After more than 20 years married to a Brit, I’m still amazed at their eating habits. Not only do they eat strange stuff like Marmite and Lucozade, but they give it bizarre names. Like Spotted Dick, Toad in the Hole, Rumbledy-Thump and the the ever amusing Drowned Baby. Add to the confusion, the tendency they have to call every dessert, whether it’s cake or ice cream or a fruit tart, a “pudding”.
I’m still not used to Andy calling the evening meal “Tea”. It’s especially odd when he comes home and asks me: “Have you given the doggies their Tea?” One day he’ll find me serving Darjeeling to the terriers while Oscar wears a bowler and Lucy a large floppy gardening hat.
Oh, I could go on and on. And I’m just talking about the English here. Let’s not even bring in the Scots and their haggis, which is sort of an offal and oatmeal pudding cooked in a sheep’s stomach.
But the strangest thing to me about British eating habits, is not so much what they eat, but what they don’t eat. Every country has food that the rest of us think is odd. Ever seen grilled grasshoppers in Thailand? (Surprisingly good and crunchy.) Or abalone liver served in Japanese restaurants? (Not so good.)
No what is odd about the Brits is what they WON’T eat. Not just a thing or two, but whole food groups. Mainly vegetables. Any former student of a British Grammar School (which is sort of the American equivalent of an Advanced Placement School) will not, under any circumstances, eat beets. Now I can understand not eating beets the way the British cook them — boiled until they are a pulpy pink mess. But the way I was taught to cook them: choosing the tenderest organic beets of all colors and slow roasting them until the sugars caramelize. Well, it just criminal to avoid those. However, Andy cannot be persuaded to try one. In fact, if there is a speck of beet juice anywhere that is allowed to touch any of his other food, he can’t eat that. Recently, he announced he didn’t even want to smell beets on my breath. So beet cooking is going to become a stealth activity at our house, reserved for those occasions when he has a business trip. I’m planning to grow beets in my organic garden. I’m wondering if the beet ban will extend to any vegetables grown within a 2 foot radius of a beet.
While beets have got to be the most avoided vegetable in England, it should be noted that they aren’t really that keen on vegetables in any form. I grew up in a household where dinner was cooked by color. You always had an orange vegetable, a green vegetable and maybe a red or yellow one to balance it out. The British are quite comfortable having a dinner that is, at best, predominantly brown, at worst, a pale gray. Those pub dinner signs in England that advertise “meat and two veg”? By veg, they usually mean beans and potatoes. I once had a pub lunch and complained that I’d only been served one veg. I was told that the slice of bread was my second one.
We do quite a number of festive dinners which somehow tend to be dominated by our British friends. So far, the only colorful vegetables I’ve been able to get down a majority of them are peas and carrots which are unfortunately, the least nutritious and least interesting of all vegetables.
Oh, I’ve tried the health argument, the aesthetic argument and every other argument to promote vegetables. The British rebuttal always comes down to roughly the same thing.
“What can you Yanks tell us about food? You’re a nation that eats peanut butter.”
When I was living in university halls of residence in London in the mid 90’s, we were given a large thimblefull of orange juice every morning. Only one, mind! This had been intoduced because the previous year a group of boys on the second floor had all come down ill and for the longest time no one knew what was wrong with them. Turns out that they all had scurvy from only eating in halls and not eating their vegetables! I kid you not!
Reading your post was like going back in time to the 1970s. Not sure we’re quite so bad these days and the British I know grow and eat lots of veg. In fact beetroot is my girls’ favourite vegetable. They particularly like the effect it has on their tongue and bowel movements but I suspect Andy is too old to be persuaded by such scatalogical arguments.
p.s. Please don’t eat that spotted dick. Nothing like that should come out a can. Homemade is best with homemade custard too.
Unfortunately, I’m looking at a spectrum of Brits from my nieces in their early twenties to friends in their thirties, forties and fifties. Same story. No vegetable love there. In fact, the older Brits a slightly more adventurous. I can remember taking my young nieces out to dinner and there were only three things they could eat: pizza, hamburgers or fish fingers. They even removed the lettuce from their burgers and the peppers from their pizzas.
Spotted dick. Wow. Just, wow.
Although I have to admit that I am not into beets. I was a vegetarian for 8 years and LOVE my veggies… but have a tough time with beets. It’s a smell thing. I feel similarly about fennel, but only because I O.D.’ed on it in while studying in Switzerland (the school served it 5 nights a week).
The really odd thing is that explaining spotted dick away as “sponge pudding” doesn’t actually help; if anything, it sounds worse.
Spotted Dick, eh?
You had me laughing out loud reading this, Lisa!
I remember the first (and last) time I had Marmite. Eee gads! What a horrific taste/texture to have in your mouth.
Great post! I remember going to a restaurant in London and discovering this. I decided to pass on dessert:)
I’ve heard of spotted dick before yet I still guffawed when I saw the picture and read your title. The post is a hoot.
I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.
I’ll never forget the Jamie Oliver show that showed a child being taken to the A & E because of severe constipation and stomach problems. Evidently there is an epidemic of this kind of thing in young people because they eat so many potatoes. Chips for brekkie, chips for lunch, chips for dinner! No fiber in the diet. Some children could not identify vegetables. I think thanks to Jamie and other cooking shows in recent years veggie consumption is on the rise, albeit very slowly.