Citing Robin Cook’s statement that ‘chicken tikka masala is now a true British national dish’, Brown includes it in his list. He soon reverts to his favoured vindaloo, though not before pointing out that chicken tikka came into being because Babur, the first Mughal emperor, was so worried about choking on a bone that he ordered his chefs to cut all his meat into bite-sized pieces. Other history lessons include the derivation of ‘limey’ — English sailors earned the nickname from Americans because of the fruit they ate to ward off scurvy — and the fact that it was once polite to drink tea from the saucer rather than the cup.
In the end, notes Brown, our favourite food is often the food we remember from our childhoods. ‘We are,’ as he says, ‘what we ate.’
This is Brown’s first foray out of beer writing, where he has built a formidable operating base. His prose is engaging, his storytelling effortless and he has managed to make the, let’s face it, uninspiring subject of beer seem exciting to people outside the central core of zealots. In Pie Fidelity, he turns his attention to English breakfast, cream teas, cheese sandwiches, chicken tikka masala and roast dinner, and pulls off a very similar trick...At heart though, Brown writes beautifully and fondly of every dish in a way that will have you desperate to taste it again at the end of each chapter. The historical information he weaves around the food is plentiful, accurate and worn lightly, and his observations are fresh and provocative.
Pete Brown, the author of this errant, discursive, unedited exercise in bloke-prose and lad-bant, is a professional northerner. He comes from near Barnsley and, like another son of that town, Michael Parkinson, he doesn’t let his readers forget it... Brown’s gastronomic tourism would for anyone else be a form of masochism, though he of course doesn’t see it that way. Nor does he seem to realise that a presumably pleasant social mien is not a quality required by a writer. His unrelenting enthusiasm precludes the establishment of a critical distance between him and his subjects. His lack of scepticism may be generous, but it’s a handicap.
Readers won’t find any descriptions of diced carrots in raspberry coulis. Instead, Brown takes us on a tour of British food that includes, other than the aforementioned classics, pie and peas, a cheese sandwich, spag bol (as British as Big Ben) and crumble. Without waving the flag, he encourages us to rejoice at the wonders of our national kitchen... “When we get it right,” Brown says, “our food doesn’t have to look spectacular or taste surprising, and the thanks we get for it are quiet and perfunctory.” Quietly, readers may thank him for writing a heartfelt book that makes an important point without false pride or sentimentality. When it comes to food, we’re better than we think.