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Food, Glorious (And Uniquely British) Food!

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It’s fair to say that Britain is renowned around the world for our cuisine.

Our culinary arts are the envy of all. 

Wait, what…?

Just when you thought that The General Assembly would never find anything to agree on.

Ok, no need to be rude.  

Things have changed, though it takes a while to shed a bad reputation. Immigration, with the introduction of cuisines from all parts and innovations means there’s no barrier to eating well these days.

We even sent Gordon Ramsay off to America to pummel your failing restaurateurs into profanity laden submission. 

There are of course some who view anything new with suspicion. Like the time we visited the nursery my daughter was about to start, and they talked us through the food they served up. The manager told us they even served the children couscous.

“You know, that London food.”

We kept quiet about the fact that not only did we know it, but we often dined on it, in case she thought we had ideas above our location and had us evicted from the north.   

But you don’t want to hear about artisanal bakeries, gastropubs and the good stuff.

Its the bad and the weird that provide the entertainment. 

You may be familiar with the British staple of fish and chips. When we visited Epcot this year it was no surprise to find them representing British cuisine. 

No one is pretending fish and chips is a healthy option: done badly, they’re a grease laden ordeal. As a child getting fish and chips was a treat so they still hold that magical association.

The heat and humidity of Orlando however, is not ideal for their consumption.

We stayed well clear but there were always plenty of eager Disney diners lining up for them. I would say that riding Guardians Of The Galaxy Cosmic Rewind straight afterwards should be approached with caution.

And as for Mission Space, the intense option… unless you want those chips to re-enter the atmosphere and the fish boldly go where you’d prefer it not to… approach with extreme caution. 

Epcot missed a trick in focusing on one item. There’s a whole range of delights to accompany your chips.

A battered sausage is second only to the fish. The humble sausage, at its worst has been a receptacle for the cheapest and most unsavoury offcuts of a pig.

A reputation the deep fried ones you get from a chip shop retain. No one eating a battered sausage is worried about its provenance or whether the meat content can be summed up by the words; ‘lips and arseholes.’

“Exactly what I called that blighter from New Jersey.”

While fish and sausages have a long history of being battered, there’s no stopping the march of progress. In 90s Scotland one enterprising chip shop broke new ground.

Somehow deciding that covering a Mars bar in batter and throwing it into a deep fat frier was the way to go. In case you’re wondering how that works, the Mars bar is chilled first to prevent it melting in the cooking process. 

Proving that there’s no underestimating the public, they were a hit – and quickly spread to other parts. Although well past their peak they are still available in some chip shops. 

Seeing its success others saw any chocolate bar as fair game. The Mars Bar remained the original and the best (I use the word “best” in the loosest sense). The makers of Mars weren’t so sure, they released a statement that ‘deep-frying one of our products would go against our commitment to promoting healthy, active lifestyles’.

I imagine that a chocolate manufacturer taking the moral high ground on promoting healthy lifestyles had their tongue firmly in cheek and fingers crossed behind their back as they said it. 

To accompany your fish and chips you may decide some vegetables are in order to compensate for the unhealthiness.

Or at least give that impression. Mushy Peas are a chip shop staple and a traditional accompaniment to a meat pie. 

Any food that starts with the word “Mushy” is setting a low bar in my opinion. These start as dried marrowfat peas that are soaked overnight in water and baking soda then boiled until the peas are soft. Or rather, Mushy – a word that doesn’t exactly scream enticement.

Ideally they will be vivid green in colour. I say ideally, I’d prefer them to stay in their can and buried deep underground like nuclear waste. 

Onto one that has largely fallen by the wayside, redolent of a bygone era; Tripe.

Its also one that having been relegated from most diming tables is still apparently popular elsewhere in Europe. Tripe is the stomach lining of a cow, sheep or pig. Don’t all rush to your butcher at once.

Specifically known as Dressed Tripe, the stomach lining is cleaned, boiled and bleached white. I remember it being a common sight when I was a kid in the 80s. I also remember that even the sight of it without actually knowing what it was made me feel ill. 

