Monday, February 05, 2007

Expat Biscuit Dilemma

Most people when they go to the supermarket simply buy things and go home again. Not so my dad, who is the sort of person to whom Things Happen.

(While I go to the Spar in St Chinian most weeks to buy cat food and milk, Dad goes to the Spar in St Chinian once and ends up in court as a witness to an episode of Britons Drunkenly Failing To Integrate.)

Dad's trip to Intermarché in Bédarieux the other day was no exception. A casual mention to the checkout girl that it would be nice if they stocked tins of Ambrosia Creamed Rice led to his being whisked upstairs for a meeting with The Buyer, an enthusiastic individual with commendable aspirations to retail excellence.

The Buyer was excited to have captured a real live Brit, and pressed my dad into spilling the culinary secrets of his homeland. Did the British really want to buy Mars drinks, blueberry muffin mix and cans of Dr Pepper, as his supplier would have him believe? The amount of sugary muck that the store was having to throw away had led him to suspect otherwise.

Eventually, my dad agreed to take away the supplier's catalogue and return with a list of grade A, sure-fire exemplars of British cuisine that could not possibly fail to fly off the shelves.

Which is how Nibus, the lovely L, my dad, the stunning J and I found ourselves last night hunched over the supplier catalogue engaged in heated debate about the relative merits and saleability of a cavalcade of tinned and processed goods.

No category of foodstuff emerged as being more contentious than that of the chocolate biscuit. The room was divided over whether the milk chocolate Digestive or the milk chocolate Hobnob was the surer path to expat retail nirvana. Eloquent, passionate, statistical and probabilistic arguments were presented for each. At one point I attempted to clear the impasse by texting Britain's foremost snack food expert for a second opinion, but no reply was forthcoming.

With The Biscuit Question still unresolved, we eventually produced a list of five products so loaded with nostalgia, Sehnsucht, primordial cultural resonances and E numbers that no expatriate Briton could possibly resist their allure.

A commemorative case of Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup ('Out of the eater came forth meat, out of the strong came forth sweetness') to anyone who can guess all five correctly.

40 comments:

100 Words said...

Friends who live in foreign climes only let me visit on the condition I bring them a crate of HP Sauce.

'No brown stuff,' they say generously, 'no bed'.

Loganoc said...

Jaffa cakes and PG tips spring to mind... and Marmite of course.

Smat said...

Earl Grey teabags, Marmite, Heinz tomato ketchup, chocolate Hobnobs, baked beans.
Has to be Hobnobs btw from a retailers POV - bigger mark-up.

Rich said...

Marmite, branston, PG tips, chocolate Hobnobs and HP.

They must think all British food is brown.

patroclus said...

100 Words - nul points, I'm afraid. (Welcome, though).

Loganoc - a sterling two out of five!

Smat - also a sterling two out of five!

Rich - a mighty three out of five!

Also: blimey, Blogger has gone all French on me.

Mangonel said...

Marmite, PG Tips, Hobnobs, Heinz Beanz, Nope, that doesn't work.

Marmite. PG Tips. I'm betting no Jaffa cakes because you won't have two type of chocolate biscuit. So that makes it the Hobnobs.

Fish Fingers and Ryvita.

KONICHIWA 100 Words! Settling in nicely I see!

patroclus said...

Three out of five, Mango! The biscuit question was unresolved, so there are no biscuits on the list.

The French do their own very palatable version of the Jaffa Cake, called Pim's (reasoning behind ostensibly superfluous apostrophe unknown), so no need to import British ones.

entropy said...

Marmite, PG Tips, tomato ketchup, Branston Pickle and ... Heinz Salad Cream?

realdoc said...

Let's see marmite, branston pickle, worcestershire sauce, PG tips and heinz tomato sauce. Or is that too many condiments, but then being British it's all about condiments isn't it....to take a way the taste of the food.

Tim Footman said...

I like tempting Thai people with Marmite, and then watching the look of horror on their faces.

And these are the people who claim to enjoy durian.

(Plain chocolate digestives are the best, btw.)

