Sunday, August 31, 2014

What's Hot? What's MEH?

The Guardian food blog, "Word of Mouth" today has a particularly interesting collection of posts about food trends. In particular, "Seasonal eating: does it matter?" presents an intriguing set of statistics: the vast majority in England don't know when seasonal foods are in season. (Aside: I checked the website -- I do know what's in season near me. And I've chosen a couple of my own photos from past posts to illustrate my reactions to what I've read there.)

Ann Arbor Farmer's Market
Does seasonal produce matter? Well, one quoted restaurant owner said "there's always something in season somewhere." Many of the people who don't know what's in season, says the article, actually can't taste the difference between fresh/local or imported produce anyway -- at least not in this British survey.

Why else doesn't it matter? There's the tricky discussion of food miles and carbon footprint; that is, eco-responsibility. This has been debated endlessly and at least in England doesn't seem to be of any significance. The author says: "Unless you live in an asparagus-producing part of the country – the Vale of Evesham, say – then the ecological impact of Peruvian versus British asparagus is vanishingly small. If you drive to the supermarket it is nixed altogether, if not tipped in favour of Paddington Bear's homeland."

On another topic, Word of Mouth's recurring feature titled (misleadingly) "How to eat" currently features the burrito. Contributor Tony Naylor presents what I see as a completely English view of the burrito, which appears to have just made it into the mainstream English food consciousness. "The burrito is not breakfast material," he writes, listing why he doesn't like eggs and all those other ingredients mushed together, instead of properly, Britishly, segregated. "Instead," he writes, "it is best eaten at lunch or early evening, and comes into its own when you are rushing to meet your mates after work for a drink. ... It is the perfect pre-beer food."

"Molcajete Mexicano" at Spicy Tacos, Brighton, Colo.
See what I mean? He goes on and on, finally giving one last jab at how he doesn't like Mexican beer.

A few posts down the blog, we get to the main point: "Want more than tacky Tex-Mex? Then prepare for a real Mexican wave." Writer Trevor Baker surveys the upcoming Mexican restaurant trend in London and maybe a few places elsewhere in England. The post is illustrated with a photo that looks like publicity for a kit from an American supermarket: hard-shell tortillas, red kidney beans, tiny unmelted rectangles of bright yellow cheese, a glimpse of ground meat and sour cream. No one's idea of food from actual Mexcio, even if you are blissfully unaware of the many nuances of Mexico's regional cuisines. It's totally the US version!

The author isn't very aware of which trends or even which chain restaurants are Mexican and which are from the US. Chipotle is often mentioned as a new-to-Britain chain, but not the fact that it was founded by Anglo San Franciscans, not by Mexicans. Trevor Baker doesn't seem to care, it's all lumped together with the trendiest news possible: Albert AdriĆ  the brother of Ferran AdriĆ  the Spanish food sensation is about to open a Mexican restaurant in Barcelona. Earthshaking news for foodies!

And from London Tarun Mahrotri, an ex-banker with an Indian background has opened a Mexican restaurant called. Peyote. Along with a few other very expensive newcomers, he sees changeover from the past when in England Mexican was "just bad Tex-Mex hen-party places." The whole article reflects attitudes like this, though Baker does pay lip service to the idea that chefs trained in Mexico might have something to offer: "it seems likely that we will need more actual Mexicans leading the way."

Other posts on Word of Mouth at the moment include a set of instructions for "the perfect prawn cocktail" and for "perfect vegetable lasagne," a discussion of the science of mixed drinks, and a screed on the failure of "the British food revival." According to the post's author Thomas Hobbs, a few high-end British places are successful in London. But, he says, "Outside London, the average town or city is filled with curry houses and chain restaurants offering Italian cuisine. British dishes are on 9% of restaurant menus, behind Italian (25%) and American (12%), and are only just in front of Japanese and Mexican (both 6%), according to Horizons."

The most amusing post was titled "Global leftovers: what Airbnb guests bring to your fridge." While Koreans came with all sorts of prepackaged foods, French guests didn't use the fridge at all -- they just spent all their time making love, says author Henrietta Clancy. Several guests left slightly-used bottles of olive oil or other good ingredients, while the Koreans left a silver chopstick in the dishwasher, requiring a costly service call. Very amusing.

 The Airbnb article was just a little less amusing than the best food article I've read all week (but not in the Guardian). This was "My Week on the All-Emoji Diet" by Kelsey Rexroat. A quote of what the author ate one day:

Breakfast: green tea with honey (“honey pot”), red apple; lunch: roasted sweet potato with eggplant (“aubergine”) and tomato, chocolate bar; dinner: oden, fish cake, sake, shaved ice.


Mae Travels said...


"I'll just comment on our feelings about 'British food'. We remember when it was absolutely awful. The jokes that used to be current had reason behind them. However, the current modern chefs with much more professional training have proliferated & many have found wealthy patrons to set them up in their own restaurants. These people are often very insistent that they use local, fresh, produce. These places are not limited to London. That means much better food, but at a price. We can afford it, but many would not be able to. They're the ones that eat still in McDonalds etc etc etc as it's cheap & they know that their kids will eat what they buy rather than turn their noses up at what we might consider nicer food......"

Mae Travels said...

My reply to my friend: "Your ideas are totally consistent with both the Word of Mouth blog posts and many of the comments on those posts (that I was writing about). The restaurants are pretty elite & pricy, and their principles haven't trickled down to the mainstream, is what I gather."