|The French are truly craftsmen when it comes to confections.|
Yes, this toolbox is made of chocolate.
While the title of this post alludes to food that smells bad, or, as the case may be, reeks like rotting flesh, it could just as easily have been titled "Will It Float?" If you aren't aware, the phrase/question "Will It Float" is the title of a recurring comedic segment on The Late Show with David Letterman during which Dave and his crew drop various objects into a pool of water, with great fanfare, to see if the objects will float. And although the segment is absolutely absurd, which is the whole point, there is some anticipatory build-up for each object to see if it floats. And just as there is this ongoing, amused curiosity among the audience members at the Late Show to see if various objects will float, there is a similar ongoing, amused curiosity when dining abroad. Of course, the question being asked when dining abroad is not "Will if float," but "Will it taste good?"
With that question in mind, and applying the same anticipation that is exhibited in the "Will It Float?' segment on the Late Show (because you really aren't sure if something will float or not), let's take a look at a few of the culinary delights that Jen and I sampled as international travelers...
|First, you start with a base of French bread. Then you add|
a hot dog. Then you add cheese. Then you serve it on a
fancy white dish, because you're in Paris.
|We'll see your croissant, and raise you.....thiiiis|
|This horse took one whiff of some French|
cheese, which had the unfortunate consequence
of freezing the horse in place forever, with an expression
of revulsion permanently fixed on its face
|This poor man, as you might guess, smelled some French|
cheese, careened over backward, and was instantly turned into
solid form for the rest of time
|Ale and pie. Not bad England, not bad.|
As previously noted, the title of this post could easily have been "Will It Float?", but the truth is that a third, equally viable alternative was available: "Difficulty Finding Things." Yes, in downtown London of all places, we searched in vain for some time to find a proper pub that served fish n' chips. In fact, our difficulty finding the items on our list became a bit of a theme for our time in the UK, for a variety of reasons. It was like these supposedly common foods were rare treasures, discovered only after extensive searching and painstaking research. Starting with our fish n' chips search, here is a list of some of the places we came across, only to be disappointed:
The Smuggler's Tavern - This place was most promising, and therefore the most disappointing. Our disappointment was heightened by the fact that we had already searched for a bit, passing on one place in hopes of something better, and this place rose up before us like the holy grail. The exterior was complete with a wooden statue of a smuggler over the door, the windows were block glass and smoky, and the tables inside were old and battered. However, much to our surprise, as we pulled up some chairs and sat down to inspect the menu, we discovered that The Smuggler's Tavern, despite all appearances, was a Thai restaurant serving Lard Na, Pad Thai, and various other entrees incorporating noodles or rice. That is, nothing even resembling fish n' chips.
Carrington's Ales - This placed looked like a good option, and with the disappointment count rising, would have been a most welcome find, since it looked to be not only a place that would serve fish n' chips, but also a proper pub. We arrived at the door, looked inside, and saw.....office furniture. It's not clear whether this was a former pub converted into an office space, or perhaps the corporate headquarters of Carrington's Ales, but it was clear that there was no food or ale (Carrington's or otherwise) to be had there.
The Lukin - This place seemed a little too fancy for our liking, judging from the patio furniture and framed menu outside, but our train departure was coming up fast, and the place at least seemed to be a pub-style establishment. We never got to experience it though, because they were not serving food at the mid-afternoon hour when we were there. Unlike in America, where eating establishments are open all hours, and serve food during all those hours they are open, the places in the UK have limited serving hours. You can get a meal at breakfast time, lunch time, and dinner time, but not in-between. Sure, you can drink to your heart's content all day long, and many pubs seem to be solely for drinking, not serving food at all, but the search for some sustenance can be more difficult than you would expect, depending on when you're looking.
The Prince of Wales Feathers - This was actually the first place we stopped, and it looked a bit suspect from the start, not because it was dimly lit, furnished with rickety chairs and tables, and marked with a wooden board hanging over the door (that's what we wanted), but because it was the opposite of those things. It looked sophisticated. And upon checking the menu outside, this suspicion was confirmed. Rather than fish n' chips, this place had "beer battered haddock and minted mushy peas."
