While clearing out my kitchen cupboards in preparation for the big move, I came across a jar of marinated anchovies I brought back from San Sebastian last year. They’re not normal anchovies, they’re sharp sweet, tangy, deeply savoury, melt on your tongue anchovies. One mouthful will transport you instantly to a summer in the Mediterranean, to cool crisp white wine and long lunches under the trees.
It seems rather extraordinary that such an innocuous little fish can do all this, but it really, really can. This is confirmed by the fact that this jar I’ve been saving for a special occasion hasn’t been opened yet – because no occasion has been special enough. That bottle of vintage Sauternes from my cellar – that got drunk a few months ago. That case of fantastic wine I’d been collecting was sloshed about at new year, the World’s Best Chocolate was devoured one Friday night. But nothing has induced me to open those anchovies. Bizarre, you might think, but I’m sure you all have something similar tucked away in your kitchen cupboards.
My trip to San Sebastian last year was a week of the most divine gluttony I could have wished for. We gorged ourselves for five days straight, trying everything we could get our hands on, being constantly amazed by the quality of the food we were served. They make rather a fuss of the anchovy over there, to the extent that there’s a whole pintxo (that’s tapas in Basque) bar dedicated to them. They even put them with foie gras (amazing – seriously.) Over the few days I was in San Sebastian I ate more anchovies than anything else, and with each new dish they seemed to get more and more delicious.
This small jar of marinated anchovies brings back every lovely memory I have of that holiday, in all its sun-soaked, greedy glory. And you just can’t get them here. Waitrose do a pretty good version in their deli range, but they’re not quite the same. And I can’t read the ingredients on my jar to recreate them because, well, have you ever tried to read Basque?
I think one of the reasons I’m so reticent to open my jar is that I’m a little scared they won’t taste as good as I remember. We all know that food tastes better according to setting, and I can’t help but worry that even the world’s best anchovies can’t surmount the dreariness of Clapham in January. And I couldn’t bear for my lovely memories to be shattered like that. I’m sure we’ve all done the same – come back from France laden with tins of pâté and dried mushrooms, or smuggled chorizo through customs on the way back from Spain, only to find that after we’ve made a huge fuss about serving it to guests, everyone is mildly disappointed. Perhaps holiday food is best left on holiday.
So for now, my jar of anchovies remains airtight and is coming with me to the new flat. And who knows, maybe on a balmy London summer’s eve I’ll crack them open, and serve them with pickled Spanish peppers, good sourdough and a bottle of ice-cold white, and everything will be as it should. Or maybe I’ll end up sticking them on toast, all alone after a day in the kitchen when I just don’t fancy anything else. Either way, I know they’ll be enjoyed!