains why I eat Mexican food maybe six times a week.