If You Are What You Eat, What Are the British?
Recently I found myself arguing with a British friend of mine over which tastes better: English cooking or dirt.
According to a Feb. 10 report by news agency Reuters, the issue has been settled once and for all. It's dirt.
That's not what the article actually says — what it says is that according to Dr. Graham Clayton, a researcher at Leeds University, British potato chips combine the aromas of "butterscotch, onion, cheese and ... ironing boards."
If you've ever had these chips, you're probably thinking: "Wait, ironing boards? I don't remember tasting any ironing boards; what did they do, improve the recipe?"
British potato chips differ from the American version in that the English chips are grey and soggy, as if they were laundered with dirty socks. They can be delicious if you've taken complete leave of your senses; otherwise, you might be better off checking to see what else is in the dryer.
My friend takes exception to my description of his chips — but then, this is a guy who eats baked beans and hotdogs for breakfast. (He calls the hotdog a "banger," but I know a hotdog when I see it, even if it doesn't have a ballgame in front of it.)
English cooking was deliberately designed by an ancient English king to motivate his troops to invade France. That's why my British buddy drinks stout, which looks like a glass mug full of liquid interstate highway. The beverage's name is very descriptive: Drink enough stout, and that's what you'll be.
The British love plain labels: Open my friend's cupboard, and you'll find it stacked with cans that say simply, "beans." That's it — no clue as to the kind of bean, how they are cooked or why anyone would eat them for breakfast. He's also got "Heinz salad cream" — if you need to know what flavor cream, you shouldn't be eating it.
Nor should you eat "clotted cream" — or at least, not according to my mother, who always insisted that when the milk came out in clots, it was time to throw it out. The word "clot" is intentionally unappetizing so that you'll know not to eat one, yet to the British, it's a form of dessert!
Or how about my friend's bottle of "brown sauce?" Only the Brits would think that "brown" was a flavor.
Brit: Today for lunch we've got some ironing boards in a delicate brown flavor, plus some gross clots.
Me: I think instead I'll just have a hotdog and some baked beans.
Brit: Sorry, we've stopped serving breakfast.
Me: Oh, OK.
Well, what color do the clots taste like?
Some of the labels, though, are completely incomprehensible. One small jar my friend has in his cupboard is called "Bovril," which sounds to me like something you'd take for a yeast infection. Turns out I'm wrong: Bovril is a "concentrated yeast extract drink." That's right, it doesn't cure a yeast infection, it is a yeast infection!
Another can is filled with "kipper fillets in sunflower oil." Not sure what a "kipper" is, I looked it up and came across this entry: "In the U.K., kippers, along with other preserved fish such as the bloater and the buckling ... ."
That's where I stopped reading, afraid I was going to throw a clot. Who would eat a fish called a "bloater"? That's how you describe a fish that has died from a yeast infection. One bite, and your knees will most certainly be "buckling."
For dessert, my friend has "rose-flavored jelly in milk chocolate." That's right, in England the cooking is so bad that people wander out into the garden to eat the flowers.
Brit: Do these roses taste red to you?
After munching on some ironing boards, bloating fish and clotted diary products, you might be, well, dead. If you're not, then you're probably British, which, given their diet, doesn't seem like that much of an improvement. You'll want to settle your stomach with either a good pumping or a handful of "digestive biscuits," a British cookie designed to help your body figure out what to do with all the stuff you've eaten.
Or here's an idea: Skip the meal. Catch up on your ironing, instead.