Finally we arrived at the Tower Tavern, where food was being served, the ambience was appropriate (they had a sign posted about not being too rowdy when leaving the pub at night, suggesting that people are frequently rowdy when leaving the pub at night), and they had regular, non-fancy fish n' chips on the menu. With regular, non-minted mushy peas. Which brings us to our next item on our tour du food...
Mushy peas: This was something we'd never heard of before, but given the name, it was pretty obvious that it's not the kind of thing you want to try to dress up too much, which is part of the reason we were turned off by the Prince of Wales Feathers. Mushy peas are pretty much exactly what they sound like. You could accurately describe them as mushy peas, and leave it at that, but I'll try to hold forth on them for a bit longer here. Mushy peas are kind of like a side dish of mashed potatoes, only they're peas, and consequently, are green. You can put some salt and butter on them, but not too much, because peas have more natural flavor than potatoes (in my opinion). It's really a very pleasing side dish, and it makes a lot of sense for a place like London, where you can expect that on almost a daily basis you're going to get soaked with rain and want some warming comfort food for dinner to cheer you up.
Steak and kidney pie: Our day in Welshpool was highlighted by walking around the one-street downtown, where there are an amazing abundance of pubs, but as suggested in the last paragraph, none of them serve food, or at least they don't serve it in the mid-afternoon. This turned out to be especially fortunate, because it led us to stop into a little fish n' chips take-out place. But having satisfied our quest for fish n' chips earlier, we selected other options from the menu, and specifically some steak and kidney pie. This was served in a little foil container, unceremoniously flipped upside down on a pile of chips fresh from the fryer and covered with salt and vinegar, then wrapped in butcher paper. With a pint to wash it all down, we were set, and were quite simply transported to heights of rapture with this cheap and utterly satisfying meal. To give you an idea of how enjoyable this meal turned out to be, please see the series of pictures below that were taken as we ate. Only upon later examination did we realize our true level of obliviousness to our surroundings at the time. I will add some captions to re-enact the scene as it may have occurred:
|Jen: Hey, let's take a picture of lunch!|
Me: Good idea! Here, I'll flip the pie over first, then take the picture...
|Me: Man, this is so freakin' good!|
Jen: I know! Let me take another picture...
(Background): Screeeeeeech THUD
|Jen: That steak and kidney pie is surprisingly good! It really hits the spot!|
Me: I know! And these chips are just so...so delicious!
(Background): Is that woman okay?! My god, that car just ran her over!
|Jen: Okay, one more picture! Say "salt and vinegar!"|
Me: Nom nom nom
(Background): I think she's alright! She's....she's getting up! Amazing!
Laverbread: Contrary to what you might think, laverbread is not bread. It's also not a pastry, or a pie, or anything that involves flour or baking. Laverbread represented the epitome of the "Will it float" experience, being a real mystery food that we wanted to try. And with laverbread, the answer to "Will it float" is an unequivocal "Yes," at least in a literal sense, because laverbread is seaweed. Like the fish n' chips and crumpets that came before, our search for laverbread was extensive and difficult, despite promises made online that laverbread was popular and plentiful. We finally found it at the Cardiff Central Market in downtown Cardiff, and had it in conjunction with a standard English breakfast, which we'll get to in a moment. The laverbread was kind of like extra-cooked spinach, very gloppy. It tasted okay, especially when taken with other food of more firm consistency, but it's probably not the kind of thing you would order regularly. It stinks a bit, and despite the possible nutritional value it holds, nobody wants to have laverbreath! (pause for laughter)
|The stuff in the upper right is laverbread. The stuff in the|
lower left is black pudding. That sound you hear is your
|Guess what hobbitses - you won't be having|
any elevensies here! We don't serve until noon!
That is, unless you're in France.