Cleavers said...

Hmmm.....

Heinz Baked Beans (because they are just not the same if not from Blighty)
Branston Pickle - can't have a cheese sarnie without it
PG Tips - North Americans just cannot do tea properly
HP Sauce - not a personal favourite of mine, but fellow expats certainly love it
My personal fifth would be either UK Cadbury's chocolate or Walkers Crisps but I reckon Marmite is probably a good bet - although hate the stuff myself.

BiB said...

Oh gosh, I'm trying to work out the maths and to know if it's mathematically and logarithmically knowable that Marmite, PG Tips and Baked Beans are definitely on the list. I'm guessing they are. Can I add crumpets and English sausages? The sossies only because I know an Englishman who's been in France since childhood and he still gushes to French people whenever any English person slaps a pack of bangers on his sideboard, and I don't mean posh ones called Cumberland or with extra sage or anything. Just your regular gristly ones. Do I get cinq?

Liz said...

Bird's custard, Heinz beans, Marmite, Jaffa cakes and Branston pickle.

With that lot, you could create a really revolting trifle-alike.

entropy said...

*has another go at logic puzzle of previous answers*

Marmite, PG Tips, Branston pickle, Baked beans are 4 of the 5, I think. Cadbury's Dairy Milk sounds a much better bet than salad cream, come to think of it.

Have to say, I'd rather have a French butter biscuit than a Hob Nob.

patroclus said...

Woo, go entropy! You have four out of five A* products - the last remaining one belongs in the chiller cabinet...

Sausages, HP Sauce, Birds' Custard Powder and Cadbury's Dairy Milk are all on the 'A' list (as opposed to A* list - and there are B, C and D and 'Seasonal' lists too...), so due props (a word I learned off Chaucer's Bitch) to anyone who said those.

Mm, what a fine national cuisine we Brits have...

Liz said...

Proper bacon? I was nearly driven to jump off something by the impossibility of finding bacon when we used to live in France. Cheddar cheese was also hard to find. (This is *really* bothering me now.)

Chaucer's Bitch said...

Blackcurrant squash? I think it's revolting, but it's the only beverage I've seen here sold in gallon containers. I can't even get milk in that quantity!

Chaucer's Bitch said...

ooh, or is it Potnoodles???

patroclus said...

Yay Liz - cheddar cheese is the final mystery item!

Mmm, baked beans on toast with a thin layer of Marmite underneath, and grated cheddar and Branston pickle on top...mmm...

Spinsterella said...

I came up with the following before reading the comments.

Pacers
Pink Wafer Biscuits
Wagon Wheels
Angel Delight
Tunnocks Teacakes

(You confused me with talk of buscuits and e-numbers and nostalgia.)

And DARK chocolate hob-nobs are the best.

leonie said...

when you went away, did you take a piece of meat with you?

patroclus said...

Bloody hell Spin, are you doing viral marketing for Life on Mars series 2?

Leonie: no, but you could see my bra strap shining in the sun.

patroclus said...

Also: just noticed that Cleavers got four out of five too (hurrah!) - you can trust an expat to know about these things.

Also BiB - good call on the crumpets. Mmm. Sadly the supplier doesn't run to crumpetry, though.

Sylvia said...

whyever not,P? Otherwise what's the use of having bra straps shining in the sun....... I'd watch out if I were you..... he's running amok in someone else's blog......

cello said...

What about oatmeal? You can't make porridge with rolled oats in my opinion. I appreciate I am living dangerously here given your combined roots. Or Weetabix maybe? And what about proper marmalade like Tiptree Tawny - or Frank Cooper's Oxford at a pinch. I am feeling very breakfasty this evening.

Tim Footman said...

Here in Bangkok, you can get Heinz spaghetti (when Small Boo is poorly, she requires HS on toast with a poached egg on top) but it's Australian Heinz spaghetti, and the sauce has cheese in it, which is wrong.

And Ambrosia rice pudding costs three quid a can.

llewtrah said...

Hob Nobs are better than Choccy Digestives!!

