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An expat's memories of English food

By Mr Grumpy - Fri 18th Feb 2011

Growing up on a farm in the People’s Republic of Yorkshire back in the ‘80’s, my education to food was somewhat retarded.

A typical meal would be meat, potatoes and two veg. If my mother was feeling particularly adventurous we may even have three veg, that said the veg was almost always a combination of Carrots, peas, cabbage or cauliflower. Sprouts were strictly for Christmas only and broccoli was something that would confuse all but the seasoned traveller. I remain convinced that there was a law that stated that all vegetables had to be boiled for a minimum of 30 minutes before consuming.

Fish was something that was exotic, growing up as far away from the sea as we did (an hour at the most) we clearly didn’t have access to a fishmonger in our town. As such we ate fish very rarely, and when we did it was always cod. And battered.

Olive oil was something that was kept in the medicine cabinet.

As a special treat on an occasional Friday night we could choose a meal from any takeaway we liked. As long as it was a Jacket potato.

There was, I recall a tin of curry powder lurking at the back of the baking cupboard that had been there since at least before my birth and, as far as I am aware, is still there today. My mother would break it out every three or four years (usually after watching some tedious Delia Smith programme) to concoct a ‘curry’ (at least that’s what she called it),and sprinkle it sparingly on top of Minced Beef, carrots, onion – but worst of all – diced apple and sultanas. I know a number of Nepalese, Indian and Bangladeshi people and I cringe to think what they would make of a typically British 1980’s homemade curry.

For one, I know what I would do tonight, if after a few shandies, my usual waiter down the ‘Star of Bengal’ presented me with a plate of the stuff with some rice. And it would probably get me arrested.

Did I mention that rice was only ever to be used for puddings or throwing at weddings?

Anyway, I’m digressing from the point that I was trying to make in a roundabout way...

Once I was old enough to cook my own food, or pay to eat elsewhere, I began to develop a taste for food that was basically ‘different’, of all nationalities and styles. I ate a curry most weekends, maybe an authentic Pizza or Chinese during the week, funded by working a double shift down the treacle mine.

As I got quite a bit older I found a taste for Sushi, Hibachi and Lebanese food. Not easily come by in Yorkshire, but worth travelling for, and food remains one of my passions.

Living in Spain, it is obviously great that home cooked typically Spanish food is so easy to come by, and almost always exceptional value for money, using top quality ingredients. I enjoy it and have few, if any, complaints.

The problem for me is that aside from a few regional variations, every restaurant serves exactly the same menu from Town to Town. Great food, but every once in a while I want to try something ‘different’.

The Chinese food over here can vary enormously from place to place, but worse still is the ‘Wok Chino’. Dear God, why would I want to ‘eat as much as I liked’ for just 10 Euros? Why would I willingly place quantity ahead of quality and instead eat my own bodyweight in lukewarm congealed sweet and sour that had been under a hot lamp for two hours? Why would I want to queue up for my food in a manner that reminded me of School dinners – or worst still a two star all inclusive package holiday?

The Curries again can vary from being exceptional to appaling. As can the Pizzas. Unless you live in a sprawling metropolis, Japanese or Sushi or Lebanese or Thai is more often than not totally out of the question.

But worst of all is the English restaurant. I know of a handful of restaurants locally that are unashamedly English (not ‘international’) and serve a fantastic quality of food that would rival anything served in a Michelin rated restaurant, they are also fantastic value. However, there are even more English restaurants that just can’t cut it and try and pass off a Frozen Steak Pie as their own, and so on.

So whenever I do travel back to the UK, I find myself looking forward to the variety and quality of food available... the Fish and Chips (Fried in beef dripping, without the skin and bones - a Southerner wouldn't understand...) etc..

Ironically, and perhaps unfairly, my mother learned to cook once I left home and has become all ‘Jamie Oliver’ – so if you are reading this, dear mother, and feel the need to comment then please remember to check your spelling first.

Comment on this Blog

Very funny and oh so true!
Mick Cb - Wed, 20th Feb 2013
Wow ! - I´ve never seen a Filipino restaurant (Then again I´m not sure how I would recognise one anyway ?)
Mr Grumpy - Mon, 28th Nov 2011
But there are lots of Filipino restaurants in Spain. Check out - there are 246 in Valencia alone.
Alcalaina - Mon, 28th Nov 2011
What about the Philipines then ? 'scuse my history / geography but wasn't that a part of Spain's Empire ? I can't recall ever seeing a Filipino restaurant in Spain (or anywhere else for that matter) - I wonder if they actually do exist, or if the Filipinos as a race have a preferance for dining at home. Who knows ?
Mr Grumpy - Sun, 27th Nov 2011
Mo, there are no Indian restaurants here (away from the Britzones, at least) because there are no immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. The Spanish Empire went west, not east! One could as easily ask why there are no Argentinian churrasquerias in Britain (though maybe there are now ...)
Alcalaina - Sun, 27th Nov 2011
Great article Mr. Grumpy. It all rings true with me - though we did get fish on Fridays, being devout Cafflicks and what not. Here in Alcalá I miss the diversity of restaurants you can get in most British cities now and can´t understand why there is not one single Indian restaurant here. As for boiling veg for 30 minutes, you really had to do that for turnip. I miss those big neeps here since I loved mashed turnips with a wee bit of potato mash, butter and white pepper through them. All in all, it´s gratifying to think how far we Brits of a certain age have come in culinary matters, wherever we find ourselves. And yes, final point, olive oil was definitely for medicinal purposes only, bought in a wee bottle from the chemist!
Mo - Sun, 27th Nov 2011
Hi, It's very nice to know there are people like you who love british foods. You can also get a vast range of british foods here! British food, British foods online
Mr. British Foods - Fri, 28th Oct 2011
Peter: I think they were told that's how the English like their vegetables.
Alcalaina - Wed, 20th Jul 2011
Vegetables : Why do the Spanish feel the need to boil them for at least 2 hours before consuming ? It is asthough every last morsel of flavour and texture has to be stewed out of them before consumption.
Peter C - Wed, 20th Jul 2011
That takes me back - we used to get olive oil dribbled into our ears every week. Still not sure why. I wonder if it was DO Extra Virgen? When looking for non-Spanish exotica I would avoid the Chinese and South Asian options like the plague, and head for the Argentinian churrasquerias. It's just impossible to cook steak that good at home, without burning the house down. Or for a rather less carnivorous experience, Moroccan is good (we are lucky where we are, we can see Tangiers on a clear day).
Alcalaina - Fri, 18th Feb 2011
... so my wise words about using your spellchecker went largely unheeded ...
Mr Grumpy - Fri, 18th Feb 2011
My dear son - as you rightly say - I have indeed progressed in the culinery department. Such delicacies as 'Soy Sauce' 'tomato puree' and even 'garlic paste' have found their way into my store cupboard. Regarding veg - I have been known to serve the occassional leek or celeriac (no thats not true - just put it in for effect) and sometimes aubergine (although I once remember you making an aubergine pie which quite frankly was inedible !) Cant wait for next week when I visit to see what culinery delights you will be serving me !
Mum - Fri, 18th Feb 2011

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