Hairy Biker Si King on the secrets of the Mediterranean diet
The motorcycling cook tells us about the British influence in Menorca and why Calabria in Italy reminds him of Northumbria
Tonight Si King and Dave Myers return to BBC2 with a series perfectly timed to shore up that resolution to eat more healthily. They're driving around Sardinia, Corsica, France, the Balearics and Spain, discovering the region's eclectic flavours.
We asked Si about his favourite Mediterranean road trip and city break...
What are your earliest memories of the Med?
I remember travelling from Newcastle to a campsite in the south of France with my mum, my sister and one of my sister’s mates in a Citroën 2CV full of camping gear when I was about 11. It had a top speed of 60mph, so it took us about two days to get there. I had to put the tent up – it was hilarious. I remember the smells and the food, plus lots of eating outside. You don’t do that much in the North East; you end up with pneumonia. We absolutely loved it.
You went on a Mediterranean Bakeation in 2011. What’s different about this trip?
It was great to be able to scratch beneath the surface of what we all narrowly know as Mediterranean cuisine. It’s actually a massive melting pot of different influences, both new and ancient, from the Maghreb – with its Tunisian and Libyan influences – to Ancient Greece and Syria. You could spend the rest of your life studying it, it was so deep and so rich.
You even came across the British influence in Menorca…
We did! It goes back to the 18th century, when we captured the island from the Spanish and installed a lieutenant governor, Richard Kane, who changed the way the island was farmed, including introducing Friesian cows. Even today, Menorcan chefs use way more butter in their cooking than the Spanish. That’s the great thing about the Med – its cuisine is born from thousands of years of cultural exchange.
You visit France, Spain and Italy – which is most aware of its food traditions?
Italy! I have a great attachment to it. My sister lives in Tuscany, so we have an extended Italian family. I’ve cooked for Italians and they’ll eat it to be polite, but they’ll say, “It’s lovely, but it’s not the way we do it.” I did a sage leaf, tomato paste and anchovy fritter – you drop it in batter and fry it. But they’ll insist you use a particular type of long-leafed sage, “because it’s less harsh”.
You once described Bilbao as like Newcastle without the stotties. Did any new places remind you of home?
Calabria in Italy, because it was poor and it was about making food to feed a manual workforce. You can draw parallels with the cuisine, too, although we’re in a grain belt and that’s a vine belt, obviously. It’s the same, but very different.
Where were the best roads for motorcycling?
We went in spring. By the time it got to June it was flaming hot with motorcycle leathers on. What was great was we never got wet once on the whole trip. It was epic. Sardinia and Corsica were great, and some Italian mainland roads as well, but the Calobra in Majorca was amazing. It twists and turns up the side of a mountain. It’s the most beautiful motorcycle road to ride.
Where’s best for a foodie city break?
Valencia – interesting food, lots of different influences. For example, we went to the fantastic covered market, Mercado de Colón, and drank horchata – a drink made from tiger nuts that was brought to Valencia by the Moors, who ruled there from the 8th to 13th centuries.
What’s your best travel tip?
Treat the world with an open mind and an open heart and you’ll get twice as much back. Be interested in the country you’re in – and talk to people!
The Hairy Bikers' Mediterranean Adventure begins on Thursday 4 January, BBC2, 8pm
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