Monday, August 10, 2009

You Gonna Eat That?

Something different this week; while Toni is off trotting the globe, our guest poster -- British Daffodilly -- and I are embarking on a trip down culinary lane, to report on the five strangest things we have eaten as a result of moving abroad.

British Daffodilly:

Thank you to Mike & Expat Mum for inviting me to post today.

The 5 Strangest things I have eaten in USA?

1. Artichokes: Who the heck invented this horrible bland, mushy veggie? Yuck. It just seems almost caveman-like picking the leaves off, popping them in melted butter & then (god forbid) sucking the stuff out of the leaf! It reminds me of a “Survivor bug-eating contest!”

2. Pretzels; In the UK they have Twiglets & they are always what are leftover from a cocktail party…the reason is that they taste like crap but are considered kind of posh. When I arrived in USA it was pretzel heaven. Everyone eats pretzels; they even serve them on the planes instead of peanuts. They come in every shape, size and either with or without salt. Now it took me a while to adapt to these however I have to say that covered in chocolate & jimmies (100’s & 1000’s) they are quite delicious. In fact a must as the salt & sweet flavor clash & give you that kind of “ahhh" feeling!

3. Eggplant Parmesan; Or aubergines fried in breadcrumbs & covered in a marinara sauce….why oh why would you do this let alone eat it? Throw the disgusting thing away!

4. Pickles: The Americans are pickle crazy. They come with every dish, sandwich and burger as a garnish where as the Brit’s would use a sprig of parsley. These are big dill cucumbers the size of a man's hand that are pickled. Everyone seems to make their own as it is a family tradition. I guess as I was brought up with Branston Pickle & Piccalilli I lead a sheltered pickle life. I cringe when I see toddlers clutching a pickled cucumber & chomping away on it….god only knows what their diapers are like!

5. Chinese Chow Mein: It took me 8 years of purchasing Chinese food in USA to find the correct equivalent to the English version of Chow Mein. A little history is needed here. Chow Mein in the UK is a noodle & meat or fish dish….very tasty. In America it is a pile of MSG that looks like the thickest nastiest pile of snot you can imagine. We traveled all over USA looking for our noodley Chow Mein & left many a restaurant from posh ones to grubby back street ones with empty bellies. It cost us a fortune. One night some American friends came over for dinner with some Chinese take out…we were flabbergasted when we saw our Chow Mein……..they then taught us the magic word….Low Mein…… 8 years it took!


Here's my list.

1. Bubble and Squeak: I had heard much about this dish, even while I lived in America, so I was keen to try it. It's supposed to be the previous day's leftovers fried up in lard, so what's not to like? In reality, it was awful; I've never been tempted again.

2. Dragon's Blood: This doesn't really count as a "British" food experience, other than the fact that I happened to be in Britain when it happened. My wife and I were at the annual Chili Festival and one of the booths there sold something called Dragon's Blood--a supernaturally hot chili sauce. They had samples to try; my wife dared me. (You can already see this coming, can't you?)

She scooped up a blob of the thick red sauce on a cracker and stuffed it in my mouth. The next thing I knew my head exploded, then my chest. I found I couldn't breath, or talk and my throat felt like someone had coated it with lava using barbed wire as a paintbrush.

We didn't buy a bottle.

3. Black Bun: This supposed traditional Scottish fruit bread is supposedly traditionally served at Christmas, but we only have my wife's father's word for that. He made some for us one year; you could build houses out of it.

4. A Kebab: As you weave your way home from the pub on a Saturday night, you're supposed to weave by the Donor Kebab joint for a tasty, late-night snack.

A kebab is a bun containing meat, fried onions and some sort of sauce, but it's best not to think about it too much. The meat is a mysterious amalgamation of processed animal by-products fashioned into a log with a spike through it. This log is rotated upright in a grilling device and the meat is carved off in thin strips as needed.

