Monday, May 14, 2012

The 5 Basic Food Groups

                                                                                          The 5 basic food groups

Hi everyone,

Today’s topic is food.

I love food and I love to try the local specialties whenever I travel somewhere. Throughout the years, I have racked up an interesting list of food experiences that include, among many others, a horse burger (Slovenia), deep fried haggis (Scotland) and kangaroo kebab(Australia). Aside from the many one-off experiences you have when travelling around the world, there are certain staples that you will encounter in pretty much every place you go to. It was therefore that I decided to write a story on what I consider to be the 5 basic food groups in the world:


The dishes that I chose appear in totally random order and I would like to state that all these meals are excellent and I would recommend that you go out of your way to try them, should you ever find yourself near any of them.

Kicking off our culinary tour around the 5 basic food groups, and representing the Indian subcontinent is.. 

Paddy Murphy's Irish Pub in Rotterdam.

While some of you may be surprised at finding an Irish pub in Holland representing India, those who have eaten there will understand this selection.  When Paddy Murphy's opened its doors in 1997, an eager crowd of locals, Irish and expat Scots soon made it their home away from home.  To keep the crowd  fed while they were watching football and chugging down their pints, a pub grub menu was soon put in place, offering the crowd home staples like bacon and sausages, tuna melt and, for the Dutchies, bitterballs. The reason why Paddy Murphy's is in this story, however, is their take on Indian cooking, and one of my favorite dishes of all times, their famous chicken tikka.  Diced chicken, marninated overnight in a combination of spices, was served in a crusty bap with mango chutney and a special sauce. I have eaten chicken tikka hundreds of times, but never as good as there. For years I tried every brand of Indian sauce and combination of spices I could get my hand on, but I could never

get it quite right.  One day I walked into the pub and found the cook sitting at the bar with a pile of papers and pictures of Irish parafernalia. When I enquired what he was doing, he told me that he was working out the new menu. I had a look at the beta version of the new menu and remarked that he had forgotten the chicken tikka. Without looking up from his work, he informed me that the chicken tikka would disappear from the menu.

This was bad news.
Even though there was only a limited quantity available every day, the chicken tikka sandwich was one of the staples of my diet. Not having a weekly kick of my favorite dish would be a serious disappointment. After I had digested the bad news with the help of a pint of Cork’s finest, I decided to try a different strategy. I ordered another beer from the cook and while he was pouring it, I asked him if, since chicken tikka was no longer on the menu, he could ofcourse give me the recipe. ‘Sure no problem’ he said, and wrote the ingredients and cooking instructions on the back of a beer mat. The beermat was above my desk in my apartment in Rotterdam until I moved to Ireland a couple of years later and I cooked it often. I still could not get it quite as good as it was in the pub, but it was still very good and I still make it every now and then. It’s just a shame that it’s not available in the pub anymore.

Taking the honor of representing pizza on this list, is a tiny pizza place in Rotterdam. It took me a long time to decide on the pizza for this story, mainly because pizza is one of those things that when it's good, it's fantastic and even when it's not really that great, well, then it's still pretty good. Several candidates were in the running for this honorary position. Arguably the best pizza I ever ate arrived on a tray at Lombardi's in New York's Lower East Side. I had read about Lombardi's before setting off for New York and accidentally arrived in the area in the middle of an Italian street festival. Lombardi's is one of only 10 places in the USA that use a wood burned oven and this gives a very distinctive taste to all pizzas. The pizza was thin, crispy and topped just with mozarella, tomato, oregano and pepperoni. It was amazing. Pizzas at the Porterhouse in Dublin also rank high on my favourites list. The thin crust pizzas are delicious and on sale in 3 of their 4 pubs in the  Dublin area (the 4th one doesn't sell pizza because the kitchen is on the 4th floor and it proved impossible to get a full size pizza oven up there without taking the roof off) and also attract attention because of the out-of-the-ordinary toppings on offer. Your Italian friends would probably cringe from the idea of pizza topped with chicken curry or bacon and sausages, but I like them very much. The reason I chose the place in Rotterdam to represent pizza is not just the excellent pizza they sold at very reasonable prices, it's also the great memories it brings back when I think of them. The last apartment I lived in in Holland was a really nice place. We were 5th in line for a viewing but for some reason, the first 4 people on the list never showed up, so when I was the first one to show up (my friend and flatmate Samantha was at home being very ill) the by then  very bored rep of the housing corporation was more than happy to give me the apartment if I would just say yes and sign a paper confirming the deal was on. His restlessness proved a further advantage the next day when I went over to the corporation offices to finalise the paperwork and found that the office Christmas party had already started. The rep stuffed all the papers in a folder and then in the archive, thereby conveniently overlooking the fact that a vital piece of information that I did not have was missing. He wished me luck and walked off towards the drinks trolley and I walked out with a validated lease and 2 sets of keys. I never heard of it again. 
We moved in the next week and decided that pizza would be a fitting meal after a day of carrying furniture around so we walked over picked up a couple of pizzas, and found that they were excellent. The shop was run by 3 Turkish brothers and their pizzas, especially in spring and summer, became a regular fixture in my life while  living there. Our living room and adjourning balcony were to the South, which happily made for extended hours of sunshine. My ritual would be to go to the pub on Sunday afternoons to watch the football and at the end of the afternoon, when I went home, I would order a pizza just before getting on the subway, conveniently located next to the pub which is at the back of the World Trade Centre, and when I got off the subway at my end of the line, I would pick up a piping hot pizza, fresh from the oven, walk the 30 seconds home and set myself on the balcony with the hot pizza and a cold beer to see the sun sink behind the horizon. It was bliss.
The father of the guys running the shop showed some remarkable memory skills about a year after I moved to Ireland. I was staying at a friend’s place and decided to order a pizza from my old neighbours for old times’ sake. When the pizza arrived, the delivery guy looked at me quizzically for 3 seconds and then said ‘I thought you lived at Schoonveld 17?’ Quite amazing, as I hadn’t been anywhere near the shop in a year and I was standing in a darkened doorway about 2 miles from where I used to live. 


