Friday, March 27, 2009

Istanbul, not Constantinople

Look at these crunchy little chaps:
Deep fried mussels on a stick, midye tava in Turkish. How good is that?

So, for the price of some sort of fashionable bucket of coffee in London you can get a plate piled high with these little fellas, a bready/garlicy sauce to dip them in, a glass of strong tea, and still have enough money for the bus home.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some Dutch Cheese

Mrs Jiffler managed to nab a couple of cheeses while in the Netherlands recently. Sourced from Albert Heijn supermarket, a slightly less insidious Dutch version of Tesco.

Here they are, on a plate:

The creamy yellow cheese is Kernhem, from the Kernhem estate, local to where Mrs Jiffler sometimes works in Ede. The estate is also known for ghosts, mysterious extraterrestrial activity, and light orbs (has anybody ever seen one of these?). Not that this has anything to do with the cheese, which is gourmet effort with a little added cream. Not a typical Dutch cheese, I suspect Mrs Jiffler selected it based on it's similarity to Saint Paulin,or Port Salut. I rather prefer Kernhem to it's French equivalents, which are a little too bland and casual for my tastes. Kernhem is somewhat nuttier, and makes the cheesebox smell a bit.

The white cheese is a hard Geitenkaas (goat's cheese) which is belegen (mature). It is hard and sharp, but not astringent. Uncooked it pairs up well with fruit, and cheap Senegalese lager. I like the texture, which is solid without being brittle, making it particularly suitable for mid-afternoon nibbling, when one can stand in front of the fridge shaving bits off with a steak knife. It holds it's shape and texture when grated as well, making it ideal for mixing with eggs, flour, and grated courgette, and frying up into little pancakes.

Dutch cheese. In Dakar. I'm not sure where all this is heading... next thing I'll be blithering on about eating mussels in Constantinople or something...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Catching up

You wouldn't believe the backblog. I've just been away, eating as always, so things are starting to pile up. Here are some bits and bobs, just to clear the decks.

Moules a la Popenguine.

Fine dining is, er, fine, but you can't beat a bit of improvised big fisted cooking. A recent visit to Popenguine with friends required exactly that.

An itinerant fish saleswoman delivered on her promise of a sack full of fresh mussels from the Somone estuary, and we set to work rinsing and scraping off the beards. To hell with the barnacles. These were artisanal moules.

A few minutes in a pan with a couple of bottles of beer (one for me, one for the mussels) et voila:

How did that crab claw get in there?

Lobster a la Ngor
Once again, some friends, a beach, some seafood. This time a (slightly burnt) rock lobster:

And before anybody asks another time why you can't eat the gills ("Dead man's fingers") they are not poisonous apparently, but are tough, taste horrible, are indigestable, and according to Jiffler senior "might give you the shits if you're really unlucky".

Steak Jiffleur
Look, I've got a new camera OK. I'm just getting to grips with food photography. A faux tournedos steak with tomatoes cooked in balsmaic vinegar:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paris. Sort of.

“Charles de Gaulle is a disgrace … it’s like a third-world airport.”
—Michel-Yves LabbĂ©, president of French travel company Directours, Aug. 14, 2007

Flying from Dakar to Europe inevitably involves consuming some sort of heated filth from a tray. If you're paying for your own ticket then you're flying with either TAP or Iberia. TAP offer a breakfast best emptied directly into the sick bag, while Iberia present the hungry traveller with a foil container filled with warm elastic bands underneath a red gash of generic 'pasta sauce' that smells slightly of bins.

If someone else is paying, you might get to fly with Airfrance, who charge about 50% more for a marginally less miserable experience. With Airfrance you get a slightly better standard of barely edible sludge, with a glass of cheap champagne to ensure you wake up with stinking breath. A little wedge of President brand camembert might normally cheer you up, but this just brings back memories of once falling asleep on a cross-channel ferry while holding a wedge of said cheese, only to wake up with sticky melted camembert all over my hands. What a disgrace (me, not the cheese).

At Paris I have a few hours to spare. Enough, I've calculated, to escape the grubby tunnels and overpriced fast food of Charles de Gaulle and make a quick trip on the train into town. Grab a quick salade nicoise and steak frites in a cosy bistro and make it back to the airport in time for my onward connection.

