On Poetry and Culture Shock

Culture-shocking food 4: Scotland

I’ve spent one year in Aberdeen University and one summer living in Glasgow. There is not a lot in Scottish/British ingredients that would be interesting to tell here. Nevertheless, the way Scottish people eat, their meals, are unbelievable. I promise to talk about nice Scottish food on another day, to compensate for this.

The first thing that surprised me was the Friday-night routine. All over the world, people go out, get drunk, then go dancing. Right? Well, in Scotland, since they have dinner at six, by the time the last club closes at two or three in the morning, they suddenly realise they are hungry. So, every junk-food place is open all night, with the workers getting sleepy and bored from nine pm to 2am, when there is a mad rush of very drunk students getting a refill of greasy food to guarantee they’ll be sick in the morning.

Chip shops (also called chippies) serve everything deep-fried: everything is covered in a thick mixture of flour and water (si estás leyendo esto en español, un rebozado como masa de churros pero más líquida, un engrudo, vaya) and then fried in grease or oil. I promise you don’t want to know the oil’s origin. The oil is never, ever changed and the inside of the fryer is never cleaned, because the starch of frying potatoes absorbs the dirt that greasier food leaves behind. And what do they deep-fry? Fish of course, but also sausages, meat pies, and burgers. Yes, burgers. The outside goes very crunchy and I think the inside stays moist and not completely cooked through. I never tasted them to make sure.

I heard the legend of the deep-fried Mars bar and the deep-fried pizza (called pizza crunch), but I never found a place that served them. I think deep-fried chocolate is an excellent idea, as long as you don’t use fat that has had pork pies in it.

That’s not all. The first time I heard someone ask for a “roll and chips” (a roll is bigger than American dinner rolls and chips are fried potatoes, French fries), I thought they meant they wanted a piece of bread and a portion of potatoes. OK, no problem. I was wrong. They meant what Americans would call a French fries sandwich. I knew people who had that for lunch every day.

And many people know that the British put vinegar on their chips. What they don’t know is that in fast food places like chippies, it is not really vinegar. It is pure acetic acid that comes in a gallon container, diluted in water until it has the colour the customers expect. Like other synthetic foods, the smell is stronger than the flavour. The purity of the raw material makes it corrosive and toxic; the fumes, even of a few drops spilled on the floor, can make you ill.

And there is something so peculiar about smells. Chip shops smell of grease and vinegar; some streets in Aberdeen and Glasgow smell like that at all times. There seemed to be no way of getting the stink out of my hair and clothes. Sometimes I pass by a Cornell cafeteria at mealtimes, and the smell of greasy beef brings me two years back.

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