09 March 2009

in (limited) praise of british food

As my consistent readers have probably noticed, I've been really mean to the Brits on the subject of food. But in the interest of fairness, and in looking on the bright side of things, I thought I would present a few of this island's culinary strengths. Or failing that, things that they do better than Americans.

Beer. It's not exactly food, but beer is as good a place as any to start. I have to admit that before I came here, the thought of drinking room-temperature, minimally carbonated beer was mildly repulsive. But now I would consider it sacreligious to chill Old Speckled Hen or another fine English ale, because that would destroy the more subtle flavors that come out at warmer temperatures. For the sake of international comparison, I should note that I never caught on to the Filipino custom of drinking beer with ice, so score one for the Brits.

Cheese. The UK does not have quite the cornucopia of cheeses offered by its neighbor on the other side of the Channel, but it does have some great homegrown varieties. My favorite is Stilton, an English blue cheese that has taken up permanent residence on my refrigerator shelf. One of the things I love about formal hall at Emma is that there is always a cheese course after dessert. When we go to formal swaps at other colleges and there isn't a cheese course, it just confirms that Emma is the best college ever and the rest are all second-rate. Why do Americans eat so much of this "pasteurized processed cheese food" crap when there is so much of the delicious real stuff to go around?

Potatoes. The humble spud is such an essential part of the British diet that it's not surprising that Brits have seen more possibilities hiding inside the homely tuber. One concept I will certainly bring home with me is the "jacket potato" (or simply "jacket"), which is really just a baked potato freed from the tired old formula of butter, sour cream, and occasionally bacon. The baked potato is a great canvas for so many other kinds of protein: chili, tuna salad, baked beans, Stilton and grapes. One of my American friends here was a devotee of the jacket potato stand in the market square for all of Michaelmas Term; he was on a first-name basis with the owner and measured time during his day with reference to his potato break. Apparently, though, you can get too much of a good thing... he has switched to soup during Lent Term.

Really huge breakfasts. You may have thought the US had a lock on conspicuous overeating. You thought wrong. Because really, are two eggs, sausage, hash browns, and coffee an adequate breakfast? No sir, that's just the beginning: add a grilled tomato half, some bacon, a big scoop of sauteed mushrooms, baked beans, and two pieces of toast, and then you're getting a proper English breakfast.

Fish and Chips. If nothing else, a country better be good at making its own national dish, and on this front the Brits deliver. Fish and chips are reliably edible no matter what back-alley pub you find yourself in. I've also developed a taste for fries with a healthy sprinkling of malt vinegar. According to my brother, it seems that Rhode Island is the only one of the old colonies to have adopted that fine practice, but I will be taking this one back with me too.

Less-loved animal parts. I ate a dish consisting mostly of oatmeal and sheep organs, and I liked it, and I've deliberately eaten it again. 'Nuff said.


Anonymous said...

The most popular British dish is curry - fact.

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