But I didn't bank on Charles de Gaulle airport being such an absolute pit of misery and misdirection. For a start the airport map that came with my tickets is wildly inaccurate and inadequate. I make maps for a living, so if I can't understand what the hell is going on, what hope has the average jettlagged traveller got? There are no proper signposts, and the staff are scruffy, incompetent and rude.

Just when I think I've made it in time, with only one last hurdle to jump, a bored looking customs official cocks his finger at me. Bobbins.

Me: Moi..? D'accord. Bonjour Monsieur (attempted smile)

Customs official (in English, after clocking my British accent): Please stand behind the table and present your passport.

So I stand there, with my passport in my hand and my bag on the table. For 15 minutes. I stare at the roof, wondering if it might collapse.

The official returns, takes my passport,and stares at me. I notice a resemblence to Pepe the King Prawn from the muppets and have to bite my lip to stifle a grin.

"Do you have anything to declare?" he asks.

"No" I almost draw blood on my lip, showing admirable restraint by not going down the Oscar Wilde route.

"Please open your bag"

So I do, slowly spreading out the contents of my handluggage on the table.

"What is the purpose of your visit to France?" asks Pepe.

"I'm just here for lunch" I reply.

"For lunch?" Pepe, looks incredulous.

"Yes. I hear there are some nice restaurants in Paris."

"Are you telling me a joke?"


He looks pissed off now. I was only being honest.

By this point my bags are empty, and passerby crane their necks in a combination of sympathy, relief, and curiosity. There isn't much to see: some camera stuff, a laptop, a pencil case, a gps, a cellphone, wallet, my spare t-shirt, socks and underpants, some work documents, a dog-earred copy of 'Scoop'. I switch on the camera and computer as requested, my pencil case is rifled through, socks unbundled in case they contain who knows what.

Pepe tosses back my passport, nods and says "Bon", before sauntering off to chat with his colleagues. I've missed my bistro window.

I meander over to another terminal and buy a dismal cheese and ham sandwich, a so-so tarte au chocolat, and a bottle of Orangina for too much money at Paul. Lunch in Paris.

Monday, March 09, 2009


What a mighty name for a restaurant. Mogador sounds like a baddy from Lord of the rings, played by an 18 foot hammer-fisted Brian Blessed on PCP. Mogador eats cats, smokes children, and does very unpleasant things to those naughty Hobbits.

A swift google reveals that Mogador is many things:
  • The Portuguese name for the south west coastal region of Morocco
  • An ancient Phoenician fort in Morocco
  • A small hamlet near Margery Wood (would she?) in Surrey, UK.
The Mogador in Dakar is a fine dining establishment with a snow white interior and some neat outdoor furniture for the summer. I'm told that the ladies loos are 'the most luxurious in Dakar'. So make sure you spend a penny.

The menu sticks to very creative French stylings with none of the miserable ethnic diversions common to Dakar fine dining. While the wine list offers the usual suspects at not too outrageous prices. We stick with the usual suspects - beers and Beaujolais - and I make another mental note to remember to bother to learn more about wine.

Amuses are a delicate diversion from the usual mini-crostini type annoyances, but nowt special. Mrs jiffler's potato gratine starter disappears quickly, although the truffle oil didn't really assert itself. My starter demonstrates that some creative thinking is going on in the kitchen. A neat pastry feuillette comes bursting with smooth melted Bresse Bleu, accompanied by a camembert ice cream. The competing yet strangely complementary flavours and temperatures of these two cheesy components form a whole far greater than the sum of it's parts. A slightly odd bush of salad on the side appears irrelevant at first, before it's intended purpose as a bitter mop for the unctuous bleu presents itself. My word. In Dakar.

We could have continued on this creative trajectory through main courses and desserts, but decided to test the chef's hand with straightforward steak frites. Over poncification of steak frites spells disaster, but Mogador serves it straight up and smoky, rare as requested, and hung like a horse. A five pepper sauce, and proper chips are simple perfection.

No dessert. That steak will take some digesting. Petits Fours Secs are made in-house and amuse Mrs Jiffler over good coffee.

