When In Devon…
Written by Tess Read
Photos supplied by Tess Read, Unsplash and Pixabay
I’ve done my share of travelling. I’ve written a guide book to Vietnam, taken some long trips across Europe and to Asia, and with ‘him outdoors’ and three children, we took off and went round the world for a year a few years ago, just before we moved to Exeter. Not gonna lie – it was pretty amazing, ooh sorry, I’ve done the bad thing! I’m talking about the good stuff of trips abroad. That’s not what anyone wants to hear. Whenever friends go away on a trip we don’t want to hear about the good times they had, we want to hear about all the awful things that happened! Eyes pretty quickly glaze over unless the story moves rapidly onto near tramplings by rabid elephants, or 13 hour bus journeys from hell, or savage injuries brought on by tiny killer ants. My apologies! So instead of letting you know about any of the fun bits, let me instead turn to some of the more horrific food experiences I have had in my travels. If that doesn’t cheer you up, nothing will.
First on the menu – insects in Vietnam. A bowl of crickets specifically. Urgh! In case you want to know, they melt on the tongue in almost exactly the way that you imagine uncooked crickets wouldn’t. Then they are entirely hollow in precisely the way that food shouldn’t be. I can still taste them now, though I really wish I couldn’t. Still on the exotic foodstuffs subject, with ‘him outdoors’ in Asia, we mis-translated dormice on the menu in one restaurant and he challenged me to a dormouse eating competition. I am afraid that I declined.
The second foulest thing I ever had anywhere was a cup of yak butter tea in Tibet – it would have been very impolite to decline so I had to drink the whole of the greasy fatty yucky yakky damn thing. Winning first prize for ghastliness though was a bowl of tripe soup I tried to swallow in Turkey – that was just too much for the system. I couldn’t have finished it if the Dalai Lama (or even Kemal Ataturk) had begged me to.
As you will have gathered from the dormouse incident, ‘him outdoors’ however is clearly rather braver about exotic food than me. So when we were in Peru with the children, he was very tempted to order something that appeared on the menu in just about every restaurant: guinea pig. But to save the sensibilities of our two daughters he ate bland stew instead, boring meal after boring meal. We even managed to shield the menus from their innocent eyes. Nobody could stop them seeing the scene in the local Catholic church, however – the last supper with a platter of food in the middle of the table, and in its centre, unmistakably, a guinea pig!
Of course, local food can be incredible. I still remember the first ever pizza I ever tasted in Italy – I couldn’t believe that dough could be so flavourful and springy, or that cheese on a pizza could be such a taste treat when it was soft white genuine buffalo mozzarella. But we can’t always travel for our food treats, and in an era of climate change, as a recently rejoined member of the Green Party, I have to take seriously my eco footprint, so food miles really need to be considered.
But here in Exeter we are seriously lucky, as we have in our midsts real food pioneers producing locally sourced truly delicious food. I never miss a chance to have a celebratory meal at the stunning Rockfish restaurant in Exmouth, which also comes with superb seaview thrown in. Being served delicious fresh John Dory while watching kite surfers fall in – what could possibly be better? The Rockfish comes to Exeter too soon, which is fabulous news. I won’t have the kite surfers to provide entertainment but that’s alright, the Exe has its fair share of stand up paddlers, many of whom take unexpected dips into the cold waters beneath, despite the lack of waves. I know I do…
And then there’s the really clever stuff – where we get to go global, while still being local. I’m talking about food inspired and influenced by the best flavours the world has to offer, but created and crafted entirely in Devon using only local ingredients. Take Topsham’s own Good Game, for example. Created by its three founders Pete, Jim and Steve after they met on an epic road trip – from Topsham to Morocco in a £100 Cavalier. Well, that was the car they started out in, until it broke down rather terminally in Dover. The second car made it most of the way to Africa, and the third one got them all the way to the end of the charity car rally and past the tables of a thousand local cafes and restaurants, all to the soundtrack of Tom Jones and Max Boyce. After such a beginning how could they not come up with a brilliant business idea, and so they did – they shared a passion for experimenting with food and curing meat, and that is how we now have the most tremendous global fusion food right here on our doorsteps. Utterly delicious bresaola ham not imported from Italy but cured with entirely local ingredients and from their own pigs on a farm on the Powderham estate. No need to go to the continent to eat amazing Culatello ham, it’s made right here by the Exe. You have probably never even heard of Nduja spreadable salami unless you’ve been to Calabria in Italy, or to Good Game’s shop of course. It almost makes me forget that taste of the yak butter tea. Almost.
Grow local, go global, eat amazing, all in Devon. That’s heaven my friends, pure heaven.