Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Blessings of Empire

The gates of the British Club were closed when I arrived there late for lunch and a sign clearly said No Entry, Go to Silom 18 which was a far piece from where I was standing. Retreating to the garden of the nearby library I called my host who said of course you can enter there—that sign is only meant for cars—so I did, was approved by the security guard, and made my way past the tennis courts to the covered lounge area near the pool.

At that point I felt much like a peasant as well as a barbarian at the gates and my ensuing table talk lacked zest. My host and I turned with some relief to the menu, which was mammoth and double-sided with Thai, European and British offerings. It offered a long string of morning meal choices—a true English breakfast straight out of a Nancy Mitford novel with chips and fried kidneys and baked beans and toast and eggs-- more than I can remember but there were no brains on the list—and I discovered a substantial number of buttie options, which had me entranced. I saw no chip butties, which I had thought were the only kind extant, but the one that leaped off the menu for me was the one made with black pudding.

My host looked concerned and suggested scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast instead but soon I was served an unadorned, ungarnished white plate which had at its direct center a large white bun, sliced in half with a generous yellow aura of what was perhaps butter but tasted quite a bit like very salty margarine, and two small brown hockey pucks placed in between the slices of bread.

In a state of absolute delight, I cut a small piece of this stunning example of real British food and put a fragment of the pudding, which had the consistency of very dry pate, on the end of my fork. What I tasted was salt and pepper and a suggestion of bouillon cubes. The pudding crumbled slightly when cut and there were little white chunks dispersed in it like chocolate chips in a cookie that tasted a lot like diced and boiled potato. The bun was squishy and the melted yellow substance seemed nourishing, in the same way that whale blubber is. This was more than I had hoped for.

“Buttie is for the butter then,” I remarked with barely restrained joy to my lunch companion, “Do you know what the pudding is made of?”

“Yes, I do,” he responded, “but I didn’t want to tell you until you had finished eating.”

“Please do,” I begged, and was less than surprised when he said, “Blood and fat.” I thought briefly of a friend’s hospitalization after she had eaten blood pudding in Morocco, assured myself this wasn’t delicious enough to be lethal, and decided, “It has the same shape and consistency of the Boston brown bread that comes in a can.” I was proud of finding this small and tenuous trace of the British Empire in the former colonies but my Canadian lunch comrade, while agreeing with me, looked a bit depressed.

His own buttie was supposed to contain an egg as well as ham but all that lay between it were two thin and languid slices of pink animal flesh, and his small Greek salad which he asked to have “lots of black olives” had precisely three, all of which looked like the ones that provided the same touch of class at our Thanksgiving dinners in Alaska as the Boston brown bread did and also came out of a can. My host looked even gloomier than he had when we had chosen our breakfasts from the menu, while I was possessed with a very crazed glee.

“Do have something else,” he urged with a large degree of gallantry as I chewed my way through my substantial buttie. I restrained myself from saying “Oh I couldn’t possibly. Thank you ever so,” and instead managed a polite “No thank you, this is just what I needed.”

I thought of saying “It’s nowhere near as disgusting as poutine,” and then quickly remembered that my tablemate had spent his childhood in northern Quebec. Instead I assured him that I was actually quite fond of blood and mentioned the chunks found in my soup on Chokchai Ruammit and the small frozen bits of raw moose that I used to enjoy as a child, when my father butchered a fresh kill on the kitchen table. My host muttered a reply that I assumed was a pleasantry because his manners are impeccable.

I long to come back to the British Club someday for the delights of a full English breakfast but somehow I doubt that I will ever be asked to return. I don’t think English food is expected to afford quite so much unrestrained enjoyment as it clearly did for me. Yet I take deep comfort in knowing that—in Bangkok at least—there will always be an England.


Kim said...

Food writing is your forte ...

Tokyo Ern said...

I agree with the above. From ribs in a Thai suburb to making English cuisine sound appetizing...well, adventurous.

janet brown said...

No--both of you are food writers--I just like to tell stories that sometimes are about eating--very different!