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Fergus Henderson on fast food

The difference between fast food and food you can whip up in a jiffy is vast, writes Fergus Henderson.

On a long car journey with the troops getting fractious in the back of the car, I thought, "what the hell, let's throw caution to the wind and get some KFC. All the millions of people who eat it can't be wrong, right? There must be something magical about it!" But trust me, there is nothing faintly magical about this bird. You'd be hard-pressed to say you could taste a happy life for the chicks, and the spongy texture of their flesh defies explanation. So why do millions of people eat this stuff? Just because it's fast? It would seem so - I can't see any other reason. As a result of this problematic matter of food and time, the world is suffering from a huge collective guilt about taking a moment to prepare their meals.

Not to be deterred by the fact that tripe is the one thing that sends fear into people's tummies (which is all wrong - your tummy's fears should be kept for multinational fried chicken), we should celebrate the extraordinary qualities of tripe, its ability to simultaneously soothe you and uplift you as you eat it. Why not take a leaf out of my mum's book? She would go to Bolton market and, for the journey home, she was given a bit of raw tripe to chew - early fast food.

I do sadly acknowledge, even through my tripe-tinted glasses, that raw tripe just won't catch on. There again, in Florence they have little vans from the back of which they sell stewed tripe in crusty white buns, so if it can be called a food truck, then I'm sure it could one day be on-trend and we'll be that one step closer to a Tripe Express chain.

In Borough Market, before it became an overpriced tourist haunt, we set up a temporary kitchen and grilled chitterling buns. For those who don't know what a chitterling is I will explain: it is a pig's lower intestine, which we get cleaned, brined and plated. We served it painted with mustard, grilled on charcoal and popped into a beautiful roll. Behold the chitterling bun, to go!

The traditional London fast food would be the pie and mash with liquor (a very dour sauce made with dried parsley). The pie sports a minimal filling comprising mostly gristle and gravy, and the establishments that specialise in this food have rather splendid interiors: tiled walls and marble tables, and the most lyrical menus: "one pie one mash, two pie one mash, two pie two mash, three pie two mash, three pie three mash..." I think you get the idea. It's certainly to the point, and leaves very little doubt as to what you're getting. For those of you cutting your teeth on your first pie and mash, I would recommend sticking to one pie and one mash; cravings for this can spring upon one at irrational junctures. But, as with many irrational cravings there can be a wee bit of regret to boot.

Good fast food can require advance preparation. Trotter gear and mash is a fine dish of braised pig trotters, the wobbly bits removed then let back into the original cooking juices. Back to the time issue, it may take four hours to cook your trotters and pick the flesh off, but once this is all done and the fridge is stocked you are like a puma ready to pounce.

Travelling to my mum's house in Wiltshire I tend to take a train and, if I'm feeling frail or hungover, I have, on the rare occasion, succumbed to the ersatz delights of a Whopper with cheese. Feeling that the vast facelessness of Paddington Station was safe territory to hypocritically order the Whopper and, having eaten my sin skulking in a corner, I was just licking the incriminating sauce from my fingers when some enthusiast appeared out of the blue saying how much he admired my food. All I could think was that if he'd appeared a minute before I would have been rumbled! A lesson learnt - however desperate you are, never consume anything that rumbles.

Next time I'll be sure to have a tripe bun ready in my jacket pocket - at least until our chitterling stands have colonised every station platform.

Illustration Lara Porter


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