The Tentacles of Doom

Foreigners think English food is awful, and I know why. It’s because they don’t know how to eat it.

I served a roast dinner to my outlaws at Christmas a few years ago. They took some potatoes, which sat all lonely and solitary in the middle of their plates. After eating them in dry, disappointed silence they took some turkey and had that, without even pouring the gravy on it. Till that point, I didn’t know it was even physically possible to swallow turkey without using gravy as a throat lubricant.

“Have some veggies with that,” I said. It was an order, actually.

“No no no! I’ll try them after this,” The Godmother (my mother-in-law) insisted.

Why? Why did she want to eat each dismantled part of her meal individually? Why was she refusing to give it a fair chance by eating her meal properly?

 

This is what your plate SHOULD look like, Godmother dear.

 

After having broccoli in isolation, then some solitary carrots, then a few Brussels sprouts, she was complaining that the meal was tasteless and weird.

“Yours is, mine isn’t,” I told her, shoving a forkful of meat, potato and peas swiped through gravy into my mouth.

I was getting irritated. “You don’t eat spaghetti all alone, then have tomato sauce on a separate plate afterwards. Why eat English food in such a strange way? Should I serve you the pasta like that next time?”

She simply raised one eyebrow.

+++

Who did I think I was kidding? Trying to scare a Sicilian with food!

How feeble.

Sicilians regard fried spleen sandwiches (pane ca meusa) as a delicacy. Their idea of a great barbecue appetiser is a stigghiola,sheep’s small intestine wound around a spring onion. They eat something called frittola which is everything left over on the slaughterhouse floor after a calf has exhaled its last: this has to be boiled at ultra-high temperatures before consumption to soften up the fragments of bone. It’s then deep fried to make the gristle more appetising. If you think I am exaggerating, go and see this graphically illustrated post about Nine Palermo Street Foods on the excellent blog Secret Sicily…  if you dare.

They eat hearts and brains and livers with relish, dammit, and many of them are happy to scoff down fish eyeballs. My husband happily guzzles tripe and he once brought home mysterious ingredients from a butcher which, when cooked, turned into a meal I can only call “The Inside of a Goat.”

 

He had a trachea, with some bits of lung still attached; a piece of stomach; some flappy tubular intestine trailing off that (“I think the insides slipped out of that sausage,” I told him) and something slobbery which I am unable to name. It was like dissection lessons in the school biology lab, except that I was trying to eat my own dinner at the time.

The only way to maintain our status of marital bliss was to erect a barrier between us. This wall of ketchup bottles, milk cartons, mineral water bottles and a tall vase of flowers meant I could gaze into his eyes romantically whilst being unable to see any of the entrails on his plate.

This is the type of window display Sicilian butchers put up to lure in the customers:

IMG_20141104_125310
Damien Hirst obviously copied all his ideas from Sicilian butchers

The next Christmas I offered the outlaws a roast dinner again. When it comes to Christmas – and this is British food’s second problem with foreigners – Sicilians have no concept that Christmas dinner is a specific meal: they have any old thing at Christmas. Being someone who genuinely enjoys eating Brussels sprouts in a tissue-paper hat, surrounded by the debris of ripped up crackers, nail clippers and jokes I remember from primary school, I refused to give up trying.

This time I sliced the turkey on a large oval platter, garnished it with potatoes and carrot slices and sloshed the gravy all over it. That way, if they still wanted to eat the meal one ingredient at a time, they would jolly well have to dismantle it themselves. This went slightly better, except for the fact that my husband wanted to contribute something to the menu.

This brings me to the third problem with foreigners and English food. They don’t know what goes with what.

“I could do some fish,” Hubby suggested enthusiastically.

“No,” I said.

“But that’s very English,” he persisted. “I can do it in batter.”

“No,” I said.

Now that’s what I call sexy.

“What about some risotto?”

Risotto? With a roast dinner? At Christmas?

“No,” I said.

After about ten more suggestions, none of which could possibly be considered to go with a roast lunch, to my immense relief he gave up.

