Continental Europe it may have been a long time seeing, shocked and horrified, at the ability of the Englishman to hit the sauce on an empty stomach, and then continue to hit it. Before hitting him again.
But, just as confusing to foreigners’ eyes, noses, and stomachs is British consumption of a variety of true and rich sauces.
Handily for Spaniards, one of the country’s leading cultural diplomats and renowned experts has just produced a guide on what to expect – and what to reject – when dealing with puzzles from many British spices.
Ignacio Peyró, a journalist and writer who is also director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, began A 1,000 word slice for Spanish Esquire with a clever disclaimer: “railing against British food is a passion that can bring together not only visitors to these islands but also the locals themselves … Whether justified or not, the bad reputation of British food remains one of the most reliable things in the world this. “
From there, everything tastes bitter. English mustard – “the most patriotic” of all English sauces – has “the power that is so devastating that it burns the unsuspecting ceiling into the most spiteful chili”. Spicy Turnip Sauce.
Peyró has the grace to admit that Marmite isn’t really a sauce before dismissing it as “dirty”, and turning to mint sauce. Maybe, he suggested, herbal accompaniment was used to disguise old age where people in England liked to eat their lamb. In Spanish, he added, they tended to be “more towards infant killing when it came to ovine problems”.
Pickled Branston is a “classic snack for drunk people”, while HP sauce is “sweet-hearted, unsophisticated, cheating style barbecue sauce” consumed in “its inhabitants” with a British-style Sunday breakfast across the country.
However, there are some exceptions. Piccalilli – aka “mustard with other items”, aka “a noble Anglo-Indian spiritual creation” – great with ham, he admitted. The bread sauce, meanwhile, is “a beautiful and vital accompaniment for a good Scottish partridge,” and Peyró could not understand his whole life why “it was less successful abroad than Ringo Starr’s solo career”.
And then there is chocolate alchemy contained in bottles of Lea and Perrins, which demands to be released and applied freely to a piece of Welsh rarebit – “as all good British people do”.
For all his talk, Peyró, who has lived in England for two and a half years, is enthusiastic and knowledgeable in terms of production and cooking in England. He is a fan of kipper, soup, fresh raspberries, oysters, fennel, “really good eggs”, and what he calls “extraordinary beer” beer – even if many do not match the Spanish summer afternoon drinks.
“I always defend British food and I don’t think it’s as famous as it should be,” he told the Guardian.
“You get extraordinary things, like pie – chicken and scallion pie, for example, are extraordinary – beautiful because they’re some kind of old-fashioned food; a bit like Henry VIII’s Tupperware. And besides, cake is always something special. Then you have roast meat. You can’t argue with roast beef. “
But, as was the case with his misguided attitude towards Marmite, there were some things he feared would never be able to open his head or mouth.
“To be honest, I don’t think anyone from the continent has ever been used to rhubarb,” he admitted.
“People say, ‘Oh, but the color is very beautiful!’ But no. You do what you can, but it’s not possible. “
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