Sunday, July 20, 2008

Food fascism...

...and a eulogy of the Brits' culinary open-mindedness

It's undeniable that Britain doesn’t thrive with recipes and is hardly host to world famous cuisine. However, most non-Brits seem to be truly convinced that it's just roast beef and fish 'n' chips. And the pleasure they take in telling you that needs to be witnessed first hand in other to be appreciated. Little do they know there's more to it than battered cod. It may be simple stuff, but it's interesting to watch foreign students finally nod in approval when you put in plain words the beauty of Cumberland pie, Shepherd's pie, bubble 'n' squeak, egg and chips, gammon and eggs, fry-ups, beans on toast, jacket potatoes and spotted dick.

I understand the glamour and variety of French, Italian or Chinese cuisine is miles away and yet, lacking a strong culinary tradition carries its own benefits. Food is one area in which the Brits don’t show a single ounce of arrogance and leave the annoyingly pedantic and finicky approach at the dinner table to their French, Italian or Greek counterparts.

Any British town can offer a parade of good restaurants from all over the world, and while that is also true in other countries, the British seem to have a unique affinity for foreign food of every kind - so much so that, like tea, they quickly adopt it as their own. Adopted from its Pakistani community, 'Balti' - for instance - has become Birmingham's signature dish and any 'expat' would tell you that curry houses are amongst their most-missed items. Food, it seems, is the strongest case in point for one of Britain's best qualities, cosmopolitanism.

Vegetarians in Britain will also tell you that -for at least a generation- they have no longer been looked at like a bunch of semi-anorexic fussy eaters or, worse, freaks of nature. Even the simplest greasy café in Redditch will have a clearly marked vegetarian choice on offer and all menus routinely carry a vegetarian-friendly symbol to make it easier for non-meat eaters to recognise their options. Again, the entrepreneurial-minded Brits understood that diversity can benefit turnover. Any supermarket in the UK will feature a wide range of vegetarian products and substitutes like Quorn or Linda McCartney's that are simply unheard of in many other countries. The first time I told an Italian that I wasn’t too keen on trying his bloodcake, a local guts-made delicacy he was so generously offering, I was duly greeted with a benevolent vaffanculo. The man simply couldn’t believe that love for animals could extend to finding the idea of eating brain, innards and nerves revolting. And Catalunian morcilla? Why would I want to eat pig’s blood, rice and onions made into a sausage? In many parts of the continent, especially the Mediterranean, veggies are still seen as third-generation hippies or knotted-haired tree-huggers, a view that only the most embittered grannies would still hold in the UK.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice choice of pic there :-P