British food angst

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Before I went to England, I heard so much about how awful British food was.  I was fully expecting to nibble on tomatoes and carrots the whole time (and drink tea, of course).  But much to my surprise, a lot of the food I had was wonderful.  (Admittedly, I wasn’t overly fond of most of the meats, especially the ones still on the bone, because apparently I am utterly incapable of eating meat off the bone, but still.)  Here are some of the foods I miss most.

First up:  smoked salmon.  I paired it with scrambled eggs for breakfast in my hotel in London.  I had god knows how many smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese sandwiches.  (Whoever came up with that combination deserves to be canonized, by the way.)  I ate it alone a lot.  Just thinking about the stuff is making my mouth water.

Next:  a cheeseburger I had in London.  Just a hop, skip, and throw away from the Sherlock Holmes Museum at the real-life 221B Baker Street is The Volunteer, an excellent (if slow-to-service) pub.  I went there twice, once with my mother and once with five friends.  Both times I went there, I had this cheeseburger.  Now, I know this sounds so typically American, and I bet you’re rolling your eyes or sighing with disapproval right now, but let me stop you right there because this was the absolute best cheeseburger I have ever eaten in my life.  It was made with pure West Country beef and topped with bacon and a single slice of cheddar cheese.  Let me repeat:  the absolute best cheeseburger I have ever eaten.  In.  My.  Life.  I can’t even go to McDonald’s anymore without remembering that burger and angsting over the fact that it’s not in my mouth.  (Just ask my mom or sister about the time we went to Perkins and I spent about five minutes rhapsodizing about that burger.  It’s a problem.)

I just have to mention the brownie at Brasenose.  To all you Oxford people who may be reading this:  I’m not talking about the ones they served at lunch.  Those were meh at best.  No, I’m talking about Big Mamma.  Remember that one fudge brownie they served us for dessert?  The one that came with ice cream?  Yeah, that one.  Seriously, that’s the best brownie I’ve ever had.  Thick, soft, fudgy beyond belief – I’ll stop there.

Of course, I can’t make a post about British food without mentioning Ben’s Cookies.  (Again, all the Oxford people will know what I’m talking about.)  If you ever go to Oxford, you must visit the Covered Market and go to Ben’s Cookies.  They make some of the best cookies on the face of the earth.  The special thing about Ben’s is that they use ginormous chocolate chips in their cookies instead of the comparatively wimpy, pinky-nail-sized chocolate chips that you get in cookies here.  And when I say ginormous, I mean about the size of my thumb.  So when you bite into a Ben’s Cookie (the ones with chocolate chips, anyway), you’ll bite into what’s basically a lake of melted chocolate (did I mention the cookies are always warm, too?!), and it’s kind of the best thing ever.

Also, egg mayo sandwiches are brilliant.  They don’t serve them here in America, so allow me to describe this wondrous food:  hard-boiled eggs, watercress, and mayo on bread.  I ate so many of these while I was in England, and it makes me so sad that the good ol’ US of A hasn’t discovered them yet.  (I’ve tried making them at home, but let’s be real here – there’s nothing like the taste of made-for-you.)

The UK also has two chain coffee stores that the US doesn’t have, and in my opinion they’re both way better than Starbucks.  These stores are Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero.  My mother and I got countless sugar-free caramel iced lattes at Costa, and they were always miles better than anything we could ever get at Starbucks.  I don’t think I ever went to Caffe Nero with Mom, but I went several times on my own.  (Incidentally, their egg mayo sandwiches were particularly good.)

Oh, before I forget – I drank tea!!!  In actual teapots!!!!  Weirdly, the brand of tea I drank most often over there was Twinings, which I can get at Wal-Mart over here.  But hey, I’m not arguing – it’s really good tea, super-smooth and never bitter like Tazo can be.  There’s nothing quite like pouring tea from a pristine white teapot into an equally pristine cup and drinking it, though.  I remember drinking tea with a teapot at one place in particular – The Buttery, a little café on Broad Street in Oxford.  When I drank Twinings tea again a few weeks ago, it instantly triggered a major flashback.

(In case it wasn’t obvious, I really miss England.)

While in England, my mom and I went to plenty of tourist-trap places like Stratford-upon-Avon (which was still beautiful, by the way, and I may geek out about it later).  However, we also strayed off the beaten path a little.  One day when she was still there, we went to the little town of Bromyard, in Herefordshire.  Our main objective in going there was to see the Time Machine Museum of Science Fiction, which is largely a Doctor Who museum but also has props and things from other shows like Star Trek:  Voyager, Life on Mars, Red Dwarf, and Thunderbirds, among other things.  This labyrinthine museum only took us a couple hours to see, so we wandered around Bromyard till our bus back to Worcester arrived.  For lunch, we eventually decided on this place called the Hop Pole, a pretty typical British pub.  There, I had the most delicious ravioli of my entire life.  Obviously handmade ravioli noodles with legit ground beef, all swimming in super-delicious tomato sauce and melted cheese.  I’ll never be able to settle for Chef Boyardee ever again.

Finally, I have to talk about the English breakfast.  I suppose I had a few variations of this at Brasenose every morning (though my breakfasts also included a substantial amount of pineapple juice), but Mom had the traditional English breakfast at the surprisingly great Cafe Vienna in Worcester (it was in a mall, I remember that much).  Components of an English breakfast:  baked beans, toast, sliced tomatoes, and eggs.  There might be some other things in there that I’m forgetting.  But at any rate, the English breakfast is actually kind of wonderful, and if I weren’t so lazy in the kitchen, I might actually have that for breakfast every morning.

…good lord, I’ve made myself hungry just writing this.

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