Alternative Voice : Food Glorious Food

Semolina
Semolina

I’m not much of a foodie. I like eating although you would never guess that from my svelte waistline. But I don’t really understand why everyone has to bang on about it all the time. Just get it down you has always been my approach. This may have something to do with my formative years. I am essentially a victim of 1970s British school dinners. As a 6 year old we were served monkey’s blood with semolina, or at least that’s what the 8 year olds told us. Semolina was a sickly white tasteless gunk that existed nowhere in the universe outside the 1970s British education system. In hindsight I doubt that East Kent schools were genuinely sourcing actual monkey’s blood but it looked real, and all kinds of weird things are coming out about the 1970s so maybe they were. They also used to serve us gristly slices of salty beef called silverside. This is because it was actually silver. Even my 6 year old brain grasped that meat is not meant to be silver, and I can only assume we were eating beef that had somehow been contaminated by large doses of mercury. Of school cabbage I can say nothing. I would need extensive hypnotic regression therapy to come to terms with it. The one bright light was school milk, a playground treat given free to all children across the land until the then Education Secretary, Margaret (The Milk Snatcher)  Thatcher, abolished it, just as she was later to go on to abolish all semblance of civilized society.

 

The whole foodie thing has given rise to a wide range of unpleasant social phenomenon. One of these is the man of a certain age who fancies himself in the kitchen. A whole army of smug middle aged men have taken to the kitchen as a kind of substitute playing field where they can show off their culinary prowess, and at the same time peddle the myth that this somehow renders them sensitive, and therefore more attractive to women. And then we have the celebrity chefs and the brainless spin off shows and ludicrous competitions that now make up 150 % of all television viewing. The male ones are mainly macho twats.  Jamie Oliver, always “going in with the lemons” as if he were preparing to seize the beachheads on Normandy rather than making a cake. Gordon Ramsay is simply a bullying tosser whose one feeble trick is to shock American audiences by saying “fuck” a lot. The women are slightly less annoying, especially Nigella Lawson with her winning combination of kitchen tips and subliminal soft porn, but there really is no need for any of them. TV cooking shows however, are cheap, and we are gullible. That said must we really endure kids’ cooking competitions? Does anyone, even their own parents, really want to watch these precocious brats publically setting out their credentials as the cocky annoying bastards of the future?


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However, the ravages of “foodyism” are felt way beyond the TV screen. It can be seen in the explosion of impenetrable cook books full of unobtainable ingredients that defy translation into English, with recipes that have been made up by stoned publishing executives who probably live off pork pies. Cookery books now actually outnumber the entire canon of English literature since Beowulf. And then there’s the devastating effect on our urban landscape. It is sadly all too easy to find cupcake specialists in Hoxton and Shoreditch but the sickness has now spread to Malasaña where half the bars in this once brilliant area have been transformed into fashionable eating establishments for fools, or pizza slice places for the plebs. In England the pubs of the nation have unforgivably made food the focal point of their business so you can’t stand at the bar anymore without bumping into someone’s order of Fish and Chips, ludicrously marketed as North Atlantic Cod with Lincolnshire chipped potatoes, and freshly minted hand chosen spring garden peas.

 

And then there is the dining experience itself which increasingly involves still being hungry after you’ve eaten. All those big plates with a tiny lump of something in the middle  and a few squiggles of  colour, and thank you sir, yes that will be 30 euros and please don’t hesitate to call me  if I can take the piss in any other way. Of course it is possible to go low cost, and Madrid offers many bars which describe themselves as such, and where the beer is somehow chemically altered to taste terrible, presumably as an incentive to the poor to work harder, and earn the right to decent lager.

 

Madrid, being the great place it is, still does have a lot of proper Spanish food places where they don’t have to faff about, or reconstruct, or need entire paragraphs to describe each item on the menu. Sadly, however, they are slowly retreating, or worse, rebranding themselves as “traditional” i.e. the same as they’ve always been, but now we can charge you double for the dubious pleasure of authenticity,  because  we too have learned to take the piss. I see no stopping the tide. The world has gone global and fusion food, like fusion jazz, is just one of the many dire consequences. All I can do is encourage you to frequent as many Madrid bars as you can where they serve 3 or 4 basic things, where the waiters are aggressive and rude, and where people drop food on the floor, and shout at each other a lot. You’ll feel better, and you won’t go hungry. Just don’t write a book about it.

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