Friday, June 18, 2010

Seeking School Dinners

I found these sausages by Clonakilty Sausages at Taste Of London yesterday and it provoked a head full of happy memories. I love them, I have been looking for these sausages for about 20 years and alas, we met Eat Like A Girl and she showed them to us – just like that – as if they were obviously there all that time! (The black and white puddings are also amazing!)
It was not always a joy to stand in a formal alphabetical queue with the same persons in front and behind you. You are stuck with them all your child hood years at primary school and secondary school. So you’d better get on with them. When the bell dings and Mrs Badger marches you with her whistle to the dinning hall my belly always rang with excitement and just as loudly. It was/is cool to hate school dinners but I loved it and so did everyone else – o yes – they loved it where I went.

The hoorah schcreams when we were the first class to the dinning hall being able to chose whatever we wanted and getting jelly & some Viennesse biscuit was the highlight of our little minds.

In Secondary school, we all ran as fast as possible to the dinning hall. OK it was to avoid the lengthy queues but it was also to catch their amazing pizzas on baguette, tinned raviolis, shepherds pie, macaroni and cheese, spam fritters, fish fingers and mash, chilli con carne and rice but most of all, it was the desserts.

Nowadays, I am not a dessert fan, unless you give me school dinner desserts (of which I now happily go to Stock Pot for - I am telling you - I am NOT ashamed). I have never since had the toffee tarts with hundreds and thousands, the apple crumble and custard, the golden syrup sponge, the jelly & biscuits, the rice pudding… I have never had it so well as I had it there – at school – my first introduction to British (?!) food.

It was the 80’s, we were Thatcher’s children, drinking our last bits of bottled milk. I loved St Joan Of Arc Primary School, I was the popular kid, the only oriental girl from a far far away land – every boy and girl thought was so exotic and wanted to teach me English. Being a refugee from Vietnam, my mother only fed us what she knew and she not only turned her nose up at the English diet, she actually couldn’t afford it. I still remember when she first found corriander in Dalston market - O the joy!!

My mum would seek the markets for cheap beef bones and cheap cuts of meat to make us the best Pho, the best braised pork belly, the best fried fish… well, at the time, my brother and I wanted to be like the other kids – we didn’t think that it was so cool to be eating any form of fish or Pho! We loved school dinners – for us, it was so different and it tasted so good!

The trauma still tingles of the memory of her getting a pig's head from the local butcher - they were giving it away. She was just delighted - but us? We weren't so delighted when we saw our school friends and their mum looking horrified through the butcher window at some woman happy about receiving a pigs head. There were squeals that day!

One week, for some reason, we all had to go on school dinners strike! I was devastated, being ten years old and having to deal with my mother’s packed lunch was a huge ordeal. She made us a bento box of things like braised pork belly with steamed rice, pickles, some choi sum in oyster sauce and then banana and coconut dessert.

Both my brother and I hid it, but having sense, we carried it home to mum, saying that we were too full to eat it (so would have it for dinner or on top of dinner - it was very delish), we were so ashamed as children to be seen with stinky Vietnamese food. She put a couple of apples in too, and so, for one week, my brother and I both ate apples only for lunch and ran to the fish and chips shop in Arsenal, Highbury Hill with our friends on the way home, hoping to share their chips as soon as possible.

The chips – the best ever-, covered in onion vinegar and salt, shaken in a newspaper paper was also another highlight – with our friends who lived nearby – still a memory I will forever cherish.

LOVE LELUU blog post on Canteen's Fish & Chips & Meeting Cass Titcombe here

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