Have Bag, Will Travel
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“Everything (in the UK) comes with chips, which are French fries. You put vinegar on them. Cookies are biscuits and potato chips are crisps” – Scott Walters
March 14th in the USA is Potato Chips Day which I confess makes me smirk because in the USA they don’t even know what a potato chip is so I am going to take a look at how people prefer to eat their chips and watch out because I am going to award points for style.
I posted previously on eating fried potatoes in a Friterie in Northern France so it is only really polite to start with our nearest continental neighbours.
Friteries are a feature of this part of northern Europe and are a simple place, usually outside on wooden benches, to buy and eat French fries accompanied by a selection of traditional sauces and accompaniments. The thin strips of potato are fried twice, first to drive out the moisture and second to achieve the essential golden crispness of the French Fry.
You might expect the French, along with close neighbours the Belgians and the Dutch to know a thing or two about chips and they do make a good job of cooking them it has to be grudgingly said but as soon as they are served up they demonstrate a dreadful lack of culinary style and taste.
They immediately apply a dollop of horribly sloppy mayonnaise!
Now mayonnaise is fine on lettuce leaves or as an ingredient in a McDonalds burger, it gives them a bit of taste after all, but it really shouldn’t be smeared all over a helping of lovingly prepared potato chips and I am reminded here about a scene from the film Pulp Fiction and a conversation between Jules and Vincent…
… “Do you know what they put on their French Fries in Holland instead of Ketchup?” – “What? “ – “Mayonnaise” – “No Way.” – “Yes, I’ve seen them do it man they f*****g drown them in that s**t.”
Marks out of 10 for the French and the Belgians and the Dutch – 6 and that includes a bonus point because (as you can see in the first picture) at least they call them chips!
However, if you think that is bad then let’s cross the River Rhine into Germany where they serve up a variation called pommes rot-weis (potatoes red and white) named rather unimaginatively it is said after the colour scheme on level-crossing barriers and this toxic combination is achieved by smothering the poor chips in not just the evil mayonnaise but a good slug of tomato ketchup for good measure which has the effect of turning the classic dish into a sort of Salvador Dali gastro-interpretation.
I don’t know about the colour of level crossing barriers more like the rags and blood of a barbers pole if you ask me.
Marks out of 10 for the Germans – 4.
As I mentioned in my previous post Spain makes a creditable claim to be origin of chips so let’s head south now across the Pyrenees into Iberia.
Spain has patatas aioli which is a mayonnaise with garlic and having already dismissed mayonnaise as inappropriate then the addition of the foul tasting noxious onion bulb is not going to improve it one taste bud notch in my opinion; and then there is patatas bravas with a spicy sauce whose ingredients vary from region to region.
Generally I am a big fan of Spanish Tapas but my recommendation would have to be to avoid the patatas bravas at all costs.
I have two issues with them. First of all they don’t even look like chips and instead of being long and slender they are served in solid lumps of fried potato and secondly the bravas sauce is often so fierce that it completely spoils the dish all together and you can add to that the fact that it frequently (depending on region) includes a whole host of odd ingredients such as chorizo, baked chicken or fried fish, none of which in my opinion should be anywhere near a sauce for simple chips – if you want to muck about with vegetables then stick to pumpkins.
Marks out of 10 for the Spanish – 3.
Hastily retreating to the United Kingdom I am first going to head north to Scotland despite the fact that Scots deep fry chocolate so cannot really be taken seriously in a cooking sense. In Glasgow and Edinburgh they have a fondness for gravy with chips and I find that odd because in my culinary opinion gravy should only really be served up with the weekly Sunday roast.
Having said that it is really rather tasty so marks out of 10 for the Scots – 7.
Which brings me back rather neatly to England and especially my home town, the fishing port of Grimsby. They know a thing or two about chips in Grimsby let me tell you and there is a chip shop in every street – sometimes two and people there know best how to cook them and to eat them.
