Food Nostalgia

Ask any German what they pine for most when stranded far away from their homeland, and they will all tell you the same thing: The bread. Forget the sausage myth – our real passion is for hundreds of regional varieties of bread. Freshly baked German bread needs nothing more than a generous lashing of butter to turn it into a satisfying meal. I haven’t lived in Germany for well over two decades, but I still miss it. That, and granny’s Apfelstrudel.

Having moved from the UK to Spain last year, I’m now not only feeling bereft of my birth country favourites, but I’m also missing all the great food Britain had to offer. Don’t get me wrong. Spanish food is truly fabulous, and I’m not likely to get tired of it any time soon. But right now, I’d kill for an M&S Rogan Josh (Yes, that is a ready meal… and I stand by that choice, sod you Jamie Oliver).

As you will have guessed by now, what I’m hankering after most is not my own cooking, but someone else’s. I miss London’s fantastic restaurants where you can indulge in any kind of ethnic food. It doesn’t matter if a country doesn’t even exist on the map, there’s a restaurant somewhere in London serving up its grub.

I miss the Jewish Bakeries of Golder’s Green, the Ethiopian restaurants in Kentish Town, and I have rapt dreams about a teensy Japanese restaurant just across the road where I used to live, in East Finchley, called Tosa. But I’ll be back one day, ordering my favourite Teryaki beef for lunch. And it will be great.

People tend to be perplexed when I tell them that I miss UK food. Snide comments about the insipidness of British fare may have been deserved at some point in history, but, I can assure you, they are no longer warranted.

What went wrong with British nosh to make it the most disparaged cuisine on the planet…?

Well, I have my theories.

In their glorious past, the Brits were just so darn busy cobbling together an empire and toiling over steam-powered looms, they had not a moment’s thought (nor the energy) to spare on how to rustle up a really tasty meal. Urban workers’ homes were often not equipped with kitchens, which meant that people subsisted on bread, dripping, sugary tea and ale. Cooking in middle and upper class homes was carried out by toothless serfs shackled to cauldrons of boiling water, into which they’d fling a leg of mutton, and it wasn’t pronounced done until every last dreg of colour had been leached out of it.

A good gritting with salt finally rendered the gristly lump of flesh fit for the table. Flavour was neither appreciated nor expected – it may even have caused an earnest Victorian gentleman to convulse at the dinner table. After all, a respectable family home was no place for rousing the senses into undue excitation.

In this day and age, however, Britain’s culinary deficiencies have been successfully overcome. Admittedly, this would never have happened without the tireless army of aid workers arriving on its weather beaten shores from the former colonies. Thanks to these generous and hardworking people, a searingly hot vindaloo and chicken chow mein with cashew nuts are considered to be just as British as toad-in-the-hole.

Sure, there are still a few remaining clusters of die-hard bland food fixators, mainly found in the heathen wastelands referred to as “up North”, who won’t eat anything that is not

  • made from fried potatoes
  • fried
  • wedged between a couple of slices of spongy bread the same colour and texture as old ladies’ underarms
  • totally unrecognizable, to the naked eye, as being of vegetable origin.

But these last bastions of culinary inadequacy will fall soon enough. As for me, I don’t intend on spending a whole lot of time in these places on future visits, nor move there if I ever decide to set up home in the UK again. In which case, I’ll have a whole new list of beloved Spanish foods and restaurants to get all misty eyed about.

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16 thoughts on “Food Nostalgia

  1. The Spideron

    I believe it was World War Two that ruined British cuisine. Prior to the 1940’s, there were many interesting dishes available for the native gourmand: trout with almonds, pidgeon and cobnut stew, duck in port and cherry sauce, devilled chicken legs, Eton mess and so on. With the imposition of rationing, families were forced to prepare food using limited resources, thus rendering our diet very bland. Even after rationing ended in 1954, the old ways did not return and Britain gained an unfavourable reputation abroad as a result. The 21st century, as you’ve pointed out, saw a renaissance in native cooking thanks in no small part to celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Eton mess… did you have to start on that?!? I so want a bowlful of that now!
      WW2 sure did have an impact, even though nutritional standards were upheld by the Ministry of Food, which was sadly abolished shortly after 😦
      The industrial revolution, though, does take a lot of the blame. I did a Masters in Food Policy a few years back, which was really fascinating… Tim Lang runs it. You can google him. I wish I knew a tenth of what’s stored up in his brain… sigh.

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  2. Kristin

    I couldn’t agree more. English food is much better than its reputation, and while working in London, I enjoyed the huge variety of top notch restaurants there.
    And some of the English classics are such comfort foods! I always loved (the vegetarian variation of) shepherd’s pie, good yorkshire pudding and fish & chips.
    And yes, as a German I also miss Schwarzbrot a lot. Whatever bread you buy in Mexico is sweet, sweet, sweet.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Yes, there are some great restaurants in London as long as you avoid the touristy areas. I really miss the variety.
      I bet you do get some great Mexican food! I heard there’s a great deal of variation across regional cuisines.

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      1. Kristin

        Yes, I love the Caribbean cuisine here – a lot of lime, cilantro, chili and fresh seafood. Playa also offers a great variety of restaurants, but here, too, you have to avoid the “tourist traps”. We even have a French patisserie that you would loooove!

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  3. Anna

    My college BF studied German and raved about German bread and pastries that his German-born teacher would make and bring to class. I was thinking, is he crazy? Great bread is the specialty of the French… And then I landed in Munich…

    As for England – everyone was scaring me with tales of British Cuisine. While I was studying in France, my BFF was at Queen Mary’s (I think) in London and dropped 40 lbs in 4 months bc everything was ‘inedible’. Then I went there a couple of years ago and ate AWESOME every single meal. Not just the ‘ethnic’ food, but traditional English fare (I LOVE LOVE LOVE Yorkshire Pudding) and international classics (burgers etc).

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      It’s a common misconception… I know there are some gastronomic blackspots, especially in the north, but London has the best food ever (if you avoid the tourist hot spots), I was reminiscing about this with a Brazilian guy I met in Toledo a few weeks ago. Sigh.

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