2003.11.19 Bring back pig cheeks

Written by David Green.


WHILE MANY Morenci eaters still await this town’s first fast food restaurant, a revolution in the eating industry is underway. That, too, will pass Morenci by, but it’s good to take a look at what we’re missing.

The once mighty burger is on shaky grounds. The total number of Subway restaurants in America overtook McDonald’s franchises last year, and the chain is looking to take over Europe. More than 100 Subways have opened in Britain and 2,000 are planned by 2011.

But there are rivals. From Hong Kong, there’s Café de Coral, the largest Chinese-style fast-food restaurant. Chairman Michael Chan says his food will replace the burger and pizza.

Maybe he knows something, because McDonald’s has seen better days. The mighty corporation suffered its first quarterly loss this year, its chairman resigned, 175 under-performing outlets were closed, and the chain completely pulled out of Turkey and two Latin American countries. Burger King, number two on the list, was sold only after its owner agreed to loan $850 million to cover debts.

A survey last year by global analyst Mintel found that the number of people who refuse to eat in fast food restaurants has doubled since 1999.

The big shift in eating is known as fast-casual food—a middle ground between the burger joint and a formal restaurant. This includes Schlotzsky’s, Panera Bread, Nando’s and Pret a Manger. McDonald’s was surely well aware of the coming troubles. The corporation owns a share of Pret and all of Boston Market.

So Britain is getting our submarine sandwich, we’re getting Asia’s wraps and stir fry,  Japan will be munching on upscale cheese and pickle sandwiches, and China is far enough behind to welcome the "new" hamburger.

THERE HAS to be a reactionary response to fast food and sometimes the reaction goes way back in time. In Britain, there’s a resurgence of interest in the old rural foods, such as faggots, spotted dick and squirrel casserole. It’s called a campaign for real food.

While upscale restaurants focus on chicken tikka masala and seared tuna, there are a select few who are turning to the past.

Faggots and peas, a traditional dish, consists of animal byproducts wrapped in a pig’s bladder. Add pork sausages to Yorkshire pudding and you end up with Toad in the Hole. Spotted Dick is described as a suet pudding. Bubble and Squeak (a mixture of fried potatoes and cabbage) is said to describe the sound your stomach makes after eating it.

Rook pie might bring back memories of "four and 20 blackbirds baked into a pie." A rook is a cousin to the crow and its bluish skin doesn’t seem too appetizing. But with a good, thick gravy, it’s something to chew on—much like Roman Pie, a layering of boiled rabbit and macaroni.

There goes the burger.

A farmer named Mrs. Eadle recently won a contest for the best traditional recipe with her entry for Bath Chaps. Cut off the pig’s cheeks, pickle in brine for two to three weeks, place in a cooking bag and boil for three to four hours, cool, skin and roll in bread crumbs. Anything but a quick meal.

EVEN IN the former Soviet republic of Belarus, both the welcome and the disgust of fast food are evident. The country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, grew annoyed with passing a McDonald’s on the way to work every day, so he pushed for traditional, local cuisine.

"Overseas food is unhealthy and even risky," said, Nikolai Yerokhov, a city official from Minsk, the nation’s capital.

There are six McDonald’s in Minsk and now there are two Khutkaye Kharchavanne cafés serving up national fare—and quickly.

Forget the greasy french fries of McDonald’s. Give the Belaru their own version of healthy  food—draniki (potato pancakes stuffed with sausage) and shkvarki (fried pork fat).

    – Nov. 19, 2003 
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