“Get lost gazpacho!” Craig Scott investigates Spain’s growing love affair with good, old British grub
THE Spanish have always scoffed our “stodgy” home cooking. Tell them that you’re cooking a nice British meal, and they’ll laugh so hard – cerveza will spurt from their nostrils.
In Catalonia, they joke about gut-wrenching UK grub, while here in Andalucia, they assume we have chips with everything… including our cornflakes!
While teaching in Cordoba, I innocently asked why there were no British dishes on the school menu (after all, it was supposed to be a “British” school). Honestly, this tickled the Spanish “profesoras” so much, one nearly choked on her churro!
But, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the an*s-faced, rock fossil, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin.’ Spain’s negative views on British nosh are slowly evaporating – and it’s all down to one supermarket.
Since opening in 2007, Fuengirola’s Iceland store has become a mecca for Costa-based Brits. Every weekend, thousands of expats flock to the coast to stock-up on pork pies and piccalilli.
Flat-nosed, celebrity chef – Anthony Worrell Thompson buys his baked beans here, and ’80s pop star Yazz, frequently nips in for hair dye and HobNobs. It’s even rumoured that Simon Cowell fed his X Factor lemmings on Iceland ready-meals, while hosting them at his nearby villa.
Spaniards too are increasingly taking to Kerry Katona’s favourite titbits. Ian Walker, who manages the Fuengirola branch, says: “Our Spanish clientele has grown significantly over the past four years. We have also seen an increase of customers from other European countries – from the Ukraine to the United States.”
Asked which British foods are most-popular with foreign pallettes, Walker added: “Our Spanish customers can’t get enough of strawberry cheesecake, deep-pan pizzas, and Jam Roly Poly.”
It’s amazing to think that Iceland, a “low-end” supermarket in Britain, associated with toothless, dinnerladies and teenage pram-pushers, has become an exotic and thriving enterprise on Spanish shores. Sure, it’s cheaper than Mercadona, and we can’t exactly claim curries and chinese as our own, but still – I’d take a Ginsters pasty over a grotty tin of garbanzos any day of the week! In fact, apart from patatas bravas and paella, I’d struggle to name a single ‘great’ Spanish dish.
Also, before the try-hards start accusing me of sticking to my comfort zone, tell me, are my chosen eating habits any different to any other immigrant? Do Indians stop eating biryanis when they move to Birmingham. Are Polish mini-marts not cropping up everywhere in the UK? And if you can find me an Italian in Ipswich who’d choose Kingsmill over pannettone – then I’ll eat my own boots!
After years of sniggery jibes, surely all expats must secretly relish the fact that there’s an Iceland in Puerto Banus – flogging Fray Bentos pies to the filthy-rich and famous. Who knows… one day, we might even see that tacky, orange-and-red sign in Madrid’s Plaza de España. On this day, the “chip-lovers” will rejoice and Spanish tears will seep into a million gazpachos (adding much-needed flavour to the watery mush).
At the end of the day, rejection is one thing – but rejection from a country that lists bull testicles and land snails as culinary classics… give me a chuffing break.