Your friend says to you, “Hey, let’s go out for dinner! What are you in the mood for?” Your mind flits around the options of nearby cuisine. There’s that new Italian place that just opened up and you instantly put naughty thoughts of fettuccini alfredo in your head. Or you can stick to your tried and true Mexican food joint for some cheap tacos and all-you can-eat nachos. Chinese is out of the question though. You still have three take-out boxes of fried rice in your fridge as it is. But if it just so happens that your friend suggests, “well, how about some lovely English grub?” why is it that a quintessential dish does not pop into your mind quite as easily as it does for other international food? And if you do think of something, why is it nothing more appetizing-sounding than steak and kidney pie? And then, you really start to wonder, does England even has a food culture?
Well, that’s the topic I will be pondering and writing about as I spend the next 14 weeks studying abroad in London. I want to know if I can discover a specific way to define English food, and if so, how it came to be that way. I want to break the notion that it, like American food, is such a chaotic jumble of borrowed styles that it can’t really take on classification. I also want to tear down any bad reputation it may have and glorify the cuisine.
I will go about fulfilling the goals of this study in many ways, but primarily through experimentation. Along with my eager taste buds, I’ll eat my way to discovery, documenting every bite that I savor and all that I see, smell, touch, and even hear. If it’s considered British, be sure to see it on my plate. But, as a foreigner and novice to the subject of English food, I must also put in my research to back up the eating part of my homework. Therefore, I must hit the books (my own self-assigned textbooks include Nigel Slater’s Eating for England and a Jamie Oliver Cookbook), search the web, or talk to local foodies for my own history lessons. That way I’ll know what qualifies as English food and how England’s history has shaped the food culture. And there will be plenty more about my other experiences with food: personal anecdotes about my own kitchen experiments to stories of my restaurant visits, and in-depth accounts of my grocery store meanderings to praises for my favorite British chefs. Oh, and there will be LOTS of pictures.
I believe we can tell a lot about a culture by its food and the people’s relationship with that food, and with some cultures, that’s easy to do. But with others, it takes a bit more delving, Hopefully, by discovering the ways of the seemingly elusive and directionless British food culture, this study will help me to better understand English culture in general. It’s a daunting task to take on as a self guided, non-English person with a 3-month time limit, but somebody’s gotta do it.
One week til departure and I am extraordinarily thrilled about the prospects of this independent study and the chance to share my passion for food. So, I invite you and your friends to follow this blog and let me do the tasting for you as I discover the culinary delights of England. Now please, make a nice cup of tea, sit down at your computer, visit my blog, and, well, tuck in!