EPS Review #30 - England is Delicious

by Nozomu Hayashi, Kodansha English Library, 1991, 2000.

I love foreign presses that publish in English -- you come across such odd things. I found this book in Oriental City (formerly Yaohan) not far from Radlett, where we go to buy packs of nori seaweed (so good to chew into masks or other shapes), Japanese rice, edamame, furikake, and so on. There are also Japanese, Korean, and Chinese restaurants, and a bookstore, where we typically get Japanese quilting magazines. Last time, I found this book, which, according to the back flap

in 1991 won the Japan Essayist Club award, and shortly became one of the biggest best-sellers of the year, launching a "Britain Boom" in Japan.

British cuisine is an easy target for anyone, even these days. For example:

... the leek is a kind of green onion, though its appearance differs markedly from the green onion the Japanese call naganegi. ..it is neither as slimy nor as piquant.... It can be either delicious or inedible, depending on how it is cooked.

Here is one method I encountered in England. Get a fine leek, about the size of a child's wrist. Remove the root and the green part at the top. Put that long object (my God!) into boiling water and cook it for more than half an hour. At the expiration of that time, you'll have something about eight inches long, strangely squishy and insubstantial, yet also unpleasantly sinewy. Place it in a casserole. Pour over it a saltless and somewhat grainy white sauce...Sprinkle a little cheese on top and bake it. This is the authentic Cambridge University leek gratin.

But there are a few English foods he does like: windfall apples, especially Cox's orange pippin, which he considers superior to all Japanese apples. He had a perfect moment involving some Coxes once at Windermere, imagining Wordsworth eating the same. He is also wild about "Laxative Pie", that is rhubarb -- known only as a bowel medicine in the East. He loves smoked mackerel, but not kippers. He is also fond of smoked cod's roe, and gives an east-west recipe for it. He is rightfully dismissive of British attempts to learn the art of deep-frying fish. But he loves chips with vinegar, and their cousins salt-and-vinegar crisps.

I want to raise my voice and say to Japanese snack manufacturers, "Stop this absurd tampering with your flavors -- 'ethnic' seasonings, 'okonomi-yaki taste,' and so forth. You should simply make this basic 'Salt & Vinegar' chip and have done with it. Once you try this flavor, with its fine texture, its light smell and sour-sweet taste -- as manufactured by Walkers, particularly -- you will not be able to stomach the ridiculous, elaborately monkeyed-with Japanese-style potato chips any more..."

But Japanese women students -- they just chant "No way! No, it's so weird!" It matters not how much I try to convey the good taste of the thing. What a pity. It's all just too sad.... We may have to force-feed them.

He also covers scones and pubs (he never drinks) and B&B's and academic dinners and gowns, in this same slightly silly yet romantic way. He leaves us with the impression that the English rate conversations and good times over actual food, and thinks there's something to be said for that.

He has written more books about England, but they are still just in Japanese.

Nori wrote: This book sounds interesting- we'll try to pick it up the next time we're in Colindale. By the way, have you tried the Food Hall there.. even though of course it is not the best in each cuisine, it's a good place to go and re-live memories of Japan and Southeast Asia- Ramen, Vietnamese spring rolls, Malaysian noodles, etc. [ This bookstore has since closed - E ].