I have been to England for a ten-day study trip once and as a Singaporean, who eats, breathes and drowns in a plethora of Asian and Western cuisines (Singaporeans have a known habit of discussing where to eat dinner…during lunch), I was looking forward to trying something distinctly different. And boy, did I get it.
Not to say that the food was horrible; there were good moments. I had my very best ice-cream cone at Abbott Lodge, a dairy farm that produces fresh ice-cream everyday with the most dazzling array of flavors. And we Asian teenagers love an English breakfast because it’s so familiar yet so different at the same time. And tea. Yes. I loved the tea. Particularly Chamomile. With lots of sugar.
Then there were the not so good moments. We were horrified when one of my friends lifted up his piece of fried, battered fish to find a pool of oil underneath it. Having been drilled by our parents as to the wide variety of diseases that usually accompanies the consumption of oil, we were extremely startled and quite torn. On the one hand, there is this big, yellow, crisp, battered fish just waiting for us to sink our teeth into, on the other hand, the fish is still swimming. In oil. But as they say, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ and in this case, the ‘Romans’ around us were quite happily eating away. Shrugging, we dug in. Fish and chips in England, if not anything else, is deeply satisfying, and filling. We had four girls who insisted on sharing two servings of fish and chips and even then, there was plenty leftover.
Then there were, of course, the funny moments. Apparently, ‘chips’ in England is not to be confused with ‘fries’ or ‘crisps’ whereas in Singapore, ‘chips’ are often used for ‘crisps’ and ‘fries’ used for ‘chips’. ‘Crisps’ are only used by Briton expatriates. And so came the incident where one of my friends asked for ‘fries’ when ordering fish and chips and the poor waiter had a brief discussion with his manager before woefully admitting, “We have no fries miss. Would you settle for chips instead?” Imagine our surprise when our friend received exactly what she was asking for! And scampi is usually just referred to as either ‘shrimp’ or ‘prawn’ in Singapore. Confusion led a number of us, those whose English has room for improvement, to pronounce it as ‘scimpi’, closely similar to ‘skimpy’.
But if there was one thing we absolutely loved about English cuisine, it was dessert. We were especially fond of bread and toffee pudding, not to mention the wide variety of berries we were able to enjoy. Those of us who are chocolate fanatics were almost delirious with excitement when we visited entire shops dedicated solely to our favorite food in the world…and I do believe that the English make the best fudge I have ever tasted.
Perhaps why England is not known for its cuisine is because cuisine that was previously unique to it has been dubbed as ‘ordinary’ in other countries. Shepherds’ pie, an English delicacy, can be found in eateries all over the world, as can roast beef, mash, sausage and fish and chips. Any hawker carter in Singapore and Malaysia would have at least one stall selling ‘Western Food’ with at least one of these on their menu.
Perhaps English food is not well known simply because it has already gone ‘international’, in a sense that it is no longer unique to England. And we would not really be too excited about food from another country when it can already be found on our own doorstep now, would we?