I have been in New York for a week or so, eating up a storm, some of it quite high, some less so. On the first morning in Manhattan, I staggered out of the hotel looking for somewhere to have breakfast, and found the Malibu Diner. I don’t know how they arrived at that name, and there wasn’t much of a California vibe to the place, in fact it was very, very New York, for which I was grateful.
The diner is one of the great American inventions and institutions, and doesn’t need any boosting from me. It also seems an utterly simple, uncomplicated form that nobody could have any trouble with, but at the Malibu this didn’t seem to be so. There was a couple of English tourists in the booth next to mine, an older northern pair, and the husband, who was doing the ordering for both of them, was having a certain amount of local difficulty.
The waiter was Latino and didn’t speak very good English and the northern man certainly did not speak American. He was asking for “a portion of potatoes,” and although the word portion is obviously known in America (as in the importance of “portion control” when you’re trying to lose weight), it’s not a word used much in diners. I guess “a side” would be the preferred expression. But in any case, simply asking for a “side of potatoes” doesn’t really communicate much either, you have to specify the kind of potatoes you want, and it was a while before the waiter announced that what the customer wanted was “a side of home fries.” Whether that’s what the man actually wanted I couldn’t say, but he didn’t argue.
There was then the problem of the eggs. The Malibu Diner menu offers “two large eggs any style” a form of words you’ll find in most diners, but this may also be confusing to the alien visitor. “Any style” is a broad concept and I’d suggest you don’t go into an American diner and say you want your eggs coddled or en gelée, though I think it would be a hoot to say you wanted them sous vide, "I'll be back this time tomorrow."
Anyway, the waiter asked our friend from the north how he wanted his eggs, and he replied “medium.” The waiter had obviously given up trying to understand this bizarre foreigner so he nodded and wrote something down on his pad. I wonder what the customer got. Fried eggs over medium, I suppose, which may even have been what he wanted, but I suspect not.
Now, only a fool goes to New York in search of English food, and I certainly did not, but it so happens that one of my friends is great pals with Peter Myers, an Englishman who runs Myers of Keswick, a shop in the West Village that imports various food items (and non-food items too) from Britain. We paid him a visit.
Myers also bake pies on site, which are very fine indeed, and I used to eat their pork pies when I lived in New York and suddenly needed a taste of home.
I chatted with Pete, who is a good man, and he was telling me the tribulations that go along with importing foodstuffs from the old country. Needless to say you can’t import meat unless it’s in a can – haggis for instance. And even Atora dried, packeted beef suet is a no-no. But who’d have thought that wine gums were such trouble? The problem isn’t the wine, obviously there’s no alcohol in wine gums, but rather the additives. The list of additives allowed in America is quite different from those allowed in Britain. After much food testing and chemical analysis, for which Pete of course had to pay, it was decreed that he’s not allowed to sell wine gums.
I noticed a board behind the counter saying that the shop had black puddings for sale. I asked Pete what were they like. He gave me a searching look. “You seem like a man who knows his black pudding,” he said. I reckon I do, but I wasn’t sure it was something that showed in my face, anyway, Pete then added, “And frankly these aren’t that great.”
They weren’t of course imported from England, and they weren’t made on site either. They were made by Donnelly’s. The packaging is silent on where they’re based, and they’re officially called “blood pudding.” Still, good chap that he is, Pete threw in a free one, which I have just eaten back home in LA. Ingredients, according to the pack, include pork, beef blood and “spice extractive” and although they were pretty good they were nothing like any black pudding I’ve ever had in Britain, much spicier for one thing – I suppose that would be the spice extractive. Still, thanks Pete, keeping making the pies.