It has been awhile since I wrote a food post and after a month in England, I think it is about time. There are those who would have you believe that English food sucks, and they're kinda right to a point; but the ever growing number of Michelin stars points in the other direction. However, I can't afford to eat in a Michelin starred restaurant!!! With the pound at $1.53 and our budget travels in full effect, even lunch would be extravagant. I would also point out that the great majority of English people can't afford to eat there either. So what does that leave us with: Normal food for normal folks, and thats what I'm gonna talk about.
There is a way that most English food comes: Fried, to within and inch of its life, or in a pastry crust. The one exception is cheap curry (a left over from Indian occupation and a welcome addition to British cuisine). Fish and chips, pasties, pies, etc. are everywhere and relatively cheap.
Their are a couple of classics that are worth a note:
Pasty - A pastry sort of pie (think small flaky calzone) with traditional fillings such as steak and ale, lamb and mint, and the Cornish pasty which is like beef stew in in pastry. Cheap.
Pies (hopefully pork :) - These are free standing little pies filled with similar things as in pasties with the exception of the pork pie. One of my favorite British snack foods, the pork pie is a lump of minced and spiced pork with a substantial layer of gelatin in a pie crust. It is meant to be eaten slightly chilled, but this may make the gelatin layer a little off-putting for some. Jess found them to be intensely "meaty". Cheap.
Black pudding - This is a blood sausage that is cut into a little disk and usually fried. It is part of the traditional Scotish and Irish breakfast. It is quite solid and has a lightly spiced taste and is mostly oats or some sort of grain with small bits of meat and blood. There is really no way to make it sound appetizing but I assure you that a lightly fried egg on top of black pudding is an amazing way to start the day! Cheap.
Little places that do what I like - There is a picture of a whole pig in which Jess and I partook in Edinburgh. It just goes to show that there are little places who take their stuff seriously and offer great food at reasonable prices. I had a good sized sandwich stuffed with tender pork and a piece of the cracklin, topped with BBQ and haggis (spreadable kind of the Scottish classic) for under 4 pounds. A great find. Thanks Jess!
In general, a lot of food is consumed in pubs in small towns and villages (before 8:30!!!, good luck getting food after 9 PM any night in the UK, unless is is donar or a similar fast food). Larger cities of course have various restaurants and there is a large difference in price and quality. You can usually find an okay meal in a pub, like a pie and mash or burger, for about 8-10 pounds. Good food cost a lot of money and is comparable to US prices except that it is in pounds!
Now, on to beer, another English staple. The beer here is generously poured (20 oz pints), a fair price (about 3 pounds per beer), and really rather uninspiring. There is a craze to have "real ales" which are basically English made beers that are pulled from the barrel without carbonation. Some are okay, but I really believe that this beer is meant to be consumed in volume. From someone that is used to an ESB type of beer, and that is mostly what is availible to them, this will seem quite nice; but I'm from Portland and we like our beers to be aggressive, strong (UK beer is between 3-4.5% alcohol by volume; Bud is over 5% to give an example; most NW beers are well over 5%), and packed with flavor which is about as far away from British beer as you can get. Imported beer is available on tap (called a lager) and is usually at least 25-50% more expensive.
A real surprise is that there are a number of very impressive ciders about in England that are exactly the opposite of their beer. Note, I'm not talking about Strongbow, which is basically fortified apple juice and not very good; I'm talk'in scrumpy! Scrumpy is quite flavorful (although it can have an unpleasant bitter taste for some), sits at about 7% abv, and cost as much as the beer. A 50 CL bottle will set you back about 2 pounds in a store and a pint (20 oz) will cost maybe 3 pounds and lay you out on the floor. 4-5 pints equals a kick to the head the next day, so indulge at your own risk.
Wine is expensive and not good here. Granted, we just came from France, but even English people know their wine sucks and import it. Unfortunately, it seems importing wine to the UK makes it about 4x more expensive than in France and with half the quality.
What about spirits you might ask? Well, this is a mixed bag. You know there is something north of England called Scotland and they make a little drink up there, maybe you heard of it. In all seriousness, Scotch is an amazing spirit and really unique in the world of liquor. Too bad it is so damned expensive (I believe more expensive here than in the US much of the time). So here is the rub:
Bartender: Would you like a scotch?
Me: Why yes I would love one.
Bartender: Okay, just let me grab the metal 35 ml (about a child's finger at the bottom of the glass) pour device required by the UK government and i'll charge you 3 pounds. Enjoy!
This sucks. Charge me what you want, but good lord, pour me a proper drink! Here is another thing: I'm in Scotland, but it is discouraged for bars to arrange tastings and you are expected to just buy a full pour. I know just enough about scotch that I can be expensive in a bar doing something like this. If you have the means, it is apparent to me that distillery tours are the way to go.
Well, there is a whole world of food and drink up here that I did not touch on, but you will have to read about it elsewhere as I have been rambling on for some time and we try to keep these things manageable. I look forward to siting down to a lovely NW pint and telling you all about it!