Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Taramasalata is a lovely word. I used to pronounce it stressing the RAMA bit (to rhyme with farmer) and the LATA bit (rhyming with starter). Sounded like the name of a glamorous Russian villainess.

Anyway, I was wrong in my pronunciation. The woman in the shop opposite my school - Maggie her name was - insisted that it was in fact TA-rama, the stress on the first syllable and ram as in the animal.

A little more about "Maggie". She called all of us schoolboys "Darling" and had no objection to our doing the same to her in return. Tough, feisty, heavily made-up, a heavy smoker and, I suspect, baggage-laden lady, who probably thought we all had plums in our mouths.

Taramasalata, then, was one of my luxuries at school in Canterbury. Fifty pence for a quarter of a pound, it came in a white polystyrene tub into which Maggie had scooped it from a larger bowl of the stuff. Some years before I arrived at the school, they had stopped providing tea in the afternoons and, as a sop, there was a twice-weekly bread delivery to our dormitory or study. So, sitting on my bed, I would eat the salty, granular, ice-cream pink taramasalata on white sliced bread.

It was on the island of Skopelos that I tasted the best taramasalata I have ever eaten. Patrick Leigh Fermor called the island "a lobster's song" (did the name remind him of the noise a lobster makes?) and it was a glorious place. No airport, so you had to get there from the neighbouring island of Skiathos by hydrofoil. It was on the island that I tasted the bitterest cucumbers I have ever eaten: someone told me vaguely that it had probably been fertilised incorrectly. Happily, the rest of the food I ate was memorable for quite different reasons. Including the taramasalata, on the menu in a restaurant in Glossa, on the other side of the island from where we were staying. Not pink but white and served with pitta. Much better than caviar. The photo below was taken not in Skopelos, but in Crete, fourteen years later. Trying to recreate an earlier dish rarely works...

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