The man responsible for reinventing the salad discusses the places that add spice to his life
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, September/October 2012
Yotam Ottolenghi has a heritage as eclectic as his recipes. Born in Israel in 1968 to Italian and German parents, Ottolenghi studied literature and philosophy before becoming a chef. He runs four London café-delis and a restaurant, Nopi, and has written two bestselling cookbooks.
I first visited Tokyo as a 14-year-old boy. I couldn’t stand the food and was most impressed by the pink handrails on the escalators, the pristine white gloves of the taxi drivers and the massive silver piles of electric gadgets for sale. I returned three years ago and all I could notice was food: udon noodles in soups, sashimi at Tsukiji fish market, deep-fried pork with sake and sweets from heaven in every department store. Tokyo is, really, my food mecca.
JOURNEY Trekking in Ladakh
It takes a few days to acclimatise to the altitude, and that is done in the breathtaking town of Leh, but the moonscape terrain of this Himalayan region is completely overwhelming. It is so sparsely populated that you can walk for days without seeing a soul, only dramatic rocky mountains, an occasional small lake and the most expansive sky I have ever come across. This immersion in nature with a strict walking routine is the closest I get to a meditative state.
BUILDING Old Dutch houses in Jordaan, Amsterdam
I particularly like old converted warehouses. I lived in Amsterdam for two years in the 1990s and completely fell for the local laidback attitude, combined with celebration of life and all things beautiful and delicious ("lekker" as the Dutch call it). A walk along the canals surrounded by those handsome 400-year-old houses makes me feel that the world is all right, that if this magnificent civilised tradition survived so far, it will definitely carry on.
HOTEL Metropole, Hanoi (above)
You rarely come across places to stay with such an apparent sense of history. This is colonial Asia frozen in time and it is particularly evident against the background of modern Hanoi, where stepping out onto the road is blatant suicide. The Metropole offers tranquillity and escape: fantastic period furniture, waitresses with the most elegant black dresses and pearl necklaces, and the general air of being in the presence of colonial old-timers like Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene.
WORK OF ART Maman, Louise Bourgeois
I first saw the original version of this statue in London at the Tate Modern, but more recently I came across a bronze cast outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, where it works in surprising harmony with the iconic building in the background. Because of its size and textured fabric, this gargantuan spider displays great mythical power that I find fascinating, if slightly unsettling.
VIEW Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives (top)
Even though I grew up in this city and have seen this view a thousand times, or maybe because of this, I find this sight of the Old City and the ancient valley below the most intense and emotionally loaded experience. History just sucks you into its tortuous belly and you really do feel the presence of David, Jesus, Muhammad and all the others that walked these hills (or were transported onto them).
BEACH Katergo, Folegandros, Greece
You can only get there with a small taxi boat that comes once or twice a day, or take a substantial walk down a steep and stony path, but Katergo is the type of isolated beach that dreams are made of. Folegandros is a very small island visited mainly by Greeks and it is completely unspoilt, with only two tiny "towns" and very little else. It is stunning: deep blue skies, even deeper blue sea, and you can easily arrive to find you have the whole beach to yourself.
Ottolenghi 287 Upper St, London N1 et al.
Nopi 21-22 Warwick St, W1
"Jerusalem" by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi (Ebury) is out now