Top 5 Brit foods - Mothers Pride style sliced white bread, baked beans, ketchup, bourbon biscuits, salad cream.

The sliced white loaf and baked beans were apparently the biggest Brit-grub sellers in the French M&S store a few years ago (according to one of those quirky items at the tail end of the news).

patroclus said...

Ooh, Heinz spaghetti, I haven't had that for years! When I'm poorly (which is not often, because I have a constitution of steel) I like to have a bowl of Smash and baked beans, mmm. Smash wasn't on the list though. Can you get it in Bangkok?

Cello - agree on the oats, I have been using Quaker oats for porridge and they are horrid. Glad you mentioned Frank Cooper's Oxford marmalade because an almighty fight broke out over that one as well. I think it went on as a 'B' in the end, on the grounds that Bonne Maman produce a perfectly acceptable alternative.

Weetabix is the kind of thing that people leave Britain to get away from, in my opinion. Ditto Pot Noodle (sorry CB!).

Ooh, this is all great market research.

patroclus said...

Llewtrah: Agree on the Hobnobs. If I knew how to embed a poll, I might do one, because I reckon chocolate Hobnobs would win by a mile.

Sliced white bread is available in abundance here these days (it didn't used to be), although it's usually very sugary.

entropy said...

Sliced white bread is very sugary in China and Japan as well. Marmite covers that up, a bit.

orange anubis said...

63No-one's mentioned piccalilli! Much more exciting than Branston, and a bit of vibrant colour to break up all those other brown products.

Betty said...

There should be a list for really old people who have retired abroad:

Tins of pease pudding.
Bottled Camp coffee.
Tins of corned beef.
Tins of Spam.
Tins of evaporated milk.

patroclus said...

Anubis: I love piccalilli. Coincidentally, nibus and the lovely L sourced a jar of it this very afternoon, from Ecomarché in St Chinian (not to be confused with the Spar). Apparently it was stored in a special sealed section, which is only accessible by uttering the correct password at the stroke of midday on Durian's Day.

Betty: Most of the Brits round here are of a certain age, and would no doubt appreciate all those products. Corned beef definitely made the list.

Tim Footman said...

HOBNOBS WALK LIKE JOHN INMAN AND THEY SMELL OF WEE!

leila said...

Dave Green never replies to my texts anymore either. I think he's got a girlfriend now.

patroclus said...

Ooh, really? Perhaps I should text him and ask, as some sort of potentially self-fulfilling experiment.

Welcome though, Leila. I liked the fashion thing. Sorry about the spelling pedantry, I got carried away there.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

You can get plain chocolate Hobnobs?!? Biscuit nirvana.

It's weird how hung up expats get on food. Including me, of course. I had an indecent amount of fun last year writing a piece for the SA Sunday Times on top brands among Saffers in London... it's all about the nostalgia of course. You go into a South African shop and get overcome with excitement at seeing all this familiar packaging and walk out carrying a few kilos of sweets that you haven't eaten since you were about 12, but that suddenly seem to be absolutely essential to your well-being.

Iced zoo biscuits. Nik Naks (NOT the same as the UK ones at ALL). Eet Sum Mor. Mmmm... yum.

patroclus said...

Scroobious: I feel that I won't ever rest until I know what 'Eet Sum Mor' is. It sounds almost threatening.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Shortbread. Just plain shortbread biscuits. I think it's supposed to sound Scottish (there's tartan on the box). They're good, but you know, it is possible to find shortbread in the UK... yet every SA shop stocks Eet Sum Mor, I think it's one of their most popular items. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.

DavetheF said...

Ok, Scroobious, how do you find life without Chocolate Mint Crisp or Mrs Ball's Chutney? Ouma rusks, milk tart ... the English thing I yearn for is not Weetabix but shredded wheat. I once spotted some imported ones, but they cost the earth. Another delight is McVitties dark chocolate digestive biscuits, now available right here.
Oh and Gypsy Creams, Baker's Tennis biscuits ... I am so hungry right now.