The Cultural Divide: Brits vs. Americans on Toast

(Wallflower)

How do you like your toast? (Wallflower)

Long before Paul Young had his worldwide smash “Everytime You Go Away” in 1984, he was in a soul rock band called Q-Tips. Despite releasing two albums, they’re best remembered by Brits for their 1978 novelty hit “Toast”, a spoken-word ditty to the delights of the bread snack.

Like their love for novelty pop songs, toast is a very British thing too. That’s not to say that toast isn’t popular in America – far from it – it’s just that many Brits see a piece of toast with butter, jam or another spread (and usually a cup of tea) as a legitimate, 24 hour a day, seven day a week snack or, in a pinch, even a meal. Suitable for all occasions, a piece of toast – or even a round or three – can weather most storms life throws at you.

Arriving in the U.S. though, the idea of toast as a substitute for a meal is something that will often get strange looks. Brits will often let toast go cold too – so the butter doesn’t melt too much – and that would get some odd stares as well. Here, toast is primarily a breakfast element/side, and the choices you face in a diner (wheat, rye, sourdough) are certainly more than the white or brown Brits are generally used to.

Similarly, while a boiled egg is not unusual here in the U.S., just ask for “soldiers”, (a sliced piece of bread or more often toast – it’s less prone to go floppy after being dipped in the yolk) and you’ll again get a strange look or two.

Then there’s French toast, (also known as “eggy bread”), a rich dish soaked in beaten eggs and fried with a sugar, vanilla or cinnamon garnish, then topped with powdered sugar, butter, fruit syrup or anything else the chef desires. It can also be a savory dish, fried with a pinch of salt and served with ketchup or mayo.

Texas Toast sounds like it bleeds red, white and blue, yet it’s actually a thickly-cut bread that’s served as a side with Southern-style dishes like chicken fried steak, catfish and barbeque, and has butter or margarine spread on both sides before being broiled/grilled until light brown. Some U.S. families have straight toast with meals, but everyone on both sides of the pond agrees about cheese on toast – or a “toastie,” as some Brits might know it – while a Welsh rarebit (toast with cheese and other ingredients – mustard or pepper but usually Worcestershire sauce) is popular too, despite some dodgy pronunciations.

If you’re in Florida, you’ll find Cuban toast on the menu. It’s a thin, pressed butter toast that’s often dipped into exotic coffees as part of breakfast, and Italian favorite Bruschetta you’ll find everywhere too. It’s grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, salt and pepper. They’re all delicious for sure, but not exactly the good old toast Brits that are used to – though come to the USA and ask in any store for a toast rack – then you’re really in trouble.

My three best British uses of toast:

With a tin of baked beans on top

(Photo via Serious Eats)

(Photo via Serious Eats)

An all-round meal ideal at all times.

With fish paste or sardines

(Photo via BBC Good Food)

(Photo via BBC Good Food)

An acquired taste, that’s for sure.

With thinly-spread Marmite (unless you’re a masochist for the bitter taste)

(photo via Food.com)

(photo via Food.com)

There’s no U.S. equivalent. Though some love it and others hate it, pity Bovril fans: you can’t even buy that here or bring it in via your luggage.

What’s your favorite use of toast?

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James Bartlett

James Bartlett

James Bartlett writes about travel, film and the weird and wonderful side of living in L.A. He has been published in over 90 magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, Angeleno, Hemispheres, Delta Sky, Westways, Variety and Bizarre. He is also a contributor to BBC radio and RTE in Ireland, and is the author of Gourmet Ghosts - Los Angeles, a "history and mystery" guide to bars and restaurants in L.A. - details can be found at www.gourmetghosts.com.

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