Respectful Insolence

Now that I’ve been in London for a couple of days and have started to acclimate to my surroundings, I’ve started to notice some things. As I said in my vacation announcement, I don’t plan on doing a lot of blogging, but a short take here and there to break up the reruns definitely seems advisable when I happen to have some down time to do it, particularly since I somehow loaded the weekend with so many Hitler Zombie reruns. (Don’t worry, there are only a couple more before a more varied set of topics start.)

Soooo….

[Enter Jerry Seinfeld voice]

What is the deal with mushy peas?

[Exit Jerry Seinfeld voice]

They’re everywhere. The first time I tried ordering fish and chips here (which, by the way, were only so-so; apparently in our utter exhaustion, hunger, and lack of willingness to walk more than about 100 feet from the hotel, we chose poorly the first place we went to eat after arriving on Friday), I noticed a greenish glob stuck in the corner of the plate. I was thinking that perhaps I should send it back because some careless or malevolent cook had emptied his nostril there to torture an exhausted American tourist, but a closer inspection revealed that it appeared to be mushed-up peas. Since then, I’ve seen “mushy peas,” listed as side dishes or included with various dishes at a number of places.

Can anyone in England (or elsewhere) explain one question to me: Why? Why ruin perfectly good peas by mushing them into a greenish, disgusting blob? And why serve this disgusting blob with perfectly good fish and chips? Or am I just being an whiny American? Or was it my utter exhaustion from the flight that colored my perception of them. (And, yes, I did try them.)

Comments

  1. #1 Adam Cuerden
    August 26, 2007

    Because mushy peas are delicious? Particularly with a little mint sauce.

  2. #2 Rosie Redfield
    August 26, 2007

    Traditional mushy peas are made by soaking dried peas in dilute sodium bicarbonate overnight to weaken their cell walls before they’re boiled. That’s why they’re mushy, and also why they sometimes taste rather alkaline.

  3. #3 isles
    August 26, 2007

    I had them once and thought they were pretty good, actually. Maybe instead of being disappointed that they are a mushed-up version of peas, try viewing them as a very thick split pea soup.

  4. #4 psiloiordinary
    August 26, 2007

    Sorry but that is just like asking me to describe music to a deaf man or colours to a blind man.

    Give your country a few more hundred years to develop and perhaps some of your fellow countrymen might just be able to appreciate the majestic glory and incomparable accomplishment that is “mushy peas”.

    Just trying to find a Churchill mushy pea quote but Google doesn’t have any.

    Google is an American invention isn’t it?

    Proves my point old chap.

  5. #5 MikeB
    August 26, 2007

    Mushy peas are northern, so I’m wondering what they are doing in London – possibly to catch tourists and middle-class people wanting to get in touch with their northern roots.
    Frankly I’ve never liked them anyway, so I understand your feelings. On the other hand, could it be guacamole, al la Peter Mandelson?

  6. #6 Harald Hanche-Olsen
    August 26, 2007

    When in England, I generally eat at Indian restaurants. Oh, and I once ate at an Afghan restaurant in London – I forgot its name, which is a shame, because that was one of my best meals ever.

  7. #7 sharon
    August 26, 2007

    Sometimes I feel this overwhelming sense of pity for our American friends.

  8. #8 John
    August 26, 2007

    As others have said, mushy peas are a northern culinary delight. And, while they are often served with fish and chips, up here in Yorkshire it’s more the thing to have ‘Pie and Peas’ a warm pork pie floating on a bed of mushy peas with a bit of mint sauce.

    The deal is: they taste lovely when done right (although they are definitely not garden peas and you shouldn’t expect them to be). You’d be lucky to find them done right in London.

  9. #9 Kev
    August 26, 2007

    Mushy peas? They’re good. But up here (Midlands) we have taken it one step further. Battered mushy peas.

    Yum, yum and thrice, yum.

  10. #10 Cain
    August 26, 2007

    For all you Brit commenters, you’re really ragging on us Americans for our culinary tastes? Really? What’s that joke about how in Hell, all the cooks are British?

