Thursday, January 23, 2014

5 British Food Combinations Americans Find Odd

Whenever I engage an American in conversation about British food, he or she will invariably find a hitherto unfamiliar dish - described by me in detail -  to be bizarre. This is particularly true during a discussion on food combinations. For whatever reason, America - the nation who thinks it's perfectly fine to put chili con carne on a bun - largely disapproves of our inter-nutritional meddling.

Of course, that's never going to stop a chap like me from talking, nay writing, about delicious food combos. And so, perhaps to the disgust of my American counterparts, I bring you 5 British food combinations that Americans find odd.

1. Bangers and mash
Bangers and mash is something of a conundrum; it's not so much that Americans find it odd as it is they are not always so sure what, in fact, it means. Consisting of mashed potato and sausages, with added onions and gravy, bangers and mash is a dish often reserved for pub menus, both in Britain and in the United States. As for the word banger, it is derived from World War II slang; in the days after rationing, sausages were made with water and were, as such, more susceptible to the odd (sometimes very odd) explosion.
  
2. Beans on toast
What a combination! You can have it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, brinner, later-night supper and anything in between. And besides being incredibly tasty and moderately healthy, it's also insanely quick to make: pop the beans in the microwave for a minute-forty while the toaster heats up, and you've got a warm meal in less than two minutes. How Americans, many of whom are themselves quite partial to beans, toast and instant gratification, can hate this cuisine is simply beyond me.

3. Boiled egg and bread soldiers
This one really baffles Americans. "Wait," they'll say. "You boil an egg, cut off the top and then dip planks of bread into the yolk? And you consider that normal behavio(u)r?" If this were not enough, it virtually blows their minds that egg cups - the kind you see pictured (left) - are manufactured for this very practice. "So you even make ornaments for this appalling occasion? No wonder we left you for the New World."

4. Bubble and Squeak
With this combination, it is more the name than anything else that overwhelms the uninitiated American. Comprising shallow-fried left-overs from a roast dinner, bubble and squeak (the green thing in the picture (left) probably sounds to some like an unpleasant bout of flatulence. Once again, though, it was popular during World War II, when it was all but necessary to ration food with the utmost economy. As for the name, bubble and squeak was first referenced in - of all places - Thomas Bridges' A burlesque translation of Homer, 1770: "We therefore cooked him up a dish of lean bull-beef, with cabbage fry'd... Bubble, they call this dish, and squeak."

5. Chips and curry
In what is something of a continuation of the British obsession with curry - no doubt dating back to the days of the Empire - this combination really hits the spot after a night out on the town. Served in most chip shops - the like of which are incredibly hard to find in the US (outside of major cities) - chips and curry is exactly as it sounds: chips (or fries in the US) covered in a cup or two of yellow curry sauce. Mmm.

What other British food combinations are there? Are there any American combos you find odd? Let us know in the comments below.


Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and writes a weekly column for Anglotopia. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States. 

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43 comments:

Clydesdale Jefferson said...

Wow, you Brits even spell numbers weird: "fourty"! How do you get it past Spellcheck?

Laurence Brown said...

Funnily enough, I'm not sure HOW it got past spellcheck. That's not how we spell it. Thanks for noticing.

Fenella said...

I grew up in England with a British dad and Iranian mum, she served us baked beans on white basmati rice, and sometimes sprinkled canned tuna on top, sounds really odd, but it was so good, I serve it to my kids now (who are born in the US!)
I live in the US now, and I think that serving pancakes on the same plate as your bacon and eggs is weird. I don't like syrup on my bacon and eggs! I also find it odd to serve they salads with roast dinners!

Anonymous said...

Egg cups used to be common here. I grew up with them in the house and they were actually used. You see then a lot with old sets of dishes or in singles in resale shops like Goodwill. They've just gone out if style here. As for dipping bread into the soft egg yolks, I know many who dip their bread into the yolks of over-easy or poached eggs. I know I do.

Andrew Kay said...

I told an American colleague how great pork pies are, describing their total deliciousness in great detail. He looked it up on wikipedia and found this description: "It consists of roughly chopped pork and pork jelly sealed in a hot water crust pastry"

He threw up in his mouth a little and told me never to tell him about English food again. Ever.

Morg Harp Nich said...

I tried all of these things when I lived in England...and yes, I am American, and I found them odd! However, chips and curry I quite liked after trying it once or twice.
Love your blog, by the way!

Laurence Brown said...

Hahahaha! Americans will never understand pork pies. Second greatest food item in the world (behind sausage rolls).

Deanna said...

I remember a trip to England with my hubby about 7 years ago. We were getting back to his parent's house right before dinner (tea time I believe it can also be called) and he said, with genuine excitement, "We can just have some beans on toast for tea!" His comment was swiftly answered by a look of disbelief on my part with the reply, "YOU can have some beans on toast, I will have some Indian take away!" On the note of strange British food, ever heard of a Parmo? It is a regional thing around Middlesbrough.

