Food, Multiculturality

Beans on toast

I’m reading a British mystery novel, and the detectives keep eating beans on toast. I had never heard of it before. Apparently it’s a common thing there, like donuts for American cops. Sounds disgusting.

Other literary sources (Terry Pratchett) indicate that vindaloo (hot curry) is a favored meal for cops on the night shift. I don’t think I’ve had curry in decades. I read somewhere that it’s the most popular food in England.

In older British detective stories (most notably by Dorothy Sayers), the restaurants of choice are French, perhaps because Lord Peter is a man of means. When actual British food is described, it sounds heavy and mildly disgusting: steak and kidney pie, sausages and mash, fish and chips, kippers, black pudding, Cornish pasties, spotted dick…

There’s an old joke that says that heaven is where the project is directed by Germans, the labor is supplied by Brits, the Italians provide the entertainment, and the French provide the food. In hell, the Italians direct the project, the French provide the labor, the Brits supply the food, and the Germans are the entertainers.

My dad’s parents were German immigrants. Dad used to buy sauerkraut from time to time. I hated the stuff. I always thought it was made with vinegar, but in a Guideposts article by someone raised in Alsace-Lorraine (the German-speaking part of France), the writer describes vast vats of cabbage fermenting with salt. Later I read about kimchi being buried in the ground to ferment. A friend told me that the Vietnamese make something similar from mustard greens. It turns out that fermenting late crops is a simple way to store them as a winter source of vegetables.

I taught ESL at a language school in Dallas for a year. More than half the students were Korean. Whenever I walked into the classroom, there was always a pungent aroma, something like spicy garlic. At a wonderful restaurant in Koreatown, I discovered its source: we were served a dozen varieties of kimchi, many flavors and degrees of hotness. It made its presence known long after the meal was over.

Seven years later, I briefly dated one of my former students. She didn’t like kimchi herself, but she made me a couple of varieties. I kept them in my fridge and nibbled at them over the course of a couple of months. The kimchi lasted longer than the relationship did. (She was an illegal alien and I wasn’t in a position to deal with that.)

Do you have any idea how hamburgers and hot dogs come across to people from other cultures? When you think of them objectively, hot dogs are quite disgusting (ground up meat by-products stuffed into a sausage skin). Hamburgers are greasy and bland, not tasty like the grass-fed beef of other countries. French fries… bleah. Ketchup… yuck.

Maybe that’s why Subway is my default. My wife, on the other hand, is addicted to spicy wings from the Publix deli.


23 thoughts on “Beans on toast

  1. Food’s a funny thing. I can’t get over finding it really strange that with France being a stone’s throw away, the English eat the way they do.

    There’s a lot to be said for a well made, grass-finished beef hamburger, though I’ll always opt for bison when I have a choice. It’s a pity that “free market economy” has been allowed to ruin the US food supply. And our bread exemplifies the tragedy. Puffed library paste. Ick.

    • I’d eat a bison burger if I could find one.

      My grandma used to buy Wonder bread, Velveeta cheese, Miracle Whip, and iceberg lettuce. Any sandwich made at her house was guaranteed to stick to the roof of your mouth. I used to add potato chips for texture.

  2. It may be un-American of you to not like burgers. Just saying.

    When I was in high school there was a large S Korean population in the school. The kids received care packages from their parents in the ROK occasionally and sometimes they contained Kimchi. Kimchi was on the table at every school meal but it was whatever brand you find most commonly in Iowa, not like they had at home. It was still super smelly but it didn’t compare to what they were sent. My Dorm Mother used to make them keep it outside in the snow in the winter so it wouldn’t stink up the dorm. They’d put it outside their window, bring it in and scoop out however much they wanted to eat and put the rest back outside. The system worked.

  3. I guess English food appeals to me because I like my eatibles to be on the bland side. A good shepherd’s pie is tasty, especially with a smooth, heady beer. When we’re in Iowa, I try to eat as much pork and beef as time allows. I grew up with corn-fed so that’s what I like, though I certainly wouldn’t turn down a nice fillet of beef derived from grass.
    The chicken wing thing I just don’t understand. They are skin and bone with a sliver of meat in there somewhere. I’ll take the chicken tenders from Cheddars restaraunt any day.
    Our favorite Vietnamese place had a fire and has been closed for a couple of months. I miss their barbque pork and eggrolls. I hope they reopen soon!

    • I think people like wings because the meat is a bit drier than drumsticks, and smaller portions. Most wing places only use the two thicker portions, not the actual wingtip. The portion closest to the body is like a small drumstick.

  4. My recently passed Irish pal was fond of making “english breakfasts” I am no stranger to beans on toast. The Actual Englishmen stay at my house makes sure I don’t neglect myself beans on toast either. and somehow with eggs a slice of tomato turns up as well. I haven’t had either the black pudding or spotted richard. I have had bangers and mash…there is something to be said of a good onion gravy. I don’t care for the proper banger prefering bratwurst which is just firmer. I’m had a bunch of fermented mustard greens and while I don’t hate saurkraut – I cant say as it’s got to be with or on everything…oddly enough I remember that my paternal grandmother made it but I cant say as I remember having hers. as to hotdogs being politely by-products… well, I believe bologna isn’t far removed… I don’t hate either..although, I can’t underand why I like the thought of a fried hotdog but cant stand the thought of fried bologna. as to burger-blandness I wont lie, I used to think I’d get beefier going up the cuts of “quality” and wI was sadly mistaken…my first filet mignon was bland sawdust… however, burgers needn’t be bland, the supposed chuck is supposedly shoulder and supposedly the good source of beef flavor…I have had grassfed beef antelop *by far the best steak ever was grass fed antelope, bison goat and lamb and while I’m sure the elk and deer I’ve also tried some were also grasss-fed, elk is deer light and deer is ode de frog pond nastiness grass, corn or elsewise fed. even normal burger can stand a pepup with smoke salt but that isn’t the only way to alter tastes, worcestershire sauce is popular as is simplysplashing in some beef broth after the burgers have brown but not so brown you cant still manage some pink if said is desired for doneness. I am a fan of my colored salts aka condiments and adore ketchup.

