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Monday, November 14, 2005

The First Ten Weeks: part two

Looking back, last time I wrote an awful lot about food.

I hope you're not disappointed to find I'm going to do much of the same here.

● Well, I'm not only going to write about food. It has been interesting for us to live without a television here. We've been great fans of some British television in the past (Foyle's War, Vicar of Dibley, The Office, Keeping Up Appearances, the list goes on...), so I'm sort of sad to be missing it. Naturally, some of it is dreck, but I understand that it has some rather bright spots, too. And speaking of spots, the adverts are supposed to be top-notch, too. But we generally have more important things to be spending our time and money on (Money? Yes, money. A telly license costs about 120 pounds per year.). And we watch dvds on our computers, so we're not exactly deprived.

● Back to food: the British seem to have perfected the cafeteria lunchtime sandwich. Everywhere you go, from the local buttery, to college refectories, to the local Lunch Aid outlet, to Boots the Chemist, to Marks & Sparks, to the economically-named Eat restaurant, you will find pre-packaged, made-earlier-that-day sandwiches. They come in a distinctive triangular shape, as they are cut from corner to corner and doubled over. The sandwiches are generally quite tasty, often on good quality bread. And you can get some interesting fillings, too: prawn salad, egg salad and watercress, chicken tikka (an Indian dish), coronation chicken salad, cheese and onion, cheese and pickle, Wensleydale and tomato, green Thai chicken. Two of my favourites are all-day breakfast (hard-boiled egg, English bacon, bangers (English sausage), and brown sauce), and bacon & bleu cheese (the cheese, not the dressing). We haven't been able to find the latter one at all in Cambridge, the last one we had was in Salisbury two years ago. It was so good, but it might be that the NHS made them take it off the market because it would be easy to overdose! I once heard a radio personality -- I want to say it was Howard Stern, but I never listen to him, but some hipster doofus like that -- say to a Brit that he loved their sandwiches, and whenever he was here, he would buy three of them, go back to his hotel room, lower the shades, turn on some smooth jazz, and sit in the dark and eat. It sounds ludicrous -- it is ludicrous -- but for some reason, it makes sense, too.

● People here seem to eat out a lot less than in the 'States. One reason is that dining out -- even casually -- is much more expensive here. There just isn't the tradition of swinging by the (fill in the blank) restaurant before coming home from work to pick up a takeaway dinner. That's not to say that the English are not big on convenience food -- the takeaway sections of places like Sainsbury's and ASDA (supermarkets) are huge. It's just that they do it a bit differently. Interestingly, while dining out is more expensive, groceries are cheaper. So there are strong circumstantial motivations to dine in more often.

● Another reason people might dine out less here is that the service in restaurants is not all that it might be. I went into a local pub once and was just about to order a late lunch, when I was told the kitchen was closed for an hour because they were too busy, and had gotten backed up. (We left and went back later -- we just chalked it up to a different set of cultural practices and expectations; we had a fine meal and several nice beers when we returned. It almost always pays to be maximally easygoing in situations like this.) But sometimes service can be dreadfully slow and inattentive. One friend from Australia, after a particularly bad experience, spotted the line near the bottom of the menu: "Service not included." He took out a pen and wrote in next to it: "I noticed."

● I love fish and chips, and so I have been sited to indulge this constant craving. We have had much that is adequate and satisfying, and a few winners. Pride of place in this last category (so far) must go to Jack's Fish and Chips, in Cherry Hinton. I had it for the first time last Saturday, and it was delicious, especially the fish (cod, I think). I ate an entire order, and half of another, and was filled to bursting, but I had an appetite for another order and a half.

Well, time has run out again, so I will have to bring you more in part three, coming soon.

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