Fast food. The term alone is riddled with unfavourable connotations – obesity, salt, fat, sugar, E numbers, processed nasties, ‘heart attack in a bun’ yadda yadda yadda. Admittedly, while I, myself, am neither a fan of the type of fast food that you find at the Golden Arches, nor do I have Colonel Sanders on speed dial, I can’t help but feel that the above perceptions of fast food undermine the positive side of being able to eat and purchase food before you can say “supersize me” (actually, please don’t. Unless you are offering me cake, that is).
However, before the health police come and arrest me for my whopper (queen of puns? Moi?) of an admission that there is a good side to fast food, I ought to set the record straight. While I am not advocating ignoring the prolific and unfortunately very real health risks of what society perceives to be ‘typical’ fast food (anyone see that news story about the man who had a heart attack while munching on the “Triple Bypass” burger at the aptly named “Heart Attack Grill” in Las Vegas? ‘Nuff said), this blog is not going to be a rant about the inherent irony of the latter, nor is it going to be a forum for debate on fizzy drinks so large they keep dentists in thrice yearly cruises. This post, my friends, is hopefully going to portray the positive side of fast food in Britain. A side that is positively blooming, yet does not get the attention I feel it deserves (perhaps because keeling over while eating one’s falafel is not outrageous enough to merit column inches, unlike the side effects of burgers named after open heart surgery procedures). Hopefully, therefore, my words will portray the type of fast food that not only feeds hungry bellies quickly, but nourishes them too with a diverse array of fresh, inspiring ingredients. Because, ladies and gentleman, in Britain, there is a fast food revolution happening. And I’m not talking about finger lickin’ good chicken.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable boom in fast food businesses which positively ooze quality and which have subsequently become stark rivals to those places dependent on spitting vats of oil. Local delis and sandwich shops, for example, draw in the suited and booted lunchtime crowds who happily spend a few minutes discussing sandwich fillings and who leave, a few minutes later, with their chosen delight between doorstop slices of bread; an almost instantaneous foodie ‘gift’ that is unwrapped minutes after purchase. As well as gourmet sandwiches, international destinations can be ‘visited’ in an instant at street markets where hungry visitors inhale the paprika scented fug emanating from strikingly colourful paella pans, mingling with the aroma of nearby meaty bratwurst topped with caramelized onions. On cold days, some may choose to indulge in street market tartiflette, ooo-ing and aahh-ing over the classic combination of warming potatoes, salty bacon and delectable Reblochon cheese enveloped in man’s very own liquid hug – double cream – while revelling in the satisfying, quick transaction of payment to palate in a matter of minutes. Meanwhile, greasy burger vans are becoming increasingly overshadowed by trendy ‘Street Kitchens’ selling fresh, made-on-site portions of honest, soul food which deliver a burst of flavour in an instant, whether one chooses a steak sandwich with lashings of hot mustard or perhaps a fresh pitta, bursting at the seams with falafel, rocket and grilled halloumi, made and handed over (and, in my case, eaten) in less time than it takes to say that old fast food adage “I’ll have fries with that”. No longer the exclusive domain of the deep fat fryer, therefore, more and more fast food is not only fast, but also fresh and utterly fabulous.
Fairly recently, I found myself feeling hungry. Very hungry. Standing in the middle of a stuffy shop with a rather uncomfortable boot hanging off my left foot, I decided to ditch the £15 of sore feet in favour of lunch. Shoes or food? No contest. Shoes, you lose. In addition, a hungry belly does not a patient Frances make, hence the quest to find fresh, fast food that would satisfy both my appetite and my palate was born. Mission possible was found here:
Mission Burrito, a small and friendly restaurant situated on Reading’s riverside, looked like the perfect solution to ending my shoe shopping induced hunger. On its website (www.missionburrito.co.uk), Mission Burrito advise you to “perch on a stool and watch the world go by, roll up your sleeves and enjoy some fast food that’s much more than a meal”. So that’s what I did. With the exception of the sleeve rolling. I’m a wimp when the mercury drops below ten degrees. Body temperature issues aside, Mission’s menu is small and beautifully concise. You can’t get a burger there. You can’t get fries. You can’t get a sandwich. You can’t get a bowl of soup. This pleased me immediately. I’m always suspicious of places whose menus are so long they could do with their own table of contents and of restaurants which focus on dubious ‘fusion’ cuisine combinations (I once saw a place in Abu Dhabi which claimed to serve Italian food and sushi. Lordy. Pizzushi anyone?). Thankfully, this is not the case at Mission. Consequently they can focus 100% on what they do well – burritos. Oh, did I mention, you can’t get sushi? Thank god for that. Anyway, I decided to go for the ‘Carnitas’ (slow cooked pork) burrito which I chose to accompany with rice, pinto beans, guacamole, shredded lettuce and salsa (mild – I sampled the medium with a tortilla chip and lost some mascara through chilli tears). The fillings all looked fresh, colourful and remarkably grease free; a perfect homage to the changing face of fast food. As soon as I was handed my very own hot parcel wrapped neatly in foil, excitement induced palpitations ensued. Any guilt about ditching those shoes was extinguished immediately. I mean, who needs Blahniks (or, in my case, the
Primark Primarni equivalent) when you can have burritos?
Thankfully, my slow cooked pork burrito was everything I had hoped for. The pork was beautifully seasoned, the pinto beans and the rice gave the burrito that lovely ‘earthy’ taste that warms even the hardest of souls on cold days, and, so generous was the filling, I didn’t eat anything else until dinnertime. Not even cake. Of course, food like burritos will never win a beauty contest, nor will it ever be the ‘pièce de résistance’ of a romantic meal or a first date. That is, however, unless you have previously bonded over a preference for burritos over shoes (perhaps I should use this line on match.com) or you do not embarrass easily when your date points out a pinto bean in your hair (top marks for honesty, I would rather know about said bean than order my post date coffee with it nestling comfortably in my locks). You see, fast food like the humble burrito is refreshingly honest and does not pretend to be something it’s not. Its joy lies not in its presentation, nor does it masquerade itself as the type of food one would indulge in whilst secretly hoping to avoid awkward weather chat with their alleged ‘match’ sitting opposite them. What it is, however, is fresh, filling and fabulous. No facades needed. Mission accomplished.
So, if you haven’t done so already, make it your mission to find some of Britain’s fresh, inspiring fast food on a street corner near you. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.*
*Even if you do prefer Blahniks to burritos.