Tuesday, June 14, 2011


As some of you may know, I have another writing life in which I’m an enthusiastic, and occasionally obsessive, walker.  It seems to me that eating and walking go together pretty well.  Either you walk while you eat, or you walk to somewhere and eat when you get there.  In England, fish and chips work pretty well either way, though of course you have to be walking somewhere that has a fish and chip shop.  You can’t just stick some cod, chips and mushy peas in your back pack and dig them out when you get to a suitable peak.

The Germans and Austrians seem to do this rather better.  They have something called a “walking sausage,” more properly a landjaeger.  I first saw these on sale in the Pike Place market in Seattle and for some foolish reason didn’t buy one.

As it happens I’ve been reading some remarks about walking and food written by Grimod de la Reyniere, he of the Almanch Des Gourmands.  He has a couple of interesting things to say.  One, “It is a proven fact that all centenarians have been prodigious walkers,” about which I don’t feel qualified to comment.  And two, “A morning constitutional of four or five leagues is one of the best ways of seasoning the dinner that greets you on your arrival.  A similar walk back has a singular faculty of aiding the digestion.” Now this is very slightly confusing because a league has been different distances at different times in French history, but it was never less than 2 miles, and at the time Grimod was writing I believe a league was 2.66 miles.  So essentially he’s suggesting a 24 mile walk with dinner in the middle, which certainly makes a hole in the day. 

Grimod also says “a true gourmand never ventures abroad without an emetic about his person” which would surely make walking with him quite a performance.

I decided to consult Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker.  That's him above, and I imagine walking with him was quite a performance too.  The edition I have of The Complete Walker contains a 130 page chapter titled Kitchen, and within that about 40 pages are devoted to food; lots of stuff about freeze dried food, empty calories and something he calls “new wave eaters.”  Frankly not all of this is relevant to the kind of walking I do, which tends not to involve a night spend out in the wilds, and if you ask me he’s talking about camping rather than walking.  Still, I found it interesting that Fletcher says “I carry three small bags of herbs on each trip, ringing the changes on ground cumin seeds, oregano, thyme, sage and Italian herb mix.  Other bags may hold garlic powder, dried onion flakes and imitation bacon chips.”  Well, why not?

And then I went to and see the movie The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.  That’s the poster above: for some reason they don’t have any wine in their glasses, and I assume there must be strange marketing reasons for that.  It’s a movie about two British men of a certain age who go on a slightly half-hearted gastronomic tour of parts of northern England.  They squabble a little, do competing impressions of Michael Caine and Sean Connery (among many others), and often they seem to be on the brink of discussing the meaning of life, but always manage to avoid it.

It’s a terrific film, and one indicator of its strength is that I’d been out of the theater for a couple of hours before I said to myself, “Wait a minute.  Isn’t this a bit like that movie Sideways?” 

Coogan and Brydon do a certain amount of walking over hills and dales, especially in the Lake District, but since they’re eating in fancy restaurants every night they don’t take three small bags of herbs with them, though one small joint does make an appearance.  And certainly there are no imitation bacon chips.

The actors play fictional versions of themselves, and the movie frequently makes you wonder what’s “real’ and what’s not.  So when they arrive at an improbable restaurant called L’enclume, in the middle of the English countryside, I was quite prepared to accept that this was some satirical invention by the filmmakers.  The guys are served by a waiter with a thick, creamy French accent who delivers martini glasses containing what he describes as a ”nice little appetizer.  You’ve got liquor made out of mallow leaves topped with a fizz made out of ginger beer, whisky as well as chili.” Steve Coogan says, though not to the waiter, “The consistency is a bit like … is a bit like snot, but it tastes great.”

                   Anyway a little light Googling reveals that L’enclume really exists, though I find it hard to believe that anybody who works there can keep a straight face.  Today between their three tasting menus you can have, “Carrot sacks with brawn and juniper, fried cake and cress,” “Salt and vinegar crispy rice, cod 'yolk', cream of egg and garlic,” “Vintage potatoes in onion ashes, whey sauce flavoured with lovage and wood sorrel” and “Hake with chicken skin.”

Sometimes life is very hard for the satirist.  The world, and especially the food world, just keeps getting ever more beyond parody.  On the other hand, I do discover that L'enclume is also the French name for a sexual position that allows maximum penetration, so maybe the guys at the restaurant have even more reason to smirk.


  1. It's well worth tracking down the full six part Winterbottom TV series that the movie is distilled from.

  2. Thanks David - yes, I should do that. Watching the clips on youtube (quite a few of which aren't in the movie version) is kind of a frustration - mostly the impersonations, which are great but there's obviously way more than that going on.