The Penny Post

Eating in England

By Andrei Codrescu

English food is the primitive ancestor of American diner food circa 1950. In the pubs and the average eateries they consume instant mashed potatoes topped by sickly white sausages made from things like pig hooves and leeks. Sometimes they add peas and horribly tortured broiled tomatoes that must pass for healthy greens. Breakfast is a vat of grease extracted from burnt bacon, carbonized ham or more of those sausages, topped by eggs fried so hard they must embarrass the chickens that laid them. Not that the pigs that provided the links are any less embarrassed. All creatures are embarrassed by what the Brits make out of them. Happily, swans are protected by a law that levies a 5000-pound fine or six months in jail for anyone attempting to cook them. That isn’t stopping what the British press calls “Eastern European gangs” from harvesting hundreds of swans from the charming canals and rivers that crisscross the country.

It’s a dreadful thing but I’m willing to bet that however these gangs prepare the birds, it’s infinitely tastier than what British fryers produce. The brutal Brit cuisine is generally washed down with a river of beer that has the net effect of energizing the cholesterol-numbed natives sufficiently to beat each other up. A current of violence flows through London pubs as swiftly as the swan-waters are placid. The diner’s pleasure in the common fare is further enhanced by the check, usually around eighty American dollars for the plain version. The tormented tomatoes cost an extra ten pence.

Guidebooks, which are usually written by people paid off by the worst establishments, point out alternatives: Indian and Chinese or Thai food. However, close encounters with these cuisines reveal that they are generally about ten years behind similar cooking in American cities. Londoners are fond of the word “standard,” as in “standard Indian restaurant,” which means, as far as I can make out, “traditional,” tailored, that is, to English taste. It’s as if Americans would prefer “Cantonese,” when everything from Hunan to Mongolian was available. These guidebooks also point out various Italianate nouvelle hipgeoisie establishments where the overcooked spaghetti is sometimes accompanied by a green mess mixed with nuts and drowned in sauces of suspect provenance. And the price is, consequently, triple the sum for pub lipids.

In all fairness, heartburn could be avoided if one knew people. I used to have a vacation rule: don’t go anywhere you don’t know people. If you break it, like I did, you’ll end up clogging your arteries in tourist traps, driven mad by encounters with waiters worse than French ones, and raving like a rankled crank. Oh, and your traveling companion will kill you or vice-versa, and you might end up on a pub menu. I now have a new sub-rule to my old rule: don’t go to London. It was just voted, quite rightly, the rudest city in the world. I’m now voting it the grossest grub spot on the planet.

There are many lovely things about the Brits. I’ll tell you about them after my month-long fast.


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