In honor of Downton Abbey's season-two finale on Sunday, we decided to cross the pond to explore English food with two overlapping circles that compare what Angelenos believe the English nation eats with what English folks say they actually eat.
Moral of the story: Apparently, the collective gasp heard around the Western world when poor Oliver Twist asked for more gruel was not just a reaction to the fact that this young boy had the gall to ask for seconds — no, it was that he would want seconds at all. Despite the great work of Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, most Angelenos still have preconceived negative notions of what English food is and isn't. Indeed, they were more likely to respond to our survey with an unkind adjective — “bad,” “ugh” and variations thereof — than specific nouns. What a load of bollocks, the English respondents replied.
Methodology: Per usual, our completely unscientific survey utilized our swath of social media outlets, including Facebook and Twitter. Also, if we met or overheard someone with an English accent, we spoke to them. And apologized profusely if they were not English but actually Aussie, Kiwi or New Englander.
Conclusion and notes: As early as 1945, George Orwell was compelled to defend his home country's culinary honor in an essay appropriately titled, “A Defence of English Cooking.” As did the English folks in our survey: They adamantly denied that their food is as bad as the Yanks assume it is and pointed out that there is far more to English food than fish and chips and bangers and mash.
Specifically, they ticked off quite a variety of puddings and meat pies (Angelenos generally only came up with these as general categories of English food) and waxed poetic about the foods they miss the most. Many of these foods sound either hilariously inappropriate (Spotted Dick) or oddly like 1950s-era diner slang: butties (sandwiches stuffed only with a copious amount of bacon or fried fish), 99's (soft-serve ice cream cones with a Flake chocolate bar), fry-ups (a full English breakfast of sausages, bacon, tomatoes, beans, fried bread and fried eggs). Specific snacks like crisps (potato chips) and digestive biscuits (McVitie's in particular) also were named and almost always followed by a wistful sigh. And, reflecting the wide array of ethnic foods found in England, kebabs and Indian dishes were named just as readily as traditional foods like kippers and steak and kidney pie.
Where the twain met was over tea. This was by far the most popular answer among Angelenos (“They seem to drink a lot of tea”) and the English (“We really do drink a lot of tea”). Everyone also agreed on the beautiful thing that is proper clotted cream and fresh-baked scones; a few English expats ruefully added that it was their favorite elevenses snack. And in part thanks to Wallace and Gromit, everyone knows the English love cheese.
Nonetheless, Angelenos still need to get over their mental barrier against English cookery. No doubt to Orwell's relief, there is hope yet: Our survey also revealed that most everyone's favorite Downton Abbey scenes — other than those with Maggie Smith — involve the kitchen staff rustling up the Grantham family's epic meals. Downton Abbey resident cook Mrs. Patmore, then, may do more for England's culinary reputation than White, Blumenthal and Ramsey combined.
(Check out our previous Venn Food Diagrams: Or, more fun with vegan cuisine, Southern food, etc.)