You may remember the bright open space where eclectic food was served and surreal photographs of its origins hung on the walls so as to recreate the moment the dishes were first discovered. A London cafe that brought the world outside the city to you as you sat beneath the tall windows overlooking the colourful Neil’s Yard in Covent Garden. An eatery started by two travelling foodies who quite characteristically called it The World Food Café. The cafe has since closed, but the cookbook remains. As an avid reader of cookbooks and slightly haphazard cook, here’s my review.
The recipes span the globe with chapters on The Middle East & Africa; India, Nepal & Sri Lanka; Southeast Asia & China; and The Americas. It’s all the traditional culinary fare that Chris and Carolyn Caldicott came across while exploring these continents. Years of travelling were made all the more interesting by the fact that both husband and wife are devout vegetarians. They chose to mix up traditional vegetable dishes with carefully adapted ones that were originally meat-based.
Each chapter starts with an introduction to the region; a sensitive insight into the history, geography and culture of each place. Chris Caldicott’s photography sets the scene on every page – a collection of striking images from spectacular places. So after sifting through the stories and professional snapshots from across the world, it was a case of the proof of the pudding was in the cooking.
A dal fry dish from Northern India seemed a good starter. The lentils, chillies, ginger, cloves, mustard and cumin seeds, coriander and turmeric are all easy enough to toss in a basket at the supermarket, but the ghee listed in the ingredients was to be Googled. But luckily easy substitutes, butter or sunflower oil, are listed too. A conversational set of instructions explains exactly what to expect, from adding a little more water to the minor danger of popping mustard seeds. The dal turned out edible and completely wonderful. An authentic taste of India put together in my very own galley kitchen!
I then moved on to making the rest of dinner with chana butura - chickpeas in a thick spicy gravy with deep fried bread, which is described as “a popular fast food dish in Bombay cafes”. And for dessert, the pièce de résistance: the secret recipe of The World Food Café’s beloved French chocolate cake. A decadent insert seeing as most countries covered in the book traditionally have fruit for dessert, but a culinary triumph none-the-less.
The Caldicotts decided to close the café after 20 years and it has since morphed into the Wild Food Café, in the new restaurateur’s tribute to the building’s past life. This freed up the couple for further travelling and the compilation of a second cookbook. The popular Covent Garden café's legacy lives on with this genuinely fabulous cookbook. It's definitely one to try at home.
Read about vegetarian travel here with my Top 5 Travel Tips For The Nutritionally Alternative.
Have you tried any of these recipes? We would love to know which one, so send us a message on our facebook page or in the comment box below.