Chicken Soup and other thoughts
In Central London earlier and feeling hungry after a seasonal excursion to Selfridges to flex the plastic, wandered around until I happened upon a branch of Harry Morgan's tucked away behind Oxford Street. A smaller version of the St John's Wood original, it offers all the usual comforting nosh which so appeals to a shopper with tired feet and an empty stomach. So it was chicken soup with kreplach to start followed by a plate of salt beef with pickles and potato salad. I'm a connoisseur of chicken soup, so its invariably a mistake for me to order it as it rarely fails to disappoint. This one was no exception. It was far too salty and tasted strongly of stock cube. How many times does one have to say it? Don't adulterate chicken soup with these horrible synthetic additions. Chicken soup should be a limpid golden colour. It should have been simmered for hours over a gentle heat so its ingredients, fowl and root vegetables, release their deep, rich flavours to the liquid. An authentic chicken soup gladdens the senses and lifts the spirit; a second-rate version does little more than warm your insides. The salt beef wasn't much of an improvement, being dry where it should have been silky-moist, the potato salad was similarly mediocre. Mercifully, the lockshen pudding was unavailable so I was spared further disappointment.
But enough preamble, there's a larger issue at stake here. What on earth is happening with heimische food? Cooked sympathetically with quality ingredients, its one of the world's great cuisines. Yet so often one is presented with meanly made, inferior versions of classic dishes. My own experience does not seem to have been out of the ordinary. Jay Rayner wrote a lacerating review of Blooms in his column this week.
It shouldn't and neither does it have to be like this. Heimische restauranteurs should consider themselves ambassadors for their cuisine. They should take pride in the heimische culinary canon and treat it with the same reverance that exponents of haute cuisine do theirs. Heimische food has nourished generations of Central European Jews and inspired the creative. Back in 1850 the German poet, Heinriche Heine, composed the parodic poem, Princess Sabbath about assimilated German Jews in which he celebrated cholent, that delicious stew of meat and beans, which "alone unites them still in their own covenant".
Cholent, ray of light immortal!
Cholent, daughter of Elysium!
So had Schiller's song resounded,
Had he ever tasted Cholent,
For this Cholent is the very
Food of heaven, which on Sinai,
God Himself instructed Moses
In the secret of preparing.