Thursday, 6 August 2009

NOTPJ: Methode Glaswegienne

This week Bernard Darnton delves into the greatest culinary tradition in Europe (except for French, Italian, Basque, Greek, Viennese, Swedish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Luxembourgian, …)

_BernardDarnton “Scottish cuisine” is not a phrase that fills you with hope. It doesn’t suggest the sophistication of French, the urgent, exotic freshness of Thai, or the “what the hell did that used to be?” of Chinese. Well, maybe the last. No, “Scottish cuisine” makes you think of mashed up sheep’s organs stuffed into a different, unmashed-up sheep’s organ.

Nonetheless, Scottish nationalists have reacted with outrage and denial at the discovery that haggis may have originated in the south of England rather than in Caledonia. Food historian Catherine Brown has made headlines this week with her claim that a haggis recipe published in 1616 in The English Hus-Wife predates any Scottish mention by a hundred years.

The claims have been rebutted by a representative of the Scottish Institute for Arts and Sciences who said, “If yer repeat that again I’ll fuckin’ nut yer, yer little gobshite.”

However, the claim rings true. English cuisine is shaped by England’s climate. That is, it’s crap. Traditional English dishes are, by-and-large, horrible – jellied eels, damp chips with mushy peas, and vegetables boiled until they’re grey. Things have changed a bit recently with the now widespread addition of Jamie Oliver’s frothing spittle.

So haggis will fit right in in England. With its loss, the only item remaining on the traditional Scottish menu is the deep fried Mars bar. While this sounds disgusting, and is enough to give everyone at the Heart Foundation a stroke, it is in fact a work of genius. But you will only ever appreciate this if you consume one when you’re pisseder than a tankful of ill-disciplined newts. I discovered this while living in the Edinburgh of the South.

chicken_tikka_masala1 The unlikely saviour of Scotland’s culinary tradition could be chicken tikka masala. Ali Ahmed Aslam, founder of the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow, lays claim to inventing the dish. With the help of his local MP, he has applied to the European Union for “Protected Designation of Origin” status.

Protected Designation of Origin status is what’s responsible for rules like the one saying that fizzy wine that doesn’t come from the Champagne region of France has to go by the clumsy appellation of “Methode Champenoise.” Likewise Parma ham that’s not from Parma, Newcastle Brown Ale that’s not from Newcastle, and Stilton cheese that’s not from some rigorously defined bit of the English Midlands. (It’s illegal to make Stilton cheese in Stilton, which is near Cambridge, but you don’t need all those acres of bureaucrats to come up with rules that are simple.)

Unlike these products though, chicken tikka masala doesn’t have the word “Glasgow” in its name so I’m not sure what they’re trying to protect. My Hindi’s not that great (although it’s better than my Glaswegian) but I think “chicken tikka masala” means something like “chicken lump mixture.” Presumably, under the proposed rules, restaurants outside Glasgow’s West End would have to refer to the dish as “Glaswegian-style chicken lump mixture” – an advertiser’s dream.

The EU’s meddling would at least clear up any confusion that the dish might be of Indian origin. A tin of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup is not a traditional ingredient in the Punjab. England, however, looks likely to get stuck with the haggis unless they can pass the blame on to the Vikings.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


KG said...

Hilarious! What a great post. :-)

Stevew said...

I think the Scots are too late again - isn't curry now statistically the English national dish, with Pizza being in the number 2 spot? (or maybe it's the other way round)
Perhaps they will rely on your argument that Tikka Masala is not in fact curry!

Anonymous said...

Appellation Controllee is idiotic. One can read the label on a product to see where it comes from for crying out loud. You don't need 'certification'.

And there is no such thing as 'curry' - it's a bastardized British version of various regional Indian masala.

Stevew said...

I understand that "Curry" is an anglicisation of "Kari" a word used to describe dishes eaten throughout Southern India.
There are many types of curry - the word is generic and not meant to describe a particular dish.
A Masala is not a dish in itself, but rather a mixture of spices.

Lyndon said...

On the TV, I think it was Hugh Hyphen-Whatshisface saying if you look haggis is basically as much from the North of England as anywhere else and the scots only claimed it cos of Robbie Burns.

I recall the story behind Chicken Tikka Marsala was that the guy was serving Chicken Tikka (little lumps of tandoori'd chicken) and got sick of people demanding to know where the sauce was.

I'd have though it would difficult to have Appellation Controllee on a dish. Surely there's not an international trade in Tikka Masala?

According to a Hare Krishna cookbook I have, a kahri sauce is based on yoghurt and water thickened with chickpea flour. I understood Masala here to be short for Masala (spice-mixed) sauce.

I believe the scottish cuisine was when you deep-fry something.

Haggis is nice.

Anonymous said...

Yes masala is a spice mix - each family tends to have their own in India. 'Curry' is a British generic term.

British and Scottish food is not as bad as NZ food - I once wrote a a column for the British Good Food magazine and people think NZ's national food is the meat pie - no kidding.

And Australasia gave the world the abomination that is 'fusion' - far worse than a deep fried mars bar.

Stevew said...

Australasia has also horribly perverted the meaning of the word "gourmet". Any food item described as "gourmet" will inevitably have been ruined by the addition of 17 or more completely inappropriate ingredients or toppings!

Shane Pleasance said...

Undoubtedly the worst breakfast I ever had was in a wonderful old hotel in Ayre, Scotland. In fact it vies for worst meal ever. It actually looked great, but was entirely inedible - I remember the contents being described to me - which didn't help. Succumbed and went for porridge. Salty.

Toast was ok, but cold by this time.

Sus said...

There is bugger all worse than the deep-fried Mars Bar.

Not even the Americans and their penchant for processed crap have topped that.

KG said...

Darn...I was going to try it Sus!

KG said...

There's a recipe here:

It even has beer in it, so it must be healthy, non?

KG said...

Ruth, in adelaide we have the 'pie floater'--a meat pie floating in a yummy green sea of overcooked peas. Just the thing after a hard night out on the town....