After my last post, there were many insightful questions raised in the comments (including a well-reasoned debate on British standards of attractiveness. Surprisingly, no one has yet brought up Alan Rickman.) Anyway, among the questions was:
CB: Also, Elizabeth, is it true that Brits have terrible food? Because every time I read a Harry Potter book it all sounds terribly DELICIOUS, so I have a hard time believing it’s as bad as they say…
A good point, CB, and well made. well made. British food does have that reputation– and, of course, you can find bad food here, as you can in most other places. (For example, if an American national should find themselves here, for the love of god don’t order a hamburger.) I’m not about to try to defend haggis or black pudding either, but there are certain things the British do wonderfully well. So here is my official short list of:
GOOD BRITISH FOOD ITEMS
SAUSAGES. Britain doesn’t really enter the salami stakes– the Continentals have that one sorted– but we produce endless variations on the sausage theme. They’re called “bangers” because the British like to mix food and cartoon sound effects (see also “bubble and squeak.”) Bangers and mash are an excellent cold-weather pub dinner.
FISH AND CHIPS. We are a sea-girt isle, and fish are tasty, especially when you pull them out of the ocean and deep-fry the fuck out of them. Chips are not your thin, elongated US-style fries; ideally they should look like they’ve been done with a chisel, with a good ratio of small-and-crunchies to large-and-soggies. The chip-purveyor will then ask “saltnvinegar”? If you assent, they will dump an entire salt mine’s worth of the white stuff on there, followed by a liberal squirt of malt vinegar (cuts tangily through the grease; also soaks through the paper wrapping, permeating your hands, clothes, etc.) British people, especially on cold nights, have developed a Pavlovian response to the scent of malt vinegar– especially wafting from someone else’s order of chips. Damn.
Fish and chips are also frequently accompanied by mushy peas, which are — well, you know that Dr Seuss book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck? Yeah. Like that… but tasty.
BEER. In the UK, this is a food item. During the wars, beer was never rationed– they knew there’d be mutiny if they tried. These days, it comes in a Baskin-Robbins variety of flavours. A normal-to-crap pub will have four or five of the big brands on tap; a good pub will have those plus a good scrumpy cider and a few ales from the smaller breweries; a REALLY good pub will have a changing selection of weird stuff that it sources at dead of night from mysterious men with beards. Americans mock British people for serving beer at room temperature; British people mock Americans for drinking American beer at all.
SCOTTISH WHISKY: because dude, Scottish whisky. I mean, Scottish whisky.
CHEESE. I’m writing this post while nibbling on some Cornish Yarg, which comes wrapped in nettle leaves (or sometimes wild garlic). Stinking Bishop is soft and runny, its rind washed in perry (a drink like cider, but made from pears, which if you don’t wash cheese with it will get you very drunk indeed.) Seator’s Orkney is crumbly, sort of tangy and sweet at the same time; Cheshire is similar but sharper in flavour. Cheddar, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and Stilton all hail from here. In short, cheese is awesome and the Brits do it exceedingly well.
CREAM TEA. This isn’t a single foodstuff, but a combination: First, you pour yourself a cup of tea. Then you help yourself to a freshly baked scone (not as sweet as the American sort). You split them in half, then pile on a layer of clotted cream– that’s cream so thick it’s almost butter. Then you smear jam on top of that– traditionally strawberry, but whatever. After the ensuing sugar-and-caffeine rush subsides, you may find that you have annexed a bunch of random countries for your empire. It is understood that you will spend the rest of your days losing to them at cricket.
And now, a handy guide to HOW TO FIND GOOD FOOD IN BRITAIN
1. Go where the farms are. Large swathes of the UK are given over to farming, and in those places anything that comes off a farm is going to be fresh and tasty. The West Country (Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall) is one such place; Wales has astonishing food; and the Scots do beef like no one else. The West Country does amazing cider, while the North of England and Scotland do some fantastic beer. Also dude, Scottish whisky.
2. Similarly, for good seafood, go where the sea is. This is the big blue wobbly thing round the edges.
3. Avoid Glasgow. Seriously, stay the hell away or they will feed you deep-fried Mars Bars.