Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food glorious food

When I'm at a loss for what to write about and nothing interesting has happened to me during the course of the day, it isn't an uncommon occurrence that I might start to feel as if this blog is useless. Why do I go out of my way to write daily entries even when there is nothing worth writing about?

Well yes, this may be a pertinent question at the moment. Since I had a regular day of class and have exhausted all the topics that were afforded to me by my Grand European Adventure in the past few days, I'm simply at a loss. This is the eye of the storm when there is nothing much worth reporting about. I could harp on the past or predict the future, but who wants to read that? My blogs recount the issues of the day, and by that I don't mean the collective social "day," but of the minutia of every day life.

So when my friend Lynn suggested at random that I write a blog about English food (and its merits as well as its faults), I figured that there really was nothing negative about the plan. So here I'll tell you a bit about my interactions with food in London, and how despite popular belief, I've never been wholly dissatisfied.

Every time I go to a new city, I find myself being showered with little tidbits of preparation information. Before arriving at university near Chicago, I was told dozens of times how cold the Midwestern winters were. I packed three flannel shirts, tons of tights and socks, an excessive quantity of sweaters and so on and so forth.

I also invested in a North Face jacket. And I have used it all of one time in my two years in school in Illinois.

So you will understand why I don't put much credence into my grandfather's (or anyone's, for that matter) position on English food which he so anxiously shared with me before I made my plans to go to England for the fall term.

He loved the English countryside. He was stationed here during the war and really got involved with British culture (as best he could at the time). And he just loved the atmosphere. England is a beautiful place.

What wasn't beautiful, according to him, was the food.

But I wasn't going to make the same mistake I did with Chicago. This time around, I'd do a bit of experiencing, of research, before I made assumptions.

So is British food really bad?

Before I recount my experiences with it, I'll admit that I don't have particularly refined taste buds which might skew my perspective on good versus bad food. But the reasoning for any of this is because I'm lacking a topic and perhaps I do really want to find answers.

The first time I ever came to London, I loved the food. Full English breakfasts complete with egg, bacon and beans (I used to eat bacon), Cornish Pasties for lunch, Ethnic takeaway for dinner. There were no downsides. It was like being blessed by the food fairy at every meal.

That was vacation. I was essentially required to find exciting new places to find food. Now that I'm living here, however, the reality has started to settle in.

That being said, the Cornish Pasties and Ethnic Takeaway are not amenities lost on me during my more recent sojourns to London. And the thing about England is that these two items so well-represent what is offered in the way of food here. What stereotypes generally overlook is the growth in variation that allows "traditional" English food to coexist with the food of the country's Imperial conquests and world's neighbors.

I was only 14 or so when I first got to this country. On that trip I tried to come in lacking inhibitions. I would learn that perhaps stereotypes don't align with reality, no matter how many people have warned you with their triteness.

Because in reality, British food is like American food. There are the weird staples that no one really wants to eat at every meal (hamburgers, fries in the US / bangers and mash or the like in the UK). And then, once you've left the pub and found other options, you realize that even if it's not traditional English cuisine, the sheer quantity of options makes up for a lack of regional variation.

I've never found myself starving here for a lack of interesting takeaway. My real problem is that I don't have time to cook for myself. But when I do get to eat out, I rejoice at the options. While here I've tried attempts on Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican and much more. And I like that these options remind me how British food doesn't have to be bland as my grandfather suggested.

 So the conclusion, I suppose, is that any place where various ethnic groups are allowed to co-exist is something worth celebrating and partaking in the sustenance of. I've been all over the place in the past few weekends. So really the question is not whether England can cook. It's what options it offers. And in London, the options are plentiful.

No city is deplete with good eateries. In the wake of commentary about the lackluster characteristics of English cooking, perhaps (other than my brief asides to praise egg and beans, Devonshire cream on scones and Cornish Pasties) I don't have anything sparkling and revolutionary to say. But this isn't a place where food is the limitation. If anything, it's me. I should be eating more, trying more. I am surrounded by so many options, after all. And even if the food here is allegedly "bland," in practice, it really is not.

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