The wonder of language also designates tripe as being a colloquial term in the North for disparagement.

As in:

‘That new Rolling Stones album is tripe.’

Just as the edible tripe has fallen out of fashion, the word isn’t often heard now either. 

From Tripe it’s not far in anatomical terms to Haggis.

Famed symbol of Scotland. Again, Vegans may wish to look away now.

The haggis is a dense ball containing ‘a sheep’s pluck’. Whether the actual detail of what is a sheep’s pluck is better or worse than what you’re envisioning is entirely at readers discretion.

The pluck is the heart, liver and lungs, minced together with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, stock and encased, for good measure, in the stomach lining.

Waste not, want not.

Don’t worry: we’re not savages. You don’t eat the stomach lining. That’s just used to pack the ingredients together for cooking and is cut open to serve. Plus, these days the stomach lining is often replaced by a synthetic casing. 

From one Celtic concoction to another: Bara Lawr to the Welsh:

Laverbread to the rest of us. The word ‘bread’ is wholly misleading. This won’t feature on any baking programme. 

The main, indeed only, ingredient is: seaweed.

Specifically Porphyra Umbilicalis for the phycologists amongst you. The seaweed is washed then boiled for hours til it becomes what the internet advises me is a gelatinous paste / viscous substance. Who wouldn’t salivate at that description?

It can be rolled in oatmeal, fried and served with bacon or cockles. It’s low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals, iodine and iron – this one is actually healthy! It was apparently a breakfast favourite of Welsh miners due it’s high energy content. And if you can pick the seaweed yourself, it costs nothing. 

As for what it tastes like, I’ve never tried it. But the various sources I’ve read predictably go for variations on salty / saline / fishy / the sea. 

Entertaining those of a childish mind for generations: Spotted Dick.

“You can get a cream for that,” may be your initial response to this one. It’s a steamed pudding consisting of suet and currants or raisins. Generally served with custard.

A mainstay of school dinners until the 1980s. The “Spotted” part of the name comes from the raisins dotted through it. While Dick was apparently a regional variation on dough. 

Other types of ‘Dick’ are traditionally available. For example: Treacle Dick. You really should see a doctor about that, I’m not sure the cream is going to do the job.

Let’s move on from such unsavoury etymology. To something more refined. 

Afternoon Tea has been sold as a signifier of the finer things in life.

Hotels, restaurants and cafes do a roaring trade in charging over the odds for finger sandwiches (i.e. a sandwich a third the size of a standard slice of bread) filled with things like egg and cress, smoked salmon or cucumber.

All designed to give the impression that you’re dining like nobility.

No one is partaking of Afternoon Tea for the sandwiches, but it’s only polite to wolf a few down in order, to then gorge yourself on the stand full of scones and cakes. Or maybe that’s just me and my sweet tooth.

Maybe it’s a sign of my social standing: but why you’d want to put cucumber in a sandwich, I’ve no idea.

When I was young we were fed sugar sandwiches. Soft brown sugar, white bread and plenty of butter for the sugar to soak into and stop it falling out.

I used to have chocolate sandwiches as well. I don’t mean chocolate spread either. Generally a Mars bar or Cadbury’s dairy milk, thinly sliced and stuck between two slices of bread.

The past is a very strange, and apparently unhealthy, place. 

We love our biscuits.

Despite the infiltration of American style cookies and Oreos, the traditional brands and types are standing strong. The Jaffa Cake is a traditional biscuit favourite, though you may have spotted its not a biscuit. It might seem obvious to you but it took a court case to prove its cake. 

On the biscuit side of the argument: it’s biscuit shaped being small, round and covered in chocolate – the Jaffa comes from the orange flavoured jelly in the middle.

They’re sold in the biscuit section of the supermarket and if you were offered cake and given one of these: you’d be sorely disappointed. On the cake side: underneath the chocolate they’re a sponge like texture rather than a biscuit dough. 

The manufacturers went to court in 1991 to prove that its a cake to avoid being subjected to the more onerous tax levy applied to chocolate covered biscuits.