Never mind the fancy restaurant trend for twice or even thrice fried potatoes they just cut them up and sling them in a vat of boiling fat or preferably beef dripping and then serve them piping hot and crispy on the outside with delicate fluffy middles with the only two accompaniments that chips really need – a generous sprinkle of salt and lashings of good vinegar. No mayonnaise, no gravy, no tomato sauce and definitely no curry!
Marks out of 10 for the English – 10 – of course.
So what about the USA you might ask. Well to be honest I have dismissed the New World completely. Is that fair? Challenge me if you dare!
Whilst I am prepared to concede that they know how to prepare French Fries in McDonalds and other similar places the bottom line is simply this – they don’t even know what chips are, they think they come in a foil packet. Americans please take note – these are not potato chips they are potato crisps!
My research informs me that in Australia they cannot make their minds up whether they are potato crisps or potato chips. Let me help my antipodean pals on this point – these are potato crisps!
Anyway marks out of 10 for the USA – 0. This might seem a little harsh but the rules are that you have got to compare apples with apples!
So let’s finally go north to Canada
“in Eastern Canada there is poutine with curds of cheese and gravy. None for me thanks but there people are gaga for the stuff”…
My blogging pal Sue from “Travel Tales of Life”
Graphic content warning – do not proceed beyond this point if you have a weak stomach or are of a nervous disposition…
…because this is Poutine from Canada…
When I first heard of this I was convinced that it was some sort of wind-up, but apparently not, you can even get it in McDonalds, but thankfully only in Canada…
Try eating that in your car without making a mess of your shirt and trousers while you are driving.
Marks out of 10 for Canada – minus 10
Anyway, enough of all this, let me tell you my favourite. In this picture taken in France my mum has gone for the tomato ketchup option and is wagging her fry around to prove it. Alan has kept things simple and luckily is not wagging his fry at anyone, my brother Richard, who has a bit of a reputation for wagging his fry, has gone for the classic salt and vinegar combo and although I am not in the picture (obviously I was taking it) you can clearly see my preferred accompaniment is a bottle of cold beer – just don’t mistake it for the vinegar and pour it over the chips!
So, over to you, How Do You Eat Yours, what is your favourite accompaniment?
February school half-term and I had a visit from the grandchildren to plan for which can be a stressful experience as generally when they visit they spend a week dismantling and redecorating the house and trashing the garden .
As always I made some preparations but this is rather like building the Maginot Line, a good idea, very expensive but ultimately useless!
Since 2011 I have lived in the east coast town of Grimsby and every so when they visit it is my job to arrange entertainment. This can be a challenge because to be honest and I don’t think I am being unfair here there just isn’t a great deal to do in Grimsby.
I like the town but it has to be said that it is an odd place. It is a community in decline. On the south bank of the Humber Estuary it is so far east that the only place to go after this is the North Sea and there aren’t any ferries to Europe as there are in Hull on the north side of the river. It is a dead end. It is a place that you only go to by choice. No one visits Grimsby by accident. You cannot stumble upon it while taking a leisurely drive along the coast as say in Northumberland or East Anglia. It can never be an unexpected discovery. You don’t go to Grimsby unless you are going to Grimsby!
This half-term I decided to find a reasonably priced hotel and let them trash someone else’s place instead. Unfortunately for the Premier Inn Company I chose their hotel in Beverley in Yorkshire just a few miles north of Hull, the UK Capital of Culture for 2017.
We arrived late on Monday afternoon and proceeded immediately to take the place apart – I was sure that the police would arrive at any minute in a blitz of flashing blue lights and screeching sirens to take us away. Within minutes it looked like Belgium after the German army had driven through in 1940 on the way to France. But all was not lost and eventually they calmed down and we went for evening meal in the dining room which we managed to leave an hour or so later without completely destroying the place.
Next day it was a lovely late Winter morning and after breakfast I made a decision that it was worth making a short journey to the coast to the North Sea town of Hornsea. It took us about thirty minutes to drive there.
On arrival I was immediately impressed. I live near the resort town of Cleethorpes but although it is a popular holiday resort it has to be said that it is just a muddy estuary where the sea is barely visible for long periods of the day but this was real North Sea coast with a raging sea, barnacled groynes, pounding surf, churning water and a pebble beach clattering away as it was constantly rearranged by the tidal surge.
