Among my gastronomic memories a meal we had 13 years ago stands out – I often remember it and smile. This is my report at the time, published in the Cyprus Mail.
Around the dinner table this week we got to talking about memorable meals and one of our sons said of such occasions that he remembered the people and the conversation and that the food was good, but he remembered more of the former than details of the latter. I think there’s a lot of truth in this. I fail to recall the menus of many a fine meal I have enjoyed. Most of the repasts I do remember are those in extraordinary places or where the food has been uneatable or close to it.
One of the more bizarre occurred just a few months ago, in the spring of this year. A very old friend of my wife, whom I shall call Jean, was widowed a couple of years back and could not stand life alone. At a singles club she met up with a divorced chap, whom I shall call George, who was about as different from her very well-educated and academic/professional deceased husband as chalk is from cheese. But she needed the company and married him and, in the spring, brought him to Cyprus, where they rented a small holiday apartment in a service block.
They hired a modest car, drove around the island, and accepted our invitation to lunch. It was a lovely sunny day and we sat outside with a Salad Niçoise and a French Apple Tart, together with a couple of bottles of chilled dry white wine.
Our guests were appreciative of the meal and, after passing a compliment or two, George said: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s easy to produce good food. I can knock together a good meal is less than half an hour,” and further comments in the same vein.
In the afternoon our guests went on their way saying that they would like to entertain us at their service flat, where we could expect a simple meal because of the rudimentary equipment.
An evening was fixed and we trolled down from the village to Limassol, complete with a couple of bottles of wine. We found the flat and Jean opened the door. On the left was a small cooking area with a tiny gas stove and small kitchen units, but no evidence – sight, sound or smell – of cooking. On the right was a very small Formica table with no decoration whatsoever: no cloth, no flowers, no knives, no forks, no plates.
Would we like a drink? George enquired, producing a half-full bottle of what appeared to be slightly warm medium Cyprus sherry. Politely we accepted a drop or two and presented our wine. A search revealed no corkscrew, so Jean went down to reception to get one, which she had to return as soon as the bottles were opened.
After about 20 minutes of conversation, during which George had moved from time to time to the stove and the theme of the ease with which good food could be cooked reappeared, he said: “Well, I think it’s ready.” He then went to the cooker, got four plates from the cupboard and gave us one each. He produced from one saucepan some boil-in-the-bag rice and from another some boil-in-the-bag chilli con carne. Nothing else. No pickle. No salad. No bread. He carefully doled out four small equal portions and we took them to the Formica table and munched away at a quite edible concoction, during which we were treated to a paean of praise for food, good wine, good company and the statement that this was indeed a memorable meal.
Of course, in just a few minutes, the plates were empty, whereupon Jean entered the fray. “You’ll never guess what we’ve got for pudding,” she said. We couldn’t.
In some triumph George went again to the cooker, where a small saucepan was bubbling, and pulled out a red plastic mixing bowl. Inside, still wrapped, was a junior size Robertson’s Christmas pudding.
“Christmas pudding!” Jean exclaimed. “We found it on special offer in Woolworths this morning.” They had actually bought a small carton of UHT cream to pour over the small portions of Christmas pudding, which was just warm.
No tea, no coffee, no brandy, just more conversation about what a memorable evening it was.