Sunday, March 28, 2010

Great food in England to start the adventure

As a British expat living in Spain I'm frequently met with people claiming how terrible the food is in England. I'm not strongly patriotic in general but I do feel very passionately about this idea that all food in Britain is bland and badly cooked. I've been in England now for a couple of days with two foreign friends, on the way through to South Africa, where we will be heading this afternoon, and I've had the good fortune to be able to dispell some of the myths about the cuisine here.

One of the first things you notice as you come into London, especially from somewhere like Santiago is the amazingly rich cultural diversity. You are immediately met with an incredible variety of languages, and as we headed to East Dulwich we passed an endless stream of restaurants from all corners of the world, from Eritreian, to Armenian, from Jamaican to fine French dining. Incidentally, this isn't to point out anything about British food at this stage, but just the huge diversity on display and on offer in the Capital.

We headed out on Thursday night to a local Turkish restaurant and were greeted with plates of spicy olives and tahini laced humous which we gorged on even before the starters arrived. I have struggled to find really flavourful olives in Spain so far, though down in Andalucia they have come close. (I should note that I don't like to complain about Spain, there are many things going for it, but I do find that the lack of imagination in the cuisine in the North West is a huge pity given the incredible local produce - the sea food being outstanding. It might seem a strange paradox to many, but coming from Santiago to England I am suddenly aware of the richness of possibilities I have grown up with). Heading out afterwards for a beer in a local pub, my Polish/Norwegian friend had his initiation into the world of ales, being surprised by the complexity and depth of flavours on offer.

This was all very enjoyable, but the first real taste of the British culinary scene came the next day as we headed towards the Tate Modern via Borough market. I hadn't been to Borough market for a few years, but if you ever want to see what can be done with fine British ingredients and a true love of cooking then come to this place in the morning and gorge your senses. The place is a wonderful mix of incredibly passionate people, selling world class produce, from cheeses which would put many a Frenchman to shame, to incredible pies, filled with peppery wild boar and spiced pork, to locally produced beers and wines, incredible selections of fruit and vegetables, and a panoply of other tasty treats. We dug in for a little post-breakfast treat before heading to the Tate Modern where we took a few tentative steps into the darkness.

For lunch we headed to Chinatown and had some tasty Sichuan dishes before resting for a few hours in a heaving pub, filled with that end of the week feeling, and then moved on to Brick Lane for the true curry-house experience. It was really wonderful to meet up with old school friends, drink the evening away and dig into my first vindaloo in many a year and to be able to introduce friends from other countries to this experience, without it seeming over the top or too unruly , was really lovely.

The next day we moved on to another of East Dulwich's hidden treats where steak and guinness pie gave another perfect example of good, basic but very tasty food from the British Isles. In fact we needn't have gone to the restaurant as all along one of the side streets was a Saturday morning market, where pork was being spit-roasted, fudge was being sold and more local treats could be sampled for a small price. Walking around this sort of market makes me proud of British food and even more defensive of the fact that we really do have wonderful culinary traditions, even if the much maligned overcooked veg, and badly cooked meats can certainly be found all too frequently. The point is that amazing food is available in this country, but you have to keep an open mind and know what to go for and what to leave for the less discerning eater.

Last night we headed back to Oxford where my mother had produced the most classical of British meals, roast beef and yorkshire puddings. I was a little afraid of the cliche, but with such fine beef, crispy roast potatoes and herb-filled batter you couldn't go wrong. I was very happy that my guests, repleat and almost unable to move had had a great cross-section of Britain's finest.

So, from this, onto Johannesburg where we will land in about 24 hours, ready to start our new adventures.


theoreticalminimum said...

I think when it comes to this part of the world, London is the only city that can offer the diversity that someone like you has been exposed to during travels (in my experience, Paris comes second). I strongly believe it takes the effort of travelling to other countries to appreciate what one has (and doesn't have) at home, especially when it comes to places like London. For me, going to London has always been a fantastic experience (barring the fact that most of my friends, and a sizable portion of my family live there) of diversity (people of all colours coming from so many countries, languages, cultural backgrounds, the food as you point out, etc.).

odioblog said...

I am so happy for you guys, as I can see, you had a great gastronomic weeckend so now you will be perfectly ready to Mozambique :)
Have agreat trip and see you soon in Africa!