Anonymous said...

How about weird American combinations ... Peanut butter and Jelly (aka Jam) ... Pancakes and bacon with sweet maple syrup ... ? And they call us English odd !

Angus Blankenstein said...

Laurence I think you mean yolk

Anonymous said...

How about marmite and tomato sandwiches. Just heard it might be difficult to get Marmite in Canada soon as Canadian Health Agency has reservations about it's ingredients!!!

Jeanette said...

On my first visit to the US, my boyfriends mother served a Jello (Jelly) dish containing celery and nuts, with a savoury dinner and gravy, yuk! And, what's the obsession with pancakes, and syrup on bacon, and chicken wings? After living in the US for 40+ years I still love and miss many British foods and look forward to my trips home!

vp said...

I found all of those odd well before I'd ever set foot in the USA.

Terry Coffey said...

Laurence, as.a Brit-o-phile living about 45 minutes of Indy, I must ask...are there any local restaurants that serve any of these dishes?

Chris Nealis said...

Jeanette, that Jello dish sounds terrible. Just plain terrible! I'm an American, but I'm fairly adventurous when it comes to food and find most British food to be delicious. As for pork pie, I’ve never had it so I can’t judge. My wife’s sister makes an amazing shepherd’s pie, but that’s more Irish I guess.

I used to eat beans and toast when I was living alone. Mostly because it was cheap and filling. I don’t think I’ve had it once since living with my wife, maybe it’s time for a comeback? I know our canned baked beans aren’t really what should be used and that it’s more of a ketchup and beans, right? I want to get this right!

Anywho, we often make sausage, onions, potatoes, and green beans in a stew pot. I think I remember being told at some point the recipe was of British origin. I may be wrong on that one.

Laurence, we’ve never met, but your Mother-in-law is my Mother’s first cousin. We live in the Anderson area so we should probably make that happen sometime. I could serve some delicious biscuits and sausage gravy(sans soggy fried potatoes)!

Laurence Brown said...

Terry Coffey, you can get Bangers and Mash at Broad Ripple Brew Pub, while the Red Lion in Fountain Square has chips and curry.

Laurence Brown said...

Hello, Chris Nealis. We may not have met but I've certainly heard your name many times over the years! :-) It would be good to finally meet you at some point!

Sabrina Lowe said...

Ok, the beans on toast thing is just gross, but I HATE beans, so there's that. The boiled egg & toast planks is genius! I always dip my toast in my 'over-medium' eggs, but this sounds more convenient! I would eat bangers & mash-how can a sausage & mashed potatoes not be good, especially together! The other 2, not so sure about, but I would try them if I ever make it to my dream destination: the UK :)

Terry Coffey said...

Awesome, thanks! Now if we could just get that cricket ground done!

Jennifer Roberson said...

I'm a Yank. When I lived in London, I loved hot tomatoes on toast, and beans on toast. I did *not* like "blood sausage," but that was served in Scotland. 8-) Give me haggis over blood sausage.

At home in the old USofA, I do not like Jell-O mixed with ANYTHING AT ALL. And barely by itself.

Mandy Indonesia said...

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Nicola Estridge said...

Too funny

darlene said...

I am Canadian but a true Britophile and love all British food. Went to England and plan to go back many times. Our local tea shoppe serves Oat Cakes, are you familiar with these.

Anonymous said...

Jacket potatoes with beans (and brown sauce!) is delicious. I might start eating it again here in the USA. I for sure thought it was weird though before I tried it. And sausage with beans is one of my favorite dinners to this day (I use polish sausage aka kielbasa).

tlsmith63 said...

Actually, everything except the chips & curry sounds great. I always get egg yolk on the bread when I eat breakfast, anyway. And I am like Fenella--I don't want syrup anywhere near the bacon & eggs.

Jen said...

Clotted cream. Mushy peas.

Anonymous said...

Americans don't have egg-in-a-cup? Really? I had that every other morning for breakfast when I was little, and my sister and I had our own egg cups shaped like chooks. I used to get beans on toast for Saturday lunch, but a youth camp I went to/ now volunteer at serves it for breakfast.

I can understand the aversion to bubble & squeak - after all, it is leftovers - but Americans love fried things (from what I saw and my bowels experienced) so I'm not sure what the problem is. You could probably start a fast food chain if you tried battered and deep-fried bubble & squeak, though.

The chips & curry thing doesn't sound too bad, although I've never had it. I like chips best with gravy, but I've had them with all sorts of other things, such as tomato sauce, mayonnaise, and vinegar. Also I'm partial to currywurst (a German fast food consisting of sliced bockwurst, covered in tomato sauce, covered in curry powder), so I think I'd like chips & curry.

