Long standing readers will know that I enjoy cooking about which I've written before under the heading, 'No frills cooking' - a lot can be achieved by getting a few basics right, which can be said about many fields of human endeavour, I suggest.
So hear I am back in the UK, cooking again. Many similarities of course - still roasting chickens, making soups, various other things. But a good few differences. Shopping first. Within walking distance of where I live are a number of shops - small supermarket, post office / stationers, and 3 takeaway food shops - Indian, Chinese and the ubiquitous fish and chip shop.
Actually, for my non-UK readers, let me pause on 'fish and chip shop' for a bit. Chips - or 'French fries' as our American friends would call them, are reasonably well known across the world as far as I am aware. 'Fish' in this context means deep fried cod fillets, sometimes other fish also, covered in batter which at its best is crisp and light, and at its worst.... Then covered with salt and vinegar, often accompanied by picked onions (ie. small onions left in vinegar for about a year), gherkins, or mushy peas. I would be interested to know of reactions to this description from friends who have not been here, I suspect it sounds dreadful, but actually is highly popular, almost as essential a part of being British as complaining constantly about the weather. I would say also that I once had lunch buffet style, can't now remember where in East Africa, where one of the options was 'English fish' which I think was an attempt at what I have described above. No, guys,nothing like, believe me!
Slightly further away, maybe 2 kilometres, is a large supermarket which is where I do most of my food shopping. Similar to the petrol station I mentioned in this post, it sells much more than food, including clothes, kitchen equipment, televisions and other electrical stuff, and much, much more. Another difference to East Africa is that there is far more food on sale which is ready to eat, or just put in the oven / microwave. So chickens come with herbs and butter, in a bag which can be put straight into the oven, spare ribs come with barbecue sauce, etc. etc. Of course, if you wish to cook from scratch, there is that option.
(Parenthetical thought: the microwave I had before going to Tanzania was already very old, so I bought a new one coming back - at the large supermarket mentioned above. To be honest, I'm a bit scared of it. When I first tried reheating soup in it, after about 3 seconds most of the soup was on the sides of the device with only a small amount left in the bowl. I now limit myself to a maximum of 80% power, the full thing is really a bit frightening. I'm aware that it also acts as a grill and convection oven, or some combination of the three things, one day I might work out how to use these functions - but think I'll buy some protective clothing first).
I would say that one particular joy for me in shopping here is that if the packing says £1.50 then I really do pay £1.50, it really is that simple. It took a while to get used to the idea in Dar es Salaam that, when food said £1.50, the price actually being charged in Tanzanian shillings was something like 3 times that. General principle in my first few days as I was getting used to this - avoid buying food which looks familiar, I now take great pleasure in ignoring this!
Tropical fruits are available here at a price - although I'd love to know why coconuts taste so much better there than here, is there a problem transporting the young fruit with lots of relatively delicately flavoured water and a fairly small amount of flesh which is soft and again fairly delicate? If not, then there is a great business opportunity here, if anybody wishes to take it up, a 10% royalty to pay for the idea will be fine! Another slightly curious thing is that I'm more likely to buy bananas here than there, high quality undamaged fruit becomes export so it lasts for a few days after purchase, what you buy locally needs to be eaten straightaway. Jack fruit does not come here, alas, pretty sure it wouldn't survive the journey.
There are a few things I'm enjoying buying and eating again. A limited range of cheese is available in East Africa, but it's very expensive, I really like being able to buy cheese at a reasonable price, cheese on toast is great! Along with many other options, of course. I also really like the large flat mushrooms which can be bought here, either stuffed and served as a starter or made into soup. Either way they're wonderful!
I mentioned in this blog post my gas oven, I would say that, once all safety protocols have been observed and the thing is actually on, it really does make cooking very straight forward. And non-stick frying pans, which can then be washed up gently to retain the non-stick surface, are just wonderful, bacon and scrambled egg becomes the work of a few minutes to put together.
(Parenthetical thought: it is relatively recently that I came to realise just how easy it is to make scrambed egg. Crack a couple of eggs into a cup, try not to get any shell in it. Little bit of milk, salt and then other things like cheese, garlic paste if you like, anything really, whisk it together with a fork, put it in a hot frying pan with a bit of vegetable oil and then stir vigorously for a few seconds until it starts to go soft. Part of the key here is to serve immediately, I think one of the reasons scrambled egg gets a bad press is because it can be left to dry out after cooking waiting to be eaten. I came to realise some years ago that, if I try to fry eggs the end result is much like the scrambled version, whereas when I try to make scrambled egg I actually succeed, so it's a bit of a no-brainer, really.)
So, starting to get back into the rhythm of things here. Another thing I'd like to tell you about sometime is the little herb garden I have growing outside my front door - actually, a bit vigorously at this time of year, keeping up with the supply is a bit of a challenge. Thank you for reading, I'll be back again soon!