Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Best food and cookery books of 2017

Colour coded food books for 2017

Here is my annual food book round-up, published in mid-November to help you decide which books to buy for Christmas. I've divided my book selections into sections: 
  • Food from around the world
  • Food anthropology or memoir
  • Ingredient-led cookbooks
  • General cookbooks
  • Vegan
  • Books by Doctors

Most of the books were sent to me by publishers, so there are well-known cookbooks that I haven't reviewed despite in some cases requesting copies (the latest Nigella, Nigel Slater, Olia Hercules, Sabrina Ghayour, for instance). But I don't get paid for this blog and I can't afford to pay to publicise people's work I'm afraid. (You can help me by purchasing their books through links on this post; I get a teeny kickback from Amazon, which I use to buy other cookbooks.)

No mind, there are so many food books coming out each year and I know the writers above will be well-covered by the press. None of them are going to starve if I don't review their books. 

I'm not sure there is much need for general cookbooks anymore. The greats have covered it. Every basic recipe is to be found online either through the BBC or Delia or a trillion others. People will only buy a general cookbook if it's relying on a cult of personality or a celebrity, or if they are new to cooking. 

Food books from around the world perform the necessary task of guiding us through exotic or new cuisines and ingredients. As an author I'm slightly at a disadvantage because I'm English (with Italian, Irish and Scottish blood) and I don't cook that much British food. Mainly because I don't cook or eat meat, which much of British food is centred around. I like spice and flavour. 

Ingredient-led cookbooks are a way around this for British food writers. I'm a big fan of them. My supper clubs are often themed, sometimes around a single ingredient, or a particular country's cuisine.

Vegan cookbooks are a growing category. My book V is for Vegan was probably the first self-declared big budget vegan book in the UK. This is a bandwagon I'm very happy that people are wanting to jump on. Although I attended an event the other day in which two young men, calling themselves Bosh! TV (eyeroll - so Jamie Oliver), gained a 250k advance from Harper Collins for their first cookbook. News like this is so bloody depressing for those of us who know our subject and only eke out a living. Judging from the content on their site and the avocado brownie they claim to have spent "three days making", Harper Collins have wasted their money. But, hey, who needs talent and experience when you can have 'influencers' teaching you how to cook? Michel Roux Senior said you shouldn't write a cookbook until you are 50. Increasingly I tend to agree with him. 

At the other end of the scale is food memoir or anthropology; the thrilling work of black food writers such as Michael W Twitty or Yemisi Aribisala is hard won, emotionally exposing, interesting, poetic, explorative, drawing upon politics and sociology. In Europe I love Regula Ysewijn's passionate treatise on Belgian cafe culture and its gradual disappearance. Work like this is valuable.

Finally, books by doctors. Some are good, some just sound like bullshit. Mostly they can't do the food bit. I'm assuming the recipes are ghosted. But at least they aren't just a bunch of pretty, youthful faces that the publisher's marketing department hopes will do well.  

Make no mistake, it's marketing and sales that choose books nowadays. They choose the cover (which is sometimes why the cover of a book is so at odds with its interior). Every publisher has a bunch of loss leaders that they simply believe in: fantastic writers like Diana Henry are not going to sell as many copies as Deliciously Ella. If you aren't 'lifestyle', or aspirational, and - god forbid - actually eat the food you cook, please disappear. 

But Diana and Xanthe and Felicity and now Meera and Rachel and all the other old and new grand dames of cookery writing have the contacts, class and talent to get the big columns in the papers. Columns mean book publishing deals. (But not necessarily telly. If you are female, middle-aged and waistless, you are consigned to 'daytime'. If you're lucky.)

Nothing has changed: it's still the posh, the connected, the well-married, the young, the beautiful and the slim who make money out of food. Especially if you are a woman.

Food from around the world

Junk Food Japan, Addictive Food from Kurobuta by Scott Hallsworth (Absolute Press)

I ate at Hallsworth's Marble Arch restaurant Kurobuta. It was delicious but expensive. (Name drop; I was with Marina O'Loughlin, the Sunday Times new restaurant columnist.) This book is your opportunity to make this food at a fraction of the price. Australian Hallsworth spent 6 years at Nobu, where he fell in love with Japanese fusion cooking. Unlike most chef books, this one seems to be actually written by him. The punk styling can seem a little forced (the man was born in the mid-70s) and there is a touch of macho Bourdainism with the swearing, but the recipes are doable, creative, simple and alluring. He knows of what he speaks, mentioning new season sushi rice, which needs less water than older rice. Energetic, nicely styled photography by David Loftus.

I want to make: broad bean tempura with wasabi salt; iced sweet and sour nasu; Jerusalem artichoke chopsticks with truffle ponzu.