Someone mentioned bacon and maple syrup - I've noticed this combination has taken on a new life in Denny's recently, with such strange things as bacon & maple syrup smoothies. My stomach turns at the thought, and I must turn the advertisement around as I eat my nachos (I'll get over the nacho addiction eventually. It's something I never had until I came to America). Denny's doesn't even exist in Australia, and I think even if it did, the bacon & maple syrup combination wouldn't catch on. I'm not sure about the UK (haven't been back in a while).

Also, if you're looking for strange foods, go to South Australia. They'll feed you fritz (devon/luncheon/bockwurst) and sauce sandwiches, "pie floaters" (beef pie floating in a bowl of pea soup), veggie-oggies (Cornish pasty, except anything goes in terms of filling), bright green Frog Cakes, and vegemite & cheese Danish.

Anonymous said...

As an American all I can say is...everything sounds and looks delicious!!! Except curry on fries, I'm not a big curry fan. But that odd American thing of putting chili and cheese on fries or brown gravy fills me with love! And I don't know why other people would think dipping bread into the yolk of an egg is weird, isn't that what you do with a poached egg? And I have made bubble and squeak using the Two Fat Ladies recipe and even used left over beef drippings as they instructed. Yum! Thanks for the cravings!

Anonymous said...

So funny I should read your post today...yesterday while visiting The British Grocer in Fullerton, CA - my neighborhood haunt for all things British...I was admiring the eggs cups they had for sale and Jax who runs the shop and I were talking about soft boiled eggs and toast soldiers ..and how Americans have no idea of this favorite nursery dish...as Jax said, "my mum always made this for me when I was feeling under the weather' - true comfort food.

Caleb Pike said...

I'm British, so naturally, I love all of these things, up to and including all the treats described in the comments! Pork pies, marmite, black pudding, haggis, bring it on!

D Schram said...

You forgot Toad-in-the-hole!

nicola said...

I was born in England, but grew up in America and LOVE all of these dishes my parents introduced me to. We actually order the beans on Amazon because we can't find the right ones in grocery stores here. I just had a child and the off limits food that I missed the most during pregnancy was the soft boiled egg. Love the blog by the way!

stephan v. Paczynski said...

Boiled egg and bread soldiers is very common here in Germany as well.
And "Chips and curry" reminds me of the canadian national dish "Poutine"...

krisy alexander said...

Come on you didn't put tuna on a jacket potato. I love that.

Anonymous said...

Now my belly's rumbling! Just the other day I was trying to describe suet to some coworkers - they had to google it as they didn't believe me. One of my favs was fried mince meat, mash, fried onions, baked beans, chopped beetroot and bisto gravy. As kids we'd mix it all up and it would be pink, orange and brown. When I first came to the states I made it for my husband ...... he picked up the plate and threw it all away. He does like beans on toast though! I miss my English food!

Paula Lemire said...

We didn't refer to the strips of toast as "soldiers," but I grew up eating that here in the States back in the mid-to-late 1970s.

K Kelly said...

As an American who's lived in the UK and loves beans on toast, bubble and squeak, and pork pies, my only two food gripes are: mushy peas with almost everything, and if not, then chips! I love British chips, but NOT with lasagna, for goodness sake!

K Kelly said...

Most Brits seem to think American baked beans are wrong because they're so sweet, but in the US you're really looking for pork and beans, and the "pork" is usually just a small cube of pork fat.

K Kelly said...

The jello dish was a recipe from the 1950s when all the canned, convenience foods became more available and the companies put these recipes on the cans or boxes. I ate many of them at church potluck a growing up in the South. My most hated was a black cherry jello dish with black cherries and chunks of cream cheese. It looked like bloody puke; literally.

Anonymous said...

Chips and curry or gravy is really a north of England or Scotland thing, in the south, we go for salt and vinegar. I lived in Italy many years ago, Italians thought the vinegar was weird, but whenever we persuaded one to try it, they always liked it.
We don't call it 'blood sausage' by the way, it's called black pudding. The best comes from Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis.

Anne Marie Benedicta Whittaker said...

Fried fish and mushy peas. Ploughman's lunch. Plus strangly named dishes and soyups: Cockyleekie, Stargazey pie. Toad in the Hole. Black Pudding, I still have problems getting past Spotted Dick!

Wayne Kirkh said...

Other than the beans and toast (which seems a bit plain), these all sound very good to me, especially the chips and curry

Joanna said...

Tomato and marmite sarnie, definitely. Now that we can't get Bovril to spread on the bread. That's my default, I don'wanna cook dinner with a cup of tea and what I ate a lot of in India when the food was too fiery for me.

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