Thursday, February 12, 2009
Tea & toast
I'm sitting here writing this sipping a cup of tea and munching on buttered toast. People who know me will wonder what the heck has happened to me. I say, cultural immersion through food.
Most nations have elements of their national identity wrapped up in cuisine; western European countries specifically root national pride through bread and beverage. France has all sorts of breads and café; Italy is not the same without pane e cappucino; I've had the best kaffe and pastries of my life in Germany; even the Dutch do it with Douewe Egbert coffee and some doughy bread (but they have to put cheese on it). The English, though, get by with tea and toast. I think the Channel did something to the translation when people went back and forth... England has to be just that different.
Tea and toast is not just for breakfast, but that's really common. You can eat it for elevenses (snack between breakfast and lunch, like I just did), or for tea (but that would be a rubbish tea, you really need something sweet at tea time), and I hear stories of poor youth in college subsisting on it and beans for days on end (the British version of ramen?).
Tea and toast is comfort food then, customizable to every taste. Most people just put butter on the toast, but Americans I know spread it with the pitiful excuse for peanut butter they sell here. Jam is also a possibility, and for 50% of the population there is marmite. No matter how you like it, tea and toast is what you nibble on in times of trouble, or times of joy. I don't think the US has just one food item like it.
It's so iconic here in England that there are contraptions like the Breville toaster/kettle combination pictured above. It retails for £129.99. That is, with today's exchange rate, roughly $190.00 for a machine to make you feel good. And they thought Americans were ridiculous.