A peek at 2014… but no forecasts for Pa­trick

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Skin­ner

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

Method

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.

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