Part 1. Re-visiting Tarantino
Chronological order can be boring.
Ever since “Reservoir Dogs,” which blew my mind as a youth, it’s been clear that non-linear narrative is the coolest.
(Harvey Keitel, why can’t there be more of you?)
As a result of that film’s success, we’re living in a different world, cinematically speaking, if not a different Universe.
It begs an important question: are we allowed to go see the new Quentin Tarantino movie?
Is it ethically appropriate?
QT came out and apologized/admitted that he knew about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory, (sorry, rapist) behavior.
Plus, his most-recent film, “The Hateful Eight” was by far his worst.
And I just remembered Uma Thurman also said Quentin Tarantino got her massively injured on “Kill Bill.”
That settles it. I’m not going to see his new movie in the theater. Tarantino gets an only-for-free-on-Netflix-or-Amazon-Prime ban from now on.
Honestly, he was probably my favorite filmmaker, (as of two years ago,) and I once taught a class on cinematic tension by leading with the opening scene in “Inglorious Basterds.”
Wait a second.
Am I writing film criticism while introducing a travel piece?
Yes, I guess I am.
I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too. Which makes me a bit like Boris Johnson, according to this excellent recent profile in The New Yorker.
Boris reminds me of a hybrid of George W. Bush and Donald Trump, which is not a flattering comparison at all.
He is a good segue, though, as Boris used to be Mayor of London. And now I can jump right back into the city, and move this article along.
Part 2: Historical Paintings
Just now, going through my iCloud, I was reminded that by pulling 18-hour-days for a week, I really did do a lot of cool stuff in London. We’ve got a full-travel column today, and we still won’t be halfway through the trip yet.
So let’s get on with it.
Friday morning, after the Martin Parr show, I went upstairs into the rest of the National Portrait Gallery.
There are lots of busts and paintings of old dead people in this museum, if I’m being honest, and some of them were really cool.
Of course I was personally invested in the section on the founding of the America, because how couldn’t I be?
I loved the bit about George Washington being “the son of a planter who became an inspirational leader of the American people.”
It was condescending in spirit, if accurate in fact.
Reading the text, in the context of the room, I suddenly understood “their” side of the history.
“Some of our people established a colony, and they got too big for their britches when we tried to tax them to pay for their own defense. We were too broke to defend our entire global empire, so we decided to keep India and cut the provincial ingrates loose.”
(Or something like that.)
And now, in 2019, the fact that George Washington was a slave-owner gets as much press as the fact that he founded our nation. (It is a hard fact to over-look.)
Nearby, “The Death of the Earl of Chatham,” by John Singleton Copley, was also magnificent. His dead gray pallor, compared to the pink cheeks of the dudes next to him, chills me here in New Mexico, six weeks later. (Or maybe I just need to turn off the fan?)
In a separate wing, where there were images of more-recent famous people, I liked the portrait of the Beatles next to one of the Stones. You can’t blame them for doing that, can you?
From there, I headed back out into the streets, (giving up the blessed free wifi,) and walked around a bit.
As I was heading down the road, off Leicester Square, a flyer caught my eye for a screening for a new Korean film. I was in the mood to be observant, so I went inside to see what the theater was about.
Short version: there was an art gallery inside the Korean Cultural Centre, with an exhibition featuring 19th Century-Style Korean Minhwa genre paintings, done mostly by contemporary artists.
After a long chat with the woman up front, (who was just on contract to sit there the length of the show,) and after reading the paperwork, we determined that perhaps one was vintage?
Really, though, it didn’t matter. The detail of some of the realistic ones was the same kind of time travel I’d just felt up the street at the NPG, but instead of being in 17th Century England, I was in 19th Century Korea.
And as for the funky animal paintings, dragons and tigers and magpies, if you don’t like these, you’re DEAD INSIDE.
Part 3: The Eating tour of London
I lost a lot of weight in London.
I walked 60 miles, if my iPhone is to be believed, and given that I was mostly going on adrenaline and caffeine, (and maybe some gummy bears,) I didn’t eat often, but when I ate, I ate properly.
Friday morning, I ran out the door, coffee only, and never had much of a bite.
Eventually, I crossed the Thames, on my way to Tate Modern, and along the South bank of the river, came upon a street food corridor.
I gave it a good look, eyeing up options for the way back, as I was pretty sure I would be ready after my next art mission.
I noted there were four or five different countries’ versions of pita-wrapped-food.
Who had the best, I wondered?
There was someone from Greece, and Syria or was it Lebanon?, and somewhere else, and then the Afghan place.
Walking by, some Italian ladies offered me a taste of truffle sauce ravioli. Sure, why not?
What’s not to like?
An hour later, famished, I admit I took another free ravioli, walking the other way, knowing full well I wasn’t going to eat there.
Was that terrible of me? Sample abuse?
Walking back, it was clear there was a line at the Afghan place, 2 Lads Kitchen. That was enough for me.
I ordered the marinated chicken pita, noted that he had a few to make before mine, and got up close to watch him work. (Forgive me that I don’t remember his name, though I’m sure he told me.)
The chicken was marinated 24 hours in a yogurt-paste, like tandoori. And it was cooking slowly.
In a few minutes, he began to build one sandwich, then another. First, he put down yogurt, and fresh vegetables, and grilled potato.
His hands moved slowly. One thing at at time. One cut at a time.
The London bros waiting for their food were patient too.
Everyone was patient.
Because I was nice, I know I got extra chicken, and he put the pickled red chiles in my wrap, one at a time, where he told the other guys they could do it themselves.