Mountain Berries and Desert Spice, sweet inspiration from the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea by Sumayya Usmani (Frances Lincoln)

Sumayya used to be a neighbour, living in Queen's Park before bolting to Scotland. Her second book (the first being Summers under the Tamarind Tree) focusses on Pakistani desserts. The book explores the landscape and ingredients of Pakistan, sandwiched between India, China Afghanistan and Iran. Out of all the books I reviewed, this one had the most post-it notes stuck between pages, for recipes I want to make. Beautiful styling, propping and photography by Joanna Yee.

I want to make: Parsi wedding custard with rose petals and apricots, turmeric Jalebis, saffron caramels and poppy seeded cones of kulfi.

Two Kitchens, family recipes from Sicily and Rome by Rachel Roddy (Headline)

I'm going to say that this book is even better than the award-winning Five Quarters. Apart from the jarring cover, I love every page. Rachel's recipes are very relatable; they look messy and homely. It's not the alien aspirational food of high-end chefs. The best food often doesn't look great on Instagram; it can be brown or beige, shiny and cooked. Unstyled. You feel like you can pick up the food and eat it. Roddy's food books are intimate and domestic with casual chiaroscuro photographs of family moments.

I want to make: mandarin orange jelly, taralli al limone, nociata, broad bean, fennel and mint salad.

Fress, bold flavours from a Jewish Kitchen by Emma Spitzer (Octopus)

Emma Spitzer is a local (North West London) food writer who competed on MasterChef. This is very much a family cookbook with a genealogical tree in the introduction and her children featuring in the photographs. Emma seems like a superwoman: four kids, a travel business AND dedicated cook. She's honest about her homely food - portions err on the generous and plating is something she had to learn on MasterChef. Her Jewish food hails from both traditions, Eastern European Ashkenazi and Iberian Sephardi, including both smoked salmon schmear (love that word) and schupfenudeln (a potato noodle). Nice photography and styling by Clare Winfield's team.

I want to make: Amba spiced courgettes with barberries and labneh, Chrain (a horseradish and beetroot sauce), fennel and potato latkes, chocolate babka.

Wild honey and rye by Ren Behan (Pavilion)

Since Poland became part of the EU and the Polish diaspora moved to the UK, sparking a wealth of Polish corner shops, I've been interested in what you can make with the intriguing ingredients. Ren is a food blogger of Polish heritage and I've been waiting for a smart publisher to commission her to write this book. It doesn't disappoint. She talks of her childhood going to Polish church and visiting the Polish Ex-Combatants Club but the recipes in this book are modern, lighter than traditional Eastern European food. Appealing photography and styling by Yuki Sugiura and her team.

I want to make: apple mashed potatoes; homemade dill pickles; pierogi.

The Curry Guy by Dan Toombs (Quadrille)

I always thought Dan's book would sell, which is why I recommended him to my agent. Just like in other areas of life, men buy books written by men. Typical curry house recipes are exactly the sort of thing men want to cook. Dan has investigated curry house tricks by going into Indian restaurants all over Britain. There are all the old curry house classics and a few tips for prepping large quantities of curry sauce and pre-cooked potatoes. This is his first book, and he's been signed up for several others. 

I've made tandoori beetroot paneer, and it was delicious.

Saffron Soul by Mira Manek (Jacqui Small LLP)

A pretty book, with 'health, vegetarian, heritage recipes from India'. Right up my street. There are photos of Mira with her mum and grandma; it's a book that celebrates the matrilineal DNA of the Indian kitchen. Mira's family is from Gujarat, the state where many corner shop owners come from. She's young and attractive, a bit of a millennial yoga bunny, not averse to the lure of the selfie. Her book is a pleasure. The atmospheric photography and styling by Nassima Rothacker is done well. 

I'd like to make: charred masala corn cobs, carrot halwa, thandai, saffron limeade.

Lisboeta by Nuno Mendes (Bloomsbury)

This is almost more of a photo travelogue than a cookbook. Last year I predicted that Portugal would be the next big place - now even Madonna has moved there (to support her son David Banda's budding football career). I ate at Mendes' 'The Loft' supper club and out of all the experimental food he served, the simply cooked Portuguese fish dish was the most sublime. 
This hefty book has almost too much to say: tucked between glossy pages are smaller matte pamphlets on Tascos (neighbourhood Lisboan restaurants), cafe culture, fish, beach life, Santo Antonio.
Great photography by Andrew Montgomery.

I'd like to make: runner bean fritters with clam broth; tomato soup, all the pastries, potatoes with caramelised onions and melting cheese.

Catalonia by José Pizarro (Hardie Grant)

Beautifully designed book on a very news-worthy topic, Catalonia, the part of Spain around Barcelona that seeks to become independent. Recipes somehow both traditional and unusual; a Miróesque cover; lovely reportage and food photography by Laura Edwards.

Food anthropology and memoir

The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty (Amistad)

An extraordinary journey into the origins of Twitty's family, the roots of Southern food, of slave cooking, of an uprooted people and how they attempted to retain their African foodways. Foods such as ackee, yams, sorghum, all come from Africa. The enslaved cooks adapted Southern ingredients to recreate Ghana, Senegalese, Nigerian and other West African dishes. 