He skulked about in the living room while I prepared the food. Once I had everything in the oven, he sneaked into the kitchen. I could hear the saucepans banging about, but had no idea what he was up to. When the meal was ready and I proudly placed it on the table, he produced his own contribution.

An octopus.

Hide under the table! It’s heading for the gravy boat!!!

 

I was so traumatised by the sight of those whopping great tentacles curling and bouncing across the table towards my roast potatoes and gravy that I have never attempted another roast dinner again.

Surely people can be put in prison for doing this kind of thing to an English woman on Christmas day?

 

One day I shall do one, secretly, and eat it all by myself.

And I won’t share the Christmas pudding either.

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46 thoughts on “The Tentacles of Doom

  1. They have the same “problem” here in Spain. Apparently, serving everything on one plate “cancels out” the flavours. The meat-potato-and-two-veg (plus gravy, of course!) concept is lost on them, sigh. Oh, and a nice Yorkshire pud… I SO WANT THAT RIGHT NOW!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t think it’s right that you criticize Sicilian food – you should have stayed in England if you have such a distain for this food and culture,

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    1. I do feel sorry for you reading such a funny post and not having the ability to laugh at it.

      Have you ANY idea how many hours of my life I have sat listening to Sicilians insulting English food at length, in depth and, most of the time, without even having tasted it?

      I have translated this post for a group of my Sicilian friends and also my mother-in-law, and they all found it hilarious. They’ve seen me enjoying a spleen sandwich plenty of times, BTW.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. I don’t think you understand that Veronica is making a humorous point about the cultural differences surrounding food. Everyone is a product of their native culture and cannot entirely change to some extent and this frequently emerges when it comes to culinary matters.
      Why don’t you lighten up over some cold baked beans, a nice cup of Nescafe and a deep-fried Mars Bar dearie?

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Strange. If a Sicilian came to the country up north where I live and criticised the food and culture, I couldn’t care less, as long as they don’t try to change what I eat and do. Yet, if I had to say what you said, then everyone would be screaming “racism” everywhere. How come is that? Is there a shortage of mirrors to hold up to oneself in countries like Sicily?

      Contrary to what many believe, culture and religion (especially) are not owned by anybody, so nobody get’s to dictate by who and by how far they can be criticised. If humor or criticism of the culture or religion you follow offends you, then that’s your problem and most likely a sign of your own insecurity.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Hysterical! Especially the turkey “face”. I shall have to do that the next time I bake a turkey! Guess the don’t call the turkey tail the “pope’s nose” for nothing! Have a wonderful Christmas. Me, I will be eating traditional Italian food…pasta with anchovies, bacala, brocolli, cauliflower, etc., for Christmas Eve. Next day, traditional American Christmas. Did Hannukah earlier this week. Yes, very multicultural here and just love it. Keep up the great posts.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hannukah is all about the the festival of lights. The there was only enough oil in the lamp at the temple for one day but it burned for eight. So, the holiday is considered a “sweet” holiday with fried foods (oil), such as a special donut (like our Zepole or cudderidi), fried potato pancakes (latkes), brisket, matzo ball soup, smoked salmon and cream cheese, honey cake (I have a recipe to die for on that one), etc. If you are more of a middle eastern jew, you might have more savory dishes, (still the fried foods) but rices, grains, etc. Depends on where your ancestors are from. In either case, it is delicious!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hilarious, humorous, witty, tactful…I so admire you Veronica for being able to see the funny side of these situations. You know how much I identify with you in almost every ”adventure” you have with your godmother and outlaws (mwahahahaha) therefore hats off to you for taking it all with a good pinch of salt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, I have to admit tentacles are the one thing I do eat myself, I have acquired a liking for octopus. Just NOT in the middle of my roast turkey and gravy!

      The hog head was definitely unappetising, but it was very useful for giving my son a spontaneous biology lesson!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very entertaining post. When I was a 16 year old on a school exchange to France my dear mum insisted that I take the family a fruit cake to the French family, they were delighted and served it with chocolate sauce! My Mum was amused, it was delicious! I’ve not had it like that since…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like an experiment worth trying! And it reminds me of the time I gave a jar of Branston pickle to a Czech family, and they said it was the most delicious thing they had ever eaten and had it spread on bread, like pate.

