Friday, February 24, 2012

Shattering the Myth of Bland British Food


An antiquated and unfortunate stereotype persists among Americans: British food is bland, boiled and boring. It goes with the teeth, we say. Having spent now four months in the United Kingdom I can unequivocally say this is completely false. I have eaten some of the best meals of my life in England. My favorite was a several-coursed lunch at Launceston Place in Kensington in January. I enjoyed a poached duck egg on toast with truffle aioli to start, served with pickled herring, house-made butter on a stone and fresh crackly, crusty bread. Brilliant.

This past week I attended a conference in Herefordshire, a stones throw from the border of Wales. Yesterday  Rich and I enjoyed a day at the Hay on Wye market where I picked up some Manchego cheese and dates for this evening's dinner.
 
That evening we dined with our colleagues at The Tram Inn, a charming little restaurant in neighboring Eardisley. I began with chicken liver pate, followed by local pork with mashed potatoes in a blue cheese bechamel. The meal also included an amazing selection of local vegetables, each prepared and seasoned artfully (photo at top). I finished the meal with a cheese platter I split with my friend Aimee who shared her toffee pudding. The Brits call everything pudding. So in truth, it was more of a sticky cake, but delicious nonetheless. 

Not only is restaurant food imaginative and well-executed, the food in average grocery stores rivals that of the finest specialty markets in the United States. Fair-trade. Free-range. Grass-fed. Sustainable. It's all good, and you don't pay a premium for these features.

Even today on the way back to Suffolk we stopped off at a rest stop where I enjoyed the most amazing chicken tikka masala. Yes, at a rest stop.

Nevertheless, the stereotype about the island's cuisine came to exist for good reason; food rationing after World War I brought culinary ingenuity to a halt. NPR wrote a lovely article on the subject in their food blog, theSalt. But it's been decades since food rationing gave way to a renewed interest in international cuisine and reviving local fare, and it's high time we Americans rethought British food.

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