Not too too long ago I spent some time visiting friends in the UK. I was mainly in London, but I did venture to Oxford and Cambridge for day long visits. I had a fabulous time and much of it was due to the meals I had with my friends. Some home-cooked and others in posh restaurants, these memories are quite a nice trip down memory lane as I sit here in Taipei waiting for the typhoon to clear its tail out.
Not known for having storied national culinary institutions like their rivals across the English Chanel, the British do have a certain tradition I think needs serious promotion: the roast dinner. Sure, we Americans have roast dinners of some sort and other cultures have them, too, but there is something rather comforting in this British tradition.
I was introduced to roast dinners by my British pal, A.H.N.
who, on our drive to Cambridge, decided we needed a “pit stop” and dropped off at the first pub he saw, a somewhat dodgy place somewhere on the road. The interior of the pub was like a scene out of East Enders
: a smoke-filled room full of middle aged, potbellied working class blokes drinking pints, playing pool or fixated on the telly as they watched a soccer match (yes, I’m American and that’s what we call the sport). It was too early in the morning for me to start drinking, but it is never too early for a true Englishman like A.H.N.
and he ordered himself a pint of Guinness
. For our roast dinner we had a choice of lamb chop, chicken or some other meat I can’t really remember (I was just a tad hungover). Of course I went with the lambchops, Rose
always goes with the lambchops.
Like much of traditional British food, the chops were heavily laddened with a salty brown gravy. We could even add more from the gravy boat our pub lady supplied us with, but I found that there was enough on my plate to mix with the carrots, corn, cabbage, sliced potatoes and smashed potatoes. The corn, cabbage and carrots were definitely a frozen variety—hey, it was a pub not a four star restaurant—but the gravy on my plate masked the blandness of frozen veggies and intensified the texture.Lamb roast dinner at an East End pub
The lamb chops were quite tender so they must have been roasted and simmered for quite a while. I decided to dip pieces of the lamb into the smashed potatoes and then into the pool of gravy—ah, delight! This was an incredibly satisfying bite of comfort food. The warm juicy lamb and the buttery smooth smashed potato blended well and melted in my mouth. We continued onto Cambridge happy folks full of food and drink.
A few nights later A.H.N.
’s friend H.R.
invited us over for a home-cooked roast dinner. It was a nice bird, a chicken with herbs. We opened the wine and started drinking right away (this seems to be characteristic of the Brits), well before the food was ready. We had a nice shiraz that A.H.N.
and I had picked up at the local supermarket—I recall it went down very well, a smooth finish.
The chicken was lovely, it had that home-cooked flavor, the kind one can only get from a home oven and a busy life. No, it was not burnt…not at all. It was quite moist.H.R.
had cooked up something I had never seen or tasted before called "bread sauce
". It's quite common in Britain, but I don't think it's common stateside. It looked, well, like white floaty stuff. But I liked the mixture of bread and cream; it was a homey sidedish to our bird, though looking back it must have been a caloric/fat nightmare for my body.
For his conclusion, H.R.
made us 'Banoffee Pie
'. Again, I had never had it before. It seems to be a very Brit dish, a pudding dessert made of biscuits (or crackers) and butter for the base and caramel, bananas and cream layered on top. Having bananas and caramel together fulfills the important three s's for a good dessert: sweet, soft and sticky.
The best thing about the whole dinner was that it was just wonderful being able to have a home-cooked meal amongst friends. The conversation, always helped along with “liquids”, is just as comforting as the food itself. I had such a great time talking, eating, talking, laughing at good jokes, bad jokes and the like.
Throughout the whole meal I kept thinking and wishing to have long roast dinners back in America. It’s one of those cultural traditions I wish I can take back with me and incorporate it into my own life. But I think life in New York isn’t very conducive for taking out the time and enjoying a long meal with friends.
To the British roast dinner, here’s a Rose
salute. Like the Beatles
, punk rock and Simon Cowell
, I hope you come stateside.
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