Friday, 12 March 2010

Foreign Food Fetishes

A dining companion asked me last night, "And how are you finding the food in England compared to the U.S.?"  The honest answer is delicious in some cases, but dastardly in others.  There's also a food limbo, where seemingly unmatched foods are thrown together and become tolerable to the beaten-down palate, but just barely.

My first case study is the ubiquitous English comfort food, beans on toast.  Heinz has cornered the market on tinned (canned) baked beans here. Unlike Beenee Weenee, they are in tomato sauce as opposed to barbecue or some brown sugar-laden medium.  The beans are a vital component of full English breakfast.  Hot buttered toast has a remarkable calming effect to the English, and adding a ladle full of beans and a smattering of cheese (optional) is even more tranquilizing, I understand.  I will eat beans on toast now that I've gotten some practice.  But trust me, too many is hardly conducive to intestinal serenity.

Case 2 is a repulsive, noxious "condiment" called Marmite.  My first experience of Marmite was in the States, when I observed Chumley smearing some on hot toast (see a pattern here?)  It looked dark, syrupy and ominous.  When I inquired further, Chumley made no attempt to describe Marmite, but instead urged me to take a sniff.  One whiff and there was only one thought that came to mind.  "This smells like some sort of... by-product!!"  Sure enough, that's exactly the case.  Marmite is the yeast squeezin's after the brewing process.  I can only imagine its discovery by some legless man doing a face plant in the bottom of a brewery vat, accidentally licking the floor, and thinking it tasted good enough to mass market.  I pray God will keep my path from crossing any more jars of Marmite.  It is not to be borne.

I have been trying to convince Chumley that the combination of yellow sponge cake, maple buttercream icing and festive bacon may indeed be manly and toothsome, but so far, no dice.  Case 3, not adopted officially as a recognized food item, is the bacon cupcake.  Behold the creative use of bacon in tandem with maple.  Isn't coating your crispy bacon with a little maple syrup a tempting thing to do?  I generously offered to whip up a test batch for the guys at Chumley's work, but my offer was politely refused.  Specifically, Chumley said, "Cake, good.  Bacon, good.  Baconcake, not good."  I see.  Perhaps the solution is to send the cupcakes with a side of bacon and see if any creative men make the connection, but I doubt a pile of bacon would last too long among purely XY chromosomes.  Decorative bacon might be too much to wish for.

Case study 4: It turns out that one of the hallmarks of culinary Americana, the peanut butter and jelly (jam) sandwich, is repulsive to most Brits, including Chumley.  Firstly, jelly in American translates to preserves or jam in English.  Jelly in English is Jell-o in American, which could lead to a nasty surprise for the rookie American ordering it with hot buttered toast.  I found out first-hand about the repelling powers of PB & J when I naively offered it to my movers on their lunch break.  None of the burly, strapping men would even try it.  Chumley said it was the best thing I could have done to put them off asking us for anything else.  Hm.

I now keep one in the freezer for use on Jehovah's Witnesses and door-to-door salesmen.


CambridgeLady said...

Hilarious post :o) Two nations divided by very different tastes!

I was only musing on my blog about the wonder of marmite the other day - I love it. The US vs UK food debate will go on and on. My main objection to American food was that it was generally too sweet, no-one seemed to know what I meant by "free-range", and the cheese was, well, boring. There were some unexpected delights like pumpkin pie though - mmmmmmmmmm.

Claire said...

Yes, Chumley was initially bummed by the rubbery cheese in the US also, but managed to find a supplier of Park Farm Cheddar to fuel his habit and restore happiness.

I knew a Marmite lover would surface! And so it goes...

I, for one, cannot get enough UK custard. How did I eat dry pie for so long?

ChaChaneen said...

ha ha - What a fun food adventure you've had. I laughed about the jelly part as my son likes jelly because it's clear and has no seeds. I lurve jam, preserves, etc. all those spreads. ha ha

Tracy D. said...

This post is so true! I love me some PB&J and my English hubby turns pale(er) at the sight of it. He, on the other hand, gets misty-eye when he talks about a doner kebab, which I have yet to see or taste - but it must be incredible after 5 or 6 pints. (We live in CA)