Last month a poll was conducted ahead of an event taking place prior to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, to drive global action to reduce hunger and malnutrition. A group of 2011 British adults were asked to list the foods they could not or would not eat. The majority of the entries that made the top ten most detested food items reads to me less of a culinary hit list and more of a fabulous tasting menu (albeit a slightly misguided one with the combination of ingredients). This list doesn’t just consist of food I like to eat, it consists of food I actively seek out on a menu and order over other options. This list comprises of some of the most sought after ingredients available to the culinary savvy, providing the centre piece to incredible dishes and dining memories. Allow me to extol the virtues of these fabulous morsels and perhaps help change the opinions of a nation.
10 – Marzipan
The smooth and thick paste like confection that is marzipan comes in at number ten with 26% of the vote. It is comprised of sugar, egg and ground almonds and is most commonly used as a base for the icing on a Christmas or wedding cake. Marzipan can indeed sometimes be too sweet and an aversion to melting teeth is understandable. But if it’s the almond flavour in general that is disliked by the nation, then this is an opinion I, and most of Italy, would find difficult to swallow. Both the riciarelli and amaretti biscuit are made with the same key ingredients of almonds, sugar and egg whites and are almost ubiquitous in their presence perched on the saucer of a strong coffee throughout Italy. If the flavour of sweet almond is something you’re not yet accustomed to, try knocking up a batch of these easy biscuits and start from there. Either that or pour yourself two fingers of Amaretto (Italian almond flavoured liqueur) and initiate yourself the ballsy way.
|amaretti biscuits – a flavour of sweet almond similar to marzipan|
8 – Olives
In at number eight are olives, the humble collection of green and black oval appetisers found at the start of restaurant meals across the land. According to the results, 33% of British adults would leave well alone and instead probably fill up on bread. Being half Turkish Cypriot, I don’t ever recall a time when I haven’t discreetly been popping out stones between pursed lips at a meal. If a Turkish meal doesn’t contain olives, then it’s not Turkish. Hell, it’s barely even a meal. And the same goes for other Mediterranean countries each with their own range of olive offerings – creamy and mild Spanish Manzanilla olives; firm, meaty, earthy and green Italian Cerignola olives; large black Greek Kalamata olives; and the list extends considerably further. It’s worth spending a little extra for olives that haven’t been brined beyond recognition as I suspect it’s the taste from this process that causes a lot of the hostility. Look for regional olives from a decent deli and give them another try, I implore you.
7 – Blue cheese
Blue cheese pongs its way in at number seven with 34% of the votes. But surely everyone salivates at the sight of mould inflected produce that smells of sockless hipster feet in loafers at the end of a hot day – no? Its presence on this list is not a surprise to me as our ingrained biological instinct is to have a natural aversion to blue food, especially if it is accompanied by a heavy and tangy bouquet. A developed palate is needed to enjoy the pungent pleasures of blue cheese but if the taste can be acquired, it is entirely worth it. Perhaps start with milder offerings such as Danish Blue or Gorgonzola until you’re ready to work your way to the middle ground of Stilton. Then one day you may even find yourself enjoying the potent pleasures of Roquefort. A little goes a long way – enjoy thin slithers perched on water biscuits followed by a sweet seedless grape chaser.
6 – Sushi
Sushi has made a splash at number six with what to me is an incomprehensible 37% of the votes. Forget polls, surveys, or the ‘cool foodie’ associations this far-eastern food item might have. Hands down, Japanese cuisine is in my top three favourite cuisines the world has to offer, and it’s one I could solely eat for the rest of my life (although the lack of dairy would hit me at some point). There are many components to it, with sushi (parcels of cooked rice with other ingredients such as egg, vegetables, cooked fish and raw fish) and sashimi (thinly sliced and spanking fresh raw seafood) being just a couple of these. There are few things more delightful than rigor fresh seafood, bright and firm, seasoned with soy and accompanied by the temporary but intense nose-busting hit of wasabi. A perfect example of fresh ingredients stealing the show with little if any interference. Never buy pre-packaged sushi from supermarkets. Do venture to a well-reviewed establishment and introduce yourself to sushi and sashimi the way it was intended. If you’re feeling particularly extravagant, pop over to Tokyo to enjoy a 15 minute slot of silent eating after a one month waiting list to sample a piece of 87 year old Jiro Ono’s offering – universally acknowledged as the best sushi chef on the planet. The privilege will set you back upwards of $300. But then his octopuses are massaged for 45 minutes prior to slaughter..
5 – Black pudding
If the thought of eating blood sausage turns your stomach, you are part of the 39% of the population with similar sentiments. Regardless of what deep-rooted experience or ingrained belief renders black pudding an issue for so many, if these qualms can be overcome there is a lot of deliciousness to be savoured. I recently indulged in a high-end Full English breakfast from Hawksmoor in Seven Dials, purveyors of some of the best meat on the market, and it was in fact the black pudding that was my favourite thing on the plate – a beautiful soft texture and wonderfully seasoned. Alternatively, seek out Spain’s equivalent (morcilla) and the presence of the smoky sweet heat from pimenton (Spanish paprika) may be enough to entice you. Source, slice and fry for a traditional tapa. Give it a go.
