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|Volume 11 |Issue 23| June 08, 2012 ||
Fish n Chips?
NADIA KABIR BARB
Having had a relatively busy and tiring day, the prospect of having to whip up a meal for the five of us and two of my children's friends was less than appealing. As we seem to run a semblance of a democracy in our household, everyone had a say and a vote as to what to order in for dinner. The suggestions that were thrown into the mix consisted of Chinese, Thai, pizza, Japanese food and fish and chips. We settled on fish and chips. Coincidentally in the UK there is a long standing tradition of eating fish and chips on a Friday which actually originated with the Roman Catholic practice of not eating meat on Fridays especially during Lent and substituting meat with different types of fish. As it was a Friday evening, the choice seemed rather apt.
In schools these days it is still customary to serve fish and chips to the students on Fridays and I recall even when I was in university, living in halls of residence, we knew what we were getting every week on a Friday evening, although they thought it necessary to call it fish in batter with chipped potatoes just to make it sound more interesting! Those of us who have had the pleasure or lack thereof, of having school meals and experienced the somewhat substandard level of cooking in these cafeterias, it used to be almost a treat as fish and chips was one dish the cooking staff could not get wrong.
Food that has always been considered quintessentially British is generally known to be rather heavy and hearty. This has much to do with the climate and the conditions that the people had to live and work in. Houses were draughty and cold and the weather damp. Therefore people wanted a meal that would be hot, filling and comforting. In the past the food you might have found being consumed in an average household would have consisted of dishes such as steak and kidney pie or a pie of some sort, maybe the ever popular fish and chips, bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) or the famous Roasts (usually beef or lamb) that are still regularly served in many homes, restaurants and pubs across the country especially on Sundays.
You might also have come across some traditional dishes that have strange names such as 'bubble and squeak' — a vegetable dish and the bizarrely named 'toad in the hole' (fortunately no toads are used in the making of this dish - only sausages in batter and served with vegetables and onion gravy).
British desserts or puddings are also known to be slightly heavy and stodgy with many of them like jam roly-poly, bread and butter pudding or spotted dick being steamed or cooked in an oven and served hot. It was an appropriate way to end a meal on a cold and wet evening. I hasten to add that spotted dick is a steamed suet pudding which contains dried fruits and is normally served with custard!
British cuisine has in the past had a bad reputation as it has been considered bland and boring but recently there has been a drive to popularise traditional British produce and reintroduce many of its well known and loved dishes. The revival has attempted to keep the basic concept but updating it to suit contemporary sensibilities.
Most countries suffer from gross generalisation and stereo typing. If you think about England, you may conjure up images of the Queen, Big Ben, grey skies and wet weather, a stiff upper lip, scones, afternoon tea, Wimbledon, strawberries and cream and of course fish and chips. But over the years, Britain and especially London has evolved and it has become a melting pot for a variety of cultures, religions and races and is an exceedingly cosmopolitan city. The most significant example of this is the way in which the British population has embraced cuisines originating in different countries. Nowadays we hardly go to the local fish and chip shop or 'chippy' as they are colloquially known, due to the fact that we are spoilt for choice living in London especially when it comes to food.
Over the years the gastronomic horizon of Britain has changed considerably and the British palate has changed accordingly. For example, with the advent of numerous curry houses opening up around the country during the seventies, the British public were introduced to sub continental cooking, which has now become an integral part of the local diet. Other cuisines that now form part of the food landscape are Chinese, Italian etc.
The driving force behind the British reaching out from steak and kidney pie to chicken korma and chow mein was doubtless due to the influx of immigrants settling in the UK. With all those ethnic communities busily adapting to life in England, home cuisine must have represented a way of preserving home traditions and this in turn gradually filtered into mainstream cooking and into restaurants. Although these days, Chinese, Thai, Italian, French, Indian and even Japanese food have almost become rather passé and slightly run of the mill. You don't even need to venture to a restaurant as you can find readymade meals adorning the shelves of your local supermarket.
London is also a financial and commercial hub with a constant flow of people of all nationalities living, working and travelling here. Who does not want a slice of home when living in a foreign country and London has been exceptional in the way it caters to everyone's taste.
It is quite conceivable these days to come up with a type of food that is indigenous to a certain part of the world and find at least one if not more restaurants catering to that particular cuisine. If I felt like an Armenian dish, a meal from Mauritius, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Hawaii, Peru, you name it, I wouldn't have to go very far as I could find it right here in London. What about Azerbaijani, Uzbekistani, Eritrean, Polynesian or Georgian cuisine? No need to get on a plane as you can find some eating place that serves this type of fare. Whether you are an enthusiast of big bold flavours, prefer lighter fresher ingredients or have a penchant for food that is visually stunning, there is an option for everyone.
To give you an idea of how eclectic people's tastes have become, there is a restaurant called Archipelago and this establishment has made its mark by serving exotic and unusual food items or at least unusual to the British diet. You could sit down for a meal of zebra roulade, kangaroo fillet, and bison or wildebeest steak. You might even opt for the ostrich or crocodile meat and for those who are even more adventurous — the chilli and garlic locust or scorpion! I must admit that so far I have not plucked up the courage to venture to the restaurant and sample the exotic dishes on offer on the menu! However if they had fish and chips on the menu...
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