View outside the Chegworth Farm Shop in London, England (2011)
Making an accurate assessment of anything is pretty difficult without a point of reference. Imagine having to find the distance between two places and not knowing where either of them are… sometimes you just have to find things first. This is especially true when it comes to food, how can you know when you’ve had true Italian or Chinese food, for instance, until you’ve had it made the way it was intended to be made, with the ingredients it was intended to be made with? In Italy the vegetables may have just been pulled from the soil and taste like they were injected with the concentrated flavor of that vegetable, in China the chicken used in your dish may be from an ancient breed and may have been slaughtered right before it went into the pot.
In the end, many of the dishes we eat that originated in other places will only be approximations, limited examples that can at the very least give us a point of reference to later compare with other things. For example, before visiting England I had only had versions of things that people called British cuisine – approximations of Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, etc. When I finally got to visit, not only did I find that there is so much more to British cuisine than I ever knew, I found that I had never really even tasted the real thing.
The markets here were absolutely bursting with ingredients from small regional farms, lamb from Essex, cheeses from Somerset, pork from Yorkshire, seafood from Scottish waters, aged wild game and beautiful fruits and vegetables to rival any I’ve ever seen. No doubt these are the ingredients that British dishes are intended to be made with, and they didn’t disappoint. One of the biggest shocks to my system were some tiny plum tomatoes from the Chegworth Farm Shop in the photo above, a little place that sells ingredients grown on a farm in Kent. I’ve had tomatoes all over Italy and often straight off the vine on the farm I grew up on. These were some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten anywhere.
That was certainly unexpected.