A year ago this week, Mrs. UT and I were on vacation in London. We knew about all the old stereotypes about food in the United Kingdom, "English food is boring," "Indian food is everywhere," "English beer is warm and nasty," but we were determined to learn for ourselves whether these were true or not.
Here's some of the things we discovered:
Yes, Indian food is everywhere, and not only is it everywhere, it's also a lot hotter than the food we get here in the states because they don't bother with the whole "how hot on a scale of 1-5 do you want it." If you order the vindaloo, you're getting it served at the heat level they feel is appropriate. And you know what? It works.
Some of the best food in London can't be found at sit-down restaurants. One of the best meals I've ever had in my life was at Portobello Market. There was a cart that sold authentic Spanish paella from five massive paella pans (three used to cook, two used to serve). They offered two kinds of paella: seafood paella (shrimp, calamari, mussels, whitefish, etc.) and Valencia-style (bone-in chicken, peas, peppers, chorizo, rabbit, etc.).
Shown above: Seafood Paella from Jamon Jamon, Portobello Market - London
One side note: They served the shrimp in our paella with the heads, legs, and shells still on, and trying to remove them without anywhere to sit and eat is really difficult. Otherwise it's friggin' delicious.
There was also this one little hole in the wall near the apartment we stayed in that served fresh chicken, lamb, or beef shawarma, as well as other traditional near east delicacies like falafel (which were almost as big as softballs). Shawarma, for the uninitiated, is kind of like Greek gyros, huge spits of meat are roasted over the course of a day and shavings of the meat are wrapped in a big, soft piece of pita and piled high with pickled vegetables and sauces like tahini and hummus.
Shown above: Lamb kofta kebab with tahini from Taza Sandwich, Bayswater - London
A word of warning if you find yourself here, do not go during peak business hours. The line goes out the door, and there are literally two seats in the back; and during peak business hours, there's not even enough room to turn around in, let alone to wait for your food to be prepared.
Yes, traditional English food is boring, but it's not as bland as you think. English food is, at its core, meat and potatoes; fish and chips, bangers and mash, even this dish called "hunter's chicken" is served with a potato-based dish of some kind. But they're pretty good meals. The piece of fish they serve with fish and chips can sometimes be as long as your forearm and tastes light and delicate despite being fried in a vat of oil. The bangers and mash (English sausages served with mashed potatoes) are smothered with onion gravy which makes it rather tasty. In our experience, a lot of "traditional British food" resembled very much what gastropub food tastes like over here; take a classic boring-ass dish, and make it taste better.
No, English beer is neither warm nor nasty. It's just not ice cold like our crappy American beers (I'm looking at you Budweiser, Miller, and Coors) are. The best description I can give is that they're cool, not cold. The reason for that is because the kegs are typically kept in the basements of pubs where it's a lot cooler than it is in the main drinking/dining area. There's no refrigerators, no freezers down there, just the kegs. And here's a little confession, generally I'm not a big beer drinker. I like some beers, but my overwhelming reaction is that they're mostly just too bitter for my liking, the result being that I make a bitter face when I drink beer. English beer is so smooth and has so clean a flavor that I never once made my usual bitter face. It was also here where I discovered a fantastic Scottish creation called Crabbie's Ginger Beer. That might've been my favorite food/drink discovery of the entire trip.
So, since this has gone on for nearly 700 words, I'll wrap up with a couple of smaller food discoveries.
The pre-made food sold at grocery stores/bodegas in London is better than ours. They sell the usual heat-and-serve dishes you'd find at HEB or Randall's or Kroger, but I have yet to find a pre-made meal here in American grocery stores that can compare. And don't even get me started on the chocolate-filled croissants.
Chocolate sold in Britain/Europe is just better than ours. Period. And there's a good reason for it. In the United States, anything sold as chocolate must have a minimum of 10% concentration of chocolate liquor (ground or melted cocoa nibs). In the UK, the minimum amount of cocoa solids in chocolate is 20%. Hey, stay awake, this is the last part, I promise. The result is that chocolate sold there is creamier and not as disgustingly sweet as the average Hershey bar sold at the mini-mart here.
Okay, I'm done with my soapbox. The floor is yours, the usual open thread rules apply.
Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes and dudettes.