It was St George’s Day in England on Saturday. Why we have a Greek descended bloke who was born in Syria/Palestine as our patron saint is a mystery, but there it is.
There’s never the sort of shenanigans that accompany, say, St Patrick’s Day, but this is because the English don’t see the need to dance in the streets since we already consider ourselves better than the rest of the world, but my local decided to at least have a go and serve traditional pie and mash.
This is something that non-Brits won’t get at all. I suspect there are many Brits who’ve never tried it, since in the way in which it’s served it is pretty much limited to London and bits of Essex.
Right, you get a meat pie. Sounds simple. Then you get a monster portion of mashed potato. All fine and dandy. With me so far? Good, because I’m about to lose you.
You don’t get gravy. What you get is a good ladleful of liquor. Eh? What? Gin on your mash?
Sorry to disappoint the dypsos, but it’s even weirder than that. Liquor is made from the cooking liquid left when you’ve stewed some eels. If you leave the eels in the liquid as it cools, you end up with jellied eels, which are vile, like eating fishy snot with bones in. However, hot liquor on your pie and mash turns those humble dishes into the food of the gods. Purists will eat stewed eel with the pie and mash all on the same plate. I draw the line there, though I do like stewed eel.
This may sound strange, but there have been eel, pie, and mash shops in London for donkey’s ages. The most famous of these were opened by the Manze family, legends in the eel community. There’s one in Borough High Street just south of Tower Bridge, and at lunchtime it’s packed to the rafters with City slickers. There’s another in Walthamstow that’s become a bit of a hipster hangout, more’s the pity. There’s one in Greenwich quite near the Cutty Sark
I ought to add that when served this delicacy is a pretty daunting sight, and not for the faint-hearted. It’s worth ignoring the appearance, screwing your courage to the sticking place as Shakespeare would have it, and wading in.