4 out of 4 stars
At the beginning of lockdown number 1, I was wandering through Waitrose last year I paused by a fairly empty shelf and I was surprised by seeing something on the shelf that I never expected to see; a Fray Bentos pie. Two things surprised me about this, one that they still existed and secondly that it was in Waitrose. It has been a while since I had one of those. And I think it was only ever one that I had…
You are what you eat is that well-known phrase that springs to mind, and on one level we very much are the sum of all the things we pop in our mouth. But on a different level, the things that we would call our favourite foods also define us as a person and make our class and the are we live very easily identifiable. When we think of India and its curries, France and the cheeses and gourmet foods and Belgium would be mussels and chips with mayonnaise. But what foods would you use to define Britain?
This was a question that Pete Brown often asked himself and it got him thinking. He was born and brought up in the north but now lives a London life. Couple that with his work as a food and drink journalist he has tried and drunk many different things, but he still has his favourites. Narrowing it down to eight different things to put in the book wasn’t going to be easy.
In the end, he made his choice of the meals that he wanted to include that he considered defined him and he considered were classic British dishes. These were Pie and Peas, cheese sandwiches, fish and chips, spaghetti Bolognese, a west country cream tea, curry, a full English breakfast and of course the classic roast followed by a Rhubarb crumble.
He decided that he wants to eat a typical example of each so rather than just wander out into the local area he decides to travel a little of the country to see the sights, meet the locals who make these things and most importantly eat. He heads to Blackpool to eat fish and chips, eats curries in Birmingham and enjoys decided whether it is the cream or jam first in Devon. He persuades two friends to make their version of spag bol and then decides to recreate the version he made as a teenager for his family. Searching for the typical cheese sandwich takes a little longer and the debate as to what you must include in a full English breakfast will run and run.
Each of his chosen meals has a chapter dedicated to it and he talks about the cultural and history behind it as well as eating an awful lot of really good food. I thought that this was another really good book from the pen of Pete Brown. I like his writing style, is conversational and informative without coming across as patronising. There is a smattering of withering sarcasm and gentle ribbing as well as a strong shot of self-deprecating humour too. Would I have picked these eight dishes for my iconic British foods? No, but some of them would have been on there. He also shows that British food can be really bad and more often now, really good. Entertaining reading, though you may need snacks when reading it.