I like to stay connected to my roots: my wife, Maya, and I were both born in Ethiopia and it’s by eating Ethiopian food that I feel closest to my heritage. For breakfast I like to eat dabo, a wholewheat bread, with left-over chicken wat (stew), homemade buttermilk cottage cheese, a poached egg and traditional Ethiopian coffee: the beans are roasted on an open fire before a spoonful of butter is added, which makes it creamy, rich and salty. The other breakfast that encapsulates home for me is matjes herring with left-over boiled potatoes and warm buttered toast. It takes me back to my childhood with my Swedish adoptive parents. These days I eat it at Riche, a hip bistro in Stockholm with bold artwork, chandeliers and a great vibe. They do the full Swedish breakfast with local cheeses, smoked ham, yogurt and berries too.
For me, being a chef is a calling, not merely a profession; it’s how I make sense of the world. I like to explore my curiosity about people through food, and I especially adore food markets – the cooking noises, the movement, being surrounded by people who love food. Borough Market in London is beautiful and I’ve loved introducing Zion, my son, to it. I like not knowing exactly what I am going to eat – though I’ll always have Richard Haward’s just-shucked oysters. I tend to head to the ethnic stalls at the back of the market, near Southwark Cathedral, which serve all manner of deliciousness from Moroccan to Vietnamese. London has a great immigrant culture and I enjoy tasting it through the food in Borough. On my perfect day, I’d follow it with an Arsenal match. I’ve supported them for more than 20 years.
On Sunday at teatime, the place I like to be more than anywhere in the world is the Parlor in Harlem, where Marjorie Eliot opens up her home to put on free jazz concerts. There are always interesting musicians playing, and her homemade cookies are delicious, too. I may bring a flask of whisky.
I’d get my magic carpet to take me to the hawker stalls in Singapore for dinner. I find the range of flavours – Chinese, Indian and Malaysian – mind-expanding, and food is central to everyone’s life, as it is to mine. I’d eat Hainanese chicken, simply poached and simmered with ginger and rice. It’s worth the journey alone; the way they get the gelatine under the skin to set is perfect. I wouldn’t dare try to cook it myself!
I have a lot of energy, so I’d whizz back to East Harlem for tacos in the El Barrio district, where there are great places run by Hispanic mamas who often cook outside. I always order tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple salsa). They heat up tortillas on a plancha. A boxing match will probably be on TV. I like to be part of what is going on and to enjoy the sense of community.
Marcus Samuelsson was talking to Sudi Pigott. Red Rooster opened in Shoreditch, London, this summer