A peek at 2014… but no forecasts for Patrick
Publishing schedules prevented me from wishing you, dear reader, a Happy Christmas or a prompt message for the New Year. I hope you have managed to survive this absence. Anyway there are 351 more days left in 2015, so: may they be good for you, in whatever (legal) manner you wish. In a long life, I have worked through a number of
“recessions” and when you roll up your sleeves, cut out the nonsense and set to work, it’s just great when times get better! And, they always were.
This is a time for us hacks, often too full of food and drink, to “review” the year that’s gone and “consider” the new. For the tourism and hospitality industry in Cyprus – and people in general, probably, it means more of the same, i.e. tough times, but with some opportunities for those able to see them and take advantage of them. It’s not going to be easy – the money needed to maintain all the amenities and the infrastructure at proper levels is not there, and the product, Cyprus, is getting dangerously run-down.
Needed at this time are leadership and creativity in the CTO and the private sector, to create a more vibrant image and greater awareness of Cyprus abroad.
Then, what about the “Cyprus Gourmet”? My ancient person is just about all that’s left of it apart from the mast-head. A far cry from the excitement and optimism of our Wine Awards in 2011, when we could indulge ourselves in the time we gave and the costs incurred! Will we resuscitate them? Yes, but only if the wineries themselves ask us to and agree among themselves to work together.
As for 2014, Mary and I were “visitors”, after a couple of years away. It was like visiting a dear old friend, who is still most hospitable but a bit hard up. But we had a splendid time and enjoyed every breakfast, lunch and dinner that came our way. Resident back in the UK now, our disappointment at anything other than expensive catering continued, and on most of our travels the food we were offered came out of a heat-up bag or a frozen package. All we could say to each other was “Carry on Kebab-ing in Cyprus!” I think good food will always be easy to find, except in a few tourist traps, because the Cypriots and the French have one great thing in common: they love their food.
Try and recall the most memorable meals you ate in 2014? Can you? If so, were they good ones or bad ones?
For me, two stand out. One good. The other, awful. Both simple and not at all grand. One in Cyprus, one in England.
The better one first. Lunchtime in the square at Omodos on a sunny March day. Four visitors visible in total. Three tavernas open – it’s toss-a-coin department. We sit down at one and the wife of the establishment immediately welcomes us and tells us what is on offer. We choose lountza, halloumi, chips and salad. While husband is cooking, she delivers local wine, green and black olives, hot griddled pitta bread and tahinisalata, followed quickly by the salad. Everything is fresh. The chips are celestial. The sort of meal that we used to take for granted – good, fresh, honest food.
Fast forward a few weeks. By the seaside in the eastern county of Essex. Around us, at open air tables dozens of other “trippers”, all eating the same, a hugely battered and fried piece of cod fish, accompanied by a pile of “chips”, mashed cooked dried peas. Little plastic, one-dollop pots of tomato ketchup, ersatz tartar sauce, or brown (“HP”) sauce were liberally available.
The fish was just heated from frozen, the batter crisp on its outside, uncooked near the fish. The chips: de-frosted, re-fried, kept hot in the oven. It was disgusting. We left more than half. Everyone else cleared their plates, but if Chris Blue Beach at Episkopi served up plates like this there would be a riot. An awful lot of English people are gastronomic savages in my opinion.
All this, despite the fact that the food ingredients in England are the best on earth. Just near us is a “Farm Shop” selling a large range of meats and home cured, processed or cooked meat products, including the most excellent beef and lamb. This week we bought a slab of braising steak of a quality to dream about, and converted some of it into a gorgeous Stifado. Stifado is simplicity itself to make and the bay leaves give it a lovely herby tang. I first encountered it very many years ago in a Cypriot restaurant close to West Croydon British Rail station not far from London, where I frequently went at lunch times. The owner-chef made it most days and it was gorgeous. He served it with solid oil-bound golden brown roast potatoes, which his waitress, a charming girl who had been the first wife of the great band-leader/jazz musician Johnny Dankworth, described as “grease bombs”. In my (then) impecunious, almost emaciated condition as an assistant cinema manager, they did me a lot of good. The owner-chef, who was thin as a lath, told me he couldn’t stand Cypriot food. “I just eat boiled rice when I go home at night”, he told me. “Everyone to their own taste”, I thought, “I’ll take the grease bombs”. Later I graduated to an authentic Cypriot restaurant near the Post Office Tower in central London (which deserves a feature to itself) and thence to the real thing in Cyprus itself. 500g / 18 oz of good quality braising beef 20 – 30 button onions (you can use frozen ‘Kremidakia’ from Greece, de-frosted for an hour or so) or 4–5 large fresh onions, peeled and sliced 4 tbsp olive oil 2 bay leaves 1 125 cl glass of red wine Salt and pepper One cup of hot water 1 tsp sugar
1. Trim the beef of fat and cut into smallish chunks. 2. Heat the oil in a heavy casserole with lid and fry the onions until cooked through and browning at the edges. Remove and set aside. 3. In the same pan, fry the meat, turning regularly until brown on all sides. 4. Return the onions to the meat, add the wine and let simmer on a low heat with lid on for a couple of minutes. 5. Now add the salt and pepper, bay leaves, sugar and hot water – stir well. 6. Cover and simmer on a low heat, until the meat is tender. Add more wine or water if the dish is getting dry.