AS SOMEONE who enjoys the finer things in life – for proof, check out this recipe for Marmite sushi rice I wrote – I often have occasion to eat in pubs. & as such, I often have occasion to read pub menus. Actually, reading menus is a particular pleasure of mine, whether I’m eating or not; I’ll even read the descriptions of food I wouldn’t purchase, since I don’t buy meat. As such, I’ve had occasion over the last year to notice a number of trends for particular ingredients.
The way these trends usually work is strange & baffling; it’s not like they’ll slowly grow, fed by increased consumer demand. Instead, overnight you might suddenly find that now, it doesn’t matter which pub you go into, anywhere in the UK, they’re all serving, say, hot dogs. Not street hot dogs, where you get a little Frankfurter in a six-inch white bun, but gourmet hot dogs, laden down with five-bean chilli or sauerkraut, about ten inches long and served in a crusty French baguette. One thing you’re extremely likely to find on top of your gourmet hot dog is pulled pork, a substance no-one had heard of two years ago which now comprises approximately 50% of the menu in every single pub. It’s even spreading to places like Subway, Burger King, and even Pret a Manger. Not having ever tasted pulled pork, I can’t tell you if it’s as exciting as you might expect from its overnight world domination, but it doesn’t look like much. It looks like a sort of sticky mess of recycled food. It looks like a movie prop for dog vomit. It looks like some sort of living mass of crab meat that kills your crew after you leave it in the fridge for too long.
Of course, pulled pork isn’t the only foodstuff to have undergone this overnight ultrapromotion, it’s only the most prominent (& the first I happened to notice). We can assume the pulled pork revolution took place due to a discovery that it was a great way to save money on serving pork, which is tastier but more expensive than, say, chicken, though that said there is also pulled chicken. The prominence of some other foodstuffs is less explicable. The presence of halloumi, a chewy & extremely salty Mediterranean cheese, as an optional extra on every burger & in every salad, can obviously be attributed to the shadowy influence of the Hallouminati, a secret society with nefarious interests that go to the heart of government. Then there’s also quinoa, a grain a little bit like cous cous but fifty times sexier. You probably can’t find a veggie burger made of veg anywhere anymore, but you can get a quinoa burger simple as. It probably contains halloumi too. If not, then it’s probably not a burger at all but a grilled Portobello mushroom advertised as a burger; Portobello mushrooms also get advertised as steaks & roasts, but when you find them as burgers, they may well be accompanied by fresh avocado. You may even find smashed avocado; smashing is not a cooking process like scrambling or poaching, they just smash the shit out of that avocado & smear it on your toast. Except your toast is certainly not traditional toast, but rather grilled sourdough. But if the avocado’s going in your Portobello mushroom burger then you’ll most likely also find that it’s served on a brioche bun.
Brioche buns, grilled sourdough, smashed avocado, Portobello mushrooms, quinoa, halloumi, pulled pork, pulled chicken, gourmet hot dogs: what does it all mean? That pub chains are exactly as generic & identity-free as you might imagine? That we have no choice in what we eat as our very lives amount to no more than pawns in the power games of culinary interests? That if you want a decent meal, you oughtn’t to go to a pub for it? Yeah, probably.