Longthroat Memoirs, soups, sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala (Cassava Republic)

I interviewed Yemisi earlier this year. We had a fascinating conversation about Nigerian food, religion and slime. This is a well-written, intimate, even poetic, memoir.

Belgian Cafe Culture (Luster)

There are no recipes in this gorgeously photographed and designed book by Pride and Pudding's Regula Ysewijn, also known as Flemish food blogger Miss Foodwise. For years Regula has been an Anglophile, recreating historic and regional British recipes. Hugely disappointed by the Brexit result, she has now turned her attention to her own culture, especially the beer, whether Trappist, lambic or gueuze. Flanders is losing the distinctive café culture, the living room bars open only at breakfast, lunch and dinner, run by housewives, now elderly. This book documents the "fragile heritage" of the remaining cafés, the 'zageman', the savings cupboard, the dice and card games. Note the delightful touch of shiny 'wet' rings on the cover.

Ingredient-led books

The Oxford Companion to Cheese edited by Catherine Donnelly (Oxford University Press)

A heavy volume. Comprehensive. Entries include Bog butter, butter preserved for decades in Ireland or Scandinavia, in tree bark in cold places; Yak cheese, how the Himalayan version of the cow produces high protein milk, American Goat ladies, the young women who visited Europe in the 1980s and brought to the States a taste for artisanal small batch goat cheese. Endlessly interesting. 

Mushrooms by Jenny Linford (Ryland, Peters, Small)

This book of recipes isn't trendy but there is so much you want to eat. Veteran food writer Linford guides the reader through cultivated and wild mushrooms, meets growers, dips into the mysteries of truffles. My daughter wanted to steal the book; it's very cookable. And mushrooms are the umami beefsteak of the vegetarian diet.

I want to make: truffled fries; mushroom paneer and pea curry; Thai mushroom soup.

Citrus by Catherine Phipps (Quadrille)

Stingy and sour, a cheering ray of sunshine in the depths of winter, I love citrus for its colour and the lift it offers dishes. A book on citrus is such a fantastic idea, I wish I'd written it. Catherine is one of our most knowledgeable food writers and it shows. The recipes are, as always, excellent. I would have liked more of them - with Bengali limes, Meyer lemons, key limes - although I know some of those more unusual ingredients can be difficult to get hold of in the UK.

I'd like to make: dhal with lemon or lime curry; orange shortbread; deep fried citrus slices.

The Marley Coffee Cookbook by Rohan Marley (Quarry)

Rastafarianism is a love of nature, and reggae superstar Bob Marley was born on a farm. One of his sons, Rohan Marley, who was also married to Lauryn Hill, returned to Jamaica after a sports career in the US, determined to go back to his roots and his father's dream and build a coffee farm. This book, written in conjunction with chef Maxcel Hardy III and food writer Rosemary Black, is a collection of coffee-centric recipes, a fantastic idea. I've often thought of doing a coffee-based supper club. The photographs are somewhat inconsistent, differing in style one to the next, but I love the retro coffee-themed design in the cover

I'd like to cook: sweet potato waffles with a pecan coffee syrup; grilled salmon with a coffee, maple, and ginger glaze; fried plantains with coffee sugar; coffee-spiced vegetable tacos.

Herbs, spices and flavourings by Tom Stobart (Grub St)

This is a handy, novel-sized alphabetical guide to all the above. Written by a food writer, traveller, and documentary maker who died in 1980, the guide ranges from Ajowan (Bishops's Weed), to Zedoary, a kind of turmeric. The book itself smells good, the shiny new pages whiffing of ink and turps. A book for ingredient freaks like me. 

Wine lover's kitchen, delicious recipes for cooking with wine by Fiona Beckett (Ryland, Peters, Small)

Fiona is the Guardian's wine columnist. But she's also an accomplished cook and recipe writer, and in this book she displays both skills. The food is, for the most part, French influenced or European, the cuisine for which wine was built. So many recipes are improved with the addition of wine, from soups and sauces to moules marinières. Useful notes on matches with wines or sherries.

I'd like to make: white onion and bay leaf soup with raclette and toasted hazelnuts, courgettes and mushrooms à la grecque. 

What to Eat and How to Eat it by Renée Elliot (Pavilion Books)

It's been said that to eat well, you must shop well. Renée is the American-born founder of Planet Organic, an organic food emporium in London. She's been in the healthy eating game for decades and persuasively argues the case for eating organic. Here Elliot presents 99 ingredients from açai berries to maca to tempeh. Yup, all those weird ingredients you might have scratched your head over, that you want to try but aren't sure what to do with. This is very much a shopkeeper's cookbook: her starting point is what is on the shelves. The dishes are generally vegetarian, with the occasional pescetarian recipe thrown in and a couple of pages mentioning chicken and bone broth. The recipes are mostly standard classics from the health food repertoire, but there is the odd American recipe such as sloppy joes.

