Katy Fentress searches her memory banks to find out what her best ever grilling experience was. Turns out it’s been nigh twenty years and she still remembers it.
The memory of the taste of an amazing food can survive the test of time, lingering in deep recollection banks we rarely draw upon. It was the year 1998 and having just finished high school, I had wasted no time heading to India in order to shake off my adolescence and reinvent myself as a worldly traveller. We were staying in a houseboat on the breathtaking Dal Lake in Srinagar, the capital of Indian Kashmir, and our host offered to take us on an evening stroll. The smell of grilling lamb hit our nostrils long before we caught a glimpse of the handful of barbecue stalls lined up along the shore. Unable to resist the lure of such a sweet smelling meat, we eagerly ordered one to share. As we bit down on our large naan wrapped around two chunky lamb skewers and a handful of grilled onions, my tastebuds felt instantly elevated. I don’t know if it was the spices in the marinade, the tangy sweetness of the onions, or simply the combination of the two wrapped in buttery naan, but it was truly sublime.
Reading our culinary expert’s guide to grilling in this month’s Recipe Section brought me back to that evening in my late teens. Try as I might I cannot remember one lamb skewer that has surpassed it in sheer wow factor. My dedicated and very scientific field research of the best Turkish and Middle Eastern grills in London and the best mshikaki stalls around Kenya, has definitely not turned up anything as near as good.
There is so much more to grilling meat than sticking a hunk of flesh over a fire. There are cuts to think about, there is aging, there is the place the meat came from, what it ate, there is the fuel and, most importantly, there is what you do to the meat before you actually begin to cook it. Criss cross the world and you find that in every culture there are precise prescriptions on the form and method of cooking meat over an open flame. Some places elevate this act to an art form.
Founder of the Cookswell charcoal oven line Teddy Kinyanjui, insists that on his travels across the country he has witnessed enough different barbecue styles to fill a recipe book. As part of the first installment of his new On the Road column, Kinyanjui takes a team of acclaimed international chefs to the Kajiado hills, to experience one unique goat barbecue – Maasai style. Meanwhile across the country, deep in the Kilifi coconut plantations, our contributor Adam Kiboi is amazed to find out that an Argentinian goat asado, is entirely different from any fireside nyama choma session he has ever experienced.
Elsewhere in the magazine, contributor Anna Cardovillis discovers that eating crocodile at Carnivore restaurant is no longer solely the preserve of adventurous tourists and Iloti Mutoka crisscrosses Nairobi to go behind the scenes of two very different dining establishments, that both take great pride in their meat cooking devices.
I may never find a Seekh Kebab to rival that one from my Kashmiri adventure. But with the abundance of passionate grillers out there, I have no excuse to stop looking.