One of the questions I often get asked as a Brit in America is some variation of “what foods do you miss from the UK?”
When asked this, I have had to really struggle to think of anything. One the one hand, we live in a global market, and anything can be got from anywhere; however, I take it that the real question is not about what you can get, but what you normally see and what most people normally eat.
So thinking deeper, I would sometimes say maybe British fish and chips, although it is really the “romance” of locations remembered that I miss, rather than the food itself. Sitting in my car by the beach on a cold winter day sharing fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, and watching the birds fly back and forth in the wind – it is the whole experience that calls to me, not the food item specifically. And then I also think of the soggy chips and greasy fried fish in thick batter that I’ve eaten in some places. In any case, there are a lot of restaurants here that have “fish and chips” on their menu, and they are even using the UK meaning of the word “chips”!
The only other thing that would come to mind was Branston Pickle, which I’ve not seen replicated here in the grocery stores I’ve been to. Americans have a LOT of types of pickle and relish, but nothing I’ve seen matches that tangy bitter/sweet taste or the color and texture of Branston. However, I couldn’t really say I missed it as a condiment, given all the other things that the American fridge contains. I’ve even seen it for sale in some of those “world food” stores, but never felt the need to take any home.
Then a while ago we wanted to go somewhere different for breakfast, and ended up stopping at the Eclipse restaurant. Among the tiny jars of jellies and jams was marmalade.
I didn’t recall seeing marmalade since I’ve lived here – it might have been around, but couldn’t say I’d seen any. So I opened one of the mini jars, and spread it on my whole wheat toast. And suddenly POW, that particular flavor, the tartness of the orange zest mixed with the sweetness of the jelly; yes, THIS was something I had been missing. Unlike “fish and chips”, I don’t have any particular memories associated with marmalade, it was just the taste that made me think of breakfast time in England.
And the crazy thing is, the next time I went grocery shopping in my local store, there was marmalade on the shelf, and not an import or a delicacy either, just a cheap “own brand” Orange Marmalade. But I’m sure that the restaurant was the first place I’ve ever seen it served as a breakfast item.
I came home the excited owner of a jar of Marmalade, and I’ve had it for breakfast a few times since then, and each time I’m pulled back to English breakfast tables for a few seconds.
Of course, now that I have US produced, store-bought marmalade in my fridge I still don’t know what to answer the next time I’m asked what UK foods I miss, but at least I can tell them this story.