Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Curiosities of British Cuisine


If you've been wondering why it's been so quiet around here, it's because, by a fabulous stroke of good fortune, I spent last week in England and Wales. My husband was invited to a conference in Cardiff (the capitol of Wales) and I got to tag along as we spent two days there, one day in Bristol, and three days in London. It was a mind-blowing trip in many ways:


iconic landmarks, 

cathedrals, 

boat tours, 

giant Gromit statues in wildly inappropriate places, like in front of this 12th century cathedral,

and this terrifying creature--

but for the purposes of this blog, of course, allow me to focus on the food! It seems to me the English get a bad rap for their cuisine, and frankly, I'm not going to do a whole lot to remedy that stereotype. However, certain assumptions of mine about English food were definitely debunked, so all in all I would call my general food experience in the UK educational. For example, prior to visiting the UK, I probably would have assumed:
  • "Bubble and Squeak" were cartoon characters
  • "Rarebit" was a silly British spelling of rabbit, like "kerb" for curb and "tyre" for tire
  • That there would have to be more to a dish called "mushy peas" than just peas mashed up baby food-style
  • "Bangers and Mash" was a TV crime fighting duo, like Cagney & Lacey or Rizzoli & Isles
  • "Pork pie" was the punchline of a dirty joke

Wrong on all counts! As it turns out, 
  • Bubble and squeak is leftover vegetables (typically from a roast) mixed with mashed potatoes
  • Rarebit is essentially just melted cheese on toast
  • Mushy peas are exactly what comes out of a Gerber jar
  • Bangers and mash is sausage served over mashed potatoes
  • A pork pie is literally a chunk of pork sausage in pie crust:

This entree was called the Ploughman's Board--behold the pork pie in the upper left!
On a more positive note, while my husband spent the day at his conference, I traipsed around Cardiff and found a sweet little tea shop where I enjoyed a traditional afternoon tea:  

Finger sandwiches, scone with clotted cream and jelly, and of course TEA! (I went with ginger peach.)
Other culinary highlights included tasty fish and chips and some smokin' spicy Indian food on the south side of the Thames, revealing the perpetually embarrassing problem of my nose running like the Amazon whenever I eat really spicy food. (Emily Post would be horrified at how much snot ended up on my dinner napkin.) Then again, my husband had to leave the table to go wash his mouth out, so I'm telling you, it was really spicy. I should probably also mention that we drank way more alcohol over there than we normally do, especially some delightfully fizzy and refreshing pear cider. This seems to be the norm in the UK, though--Sunday morning, the only open restaurant we found was a bar that served breakfast, where more people were drinking beer than coffee at 9:00am. 

Last but not least, I have to say how much I enjoyed stocking up on British candy, and how humorous the candy bar names strike me: Teasers, Minstrels, Wispa, Jelly Babies (like gummy bears, but baby-shaped--anyone else find this creepy?). Then again, I guess American candy bars have silly, frivolous names, too: Butterfinger, Snickers, Mr. Goodbar. (Presumably Dryfinger, Whimpers, and Mr. Seriousbar are not top sellers.) 


These *might* just be my favorite souvenirs--thankfully much more easily transportable than fish and chips or a pot of tea! :) 

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