welcome to the land of tea and crumpets! i will be your host through a very limited sampling of england’s regional cuisine. as usual, i’m a piss poor candidate for international taste-testing, hence the “limited” caveat. for starters, i don’t drink tea. have never drunk tea, in fact. i don’t particularly care for the smell of it. as it turns out, though, i do like crumpets! hooray! those little craters are excellent vessels for transporting melting butter (or spread, as the case may be). i get a whopping 42% more butter into my system using the crumpet method than i do using the toast method. well done, england! a jolly good, buttery breakfast!
^ crumpet with an obscene amount of “spread”…mmm! ^
england boasts a bit of its full, sit-down breakfasts. signs prompted me to check one out at the cafeteria inside the bhs store. it was there that i faced off against the Great British Breakfast—eight items of my choosing for only £2.79!
unusual to us americans, baked beans are generally featured in breakfasts here. other than that, you are seeing (clockwise…ish): fresh tuh-MAH-toes (as opposed to “tinned” tuh-MAH-toes, also available as a selection), sauteed potatoes, a fried egg (i had to ask that the yolk be broken—and she seemed a bit taken aback by the request), fried bread (bread ends literally just fried in oil), slab potatoes, mushrooms, and a hash brown. it’s a very filling meal, and i decided that i like the idea of beans at breakfast. as an infamous non-pork-eater, it’s nice that there’s a different protein source offered. and furthermore, beans beans are good for your heart. heh. i also liked that i was able to have three entirely different kinds of potato on my plate simultaneously. you just don’t see this in the states. good show!
speaking of potatoes (puh-TAH-toes?), i was lucky enough to have lunch from a proper “chippy” (see vocabulary, july 28 ) near the shore when i went to brighton. i ordered the cod and chips as this is the most traditional meal. the chips were the perfect kind of greasy. you know the one—where the salt just dissolves right into their tender, golden brown sides. i mean, just look at them:
don’t you wish you had some of that in your life? that cod you’re seeing was pretty good, too. better, though, for my taste, was the haddock. it was a little meatier in consistency and a little more flavorful. luckily, marion preferred the cod, so we did a l’il switcheroo, and everybody won.
i’ve had fish and chips before in the states, but fish and chips are to england as cheesesteaks are to philly. you can get a cheesesteak in, i dunno, seattle, but when you get it from the masters…bow down. this is all to say that i have now had the quintessential fish and chips experience, and i don’t know how i’ll ever go back.
before we leave potatoes alone, i’d like to address walkers crisps. among their flavor offerings was a strange one that caught my eye: roast chicken. i copped a little bag of these one day, took my first bite while walking out of the store, and my body immediately responded with an involuntary james brown “i feel good” spin. remember, in “charlie and the chocolate factory,” when violet beauregarde swipes the three course meal chewing gum? and she goes, “wow! it tastes like real roast beef!” that’s what these chips are like. it tasted like i was eating real chicken—except it was a potato chip. astonishing!
moving on now to the continuation of my important international research into the realm of filled savory pastries, allow me to introduce to you, “handmade in cornwall,” the english pasty:
now, don’t get it twisted; the word is not pastry (a sweet baked good) nor is it pasty (a decorative stick-on nipple covering). heavens no—it’s PASS-tee. the traditional english pasty, as consumed by yours truly, contains diced beef in a bit of a gravy, big ass pieces of onion, and some potato. the crust was pretty good, but the filling wasn’t at all inspirational. just to keep score, here are the current rankings:
- latin american/caribbean food—entry: empanada/pastelito
- indian food—entry: samosas
- jamaican food—entry: beef patty
- italian food—entry: calzone
- hawaiian food—entry: manapua
- english food—entry: pasty
- american food—entry: hot pocket
so yeah, pasties rank just above hot pockets for me. but that’s only because the crust is fresh and baked rather than factory processed…and nuked. now if you could put some of those tiny hot pocket meatballs into a pasty crust…you might be onto something.
now for something really exciting. behold the yumminess that is yorkshire puddings!
boy, the english are really good at creating food vessels for hot, fatty drippings. good thing i like hot, fatty drippings. a yorkshire pudding is a cup-shaped bread with a light, crispy upper and a softer, chewier base. generally accompanying roast beef, its little cup is served filled with the meat’s gravy, which softens the base even more. it’s a really nice alternative to bread. the roast-beef-yorkshire-pudding meal is a traditional sunday dinner, but i was lucky enough to get it on a friday!
on to dessert! as sweets go over here, the most british thing i’ve had has been a trifle, which is a simple layered dessert, not to be confused with shepherd’s pie (“friends” fans—holla!). a trifle should have whipped cream, custard, some kind of fruity compote-y stuff, and “sponge,” as shown:
it’s nice and cool and light. an excellent summer dessert. also very british are “digestive biscuits.” this sounds like something to eat if you have a stomach ailment, but really it’s just thicker round graham crackers. nothing to write home about.
my favorite sweet so far has been marks & spencer melting middle chocolate puddings (with a side of vanilla clotted cream ice cream). for the record, these are what we would call “lava cakes” or “molten chocolate cakes.” you know, you warm ’em a little and the chocolate center gets melty. mmm. so the cakes aren’t terribly british…but getting them at marks & spencer is! righty-o!
update, august 2: i got a single serving banoffee pie from EAT at the airport while waiting for my flight out. i could have KICKED myself this was so good; how had i managed to skip over it before?! meh. i’ll tell you how: the name. i think i associated the -offee with coffee rather than toffee. what this wonderful tart actually contains is: a graham cracker (digestive biscuit?) crust (like cheesecake), a bananas foster type filling, and whipped cream on top sprinkled with a little cocoa. WOW…SO good. i would have eaten this every week for a month had i but known.
in conclusion, the worst thing i’ve eaten since i’ve been here is my attempt at cooking greens for susannah. surprisingly enough, i was able to find kale here. not surprisingly, there wasn’t a hamhock in sight. (what do british people do with the hocks from their hams?) i also couldn’t find any smoked turkey, which i prefer to pork products anyway. that said, i made a hodgepodge (hotch potch?) attempt using a little smoked bacon and some chicken broth. bad idea. salt for days. i could go on and on telling you how i flubbed this up, but i shan’t. instead, i’ll just leave you with the current overall score: england, 8; jan, 0.
- rasher = a slice of bacon or ham
- bits = pulp
- lemonade = sprite or 7up
- tin = can
- biscuit = cookie
- sponge = cake
- chips = fries
- crisps = chips
- lollies = popsicles
- banger = a type of pork sausage
- bangers and mash = pork sausage, mashed potato, and gravy
- pudding = generic term for any dessert (also a “pud”) or horrific things in a sausage casing
- treacle = a strong sugar syrup
- pie = something with meat in it
- Pukka Pies = a brand name pie and pasty maker
- curry = indian food in general (as in, “do you fancy going out for curry tonight?”)
- off licence shop = bodega
- flavour = flavor