For one who enjoys eating, I don’t pay much attention to food.I have friends who are excellent cooks and can taste different spices, real foodies.Me, I’m rather a goat.I don’t care much what I eat, as long as my blood sugar stays up and my tummy doesn’t start growling.I’ve been known to eat chips and salsa for dinner and pizza for three straight meals.Part of that is immaturity, part laziness, and part just apathy.
Great Britain isn’t necessarily known for fine cuisine.The food of the homeland is comfort food – beef, potatoes, veggies.Nothing exotic, nothing even that tasty.I mean, they eat Marmite over there.Dear Scotland is known for haggis, an odd concoction of animal entrails stuffed in a casing.Rather like hot dogs, but more disgusting for those of us who didn’t grow up with it.
The food of Great Britain is a changing landscape though, due to immigration.A huge population of the island hails from India and comes to Great Britain because of proximity as well as England’s tumultuous past in that nation.For that reason, there are quite a few Indian food restaurants on the streets of cities, and the smell of curry can occasionally be caught as it wafts over the British streets.
But I thought of none of that.I was focused on two things: tea and scones.
In preparation for my trip, I was determined to become a tea and scone connoisseur.I am from the Pacific Northwest.We adore coffee here, the smell permeated through our culture.My small town of 22,000 has no fewer than four permanent coffee shops, five coffee stands, and coffee served at every café in town.The economic troubles have caused a few to close down, but somehow, there is still plenty of business to go around.
I don’t drink coffee.I’ve never liked it, not even when my grandmother came and visited, the coffee grounds peppering the air heralding her arrival.The bitterness sticks at the back of my throat, making my eyes squint and the corners of my mouth to draw back, an unintentional grimace.Even when friends swear to me that in this certain coffee drink “you can barely taste the coffee,” it’s always there, hiding behind much-loved flavors of milk and chocolate, rushing out to linger in my mouth far after the liquid has gone down my throat.
So, when I moved to Oregon, I had to find something to drink at coffee shops.Smoothies are expensive and rather cold in the winter.And I did need something with caffeine, once I hit college and the late-night studying that seemed so necessary at the time.That left tea.
The problem was that I didn’t like tea either.I wanted to like it.The romantic academic in me desperately wanted to sit by a cozy fire, drinking tea with a lovely book.But the tea was too bitter for my tender palate, and while it was immensely preferable to coffee, I still couldn’t enjoy it.
Enough was enough.I was going to Great Britain.I would like tea by the time I got there.I started soft, with green teas and herbal, decaffeinated teas that smelled of potpourri and tasted of fruits.Weak sauce.I just couldn’t work up to black tea, English breakfast or Earl Gray like I wanted to.
Regardless of previous (American) attempts, on my first full (coherent) day in Great Britain, I wanted tea.Koh took me to a much-loved local café in St. Andrews called Janetta’s.It was probably around 9:30, and we were the only patrons in the shop, a bright and airy shop with white walls and orange-red and green accents.The whole feel of the place was open, comfortable, the sort of place I’d feel comfortable in regardless of the language spoken.
We ordered at the counter, Koh able to translate the woman’s thick Scottish accent for me when I got stuck.I ordered tea, because I was in Great Britain.I needed to have tea.And a fruit scone, which is what they call scones with raisins.We went and sat down near the window, where I could survey the outside world of Scotland.
I was still in disbelief in this magical land.Outside the window were buildings, all shoulder to shoulder with little alleyways cutting through them to streets beyond.The streets were cobblestone, grey and smooth.The cars and trucks were all smaller than the enormous SUVs of America, and they drove not knowing they were on the wrong side of the road.The sky was the bluest-blue, with puffy clouds – a sky that didn’t show how chilly it was and mislead you into thinking the entire day would be marked with sun.
The woman brought our breakfasts, and I surveyed it with delight.The fruit scone was fluffy and high, peppered with raisins.Biting into it, spread with butter and raspberry jam, I gushed over how the scone was just the proper flakiness, the jam giving the pastry a little sweetness.It wasn’t too crumbly like our American biscuits or too cakey like our American everything else.It was perfect.
And the tea, brought in a metal teapot, was the most wonderful drink in the world.Of course, it was a nice dark English Breakfast tea – what else are you going to have in Great Britain in the morning?Once laden with copious amounts of milk and sugar and poured into the provided large white mug, it was the sweetest and most comforting liquid, exactly what I needed in a still-strange time zone in a foreign country. I could have had gallons of it.
I know in my rational mind that Janetta’s doesn’t make the world’s best tea and scones.The whole thing was 3.80 pounds – a mere pittance.And yet, it was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.It wasn’t just that the scone was delicious and the tea just right – it was the setting, the company, the wonder I had of being in Scotland that filled the experience with the most pleasurable tastes.
And that’s what food is, really.A way to create and hold onto memories.To spur conversation, to have an excuse to stop and sit and take care of yourself.To be thankful for having the ability to fill your belly and take pleasure in tastes and feelings.To be content.
I am content with fruit scones with raspberry jam and breakfast tea, milk and sugar added, and a friend to eat those delicious things with. Scotland taught me that.
5/9/11 (Day 3) – St. Andrews, Scotland, Great Britain
Image copyright Sara Kelm, 2011