After three weeks of work experience I seem to have become a kind of food ghost, existing on a diet of Pret and M&S and Tesco Metro, with a helping of eating out which I really can’t afford. Not that I’m complaining.
Country bumpkin that I am, I still get a little bit excited about Pret (particularly their more-like-rice-pudding-than-breakfast porridge and their new rare roast beef baguette), and the M&S food hall is, as I’ve said before, like getting a hug from my mum, even if I still haven’t quite adjusted to the incongruous sight of Cadburys and Cornflakes alongside the minibites and ultimate mash.
But none of this food really seems – real. It’s all so anodyne and plasticked and removed from anything vaguely arduous. Staying in other people’s houses and now at a B&B, I’ve no choice but to select the easiest thing, but it’s so dull dull dull. Especially Tesco. I hate the fact that, certainly in London and now increasingly in Cardiff , there’s one on every corner.
Each is equally tiny, with the same small and miserable selection of meals for one, drearily picked up by dreary food ghosts, sometimes with one of those miserably miniature bottles of wine for one, followed by a dessert. For one. All in several layers of plastic and at several removes from the field it should have started in.
I know I’m perilously close to food-snobbism, or worse still, poor-me-ism, but it’s just all so – sterile.
However. I was saved, at approximately 7.30pm on Thursday, April 15, by the best chips of my life.
I had just spent 5 hours outside the Oakington Detention Centre near Cambridge, helping to cover a rumoured “disturbance” there for the Cambridge News. It was a great experience but, also, as the April sun faded and the gates stayed quiet and closed, very, very cold.
By the time I got back to my B&B, I was frozen to the bone, absolutely starving and far too tired to make any kind of food decision. I did my dutiful ghost wandering around the Co-op, but somehow the prospect of a day-old chicken sandwich with a red reduced sticker slapped over the top didn’t fill me with joy.
My stomach was asking for only one thing. Chips. It wasn’t a want or a craving or even a fancy. It was, I swear, a genuine need.
So, having garnered a strange look from the man behind the counter in the Co-op for buying a solitary can of Grolsch (I’d just spent ten zombie-eyed minutes staring at the beer section trying to decide), I headed to the Viking fish and chip shop, next door to my B&B.
It smelt good. It looked good. It didn’t also sell Chinese and/or kebabs (a Crwys Road special). And, best of all, one of the options was ‘chips with homemade chilli’. I waited the five minutes extra, handed over my £3.10 (less than a Pret baguette, for a start…) and had to stop myself running back to my B&B.
I smuggled them in illicitly and there, on the floor of my bedroom, wantonly spread out the golden chips in their paper. God they were good. Covered in salt and vinegar, they were crispy on the outside and just the right balance of creamy and fluffy in the middle. Hot and satisfying and beautiful. And the chilli was gorgeous – chunky tomato and onion, good quality beef and spicy enough to need the calming stodginess of chips as a balm.
With nothing more than yesterday’s Cambridge News, a chip fork and the spoon from the morning’s coffee cup for accompaniment, it was perfect. At that moment, had someone offered me a Michelin-starred meal, you wouldn’t have moved me from my chips and my B&B floor.
This was food with a bit of soul and not a hint of plastic. Circumstance is all. So, tired and hungry and cold ghosts – abandon Tesco, and head to the chippy. It might just give you a smile like the woman above…
p.s. When I nipped outside to throw out my illicit chip paper, I went back to the fish and chip shop and raved about them to the owner. You can’t do that at Tesco. Although she did look a bit confused…