03 December 2012

A Warm Winter's Jacket

You say 'po-TAY-to' and Brits say... well, they say 'tatties,' mostly.  Depending on the form, they also say 'crisps' for chips, 'chips' for fries, 'mash' for mashed potatoes - unless they are mashed with cabbage and other leftover vegetables, in which case they're 'bubble and squeak.'  For the sound they make in the pan?  Then, there are 'jacket potatoes,' the British name for baked potatoes.  And with winter upon us, being able to eat my lunch all wrapped up in a warm jacket has been wonderful.
It all began on our very first day in the United Kingdom, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  We spotted a place called The Sandwich Shop.  Here, in the birthplace of the sandwich, it only seemed natural.  The Sandwich Shop had all our dream fillings - avocado, cheddar, red onion, hummus, all sorts of condiments.  The trouble was, it was so cold out that a sandwich just didn't seem... comforting enough.  That's when I noticed that the optional vessels in which you could have your toppings piled were baguette, wrap, roll and jacket potatoes.  Some fresh, summery fruit and veg nestled inside a warm, mushy jacket, please!  Would I like butter?  Why, yes, I would, thank you!
We were in the University neighborhood the next day and went into a coffee shop.  The homey smell of spuds mixed with the ground beans in the air.  While a young woman ladled out soup and plated scones from behind the counter,  most people had their orders delivered from a staircase in the back.  Jacket potatoes just oozing with curry and cream obscured objects.  Chicken strips? Tuna chunks?  Out the front door, we saw a steady stream of people descend stairs and then come back up with a square styrofoam parcel.  The cafe was above a place called Rotato, in which the jackets were cooked on spits over a fire.  Get it?  ROtating poTATO.  We went down and got ourselves a spicy chickpea jacket with rocket and sour cream (this time, holding the butter) and ate it in the park.
From then on, jacket potatoes were always an option - in cafes, pubs, restaurants.  Menus had a sandwich section, maybe wraps or paninis and a 'jacket potatoes.'  In Scotland, haggis made some appearances as a filling option.  Otherwise, though, the trend began that we would see throughout England and Wales.  Jacket Potato topping choices were almost uniformly tuna mayonnaise (a very honest description of the tuna-to-mayo ratio), coronation chicken (chicken with a yellow curry mayonnaise), coleslaw (cabbage and mayo), prawns marie rose (tiny shrimps mixed with a sauce of ketchup and mayonnaise, 'marie rose') and beans & cheese (baked & cheddar).  Above, the prawn choice.
In Warwick, England we saw a car pulling a cart behind it.  The black cart with gold trimming had a bell affixed to it which rang as it moved down the street.  He set up shop in the town square and put up his specials sign.  It was the Shire Jacket Potato guy and people, including us, lined up to grab our hot street treat.  Chicken curry, Chili and Beans were his hot options for the day.  The potato was removed from his coal oven and split - the steam escaped, stabbing the cold air in thick streaks.  Then, a healthy slice of butter was patted in, Merlin's curried chicken was ladled on.  For my beans and cheese one, he asked if I wanted beans first or cheese.  I said beans for aesthetic reasons, but should have said cheese for melty-goodness reasons.  Those are some stick-to-your-ribs spuds right there.  Beware of burnt tater tongues.

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