I quickly fell head over heels in love with Venice and its wonderful history and culture. But its food and traditions are what inspire me most. Venice was once one of the most important trading posts in the world, bringing all kinds of unusual ingredients into Europe from the east and beyond. The Rialto market spins me into sensory overload: there are shrimps, clams, snails and wonderfully fresh fish, and an array of colourful fruits and vegetables. Spaghetti alle vongole is hands down my favourite pasta and I eat it daily in Venice, sometimes even twice. This version is quite different but with a nod to the old Venetian love for importing spice, I felt it to be a perfectly respectable homage to the classic.
Seville, rich in influence from the rule of the Moors, feels so comfortable and familiar to me in many ways. From Arab words used locally to the stunning architecture of the Alcázar and popular tiles and patterns all over the city. The food is spectacular and Moorish influence is very much alive and well on menus throughout Seville, as seen in the dish pincho morunos, skewered meat marinated in earthy spices such as cumin, turmeric and smoked paprika. You can skewer these chicken chunks once cooked as I usually find skewering them in advance makes cooking them evenly a bit fiddly.
When I think of Athens, I think of the Acropolis, Parthenon and all those beautiful monuments. Markets, cafés, food stands and restaurants line the streets, and when I think of Greek food I think of grilled meats, bread and cheese, meze and every pie filling, both sweet and savoury, that you can imagine. The Greek dishes I make the most at home are pies, of every description – custard-filled, mince, potato and egg, spinach, cheese or, even better, spinach and cheese, aka the classic spanakopita.
My first visit to Russia was a decade ago but only to Moscow. So, last year, I ventured to Saint Petersburg for a hit of history and culture. Palaces and museums are the gems in Saint Petersburg’s crown, and on a visit to one of the former, we stopped at a royal banqueting hall. We were served beef stroganoff on gilt-edged plates with a creamy mound of mashed potatoes. Stroganoff is also quite popular in Iran, perhaps because we used to share borders with Russia, and therefore quite a few dishes have made it into our repertoires. In my family, we only ever eat stroganoff with matchsticks chips, and I was always bemused that people would eat it with rice or noodles, too. I have since confirmed that the classic itself is served with either matchstick chips or mash – but basically potatoes.
Everywhere you turn in this beautiful, bustling city there is a new sight, sound and smell just waiting to be discovered – no wonder Bangkok is the world’s most visited city. Food is a 24-hour operation with wonderfully diverse dishes from around the world. My first visit to Thailand in 2009 was the traditional beach escape. We ate Thai beef salad with every meal because it was so delicious. I quickly learned how to make it and have been doing so ever since. The original recipe is fiercely fiery with chillies, garlic, fish sauce, celery leaf, tomatoes, cucumber, onion and juicy seared beef. This is my version, untraditional but taking inspiration from the classic.
Porto is a stunning city of sloping cobbled streets, vibrant café culture, restaurants and nightlife, and the most fantastic food and colourful history. Once you get past the initial consumption of endless pastéis de nata, seafood should be next on your agenda. The arroz con mariscos I had here were much soupier and more comforting than any I’d ever had before and I could have happily eaten a bowl three times a day, no problem.