4 – Tofu
Tofu is such a quiet and unassuming ingredient that it’s difficult to see why a whopping 42% were adamant they would not eat it. Tofu is made from pressing the curds of soy milk into soft white blocks; granted it has the potential to be an uninspiring and bland slab of sponge. But it’s the properties of this sponge like form that can make it a winning staple; cook it with exciting and vibrant flavours and all of the seasoned goodness will be absorbed and permeate. Tofu is the blank canvas of the culinary world, ready to showcase any flavour you throw at it. Try the fried tofu with Chinese mushrooms noodle soup from Mama Lan in Clapham Common for an excellent example of them crispy, packed with flavour and swimming in a deep and spicy broth.
|fried tofu with Chinese mushrooms noodle soup – Mama Lan|
3 – Anchovies
Do you like Worcestershire sauce staining the bubbling grilled cheese on your toast? Of course you do. I’ll bet you didn’t know anchovies are a key ingredient in it. 45% of those surveyed are against the idea of the small, salty, silver sea water fish. It seems the staples of the Spanish cuisine get a bit of a battering in this survey; the best tasting anchovies are the Engraulis Encrasicholus (EE) species found in the waters around western and northern Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean Sea. Anchovies are as much of a seasoning as they are an ingredient. If the strong flavour from whole preserved fillets is too much to handle, try mashing some in a pestle and mortar along with grated garlic and olive oil. Heat this mixture in a pan until the fish flesh has disintegrated, then add cooked spaghetti and coat in the oily mixture on a low heat – serve immediately with parsley and lemon. I challenge anyone to not enjoy it in this format.
2 – Liver
As soon as I spot on a menu chicken liver parfait, pâté, mousse, or any other ‘way’ in which chicken livers can be treated, there is little point in me eyeballing the remaining offerings. These concoctions spread on crisp thin toast with a sprinkle of thyme are outstanding bites. I recall being overcome by an intense craving for chicken livers one lonely night in university halls. I promptly procured a tub, fried them until just tender, doused them in lemon and ate a whole plateful with crusty bread. The texture of gently fried chicken liver is soft, smooth and crumbly and the flavour is even better. Other liver such as calves can be richer and heavy with the taste of iron, so should the 46% who do not care for it wish to initiate themselves, start with the milder chicken offering. If gristle puts you off, visit a butcher and request they leave you with nothing but the glossy pink brown meat for you to apply heat to. Sensational simply with lemon.
|my homemade chicken liver pâté – a staple around Christmas|
1 – Oysters
The Marmite of the sea-swelling world, it’s no surprise they top the list with almost half (47%) of those questioned claiming they could not or would not eat them. Once dismissed as simple peasant fare, the oyster is now held in the highest regard as one of the finest tastes available for those able to appreciate it. My first two experiences with these bi-valved molluscs were underwhelming and mostly consisted of a gum line full of grit with a grimace. For an experience akin to churning torrents of the North Sea deluging your immediate dining vicinity and engulfing everything in its path with an invigorating saline slap across the chops, try the Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House in Borough Market. Juicy sweet meat, wonderful texture and as fresh as if the sea were through the back doors and the oysters had been plucked out just a few moments prior. Any qualms I previously had about oysters were atomically blasted out of existence on my first visit. Forget tales of slimy flesh and stories of launching them down the gullet to avoid any real interaction with the meat. Instead find a reputable establishment – eat them fresh, raw and naked. Chew, savour, and delight over these alien looking wonders.
|a dozen rocks from Wright Brothers Oyster & Porterhouse|
9 – Liquorice
The observant amongst you will notice the omission of the ninth listing further up the post. I thought I’d save this one until last, as it’s the soul entry I agree with. Yes you heard correctly, I agree with it. I am definitely part of the 28% of the population who listed it as a food they would not eat. The only flavour I have come across in my relatively far reaching tales of eating that I simply cannot endure is that of anise. Catch just a whiff of it and I feel my throat closing as it prepares its defences. A bag of liquorice All Sorts is my idea of hell and they look as horrific as they smell – black consumables with unnatural and luminescent pink, yellow and blue colouring. Who does this appeal to?
Being Turkish, my dad is partial to the odd glass or two of Raki, the Turkish equivalent of the better known Greek Ouzo, a white aniseed liqueur mixed with a dash of water to turn it cloudy. As soon as the bottle cap is unscrewed I make my excuses and swiftly depart the scene.
I once purchased a whole pot of glistening fresh olives from a deli counter only for them to be stealthily scattered with fennel seeds, too many to pick off individually – the (rather expensive) pot of olives was soon abandoned. The level of aniseed I can handle is that of dill (so, extremely mild), which incidentally, I absolutely love.
So there we have it, my counter argument to the nation’s declarations of distaste. Liquorice aside, my conclusion is the whole country has gone mad and I’m the only sane person left. That, or society hasn’t give these items enough of a chance. It turns out that most of the time we decide what we like before we even bother to experience it, and this prejudice clouds our perception of what we actually encounter. So the moral of this story is cast your first impressions aside, as sometimes they’ll be wrong. Instead, embrace new experiences, textures and flavours and give yourself a good dozen goes before you write something off completely. I best join my dad in his next glass of Raki then.
Do you agree with these results? Do they contain any of your favourite foods? What are your most abhorred flavours? Do let me know your thoughts!
This article can also be found on the Your Local Guardian website.