Marmite, marmalade, and Ma’s food

21 May

Originally written: September 2006


This is as good as time as any to begin documenting my experiences with food.  If only I had the foresight to start earlier, but alas. 

So, to kick off this blog, here’s a question for me: What do I like most about London and generally living in the UK?

History.  Compared to the United States’ (from July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence to current time, which gives us 230 years—my apologies that I didn’t count the era the nation was cared for by the Native Americans), mother England is, well… old.  Which makes for fantastic tourist spots.

People.  I happen to find their accent catchy.  But perhaps not Cockney because I don’t have the ear for rhyming slang.  Aside from accent, they are quite a friendly bunch; many I’ve met are polite, mild-mannered, and courteous.  I could think of one incident that should’ve been scarring but wasn’t because the men apologized in the end.  Elena, my Greek friend, and I were about to enter the WC in a bar in Euston Square when we were accosted and harassed by a drunken swine.  We were both shocked.  When I eventually found my voice, I told the smelly pig that we weren’t interested.  He continued.  Our shock turned to disgust.  What felt longer were only a few minutes when his friend came, pulled the pig away, and apologized on behalf of his intoxicated friend.   Surprisingly, the drunkard apologized too before turning away. 

Moreover, I am fascinated by the works of Jane Eyre, Douglas Adams, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, and Ricky Gervais (who’s a UCL alum—I’m attending the same university for my grad work).  Ntm, Darwin and Newton are Brits also.  Lots of fine and fascinating Brits out there and throughout history.

Fashion.  At least in London, I find the denizens brave, men and women alike.  I’m surrounded by trendy and style-conscious folks.  I feel drabby in my daily uniform of jeans, sweaters, and boots (except on days when my hall/dorm mates and I are padding around in our lounge wear).

Weather.  I like the rain.  But not singing in the rain.

Now, what do I like least about London and generally living in the UK?

Food.   Poor Albert… my friend from Barcelona was lured by the heart shaped containers.  Little did he know that the sticky brown stuff isn’t sweet at all but “What the hell is this?!” as he cried out with a look of nausea and revulsion on his face.  Marmite isn’t for everyone, and as its’ slogan goes, you either love it or hate it.  As for me, I use it to flavor tomato-based dishes or as an additional spread in a sandwich.

Food.  If it weren’t for technology and mobility, I won’t be too keen on living here.  Thank goodness for the plethora of food choices in today’s groceries.  If I were here before the food boom, it’d be R.I.P. for my appetite.

Food.  Good sweet Mike!  The jams and jellies here must be made out of sugar!  They’re bloody sweet!  As a huge fan of marmalade, I can’t believe I’d actually see the day when I would avoid it. 

I miss home food.  So does my circle of friends here.  Left and right my friends share the cuisine of home—the food mom makes best.  Food here is bland.  This is the land of bland.  I catch my friends salting and peppering their meal, otherwise our respective taste buds won’t recognize what we’re shoving in our mouth.  Forkful by forkful, spoonful by spoonful, my tongue is tormented.  As for my stomach, it is unhappy.  If it could talk, it would say to me, “What did I ever do to you?” 

Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, let’s focus on British cuisine, yea.  French and Italian cuisines are sexy enough as it is, let’s move on to Brit food, shall we?  Let’s eroticize it, yea.

Not counting pollution and crowd which are banes of living in a metropolitan city, food here is becoming a real issue for me.  In the morning I have the proper English breakfast: buttered toast with jam gingerly spread with marmalade (‘cause it’s terribly sugary), vegetarian sausages (which are tasteless cylindrical-shaped mashed potatoes coated with crumbs and deep fried—bloody poor substitute for the real thing), skinned tomatoes, eggs (boiled is my cooking method of choice—the fried ones look rubbery and limpid), and baked beans.  Not really the breakfast of champions.  It’s more of the breakfast that sits in one’s stomach until it’s ready to be eliminated.  This complaint is coming from a girl who used to breakfast on cake and ice cream.  See, when my sisters and I began showing signs of nutrition sensibility (about the time I turned 15), my Mom began letting us have anything we yen for weekend/holiday/non-school day breakfasts. 

Perhaps it’s the college life: living in a catered dorm, or residence hall as called here; being slave to the available food; counting my pennies or pence as called here and relying on care packages from loved ones for treats from home.  Our dining room is not a five-star establishment, it’s hardly one-star, they butcher all kinds of cuisine, even British.  That’s pretty damn scary.

Or maybe, just maybe there’s little to be said (or a lot given my griping) about cuisine here. 

Home… it’s over three thousand miles away.  But it seems even farther when homesick and with a grumbling stomach.