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By Dave Kenny
I once used to work on an industrial estate, the usual grim warren of roads lined by square plastic buildings. The sort of industrial estate that sits brooding on the edge of most cities. The sort of place which can suck a man’s soul out through his arse if he’s not careful. In short the sort of places the grim reaper would pull up in his Mondeo, dig out his thermos and have his sarnies at lunchtime. And the worst thing was that the choice for food was some what rather limited. Apart from a well known fast food drive through the only other place that sold food was a petrol station, a good 20 minute walk away. So one day after I had missed the (extortionately priced) sandwich van I had to take a walk around to the aforementioned petrol station.
And to say I was fully unprepared for what awaited me is a contender for understatement of the year. Instead of the sorry selection of soggy egg rolls, tuna baps and somewhat dubious pastry based goods I was expecting, I was met by a dazzling array of gastronomic delights. Out had gone boring old cheese and onion sandwiches. In had come Organic Mozzarella and red onion Ciabatta. No more bland ham and tomato baps anymore, in had come New York Deli style Peppered Ham with sun dried tomatoes. Now some may consider this a good thing. That the propagation of such food has reached the level that you can now buy it in a petrol station in the arse end of a Scottish industrial estate, but I see this gentrification of British food as an assault on our culture and heritage.
In recent years, amid a slew of celebrity chefs (aka The Olive Oil Pimps) and scaremongering stories of obesity and heart attacks, British food has been slated. Bland, tasteless, undercooked are just some of the words to describe not only the Bridget Jones films but our national cusine. To this I must say “Nay!” and “Pah!” and any other Public schoolboy exclamation’s that spring to mind. I feel compelled to jump to British Foods defence! Why you may ask? Because I bloody well love it!
I have munched my way across the British Isles. From Aberdeen Angus to Arbroath Smokies in Scotland, to Cumbrian Sausages to Lancashire hot pot via Eccles cake in the North. I have wolfed down Cornish pasties in the west country and chewed on the spicy wonders of the Midlands whilst I have masticated on Jellied eels and Pie and Mash in good old Laaaandan town. The mere mention of a Sunday roast brings a tear to my eye and my love even covers humourously named food such as Faggots, Spotted Dick and Toad In The Hole. Incidentally only the British could a) name meals in such a fashion and b) derive so much humour from it. I have cut a swathe across our sceptred Isle like a swarm of locust who have overdone it a bit on the Red Leb.
But there is one meal that, in its Britishness, stands head and shoulders above all others. A meal so British that you could dress it up as Bulldog, teach it a few Vera Lynn numbers and stick it on guard duty on the cliffs of Dover: The Fry Up!
Morrisey once famously said “Meat is Murder.” Frankly he’s wrong, it’s delicious! In fact he might not have been so miserable if he had tucked into a cooked breakfast now and again. Imagine what The Smiths could have been like, ”How soon is breakfast?”, “Heaven knows Im quite full now” and “The Yoke isn’t runny anymore” who knows?…. For it is no exaggeration that the Great British cooked breakfast is a meaty feast indeed. The only other dish I can think of with more meat is the 11 Meat Platter of Ibiza which sounds less tempting as soon as you actually try to think of 11 different types of meat. After you’ve gone through the usual suspects of Chicken, lamb, pork and beef the meats on offer seem to travel into the realms of the exotic. Apparently even Goat and Squirrel make an appearance on the platter. Sounds like a taste sensation to these taste buds.
Lets break the fry up into its 3 basic units.
1. The Sausage - Now some weasely faced humpbacked nutritionists (who may or may not have their own TV show where they berate people for eating crisps until they cry) say that you should only eat sausages which have over 80% meat in them. We are then meant to be horrified by thought that its connective tissues that are used in inferior( and no doubt less expensive) sausages. Well sorry love, I’m of Scottish descent, the idea of ground up eyelids and hoofs which is then fried sounds like curry to a pisshead.
2. Eggs – The embodiment of child slave labour Captain Birdseye may well have thought that his Potato waffles were “wafflely versatile” but when compared to the humble egg they pale into insignificance. Just think of the myriad ways there are of cooking an egg. Boiled, poached, scrambled, fried, sunny side up, omlettes, on toast, with toasted soldiers, scotch egg, egg benedict’s, egg mayonnaise… the list goes on and on.
“Potato waffles?? I sh!t them!” Humpty Dumpty was quoted as saying just before he fell.
3. Bacon – The king of all pork based snacks. The Emperor of meat! Is there really any need to go in depth about the Royalty of Flesh. To quote Homer Simpson “Bacon? Is there nothing it can’t do?”
Then come all the supporting actors. The Mushrooms, the black puddings, the baked beans, hash browns, potato scones, chips, toast smothered in butter, the grilled tomatoes, the mug of tea etc… In the words of Rolf Harris, “Beauuuutiful!”
You couldn’t imagine an effeminate French dandy being able to tidy that lot off first thing in the morning after a big night out on the Chateaux Spazzo. No, he would too busy nibbling on a croissant and some wafer thin ham instead, which is no way to start the day. No wonder they were rubbish at wars. This is the reason I firmly believe why that the growth of the British Empire and the fry up are closely linked. You need to do some amount of work to burn off all that protein and there is no better way to do that than forging a global empire. Look at the facts…
Agincourt – The battle had been won well before the first sword had been drawn or bow had been stretched. An army marches on its belly and our lads had been sticking into half a pig each since the crack of dawn. Who were they facing? Some slightly anaemic farmers who considered garden pests as legitimate meals. No contest.
