Commentary: Holidays are different on other side of the pond

Next to my love of Middle Eastern, Latin and Asian dishes sits an unexpected and grossly underrated culinary cuisine I adore: British food.

On the surface, it might seem like our friends across the pond offer only fish and chips and combinations like bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potato), but there's more to British cuisine than meets the eye. That's especially true during the winter holidays, when the days are completely saturated with mince pies, glasses of mulled wine and more dips and sauces than one knows what to do with.

One particular holiday food of interest is Christmas pudding, a dessert so rich and grand it will take you a year to recover before you can tolerate the sight of it again.

Just so we're clear, the British concept of "pudding" isn't exactly in line with the American one. It has less to do with custards and mousse and more to do with a burst of flavor packed tightly in a dense spongy mass. This one in particular must be made weeks before the 25th, with the time used to cure and lock in flavor.

Christmas pudding, a Victorian dish, consists of dried fruit, candied peel, spices, dark sugar and black treacle — a type of syrup common in British baking. It's also doused in a healthy dose of spirits, like brandy or rum. Though it sounds similar to American fruit cake, the British counterpart isn't as strongly ridiculed and carries more weight, both literally and figuratively speaking.

According to Andrea Broomfield's book, "Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History," Christmas pudding was an edible representation of all things holy, said to be prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles, "and that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction."

It was at one point even banned by the Puritans in the 1660s for being too rich.

I'm spending the holidays in London this year, where Christmas pudding, stuffings, soup and brandy butter are just days away. Whenever I'm here, I revel in the food the city has to offer while wondering why so many people grimace when I mention just how delicious British food really is. We Americans love "Downton Abbey," Colin Firth and have been enamored with British music since the '60s. But we're apathetic and downright grossed out when it comes to food from the land of double-decker buses and politeness.

According to "Why British Food Was So Bad For So Long," an NPR article published earlier this year, it's with good reason. British culinary art took a nose dive during World War I and completely unraveled when many marched off to participate in battle.

As the article put it: "Without the skilled labor required to make them, complex, time-consuming dishes dropped off the menu."

It seems that reputation has been awfully hard to shake throughout the years, though it is changing. If you're looking to understand just how colorful and rich British food can be, and how interesting its history is, make sure to seek out "The Great British Bakeoff," an hour-long program that rivals any show currently on the Food Network.

It will only take one episode for even the most novice baker to attempt such delights as Battenberg cake or Victoria Sponge.

In the meantime, I'll save a slice of decadent Christmas pudding and a cup of tea for you. Enjoy the holidays.

Journalist LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a regular contributor to Times Community News, North. Her work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at

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