All things British – Food imagery

30 May

I am a big fan of the Harry Potter series. Some might call it childish but I call it child-like pleasure in reading a well-written story about good Vs evil. In my case though, it was more than just the plot that captivated me – it was all the food in the books. What is it with British authors and food?!? How come this Island which is not all that popular for its cuisine, produce authors that have so many dinner scenes in their books? Right from Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, through Enid Blyton to J.K. Rowling, everyone is eating in stories. And the food have *such* names in Britain – Yorkshire pudding, shepherd’s pies, tripe, crumpets, spotted dick…..

I am from India and we have now culturally taken over UK with our chicken tikka and tandoori take-away, but these names from above have not stopped to fascinate me. Partly because I completely misconstrued what these delicacies look like. In my head, Yorkshire pudding was something like caramel custard, shepherd’s pies were small pastries filled with sugar, nuts and milk; crumpets, I assumed, were some small edible crustaceans and tripe would be a syrup tasting like cough-syrup from the 80s. And as far as spotted dick goes – well, for a long time I thought it was spotted duck and thought it would be the English equivalent of the chinese Peking Duck. So imagine my surprise, when I actually found out what these look like. I could not understand why my aunt (who is now a British citizen) laughed so hard when I asked her why the children in Harry Potter eat mince pies for dessert but Yorkshire pudding as their main course.

I learnt that pudding can be anything – it could be sweet, savoury or as in Yorkshire pudding’s case – just that – a case, a pastry shell, a case for putting stuff into, if you will, which again could be sweet or savoury! That really is a con job- its like calling an uninflated balloon, a zeppelin!

And then you have the spotted dick – this needs explanation. I quote Nanny Ogg from one of my all-time favourite authors Sir Terry Pratchett

Spotted dick: a long pudding, or dick, spotted with currants. When you’ve said that, you’ve said it all. I mean, if people are going to laugh about something like this, we’d never get through a mealtime. – From “Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook“.

Why would the English do this? Why give dishes names that have actually nothing to do with how they look? Is this some kind of conspiracy to muddle the rest of the world? Is this how they managed to build ‘an empire where the sun did not set‘ – did many a leader just give up their empire because they could not guess which was the tripe and which was the trifle? Why on earth would people want to eat tripe anyway, which in reality, sounds much worse than my cough-syrup imagery?

I shall write about Marmite in the next post – it deserves its own post and what it did to my childhood…..


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