Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Jordanian Chef Story

It's not much of a story, but here goes anyway. For a time there was a restaurant just down from the First Circle in Amman, which had a conservatory front and which was warm and red-lit. It was called 'The Patio'. It was the perfect haven from the dark, rainy, cold Jordanian winter nights and had a pot-bellied iron stove in the middle of the floor that gave out immense heat. The rain would patter on the glass roof while you sat on gaily-coloured cushions drinking red wine and chatting.

Their tagine was stupendous. I used to go back every trip for more. Whenever my pal Lena would ask where we should go for dinner, I'd try and get us to the Patio.

It was so good. The guy had to be Tunisian or something. Fragrant, delicious, tender chicken floating in a sharp, harissa-spiced chickpea broth laced with flakes of red-tinged onion.

It had no fruit or nuts or other stuff in it. In fact, it's not really a proper tagine, but the type of mixture that maghrebis serve around hot couscous. It didn't alter the fact that it was delicious.

I finally cracked and asked to talk to the chef. I wanted the recipe.

We chatted by the kitchen door. He was Jordanian. In pidgin English and Arabic, we went through the magical process. He kept talking about 'spice', adding 'spice'. I asked him to show me the spices. He came back, smiling sheepishly, with a plastic bag of Tunisian spice mix.

The next time we went back, oddly, The Patio had closed. I suppose it was meant to be: I'd never try the tagine again and have my romantic vision of a maghrebi chef cooking up mama's own tagine spoiled by the knowledge that it was all down to a supermarket spice mix.

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