Chris Stewart leaves his bolt-hole in Andalucia in search of the one thing he misses most in Spain: steak and kidney pie
I’ve been away travelling, tempted by the exotic destinations on the other pages of this website. I went to Merthyr Tydfil. Not the most obvious exotic destination, but for reasons of my own I’ve always wanted to go there – and besides, if you happen to live outside Britain, the Rhondda Valley is... well, different.
The food was an interesting experience, too, and food – for me at any rate – is a big part of the essence of travel. Here’s a page from my notebook (with additions from hindsight):
I went into a pub in search of sustenance (yes, I do write things like that in my notebook). I ordered a pint and asked if it was too late to eat.
“Wait a minute if you don’t mind an’ I’ll ’ave a word with the wife,” said the barman, disappearing out the back. Soon he came back with the wife.
“I can do you a nice steak’n’ kidney pie,” she said with a beam.
(Steak and kidney pie, oddly enough, is one of the things you most want if you live abroad.)
“Sounds wonderful. I’ll be having that then.”
“An’ what would you be likin’ for a vegetable? I got some nice cabbage, look you... an’ some carrots; an’ I can do you some nice mashed potato.”
“Er... no. I think I’ll just have the pie on its own.”
Her face fell a bit. She was small of stature, a little on the shapeless side, and wore glasses. I relented.
“O, go on then, I’ll ’ave a little bit of mashed potato.”
“Alright then, but I’ll just put a nice piece of cabbage on too, shall I?”
“An’ a couple of carrots if you don’t mind too much?”
“OK. How much?”
“It’s your lucky day. Monday’s special offer: lunch an’ a pint, only four quid!”
I sat down near where there was a racing programme on the telly, and a number of big, shaven-headed men studying form and drinking lager. It was murky in the bar, and smelled of carpets wet with old beer and fag-ash.
I picked up a nearby copy of the Daily Star and started thumbing through it.
Finally my food arrived, proudly borne by its creator. On a plate as big as a wheel laid a mound of pallid, lumpy mash. Beside the potato lurked a sinister heap of wet, green leaves, and dominating the plate sat the pie. Big it was, and dry...
“You’ll be wantin’ some gravy with that,” said the cook.
“I think I might, yes,” I replied, and she brought to the table a gravyboat full of brown meat-custard.
I attacked the pie, a greyish excrescence that trembled on my fork and seemed almost to wriggle as I bit it. It tasted like the long-boiled ball of some sullen, antediluvian creature. Kidney, I supposed. The steak was similarly grey; fibrous, but with a bite like an inner tube. I put down my cutlery and considered the gargantuan portion that remained on my plate. The other incumbents of the pub were watching me morosely, wondering perhaps who this effete little man was, trespassing upon their domain.
I couldn’t eat this stuff – there was no doubt about that. I looked sheepishly round at my fellow imbibers. The barman and his wife were craning over the bar watching me. I grinned at them like a person would who was really relishing his meal. I drank some beer, then smacked my lips a bit, scratched an itch that didn’t really need scratching, and took another quick glance at the TV. People seemed to be losing interest... and then, quick as a flash, I was out of there and flying hell for leather down the street before my escape should be noticed...
I shiver at the recollection of this lamentable episode. Ah, travel... I think in future it might be best to stay at home.
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