If there’s one thing I’ve learned over twenty years of teaching foreign students here in the UK it’s that English food is misunderstood and much-maligned. The usual comments I’ve heard revolve around the idea that there’s no such thing as English food; it simply doesn’t exist! Students point to the fact that so few restaurants seem to offer English food, while so many seem to offer Indian or Chinese or Turkish or Ethiopian or Italian or whatever. I usually try to explain that this is partly down to the fact that many of us are quite open-minded when it comes to food and happy to try new things, and partly down to the fact that running restaurants is seriously hard work and so not something many people will choose to do if they feel they have other options. In other words, there’s a real gap in the market that many immigrants into the UK can fill – and we’re happy for them to try and do so!
Where you can still find English cuisine is at both the high end of the market – and the low. On the one hand, there are expensive places such as the rather wonderful St. John, which offers “nose to tail eating” and serves some dishes that date back to the time of Henry the Eighth! On the other, there are numerous caffs (also known as greasy spoons) that offer all-day breakfasts – often for under a fiver (= for less than five pounds!)!
However, the two places where English cuisine is really alive and well are pubs – and in particular the new breed of gastropubs (pubs that serve high-quality food) – and people’s homes. After a long-winded introduction, this almost brings us to our word for the day. Yesterday I spent the afternoon round at the house of one of my oldest friends in English language teaching, Andy Fairhurst, and his wife, Tatiana. When I had one of my very first teaching jobs – at St. Giles Central in London, back in the early 90s – Andy was already fairly experienced and so he was assigned as my mentor. In other words, he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I learned a lot from him and we’ve been friends ever since.
Anyway, we had a roast with all the trimmings. I know there’s a stereotype that we eat roast beef every single Sunday, but the reality is that roasts are a real faff – they take ages to cook, it’s hard to get the timing of all the different dishes right, and there’s usually a mountain of washing-up to slog through afterwards! The best ways to sample a real roast are either to go to a decent pub or else get invited to someone’s house and have them cook for you! We actually had slow-cooked roast pork, which was amazing, and all the trimmings. The trimmings are the extra parts added to a meal to make it more traditional (or interesting), and in this particular case, they included homemade apple sauce, roast potatoes and parsnips, mashed swede, and excellent gravy!
Of course, the other reason for choosing this phrase for the blog today is that as Christmas draws ever nearer, families up and down the country will be debating exactly what trimmings they want to go for on Christmas Day. Do we really have to have Brussels sprouts? Homemade Yorkshire puddings or shop-bought ones? and so on. Everyone always has an opinion!
Work in groups. Discuss these questions.
- What kind of stereotypes do you have of English food?
- What have you tried? When? What was it like?
- What dishes in your country usually come with all the trimmings? Which trimmings do you personally prefer with each dish?
- Did anyone mentor you and show you the ropes when you started work?
- How open-minded are you when it comes to food?
- How often do you cook? What’s your best dish?