Traverse City Record-Eagle


Eating in England – Yes, Please!

Cathy Stripe LesterAs I wait for the cookies to bake, I got to thinking of all the good eating I enjoyed this summer. I gorged on so many tasty local specialties, great restaurant meals and wonderful home-cooked food that for the first few weeks I was back in Grayling I actually enjoyed not eating much. (That phase didn’t last.)

First of all there are the British standbys, which they just simply do to perfection, such as roast beef.  Some British beef is fed on grain, but more of it is grass-fed than in the USA. Grass-fed is not only better for human health (less fat, less e-coli, more Omega-3s), it tastes wonderful. Look for local butchers, who get their meat from local farmers. And don’t forget the horseradish – Mmmmm!

Fish and chips is practically synonymous with Britain. At Newlyn, one of Britain’s largest fishing ports, a statue of a commercial fisherman stands near the harbor. The drizzle and mist is a reminder of where our fish dinners come from….

Fisherman statue overlooking Newlyn Harbor

Since I first went to England, I’ve noticed that more and more people have gone organic. I’ve sometimes noticed products there before they’re introduced to the States. (Example: Fair Trade instant coffee. You can get ground in the USA, but not instant.) And because lots of Brits revel in gardening, there’s a healthy amount of home-grown veg. Where I house-sat for a couple weeks, I was told that the several varieties of lettuce in the garden would go to seed if I didn’t keep cutting them back. So eat up! (Yes, ma’am!)

That said, there’s still the “Full English Breakfast” to contend with. If you go to a B&B (bed and breakfast) you’ll be offered one: Eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding (a spicy blood sausage), baked beans, mushrooms, toast, and grilled tomato. You can pick and choose, or have the whole thing. I have to say, it’s good for travelers, because hopefully you’ll walk off some of the cholesterol. And you don’t need lunch for a long time afterwards.

With other guests at Link House B&B in Bassenthwaite, Cumbria.

Then there are my supermarket favorites I look up whenever I get to the UK, which are either unavailable in the USA, or ghastly expensive: Lime Marmalade (like regular marmalade but with a subtle blend of tastes that sets it apart); Jaffa Cakes (a sort of cookie topped with orange and chocolate); and one particular brand of muesli, bursting with nuts, raisins, etc., that retails for about a third the price of a similar US product. I reveled in breakfast at my son’s house, when I took a good book out to the picnic table in back, and munched and read in the mild morning sun!

British food used to have a reputation for being stodgy and unimaginative, all boiled cabbage, spuds and mutton, but that is WAY out of date. Furthermore, the mix of nationalities there means there are excellent ethnic restaurants in lots of places.

With Harry and Ruth in a Japanese restaurant in Oxford. I'm holding a glass of plum wine, which is light and very flavorful.

Indian restaurants are all over: from their long history with India, Brits have taken to curries with a vengeance. I’ve had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten not in India, but in British Indian restaurants – and the home of a British friend of mine who married a man from Goa.

US food is “ethnic” there – I had to smile at a shop called “Sultan’s American Grocery” which sold real American cereals and hot dogs!

Even pub grub has gotten adventurous. You can still get traditional steak-and-kidney pies but I had a wonderful dish of herbed lentils, couscous and vegetables in one, which I would not have seen 30 years ago. Pubs aren’t quite like our bars, as many readers know – they’re often cozy family places.

Round pub with thatched roof in Norfolk

One of the things I enjoyed was sampling local micro-brewery drinks. My son belongs to the “Real Ale Society” which searches out local brews, which there are a lot of in the UK. I developed a taste for “stout,” which is a dark, hearty, aromatic ale, generally not so bitter as lager.

The Union Inn, seen from the bridge coming into Cornwall.

Remember in “Treasure Island” that Jim’s father kept the Admiral Benbow Inn? There really is an Admiral Benbow in Penzance. Notice the figure of a “pirate” on the roof. Or maybe a smuggler. Smuggling used to be quite a tradition in Cornwall.

The Admiral Benbow in Penzance.

Whether Robert Louis Stevenson visited it or not, it’s become a veritable museum of nautical stuff, with figureheads, compasses, brasswork, lanterns, ornamental knots, a ship’s wheel and a lot more.

Inside the Admiral Benbow

I didn’t eat at the Admiral Benbow. After all, Penzance is next to Newlyn, and I was still stuffing myself with healthy salad. One place where I hadn’t expected to eat, but did, was the Employees’ Dining room at the British Museum in London. I was taken there by Sarah, a young archaeologist who works in the Middle East antiquities department. She’s been on various digs and even showed me a couple objects she dug up herself(!) that were on display.

Lastly, at Montacute House, an Elizabethan Manor in Somerset, women in their opulent Elizabethan dresses and men in their doublets and starched ruffs used to go upstairs and walk off some of their roast boar and venison strolling up and down the “long gallery” which ran the entire width of the house (172 ft.). In good weather, they’d walk in the stately grounds, then retire to the “Pudding House” after dinner. While they partook of dessert (called “pudding” even today in the UK), the servants cleared the Great Hall for after-dinner entertainment. I never expect to eat there – but wouldn’t it be fun?

"Pudding House" on the grounds of Montacute House

  • Jo Anne

    Thanks for the great insight into English fare. There’s nothing quite like sampling the local cuisine to really get a feel for a country. I read that the way to experience various countries was to eat at Mc Donalds. There is a Mac Donalds near Apt, here in southern France, but I cannot quite muster up the courage to go in when there’s a nice French cafe next door.

    • Cathy Lester

      Thanks, Jo Anne. I agree, a country’s food gives you a real feel for the place. Though I don’t quite get that about MacDonalds… are there actually big differences? I’m with you, I’d stick with the French café.

      I’ve only ever been to a MacDonalds overseas once, and that was when I met an Iranian friend in London. To her, MacDonald was this fabled place she’d heard of and wanted to try out. As an antidote, I took her to a pub, where she daringly ordered the steak-and-ale pie. Even more daring, she tried one bite of my ham, which she declared delicious, even if it was made from unclean swine!

  • Valerie Pinto

    Thanks for the flattering account, Cathy! Ok, you can come again!

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