This is not a food generally consumed by sober people, but I had some time on my hands one afternoon and thought I'd stop by the local kebab shop and try one. I was the only customer. The proprietor seemed confused to be serving someone who wasn't weaving, looking cross-eyed and shouting at pigeons. I took it home, tried a few bites and threw it in the trash; I should have used a haz-mat container.

Now I know why most of them end up on the sidewalk, after they've been eaten.

5. Cullen Skink: In America, I loved clam chowder. In Britain, I couldn't find it. I also couldn't make it (translation difficulties; it's a long story). Then one day, while on holiday in Scotland, I saw "Cullen Skink" on the menu and ordered it just because I couldn't believe the name. It was a type of fish chowder, and it was delicious. Now I always stock a can or two of Cullen Skink in the cupboard. It's almost as good as clam chowder, and a lot easier to find.

That's my offering. Pretty impressive when you consider I didn't even mention haggis, black pudding or the chocolate popcorn cheesecake I had at Harvester one evening.

Got something you want us to address? E-mail your suggestion to us or just pop it into the comment box.


  1. Now I feel a bit sick!
    I love the aubergine in breadcrumbs though. Don't know why this is on the awful list!

  2. "I have to say that covered in chocolate & jimmies (100’s & 1000’s) [pretzels] are quite delicious."

    To quote Not The Nine O'Clock News: "Kelloggs have defended their cereal against accusations of poor nutritional content. 'Corn Flakes are very nutritious' said the spokesman, 'particularly when sprinkled on food.'"

  3. Really interesting list, you two. Well done for avoiding the obvious.

  4. Grits - an excellent substitute for filler, but not nearly as tasty!

  5. Chinese food in the US is Americanized so much that it bears only the most superficial resemblance to actual Chinese food. So I can't say I'm very surprised that dishes are call completely different things outside the US. There's a pretty good book on the subject The Fortune Cookie Chronicles if you're interested.

  6. I think anonymous is being very unkind to filler - grits is (are?)much more like wallpaper paste

  7. I think the most horrible thing in american cuisine (ha ha) is biscuit and that disgusting white-ish gravy - I can hardly look at it, let alone eat it. Once was enough.

  8. Now, now, kids, let's all calm down. Grits are (yes, plural) delicious, if you don't like what you've tried they weren't prepared right or even worse, were those gawd-awful instant things.

    A light and fluffy biscuit (American) with melted butter is "horrible"? What's horrible about it?

    If milk gravy isn't to one's taste, well then okay, perhaps it is an acquired taste. If what's being referred to is sausage gravy, then it's basically a white sauce with bits of spicy sausage and black pepper. Horrible?

    As for American Chinese food looking like a "pile of snot"? Goodness, what an image. I've had Chinese food in Amasterdam, the restaurant looked so exactly the same as Chinese restaurants in the US that it was amusing.

    Ditto for the menu: all the old familiar delights, in English no less, and when served looked just the same: won ton soup, egg rolls, spare ribs, choice of fried rice or Egg Foo Young, etc.

    I'm confused, they don't have artichokes in the UK? I remember an episode of the Fat Ladies making them. Hmmm, curious.

    And just in passing, Eggplant (aubergine) Parmesan is one of my specialties. No one I've served it to has every been disgusted, at least not visably anyway. But then perhaps they were just being polite.

    This blog is a lot of fun and offers a light-hearted way to exchange ideas and information.

    I just really hope it's not going to become a site for US-bashing. "american cuisine (ha ha)"--not sure that's all that helpful.


  9. The strangest things I've eaten in Britain:

    - Salad cream (It's essentially just mayonnaise!)
    - Well-fired rolls (Seriously? They're just burnt.)
    - Kendal Mint Cake (Minty sugar madness that is disturbingly tasty when covered in chocolate.)

    But some British food is lovely - I have a definite soft spot for potato scones, digestives and the many delicious Scottish cheeses.

  10. No, not an American bashing site, please ;) I'm an American, and Toni chooses to live there, so it's an OK country. And I would love to try some REAL grits--the ones I had my wife try in the States were instant and they were horrible. But up north, the only place we have visited, that's all there is.