I'd like to make: mushroom sloppy joes, paprika and mushroom soup.

The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg)

This book is cooking method-led and it's a great concept. As an Aga owner I cook 80% of my food in the oven. Although I usually love photography by David Loftus, here I feel the food is let down by the lacklustre lighting. The food looks a bit cold and lifeless.

I'd like to make: mackerel and rhubarb.

General cookbooks

Smitten Kitchen Every Day, triumphant and unfussy new favourites by Deb Perelman (Square Peg)

Not as good as her first book, which I loved. But examining it further, and trusting Perelman's recipe writing (she often tests 12 times), I gradually realised the book was better than I first thought. The recipes are very much those of a busy mother of young children, a stage I'm past. Neither are her recipes original. I've cooked similar dishes, but everything works perfectly, which is more than you can say for most cookbooks. Deb has a lovely writing voice, honest, humorous and relatable. 

I'd like to make: olive oil shortbread with rosemary and chocolate.

Eat what you love by Ruby Tandoh (Chatto and Windus)

I like that Ruby Tandoh criticises millennial clean-eating bores such as Deliciously Ella and the Hemsleys, that she bravely highlights the posh rich privileged side of food writing. But she has her own privilege: that of a slim, young, beautiful woman who was picked to star in a baking game show. Does she know that?  The baking section of this book is, perhaps predictably, the strongest. I made her lemon, buttermilk and black pepper cake, and it may be one of the most impressive cake recipes of the year.

Vegan/vegetarian books

Vegan: The Cookbook by Jean-Christian Jury (Phaidon)

Massive, glossy, colourful volume by French professional chef Jury who, a decade ago, had a heart attack while working in London. This caused him to reconsider his lifestyle and eating habits. He decided to go raw and vegan. Not only does this book have literally hundreds of original vegan recipes from all over the world but it also has a guest chef section with contributions by Michelin starred chefs.

What I'd like to make: jackfruit curry, cheese and potato curry, tofu and paneer tikka masala, tofu and mandarin orange curry, banana blossom in coconut cream, potato and kalamata olive stew, carrot fudge.

Vegan Recipes from the Middle East by Parvin Razavi (Grub St)

While the German-based author hails originally from Iran, the simple dishes span the Middle East, whose cuisine perhaps surprisingly does lend itself to the vegan diet. The book is divided by country: Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Armenia, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey. In between each section there are illustrations of vegetables. There is a whole section on Persian ways of preparing rice. The recipes are not unusual, the classics - stuffed vegetables, roast vegetables, dips and stews - are all there but they do look tasty. A good book for a vegan or flexitarian cook.

I'd like to make: Persian saffron rice pudding, borek stuffed with squash.

Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton (Jacqui Small LLP)

This is the second book by My New Roots blogger Sarah Britton. She does that Anna Jones formula thing of how to create a recipe: build a foundation, make it interesting, add something special, sauce it up, give it some flair. You might start with a base of quinoa, the interest is sweet potato, the something special is chickpeas, the sauce is romesco, and the flair is coriander. I like the 'rollover' section at the end of the recipe, in which Britton suggests ways of using up the leftovers from each dish.
Photography is a bit wishy-washy and doesn't show dishes to their best advantage.

I'd like to make: brown butter carrots with pistachios; charred cabbage with toasted walnut sauce.

Veggie Desserts and Cakes by Kate Hackworthy (Pavilion)

Some very original dessert and cake recipes here from accomplished blogger Kate Hackworthy of the site I'm impressed. She has new ideas! Lovely styling and photography by Clare Winfield's team.

I'd like to make: pea and vanilla cake with lemon icing, salted sweet potato biscuits, sparkling carrot lemonade.

Books by Doctors

The Pioppi diet by Dr Aseem Malhotra and Donal O'Neill (Penguin)

In the 1970s American scientist Ancel Keys moved to Pioppi, a small village south of Naples, to study the Mediterranean diet. In Pioppi the people live to 95, never get diabetes or have a heart attack. Dr Malhotra and his colleague Donal O'Neill, a documentary maker, recently followed in Keys footsteps. All you have to do is live a stress-free life, drink wine every meal, eat no processed food, eat fat, eat dessert once a week, eat very few carbs, do not sit down for more than 45 minutes, and fast for 24 hours once a week. In other words all the health advice that everybody else is giving. The authors are saying that if you can do this for three weeks, you will be cured. I guess it's worth a shot. Although I'd prefer to live in Pioppi for three weeks and see if this does the trick. 

The Salt Fix by Dr James DiNicolantonio (Piatus)

Finally someone has written this book. The NHS has spent a great deal of money telling the country that salt is bad for you, despite evidence and scientific studies to the contrary. They recommend that you eat less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day, including cooking water. Most people, given freedom to eat as much salt as they like, eat around 2/3 teaspoons a day. Any extra you piss out. 

