Gettin' There: Chapter Three
What the Food
Illustration by Izzy White
There exists one thing that the French enjoy slightly more than complaining about the Brits, and that is complaining about British food. Come to think of it, remove British from the equation and you’ll still get the French talking about food. If we’re sitting at lunch, we’ll probably spend a good while wondering what it is we will be having for dinner and going on about how Jean-Paul’s blanquette de veau really could use some salt. However, Christmas and specifically Christmas meals have the particularity of uniting many nations together. Indeed, racist uncles and embarrassing childhood stories blurted out by an eager older brother are, unfortunately so, quite international. In the case of my very own brother, the story where, at the age of four, I threatened him with a knife to get him to open the snacks drawer which was too high for my hungry little-self, is amongst his favourites. Although I don’t remember any of it and cannot attest to the truth of his favoured tale which was in any case probably inflated considerably, it can give you an idea of food’s importance in my life. Not only am I French, I am also ready to injure and kill for a cookie. Now that we are out of the festive frenzy that put our taste buds to the test, I decided that it was only fair to use my passion for food as a means to clarify some British culinary traditions. As much as I would like to display the full range of family stories containing tales of lovely trips to Great Britain which where turned to food related disasters, I will refrain from it. After all, I have yet to complete my Brexit pre-settlement status application and would appreciate completing my university diploma with limited injuries. Let us thus treat the following paragraph as a guide to ignorant foreigners like I once was in the face of British food, and embark on a lovely adventure along the dining tables of Great Britain.
1. Never be fooled when someone offers you pudding at the end of a meal. Your mind will be playing a lovely slideshow of warm and fluffy cakes only to end up with a couple of strawberries on a plate. Pudding generally means dessert, deal with it.
2. There is an exception to this rule, however. If after having seen your plate be filled with a nice roast on a Sunday lunch you hear the magic words ‘yorkshire pudding’ and look down to see golden little cakes which might even slightly resemble a potato, don’t slap your weird host. Yorkshire puddings aren’t dessert, they’re a Sunday roast’s best mate.
3. When you think that the English language allowed works like those of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Jacqueline Wilson to be written, the semantic culinary shortcomings of it are just unfathomable. However, I fear it can’t be changed and I’ll just translate the following to you: mince pies do not consist of meat stuffed into an excuse for a pastry. They’re dried fruits and Christmassy spices on a bed of beauty and they’re delicious. Have another.
4. In the UK, eat your greens has a wholly different connotation. I do not care that you’ve never enjoyed the little green globes one calls peas; you cannot go around this tradition. The Brit cook them in butter and they’re mandatory. I did not think I’d say this but kudos to you on this one, England.
5. Aaaah wine. My favourite topic. It is not food and it definitely is not British but a meal isn’t one without wine and this is exactly why you should pay attention when I write: do NOT under any circumstances order rosé in Britain . You will only get a sarcastic look from the bartender, a glass full to the brim with something looking and tasting oddly like strawberry syrup, and an empty bank account. Stick to a casual house red and suck it up.
6. Meat. There is something utterly unexplainable about British meat eaters. It often seems to me like the whole lot of them have a sit down once or twice a year, to be reminded that only the oddest part of an animal, and only with the weirdest cooking times, will be tolerated. Visit St. John’s Bread and Wine in Shoreditch to get a full on experience (I do recommend their madeleines for pudding though). I have more than once contemplated the fact that there might be a conspiration to make meat taste so odd that covering it with gravy is not necessary but obligatory. (It has been said that Grease’s original song “Freddy, My Love” was actually composed by a British butcher under the title “Gravy, My Love”)
7. Last but not least, seven being the most powerful magical number, never be fooled by a mate asking you what it is that you are having for your tea. They are not asking whether you are more of an Earl Grey cuppa’ lover, but politely inquiring about your dinner menu.
Coming from a country where “Pain au Chocolat” literally means bread with chocolate, looks like bread with chocolate, tastes like it, and IS just bread with chocolate, I felt like some vocabulary clarifications were of the essence. Before I leave you to tenderly shake your head at these lovely British oddities, I invite you all to remember that although winter festivities are often a time of culinary excess, throwing yourself in a diet obsession probably won’t have you kick off the year as nicely as you’d wish. You’ll probably end up at the pub sobbing right onto a plate of chips between two sips of a pint anyway, and, as per usual and in the respect of the international bond I try to foster and maintain, I’ll probably be right there with you. Bottoms up!