Missing You Already
Carol Gould dreams of the treats that drive expat Americans to distraction
Let's start with chocolate sorbet. In 1976 when I arrived it was rare to find any kind of sorbet available in restaurants. But by 1986 one would be offered 'lemon, raspberry or blackcurrant.' In 1996 the choice was 'lemon, raspberry or blackcurrant.' And in 2006... 'lemon, raspberry or blackcurrant!' Back home chocolate sorbet is plentiful and is even available in Häagen–Dazs tubs. When I asked for it at the Häagen–Dazs restaurant in Leicester Square they told me 'there's no call for it.' (What exactly does that mean?) There is a legend – perhaps an urban myth – that after World War I young widows would fill the seats of the Fountain restaurant at Fortnum and Mason's, so the Italian chef decided to create a dish to cheer them up – chocolate sorbet! It was a sensation and appeared on the Fountain menu until the 1990s. So, it was invented here in England, but can you find it anywhere?
Let's go on to Yokan. My late mother used to ask me to go out and get her a large box of Yokan as a special treat. It is a divine dessert available in every Japanese restaurant in the States, a small loaf of sweet red bean paste with chestnuts in the middle, cut into slices and eaten with a toothpick. It is available to buy at the Japanese sweet–market in Piccadilly but why is it never on the menu at any of the multitude of Japanese eateries in the UK? Who wants green tea ice cream? Who wants gooey cake? Just give me the Yokan I would get in New York, LA, DC or Philly.
Moving now to things that some will say are borderline absurd but which dominate my every waking thought three days a week. Because I know my home town best I will stick to local specialties: I yearn for a hot turkey sandwich drowning in giblet gravy with mashed potatoes and green beans accompanied by one of those tiny paper cups of cranberry sauce as served by the ancient waitresses at the Midtown Diner or Little Pete's in Philly. I salivate as I write…
Another thing I miss so much that it drives me to insanity is cherrystone clams. People here say 'But clams are clams!' However, if you have never tasted a New Jersey cherrystone with that gorgeous hot seafood sauce and oyster crackers you haven't lived.
Now to the silly stuff. My highly educated, erudite colleague at ITV, John Rosenberg, a native of Brooklyn, used to walk into my office each October holding out his palm and without any words being exchanged I knew what he wanted: candy corn, sent by my sister from home.
Notwithstanding American–style venues like Subway offering a hoagie or submarine, there is nothing like a made–from–scratch one. Has anyone living here ever been able to find traditional griddle cakes? I'm afraid I threw a tantrum in Ed's Easy Diner when I was given pre–packaged cold rubber things listed as 'pancakes'.
Other goodies I yearn for: huge rare roast beef sandwiches on rye; New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder; grits; scrapple with hash browns and Hebrew National hot dogs. Finally, why do British Chinese restaurants discriminate against single people? If you want a set meal it's 'minimum for 2'. Why does one have to ask three times for a glass of water? Why in a country surrounded by water is a lobster so damn expensive? ($20 in the USA, $70 here.)
Let's end on a laugh: in Mayfair there is a waffle restaurant. They serve hot dogs so I suggested they get French's mustard, as American DNA is such that you just can't eat a 'dog without French's. Next time I passed by they told me they had had a French's crate in but had poured the mustard down the drain and put FRENCH mustard into the yellow tubs as the original stuff 'tasted horrible.'
Go figure – maybe we are indeed separated by more than just an ocean!
Carol Gould has written for The Guardian, The Jewish Chronicle and The Daily Telegraph; she is the author of Spitfire Girls and Don't Tread on Me – anti–Americanism Abroad and has appeared on BBC Any Questions? and many other UK broadcasts. Twitter: @Karashgould