Tag Archives: takeout

The real price of food in America

It’s the time of year when American turkeys are looking nervously over their shoulder every time that the farmer comes anywhere near them. If their heads are not already hundreds of miles away from their shoulders, that is. With Thanksgiving less than ten days away, old family recipes are being dug out of dusty drawers across the country as people prepare to make stuffing or cranberry sauce for their gathering of relatives.

The weird thing is that for a fair number of people, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the few that they actually bother to cook, or indeed where the family gathers together around one table. Mainland Europe still tries to cling on to the principle of the family dinner, but in the UK and (especially) the US, the concept of sitting down as one at a given moment is sadly disappearing quicker than ice cream at a five year old’s birthday party.

In the United States at least, that’s hardly surprising. At the end of my road in Brooklyn are a butchers and a diner. On the diner’s window, there’s currently a big sign advertising their Thanksgiving Dinner for 10-12 people, listing all the trimmings including stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, gravy and so on, at an all-in price of $169.99. The butcher has a similar sign on their window for their Thanksgiving deal, featuring a turkey big enough for 10-12 people and all the various sides that you could hope for. Hell, they’ll even cook the turkey for you so that you won’t have to spend three days soaking the roasting pan afterwards.

And the price for this do-it-(vaguely)-yourself feast? $199.99. That’s thirty dollars more expensive than cooking for yourself at home, even though the restuarant will be providingyou with all the cutlery, crockery and waiter service – and doing the washing up afterwards.

It’s not true outside the big cities, but in New York and other metropolitan centrescenters, there are plenty of people who don’t cook their own food because it’s cheaper to order it in. Sure, they may be eating meat made primarily of corn, and consuming their own bodyweight in monosodium glutamate, but who cares when you can get a giant helping of General Tso’s Chicken for six dollars, eh? Ordering in food is a treat for me and The Special One – for many people in New York, it’s become a way of life.

Can anybody tell that I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the moment?

Now, time to dig out my world-famous gravy recipe in preparation for next week. Oh, and spare a thought for those (pasture raised) British turkeys who are currently sitting around in their barns laughing smugly at the fate of their American counterparts, and haven’t yet realised that December is just around the corner…

Signed, sealed, delivered

When I was growing up in North Wales, fish and chips on a Friday night used to be a big treat. I say ‘fish and chips’, but generally I preferred fishcake – the little fried cakepatty that has almost certainly never been in the same room as a fish, let alone been made of it. Anyway, it was always really about the chips – deep fried nuggets of golden potato, crisp in places but at the same time deliciously moist from their time steaming in their paper packaging. And plenty of salt and lashings of brown sauce, obviously. Never vinegar though – acid belongs in batteries, not on your chips.

Our fish and chips generally came from Ted’s, a short walk around the corner from our house. Although for a time we used to drive a few minutes up the road to get them from another chip shop near the shopping centre. To be honest, calling it a shopping centre is similar to describing a fishpond in your garden as one of the Great Lakes – about ten small shops and a library doth not a shopping centre make.

The point is that whenever we wanted fast food, we had to go to get it. Actually there was only Chinese, Indian or chips to choose from, but once the choice had been made, we had to get in the car to get it – it wasn’t going to come to us. It’s the same in most non-metropolitan areas of the US, as far as I can make out, although given the sheer scale of this country, I guess that can on occasion mean making a 100 mile round journey just for a portion of chicken wings.

Moving to London was a culture shock, given that many more places would deliver pizza, curry or Thai food direct to your door. Indeed, I’ve built up many a good relationship with Chinese takeawayout places over the years – after all, even this keen cook has to have a night off every so often.

But even in London, there’s still plenty of places that refuse to deliver food and which either don’t allow takeaway, or else make you visit them to pick it up.

Yet in New York, it seems that any place that refuses to deliver would go out of business within approximately six hours. There is simply nothing that cannot be delivered, and at pretty much any time of the day. From sushi to Ethiopian and falafel to fettucine, all you have to do is pick up the phone and call, and whatever food you desire will be with you in an indecently short amount of time. They say in London that you’re never more than six feet away from a rat. In New York, you’re never more than six minutes away from a General Tso’s chicken. Coincidentally, the chicken may well actually be rat, but that’s another story.

I’m not sure whether it’s sheer weight of numbers that enables food delivery on such an incredible scale, or whether it’s the “I’m just too busy to cook” mentality that has forced food places into it. Probably a combination of the two. Even some restaurants that are reckoned to be relatively high end will still happily deliver items from their menu direct to your home. I might try ringing Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridges to ask for them to bring round some crispy Suffolk pork belly and fondant potatoes next time I’m in London, just to hear the reaction.

Still, I’m pleased to report that I haven’t found anywhere that will deliver fish and chips just yet. You can actually get great fish and chips in Brooklyn, but you just need to go to get it. Some traditions are worth keeping, it would seem.

Mushy peas, anyone?