One of the things that I enjoy most about cooking food, and reading about food and thinking about food is not so much thinking about how the food will taste (as attractive as that may be) but thinking about what that food means to those who consume it. Every major event revolves around food… Christmas, Easter, Birthday parties, but also everyone has a memory of a special family meal that brings happy memories.
It was memory that decided what we ate tonight. It was a simple dish, and was not even cooked by me, (only assembled), but it brought back a reminder of happy times.
Some years ago, when H-G was working and living in Albania, I used to fly out every Friday night in order to be with him for the weekend. As impressive as that sounds, it was not nearly so labour intensive as one might expect. Rather than a 2 hour flight from Gatwick this actually meant I flew for a mere 40 minutes from Kosovo, which was where I was living at the time. I would leave the office at 4.30, be at Prishtine airport at 5.15, get the 6 pm flight and be in Albania (and sometimes even through customs) just before 7. H-G would pick me up, drive us into town and by 8 we would be at The Chicken Shack on the Elbasan road just outside of Tirana.
The Chicken Shack was possibly not the real name of the restaurant. It was what we – and most other expats- called it. They served rotisserie chicken, chips and greek salad. Nothing else. The restaurant was quite literally a shack – the walls were tarpaulin, the roof was matting and the floor was bare dirt. Usually live chickens were scratching around beneath our feet, and every week I tried not to think too hard about the form in which I would see those chickens next.
H-G and I would sit and tuck into chicken and Tirana beer. We would complain about our weeks. Then we would wander home.
Last night, I had had a particularly difficult day at work in London, and barely made my 6.05 train for the commute home. That, combined with reading a book about Albania that was given to us by a friend made me think with nostalgia about our time in the Balkans. On the way home, fresh off the ferry, I bought a pre-cooked chicken from the Co-op. This was thrown in the oven with the juice of a lemon squeezed over it. I cooked oven fries and made a quick salad. It was just what we needed after a long day- a bit of nostalgia from a far back time when life seemed to be somehow simpler- and when we were more adventurous.