Food, sort of.

Yesterday my brother and sister, Greg and Lynne, came to Nottingham to meet me. Despite never having met them before, we had a fabulous time together and conversation flowed quite naturally. As small talk is not one of my strengths, this was quite a relief. I guess family's not too bad of a thing to have, though I'm still not used to it.

Oddly, I found myself at a the Pit and Pendulum again. We were walking by and Lynne thought it looked interesting, Greg had it recommended to him and I had actually been there and thus didn't feel too out of place. The decor is as cheesy as cheesy can get -- think of the worst sci-fi set you've ever seen and make it goth -- but it's fun. It's also quite daunting if you have to go to the toilet and don't realize that you have to push open a section of bookcase to get there. And, of course, once behind the bookcase, if you don't notice the markings on the floor, you'll likely walk to the wrong bathroom. Fortunately, I had been warned.

We had lots of fun that evening. Greg and I briefly convinced Lynne that the word "gullible" had been removed from the dictionary in 1984 and I managed to get Greg to go on at length about the virtues of the Stella Artois he was drinking -- despite the fact that the bar didn't have Stella and we managed to quietly order a different beer for him while he was in the bathroom.

So tonight I'm sitting here at my computer, after a "charming" meal of "Pot Noodle" having a few milk chocolate digestives for dessert. Frankly, I have no idea what a digestive is and I fear it's something offered to the elderly to help them stay regular so they have one less thing to worry about, aside from changing their diapers and wondering where they put their teeth.

As anyone who's had the joy of discovering that "head cheese" is actually "head meat" can attest, food is no laughing matter. In fact, anything which is going to come close to my mouth makes me feel decidedly uncomfortable unless I know what it is. Fortunately, most of the labels are in English so, unlike Amsterdam, I'm reasonably confident that I'm not doing something silly like buying hemorrhoid cream instead of toothpaste.

Some things are fairly safe. On a menu, "vegetables" are synonymous with "peas." So far I have not ordered a single thing in a restaurant where the vegetable wasn't peas. I'm sure if I asked for cauliflower they'd chop it up and reform it into little green balls.

Speaking of "reformed," I found my travel journal from my first trip to Europe. I recorded an incident where my brother and I were in a pub and I was trying to order dinner when I stumbled across an item named "reformed scampi."

Ovid: what's reformed scampi?
Waitress: why it's, it's ... reformed.
Ovid: you mean it's found God or something?

Though I was genuinely confused, the waitress failed to see any humor in my question. Now I know reformed actually means "scrape up all of the crap left over after processing and see if you can sell it." Do not buy "reformed" of either the religious or culinary variety. They're the same thing.

Now despite my general disdain for British cooking, I don't think that's entirely fair because there are a few things they could teach Americans.

Thing #1: if you're going to make fish and chips, leave the skin on the fish!

I tell you, fish and chips over here are heavenly, though just as fattening as the US variety. In fact, it's possibly even more fattening because the delicious flavor is from the skin being left on the fish -- which in turn traps the layer of fat between the skin and the meat. Yum!

Thing #2: french fries (er, chips) the width of a pencil lead suck. Hard.

You want thick, meaty fries, not those skinny little things which look like they've been on a binge and purge diet. In the US, we call 'em "steak fries", though I have no idea why.

Thing #3: many companies let their employees drink beer on their lunch break.

OK, so that has nothing to do with cooking, but it does wonders for offsetting the blandness of much of the food (though the steak and ale pie I had was scrumptious!)

I've also had my first Yorkshire pudding today. Hint: it's not pudding. It was kind of a tasteless bread mass with gravy on it. The gravy was OK, the pudding was OK. The meal was, eh, OK. So far much of British food leaves me scratching my head, nonplussed. I can't figure out why the British eat it.

And on a closing note, tomorrow night I shall be headed to Leeds for business. I doubt I'll get to see much of the city, but it will be nice to travel a bit more and see what's out there.
  • Current Mood: hungry hungry
I can't figure out why the British eat it.

The only alternative is the shite pumped over from the states ;)

Wed 31st is looking like my next night out to play , if you're around and about :)

Incidently - have you come across Toad-in-the-hole , yet ?
Do so :)
say, you don't happen to know if you have a brother or cousin still living and working in pdx, do you?

i've seen this guy, and i swear, he looks a lot like you. almost enough for me to pause and say "are you a poe?".

tempted to ask if he'll let me take a picture so i can show you.
I'm enjoying hearing about your transition to English life. Thanks!
Mmmm. I love yorkshires. Caroline's family would make them on holidays. I don't know who got the idea to fry bread by pouring the dough into muffin tins of hot lard, but I'm a fan.

I'm very much enjoying your travelogue, btw!
Now, imagine trying to eat in England as a vegetarian. Good, you've got that image. Now consider that I was in Scotland. As a vegetarian. I went to the extreme of trying vegetarian haggis, a food that left me wanting to do some tests to verify that it was, in fact, food.

On the whole, the best meals I eat while in Britain were the curries. It was also the only time anybody had any idea of spice in the food.

I, too, am enjoying your writing.
Food and such..
So as some folks know, I have a major problem with eating food with natural sticks still attached. So when i was in England for work, we went out to a nice pub for lunch. Supposedly great fish & chips, which is honestly not one of my favorites, but I decided to give it a whirl anyways. Next thing I know there's a fish laying on a plate in front of me with head and tail still attached. Though they were nice enough to scale and bread the side facing up (not eh head and tail though, just the middle bits). I took one look at it and ordered a burger. One of the guys I was there with from the US was an eating machine, so he polished it off for me.

