What is British food really like? Let's read several amusing stories from the
life of a Czech au-pair in Britain.
Knowing British history, I was, shall we say, bound to have misconceptions about British cooking.
I thought that if we consider that the British conquered India, they also surely became masters of spicy food, and therefore their food must be delicious.
How very wrong I was.
Once, while cooking my favourite salad, I came across a tricky word.
The children were dancing round my legs, chattering and peering in my bowl as usual, and little Lucy asked what flavour my salad was.
'Well,' I hesistated, having forgotten the word,' it's- it's- if something is not sweet, it's called-' I turned hopefully to their mother.
(I wanted to say 'salty', of course.)
'Just savoury, Adela, savoury-'
They may know the use of 'wild rosemary', 'thyme', 'vinegar', and who knows what else, but their
food cannot be delicious if they don't know the use of salt.
The most interesting thing they have achieved so far was a toothpaste-flavoured chicken.
This spice problem does not apply only to family food. One day, Alice brought me two new ready-meals. (By the way, I have always despised this sort of pre-cooked food. After I had arrived in England, it became my daily bread.)
'Just for you to have some nice change, ' she announced brightly. ' You have only tried the pasta ones so far, so there you go
- a Sweet and sour chicken.
I was not used to flinching at the word 'sweet' - not yet.
And I had been craving for normal meat for so very long that the word 'chicken' has put me off guard.
Otherwise I would have also noticed the 'Buy one and get one free' slogan on the boxes.
Because such a title has a clear undermeaning: Tesco needed to get rid of them.
On the fateful evening I was very hungry, and decided to enjoy my supper. But the very first spoonful,
changed my intention in the utterly opposite direction. In the next five minutes I found myself
picking up a rice grain after a rice grain and trying to swallow them
without a slightest contact with my precious taste buds.
Realizing that, I got up, decided to bring myself round with a salted slice of bread.
'Too salted to be allowed by decent people,' as my grandad says.
And the 'sweetly sour chicken' went directly into the rubbish bin.
'The coat forms a man', Jan Werich once said.
And the wrapping forms the British food, I could add now; indeed, the quality of the boxes beats the quality of the food within.
Take for example the most famous British bread-spread. It most likely resembles a dark brown glue, and is as tasty as the back of a letter stamp sprinkled with Maggi.
However, according to a proud yellow label it is called Marmite
and consists of a whole range of vitamins B, C, D, folic acid, and so on.
In short, just the things modern sophisticated people get caught by.
The same goes for Weetabix.
I would have sworn it is a box of miniature wooden patent fuels, until I have read the chart of nutrient values on the back.
Besides other information there was printed in bold letters: Slimming Award 2004.
About that I had no doubt- just picture yourself tucking into a bowl of sawdust every morning.
That's what I do these days, to set a good example for the children. What's more,
their mother wants the kids to eat Weetabix soaked in milk.
So we all have to eat very quickly before it gets too wet to look like a... well, you can imagine.
Lucy does not eat Baked Beans.
'What got into you, darling?' asked her mother. ' I don't understand it, you always eat it.'
(Oh yes, always. Three days in a line this week, and the week before as well, that's the mystery, I said to myself. )