Representing America in the story, perhaps surprisingly after Irish chicken tikka and pizza from Dutch Turks, is America. And ofcourse it is a hamburger that takes the cake, so to speak. Hamburgers were never very prominent in my native Holland until Mc Donald's and -a little bit later- Burger King started opening franchises around the country. The idea of cheap food that was ready to eat within a minute took Holland, like many other countries, by storm. This had the big advantage(in the mind of a child) that McDonald’s was everywhere, but the disadvantage that the big chains pushed smaller chains and local independents out of the market. There were 2 burger places near where I grew up, a Wimpy and a local place called Lion’s Garden. I especially have fond memories of Lion’s Garden, a very cool place in a deep, spacious, building, with white stuccoed walls and tables set up on low platforms covered by pergolas. There was a garden to the back of the restaurant, with a climbing frame, a seesaw and a sandpit. The highlight, however, was an old tram that had been fitted with booths and a soda fountain and was available for birthday parties and other special occasions. It was the dream of every kid in the area to be invited to a birthday party in the tram. Unfortunately, I never got to experience this privilege because just when I had devised a strategy to pursuade my parents to let me have my next birthday party in The Tram, McDonald’s opened a franchise across the street. Wimpy’s went out of business within 6 months and Lion’s Garden followed a couple of months later. Perhaps this is an explanation of why I have a fascination for public transport and always ride the tram, wherever I travel, even if the tram goes in a direction where nothing interesting is to be found. For a brief moment, I considered Lion’s Garden for representing  The American Way, but I quickly rejected this notion because I was only 8 or 9 when it closed and, in any case, the mists of time have clouded if the food was really THAT good, or that it was just the excitement of my grandma taking me to the cinema at the end of the street on Wednesday afternoons and afterwards taking me to Lion’s Garden where I could choose anything I wanted. It’s still a nice memory to both my early youth and my grandma though.

But No, back to the Harsh Reality of the 21st century and the best burger I have ever eaten. For this magnificent burger, we go to my beloved California and, more specifically, to Los Angeles. I had set off early in the day in a Dublin that was in a state of mild, soon-to-be-spring weather, had a stop over in Chicago that, from the air, looked like the South Pole with only the top of Sears Tower protruding from the snow and finally arrived in a 20* LA summer. As you may imagine, I went out for a drink and had a hotdog for dinner. The next day, after having a pancake breakfast, I walked around Hollywood Boulevard and happily spent the day soaking up the California sun and local beer. When night fell, I realised that I was very hungry and went in search of a place to eat.  If you have never been in Hollywood, just to give you a picture, Hollywood boulevard is populated, in roughly equal measures, with bars, restaurants, tattoo parlours and souvenir shops. This gives the hungry traveller a great choice of LA food, so I was walking around like a kid in a candy store, trying to decide where to eat. I eventually decided on a hamburger place called Lucky Devils, which stood out for both their big red sign featuring a devil’s head, and the fact that I noticed 15 different draft beers behind the bar. I set myself at a table and 2 minutes later was looking through the menu and sipping a cold Craftsman 1903 lager. I read through the menu a couple of times and eventually settled on the Diablo Burger, a mighty tower of juicy beef, white cheddar, double-smoked bacon, avocado, wild arugula, house 1,000 island, & devil hot sauce.

Yes, I looked up the toppings on the website. 

I ordered a bowl of sweet potatoe fries on the side and another beer and dug into my meal. The sweet potatoe fries, I am not afraid of admitting, were the BEST damn fries I ever ate in my life. They were amazing. I never thought that something as generic as fries could be so delicious. After coming down from my initial fries-induced high, I took a bite of my burger. It was the best hamburger I ever ate. Each ingredient complemented the other ones perfectly. I had another bite and sat there, digesting my burger and happily staring in the middle distance. Somewhere midway through this meal fit for a king, I realised that the place was now half full, while it had been empty when I came in. I had been so engrossed in my hamburger and fries that I had completely missed about a dozen people entering the restaurant.  Having reluctantly come back to reality, I finished my meal and my beer. The bill for this fantastic meal, including 2 pints of craft beer, was only just North of $25,-. If you are going to eat only 1 more hamburger for the rest of your life make sure it’s this one. 10 out of 10.


