Tuesday 31 August 2010

Mexican(?) Food in England

If there is one common denominator among most American ex-pats in the UK, it's that so many of us miss Mexican food.  From Taco Bell to our local favourites, we miss it all.   There is continual whining on ex-pat websites that you cannot get comparable Mexican food in any part of the UK, and unfortunately, my experience has been no different.

First there was Hardy's Tex-Mex in a small village in Surrey called Bagshot .  An affordable, non-pretentious restaurant with statues wearing sombreros sitting on the roof - I had high hopes.  I thought I'd struck gold when chips and salsa were offered to me upon seating.  On the menu: nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, chimichangas  and even enchiladas!!    I had some nachos and a Corona and was satisfied, but it wasn't anywhere near what I am used to ( think The Armadillo... drooool).

I was sure it had to get better than that and was introduced to Mestizo in West London - a pretentious restaurant and tequila bar in London with a salsa club downstairs.  When the waitress offered to help with the extensive menu (which included chile rellenos!) in her thick Mexican-ish accent, I was sure it had to be good.  Sadly, my rellenos were nothing like what I expected.  I do not have the culinary expertise to explain the "problem", but  flavours and even how it was plated were just all wrong.   I want a chile relleno (crispy, please) covered in cheese with some green chile poured over it next to a helping of refried beans and mexican rice.  Is this too much to ask?

I then started hearing rumblings about a place in Covent Garden called Wahaca. They call their cuisine Mexican Market Eating.  Their menu was a bit confusing and actually did require some explanation from our waiter (no Mexican accent here).  Basically, I was urged to order 3 or 4 small dishes (little quesadillas, taquitos, mini tostadas, etc) and I immediately knew it wasn't going to be the Armadillo combo plate I craved. It was good, but not what I think of when I think of Mexican food.

Just last week, I heard of a brand new place near Charing Cross called Lupita.  Their website claims they are the "first truly authentic Mexican restaurant in London".  Hallelujah!!  I sat down at a table with four different salsas and thought "bring on the smothered burritos and cheese enchiladas!"    But, yes, you know where this is going: no platters, no green chile, no joy for me.

Lupita was very much like Wahaca which also claims to be traditional Mexican, and leads me to wonder if what I think is "authentic" Mexican food is not Mexican at all.  I have been to Mexico (only Cancun, which I realize hardly counts) but it seems like I actually had to come to England to learn what Mexican food actually is and that what I really want is Americanized Mexican food.  No wonder you can't get that in England.

Lesson learned.

Friday 27 August 2010

Mythbusting - Beer

When I made my first trip to England many years ago, I remember being warned that "British people drink warm beer" and was advised to ask for ice if I wanted my beer cold. I assumed this was true and was ready to be served body-temperature beer. Much to my surprise, every pint I ordered felt familiarly cold in my hand and refreshing as it went down my thirsty throat. So, was my experience an unsual one? Or perhaps the pubs I visited catered to tourists in London, so they served their beer cold? In order to bust this myth in true Jamie and Adam style, a bit of research was required: I observed people ordering different types of beer - lager, stout, bitter and ales and very scientifically looked at their glass to see if the drink inside appeared cold, and then did some Googling. (Science Fair students eat your heart out!)

Here's the low-down:

Lager , the most widely-consumed beer in the world, is served cold. This inlcudes Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc. Beer snobs will tell you that lager is served as cold as possible to numb your tastebuds so you dont know it tastes like piss.

Ale, such as Newcastle Brown Ale and stouts are traditionally served at cellar temperature (approx 55 degrees F), however, most I've experienced are served around 40 degrees F, which I would call cool, not cold.  Although, I should probably mention that I don't spend much time in real ale pubs, where you are more likely to find cellar temperature ales.  If you're after this traditional experience, check out the Campaign for Real Ale.  To further complicate the matter, Guinness, which is a stout of course, now offers "Guinness extra cold", which is available on draught and is apparently very popular (says my local publican).

Beer is not served warm in England.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Make that "meow" in every language!

It seems I underestimated my fellow Americans (and others!) when I assumed it was only the English who were in an uproar over Mary Bale's. It seems that she has actually become the most hated woman in many parts of the world, not just in England.

I recieved an email from my mother last night spouting (well deserved) contempt for her and this story has apparently made the headlines in Australia, China, New Zealand, Denmark, Turkey, Canada, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Spain and who knows where else!

Although, to make it look like I still had a valid point in my previous post, I still maintain that the English are more animal-friendly than the Americans. Watch this space for a better illustration of my theory..... Oh wait.... Dogs in pub. So there.

Feeling a bit bored? Play a fun game

Wednesday 25 August 2010

The Outcry! Meow!

