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My life in food: Caitlin Moran on Japanese food and her favourite restaurants

The author also discusses food in London, her dream dinner guest and mealtimes as one of eight children.

Published 11 Mar 2022, 15:00 GMT
Caitlin Moran’s book More Than a Woman (£8.99, Ebury Press) is out now in paperback.

Caitlin Moran’s book More Than a Woman (£8.99, Ebury Press) is out now in paperback. 

Photograph by Alex Lake

The food of my childhood was anything ‘cheap and bulky’. As a result, we looked cheap and bulky. I’m one of eight and we were raised on benefits. Carbs and fats are far less expensive than fruit, veg and protein, and so we were fat, but also quite hungry. We had no flavours in our house: a jar of ‘mixed herbs’ was so old they tasted of dust, and a single nutmeg we had from 1986 to 1989 still had the price label: 13½p.

People from big families don’t eat their food, they inhale it. You have to — you can’t pause to chew because someone will lean across your plate and say: “You don’t want that sausage, then?” One year, we ate our whole Christmas dinner in seven minutes. A whole day to prepare and it was gone in seven minutes! 

The Black Country is famous for its curries, but we never had the money to eat out. I keep meaning to go back [Caitlin grew up in Wolverhampton] and do a tour of the balti houses, so I can become properly maudlin over what I missed out on as a child.

The most impressive place for cuisine is London. I had an amazing gastronomic tour of Japan a couple of years ago, with out-of-this-world sashimi and broths — in cities, on mountains, in 15th-century roadside inns — but in Japan, you can only really get Japanese food. In London, there’s everything. Except good chip shops. For proper chips, you still need to be in the Midlands or the North.

Once I find a place I like, I‘m very faithful to it. I either go to NOPI — Ottolenghi’s ‘fancy’ restaurant, where the savoury Valdeón cheesecake has been my go-to order since I first had it 10 years ago and cried over how lovely it was; or Noble Rot. Despite all the amazing modern food and fabulous wines, its 17th-century building feels like the kind of place a highwayman would come to drink ale, and who doesn’t want to feel like a tipsy highwayman?

As a very greedy person, I cook a lot. It’s the only way you can guarantee having exactly what you want, exactly when you want it. I generally cook from Ottolenghi and Anna Jones books, but my signature dish is a vegetarian pie I invented for Christmas dinner 10 years ago: shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts and savoy cabbage in garlic, sherry and creme fraiche, between glossy shortcrust pastry. It is, even though I say so myself, spectacular.

If I were an ingredient, I’d be butter. It’s the Elizabeth Taylor of milk products. It can be elegant, it can be dirty, it gives everything balls. I genuinely believe you can’t have too much butter on bread, or toast. When you bite into it, you should leave teeth marks that look like the White Cliffs of Dover.

I went to The Fat Duck for my 32nd birthday, and it remains an out-of-this-world experience. There’s a moment where you’re served a ‘beach’ of powdered, roasted eel dust, with a ‘strand line’ of seaweed, and they give you an iPod in a shell, so you can listen to sea sounds — that remains a memory of genuine, childlike magic. Being in the middle of the countryside makes it feel even more like food Narnia. 

My dream dinner guest would be Paul McCartney. As anyone who’s watched Get Back will know, in 1969 he was the finest a man has ever been. Just casually knocking out Let It Be in a tank top, being all liberal and sexy and a genius. And I think he’d want the other Beatles there, too. After dinner, I’d just point to our piano, and be like, “Fancy one last gig in our front room?” We’d then throw the windows open, and the whole street could listen to The Beatles jamming, while I eat a crisp sandwich. 

Caitlin Moran’s book More Than a Woman (£8.99, Ebury Press) is out now in paperback. 

Published in Issue 15 (spring 2022) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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