Trafalger – Back in the original summer of love, which was actually 1805 and not 1967 as some people think, some wee French bloke had to go ruin the party by planning to invade Britain. When everybody else was ripped to tits on Laudlum and Absinthe and danced to sea shanties till dawn, Nelson and the rest of his lot were chasing some French/Spanish mob all over the Atlantic. After months of chasing them they caught the enemy fleet at the port of Cadiz, just off the coast of the Trafalger cape. Then the mother of all water bourn swedge’s happened.
Just before the battle, Nelson allegedly had the message “England confides that everyman will do his duty” ran up the halyards. This was then supposedly paraphrased to “England expects that everyman will do his duty” for easier communicating. Wrong. The original message was meant to have said “England expects that everyman will do his duty because its free fry ups all round when we get home!” but they ran out of room.
Anyway, we won in the end. Even if Nelson died during the battle at least he asked Hardy to kiss him before he died, confirming our suspicions about the public school education system and sailors alike. Nice one Nelson.
Waterloo – Again, the same little French (Well he was Corsican but never mind) hermaphrodite had been bullying his way around Europe for a while and frankly some folk had had enough. The Prussians and Austrians weren’t having it, The British weren’t putting up with him and even the usually chilled Dutch were sick and tired of his dreams of European dominance and his silly hats. A few things were arranged and an off was planned at Waterloo, next to the road to Brussels.
Now some military historians had sighted the defence of La Hainte Saye farmhouse as one of the most determined defences ever in British Military history. Now this is true, the French only took it after 6 hours of fighting and the Kings German Legion had ran out of ammunition. But it had nothing to do with the Bulldog spirit, a sense of duty to King and Country or even a hatred for the enemy. To real scholars of history like myself we know it’s because Cpl. Watson was in the kitchen rustling up a second round of bacon sarnies and a fresh brew and no way were they just going to leave it for Old Bony’s lads. If there is one thing we can learn from history, it’s that we never learn from our mistakes, but also to never interrupt a squaddie having his breakfast.
And the fry ups contribution inst just military but has underscored many of histories defining points. For example, Isaac Newton ‘discovered’ gravity after an apple hit him on the head. Luckily he had a fry up that morning so instead of simply munching the apple he came up with the concept of gravity. Many of Shakespeares manuscripts were described as having “greasy stains” on them because he ate a fry up while he wrote. Rumour even has it Alexander Graham Bell only invented the telephone so he could get his breakfast order to the kitchen with less fuss.
I once had to suffer the indignity of what is called a European breakfast. Granted I had been out all night on the Becks in a German techno club surrounded by what can only be described by” Right Said Fred” look-alikes and their beautiful Tuetonic girlfriends. Plus with discovering the Germans Laisserz faire attitude towards Alcohol licensing, also meant we had a few sherberts on an S-Bahn platform at around 6 on a Friday morning, whilst the rest of Berlin’s population went to work.
When we got back to the hotel we found that you could buy Becks at the hotel reception in a fridge alongside coke and other soft drinks. So, staying in the jingo-istic “Brits Abroad” attitude we had adopted, we decided to rip the harris out of it and got the beers in. The way I saw it, if you’re going to get hung for stealing a sheep you might as well shag it as well. So as we drained the dregs of our bottles and inspected the foamy residue through the green glass, the shutters of the kitchen rolled up signalling Breakfast is served! I surged forward like a rabid Wolverine, images of grease and meat filled my mind. But to my horror I was presented with a buffet of cornflakes, fruit, croissants, cold meats, cheese and sliced boiled egg.
“What the hell was this?” was the only thought that could form in my brain. I desperately scoured the service area for anything that could be classed as “Stodge” or “fried” but alas my search was pointless. I got a plate full of ham and
12 sliced up boiled eggs and disappointedly returned to our table. The only good thing was the looks of amusement from a bevy of Bavarian schoolgirls on a class trip. The looks of disgust from their teachers when the drunk blokes sat eating breakfast at a table covered with beer bottles started to talk to the schoolgirls were better though.
My understanding of the German language is a bit ropey but somehow “Stay away from those undesirable men” transcends the language barrier. Especially when a middle aged woman dressed in an indigo waterproof jacket, sensible shoes and the bluest of blue jeans is saying it.
It was later that I found out (or should I say just made up) that the European breakfast was developed by the Germans as a way of subduing Prisoners of War. Much like how they used gruel to keep the orphans “compliant” in Oliver Twist. It’s hard to dig a tunnel with a toothbrush or construct a hand glider out of a sock and a light bulb when you’ve only had a slice of ham and a glass of orange juice to keep you going all day.
That is unless, you’re American.
Whilst all the other POWs would be making German officer uniforms out of a Red Cross food parcel or forging a Swiss passport out of an old beans tin, the yanks would just wait for the coolest possible moment before simply picking a lock, smashing half the Waffen SS single handed, nicking the nearest form of transport and high tailing it to Zurich in time for a few beers in the afternoon. This may have something to do with the high ‘chemically enhanced’ Beef content in the American diet, I’m not quite sure….
So there we have it. British food is not only the stuff we shove down our gullets or the thing that makes us one of the most unhealthy places in the developed world, but its one of the many things that makes us ‘Us’. Like binge drinking and curry house’s, fry ups are part of our heritage. So the next time you hear someone insulting British food, remember, they are insulting you. Don’t accept it. Especially if it’s a Yank, whose sole gift to the gastronomic world is MacDonald’s!
With that thought in mind, I’ll leave you with the words of Harold Shand.
“What I'm looking for is someone who can contribute to what we have given to the world: culture, sophistication, genius. A little bit more than a hot dog, know what I mean?” And what sums that philosophy up more than a good fry up.
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