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  6. When I did Christmas dinner here in Sicily they still expected their pasta and last time I did pasta plus turkey and all the usual veg. Only the turkey was eaten with the salad they asked me to make!

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      1. I think “meat jus” is for people who are too lazy to make proper gravy! Or for people who actually fancy the idea of eating “paillards of veal served on a bed of wilted radiccio” instead of a proper square meal.

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  7. This made me laugh because it’s so true!! My husband tells me his work colleagues are mystified when he puts meat, potatoes and veg on one plate. Quite often his colleagues will just have a plate of prosciutto AND NOTHING ELSE for lunch. It’s definitely one Italian habit we refuse to embrace!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely post, I enjoyed it to the very last line!!! It reminded me of my mum (born in Canada) eating putting everything in a plate and my father (Italian to the marrow!) looking at her, horrified, for 30 years! 😀 I’m happy I was raised eating doughnuts but also sheep liver, lungs and heart (I live in Abruzzo, but farmers’ traditional dishes are pretty much the same everywhere in “Southern” Italy)! 🙂 Nice to meet you and thank you for a lovely read! Maple

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  9. When I lived in Finland I had a ‘traditional’ dinner on Christmas Eve (comprising baked ham, root vegetable casserole, mixed beetroot salad, herring, & rice pudding) and then some French friends invited me for a (much appreciated) roast chicken on Christmas Day. No complaints about the mulled wine though…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved reading this – made me laugh out loud! Having sat through various Portuguese Christmas meals – boiled salt cod, boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, boiled chickpeas and, oh go on then, why not, boiled eggs – I feel your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Realise I’m in danger of putting people off Portugal and its cuisine, which would be wrong of me! The Portuguese gave the world tempura (via Japan) and curry (via Goa), and their cuisine can be wondefful – pork with clams, sardines grilled on the beach, seafood rice, the list goes on. And everyone does Christmas their own way, including the Sicilians – we just tend to like what we’re used to I suppose. Anyway, Portugal is great, honest! (Though I do think Sicilian food is better…)

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve eaten all sorts of strange stuff and made fun of it too. Blutwurst anyone? A German ‘delicacy’ made of congealed pig blood, seasoned and stuffed into a intestine to make a sausage which is then boiled. But seriously, I think anyone who took umbrage at Veronica’s account needs to be kidnapped, put at a table together with the rest of us until they realize what a lot of fun one can have and still be appreciative of culture and people 🙂 Who’s with me?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha!!! Should be a hilarious dinner party.
      I shall serve the kidnappees “black pudding” for the hors d’ouvres, which is the British equivalent of blutwurst. My dad use to make me eat it with my full fried breakfast every morning.
      What else shall we put on the menu?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Very entertaining post, had me in stitches. I remember attempting to cook traditional Christmas dinner for friends while living in Italy and traipsing round greengrocers trying to find parsnips. ‘Like a long white carrot’ only elicited blank stares and the odd Mooli, so I printed out a picture of a parsnip and took it with me. Cue hearty guffaws from the grocer, ‘ma Signora, this is cattle fodder, not fit for human consumption!’ That was me told. (Parsnip in Italian is PASTINACA, should you ever dare to ask for it).

    Like

    1. Ha haaa! Thanks for the vocab – My hubby still calls parsnips “those white carrots” every time we go to England, even though he loves them and has become extremely good at cooking them! I shall teach him a new word today 🙂
      After attempting to buy fresh ginger from about seven different greengrocers in Sicily my new policy is, if I can’t see it on display, I don’t bother to ask for it!
      “Zenzero?” they said? “Don’t you know the word in Italian?” !!!!

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  13. That top plate looks like the Christmas dinner my family has been having forever. Grandma was born in Scotland but worked under a British chef for a while. Luckily she left the “hang the beef outside and cut off the green for the tenderest cut” over there. The other one’s family was from Cornwall. Still using her Yorkshire Pudding recipe. Octopus is for documentaries, not dinner.

    Liked by 1 person

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