I can't afford to travel so in its stead I like to experience the exotic in my imagination and my kitchen. I read cookery books, dream a little, and then try and recreate the dishes of all number of cultures right here in Scotland. This isn't always easy: Scotland isn't known for its culinary sophistication for good reason. I suppose it's just too small to be able to support much diversity.
So, I dream of delis. I can, and do, get all sorts of ingredients on the internet, but there's nothing quite like spending time in a deli having one's nostrils aromatically teased, one's memory stirred. And one of the best things about a good deli is stumbling upon previously unheard of ingredients and bringing them home to experiment. When, years ago, I visited New York the best part of the trip, for me, was Dean and Deluca (I didn't make it to Zabar's, sadly). I came back laden with maple sugar and spice mixtures with names I couldn't pronounce. I had such fun in the following months encrusting chicken and warming casseroles with new flavours, and creating elegant, pale manilla-hued meringues, that we could have suffered the worst storms in living memory and I wouldn't have noticed. The other good thing about delis is finally finding something you keep hearing, or reading about.
For some time ras el hanout has been whispering to me. It's featured in a few of Nigella Lawson's recipes over the last few years, and now I'm reading Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food there it is again. Ras el hanout, ras el hanout, I didn't know what it was but I began to crave it. So I was gearing myself up to order it from Seasoned Pioneers, when up a Glasgow backstreet last Saturday I found Deli Zique. The second I entered I felt at home:
Proper bread. I took home one of the round sourdough loaves and it had as crisp a crust and as springy a crumb as the best I've tasted.
There's a waiting list for these tins, which hopefully means the deli is popular, thus likely to still be there when next I get to Glasgow.
It wasn't easy, but I resisted.
On my kitchen counter: if you ever want to sell me anything wrap it in wax paper.
So, I now have a little envelope of the coveted spice mix.
Apparently, as well as rose petals, lavender and other spices it may contain the golden beetle. I don't know what the golden beetle is, but am sure it's delicious, my only problem now is deciding which recipe to try first.