It would be wise to mention, before anyone gets the wrong idea and thinks the country is only filled with Americans who pretend to be English, that there are native English people in England (!) and while we have already learned you can't make generalizations about the entire population, I am prepared to say that on the whole, the people of England are a pretty animal-friendly bunch. The queen loves her Corgies, dogs are allowed in many pubs, trains and on the Tube, pet-friendly hotels and B&Bs are not hard to find, and my adorable dog gets a friendly smile anywhere she goes.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Meet Mary Bale. Last week, Mary, from Coventry, thought it would be "funny" to put a cat in a wheelie bin. She was caught on a security camera petting the cat (who was just minding her own business sitting on a wall), then picking her up by her scruff and quickly dropping her in the bin. The cat was finally found by her owners 15 hours later. Obviously a vile woman, but that is not the point of this post. The point is the surprisingly angry outcry which came from the public when this story made the headlines of almost every news outlet. Take a look at this article from the Telegraph....

Now I'm not condoning the death threats and sincerely hope that no harm comes to Mary Bale, but I honestly am happy to see the reaction (one I am not sure would be mirrored in America), no matter how over-the-top it might be. People who mistreat animals are bullies (the definition of a bully being a person who badgers and intimidates those smaller or weaker than himself) and I don't stand for bullies. I am glad to see I am not the only one.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

What's wrong with the words you already know?

I hate to focus again on something negative and another topic related to vocabulary, but I'm afraid I've got another gripe: new American ex-pats who unnaturally adopt new vocabulary.

Notice the use of the word "unnaturally". I am not talking about calling the trunk of your car "the boot" , or referring to underwear as "pants". These translation are actually necessary when moving to a new country as the use of the familiar American term can cause confusion.
What I am talking about is mostly slang or words that you have never used in your American life before moving to the UK.

Case in point, taken directly from an ex-pat forum when speaking about the sweet dish often eaten after one's evening meal:
"I didn't need any seconds tonight. Had lunch at a pub and was well full after tea!"

Really? C'mon. What you mean is that you didn't need any DESSERT. You had lunch at a pub and were VERY full after DINNER. Why oh why do people do this? Especially when your audience is mostly American?? Not to mention that saying "well full" makes you sound like an idiot. It is one of those words/phrases that no American, no matter how long they have been living in Britain cannot say without making a dick out of themselves. Others include: bloody and chuffed. Any Americans who use these words are forcing it and should be slapped.

Although my example above gets at least one point for using the terms correctly, which is more than can be said for at least one other ex-pat I know. I saw a status on an ex-pat's Facebook not long ago that said "I really should be cleaning the house, but I just cant be asked". Oh dear. Certainly you mean: I just can't be arsed which is a slangy way of saying you can't be bothered?
Words fail me.

My unsolicited advice: don't try so hard and if you must, make sure you get it right. Even a quick Google search of the word or phrase you think you have learned will save you from looking like a fool.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Dinner is tea lols

It happened not long after I moved to England - I realised most other immigrants annoyed the hell out of me. Their blogs annoyed me, their Facebook updates annoyed me, their regales of their first {insert British Experience here} annoyed me and perhaps most of all, the conclusions they have come to based on their limited experiences made me want to gouge my eyeballs and eardrums out. My new country seems to have its fair share of new (and even a "veteran") ex-pat who think that they have sorted out everything about the UK and it's natives based on their own life in Yorkshire or Blackpool or Glasgow or even London. Surely, I am not the only American who learned about the slippery slope that is stereotyping. The classic example is Americans who move to the North of England, hear their Mother-in-Law invite them to 'tea' and then upon their return from what actually turned out to be a meal in the evening, report back to their family and friends that "British people call dinner 'tea' lol." Ugh.

The actual fact is that some people in England, mostly in the North of the country refer to their evening meal as 'tea'. All British people (I can speak for most of us in the South-East) certainly do not and as unimportant as it is, it is spreading a fallacy and aggravates me.

Luckily for them (and me), their stupid comments never leave their blog pages, forum posts or Facebook, but a few days ago, this article was brought to my attention... I will leave you to read and make that finger-in-mouth-gag-me motion if necessary....

Are you kidding me!?! She is actually attempting to make a generalization about London - one of the most diverse cities in all of the world!? What men has she been meeting? She makes them all out to be do-gooder chaps who bow at the feet of women. That certainly hasnt been my experience (especially not in London). She should go up to Dizzee Rascal's hood in North London and see if she's still up in the clouds with this dreamy idea of all men being Hugh Grant.

I feel a twinge of guilt when I say this, but seriously, other American immigrants irk me.

My unsolicited advice: Its should go without saying, but don't assume your small circle of friends/family/coworkers is representative of an entire nation.