The court ruled that although it has the characteristics of biscuits and cake it can be classified as cake. Take that, the government. The people were free to eat Jaffa Cakes without funding the nations tax coffers. But I’d wager most people still think of them as a biscuit. 

If you’re not yet sated by all that, here’s a selection of some of our more unusual named dishes to bewilder you – no explanation provided so you can let your imaginations run wild.

  • Chranacan
  • Star Gazey Pie
  • Clooty Dumpling
  • Rumbledethumps
  • Bubble and Squeak
  • Cullen Skink
  • Neeps and Tatties
  • Toad in the Hole
  • Welsh Rarebit
  • Singing Hinnies
  • Pan Hagerty
  • Eton Mess

We need a drink to wash down all that food.

A cup of tea would be too cliched, so how about a Snakebite and Black?

It was an access level alcoholic drink when I was a teenager. The Snakebite part is a mix of half a pint of lager, half a pint of cider. With the black provide by a dash of blackcurrant cordial. 

Why? You may ask. Well it’s not for the sense of sophistication of a well mixed cocktail. Its a one way ticket to oblivion drinking. With a bit of blackcurrant to mask the alcohol and give the warm embrace of nostalgia for a youth that the drinker is still trying to escape. 

Its oft rumoured to be illegal to serve it.

Which wasn’t an issue for the pubs where I grew up, who were happy to turn a blind eye to underage drinking so the concoction of Snakebite and Black wouldn’t stop them.

Given that it’s main advocates are underage drinkers who may be prone to inadvertently purging themselves after several pints I wouldn’t blame a pub for spreading the rumour that its illegal in preference to dealing with the purple vomit. 

Snakebite is also known as “Diesel,” and for those who are really in a rush to destroy their life: There is the option of a Turbo Diesel, which entails adding a shot of vodka into the mix.

Don’t expect Epcot to offer that one anytime soon. 

After all that: time for a snack…

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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LinkCrawford
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December 5, 2023 9:18 am

When I look at my Ancestry.com DNA test analysis, I am nearly completely descended from British Isles ancestry. (Braveheart’s mum was a Crawford). To honor that, I might try any of these (even the haggis) once. I can probably handle the peas, the laverbread, the jaffa…But that tripe. Yeesh.

Last edited 2 months ago by LinkCrawford
stobgopper
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December 5, 2023 9:09 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

You two are missing out…

LinkCrawford
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December 5, 2023 9:55 pm
Reply to  stobgopper

What?! Stob? You are the tripe fan?

stobgopper
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December 5, 2023 10:07 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

You bet. Being Dutch-Indo, I’ve enjoyed my share of exotic foods. Another favorite: beef tongue. I also made sure to the top deck of Coors Field to try Rocky Mountain Oysters. Not bad.

Virgindog
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December 5, 2023 9:35 am

The lovely Ms. Virgindog is Polish. She and everyone in her family love tripe. I disagree but share her fondness for cucumber sandwiches. Bread, a little mayo, sliced cucumbers and salt, served open faced with a cup of tea. Mmmm, sublime.

JJ, I’m afraid you’ll have to explain what cockles are. It’s not a variety of Dick, is it?

I’d eat most of the things you’ve listed here, but star gazey pie is an abomination.

LinkCrawford
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December 5, 2023 10:56 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Is one expected to consume the entire fish…head and all?

rollerboogie
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December 5, 2023 11:36 am

That sounds delicious. I would like to try that.

LinkCrawford
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December 5, 2023 11:46 am

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

Low4
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December 5, 2023 12:11 pm

Brings “Donald, Where’s Your Trousers” to mind.

https://youtu.be/q2fizeoT22g?si=-NW37khGUAhvAR9m

rollerboogie
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December 5, 2023 11:35 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Flacki (Polish tripe) is great! One of my favorites of Polish cuisine. My Polish wife has also done the cucumber sandwich thing, and I too like it. Cucumber soup is good too.

Virgindog
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December 5, 2023 11:38 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

Radish sandwiches, too.

rollerboogie
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December 5, 2023 11:58 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Yep! I’ll sign off on those too!

thegue
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December 5, 2023 10:12 am

Oooo!!!!

