Mark Anthony Low is a globetrotting chef originally from the central swamps of England but recently working in Sweden. He’s written a three-part account of his recent visit to the Älska Mat food festival in Malmö – here’s the first instalment.
The warming hearty smell of earthy truffles descended upon my olfactory senses, guiding me with its entrancing aroma into the busy hall of Älska Mat, the Malmö food festival, taking place in Slagthuset, behind the central station.
From its advertising, I had been promised a smörgåsbord of culinary delights and so I happily absolved myself from Sunday laziness on the couch and threw myself with glee out into the drenching rain of this autumn day and made my way to the back corner of Malmö’s station.
Paying the rather high price of 150 kronor in entrance fee, I expected to at least receive some kind of goodie bag with information and something foodie… but no. The only thing I received was a paper receipt to remind me that I had just paid 150 kronor to go and see other people advertising their wares and I had to pay another 90 kronor so I could at least sample some of the alcoholic beverages that were to be on offer. So, 240 kronor out of pocket and clutching a small glass filled with five paper tokens, I entered the hall.
The first thing that caught my attention was the smell of truffles. Now, there are only a few things in the world that have a similar effect, but as any chef can tell you, the smell of a truffle has a unique hypnotising and almost erotic effect upon your brain, making you forget everything around you and sending your mind off to a damp green forest somewhere in Northern Europe populated with mythical creatures, ancient trees and wondrous wild foods of the gods picked by nubile forest nymphs.
I remember when the truffle man used to pay a visit to our kitchen in London, always a highlight of the month. When he unwrapped his culinary gems from his red cloth napkin, every chef used to forget what they were doing and like mindless zombies leave their area and crowd round as we weighed off the dusty black nuggets emitting the aromas of another world. We would take his finest ones and bury them in jars of arborio rice until we needed them, taking a occasional sniff from the jar when we needed cheering up.
The smell alone is like Prozac for chefs and the taste is equally astounding. Just the smallest dusting can have the most dramatic effect upon the simplest of foods, leaving the taste of warm earthiness upon your palate for hours and in your memory for years.
So there I was, almost drooling at the stall which was selling said gems of the earth, Armano’s (www.armanos.se), a delicatessen and wine supplier. His truffles were from Croatia, which for me was a new thing, as previously apart from some substandard Chinese ones I had only got them from France or Italy. But this smart guy had found a plentiful source of them in Croatia and was showing off his discovery in various forms from whole truffles to truffle tapenades. I ate a rather pleasing fresh gnocco with tomato, peppers, olive and a little bit of truffle in it and skipped happily along to the next stalls.
On to Part Two: Brews and bruises