Dinicolantonio argues that salt is not the demon, sugar is. Restricting salt makes you more likely to eat sugar. Throughout history salt has been valued: in the past people ate more salt than today. 'In the 16th century, Europeans ate 40g of salt a day'; 'in the 18th century, intake was up to 70g a day'; 'In Scandinavian countries [...] in the 16th century [...] daily consumption of salt was 100g a day'. 

Today 1 in 3 adults in the USA has high blood pressure. Something is going wrong here.

Dr DiNicolantonio recommends several different kinds of salt: Hawaiian red and black, Himalayan pink, Kala Nemak sulphurous black salt, Celtic sea salt. He explains why you should avoid ordinary table salt that only contains two ingredients: sodium and chloride.

I highly recommend this brave and original book - now to persuade doctors!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Yorkshire's Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers, Yorkshire

Making fresh cheese with Cryer and Stott, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Carlton Towers is a Gothic Victorian house, a fantasy mash-up of Hogwarts and medieval castles. Situated an hour south of York, scenes from the TV series 'Victoria' were set in this historic house.

The Lord of the castle, Gerald Fitzalan-Howard and his wife Lady Emma hosted myself and other journalists in the palatial Venetian Drawing Room for an evening banquet. Gerry, as we were permitted to call him, believes that the series Downton Abbey was based on their house. Certainly below stairs is a Downtonesque warren of rooms along a dim tiled corridor: the great kitchen, the game room, the dairy, the housekeepers' sitting room, all add to this impression.
The Venetian Drawing Room, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Upstairs, a sequence of enormous state rooms, linked by tall double doors, is a triumph of baroque extravagance. Start with the Venetian roomclad with linenfold oak panels, many decorated with paintings, dominated by an enormous crested stone fireplace, crowned by a moor's head within which roars a log fire. Above the panels twinkle walls embossed with Venetian gold dusted polished plaster. Overhead opulent crystal chandeliers cast a warm glow. Terracotta and green silk curtains with tasselled velvet tie backs frame the tall windows, elsewhere the walls are studded with bevelled mirrors, the floors with Persian carpets, the tables boast sprigs of local flowers in vintage silver, while blue and white porcelain and majolica-ware perched on the shelves. At my dining place I found a gold embossed name card.

Lord and Lady Gerry are fun hosts; typical English eccentrics, fond of a drink and a laugh, feeding the dog at dinner. They are one of Englands oldest families, dating back to William the Conqueror. Tracing their lineage to just after the Norman Conquest; they are even mentioned in the Domesday book. Lord Gerry quipped:
'We were big in the middle ages!'
The Fitzalan-Howards have plans to turn Carlton Towers into foodie central: it now runs cookery courses in probably the most magnificent kitchen I've ever seen. I've now got serious kitchen #goals: pale marble surfaces by a Middlesborough stone mason, old coal stoves, the original encaustic tiled floor, butler sinks, gleaming copper saucepans, hand built wooden cupboards.
Lord Gerry has planted a walled vineyard, we discussed natural wines. Just behind the house, is Little Black Dog, a craft beer brewery which also makes beers to order, for instance 'wedding beers'. We had a class in cheese making, cheese tasting accompanied with story telling of their trip around France, with Yorkshire affineurs Cryer and StottCarlton Towers are currently looking for a baker to set up a sourdough bakery on site. They aim to promote and use, wherever possible, local Yorkshire produce. 

Other activities are available: I got to drive an expensive 4x4 through the forest, negotiating steep hills and muddy ditches. The jeep can tip up to a 30 degree angle and as an amphibious vehicle, it also has a snorkel.
Cryer and Stott cheese affineurs, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
4x4 driving, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
bedroom Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
cheese from Cryer and Stott, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
housekeeper's living room, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
staircase, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
hallway, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
Lord Gerald Fitzalan-Howard, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire
the royal family, Carlton Towers, Yorkshire

Carlton Towers

Carlton Towers, Carlton, Yorkshire, DN14 9LZ
01405 861662
Cooks courses
A three night stay, all inclusive, Queen Victoria Experience is from £899 per person.
Bookable at Super Break 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

A day in Antwerp drinking beer with Miss Foodwise Regula Ysewijn

Regula Ysewijn, Oud Arsenaal, Antwerp,

Regula Ysewijn,  Antwerp, Modeste beer festival
cafe, Antwerp, Belgium
beer sign, Antwerp, Belgium
Regula Ysewijn,  Antwerp, Modeste beer festival

She looks like a children's book character, drawn perhaps by Ronald Searle; a Flemish Mary Poppins, a tiny waist, auburn hair piled up in ornate pin curls, red flowers clipped in.
'Hook in!' she cries, proferring a red-coated elbow, the hand at the end of the sleeve holding aloft a tall frilly umbrella.
We link arms as we cross the rainy main square in Antwerp. There's the grand station at one end, the central zoo next door, heralded by a copper boy on a verdigris camel. As we stride, petticoats swirl and brush the full skirted tartan dress, her lips cherry red against pale skin. Regula Ysewijn gets up at 4am every day to coif her metre-long hair, which has never been cut.