I was surprised that the squeeze-bottle sauce, which looked like green chile sauce, was really a cilantro chutney. It was clear that Afghanistan’s proximity to India meant this food was hybridized, but I’ll tell you one thing, it was delicious.
And very fresh.
I did my work, and hit the city, but later in the day, having taken the tube to the Holloway Road in London, I went for a walk to stretch my legs, and got my stomach ready for the evening.
Hugo and I walked up the road to Sambal Shiok, a Malaysian joint he said was top of the charts great. We’d likely have to wait in line, but he said it would be worth it.
Luckily, we got in right away, but were wedged in tight, super-duper tight, between other people on either side. (It was a bit much, but we decided to go with the flow.)
The host and wait staff were English hipster, but Hugo said the owners and people in the kitchen were from Malaysia, so the food was authentic, and we’d be good to go.
I heard a lot of American English in London, much more than I remembered from previous visits, but maybe it’s because the exchange rate is so good at the moment? (Seriously. Get on that.)
As it happened, the young American woman sitting directly to our right was rather annoying, and we had a hard time tuning her out.
Luckily, the food came quickly.
We had poached shrimp, lychee and sambal lettuce cups that were as good as that sounds.
And fried chicken fingers with peanut sauce that managed to be crunchy, soft, moist and elegant at the same time. Just writing it, I don’t know how they defied physics.
Later, the chicken and tofu skin Laksa was rich, smoky, fish-sauce tasting. Simply perfect.
But we bailed before finishing it, and the restaurant didn’t have takeout boxes, (bad for the environment,) so we chose to leave it behind.
On we walked, on a huge tour of Islington, and Hugo kept telling me about this Mongol place he wanted to take me. Where the chefs hang out. 90’s Rock playing in the background.
It was started by an alumnus of Fergus Henderson’s place, St. John. (The nose to tail stuff.)
He said they have this special type of oven. In the Mongol place.
I had the fried artichokes, which I liked, but didn’t love, and Hugo had the squid ink bread with quail egg and cod roe. I tried it, and we agreed it was like Greek taramasalata.
It hurt my head trying to figure out how that was Mongol food. (Maybe the gummy bears didn’t help?)
It wasn’t until Sunday, walking through Hackney, that I figured out the oven in the restaurant was called a Mangal.
And the restaurant was called Black Axe Mangal, which now made sense.
It’s a Turkish oven, not Mongol.
(I’m normally bright, but clearly, I was slow off the line on this one.)
Hugo loved the food at Black Axe Mangal, but for me it was just pretty good.
Probably I was too full from the Malaysian joint, and if I’d ordered differently, I might have been happier.
Part 4: The Only New Mexican food in England
Now that I think about it, I barely ate anything on Saturday. (No wonder I food-crashed at Photo London.)
Somehow, though, when I got home to Hugo’s from the fair, I decided to make a proper New Mexican meal. (Or at least as proper as I could make it, under the circumstances.)
Will I get arrested for admitting I brought dried chiles into the country? Is that even illegal?
I stashed some powdered and dried red and green chiles, though the latter are always best frozen, and it works in a pinch if you’re traveling. (That the green chiles are not really meant to be dried means that our food wasn’t purely authentic.)
But I did the best I could under the circumstances.
Chile Rubbed, Blackened Chicken
For the chicken, I used two good, large, skin-on chicken breasts that were delivered from the farm, along with some produce.
Coat each side with a healthy amount of salt and cracked black pepper.
In a separate bowl, throw together 4 kinds of chile, (or as many as you feel like,) oregano, thyme, and cumin.
Then coat on each side of the chicken, and let sit for 20-30 minutes. (Or up to over-night, depending on how long you have.)
Next, mince an onion, shallot, or leek, and caramelize it in a cast iron pan, cooking it slowly, and salting it to taste.
Remove from pan.
After 20-30 minutes, add some more olive oil to the skillet,
and then sear the chicken on each side, removing when it’s golden brown, but NOT cooked though.
Let the chicken rest for a few minutes on a cutting board, then slice it into 1/2 inch pieces.
Add the onion/leek/shallot back to the pan, and then add the chicken back, and stir a few times until the chicken is cooked through.
Add the juice of one lime.
Toss the chicken around the skillet, and then remove to a platter.
Proper (or improvised) Green Chile Sauce
In one pan, sautée some minced garlic in olive oil until it lightly browns, and season with salt.
Then, in a good skillet/sauce pan make a roux with cold butter, flour and salt. (Turn them around in the pan so they don’t burn.)
When it’s mushy and brown, add your roasted, peeled and seeded New Mexico Green Chile. (It’s available all over NM, beginning in a few weeks, through October.)
Or maybe you have some in your freezer left over from last year?
If you have to do what I did at Hugo’s house, reconstitute dried NM green chile in warm water for 20 minutes, then drain it, and add salt and lemon or lime juice.
After adding the chile to the pan, add water, chicken or veggie stock, and salt, more lime juice, and the sautéed garlic into the pan as well.
Keep cooking and seasoning until it tastes good, first by bringing to a boil, and then simmering to cook it as long as you’d like.
I like to add more lime juice, a touch of sherry vinegar, and a dash of orange juice too. Fresh oregano is also great.
(At Hugo’s, I went with a more British, autumnal theme, and used apple juice and apple cider vinegar.)
We had everything fajita style, with shredded English Cheddar, fresh tortillas from Waitrose, the Green Chile sauce smothered over the top, and chips and home made guacamole on the side.
NM in England Guacamole
2 ripe avocados
A few cherry tomatoes, diced
One big garlic clove, minced
Lemon or Lime juice (preferably both)
Feel free to use any part of the recipe this summer.
It’s a crowd pleaser.
See you next week!