Thursday, November 29, 2007

Home on the Range

Living abroad has made me notice something about myself that I had never really paid attention to before: I'm American. Really amazingly blatantly American. Sure, I have always known that I was American, but it never really meant much to me before because it didn't come up that often living in the US. They may speak English in the UK, and we may be direct descendants of their culture, but American and English cultures started diverging the moment the Mayflower set sail nearly 400 years ago (incidentally from a pier just across the Thames from where we now live), and there are some major differences between our cultures today. This is a big philosophical topic that can go numerous directions, and there are probably major life lessons I could be extracting from this, but I find myself focusing on more entertaining minutia like root beer and Mexican food.

Being American, and especially since we're Californian, the lack of Mexican food in London is a major source of frustration (albeit an easy way to lose a few pounds). It is a common topic of conversation amongst Americans here, and the hunt for good Mexican restaurants and quality ingredients has inspired multiple blogs and internet sites created by American expats. Never underestimate the power of a good enchilada. The posh-food wonderland that is Whole Foods Kensington, a veritable buzzing hive of Americans, is a decent source for salsas and chilies, but I have yet to find good tortillas in London. You can find some okay flour tortillas (although most are better used as frisbees), but no corn tortillas to speak of. As an act of mercy, my friend James arranged for some real corn tortillas to be brought to us by a coworker who was in London on business. He left them for me at the front desk of his hotel near Paddington Station -- appropriate since Paddington Bear is, of course, closely associated with salsa and tortillas.

Paddington with his characteristic jar of pico de gallo

Paddington Station is all the way across town from our flat and north of my work, so I had to go a bit out of my way to get there. Also, Google Maps, which is unfortunately not up to par in London, gave me the wrong directions so I walked 15 minutes out of my way just to find that the hotel was about 100 feet from where I started walking. To add insult to injury, when I went inside to pick up the tortillas, the concierge couldn't find the package. My hopes for an amazing tortilla-based meal were dashed. Several emails and phone calls later, we sorted out that the tortillas had been put in the refrigerator of the hotel restaurant and no one had told the concierge that this had been done. So, the next day I trekked back to Paddington a second time and successfully retrieved the tortillas.

You don't know how happy this made us

I couldn't stop there; with good tortillas in hand I needed to make some high quality food to fill them. So I went to Whole Foods and picked up all of the necessary supplies: dried guajillo chilies, potatoes, pork shoulder, tomatoes, coriander (aka. cilantro), limes, jalapeƱos, and a jicama. The jicama confused the checker who finally rung it up as "Misc. Squash" and shrugged. At home, I cooked up a big pot of guajillo-spiced pork and potatoes (picture Mexican pulled-pork with potatoes) and made a salad of jicama and watercress with lime cilantro and jalapeƱos. To complete the meal, we also added one final ingredient, the holy grail of American food (at least to us): root beer. I tracked down a source of Barq's here in the UK, and we had just received a case in the mail. Yes, we are in fact weird enough to mail order root beer. If this all sounds like a lot of effort just for some Mexican food and root beer, it was -- but it was totally worth it. This meal temporarily transported us away from cold dark London back to warm California days.

Still Life with Root Beer


Pancho Villa said...

Hooray for Mexican food. Did having to shlep out to the Hilton a second time make the tortillas twice as good? I hope so - I'm glad you were able to finally get them.

Andy M. said...

In an odd sort of way, the extra effort did make it extra tasty. Plus it gave me an excuse to have a picture of Paddington eating salsa.

Miss Ha said...


I am a big fan of Root Beer and would really like to find out where do you get your supplies?

big Thank you!

Andy M. said...

Hi Miss Ha -

We ordered our Barq's Root Beer from - decent price and they have some other fun stuff too. Let us know if you find other sources!