    • I had a bottle of ketchup in my fridge for years before I realized that no one ever touched the stuff, so I threw it out. Barbecue sauce is much more interesting, as is salsa or sriracha.

      Buffalo wings were a disappointment when I finally tried them. The sauce is basically a sweetened Tabasco, and I hate Tabasco. It tastes metallic.

      I read some horrifying things about British sausage on the Terry Pratchett wiki site. By law they have to be “at least” 48% meat, of which half can be connective tissues. The rest of the sausage is bread crumbs, etc.

      The last time I remember eating venison was in Germany in 1983, and it was gamy. Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, tastes like the meat I grew up eating in Colombia, and is fine. Haven’t tried all those other exotic meats you list. I’m all for chuck if I can afford it.

      • Germany on the other hand has very high standards for their sausages (as well as their beers) – the only place I care to eat sausage. Also veal – since (last I checked) the calves are confined and mistreated in the USA and most countries.

        • German sausages, cheeses, etc. are fabulous. The thing that got on my nerves when I was there in 1983 was the lack of mayonnaise for the glorious breads, cheeses and meats served every afternoon! There was only butter.

  5. Ashtshen says:

    I enjoyed this post greatly. Mostly because I am obsessed with food. And love kimchi.
    My brother travelled to Korea for work and brought me back some authentic kimchi. It was excellent. Maybe I need to find an immigrant boyfriend and get in good with his mother. You give me the best ideas.
    PS Re: Publix. I am obsessed with vegetarian Atomic Wings. Not all the franchises have them, and the most convenient one for me is in the sketchiest bar I have ever been to. I visit it more frequently than my friends would like. It brings me joy. Alicia has the right idea.

    • Vegetarian wings are one of those hypocrisies of vegetarians that started getting on my nerves the first time I saw my nephew grill a vegetarian sausage. If people think they shouldn’t eat meat, why the dickens do they eat vegetarian meat copies? What it means is that meat is still an ideal to them; they’re culturally meat-eaters, not true vegetarians.

      Kimchi can be awesome. I don’t recommend dating an Asian male, though, although among Asians, Koreans are perhaps the most compatible with Americans.

      • Ashtshen says:

        I’m totally cool being a meat-eater culturally. I don’t eat meat because I don’t want to create demand for dead animals, not because I don’t think meat tastes good or because I don’t miss it all the time. Vegetarianism doesn’t have to be a cultural value. It certainly isn’t for me.

  6. Usually I can eat any food from different cultures. I am glad about that. I remember having food in a Japanese restaurant, and since the meals were not in English, (all were in Japanese) we had to go by the picture. So I ordered a plate which I thought would be rice and some vegetables. But when the meals were brought, my plate did have rice, but the sides included snales and frogs. 😮 I just gave the plate back.

    • I bought soup in Madrid from a restaurant’s sidewalk kiosk, back in 1983, and then couldn’t eat it. It was called Sopa de callos, and while the broth tasted fine, the “meat” was white squares of something with no texture, like pure fat. I think it was a digestive organ; stomach lining or something similar.

      However, the paella I had in Barcelona was spectacular.

  7. I find it interesting when books include restaurants and food. It’s always fun to read about AND try foods from other cultures. Some of the best food (of any culture) I’ve had was in San Fransisco.
    I’ve “adopted” students from all around the world and helped them adjust here and fed them. They never turned down anything I served them. Interestingly the Korean students love the Spanish/Mexican food best. And some of the students introduced me to food from their country. 🙂
    Do you like mustard?
    I prefer mustards over ketchup and mayo any day.
    Hungry-HUGS!!! 🙂

    • If I have to use ketchup, I’ll add mustard to give it zing. I like brown mustard. But I’ll use barbecue sauce or salsa or sriracha instead of ketchup if they’re available.

      It seems to me that Koreans are more similar to Americans than other Asians. They tend to be funny and outspoken, in my experience.

      I haven’t been in San Francisco since 1966, when we visited cousins in Oakland. I’d love to visit. It looks like a fascinating place.

      • One of the Korean college students I “adopted” and fed and helped…when we met the first time she asked how old I was. I laughed and told her my age (which was 28 at the time). I asked her why she asked me that, and she said, “Because if you are older than me, I must treat you differently than if you are my age.” She was very respectful but so outgoing and fun! 🙂
        Yes, salsa is a good sub for ketchup! 🙂

  8. Beans and toast? When I was living in New Zealand in the 80’s the food was much like British “cuisine” of the time ( sorry guys but there it is/was). When a Kiwi friend traveled to California I asked him how he liked the food. “Bloody awful,” he said, “I nearly starved to death – they didn’t even have beans and toast!” To each his own.

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