Eating My Way Round The World: Barbecue in a Cave
Today, I’m returning to my latest series of themed posts. As food has always been one of my favourite subjects, we’re taking a gastronomic trip around the world, looking back on some of the more memorable meals I’ve eaten during my travels. We started by spending Christmas in Jordan, before heading to Russia for a wedding in St Petersburg. Today’s journey takes us nearly two and a half thousand kilometres south east to Kabardino Balkaria in the Caucus region.
My visit to the capital, Nalchik, was one of the strangest business trips I ever made and if I hadn’t been escorted by a trusted colleague from Moscow, I would have been very nervous indeed.
The government of this tiny state had decided they wanted to convert an old disused electronics factory into a pharmaceutical plant; and not just any old plant making the odd tablet or two. No, they wanted to set up a high tech facility making sterile infusion bags. It didn’t take me very long to know the project was a non-starter for all sorts of reasons; although it took a bit longer to convince my clients. But that’s another story.
On my last day, our host took us for a sightseeing tour. I should mention this man held an unspecified post in the government, drove around in a 4×4 with tinted windows, and was always accompanied by at least four young men in black leather jackets that bulged exactly where a shoulder holster might lie. We used to refer to him, behind his back, as ‘Mr Big’.
We drove to the top of a mountain so he could show us the view, despite the fact it was raining and everything was shrouded in clouds. Then we drove down to the valley and stood in a field in the pouring rain gazing at a so-called ‘magic spring’ which bubbled up from the ground below. Suffice it to say, I was by this time cold, damp, and rather disenchanted with the whole country in general and this sightseeing tour in particular.
Finally we returned to the vehicles, and headed back up the mountain. But this time we stopped at a large cage, half way up. As we entered, I was hit by the scent of grilled meat. There was a barbecue set up in one corner, where legs of lamb on swords were slowly turning a beautiful charred brown. We sat on benches at a coarse wooden table, while the men in leather jackets served us meat straight from the sword, and local potato bread. And as I sat there, with melted butter running down my hand, smelling the food and gazing at the rain still pouring down outside, I could suddenly see why Mr Big was so proud of this tiny little country in the mountains.