  11. My american mother-in-law served me chicken gizzards - my husband swears it is something they ate regularly in the Southern States, not just an attempt to poison me. I'm not so sure though...........

  12. Mike, so right! instant grits have to be a Yankee plot to discredit grits (kidding).

    Proper method: buy "quick cooking" grits, the kind that are supposed to boil for about 5 mins, but use 4xs the amount of water called for, ie, one cup grits to 4 cups salted water. A cup of milk can be subbed for one of water. Simmer slowly with lid on, stirring occasionally until all water is absorbed. This will take longer than five minutes, more like about 15.

    Serve with plenty of real butter. Some people like to stir in a cup or so of sharp white cheddar. I defy anyone to tell me that bowl of creamy goodness is horrible.

    In general I love tradtional British food, but two that just haven't suited:

    - white bait. Give me a break! Am I really supposed to EAT the head and EYES of a fish? No thanks. Bait's proper use is to catch other fish.

    - black, or BLOOD, sausage. The flavour isn't bad, if a little heavy on the iron. No, it's the TEXTURE that's just, well, just strange.

  13. My grand-mother-in-law used to make cheese grits (Texan) which were really delicious.
    Have to agree about white bait - yuck! But same can be said about trout served head and tail on the plate.
    Defending black sausage (also black pudding). Yes, the taste is great - just don't think about anything else.
    One thing I remember my dad loving is tripe. Basically, the lining of a cow's stomach. Pass the sick bag.

  14. Has anyone else had livermush perpetrated on them? I had never heard of it before it happened to me in Tennessee and it reminded me of me grandfather's folk wisdom - 'If a local dish has stayed local there's usually a good reason for it!"

  15. This is a really good post/blog. :-)

    I am shocked though about the artichoke. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. The leaves are just a preview to get to the heart. :-) I prefer to drizzle my artichoke w/ olive oil & sprinkle on some italian spices. My husband loves the butter and my dad loves to dip his in mayonnaise.

  16. Is livermush anything like porkmush, aka scrapple?

    For those raised in Pennsylvania scrapple is food of the gods, but unless a taste for it is developed early it's awfully awful.

    From Culinary Sleuth:

    "Scrapple may contain pork skin, pork heart, pork liver, pork tongue—even pork brains and other scraps, which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head). Those faint of palate needn't venture any further."

    Good advice, I've tasted it once, that will do.

  17. Ah, Scrapple! I used to visit a cousin in PA and we always went to Letterman's Diner for a slice of scrapple and a fried sticky bun. great stuff!

  18. I had to laugh about the pickles. I am a schoolteacher and every Friday the students have a snack market. The most popular snack they like to buy are huge dill pickles! Every Friday afternoon my classroom stinks like pickles! It is also strange how these nine-year-olds eat them. They actually suck the middle out of the pickle but leave the skin. I have never seen anything like it!

  19. As well as the chicken gizzard (see above), my mother in law also did a weekly 'leftovers' dinner. Dubious meatloaf (yuk), dodgy tuna casserole, nasty bean and frankfurter concoctions, packet soup based hotpots, all even more inedible due to age, were reheated and she expected us to eat them as dinner, all in the same meal. Any suggestion that making these dishes in less than industrial quantities would mean that leftover night wouldnt be neccessary, was treated with scorn because "everyone has leftover night". I hope this American institution doesn't cross the Atlantic!

  20. My dad grew artichokes on our allotment in England (along with courgettes and asparagus as they were 'exotic' vegetables that were difficult and/or expensive to find for sale where we lived.) The other gardeners at the allotments wanted to know why he was growing thistles!

    I served artichoke to my American husband last summer. He had never eaten it before - and his reaction was just like Daffodilly's. For me it's mostly just a delivery system for a good home-made vinaigrette!

    Pretzels are OK, but definitely much improved by a layer of chocolate. I do not understand why every American sandwich has to be accompanied by a pickle!

    As for chow mein/lo mein - there are definitely some Chinese restaurants that are better than others, but my favourite Chinese restaurants are all in Taipei!


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