I like British Food
So there we were. Great, big, sparkly city with the peculiar smell of, well, I guess that would have to be curry. The smell that is London. A thick, sweet scent of garam masala and fried onions. We were living in Globe Town at the time with two neurotic Chinese mature students and a goofy Mancunian, who was trying to get in with the Shoreditch crowd.
Globe Town wasn’t Shoreditch, but close enough to be considered somewhat acceptably cool. A brisk ten-minute walk from Bethnal Green tube station, towards Whitechapel.
The beginning of my time in London defined my understanding of British Food. The places we frequented and the daily discoveries I made helped me form a very soppy connection with foodstuff from the UK.
In London we had time to cook extensive meals and therefore cooked and ate pretty much all the time. The Asian grocers were great, selling all sorts of rather useful stuff, legumes, herbs, bottles of unidentifiable liquids etc, often out of the tiniest places, with floors covered by cardboard that would get thrown out when soaking wet and dirty. We used to love-hate watching the halal meat delivery-vans stop and bunk out raw chickens, piled up loosely in boxes. Inspiring stuff! We made use of it all. Lived off the cheap chickens, cooked vegetables and stews en-masse and enjoyed the availability of it all. We had a lot of take-aways then too, Thai and Bangladeshi food amongst the firm favorites. I remember the Thai food as being exceptionally good.
I ended up working as a cafe waitress in a small, homemade-everything place, in W10. I didn’t last long at the Armadillo but I learned a lot about British eating habits during my stint there. Food was what everything was about, so what could be better than starting off by getting to know the local cuisine?!
Let’s talk about tea and a British cuppa, something I didn’t get for a while. When you say ‘tea’ in Britain, it refers to the end-product. A cuppa is a perfect concoction of either PG Tips with a dash of semi skimmed milk or another generic breakfast tea range. You must know that tea always, always, always comes with milk, unless instructed otherwise, but without milk…… no tea in Britain!
I have come across this genius cuppa-meter, whilst looking for material, this describes the science behind a cuppa really well:
Tuna Mayonnaise was another wonder to me (German kids don’t get to eat Mayonnaise as it is so unhealthy). Tuna Mayo is kinda satisfying. Tinned tuna mixed with loads and loads of mayo, black pepper and sometimes – if you’re lucky – with a squeeze of lemon juice. A nice variation of the normal tuna sandwich is the tuna melt, whereby a layer of grated cheddar cheese gets added to the sandwich before it gets toasted until all is molten.
Our weekends were spent being gluttonous pigs, first at Nico’s Cafe, then at home in front of the TV eating something else. Nico’s was right next to Bethnal Green tube station. A rather old-fashioned typical East-London caff, peculiar but good. When I first set foot into the smoky, tiny place, I felt slightly turned off by the sticky plastic tablecloth, the naff 1960’s chairs and tables, the dusty plastic ketchup bottle on the tables and the dishes on the chalk board: Spotted dick with custard, steak and kidney pie, Kleftiko (a greek lamb stew) and of course.. pork chops. The folks were old and poor, people who most likely lived in council blocks unable to cook for themselves. For those kind of people, Nico’s was a godsend. A traditional, personal place, a sort of remnant from past times (Nico – the owner – knew all cutomers by their names), serving good, old British home-cooked meals at a decent price. Nico’s Cafe can be found here
Btw. Nico’s was the only place that had it down with the pork-chop breakfast. G thinks that pork chops make THE perfect breakfast. Two pork-chops, bacon, 2 fried eggs, hash browns or fries, grilled tomatoes, ketchup and toast. Optionally a builder’s tea and/or coke in a tin. Lovely.
Breakfast traditions vary in Blighty just as much as they do elsewhere. Very recommendable is the bacon roll (crusty ) with ketchup (or red sauce). It is so salty, that it can only be consumed with a fizzy drink, one of those really sugary ones, restoring the imbalance in your mouth, caused by the bacon salt, almost instantly.
When I started working for Truman’s my egg and bacon breakfasts were replaced by a phase of jam-on-toast mornings. Lovely white toast, dripping with butter and sweet jam. i think, this is probably the most un-british way of eating toast, but definitely worth a try.
The cliche about British Food being naff and stodgy is probably partially justified, But there are plenty of representatives today who try very hard to convince you otherwise. Modern British cuisine can actually be brilliant. It takes account of its heritage but brings in creativity, leading to astonishing results. Heston Blumenthal is perhaps the best representative for modern British cooking, here’s the obligatory video of Heston making bacon n’ egg ice cream:
I will always defend British food wherever I go. I know that London doesn’t represent the whole of Britain, but a country that produces wonderful things such as clotted cream, treacle pudding and mango chutney, surely can’t be that bad when it comes to food.