  11. #11 andrea
    August 26, 2007

    Mushy peas are simply the UK equivalent of refried beans. Imagine what a Londoner would think the first time they saw a blop of such on their plate!

  12. #12 Mark UK
    August 26, 2007

    Mushy peas exist because the Brits absolutely refuse to eat anything that could be considered real food elsewhere on the planet. The Brits hate food. Just go into any supermarket and try if there is any fruit or veg you can actually smell… Awful.

  13. #13 DuWayne
    August 26, 2007

    I put it down to the pathological lack of assertiveness of most Brits. As long as there is tea, they will put up with most anything.

    Actually, I have to admit, as one who loathes peas in just about any form, I really liked the mushy peas my partner made, with a touch of mint chutney. It probably helped that it was served next to palak paneer over rice and that she didn’t tell us that they were peas (for some reason the five year old has decided he doesn’t like peas either, in spite of being very fond of them). Momma is a very good with Anglo-Indian cooking.

  14. #14 factician
    August 26, 2007

    I dunno, are mushy peas any more disgusting than the uniquely American invention of creamed corn?

  15. #15 Graculus
    August 26, 2007

    Mushy peas exist because the Brits absolutely refuse to eat anything that could be considered real food elsewhere on the planet.

    Considering that Americans consider hot dogs (lips and arseholes) to be haute cuisine, I’d watch what you are saying.

    As a Northern Brit by birth, let me just say that mushy peas are awful.

  16. #16 DuWayne
    August 26, 2007

    Graculus -

    Some of us object to that term for hotdogs. In my house, we like to call them; American sausage. Basically the only major difference between hotdogs and other sausage, is the lack of spices.

    And I have just two more words for you;

    Kidney Pie.

  17. #17 Mark UK
    August 26, 2007

    The subject was mushy peas, not other foods. Anyway, I’m British, not American and I live in the UK. So I can say what I want. Brits coming home from holiday always go on about the great weather, the great food and the great service they had while away. Because none of it can be found in the UK… Though we’re working on the weather thing…

  18. #18 PaulT.
    August 26, 2007

    Isn’t British Cuisine an oxymoron?

  19. #19 Nick Anthis
    August 26, 2007

    I’ve lived in the UK for two years now, but when you figure this one out, you let me know.

  20. #20 Jeffrey
    August 26, 2007

    All I can say is:
    ewwwww peas

    Can’t stand the things, mushy or otherwise.

  21. #21 DuWayne
    August 26, 2007

    Isn’t British Cuisine an oxymoron?

    No. There do exist some very good English dishes. Especially Anglo-Indian dishes. Curried, err, well just about anything, is a good example. . .

  22. #22 Melissa G
    August 26, 2007

    Ok, I have to weigh in on the side of mushy peas: YUM!!!

    I’m an American Southerner born and bred, but I adore British food, and my mouth is watering right now at the thought of the meat and cheese pasties, the Ribena, the steak and kidney pies, the kippers on toast, and even the black pudding I ate when last on the Isles. Also, any country’s cuisine wherein fried mushrooms and tomatoes are served as breakfast fare is aces with me!

    …And now I have to go eat something!

  23. #23 anonimouse
    August 26, 2007

    Creamed corn is awesome. Mocking the creamed corn is criminal.

  24. #24 ou·tre
    August 27, 2007

    I like my peas fresh out of the pod. yum.

    My friend’s SO is a Brit, and the two always rave about indian food in England being amazing. He’s been trying to find Indian food that is as good in the states so far, no luck.

  25. #25 MikeB
    August 27, 2007

    Dont diss the steak and kidney pies/puddings – find a good one and they are heaven. There is some great British cooking at the moment, you just have to look around a bit. As for Indian, its difficult to go wrong, but apparently the Red Fort is very good (but pricey) and Brick Lane is curry central.

  26. #26 Mark UK
    August 27, 2007

    Haggis. ’nuff said.

  27. #27 Mags
    August 27, 2007

    MMMMMMM!!! Haggis! Spiced sheep lung with oats!

