Sunday, May 2, 2010

Forking Foreigner: Rollmops

Introducing a new element to Finding Tasty-- the Forking Foreigner. In this weekly column I will discuss, quite emotionally at times, new foods I find, as a foreigner traveling around England, Europe, even back in the States. If it's is new (to me) and unusual (to most), I will eat it and discuss. Sometimes I like the weird foods I eat, sometimes I do not. But I will always give an honest, if not dramatic, recount of the experience.

What the fork, England? You had me going for a while I’ll give you that. What with your characteristically quaint fish and chips (fried up the old school way—in beef drippings—like fast food places in the States used to, until they caved to the food-do-gooders), and historic steak and ale pie, just like King Henry VIII used to eat (pie crust so fantastically flaky because, again, it’s made with suet, psst—that’s beef fat), and your cheddarific Welsh Rarebit (okay, granted this one is from your neighbour Wales, but that’s a detail I can overlook), and surprisingly delicious crackling (pig skin fried until light, salty, crispy and eyes-rolled-in-the-back-of-my-head scrumptious).  I was living the gastronomic dream in Ye Olde food porn.

Then, last week you bamboozled me with rollmops—rollmops! Originally from Scandinavia (need I say more?) it’s herring, skin left on, then soaked in a sweet and sour brine for a couple of weeks until horrible.

Are you having a laugh? I trusted you, England. I thought that you would supply me with only familiar, comforting, fattening foods; foods that, although ultimately leading to my obese demise, would successfully see me through the worst bouts of PMS, or lonely binge eating. I mean, you invented roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and beef gravy (a meal that, in case you didn’t get enough beefiness with your roast beef and beef gravy, made sure that you got more beefy-goodness in the beef drippings used to make the Yorkshire puddings)— for crying out loud!

I was so na├»ve. Browsing the breakfast buffet line at that posh restaurant Saturday morning, I never thought in a million years there would be anything as unpleasant as a sweet-pickled and preserved herring lurking amongst more refined Kippers and Abroath Smokies. No label, no nothin’; just ostensibly reliable white fish fillets, rolled and glistening on the silver platter beckoning me to add them to my already heaping over-priced breakfast plate.

I didn’t even have to put on my ‘I’ll try anything once’ hat—to my unsuspecting eyes this was as conventional a breakfast as one could hope for.

I was like a lamb being led to slaughter.

I slid the rollmop (don’t even get me started on the name) onto my plate beside two always-dependable bangers and made my way to table. Saddling down beside my daughters, contentedly dipping their toast soldiers into their soft-boiled eggs—loving their breakfasts— I had a bite of sausage (squish-Yum!), a corner of buttered toast (crunch-Mmmm), then cut off a piece of rollmop and brought it confidently into my mouth. Instantly, I was assaulted by the acrid taste of vinegar, followed by the one-two punch of saliva-inducing sweetness, and finished with the taste of fermented fish.

I literally gagged. I have never, ever, in my life gagged from food. Instinctually, without thinking (I was in fight or flight mode now) I spit the rollmop into my white, linen napkin and gasped for air. My little daughters just stared at me, wide eyed and shocked. ‘Oh my God,’ I uttered, breathlessly as I flailed for my water glass, ‘I can’t get the flavour of low-tide out of my mouth.’

A few days later I went to lunch with my tall, British friend, Jonathan. I related my story to Jonathan assuming he would lend me some much deserved sympathy, but no. “You’re mad!” he screeched like a woman. “Rollmops are brilliant! Best eaten with a proper pint. Biting through that fleshly, little lump of fish is like a juicy, taste explosion!” I shook my head in disbelief (I had always thought Jonathan to be a rational man). He continued, “If you don’t see the virtues of rollmops, you need to have your head examined, mate.’

That was the last time I spoke to Jonathan. He is dead to me now. Not because he insinuated that I was insane, but because he loves rollmops.

So, way to go England! Pip, pip cheerio! After being assaulted by you’re plebe the rollmop, it will take some time to win me back. As long as Spotted Dick is a genuine dessert option in this kooky country, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to bring myself to trust again.

Got an unusual food in mind that Forking Foreigner should try? Would love to know about it! Leave me a comment!


Kathy said...

I haven't tried them and it looks like I never will! I nearly gagged reading your opinion about them. Plus they look gross. I don't think even you could present rollmops in an appealing way! Isn't it time for the Forking Foreigner to travel to Italy?

007 said...

Well, what can I say - that I didn't say to you today. Your obsession with roll-mops (which are NOT British food - but are GORGEOUS!) is becoming a little disturbing. If you're going to eat them for breakfats - try a mixture of them with different sauces (mustard, honey, au nature (like the one you had) and salsa) - and only eat them accompanied by: toast, fresh tomatoes and a good strong cup of real coffee (please don't drink that grey swill that passes as coffee in that other country!). And PLEASE take them off the list of British foods that will not eat again for 2 very good reasons: 1) they are not British; and 2) you will fall in love with them once your palate has developed away from re-constituted beef(ish) patties in a sesame seed bun.......