I'm spending the Christmas holiday season with my fiance and his family in England. Since she's curious, Carolyn asked that I write a post about our Christmas dinner. Surprise! It was practically the same as a Christmas dinner in the States: turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, carrots, brussels sprouts and roasted potatoes. The only interesting difference was the dessert and frankly, I don't think a whole post about Christmas pudding would be very interesting to anyone but me
Here's a picture I took of Christmas dinner. As you can see it's all very familiar.
Instead, I'm going to talk about all the other Adventure Food I've been sampling.
I started using the term Adventure Food with my friend Andrea. She and and I had taken a few fun road trips the summer before last, and also a long cross-country road trip in the spring. We had a lot of Adventure Food. They're the foods that are experiments, a bit of local cuisine you want to taste, something you only have on special occasions, or are just plain fun. For example, funnel cake is an Adventure Food, I only I have it at fairs and festivals. Coconut coated candy apples for breakfast at Coney Island are another example.
My previous posts here have been about vegetarian cooking. That's because when I'm at home, I eat primarily a vegetarian diet. It's entirely for environmental reasons that I won't go on about now. The point is, I still eat meats now and again. So, upon arriving in England for my first visit back in October, I decided to happily sample British cuisine both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Since then I've had several fun and interesting foods. There are enough that it will be best to organize them into two posts, the savory and the sweet.
A full English breakfast was at the top of my 'must try' list. Breakfast is my favorite meal and I knew it would introduce me to black pudding. The core of the meal is familiar with eggs, toast and bacon. But add in some friend tomatoes and mushrooms, baked beans, sausage, black pudding and a bit of HP Sauce and it's a gigantic new thing. Black pudding is a sausage made from cooked down blood with a filler of some sort (the ones I had were barley). Because of the gruesome ingredient I was a little skittish about trying it. The texture was softer than I generally like for sausage, but the flavor was fine. Actually, it reminded me a bit of scrapple. HP Sauce is a particular brand of brown sauce that's served with just about everything but seems to be a requirement with a full English breakfast. It's tangy and awesome. I may have to find it at home.
Graham insists sausages are different in the UK. While it's true that there is amazing sausage here, I think the US sausage situation has improved in the past 10 years. Richer and more exotically flavored sausages are now in nearly every grocery store. I guess it's been that way here for much longer. Game sausages seem to be more common in the UK. We bought some very nice wild boar sausages at a butcher. They were amazing at breakfast served on toast with some HP Sauce. Actually, that's an interesting thing. I've seen more butchers here than at home.
Pates and terrines are very common. I think I've seen one or the other on every menu I've encountered. Chicken pate seems to be the most common, but there have been some that are more interesting. One of the best was a venison terrine at The Angel Restaurant in Guildford. Graham's father received two types of pate as Christmas gifts, hare and wild boar. Hopefully I'll be able to sample them in a few days.
Pasties (pastry with a variety of fillings) are everywhere, there are even chains that specialize in them. This makes me very happy. Like Scotch eggs, pasties are something I equate with renaissance fairs. Here, I can pick up fresh ones at a various shops in town or at a kiosk at the train station. For Christmas, a pasty chain The West Cornwall Pasty Company, had a holiday themed one with turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. It was very tasty.
Speaking of Scotch eggs (which are hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried or baked), unsurprisingly, they're everywhere. I tried to not squeal with happiness when I saw them for sale in packs of two at a mini-mart. I may need to start a letter writing campaign to Wawa.
On Boxing Day I went to a football (soccer) match with Graham and his brother. On the trip to the stadium I mentioned this British foods blog post, and upon arrival I was coaxed into having a cup of Bovril. "It's a beef drink" they said. I was nervous and instantly had images of African blood and milk mixtures that I had seen as a kid reading National Geographic magazines. I was handed a drink and right there on the foam cup it said "beefy drink." I took a sip and was relieved to learn it was beef broth. And you know what? On a cold day in a football stadium, a hot cup of broth was really, very nice. I've since learned Bovril is a beef extract and can be used in various ways, the hot drink being a common one. I've seen jars of it on shelves at the supermarket.
Another popular extract is Marmite, which is made from yeast. I've snacked on Marmite on toast a couple of times. It's extremely salty and savory - a strong and odd flavor that's growing on me. I'm curious to see how it is in hot water as a drink like Bovril.
I've been told fish and chips are best on the coast where the fish is fresher, but we did get some at a local chip shop. (The shop also had Chinese food, which is great.) Yeah, the hole in the wall fish and chips were as good as the fish and chips I'd get at a British style pub in the States. I'd love to take a trip to find a really great chip shop for comparison.
The Indian food here is fantastic! The large Indian population probably has to do with that. Restaurants have far more eclectic menus with more choices and regional curry styles. It's been heavenly.
There was a little bit of language confusion when it came to talking about vegetables. From a couple of recipes, I was already familiar with aubergine, which we call eggplant. But swedes and courgettes were new vegetables to me, that is until I had some. Swede is rutabaga and courgette is zucchini.
I think that covers my experiences with savory foods in England. If in the next couple weeks I try some more things (such as bubble and squeak), I'll post an update.
Look for a post about sweets, Adventure Food, Part 2, in a day or so.