    Yum.

    If you want to try that, MacSweens haggis is the best nationally available brand but for the real experience you’ll have to pop into a fife butcher & get a home made one.

    I’d probably try a couple of different sources of almost every dish in the UK. Despite having so called “national” dishes, there’s no sense of standardisation. Despite being a piddlingly small island compared to the US, there’s an ungodly amount of variation and local cuisine which can lead to towns 3-4 miles apart having festivals for an entireley different local dish.

    I think perhaps we just have a thing for offal. Waste not want not. But, saying that the french have even less inhibition than us when it comes to animal insides and impromtu internal anatomy lessons at the dinner table. Not that mushy peas are offal, of course. They are, however easy to get horribly wrong.

  28. #28 Orac
    August 27, 2007

    Also, any country’s cuisine wherein fried mushrooms and tomatoes are served as breakfast fare is aces with me!

    I just had such a breakfast yesterday, and I liked it.

  29. #29 M
    August 27, 2007

    Me mam likes mushy peas. I hate them, and always used to win tins of them in tombolas.

    I think they are just another way of making food last through the winter – because you make them from dried peas they’re available year-round.

  30. #30 Patience
    August 27, 2007

    Mushy peas are the only part of the savory pie experience I can get behind. Mmmm, peas. I like them any way I can get them. Savory pies, on the other hand, are a crime against humanity and pastry.

  31. #31 robd
    August 27, 2007

    Why do Americans ruin perfectly good peanuts by mushing them into a brownish, disgusting blob?

  32. #32 Ange
    August 27, 2007

    Ribena! I haven’t had that for a while. I heard that the FDA may have halted the import of it to the US due to some legal troubles regarding the vit C content. (Made by GSK no less, you think they would know better). If you see it, bring me a can of the sparkling kind.

  33. #33 hoary puccoon
    August 27, 2007

    Orac,
    Buy a Michelin Red Guide to British restaurants. If that fails, buy a ticket on the Chunnel.

  34. #34 Ginger Yellow
    August 27, 2007

    I’m a mushy pea hating (US born) Brit, but then I am a southerner. As for British cuisine in general, the problem isn’t that it’s bad as a whole (any more, at least) it’s that we have no tradition of cheap meals at a restaurant made with good ingredients. The French have this down pat, but because eating out was until recently a luxury in Britain, it’s very hard to find good, cheap restaurants outside the big cities, and can be hard even there if you don’t know where to look. If you’re visiting London, I’d strongly recommend the Pierre Victoire on Dean Street in Soho, which does a decent two course lunch for about £8. Dinner isn’t much more expensive.

  35. #35 gadgeezer
    August 28, 2007

    Savory pies, on the other hand, are a crime against humanity and pastry.

    Pah – you would deny the world steak and kidney pudding, the Cornish Pasty, Beef Wellington, Melton Mowbray pork pies, a game pie (with raised hot-water pastry crust), the amazing Star-Gazy pie and my wife’s signature dish of chicken and lemon steamed pond pudding?

    Savoury pies would also include many yummy vegetable/cheese/pulse combinations wrapped in pastry/dough. Some people refer to pizza pie – would you lose all of those in this sweeping generalisation (not that I’m making any you understand – oh no, completely immune to such, I’ve had the Non-Generalising vaccine and boosters since birth like most people I know)?

    Far too many splendid savoury pastries to be able to list them all.

    Pah – and pah again.

  36. #36 Ginger Yellow
    August 28, 2007

    What the hell is wrong with savoury pies? ~What should be in them instead?

  37. #37 Ruth
    August 28, 2007

    My native part of northern Michigan adopted the pasty when Cornish miners came to work in the iron and copper mines. Bad savory pies are yucky, but a good one, with flaky crust, well-seasoned, is a very good thing. It was practical too, before refrigeration, to use up the Sunday roast in the Monday pasty.

  38. #38 JW Tan
    August 28, 2007

    Mushy peas are simply the UK equivalent of refried beans. Imagine what a Londoner would think the first time they saw a blop of such on their plate!