She admits to being a little bit OCD, using consecutively her mobile phone, the umbrella handle or that sharp elbow to press lift buttons or open doors.
'I like things clean. I'm a bit strange,' she explains in her Flemish accented English with slightly anomalous cockney glottal stops. 
'I usually carry anti-microbial gel. I'm such a busy bee. I know life is short.'
Regula is organised and energetic. At the moment she is simply glowing - her career has taken off. Her first book 'Pride and Pudding' was a triumphant success, winning Radio 4's The Food Programme's best cookbook of 2016. Her second book 'Belgian Café Culture' came out in Belgium and the UK simultaneously. She has also been chosen to be a judge on the Belgian version of Bake Off

Following her around Antwerp, I see people do double takes 'is that...?'. She's becoming famous.

Today she is taking me to visit a small festival called appropriately The 'Modeste' Beer Festival, which showcases craft beer companies from Belgium. At the entrance we pay three euros for a glass, and at each stall we pay a euro for refills. People are pleased to see Regula, they hug her. The men are thrilled that a woman knows her beer. We walk around the festival, sipping beers, while Regula tells me stories.

  Antwerp, Modeste beer festival

Why do you like beer?
I like the heritage of beer; it’s such a big part of our history. If we didn’t have any beer, we would have died. We wouldn’t be here anymore. Beer kept us alive. 
The whole misconception is that people drank beer rather than water, because the water wasn’t clean enough, some part of that is true. The main reason was that it gave much needed sugar and calories. Children drank beer.
It's the most beautiful, natural drink in the world. I’m extremely proud of that. It makes me proud to be Belgian or Flemish.  
There are 2 types of beer that are incredibly special to Belgium, which can’t be reproduced anywhere else in the world - our Lambic and our Gueuze beer.
These are made with spontaneous fermentation and can only be made in the Zenne valley because of the specific bugs in the air, a certain bacteria. It is purely terroir. It is more like a wine than a beer. It tastes like certain natural wines.
Like a sourdough mother? 
Yes. You don’t often see Lambic out of the brewery. 
We have this process of 'cutting' the beer - Gueuze is basically a blend. We call it 'cutting', but it's blending a young lambic and and an aged lambic. Those two mixed then fermented a little bit more in the bottle, becomes Gueuze beer. It's more approachable than Lambic beer. 
They also make a heritage cherry beer, Kriek. It's not like cherry beer in the UK, which is sweet. This is sour, tangy, tastes like the kernel of the cherry, bitter almonds. It's made by chucking in whole cherries in the last fermentation. No sugar involved. 
In commercial Kriek beer, there are added sugars, adding cherry juice not actual cherries. They also make it with plums.
 Do you prefer beer or wine?
Beer is cheaper. My husband and I prefer to share a bottle of beer for our dinner. We prefer to have one bottle, then perhaps open another. Our beer is stronger. 
People in the UK are made for drinking a lot of liquid. If I meet UK drinkers they always say, when are you finishing our beer? I drink slowly.

Do you have your favourites at this festival?
I have to say hi to the man who made my beer - Zageman or 'Sawman' beer featured in my book 'Belgian Café Culture'. Another beer I like is Flemish red, a beer that was created in Belgium to mimic English Porter ales. It's from the west of our country, named after Rodenbach, who was a poet in West Flanders. It's also made by cutting a young and old beer, with spontaneous fermentation. But this is sour but sweet, while Lambic is sour and bitter. This is my favourite beer, but it has an old-fashioned reputation. When I was travelling around working on my book and drinking, when I asked for Rodenbach, they'd say 'you are so young to order that!'. 
I taste the beer. It has an amazing colour. The glass is filled with an effervescent burgundy liquid. The taste is surprising.
It's very special. I want to make sure this beer is kept (as part of our heritage). Each beer has its glass. Rodenbach had a rebrand in the 1990s. This is a balloon glass with a narrow neck. Before it was a straight-sided glass for Rodenbach. 
We don’t do pints in Belgium. This is a regular Rodenbach. It's really smooth; they usually have a grand cru too.
We sip. Regula notes expertly as we taste...
Sour, interesting, complex, dark, glowing colour. Smooth. Fruity, malty, caramel, no added sugars. It’s brewed and put into wooden barrels that are standing a bit tilted, so the air can get in. You can get lacto-fermentation. 
It tastes like natural wine, I can see that.
You can’t compare this to a hoppy beer. This is heritage beer: much older. You would go to the seaside and drink Rodenbach with a free bowl of grey shrimp. 
There is one cafe in Antwerp that still does this, but only in October. The prawns  are not peeled you have to peel them yourself, the cats are happy to get the shells. I last went there in February which is crazy because I try to visit them regularly.
So grey shrimp and red beer...