Representing Asian food, is a small restaurant in Sydney. I can't remember the name of the place, but I can walk straight to it when I'm in Sydney, so if you ever run in to me in Sydney and feel like Malaysian food, let me know. The place I'm talking about specialises in Laksa, a dish I had never encountered before and haven't seen since here in Europe. For those of you that don't know what laksa is.. Well,  it's a dish that is roughly halfway between curry and soup. I placed my order and, given the modest price of $7, I expected a soup bowl size dish. When my food was ready, however, the waiter brought me a bowl about the size of the Stanley Cup. It was huge. Because of the consistency of the dish, I was a little unsure as to what kind of cutlery to use. I went for chopsticks at first. Now I don't know if you ever tried eating soup with chopsticks but it is a bit of a challenge. I tried one of those earthenware Asian soup spoons instead but that didn't quite work on the bigger chunks of chicken and vegetable. In the end I settled on the compromise of eating the solid parts with my chopsticks and the liquid with the spoon. By this time, ofcourse, the area of the table surrounding my plate looked as if someone had lobbed a snooker ball into my bowl from considerable distance.  The food was excellent, which is ofcourse the main thing. The meat was juicy, the vegetables crisp and fresh and the liquid it swam in was appropriately spicy. I spent a happy half hour negotiating my way through my laksa and in the end experienced that great feature of South East Asian food of feeling full and satisfied without actually feeling stuffed. I would recommend this place to anyone who likes Asian food..

If only I could remember the name of the place. 


The Irish Independent advertises itself variably as Ireland’s best selling newspaper, the country’s number 1 news source and with several other inflated self-promoting slogans. The reality, however, is that it’s not really that good. I get the paper for free at work, which is the reason that I read it with some regularity, but when you browse through it, you find that the first 30 pages are filled mainly with man-bites-dog type stories about small town life in the Irish countryside and a string of articles about B-list celebrities. It is not until you reach the midsection of the paper that you find anything that is not about Ireland or Britain. The final 30 or so pages are filled with sports, most of this about Hurling, horse racing and other typically Irish passtimes. What you will also notice when you have a closer look at  the paper, is that everything that is not about something particularly Irish, is copied verbatim from the Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper that is part of the same parent company. By now you may wonder why I have spent a whole paragraph in a story about food discussing the pros and cons of an Irish newspaper, but the reason I bring this up is the one distinguishing feature of the Independent,  its listings magazine, Night&Day. They have unfortunately moved it into the Saturday edition of the paper these days, but for the first four years of my stay in Ireland, it was my little Friday ritual at work to pick up the Independent and read through the magazine while having breakfast. My favorite section was a page called Barfly, which consisted of a restaurant review and a pub review. Through this magazine, I came across many interesting pubs and restaurants. I first heard of the Woolshed through this magazine and there are several other interesting places I found out about through Night&Day.  And here we arrive, in a roundabout way, to my inclusion of the paper in this story, which is that I first read about Boojum Burritos here.You may not be surprised to hear by now, after nearly  every food group being represented by the wrong continent, that Mexican food is represented by Dublin.
Boojum Burritos got 4 out of 5 stars and a glowing review from the normally extremely picky restaurant reviewer so I knew I had to check it out. Some research revealed that Boojum was first founded in Belfast, of all places, and that they have two restaurants there. Dublin is the third one and was very eager to check it out.

I set off to get a burrito and was welcomed by the same smiling face that I had seen in the newspaper review. I ordered a shredded beef burrito and a bottle of Mexican beer, grabbed a bottle of hot sauce and sat down to my meal. After 2 bites, I pinched myself to see if I was actually awake. It was arguably the best burrito I had ever eaten. The beef was extremely tender and juicy, the beans, rice, sour cream and cheese complemented the beef and hot sauce supremely and the guacamole I had ordered on the side was creamy yet not greasy and nearly made me salivate. I have been  to California several times, but even there I was hard pressed to find a better burrito. I was in love with the place before my burrito was half finished.  I have eaten there many many times since and have been awarded for my loyalty by the always smiling staff, who gave me a t-shirt when I had my 40th meal. I know decent Mexican food can be hard to find on this side of the Atalantic, but you don’t need to look any further than Dublin’s Millenium Walkway. I have tried all the other burrito places in Dublin, but none is anywhere near as good as Boojum. If I had to nominate something as my favorite food ever, it would be this.

So there we are, the 5 basic food groups covered. I hope you try to take the time to try them out if you are near any of them, believe me it’s worth it

Cheers for now,


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