I started getting competitive about food while living in Norfolk, where I was finishing my bachelor’s degree. My friends were from a mostly international crowd and everybody loved to sit around and talk about what atrociously bad food the English ate and cooked. I knew that there was a seed of truth to the griping but felt that we were overlooking something. Soggy fish and chips, suspect sausages, mushy peas and steaks served at pubs which for some reason always tasted of goat, could not be the beginning and end of English cuisine. Although I had had a few truly shocking meals in people’s homes, vegetables boiled to within an inch of existence, roast beef that was grey on the inside and the all pervasive Bisto instant gravy granules that people seemed to love to drench their flavourless food in, there had to be something I was missing.
Then one day my friend Will found an old book which detailed what Queen Victoria used to have for breakfast. I’ll never forget the huge list of amazing delicacies that used to grace this late sovereign’s breakfast table: from ducks stuffed with poussin chickens, to suckling pigs, juicy lamb shanks and cuts of beef big enough to feed an army, this truly was a flesh-tastic smorgasbord. Unfortunately, I have never found the book again and no amount of googling “what Queen Victoria had for breakfast” has successfully redirected me to this breakfast menu of hers. But that was the day that something in me clicked. If we couldn’t find good English food in pubs, fish and chip shops and people’s homes, well maybe we could just make some ourselves?
In fact why didn’t we start a club that pushed us to make amazing English food competitively? And what better English fare than their famous Sunday Roast, a dish that if prepared badly is surely a one way road to constipation but which holds great promise if put into the right hands?
My motley crew of Italian, Nigerian, British and Libyan friends jumped at the opportunity and for a time Sunday became the most anticipated day of the week. We even had a cookery book into which everyone had to pen their creations and a blog, which mainly served the purpose of putting each other’s food down and being silly.
People’s creations tried to stick to the English path but sometimes they strayed a bit. Nonetheless each and every one of those roasts brought out what we felt was the true essence of what the idea behind English food was, and helped build our confidence in the food revolution that was at that point getting into full swing on those wet isles.
Fast forward almost a decade and my friends have all gone their separate ways and the tradition of the Sunday Roast Club is only relived in our memories. Sometimes though I get nostalgic and think back to the birth of my competitive foodie days and we decide to cook a proper Sunday Roast, to feel closer to the place that hosted me for the better part of a decade.
I am trying to convince Luan to make one such roast for Easter. I want him to make it Portuguese but with an English twist. Obviously it will include Portuguese mainstays like pork, bacallhau (salt cod) and the all pervasive feijoada (bean soup). More on this soon.