Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Unpopular Opinion: I Like The Food in England Better

A few weeks ago, John and I went out for dinner at our local pub and had the most amazing dinner (not pictured). Simple, but fantastic. It was a warm, summer's evening (ha! ha! We won't be seeing much of those again here in London) and we sat outside on rickety wooden picnic tables, that followed the slope of the sidewalk. The pub's windows were flung open and, on the table opposite, two families sat with their young children. The sun was just setting, and the glow cast a warmth on my shoulders as John went inside to order our drinks.

I studied the menu for a while before my eyes landed on the clam linguine, tossed with white wine, garlic, cherry tomatoes, parsley, and a dash of red chilli. John settled for the pulled beef salad with barley, greens, and pomegranate seeds.

A pint of soda water and lime (for me) and bitter (for John) later, our food arrived and I eagerly dug in: easily one of the best meals I'd had in a while, hands down. The ingredients were fresh, simple, and tasty. The tiny clams were sweet, plentiful, and the shells soon piled high on my plate.

Mid-way through the meal, we traded plates (as we often do) and I tucked into John's light, refreshing summer salad: lovely, clean flavors that begged to be savoured and enjoyed.

Then, I thought back to my recent trip to America and wondered: where could I find this simple, yet delicious cooking in the States?

And then, I realized: I haven't. At least, not yet.

Don't get me wrong: I love my American sandwiches. Served with a cold, crunchy pickle on the side, with chips (that's crisps, for you Brits), a soup or salad, and stuffed with magical combinations (think: turkey breast, cream cheese, and cranberry sauce, or shrimp on a fluffy white baguette with shredded lettuce, mayo and a layer of melted cheese, or ham, turkey, and pastrami with provolone on a thick sliced bloomer) - American sandwiches are the best. Bar none.

And the milkshakes: thick, creamy, ice cold, in damn tasty flavor combinations (peanut butter Oreo, anyone?) ... perfection.

But that's where my love of American "food" kind of stops. I even have issues with eating out at restaurants - proper, "good" restaurants that charge, say, $80 for a steak (yes, really) topped with crabmeat.

It's always a little ... too much. Too much cheese. Too much seasoning. Too much butter. Too much everything. The flavors become confused; the essence of the dish is lost along the way.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so: I penned a tentative tweet about this months ago (lest my head be ripped off by all-or-nothing American food lovers) and a few fellow Americans agreed with enthusiastic virtual nods-of-the-head (one British person sent me a private message that read: "Are you f*cking kidding me?").

I think back to a recent experience I had at a popular waterfront restaurant on the Puget Sound, in Washington state. Having ordered the "Rockin' Rockfish Tacos" and a side of the restaurant's famous chowder, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into a fresh fish taco with, what I imagined to be, a fresh squeeze of lime, plenty of cilantro, and some kind of cabbage concoction. What I received was a strange melted-cheese thing with a jarring sweet Thai marinade that tasted a bit like licking a Jolly Rancher alongside a portion of fish and chips. The chowder, in all is salty glory, made my head ache - I couldn't finish it, let alone taste the clams. And, you know, I wasn't even disappointed because I had a bad meal, I was disappointed because it was the lunch that I'd wanted to treat my family to, and it was, frankly, undeserving of this event.

And then there was this article that was recently published in Insider about the "8 Unhealthiest Restaurant Meals in America", which made me think ... why? Why the need for a Manchego, cheddar, pepperoni and sausage stuffed pizza topped with MORE pepperoni, sausage, bacon, marinara, mozzerella and Parmesan cheese? Calories, fat, and sodium content aside ... is that even enjoyable? (I don't know, I haven't tried it - maybe it's mind-blowing.)

After living in Europe for 10 years, my tastebuds have regressed, perhaps - regressed to a place where I find rustic charcuterie boards (with a smattering of cured meats and perhaps two or three cheeses, with a gherkin or handful of grapes thrown in for good measure) enticing; crusty baguettes smeared with a dollop of French mustard and a single but thick slice of salty ham enough; and linguine tossed with baby clams, white wine, garlic, parsley, cherry tomatoes, and a dash of chilli - divine.

I'm sure it's just me.

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