Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in England, so we expats can honor our silly American holiday any way we choose. For me, Thanksgiving is pumpkin ravioli, sweet rolls, and MST3K.
But, while MST3K may be streaming a Thanksgiving marathon, the site displays the eleven most heartbreaking words in the English language, a phrase with which we on this side of the Atlantic are intimately familiar: ‘The uploader has not made this video available in your country.’
But I’m not one to let a little thing like region locking stop years of tradition, so for me it’s Night of the Blood Beast and a few family favorites, like What to Do on a Date:
And Body Care and Grooming:
However and wherever you celebrate, Happy Turkey Day!
British food is ridiculous. It usually involves some combination of beef, sausage, batter, and frying. This also makes it pretty easy to replicate at home.
A good place to start? Toad in the hole. It’s an actual dish that also has the benefit of you being able to tell people that you are eating toad in the hole for dinner.
It’s just sausages and batter. You fry the sausages in the oven, pour batter over them, and cook. This recipe is pretty much foolproof.
Toad in the hole is so easy they even made it on Drunk Kitchen.
Places in Great Britain have weird names. Everyone knows this. It’s hard to escape if you’ve ever taken the Piccadilly Line tube, final destination: Cockfosters, or have been to Splott or Pratt’s Bottom (or, god forbid, Shitterton).
To make things even more confusing, very few place names are pronounced the way they appear on paper. Deceptively easy: Worcestershire, famous for the sauce.
The correct pronunciation is WUSS-tur-shear. I have no idea why, but my working theory is that Brits don’t want to waste precious minutes pronouncing the full name of anything. They could be talking about the weather instead.
Trying to do American baking in the UK is difficult. Everything, right down to the ingredients, is different to what you can buy in the States. A lot of the shortcuts we have don’t translate to this side of the pond either. Want to make a cake that’s super moist? You can’t add Jell-O Instant Pudding because there isn’t any here, tough guy. Putting together a nice cream frosting? Cool Whip n’existe pas. Want to make cookies in a hurry? Not with slice-and-bake cookie dough, you won’t. Brits have biscuits instead of cookies. Biscuits are smaller and harder (so you can have them with tea or coffee), and there is no such thing as refrigerated biscuit dough because; 1. That’s disgusting, 2. You can buy an entire packet of biscuits for roughly £1, and 3. The way they’re made, you can’t tell whether they’re fresh or not because it doesn’t really matter.
Like so many other types of culture shock, it’s the little things you don’t expect that really get you. The majority of the time, British people don’t put frosting (which they call ‘icing,’ and so they have ‘icing sugar’ instead of ‘confectioner’s sugar’) on the sides of their cakes. If they bother to frost a cake (many times there’ll just be a sad dusting of icing sugar), they’ll only do the top. When I see a layer cake with naked sides, I feel an immeasurable sadness for all the places where frosting could be. Why not coat everything with frosting? More frosting can only be a good thing, especially when your cake is dry, which it usually is.
Mostly it just comes down to completely different tastes. Coffee cake in the UK is always made with coffee, and never has cinnamon streusel topping. Zucchini is called courgette (so much produce has French names, I’ll have to write more about it another day), and it doesn’t have a place in baked goods. Carrot cake is still the same, though.
Brits don’t really get the whole pumpkin thing. Thanks to the power of commerce, sales of Pumpkin Spice Lattes have been hitting hard in the UK for the past few years. Brits love their coffee, and in this case the Starbucks drink is the exception that proves the rule.
Since pumpkins are native to North America, it makes sense that they might not have made it to this side of the pond. They are grown over here, though; it’s possible to buy pumpkins from grocery stores around Halloween. What hasn’t really caught on is pumpkin in a non-decorative capacity. It’s practically impossible to buy any pumpkin-related foods in the UK. Butternut squash mostly takes the place of pumpkin, resulting in no pumpkin pie, no pumpkin bread, no pumpkin soup, and worst of all, no pumpkin-flavored IPAs. Now and then a celebrity chef might use pumpkin in a recipe, treating it more like a rare and unusual ingredient.
Luckily, there are plenty of places online selling imported canned pumpkin and pie filling for those of us who need our seasonal fix of the orange stuff. Globalization is magic.
Thanks to the affordability of dried pasta and the Italian tradition of simple dishes distinguished by fresh ingredients, you can find Italian restaurants anywhere in the world you happen to be. No matter where in the world I am, though, I will always want to eat Italian food.
When I was young, it was always a special treat going to Little Italy with its Italian delis, bakeries, and importers. There were little plastic tubs you could fill with many varieties of olives and sundried tomatoes, all kinds of grated cheese, and a fresh pasta maker that was always on. If I had been good, I could point to the cylindrical cannoli shells sitting in the pastry case, and the man behind the counter would pipe one full of sweet ricotta just for me.
Since the UK is a part of Europe, it’s much easier to get authentic Italian food here, made by actual Italians. Italy itself is only a few hours’ flight away. With cheap airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, it’s doable even on a budget. No matter how long I live here, there is something ineffably cool about traveling for just a couple hours and finding yourself in a completely different country, with its own language, cuisine and distinct cultural heritage.
Even though my town has somewhere in the neighborhood of forty Italian restaurants (probably more, if you count the pubs that serve Italian food) and a couple of Italian bakeries, there are still a lot of things I miss about Italian-American food. The assumption that, no matter which pizza place you walk into, the table will always have a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of chili oil, a shaker of Parmesan, and a shaker of red pepper flakes. The belief that real water ice only comes in two flavors: lemon and cherry (although there are the serious traditionalists who think cherry water ice is too extreme). All-you-can-eat pasta nights. Giant meatballs the size of your face. Not being charged for the basket of bread and breadsticks on your table. The murals of Italy painted on the walls, clashing comfortably with the red and white-checked vinyl tablecloths.
Although, most mornings here the Sicilian bakery sells these giant doughnuts filled with delicately spiced ricotta and coated with cinnamon sugar. So it’s not all bad.