The fish didn't totally freak me out, but you should have seen the server's face when I saw the plate and said "There's *no* way i can eat *that*!" It was priceless primarily since I was talking to the fish head, rather than the server. Anyways, funny none the less.

But I'm really mixed on the whole beer @ lunch issue. Especially when you are riding with the German who himself drank as much as the rest of the table, before driving back to work again. It was exciting.

Seriously you *need* to take pictures of this Pit & Pendulum place, it sounds really cool. Kind of like the place I was @ in Japan called The Lockup.
Don't worry, the digesties are harmless...

Well... mostly Harmless...
(you HAVE read that book, haven't you?)

Anyway, Digestives are oatmeal cookies, nothing more, nothing less.
I usually go for the plain variety as I usually buy them when I feel more guilty than usual about snacking on chocolate, cookies or chips... It doesn't hurt that they go well with a cup of tea, either. :-)

Anyway, to help you acclimatize easier, pick up a bag of Earl Grey, milk(fill the cup nearly half with milk, then add tea. Good.) and a couple of books by James Herriot(he writes about his experiences as a vet. Can be rather funny). I'd be shocked if the local library doesn't have them.

Of course, I was only in England for 3 weeks, back in 1984, and the only lasting 'souvenir' is my fondness of tea...
I always equate our 'digestives' with your 'graham crackers', but only inasmuch as US recipes for cheesecake call for crushed Graham crackers for the base, and we use digestives for the same purpose.

I've never understood why we call them 'digestives'. I suppose its a traditional thing.
I don't know if I have mentioned how much I have been enjoying your tails of England.

So, yeah, keep on sharing, because they are keeping me entertained :)
veg=peas ))
I can't figure out why the British eat it- it's probable a tradition )
you seem to be a bit of a foodie - you're definitely in the wrong part of the world to harbor such desires ;-)

Yes, curry-something is probably the least bland thing you'll find over there (that is second-hand info).

Scotch eggs!!! Try some Scotch eggs and tell me what you think. (if you don't immediately expire from massive, congestive heart failure)

Scotch eggs are *drum roll* ...hard-boiled eggs wrapped with sausage, battered and DEEP FRIED.

If you think that England is the wrong place to be a foodie then you are woefully ignorant. If you persist in this foolishness then I shall be forced to buy you dinner!
Thank you for "pea" and "reformed scampi" stories. They had me giggling in my chair at work. :)
Yorkshire pudding - its not bread, its batter. If done right, its light, fluffy and delicious with either meat or served with a sweet sauce and ice cream as a pudding.

I've never encountered the vegetables always being peas, personally.

Don't think British food is anymore bland then American food, if you took out the ethnic contribution to the US. I.e Mexico's tacos and enchiladas, the Italians carbonara or marinara, the German's pumpernickel or bratwurst, Chinese chow-mein, chop suey, Japanese sushi, Thailand's Pad Thai and so on.

When you look at English cooking, you must take into account the contributions made by the main foreign communities within the UK. These have given us dishes which we have adopted and adapted, so they have truly become part of our nations food. Don't forget that chicken tikka masala is now the most popular dish in the UK. As far as the original food of England is concerned, you need to research it more, I recommend Jane Grigson English food which helps you to understand the origin of our food and how to cook it really well.

Pub food is notoriously bad, in general. A lot of is simply re-heated rubbish. Not all, obviously, there are some really fine gastropubs but you have to do a little research and gain good recommendations to find these. Even better, cook it yourself.

You need only watch some UK food programmes to realise how enthusiastic we are about eating and how amazing and diverse both our culture and our food is. Look at the wonderful Nigel Slater, Gordon Ramsey, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith, etc. I honestly think that if you picked up copies of either Nigella Lawson's cook books or Nigel Slater's, it would completely change your mind about our food.

Also, look at regional specialities to really see some really special gems. For example, look at Cornwall and Devon. You have the fantastic Cornish pastries, the *real* ones from bakeries in Cornwall, not mass-produced rubbish. You can get virtually any filling encased in fluffy, rich shortcrust pastry. Or the cream teas which both Devon and Cornwall are so famous for. Light crumbly creamy scones slathered in oozing strawberry jam and thick luscious clotted cream.

Theres Scotland and its delicate pink smoked salmon, Dundee cakes, fresh raspberries from Perthshire and fine malt whiskies. And theres lots more from all different places - Cumberland sausages, Morecombe bay shrimps, Kendel mint cake, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Bakewell pudding, double Gloucester cheese. And of course, not forgetting a well done English breakfast - crispy fried bread, tomatoes, mushrooms, smoky bacon or juicy sausages, eggs fried, poached or scrambled with hot tea or coffee. Nothing is better to help you recover the morning after from a night of drinking regional English ales and Scottish malt whisky.
My mom makes Yorkshire Pudding whenever she makes Roast Beef (like once a year)... It's super tasty...
Miss you
I love reading your trials & errors here. I want to go to a bar w/ bookcases in it! and mysterious entryways! That sounds cool.

I have no idea what I would eat there. Peas are gross. Unless they are edamame. Then they are sort of soy peas & I like 'em. :)

Yeah, most pub food is notoriously adequate, but if you look around you'll find the occasional real gem with home-made, locally produced food.

You ask why Brits eat the stuff... we don't, mostly. We cook, or we head out for a curry.