For me, this was the year of pimped dirty food, as burgers, chicken wings and hot dogs all went gourmet
Sat 8 Dec 2012 21.00 GMTFirst published on Sat 8 Dec 2012 21.00 GMT
Woman Eating Cheeseburger
The recession sent cooks heading towards the gutter. Photograph: Adrianna Williams/Corbis
As it stutters to its end, let me ask: how did 2012 taste for you? Twenty years from now what flavour would catapult you back to the year we hosted the Olympics, Jimmy Savile turned out to be exactly the sort of man so many of us thought he was and a Tory MP nobody liked resigned her party whip by going into the jungle? For me it is a mixture of tomato puree, brown sugar and a hit of vinegar and chilli. Or barbecue sauce, as it’s known. For 2012 was the year of pimped dirty food, when a deepening recession sent skilled cooks heading towards the gutter, the better to look up at the stars.
There were long smoked ribs and vajazzled hot dogs and chicken wings smeared with the salty hit of Korean chilli sauce. There were pulled pork buns, and slabs of pork belly, long braised, quick seared, and wrapped up with more Korean hot sauce and the crunch of spring onions. There was butter milk fried chicken. There was an epidemic of filthy burgers in glazed brioche buns. In 2012, if eating it didn’t require you to mop your wrists with 14 tissues afterwards it wasn’t real food. Come 2032, if you give me a hockey puck of minced prime Aberdeen Angus, pink at its heart, a crisp rasher of dry cured streaky, and a slice of west country cheddar with such a tang it’s almost on the turn, I’ll be right back there. Which is to say, right back here.
Not everybody can use flavour as an access point for memory. The crown prince of all this is supposed to be Marcel Proust, who apparently conjures up an entire universe from one Madeleine and a cup of weak tea. It’s a nice literary device, but I’ve never completely believed it. You have to be constantly hungry to use food as a route back to experience, not the sort of person known for coughing plaintively into a handkerchief then checking it for spotting, while waving away a tureen of consommé for being too, too much.
Will it surprise you to know that there are no Marcels among my close circle? No I thought not. My closest friends are the ones who, with no prompting whatsoever, can also shuffle through the mental Roll-a-Deck to locate the best and the worst of times that we have shared through food.
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Say the word “Novikov” to me, and I’ll say “expensive faux Italian food that tastes like cheap Chinese”. The words Quo Vadis mean Jeremy Lee’s warm smoked eel sandwich with a coarse horseradish cream sauce. Birmingham means only one thing to me right now: seriously good meats barbecued in the Cantonese style. (It would be nice if Birmingham could always mean that, but I’m not entirely optimistic.) The Isle of Wight is a far less happy place: chicken livers sauteed with peanut butter at the Red Duster.
Then there are the other memories from 2012: of a dinner party at my house where we made swift work of a bucket full of sweet palourdes clams; the afternoon I spent making more than passable maki rolls with my son.
And so at year’s end I can look back and ask, just how was 2012? I can rummage through my taste memories and find I have only one answer. Even allowing for the misfires, it was delicious. And suddenly I know just how lucky I am. Here’s to 2013.