British Bland

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My third day in England, and it’s been quite hectic.  Two really long, but productive days in Manchester now followed by a short weekend in London before long days of meetings to come.  Honestly, the first couple of days, the time was so short there wasn’t much room to sample what makes Britain British.  Well maybe I rode a train.  Discussed temperatures in Celsius.  Got rained on.  I guess those count.  I mean, it wasn’t until lunch today before I found a proper British Pub.

Well … of course I ate English food.  In fact, the first evening I was in the country, no more than a few hours after the plane arrived, I had The Quintessential English Meals.  The meal so popular in England and Scotland that is said to be the most ordered food at restaurants & take-outs in the last few years.  Of course I am talking about that famous of famous British food … Chicken Curry (that’s an Indian dish for those of you who don’t know) .. and I know who specifically wouldn’t know what Chicken Curry is, and to that specific person … Happy Fathers Day).

Curry is just an example to me of one of the biggest misnomers about England.  It seems so many people believe that British food is bland and flavorless.  I’ve been coming her for nearly 15 years, and never really considered the food here to be bland or flavorless – in fact, quite the opposite.  Those more traditional English foods jump out as items packed full of flavor.  Think about the old standard “Fish & Chips” – or fried fish with fries.  It’s hard to make anything fried flavorless:  A little batter, a lot of salt, and some yummy fish flavored greasy oil dripping and it is got yummers written all over it.  Toss on some malt vinager over top of everything and you are in flavor town baby!

But I am a much bigger fan of a good pie.  These are the meat pies that you can find in any traditional pub around the country.  Similar to an American “Pot Pie”, these are steak & ale, or chicken & veg, or other great mixes of goopy yums baked inside of a pie pastry.  Put some gravy over top and a side of mushy peas (think mashed potatoes except with cooked peas) and you got yourself a halftime delight during the football.  It’s cousin, and an absolute personal favorite since my years as a kinda-yooper at Michigan Tech, is a Cornish pasty – the same concept as a meat pie, but in a hand-held envelope with more potatoes or turnips or dryer veg.

It’s really all screams ‘comfort food’ to me.  Even with my new stomach, I don’t find any of it disagreeable – except the portion size is very American so much of it gets left on the plate.  I think the bad rap that British food gets is that it isn’t as sophisticated as French cuisine or dynamic as Italian or uniquely German as Germany, so it is lost to it’s European cousins.  To call it bland is, though, unfair

And it can’t be blamed on the people that’s for sure.  I mean, look at their love for Curry.  No dish, to me, is as complex in common food than curry.  Chicken Curry (or Chicken Tikka Marsala) is chunks of chicken cooked in a slathering sauce of gravy consistancy.  It assaults your nose with it’s spices.  It’s a unique smell, but defines ‘Curry’ from the curry powder in use – a smell that can be so strong that it lingers in your home for days.  I should explain, it’s spicy, but not “Spicy”.  I mean – It’s not like spicy Mexican dish where you have a single type of pepper that burns your taste buds – Curry as loads of different spices that when made well hits you at different moments as it enters your mouth.  But that’s not it.  The sauce uses coconut milk (which is a sweet flavor that doesn’t taste like shaved or toasted coconut for those who squirmed on that).  So just as you feel that overwhelming curry spice hit your mouth, it is rewarded with that sweetness of the coconut milk behind it – like getting a bit of sweets after a more spicy dish.  A great side of rice, and naan (a flat herb filled bread) to help scoop it all up, and a good curry can fill you up and warm you up in one sitting.  More than anything, curry is a burst of flavors and spices.  If the Brits love this dish this much, then you have to respect that they enjoy what isn’t bland.

So lay off the bland jokes, mate.

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