We owe the British a great debt—even if they can’t seem to get over having a royal family, our quaint American notions of democratic self government and the rule of law do date to radical 18th century fringe elements of British politics.
The Brits gave us Jane Austen and The Office. We sometimes (if we’re NPR listeners, and I am) hear the news on the BBC.
For all their cultural accomplishments, the Brits have one other abiding reputation. Think of “A Fish Called Wanda” when the American “spy” played by Kevin Cline is bullying the Michael Palin character.
Kline holds up a french fry and says something like “Ah, the one British contribution to world cuisine—the ‘chip.’”
Well, I guess we can forgive the land of Shakespeare if it didn’t invent pizza or guacamole.
Still, for this weekend, at least, the British culinary standards were inverted. We ate “English” this weekend, and enjoyed it very much.
Amanda and Matt sent us a Christmas care package from Norwich, England, loaded with some British treats. It didn’t arrive until this week, suggesting that the efficiency of the British Post and the U.S. Postal Service may indeed spring from the same cultural roots—but it arrived.
Those treats weren’t the only English food we enjoyed—this Saturday, after Scholarship Day at Mount Mercy University, we considered staying for lunch in the cafeteria, but after a walk-by view of the crowd, felt like going somewhere else.
In the spirit of “eating English,” we ended up at “The Londoner,” a Cedar Rapids pub and restaurant that bills itself as “British owned and operated.” The logo is downloaded from the restaurant’s web site, http://www.thelondonercr.com/
I don’t have any comparison for it, but if the food served The Londoner is any measure, Britain isn’t quite the culinary disaster zone it’s made out to be. I had a chicken curry, which was chicken and vegetables in a mild curry sauce over white rice, served with warmed and buttered pita bread. I don’t mind a bit more fire in my curry, but this was very nice.
Audrey had fish and chips. The fish was a huge hunk of cod in a very crunchy, tasty batter, served with heavenly fries that would make Ronald McDonald die of shame. They were thick, fresh, crunchy and salty—they probably took 10 years off our lifespan, but it seems an even bargain.
Ah. And then the packet from Norwich. Favorites listed first:
Jaffa Cakes. What is a Jaffa Cake? A sort of vaguely citrusy-chocolate iced soft cookie. I can see that these would be pretty addicting.
• Mince pies. Amanda warned us that we might want to avoid these—seeing as they had spent many weeks in postal warehouses on both sides of the big pond—but we checked the ingredients and decided that dried fruit and sugar probably won’t go so bad as to kill us. We’ll see, we had the for breakfast this morning, but no barfing get. And they were flakey, sweet and good. I warmed them up, which the package suggested, and they were good.
• “Pralines.” Chocolates that reminded me of Dutch treats once given to us by our parish priest in Early, Iowa (the Sheller kids were over half of the altar server population of the parish, and the kids had just finished serving at every Holy Week Service, but the gesture was still very nice). We watched “The Kids are All Right” Saturday night and ate the whole box.
• Prawn-flavored crisps. The name suggests seafood, but “seafood” seems like a vague synonym for “onion.” They tasted like slightly more oniony sourcream and onion flavored potato chips.
• Soreen, “the original malt loaf,” which suggests a bit of competition in the malt loaf market. This was the one food item that may have suffered a bit in transit-it was still soft, but slightly stale. Still, it was interesting and good—and much better when toasted and buttered.
There you have it. Another icon bites the dust. They may have kept it a secret for 1,000 years, but apparently the Brits have learned to cook a thing or two.
Where are we going for Father’s Day? Yeah. I’m making plans already. Fish and chips at the Londoner…