Two courses, a beer, water, bottle of brouilly, coffee comes to 51,000Fcfa for two. Not cheap, but better value than most upmarket places in Dakar. We're not talking molecular gastronomy here, but I'm glad somebody in Dakar is taking things a little further than the usual French school dinners with a token selection of mediocre sushi. I await the day when the chef at Mogador gets hold of a sous vide cooker. Then those pesky Hobbits had better watch out.

More from Dakar at Dakar Restaurant Reviews

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dakar. The Vegetable Lady

The vegetable lady has gone. I never knew her name, which is an appalling oversight on my part, we simply addressed each other as 'Monsieur' and 'Madame'.

She was a large lady, of advanced years, and was a formidable presence among the vegetable ladies of Boulevard de l'est. Her stall was always the neatest of the eight or so that sit in a shambolic little row, and she always kept the perkiest selection of fresh parsley.

Our relationship developed over a period of several months, beginning furtively with a few pleasantries, the exchange of too much money for poor quality vegetables, cautious stilted Franco-Wolof conversation. Over time her attitude to me softened; realising my repeat custom was worthwhile, the prices dropped, the best stuff started to appear in my bag, along with the occasional "cadeau" of a scotch bonnet, or a lime. I introduced her to my 'wife', and she glowed with matriachal approval. One afternoon, she even delighted me with a brave 'Good Monning Sah'.

But now she is gone. I saw her earlier in the week while on the way home from the bank, sitting stall-less under a vast bou bou by the side of the road. She waved enthusiastically and greeted me with a smile. I waved back and gave her a wink: "Prochaine fois, Madame". But there wasn't going to be a next time.

Her quick replacement, a younger, hard-faced lady, has already started with the old tricks. Fiddling me out of my change. Sneaking in the odd manky onion. The whole process will have to start all over again.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bishkek Restaurant Reviews

I can't see Bishkek becoming another addition to the Jiffler empire of obscure city guides, especially since the good people at the Spektator are doing such a good job of reporting on the restaurant and nightlife scene. I should be back here later in the year so I might give the editorial team at the Spektator a call, see if they'll take me out on the town.

I've had a run of bad luck with Chinese restaurants lately (see Dakar Restaurant Reviews for the latest disaster) and my first meal out in Kyrgystan was to prove no exception. Exhausted from two nights in the air and a days work my colleague and I cast out for the nearest restaurant.

It looked popular, and we were led into a back room crammed with smoking Russian teenagers in various states of inebriation. Somewhere nearby there had been a fashion explosion. Girls with crimped fringes sported diamond print sweaters paired with leggings and fuck-me boots, while the boys, shaven haired and pale, dressed as if they were at work on a Welsh sheep farm circa 1983.

With an English menu finally procured we managed to order three dishes and settled back to drink lukewarm tea from dirty bowls. As our dishes came out of the kitchen it became clear that we'd over ordered. First, an enormous bowl of "Meat with aubergines" which was in fact "Tripe with boiled cucumbers and whole garlic cloves". I don't care what people say, tripe is not my idea of easy eating. I've tried it many times, and will no doubt eat it again, but once every two years is probably enough. Next up was a large and murky puddle of bizarrely textured mushrooms served with greens, before we were served the house speciality, that old Chinese classic "Chicken with potatoes".

We ate about a third of what was in front of us. Felt a bit guilty, and left.


Adriatico on the other hand is a smashing place. Rated by many as Bishkek's best Italian restaurant the menu promises Pizzas, pastas and the usual meat dishes. Service is swift, if a little fussy, and once again we over order. This time we eat the lot though.

Greek salad lacks punch, and olive oil, but the selection of salumi more than makes up for this. cheesy ravioli all round comes with what appears to be a super generous serving of grated truffle. Judging by the mildness of smell and flavour. and the paleness of colour, these must be Chinese truffles, bit still, nice to have truffles innit, perigord or not.

Decent coffee, so-so gelato and tiramisu wrap things up. This may end up being the default comfort eating restaurant for my future sojourns to Bishkek. One of those restaurants that fit the bill when you're hungry, worn out and just need something pleasing and familiar.

Adriatico Restaurant
219 Chui Avenue
Tel: (+996) 312 61 46 09 (Take away service available)