Everything we eat adds meaning to our lives – from granny’s lasagne to whimsical food fashions that come and go
At a lovely restaurant called Levan in Peckham, south London – scene of my best (and hippest) Sunday lunch in years – a friend looked up from its brilliant menu and asked: “What are calçots?” Baffled as I often am by modish 21st-century ingredients, I knew the answer to this one. “They’re Spanish onions,” I said, probably a bit too eagerly. “A bit like spring onions, only fatter and longer. You grill them over charcoal, and dip them in romesco sauce.” That day, our order went on to include more than one plate of these onions. They looked, as they always do, slightly comical to me: like strange pagan dolls with overlong hair. But they tasted, as ever, really smoky and sweet and good.
When did calçots first start appearing on British menus? Afterwards, I thought about this. I think I first came across them about five years ago, but I can’t be sure. Fashions in food are like fashion itself. One day, no one is wearing Veja trainers; the next day, everyone is, at which point they become almost invisible. On seeing the word “yuzu” on the menu of the first restaurant I visited in California in 2005, I had to ask a waiter what it was (a citrus fruit popular in Japan and Korea). By the end of the week, however, the novelty had worn off; by that point, I would have been surprised to read a menu that didn’t feature yuzu. Before I sat down to write this, I Googled monk’s beard, the Italian green that is currently springing up all over menus, like weeds between pristine paving stones. It’s everywhere! Should you be a user of a certain posh delivery service, you can even add it to your supermarket order.
Yuzu, calcots, monk's beard: I can measure my life in food trends