    Eat them? We have Mexican restaurants here too. I’ll see your refried beans and raise you a Sichuan hotpot.

  39. #39 SteveF
    August 28, 2007

    Ginger Yellow is absolutely spot on. Anyone who decries modern British cuisine is decades out of touch; however, the trouble is a lack of reasonably priced options for British food. There are, however, plenty of good and cheap restaurants in London (and elsewhere) that serve “ethnic” food (Italian, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese etc etc). For good British grub that isn’t too badly priced, “gastropubs” are probably the best option; there are some really good examples in London.

    PS; I’m northern and I don’t like mushy peas.

  40. #40 Andrew Dodds
    August 28, 2007

    Actually, there are a lot of pretty bad fish and chip shops in the UK (Is saying this a capital offence?). Curry houses are generally a better bet.

    Mushy peas can be very nice, but they are an acquired taste. The truly bizzare thing is that my 2-year-old daughter is a great fan of them..

  41. #41 Ginger Yellow
    August 28, 2007

    “For good British grub that isn’t too badly priced, “gastropubs” are probably the best option; there are some really good examples in London.”

    There are, but they’re also among the easiest ways to get a seriously overpriced meal if you don’t have a guide (paper or fleshy). Of course, nothing is worse than the Aberdeen Angus/Scotch Steakhouses that tarnish London like festering sores and fleece tourists so badly it should be illegal.

  42. #42 SteveF
    August 28, 2007

    Yeah, some gastropubs are overpriced, but in the other thread I gave a few examples of places to eat and mentioned one good gastropub (The Oxford in Kentish Town). The Junction tavern in Tufnell PArk is also tasty. Of course, the best place to get proper British food, albeit at high prices, is St John’s. Highly highly recommended.

    Have never eaten at one of the aforementioned steakhouses, though I hear they do a good line in bad hygiene and rats.

  43. #43 Ginger Yellow
    August 28, 2007

    Yeah, Kentish Town is pretty good for food pubs. Besides the Junction and the Oxford, the Torriano is good as well. It’s also right next to my house, although not for long, sadly.

  44. #44 SteveF
    August 28, 2007

    Fancy that, I just moved from Leighton Road on Saturday.

  45. #45 DuWayne
    August 28, 2007

    Oh my, I missed the slamming of the pasties. I’ve been addicted since my first bite of one, that came from, as Ruth mentioned, northern Michigan. I got very excited when the daughter of one of the makers from northern MI, moved down to Grand Ledge. I would buy them by the dozen to keep in my freezer. Last year for Christmas, my old landlord had a dozen of them shipped out here to Portland for me.

    MMMM!!! Pasties. . .

  46. #46 Ginger Yellow
    August 28, 2007

    Small world, eh? They would put that new bus route in, which goes from outside my house to my friend’s house in one direction and the previously awkward to get to Islington in the other, right before I leave the area.

  47. #47 SteveF
    August 28, 2007

    Yeah, the 393, local residents aren’t happy! Can’t really work out why myself. Bloody useful route.

  48. #48 Graculus
    August 30, 2007

    Melton Mowbray pork pies

    Oh, dammit, now I’m hungry.

  49. #49 Zarquon
    August 30, 2007

    Obviously you’ve been served the wrong green mess. What you really want to try are mooshy peas.

  50. #50 Nix
    September 2, 2007

    You’re not being a whiny American. Mushy peas are an absolutely vile abomination (just like much other English cooking, especially the grotesquely overcooked veg).

    OK, so my mum’s family are of Austrian Jewish immigrant stock, but my dad’s as English as they come, and *he* can’t stand much English cooking. There’s a reason the UK built an Empire: everyone wanted to get out of England (let’s not even *mention* Scottish food) to find somewhere that could actually cook.

    And thankfully, that thing known in England as `Indian’ cooking resulted. (It would be better described as `English cooking reinvented by Indian immigrants’ — e.g. the curry was invented in Brighton — but it’s still infinitely better than English cooking was before.)

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