Culinary Misadventures in Britain

on Sunday, August 26, 2007

Some regular visitors are probably wondering why I have not done my semi-regular "World Food Spot" series for quite a while now. The reason is simple. I am trying to diet and while writing about food is not difficult for me, trying to take beautiful photos about gorgeous food is well,.......mouth watering work. Definately something to avoid while on a diet. Don't worry. I will start that series up again once I fall off the wagon. As a low calorie alternative, I offer you this little rambling about the U.K. and food.

It was while I was studying in Britain in the early 1980's that I really learnt how to cook as opposed to my earlier adventures or rather misadventures in this area which I had described before.

Today, the U.K. might be very cosmopolitian and its food scene very vibrant but back in the 1980's everyone in the European Union were telling jokes about English cooking.

There was this one which says, "Heaven is where the French are the chefs, the Germans are the Engineers, the Italians are the lovers and the British are the police. Hell is when the French are the police, the Germans are the lovers, the Italians are the engineers and the Britiah are the chefs."

Misadventure 1 Condiment Confusion
When I first arrived, I tried the famous English Fish and Chips and I asked for Tomato Ketchup. "Huh?!" was the reply. "Ketchup for flavoring", I offered. "We use Vinegar here." he replied before attending to the next customer.

Hmmmm. For someone raised on Tomato Ketchup or Chiili Sauce and who had never ever thought of using vinegar as a condiment, it was a cultural shock. I tried the vinegar on the fish and chips and found the mixture to be very foul. However, I was starving and could ill afford to throw food away so I ate it up. Over the next four years, the British weather and food must have altered my senses or pickled my brain cause now I love pungent vinegar on my Fish 'n Chips. I also love soggy chips and mushy peas now though a better part of me remains that shakes his head at my declining food standards.

Misadventure 2 Exotic Foods
Now I also quickly learnt of some very exotic sounding dishes that raised my hopes about British cuisine. I was mesmerized with wonder over dishes with names like "Welsh Rarebit", "Toad in the Hole", "Bangers and Mash" and "Bubble and Squeak". I actively looked for opportunities to try these unique dishes. Needless to say I was soon disappointed when I actually discovered what they were. In retrospect, I now realise that if your cuisine is boring, you try to make up for its inadequacies by creating fanciful names. Spin doctoring, as it were.

For the uninitiated, here is a quick tour of the above;
a) Welsh Rarebit:- Is it a secret welsh recipe for rabbit or perhaps for a "rare bit of meat"? No, it is cheese melted on toast.

b) "Toad in the Hole":- Is this a special way of cooking a meat like fish steamed in bamboo? Is it really toad? No, it is sausages baked with batter.

c) "Bangers and Mash" :- Is this a special combination of food items? Do "bangers" release a powerful punch of flavors? No, it's just sausage and mashed potatoes.

d) "Bubble and Squeak" :- How fascinating? Is it an ancient recipe based on the days of witchcraft and druids? (as in bubbling cauldrons?). What's squeaking? Is it a mouse? No, it is cold cooked vegetables fried together with mash potatoes.

Imagine my disappointment.

Misadventure 3 Vegetarians Beware
After, I had been there in UK for about three years, I felt I had learned most of the idiosyncracies about British cuisine but there was one more surprise waiting to be sprung. Some of my nursing friends, decided to make some mince pies for a Christmas Party. I was present during their discussion and they asked me if I could help by buying the mincemeat. Anxious to enter the spirit of the season, I agreed. I asked how much mincemeat would be needed and they told me that about 2 kg would be enough. The alarm bells started ringing when I asked them if there was a preference for beef or lamb and should it be extra lean.

Apparently, the British with no concern for logic, make mince pies out of mincemeat but mincemeat is a mixture of raisins, apples, spices and vegetable fat. Conversely, they make mincemeat pies out of mince which is made out of meat.

So vegetarians beware and pity the poor squirrel whose little brain had to deal with all this gibberish.


...Kat said...

British cuisine...

an oxymoron?

Janice Thomson said...

I think you are right. Such fancy names for such plain food. I had a roommate from England who laughed and laughed when I cooked corn...over there they feed it to the pigs LOL. I always had to ask what was actually in the name of the food she was talking about...I got a shock too knowing what welsh rarebit and bangers and mash really was LOL

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I haven't been in the UK since the 60's, but was quite appalled and disappointed in the table offerings.

I would hope that they have grown more cosmopolitan since then, but maybe not. They do have their traditions.

I mostly made do with Chinese food while I was there.

My mother could have been British. She distrusted spices and was known to serve Welsh Rabbit, as she called it, on occasion.

I thought I hated all food growing up.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I thought Toad in a hole was an fried egg on toast. My dad used to make these for me... yummy.