I liked it but the children liked it even more and once down on the beach they made a run for the sea. I called after them to stop but it was hopeless, shouting into a wind that just carried my instructions away back towards the promenade and they charged like the Light Brigade towards the water.
Inevitably they fell in. William first and then Patsy, Molly managed to stay vertical but still got soaked by the waves. I had no change of clothing of course (a lesson learned there) so after I had dragged them from the sea we had to walk a while and let the stiff wind blow the moisture from their clothes. Marks out of 10 for Granddad – ZERO.
I liked Hornsea, a seaside town off the main visitor route, rather inaccessible and certainly not on any main tourist trail. I would absolutely go back there again, maybe even for a weekend break (no children).
Wet through we returned to Beverley to the Premier Inn where we changed and showered and then simply enjoyed the room. None of the children were enthusiastic about visiting the town centre and I wasn’t going to argue with them on that point because being around shops can be another challenge so we wasted the afternoon away as we prepared for a second night in the dining room and a plan to spoil everyone else’s evening!
““Do you like that?” I’ll say in surprise since it doesn’t seem like her type of thing, and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad. That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?” but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say… it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.” Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’
It was our final day at my sister’s place on the east coast of Spain and it looked very much as though the sun was going to make a reappearance so after breakfast we drove south into the Province of Murcia, the Costa Calida and the resort town of Lo Pagán.
On the way we drove past salt water lagoons, separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land and now a site of carefully managed and intensive salt extraction. It turns out that this is the biggest and most important site for sea salt production in all of Europe. I didn’t know that! The flamingos did and there were flocks of hem paddling about in the shallow water and expertly fishing for salt water shrimps!
It reminded me of what else Spain is famous for (other than flamenco, bullfighting and El Cid).
First of all olives because Spain is the world’s leading producer of olives and is by a long way the country with the highest number of olive trees (more than three hundred million) and nowadays the world’s leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter and the world’s leading producer of table olives, which explains why cafés and bars are always so generous with a plate of olives to accompany every drink.
Next – Serrano Ham because go to Extemadura in the west and you will drive through fields of grazing Black Iberian Pigs gorging themselves on acorns in preparation for being turned into the Spanish gastro specialty, Jamón ibérico. Iberian ham products are processed throughout Extremadura, making this region the country’s leading producer and in a sparsely populated region about a million hectares of open range are used by over one thousand-five hundred livestock breeders.
One of the fascinating things about the world’s great food it seems is the way they are a product of geography and Spain is a classic example, salt from the Mediterranean, Olives from the sun baked plains of Andalucia, Jamón ibérico from Extremadura and Rioja wine from the vinyards of the north.
I didn’t know what to expect of Lo Lo Pagán, would it be stylish like Alicante or utilitarian like Torrevieja? As it turned out it was somewhere between the two, leaning towards Alicante I would say. We stopped for a beer as the sun burned through the thinning cloud and then walked along a causeway which extended a mile or so into the lagoon. It was a lovely walk in the weak sunshine with statuesque flamingos on one side and see-sawing fishing boats on the other. At the end of the causeway there was a pumping windmill, idle today, but nothing else except an opportunity to look out to sea before turning around and walking all the way back.
The weather was good and I was almost tempted to suggest a swim in the sea but I could tell that no one else would be terribly enthusiastic about that so I said nothing and we returned to the car and drove to a shopping centre at La Zenia.
I am not a big fan of shopping as you know and fortunately neither is Mick so we left Kim and Lindsay to browse the shops and we went for a beer and a bocadillo!
In the late afternoon it started to rain, just a little drizzle, but we didn’t mind it was our last afternoon and evening and next morning we would be returning to English drizzle anyway.
It had been a good few days in Spain especially because I was able to confront some of my prejudices about the Levante region of Spain. I have to say that it is unlikely ever to become my favourite but I was able to scrape away at the surface of ex-pat life and appreciate some of the heritage and history of the region and I look forward to going back again!