Last weekend was the inaugural Toast festival - a weekend of discussions and workshops about food, raising money for Action Against Hunger. I already had plans for Saturday, but the Sunday morning panel debate on Food & Migration caught my eye. Promising Paul a nice lunch in Shoreditch got him enthused as well, although pointing out that we needed to leave the house before 10am took the gilt off the gingerbread for him a bit.
|I really liked these cocktail prints but they were outside my budget|
Fortunately one of the attractions of Toast was coffee from DunneFrankowski, so after two rapidly-inhaled strong cappucinos he'd woken up a bit and was ready to listen to the debate. It was an impressive panel - Anissa Helou, Fuchsia Dunlop, Lizzie Collingham and Iqbal Wahhab - but unfortunately the actual debate was disappointing.
The pitch for the debate was "London has been a magnet for immigration for centuries. Waves of Huguenots, Irish, Eastern European Jews, Afro-Caribbeans, and South Asians (among many others) have come to the metropolis seeking new opportunities. But how has this changed how we eat, especially over the past five decades? Do elements of cuisine get lost of [sic] translation? And does eating food from many different countries mean that we’re more culturally aware?" but none of those points were really covered. Each panellist told (interesting) anecdotes but there was a lack of connectedness to it and a lack of follow-up on points that were made.
Partly I think this was down to poor moderation. The session was also very short. Had it not been for charity I would have felt that the ticket price was quite inflated. There was very little time for questions at the end, which was disappointing because one question led to the most important point of the session, I thought. One audience member asked if the panel thought that food was a way into social integration, and Lizzie said "We are very good at accepting the food while rejecting the people". I think that was worth a lot of interrogation but there wasn't time.
So we stepped, blinking owlishly, into the light (the debate was held in a slightly dank basement, and it was lovely and sunny outside) and went off for a little stroll around Old St before lunch.
Paul's request for lunch was pho, which is very easily provided in that neck of the woods. We sat down in Cay Tre and explored the menu. A little shared starter of prawn rolls, generous bowls of Saigon beef pho and a delicious Saigon lime soda (which is now my third favourite non-alcoholic beverage in a restaurant, after the Wahaca citrus fizz and the Dumplings Legend lemon iced tea).
The prawn rolls missed the mark a little for me - not as herbal as I like and I prefer a mixture of pork and prawn, which they don't have on the menu. The pho was excellent. Usually we order it with just lean beef fillet, but the Saigon-style had a mixture of brisket slices and other textures of beef which I think will be my new go-to. The broth was also very fragrant and deep-flavoured, although Paul felt it needed a bit more fish-sauce and star anise to match up to his favourite pho from under Wynyard station in Sydney.
Unfortunately a very early lunch (we sat down just before noon) meant that when we got home we needed to think about dinner. We got a piece of pork fillet out of the freezer and proceeded with Helen Graves' recipe for Nigerian BBQ. The meat was still quite frozen when I sliced it, so it was easy enough to cut into long thin strips.
|I love those skewers - best thing ever left by a former housemate.|
Preparing this dish made me think more about the food and migration thing. In answer to the question about WHY Britain has adopted the food of migrants so readily when other countries haven't, the panel gave a pretty glib "British food is horrible" response, instead of going into why British food is horrible or whether other countries have had the same level of migration. They also didn't look really at the role of British travellers developing a taste for foreign foods and bringing dishes back with them.
My grandfather did a stint working in Nigeria many years ago, and although I remember him talking about a peanut stew he had there, I will have to ask whether he ever tried Nigerian barbecue. Not having tried this dish before I am not sure whether it is authentic. But it was good! I think the pork fillet was the wrong cut of meat for it - too lean - but the flavours of the marinade/rub were wonderful. Next time we'll try it with a fattier cut of pork or beef, I think.