It’s like you feel a personal responsibility to keep the Flemish beer going? 
Yes, I do feel that responsibility, and to keep the cafes going. That’s why I did my book. I like to keep track of them. I told them all: 'If something is going wrong with your café, let me know'. If there is a problem, contact me, so I can try to do something. We have to make sure that no more cafés disappear.
A lot of them are disappearing? 
Yes, sadly. 
What are they being turned into?  
Burgers bars, hipster hangouts, sometimes just flats. Quintessentially a Belgian cafe is a living room cafe. It's a female job. They are often started in someone's front room. It’s like a supper club. They feel like homes. 
There are different cafés in Belgium of course, like the big Grand Cafés, which have nearly all disappeared. Cafés around the fin de siècle. 
Are landlords whacking up the rents?
Yes. Landladies are retiring, Children don’t want to take over. They often just get turned back into houses. They often don’t look like cafés. My dad went with me on my café tour. And we were looking for a café, but the sign had already gone from the facade, you didn’t even know which house was the café. The neighbours said: 'Oh just go in, just push that front door'. It was like a normal front door. And behind it was a café. The only thing you could hear was the ticking of the clock. And there was no one there. It was really warm. It looked like someone had just left. There was that kind of ambiance. No empty glasses. It felt like someone had just got up and left. So we were like: Hello? Hello? Helloooo? A lady came, who was really old, like 96,97. Really old. The oldest café landlady in Belgium. She just got a glass, got a pint, filled it up.  
I believe that having a café keeps you young. It’s like making a pact with the devil. All those café landladies look beautiful. They are all old women but they have this glow, because they are so loved, the kind of love that they are surrounded with in the community, makes them beautiful. They are queens of their community. There are a couple of landladies that I visited, and they told me that their birthdays turned into village fetes. Everyone would come, people would bring stuff, and they'd create this whole feast because the landlady was like everyone's grandmother.
What about the legalities of it? The one area I have to be careful of is that I can’t sell alcohol.
It is easier. I haven’t seen any hard liquor. They just do beer. It's alright. They have this kind of deal because they are so old, they can continue.
So if you tomorrow wanted to set up something like this, could you do it legally?
No, I think I'd have to get a license. I think it's quite easy though. I know from Eastenders that you have to have a licence and get an education. 
I have a personal but not a premises license. People bring their own. Do these cafes do food?
No. They are open, very traditional village ones, or the ones that are close to a factory, from 6 in the morning, closing around 9 or 10. Open again at lunchtime. Then again in the evening at 5pm until 8 and then they close.
People going to work, coming home from work?  
With cheese you’d start with the mildest. How do you taste these beers? Is there an order?
In beer you’d start with the sours.
You can’t start with the hoppy ones. 
We taste another beer, Liefmans, 'Golden ribbon', which is darker, creamy, more like Guinness or Pelforth Brune. We share a glass as neither of us wants to get too drunk. I watch the barman slice off the foam with a knife.
Just smell it.  
A lot of sweetness, very malty. Horlicks almost. It's like gravy.
Only one beer like this. New beer cut with brown beer. Very close to older type of beer, sour. They become better and better, that's why they use Champagne corks. You can keep them for years like good wines. Some Trappist beers are 20 years old.
Regula frowns: 
This is also one of my favourites: but I feel like it’s changed.
It’s now owned by Duval, which is a big brewery buying up other breweries. They also own De Koninck. They are magnates.
It’s a very good beer, but it’s an everyday beer. 

Liefmans beer,, Antwerp, Modeste beer festival
Harbour cafes do food - home cooked things like bangers and mash. In the harbour of Antwerp, workers would wait until the foremen came in and say 'I need 5 guys'. If they don’t get a job, they stay in the cafe, otherwise their wives will be angry.
Like 'On the Waterfront'? Are there harbour cafes left?