I must confess that sometimes I have a hankering for all that grease and meat. We wander to the Irish pub and partake. Then I'm over it for a while.

Tai said...

LOL at ...kat!!

leslie said...

This is hilarious 'cuz having British ancestry, I wanted to try out all these different recipes you mention. After spending 4 weeks in Italy and eating until I thought I'd barf, I never gained an ounce. But 2 weeks in England and I was up 3 pounds!! I think the best food I had there was Indian food. lol

Josie said...

LGS, LOL. When I went to England, all I wanted was to try some "bangers and mash". Man, was I disappointed!

But I love fish and chips with vinegar. Malt vinegar. And salt. Yum.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Haha! I am so sure I have offended my one or two British visitors. So once again, let me say that I think today British food has become very cosmopolitian and sophisicated.

Wow, I didn't know that about corn. Still learning about British food sensitivities. I was very upset about Welsh Rarebit although it goes well with baked beans, another British staple.

That's tough, growing up hating all foods. I can't imagine cause I have a passion for food that is reflected in my waistline. When I was there, it seemed the best food wasn't really British. I enjoyed the Indian food and I think their Doner Kebabs rate as among the best in the world.

Dave said...

Regarding falvouring... They laughed at me when I asked for vinigar for my fries at a Tennessee McDonald's ....

First time back to blogging since the start of the summer. Great to see that you are still here. Looking forward to returning often!

Michael C said...

This was all very good to learn. I'm trying to lose a few pounds myself and find that I haven't watched the food network in 2 weeks. Coincidence? I think not my friend!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Toad in the Hole was a 19th Century concoction and the odd name refers to the discovery that certain toads (in Australia, I think) were found to survive drought by hiding in the mud. This subsequently dried and became rock hard but when the rains returned, the toads appear to miraculously emerge from the rocks. This cause a stir in Victorian England and a sausage encased in batter was given this imaginative name.

Yes, kat's sense of humor is really blossoming for all to see! :)

thanks for not taking offence. British food does fatten us up. I remember when I was there, the worst of the worst was supposed to be British Railway food. One comedienne quipped," Call the bomb squad. According to the sell by date, these British Railway Bangers are due to go off at any moment!"

Yeah, I admit it. I love soggy chips and Fish drenched in Malt vinegar now.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

My man! Good to have you back. Yeah, I am a transformed person now......I like vinegar.

Wishing you well with your diet. Thank heavens I have no food channel here but then again I can get chinese and indian food 24/7.

Sincerity said...

LOL! "Bubble and Squeak!" I love that! I think I could it eat with a smile just for its name. :)

Thank you for sharing these experiences of yours! I so badly wish to travel outside the country but until I do I am definitely learning helpful tips from you!

blackcrag said...


My parents are British, so even though I grew up in Canada, I grew up on English cusine. I've grown to 6'2" and 200 lbs, so it certainly worked.

Toad in the Hole is comfort food, Bangers and Mash (with lots of gravy, a must) is a filling, quick and easy mid-week meal, and don't forget Spotted Dick for dessert! And Bubble and Squeak was fun to eat!

At least you didn't knock the traditional Roast Beef of Olde England with Yorkshire Puddings(again, with lots of gravy), roast potatoes and roast parsnips and roast onions.

Your problem was you never had my Mum cook these things for you.

geewits said...

Okay, aren't you supposed to be a professor or something with lots of degrees? You don't DIET. Don't even use the word. Just start eating better and exercising. Silly Squirrel! Great post. I've heard of some of that food, and Welsh rarebit was all over hotel menus in the late 80's and early 90's and was a cheese sauce here, but Bubble and Squeak sounds perfectly hideous! Oh and thanks for the "heaven is where.... and hell is where..." thing, That was great!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Don't wanna burst your bubble but it really sounds better than it tastes. Hope you will get your opportunity to travel.
I know I have been very fortunate and blessed.

I knew I'd offend someone. So sorry.

Oh, there's no doubt that British fare will help you put on the weight. It just did't use to be that imaginative.

Roast Beef with all the accompaniments is certainly worth experiencing. I thought Yorkshire Pudding was a little overhyped but as you say, I didn't have the benefit of your mom's cooking. Peace.

thanks for the correction. Absolutely right. I am banishing that 4 letter word. :)

...Kat said...

"Yes, kat's sense of humor is really blossoming for all to see! :)"

gee LGS! gee tai (as kat blushes) TY

Cheryl said...

That was actually an education for me. I'd heard of those dishes, but didn't know what they translated to. Great descriptions of food I'm not anxious to try.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

It ain't nothing but the truth. :)

Surely for a complete education, you must try these wonderful foodss for yourself?

CS said...

And people laugh at Americans for being such meat and potatoes people. I loved Engladn when I visited, but it was sure not for the food!

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