It has been over a year now since I last published anything on my English blog. Nowadays I do not write much on my Polish one, either, but at least I try to put something on there every now and then.
Today’s piece has been prompted by my realising that there are things I miss about England, brought about by my sudden craving for sage and onion stuffing – more on that later. I visit London every 6 to 8 weeks, which up to very recently was mainly on work matters, but now it is purely social.
When I went in late November 2015, I came out of the terminal at Luton Airport and it was like a breath of fresh air: people of all shapes, sizes and skin colours milling about the place without sneering at one another or shying away from close proximity, just normal people going about their everyday business without hindrance or judgement from others. It brought a smile to my face and made me feel truly at home. I dare say I would not have remarked upon such normal behaviour, had it not been for the xenophobic and racist attitudes I have seen in Poland recently in response to the flooding into Europe of masses of refugees from war-torn Syria and other poor countries. On the one hand, I can understand such attitudes exhibited by a nation that has little knowledge or experience of other races, cultures and religions at home, but on the other hand, Poles are Christians and in that spirit should see the refugees simply as people in need of help, to which the Pope is urging them. This is a potential subject for a heated discussion so I am not going to delve any deeper here.
I am going to play safe and stick to non-controversial things such as food. I never thought I would miss English cuisine, but I do: a few of my favourite things are just not done as well (or not done at all) in Poland.
1) Fish and chips. OK, we have fish in Poland and it can be fantastic, but nothing we do here compares, it is just not the same. The quality of the cod (big, thick fillets) and the batter are what make this dish special and I have never seen it reproduced successfully anywhere else. Even in England the trendier and more expensive restaurants that aspire to be fish & chips places simply do not measure up to the high street outfit, they just make it too fancy and high cuisine, which kind of misses the point.
2) The Sunday roast. Most often enjoyed in pubs or at family gatherings, this very English meal usually consists of thinly sliced roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and boiled Brussel sprouts, carrots and cauliflower, with lashings of meat gravy. Alternatively, the roast can be pork and then apple sauce is added, or a lamb roast with mint sauce (which I hate, the sauce of course). Many restaurants have a “carvery” for Sunday lunch (or Sunday dinner, if you are working class) where the roast is cut in front of you to your requirements. A brilliant British invention!
3) Lamb. You can get lamb in Poland, but it is not at all comparable to the beautiful English or New Zealand lamb you get in Sainsbury’s. It is very expensive and either too young, with pink meat that resembles that of a rabbit or red meat that tastes of mutton. Lamb chops are not too bad, if they are red enough, but you cannot get a tasty shoulder of lamb, a cut that I often used to roast in vegetables.
4) Chinese food. In my town, where there are at least 150 restaurants, there is not a proper Chinese one, where you could get a good sweet & sour chicken, sesame toast or roast duck pancakes with spring onions and plum sauce. I miss those dishes, we used to have them once a week at our local Chinese and they were brilliant!
5) A great curry. I love a good curry and so I have tried the two curry places in our town – disastrous! One served every dish with the same tomato sauce and the other offered lots of original dishes, e.g., samosas, pakoras, onion bhajis, etc., but made them with the wrong flour and fat, so they tasted nothing like they should. Now I make my own.
6) Parsnips. Oh, how I miss them! They look like large parsley roots, but taste like a cross between parsley and carrot and are fantastic when roasted with your meat joint. I think they are grown in Poland, but only as cattle feed – what a shame!
7) Sage and onion stuffing. When living in England, I used to buy sage-and-onion stuffed chicken or shoulder of pork to roast and they were great. The other day I decided to do my own chicken with the stuffing: it was not perfect, a bit too soggy, but very tasty. I will do better next time, because I now know what had gone wrong.
8) Meat pies. Wonderful heart-warming dishes that you really crave in the winter months, they consist of a pastry casing filled with a meat stew. The pastry can be a closed pocket of short crust pastry or a flaky French pastry lid on top of the meat stew, but both are remarkably palatable. The filling can be a beef stew, sometimes with sliced kidneys and/or beer, or any take on chicken stew – for example, with mushrooms or bacon or leek. Cooked in the oven and served with boiled vegetables on the side, pies make a very agreeable meal.
9) Trifle. This fantastic British invention is a desert traditionally made with sherry-soaked sponge cake as the bottom layer, a red fruit jelly with large fruit pieces in it as the next layer and a fragrant vanilla custard coat as the last layer. Sometimes there is whipped cream on top and a sprinkling of toasted almond flakes. Absolutely delicious! I have been known to decline eating in a restaurant that did not have it on the menu.
10) Last but not least, the inimitable English breakfast. Possibly not the healthiest dish on earth, but one to die for, consisting of a fry-up of egg, crispy bacon, sausage, tomatoes, often also mushrooms and slices of black pudding, with a dollop of baked beans on the side, additionally accompanied by toast, fried bread or hash browns (none of which I ever eat, because they fill me up too much). The quality of the sausage and black pudding make all the difference and they tend to be much better in the north of England than in the south.
You may have gathered by now that I am a foodie, but in my book this is nothing to be ashamed of.