There's one left. In Antwerp, it's called ‘Diner’ - well, not exactly, but that's the nearest translation. It has long benches. But as the port of Antwerp moved more and more out of the city, all those cafes disappeared, only a couple left. 
You don't really enter them but I did. I nearly got my face smashed in. It was a real harbour cafe with dock workers, they have a waiting room across the street. They created this so people don’t drink up their pay. But if they don't get a job they go across to the café cos they don't want their wives to know they don't have any work that day. 
So I went in there. The first question I got was not 'What do you want to drink?' but 'What are you doing here?'.
There were pretty girls behind the counter and a bunch of dockworkers around but the conversation stopped, the moment I walked in. This is not a place that women come. This is a man's place. There are no women in dock workers cafés because all the men have a wife. It's not considered proper that a woman would be in there, like a prostitute or something.They are all working fathers and husbands. If you are someone's wife, someone's girlfriend, then you are completely welcome but usually they don't go there. If there are regular women coming in, the wives at home would be annoyed. 
So I said 'Who is the owner? I’m writing a book and I need to include this'. There was this Afghan guy who was managing the place, he said: 'You can take photographs because a lot of the people here will not take it well.' 
Were they possibly not legal? 
They are legal, they are all Belgian people. But there's this atmosphere around dock workers. They are not criminal but they like to keep up that sort of appearance. A lot of them do have problems with the police. They do not want their pictures to turn up anywhere.
No female dockworkers, I assume?
There is one. They do not like her. Problem is she can’t take the work. It’s hard physically. So the others have to pick up the slack. They don't dislike her personally but they don't want to be in a crew with her. Because we have to work twice as hard. She thinks: 'It’s my right, you can't discriminate.' If something drops. She will not be able to lift it. 
I went in and I took a picture and it was against the light, so the people in the photo would be black. They were really cross with me, yelling at me. So I flipped a switch in my head and starting talking their language.
Listen men, I want to document your cafe. For my book about cafes. And they said: 'You want to include our cafe?' 
I explained: 'I want real cafes. I want where people are attached to the café.' He went, 'Tell me about it'. He completely defrosted. Like 'Wow you are respecting my gaff.'
I can tell you watch Eastenders. (Laughs.)
He’s used to people looking down on him, because he's a dock worker. He’s considered the lowest of the low, historically. Many of the people working at the Antwerp docks, still today in Antwerp, generations have been working there. 
I explained: 'I am here to honour your place here.' Ok, there was some dirty language. 
I suddenly noticed there was a fish on the table. I asked why. The angry guy mellowed: 'It’s my fish. It’s smoked trout. I smoked it. Another guy caught it, I smoked it.' He was really proud. I could see his face change. He was not used to being considered as a person. He said: 'Hey, do you want to taste my fish? 'Hahaha,' everyone laughed. He took the fish with his hands.  
I wasn’t offended. I said: 'Oh yeah I’ll have a taste.' It was the best smoked fish I’ve ever tasted. It was really good, really natural. He was proud, and told me: 'When it's summer we are eating crabs, entire crabs here. In posh places they’d cost a lot.' These people are living the real life. Not hipsters with their aeropresses. In crab season, the guy you know from around the corner, he’s got crabs. I spent the entire afternoon with them at the cafe. The second cafe I went to, even old café owners, asked me: 'You went to Petra? You actually went in?'
Really, it is their defence mechanism. Their entire community is built around a lot of respect. They keep to themselves; they’ve suffered a lot of disrespect. They had a big demonstration in Antwerp a couple of years ago.The dock masters have changed the system, the workers can no longer choose who they will be in a crew with. It was a new law, put into practice so they could get more foreigners. The problem is, this is unsafe. They all know each other. They have each others' backs. Every month or so, people die. The big containers they drop, they drop. They have eyes on each others back. If they are being put together with an immigrant who doesn’t speak the language, it’s dangerous. It’s nothing to do with racism, it’s dangerous.
There were fires in the street, vandalism. It wasn't them, but it was blamed on the dock workers. They didn’t even consider that there were other people starting those fires. They are so disappointed by our society, that they keep to themselves. Me going in there, I became one of them. They have their own society: for instance, they just smoke in their cafe, they don’t give a fuck. 

We spend a long time at a final stall, with the man that has brewed a special beer for Regula 'Zageman' or 'Sawman'. Zageman is a kinetic toy that is placed on the bar or a table when someone is nagging or droning on. Regula collects them. 

I taste his Kriek or cherry beer. It's my favourite so far. 
frites, Antwerp, Modeste beer festival
I also order some frites with fantastic mayonnaise and some cheese croquettes. Sublime. Especially in the rain. Some foods always taste better when eaten outside.
In the afternoon, Regula and I take the metro to the centre to visit the wooden panelled Oud Arsenaal bar. The atmosphere is friendly, noisy and warm - the sound of enjoyment. The owner makes jokes with Regula as she perches over the bar, tartan skirts and petticoats sticking out behind her. Regula points out the decor:
These tables used to be red. The owner he wanted this to be exactly as his father had it. They used to be marble so he got someone to paint them with a marble effect.
There are regulars. Opposite us, sitting at the table, a couple always come here every Saturday for a bottle of Cava.
They all know me as the lady of the book. I did my launch here. My lady 'Sawman' is behind the bar. 

owner of Oud Arsenaal bar, Antwerp, Belgium
Oud Arsenaal, bar, Antwerp

Regula and I are collaborating on a Flemish style supper club on December 6th, which is also 'Sinterklaas', the feast day of St. Nicholas, the historical basis for Santa Klaus. 

Inspired by Breugel's table, Regula's knowledge of Flemish historical food, and my visits to Ghent and Antwerp, we will create a Belgian supper club with a twist. 

Do book quickly as tickets are bound to be popular. 

Sinterklaas supper club with Regula Ysewijn (Miss Foodwise) and MsMarmitelover, tickets £50 with Belgian beer tasting.