And so it was that I arrived in the UK with a mental check-list of cuisines autocthonous and non-autocthonous for checking out during my stay here.
On Wednesday night we went to The Swan, Pangbourne's historic weir-side inn, where the action of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat winds up and where, this being modern Britain, the bar staff are all Polish and the signature dish on the menu is Fajitas. (Not bad at all, but they're a bit stingey with the guacamole.)
So while everyone around me was filling little flour tortillas, I tucked into my plato tipico: cod with chips. Good, but not quite as good as the haddock served by the Laughing Halibut fish and chip shop in the middle of the village. (And eating cod these days feels like chewing on tortuga in Belize. Yummy, but with an unpleasant ethical aftertaste.) The fajitas can wait until I'm back in Mexico.
The Swan is situated in an old warehouse beside the Thames dating back to 1642. At one stage in its history it was located on the border between Berkshire and Oxfordshire, counties which at one time maintained different licensing laws, and so at a certain hour each night customers would shift around to the other end of the bar so that they could continue drinking.
My Indian food craving had certain particulars: it would have to be assuaged in one of those old-style joints with Raj-kitsch decor and furnishings, music which sounds like a zancudo struggling to escape from your inner ear and smiling, straight-off-the-plane waiters. A little bit off the main drag in Westbourne Grove the other night, Philip and I found just the place: The Star of Bombay.
He had the tandoori mixed grill (which looked great) and I picked the chicken dopiaza — an old favourite — but we weren't long into this meal before I realised that the essence of my craving had been for a plate of papadums and assorted pickles washed down with a bottle of Cobra or Bangla beer. Which is one reason we passed on the Halal-only Khan's just up the road.
When I met up with some former colleagues on Monday we lunched for old time's sake at Busaba Eathai in Wardour Street, owned by Amin Ali and Alan Yau (who incidentally also own around a third of the polo ponies that winter down here on the farm). The lure for me here has always been their 'Thai Calamari', fried squid in batter served with chewy black peppercorns. As you'd expect from the founder of Wagamama there's a range of generic noodle dishes, but also some of the richest Thai curry sauces in the West End. Craving or no craving I'd forgotten that the latter can disagree with me a little at lunchtime! I think it's the garlic.
In order to be able to continue to enjoy The Big Bang Theory without those disconcerting pangs of food envy, I took myself shopping at the New Loon Moon supermarket in Chinatown yesterday and then went on to the new Japan Centre food hall in Lower . V likes to throw me a few curve balls during the last few days of my UK visits, especially when it comes to odd requests for items she wants me to pack in my suitcase — and on this occasion the one for sushi rice and sheets of toasted seaweed has come at a time when I'm starting to seriously fret about my baggage allowance.
I still hadn't dealt with my Japanese delicacy craving in situ, and so with that in mind went with Surfer last night to the restaurant floor of the Wholefoods Market in Kensington High Street, where we treated ourselves to this excellent platter of sashimi, served to us by the somewhat world-weary sushi chef in the picture.
It was the first time I'd been into one of these. It struck me as the sort of Fortnum & Mason's that Jane Fonda might shop in, but Surfer reports that prices have come down considerably over the past year as this, and many other purveyors of ethical nosh, have struggled to extract their premium during these straightened times.
So I've knocked most of these cravings on the head by now. And of course I am already suffering from withdrawl symptoms brought on my thoughts of all the Guatemalan goodies I've been missing out on for the past few weeks.
I did however come across a packet of Natura's frijoles in the kitchen cupboard the other day, so I'm planning to cook up a desayuno chapin for my father this weekend. He really enjoyed the turkey with mole verde that I prepared last Saturday with a base sauce acquired in the Yucatán.