  1. Fish ‘n Chips: I’m not a huge fan, but when I was on rugby tour to Dubai/Abu Dhabi, my Scottish friends and I visited a chip shop in Abu Dhabi. It was owned by a Geordie, whom I was told used to own a shop in England, but a shiekh (emir?) visited and thought it was the best, so offered loads of quid to open a shop in Abu Dhabi. It was good, and I had smushed peas with it…and thought they were excellent.
  2. I can’t remember where, but I’ve had deep-friend Oreos, inspired by the deep-fried Mars bar. It was surprisingly good!
  3. Haggis – went to a few Robert Burns suppers when I lived in Syria. I LOVE haggis, especially with a few splashes of whiskey. We have a regional food called scrapple, which is somewhat similar to haggis, so maybe my taste buds were prepared for such a meal. Not true of Marmite, though.
  4. I can not STAND cucumber sandwiches, but for some reason that was the popular tea break snack during cricket matches. I remember we (Free Foresters) were playing The Arabs (no idea why they’re called that) on a cricket ground owned by a former exchequer for the U.K. Needless to say, very wealthy…and we were served cucumber sandwiches at tea – it was bad enough we’d been bowled out for 99, and then that.
  5. Digestives might be the best biscuit/cookie ever made. I believe I could live on those.

Great article!!!

Low4
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December 5, 2023 11:43 am
Reply to  thegue

I consider myself a bit of an Anglophile (married to one of’em), but gotta say that Cricket is the most impenetrable things about the society. When I lived there I’d try to watch it on the telly (see) and I couldn’t tell that anything had changed, but everybody in attendance would suddenly start cheering. !!??!

WTH, Britain!

thegue
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December 5, 2023 12:25 pm
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Low4
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December 5, 2023 2:08 pm
Reply to  thegue

Loved the read, great story, happy anniversary. Still don’t understand Cricket.

lovethisconcept
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December 5, 2023 1:06 pm
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One of my favorite selections on the Calm app is “Cricket Explained” by Henry Blofeld. He describes cricket as “a unique delight to some, but a profound misery to almost everyone else.” I have listened to the first part of it several times, but have never gotten to the end. I still know nothing about cricket.

I agree with Groucho Marx. After an hour of watching a match, he was asked how he liked it. His reply? “It’s great! When does it start?” He later described it as “a wonderful cure for insomnia.” Same, Groucho, same.

Virgindog
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December 5, 2023 1:01 pm

Hobnobs are great!

rollerboogie
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December 5, 2023 11:28 am

This was fun and hilarious and made my day. Some reactions-

As someone occasionally given to motion sickness, that intense version of Mission Space at Epcot wasn’t something I should have done, but my macho ego told me I’d be fine. I felt sick and disoriented and it messed up my equilibrium for weeks afterward. I can only imagine what would have happened had I tried the fish and chips beforehand.When I was a kid, there was a chain called Alfie’s Fish and Chips with an outpost in our town. I remember liking it. One of my sisters worked there for a spell. I have a vague recollection that it did not go well and something bad happened to her there. I’ll have to ask her about it.Some friends took us to a gourmet Scottish restaurant and Haggis was on the menu. Being half-Scottish, I always felt obligated to try it at least once in my life, and it was on the menu, so I did. I liked it.Tripe soup is called flacki in Polish (flotch-kee). I have loved it since my Polish wife introduced it to me years ago. My mom acccidentally served it to my toddler daughter once, thinking it was chicken soup. My daughter loved it. I’m sure she will never try it now as a teenager.I love trying weird foods and I have never said no to anything yet. Bara Lawr may be a dealbreaker. They look like asphalt patties, and I just don’t get a good feeling about what they may taste like.That list of foods at the end is absolutely batsh*t crazy. Hard to believe it’s real and not something out of Narnia or Dr Suess or something.I imagine that mt had to do some navigating around what had to be a mine field, i.e. the search results for pictures of Spotted Dick. How in the world is that name not been retired?

