Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock: Not Good Eats

Food.  I will skip the well known differences between the US and UK on food.  It is true that portion sizes are much larger here, and there isn't much I've got to say about that. I've posted on flavor palates previously, noting that US flavors are more intense across the board, but given a choice, Brits default to sweet, Texans to spicy.  (I'll leave it to JJ to rant in the comments about the flavor palate in the rest of the country.) I've discussed coffee, chocolate, and dairy as well.

I think US fare is better than UK fare, but it wasn't always so.  In the past 30 years or so, from Julia Child onward, American food has moved beyond marshmallow fluff.  To see how far we've come, check out this hilarious commentary on some Weight Watchers recipes, circa 1975--three words: fluffy mackerel pudding.  If you like that, James Lileks has a coffee table book, The Gallery of Regrettable Food.

Last week I was reminded just how bad American food can be.

I had been running a pre-Spring Break infirmary.  Yasha was in London.  Therefore, I didn't get to the grocery store.  (I miss grocery delivery.) On the menu for dinner last night, I had scheduled Italian grazing, which is cold cuts, cheese, bread, and antipasti.  I asked my brother to go to the store to get the cheese and cold cuts.  Normally I'd head to Central Market for those things.  (Central Markets are HEB's foodie markets which are scattered across Texas.  CM is one of the many perks of living in Texas.  I recently took Virginia to the Austin CM thinking she would be impressed with the selection, but all the NYC to London to NJ gal could do was marvel, "They are giving grapes away! How in the world did you deal with your grocery bill in London?!"  I didn't look--couldn't.  We would have starved.  But, I do digress.) My 32 year old bachelor brother had plans with friends that night, so he went to Kroger, which is closer.  Kroger is fine for many things, but not cold cuts and cheese.  American copies of European items can go horribly wrong.

The asiago had a mild aftertaste of vomit that was more distinct than the ever present vomit flavored jellybean in boxes of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans.  I don't even want to start on the mushy texture of the salami.  The children and I had bread, oil, and bel peppers for dinner. Tigger made geometric designs on the table with the cheese.  The dogs only tried to get a piece once--once.


Expat mum said...

It's interesting that you say Brits default to sweet because I still find a lot of American dishes very sweet. Cinnamon in everything, sugar in the baked beans, honey in the bread etc. When I first came here (almost 22 years ago) we lived in Dallas, and it was the fruit meringue thing on the same plate as savory salad stuff that really got me. Oh, and the frothy punch that was served at some functions!

Anonymous said...

Yes like Expat mum I am surprised by your view that the British prefer sweet to a greater extent than Americans. After around 30 years in the UK on the occasions that I do go "home" I am struck by how sweet many everyday foods taste. Even beer tastes sweeter!

Peter Bond

AHLondon said...

I readily concede that American food is more intense across the board. A sweet food is sweeter in the US, especially in the South. Is that frothy punch really still served some places? It used to be standard wedding reception fare with the color of the punch matching the bridesmaids dresses. It might have been the subject of one of those WW cards. Anyway, compared to my childhood, that concoction is rare these days. Peter, were you trying one of those flavored beers? Some of them are scary.
My point is that if Brits are going to do something to a food, they will make it sweet. Sweet peppers in sushi rolls are perhaps my most horrible memory of this. Sweet chili sauces, relishes, fruit, such are the things Brits add to food, if anything at all. Throw in biscuit consumption--saying little of things like flapjacks, toffees, and treacle--and the British palate tends to sweet. Ours, it tends to excess. Overwhelming force is not just a military tactic.