I woke up thinking about food this morning. I wasn’t hungry, it was more by way of reminiscing about things I have eaten, in a reasonably long life.
As a child, I had no options. I ate whatever my Mum decided to give me, and with few exceptions I always enjoyed it. That involved basic food. Filling food like dumplings, stews, and suet pudding with jam for dessert. And cake. Lots of cake. In many ways, it was certainly a very unhealthy diet.
What vegetables we did have were usually cooked until they were almost a puree, and many were tinned to start with. Potatoes were generally roasted in beef fat, and some of the meals, like spam fritters, were deep-fried in the same.
It had to be very hot out before salad of any kind was served. Then it consisted of just cucumber, tomatoes, and lettuce leaves. It was often accompanied by hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, or tinned fish, like salmon. The only rice I ever saw was tinned, and in a sweet milk and cream sauce, usually baked and served as a filling dessert. Pasta was unknown to me until I was in my late teens, and no meal cooked at home ever contained garlic.
Like many women at the time, my Mum was also stuck in a cooking routine, with particular meals being served on the same days every week. So it was easy to anticipate what we would be eating on any given night. Eating out was rare, and a treat. Then it usually involved buying fish and chips, or meat pies and mash. When I was aged about thirteen, we went to a Chinese restaurant in Limehouse, and I had my first ever oriental meal. But even that was a ‘western’ version, with fried prawn balls, chow mien noodles, and sweet and sour pork.
This culinary tradition continued until I was old enough to make choices for myself, and had some money to spend on those choices too. My first hamburger and fries, in a local Wimpy Bar, and a frankfurter sausage in the same establishment. How exotic that all seemed to be back then. A taste of America, in a shopping street in Bermondsey. Once in my early twenties, and able to drive to different areas, I tried Indian food for the first time. Experimenting with curry that was so hot it made me ill, and finally getting the ‘dry’ rice that I had never tasted before. Unusual spices, huge Naan breads, and crispy accompaniments like samosas and bhajees.
I was soon on a roll. Italian restaurants in Soho; Osso Buco, Chicken Parmigiana, Tiramasu. Greek restaurants in north London, with endless choices of Mezze, Stifado, Pitta Bread, and salad with feta cheese. Authentic Chinese restaurants in Chinatown; crispy duck, steamed buns, tasty noodles, and spare ribs. It seemed like I was on a mission to try anything, and up for the challenge. Turkish restaurants with food very similar to Greek ones, and Spanish Tapas, when I had to ask the waitress to recommend her choices.
Then I got married, and started to travel abroad a lot. I had soon sampled caviar in the Soviet Union, and later feasted on smoked impala, in Kenya. I had eaten some amazing meals, and some pretty awful ones too. I declined to eat a deep-fried black scorpion offered to me in Beijing, though did struggle with a near-elastic duck’s foot, in the same city. Back home in London, the choice was constantly expanding, and I tried Ethiopian, Algerian, and Argentinian restaurants as they appeared. Moroccan food in London was even better than when I tried it in Morocco, and I eventually got around to trying Japanese food too. But uncooked fish was never going to be something I enjoyed, though I did like the cooked varieties on offer.
Now I am older, and can lay claim to have tried almost everything, (except insects) I sometimes miss the variety I once enjoyed.
But I can forget all that, by tucking into a nice full English breakfast.