Last edited 2 months ago by rollerboogie
Low4
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December 5, 2023 11:51 am

What a rep, what a rep.

Things I love about British cuisine:

  • ummm
  • ummm

Got nothing. Just kidding:

  • fresh blackberries from the miles of brambles along public footpaths
  • Strongbow cider (original)
  • Cornish Pasties (esp. in Cornwall)
  • dairy products
  • Shepard’s Pie
  • ready availability of Indian/Chinese/Turkish food even in small villages
  • Harrods Food Halls (amazing)
  • pub food at the Ramsholt Arms, Suffolk (See the film Yesterday)
Virgindog
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December 5, 2023 11:54 am
Reply to  Low4
  • Scones with clotted cream and jam
rollerboogie
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December 5, 2023 3:59 pm

Pasties came over with the miners and were and are popular in the U.P. of Michigan and almost nowhere else in the US.
My mother is from way up there, and we grew up vacationing there and eating lots of pasties. My grandmother would make them as well. I will always love them

Last edited 2 months ago by rollerboogie
LinkCrawford
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December 5, 2023 9:58 pm

We make a “shepherds pie” in the Crawford household, but it features ground beef rather than lamb, and likely tastes nothing like true shepherds pie.

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 5, 2023 3:13 pm

The question for this Yank is: how many of these count as a pudding? 🤔

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 5, 2023 6:44 pm

Someone told me that haggis counts as pudding.

I will never understand it…beyond custard of course.

Zeusaphone
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December 5, 2023 3:50 pm

Here in the States tripe is staple of soul food. It can be grilled or deep fried, in which it’s usually accompanied by butter beans, or made into a soup…

https://www.africanbites.com/beef-tripe-soup/

Zeusaphone
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December 5, 2023 8:20 pm

I’m not a big fan of soul food generally, but sometimes I crave chitterlings and nothing else can quite hit that spot.

Zeusaphone
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December 5, 2023 8:18 pm

Laverbread is actually low in sodium so it is great for people who love salty tasting things but can’t have salt (blood pressure).

Aaron3000
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December 5, 2023 8:20 pm

I see a whole lot of dishes up there just itching to be added to V-dog’s band name list. Could fill an entire tourney bracket just on those alone.

Aaron3000
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December 5, 2023 8:44 pm

A couple not mentioned:

My grandfather’s third wife was Canadian, so more likely than not she’d make Yorkshire pudding when we visited.

How about kippers? Are they still a thing? (Note: most of my knowledge of British cuisine comes from TV shows.)

https://youtu.be/jqSkMoKJ2GA?si=cWAVo3mq34cGv62y

LinkCrawford
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December 5, 2023 10:06 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

Could we have kippers for breakfast?

stobgopper
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December 5, 2023 9:08 pm

Very nice (or should I say appetizing?), JJ. Timely, also, since last Friday I read something else interesting about your homeland’s cuisine (https://www.eater.com/23970815/english-food-cookbook-jane-grigson). If nothing else, that article taught me what ‘singing hinnies’ are.

stobgopper
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December 6, 2023 12:01 pm

If I ever get there, they’ll be one of the first things I’ll try.

Ozmoe
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December 9, 2023 6:42 am

This is great as usual, JJ! What I’d really love from you is a blog about your entire trip to Disney World–how you planned it, how you and your family handled jet lag, your experiences at each of the parks and so on. But that’s your call to make of course. I say this as a semi-Disneyphile, since I’m old enough to have gone there to see the park in its planning stages in 1970 and have had an affinity for it ever since.

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December 10, 2023 2:38 am

Shepherd’s Pie may do well on the continent, but the Costco, at least in my neighborhood, finally gave up. There were never a whole lot of empty spaces in the display case. I saw potatoes. And tiny bits of meat. And paprika randomly sprinkled on top. It didn’t look half-bad. But what do I know? I guess to you it would be the Taco Bell version of Shepherd’s Pie.

Things change rapidly over five years. I bought Zadie Smith’s White Teeth…at Costco. The books were the last to go.

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