I must preface this next vignette by saying that as an American with a few extra pounds on my posterior, I’m definitely NOT passing judgment on the matter. However, I must divulge some insider information on the pervasive stereotype of the overweight American.
It’s more prevalent than I thought. And global. After meeting a colleague in China, her second sentence (after, ‘hello, nice to meet you’) was, ‘I thought you would be fat.’ To my face. She actually sounded disappointed. I felt like whipping down my skirt to reveal how my super Spanx were keeping it all sucked in. Because that is American ingenuity.
I know it’s not a secret that America is one of the fattest countries in the world but I was shocked as to how often it's brought up. Then, I figured out why. The ‘American’ food section in British grocery stores.
The first time I saw it, I was truly horrified. A brief selection for your entertainment:
- Lucky Charms
- Pop Tarts
- Goober Grape
- Marshmallow Fluff
- Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup
- Fruity candy like Runts, Nerds and Icebreakers
- Mountain Dew
If this is what qualifies as ‘American Food’, well it all makes sense.
I must defend the honor of my country. Yes, these items exist and some of them are awful, but they represent a very small selection of American food. The food in America is generally pretty amazing and dare I say WORTH THE CALORIES. It gets my vote over British food, especially the British ‘interpretation’ of American foods, and particularly where American breakfast is concerned.
British friends, take heart. I still love an English fry up! I don’t mind tomatoes and mushrooms with breakfast, but I realize I’m in the minority amongst Americans on that one. However, it doesn’t top American-style breakfast, in my humble opinion.
During our time in the UK, we didn’t miss too many things, but we definitely longed for American-style breakfast. I’m talking about your typical IHOP/Denny’s/Perkins fare: pancakes, waffles, omelets and bacon. To be clear, I’m talking about American pancakes- fluffy and steeped in butter-and-maple-syrup heaven. European pancakes are what we call crepes and are typically served with fruit and cream or maybe some sugar and a squeeze of lemon. American bacon is crispy while British bacon (otherwise referred to as ‘rashers’) is ham-like in texture.
It became a mission to not just find such a breakfast, but for it to also be edible.
We found them more often than we thought we would, but it was not a guarantee of tastiness. The first one I came across was Harvester. During a dinner out, I noticed the breakfast menu and was thrilled to see ‘American Pancakes’ amidst the bacon butties and Heinz beans. We agreed that with such calorific delights, we would wait for a special occasion. It was a couple of months later, but after a tough spin class I decided I had waited long enough.
It was an inauspicious start. There were no cars in the parking lot and the windows looked dark. I peered in the window and felt like I was casing the joint. It was open, but there were only a handful of occupied tables. Hmmmm.
We soon found ourselves seated, orders placed and feeling a giddy anticipation. Superficially, it seemed like being at Denny’s. Steaming cup of coffee with monkey dish of individual creamer? Check. Scent of frying bacon in the air? Check. Heaping plate of pancake heaven? <record scratch>
There are a couple of rules with American pancakes. One, they should be large. For crying out loud, it’s just flour and egg so no need to be stingy. Two, they should be steaming hot off the griddle with melted butter just beckoning to the syrup to drown it in unlimited sweet goodness.
The plate that was set down in front of me was neither of those. There were two small pancakes on the plate that an American would call ‘silver dollars’. It wouldn’t be enough to feed a five-year-old.
Even more offensive was the taste. They had the unmistakable tang of freezer burn, which 25 milliliters of fake syrup could not mask. Again, why be so stingy with cheap maple-flavored sugar water? If it was the real-deal-Vermont-sourced-right-outta-a-tree sap, well then ok! But when serving pancakes that might double as a pot-holder, it is in your best interest to ensure they are masked with fat and sugar. Also, the bacon was flaccid and scrambled eggs derived from powder straight out of the nursing home. Finally, the portions were so puny, the plate had more open space than actual food.
We stopped for ice cream on the way home, which normally would induce guilt, but in this case, we ate ravenously.
The same thing happened at Little Chef. We debated if it would be too embarrassing to order the American breakfast after the waiter said ‘Hey, you’re American!’ We did however, and he hovered over us as we ate. ‘How is it?’ he inquired excitedly. My response was a decidedly underwhelming ‘It’s, um, interesting.’
Now, my British friends will say ‘What did you expect from a Little Chef?’ and they would be right. We went in with low expectations and they were not exceeded. LC has only received a marginally higher score than Harvester as the waiter graciously brought us unlimited syrup after we requested it.
The only place we were served a decent American breakfast was at Home Sweet Home in Manchester. The waffles were fresh and syrup plentiful. But what really caught our eye was the front display case full of American-style baked brownies, cakes and donuts. I did a double take when I saw a variety of brownies featuring Lucky Charms, Runts and Reese's Peanut Cups.
I decided to forgo the calories and embrace the stereotype as I purchased a Lucky Charms brownie for the train ride home. Lucky American? You bet!