When I was a student in England–back when Duran Duran roamed the earth–British food was pretty mediocre. There were a few specialities, such as local cheeses, scones, fish and chips, and of course, excellent beer, that were worth mentioning. But, I ate more cheap, greasy sausages, white bread, and mushy peas that year than I care to contemplate. Chips (french fries) or toast were served with everything. I remember one memorable occasion when I was served plain white bread with stir-fry at a Chinese restaurant. WTF?
But now the Brits are downright foodie!
I am in a different price bracket now, of course. But there’s no doubt that food on this island has improved about 200 percent. A couple of days ago I ordered cod fillet with parsley sauce and “veg” at a perfectly ordinary diner–the kind of place I might have eaten at as a student. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t arrive with a big pile of Veg-All on the plate.
But no! I got nice servings of new potatoes, and fresh green beans, carrots, and broccoli. While the parsley sauce was a little gloppy, it turned out to be a pretty healthy lunch.
Every place we have stayed so far has offered a full British breakfast. We’ve taken advantage of that because hiking makes us hungry. Nowadays, breakfast always includes fresh fruit and yogurt to start, and real fruit juice, not the watery fake stuff we used to get at B&Bs. And no more “emulsified high-fat offal tubes” of the Yes Minister days. Sausages are pretty darn good now and there is always a choice of hearty brown or white bread at breakfast, not just the generic Wonder Bread type white bread we always got back in the day.
One of the first B&Bs we stayed at, in a small Welsh village, was run by a nice gay couple who were really good cooks. Dinner was some yummy kind of marinated lambchops (again with lots of fresh veggies) and dessert was an avocado-chocolate mousse. OMG. About the last thing we expected, but so good!
We stayed at a Welsh farmhouse the next night, and were surprised again. The owner told us that she was having a “curry party” for her husband’s 70th birthday and there wouldn’t be dinner on offer that night, but we’d be welcome to join the party. So, no lamb casserole, but she whipped up a mean chicken tikka masala, spinach pakora, dal, curried chickpea salad, naan bread, pappadums, and of course, chips on the side, to make it all British. All that out of a big Welsh farm kitchen! We rolled with it, no problem. (She was clearly a woman of many talents!)
And then there are the mussels. Had them twice here so far, once as a part of this seafood extravaganza thingie in Abergavenny. Just YUM.
We don’t get a lot of seafood in Vienna, so I’m taking advantage of it! Even the fish and chips we had for our 25th anniversary dinner tasted fresh, and was served with fresh green peas, not canned mushy ones.
Last night, the pub that we are staying over served up a “casserole” (stew, really) of lamb with white beans and chorizo. So, all this is apparently the new pub grub, and we like it. A lot.
The beer, mind you, has always, always been good. I realize now that it is quite different from Austrian beer, not just in the taste, but in the alcohol content. Austrian beer is excellent, but it is usually quite strong. British bitter ales are low on carbonation and alcohol, giving them much less of a kick. They are also served cool, not cold. “Bitters” are an acquired taste, but just the thing when you arrive wet, tired and thirsty at a pub along the trail.
Finally, coming from Vienna, here is something I really like about British pubs and restaurants. No smoking means NO BLOODY SMOKING. Maybe one reason all this food tastes so good is that it isn’t accompanied by a constant funk of cigarette smoke. We’re enjoying that, too!
Resting up in Hay on Wye today. More about our excellent 25th anniversary adventure when we reach the end of the trail.