We sort of speak the same language, we have kind of the same origins and yet on some levels the US is completely different to Europe. My first proper trip over the Atlantic (by proper I mean non-work related and therefore not spending most of my time in a convention centre or an office) and my first ever trip to the East Coast has so far been peppered with little moments of delight at discovering culinary things that I never knew before.
Root Beer. I had never heard of it before this month. I tried it on the first night as it sounded a little like Butterbeer (from Harry Potter, ahem). And I was instantly addicted. I don’t know what it is about Root Beer that makes me just want to have more and more and more… and yes I know it’s unhealthy and full of sugar and probably all kinds of weird flavourings that are likely to kill me in years to come. But I just don’t care, the combination of spices with a hint of cough medicine just taps right into the 7 year-old Oliver Twist in me and murmurs: please sir, can I have some more? I doubt I can find some in Ireland. I will try though. Very hard.
Then, I met an American who came to Ireland and fell in love with our Ginger Ale. He said it tasted of Ginger and had a bitter quality that American Ginger Ale didn’t have. And I have to confirm, the American version tastes like Sprite… He’s been searching for our Ginger Ale without success since he came back from Ireland. So I believe we may have an exchange deal on the cards. Root Beer against Ginger Ale, sounds fair to me.
Another funny realistation is how sweet everything is. Even the savoury is somehow sweet in a naughty way – mashed potatoes, burgers, chips, there’s always a sweet undertone or sauce to accompany it. Take this extra fancy steak house we visited where I had the most amazing Tuna steak of my life. Hands down better than even Japanese restaurants have managed to serve up to me. The side order included lobster Mac’n’Cheese – it’s like the adult version of the child’s menu! What’s not to like?
It’s like the US is the home of every person’s inner 7-year-old. And I like that. No apologies. I know it’s probably bad and likely to kill me in years to come. But if we must die, surely it’s better to die eating something you like than having nibbled at raw sprouts and carrots all your life? Unless you like that type of thing of course. But sprouts and carrots to me are the food I imagine they will serve up in purgatory, if I somehow fail to make it pass the Golden Gates. Good job I took my runners with me though… without exercise, the US would be lethal.
The dark side of my US culinary discovery tour comes in the form of Beef Jerky and worse, its dodgier cousin Turkey Jerky… it fills the snack aisle and it resembles dried road kill or worse, the treats you buy for the dog (pork scratchings?). For a dare I bought some to ensure I wasn’t judging a book by its cover. I wasn’t. It tastes like dry corned beef. I didn’t dare try the Turkey one. I only do chicken ant turkey very well cooked. I’m sorry but those snacks will not make it on to my “best buy in the US” list…
Instant Mac’n’Cheese is also on the weird list… it’s sold in pots like Pot-Noodle, just add water and tadam, you have your Mac’n’Cheese… the bit I don’t get though is… isn’t that how you make regular Mac’n’Cheese? Just put your pasta in a pot, boil it up, grate some cheese and you’re set? But no, someone had to make it even more instant. I bow to that culinary massacre – if it sells, well why not!
The atmosphere and service in restaurants was something to behold. In Boston we visited a couple of restaurants with small entrances leading to large hangar-like rooms, decorated in an opulent manner to make them cosy. These gigantic spaces were full of people either dining or waiting for tables and were filled with the genuine buzz of enjoyment and the impeccable way the service staff manages the queuing system in what could easily descend into chaos as people mill around the bar. That just doesn’t really happen in the same comfortable manner in Europe, but I’ve seen it done in a similar manner in the Middle East however – the atmosphere in some of the places we visited was not unlike a busy restaurant in Beirut or Dubai. Class, enjoyment, conviviality and great service.
And I’ve just realised that we left Boston without tasting the Boston Cream Pie… Stop the bus I want to go back!