Burger Me : Homesick in my Hometown

17 06 2010

Note to self.

If you see the words “homemade beef-burger” on an English pub menu in the next ten days, don’t think to yourself “that sounds good, I like beefburgers. I really fancy one right now as I haven’t had a decent burger since I arrived back in London, after all it is homemade and not one of those mass-produced circular slabs of unidentified meat that may have some beef in.”

Be sensible, choose something else. Traditional English food,  Shepherds pie, fish and chips, gammon steak with pineapple. Even a curry will be better than the pub’s attempt to provide a taste of American classic.

Because there will be inevitable disappointment when you bite into the burger and realise that the reason why you were not asked how you would like it cooked was because the chef only knows one way. And it is not the right way.

To be fair, since coming back to England I have come to the conclusion that 11 months in the USA has altered my taste buds completely.

When I lived here I drank a lot of Coca Cola and have always enjoyed “the real thing” but ,since moving to the home of the popular soft drink, find that the beverage is too sweet and have changed to 7Up. The same goes for chocolate. Don’t eat a lot of it but have always been partial to a Mars Bar, can’t eat them in America as they taste different.

Take curry for example. 11 months in America and the amount of decent curries I have had is a number less than 2 and similar to the amount of goals that were scored against England last weekend. I have been in London for 12 days and had 3 excellent curries. Why is it so different in the USA? Many people from the Indian sub-continent have emigrated there but it seems that they have lost the ability to make a decent chicken jalfrezi, and the places that I have frequented have even asked me how hot I want it.

The answer to this question is nearly always I want it to be as hot as a jalfrezi normally is. This confuses them, with the result that I get something slightly hotter than a korma and about as spicy as a yoghurt.

England has never really had a reputation as a center of culinary excellence. For many years the food was considered bland and uninspiring but the proliferation of gastro-pubs has forced many pub owners to realise that decent food is something that the public craves with the result that many public houses now have a menu that would not look out-of-place in a fancy restaurant.

But they still can’t do some things as well as the Americans do.

Burgers are one of them.

When you order a burger in America, you will normally be asked how you want it cooked. This is a good sign, it infers that once the kitchen is aware of your preferences they will take the time to ensure that it arrives grilled to your specification. Normally accompanied by a mountain of chips/salad and with a gherkin that is large enough to be considered an offensive weapon.

Go to the Cheesecake Factory and you are faced with a 17 page menu which keeps the kitchen on its toes. 150 plus different dishes, and you can guarantee that most of them will be excellent. Even if the portions are so large that a doggy bag is always required.

But in England, you can still see surface area on the plate as the chips are not plentiful enough to obscure the pattern. I am not saying that having huge amounts of food is a good thing, and there is a lot of food that goes to waste (especially when you consider the large number of people in the world that are starving) but in America you feel that you have got value for money.

Again, something that the English occasionally struggle to provide (and I am not referring to the shambles that calls itself a football team).

There just seems to be a different mindset between the two nations. The English may feel that they don’t want people to “have a nice day” but when it is said to you, it does lift the spirits. Americans are part of a nation that encourages success, they want people to achieve their potential and live the ‘American Dream’. It is a cliché, but it is engrained into them at an early age that hard work will bring rewards.

Hard work brings success in England, but there are far too many people here who resent those who achieve and instead complain that life isn’t fair – a culture of blaming everyone else but themselves for their own failure.

I am proud to be English, fiercely loyal to the flag of St.George (and even the Union Jack to a certain degree) and will always want the country as a whole to be successful but when you move countries you start to see the flaws that prevent Britain from being truly Great.

The inability to make a decent burger is only the tip of the iceberg. Living in America has opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist in the world and awoken my desire to make the most of this chance for success, whilst being concerned that my birthplace seems to be dropping its traditionally high standards.

Everything may not be perfect in the Land of the Free, but sometimes the grass really is greener.

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One response

17 06 2010
Anthony Carlson

Am I really reading this? An Englishman that postulates America’s worth in the culinary realm? My burger days are far behind me now but I do chow-down on a turkey burger from B. Good at times. Miss ya mate and safe travels back to the other side of the pond.

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