When Findus Crispy Pancakes were basically haute cuisine

Before the Troubles began to wind down, our diets certainly did not include avocados, cappuccinos, oregano, fennel or mangoes. JOANNE SAVAGE remembers Ulster’s past gastro deprivation

Saturday, 18th September 2021, 3:38 pm
The Findus Crispy Pancake - once a delicacy in deprived pre-GFA households like my own

Growing up in 80s and 90s Belfast, I can’t have been the only one who had never heard of an avocado, an aubergine, an artichoke or fennel (was the importation of such produce somehow debarred by the Troubles?) to be instead raised on a mélange of highly processed food stuffs from Spam to Smash, supermarket frozen pizzas, Heinz baked beans or spaghetti hoops or tinned spag bol served up on hugely calorific and nutrition-low white pan bread, Fingus fish fingers, vegetable roll, processed hamburgers, McCain micro chips, creamy dams, Belfast baps, corn snacks, Pot Noodles, sausage rolls probably made of pig’s trotters and, if you remember, the culinary crime that was the Findus Crispy Pancake (discontinued circa 2001) filled alternately with a mush that claimed to be cheddar cheese, chicken and bacon, or, my favoured chicken and sweetcorn, mostly probably made from monosodium glutamate with other dodgy additives and synthetic flavours added to the piping hot mess contained therein? I still remember the furore that surrounded the opening of a local ice cream parlour around about 1992 that served a frothy drink I had never heard of: namely, a cappuccino. A cappuccino instead of Nescafe instant coffee? Had the continent finally come to the six counties? I remember queuing to buy one as if it was the apogee of sophisticated cafe culture, an incongruous delight.

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These days we take triple macchiatos, afogatos and gingerbread lattes as a matter of course, but there was a time, a simpler time, a much more gastronomically deprived time, not so very, very long ago when such caffeinated delicacies were simply not attainable here.

Almost certainly I had not heard of ‘oregano’ or indeed the existence of any other herb or spice excepting salt and white pepper until about 1994, plus while we now take smashed avocado on sourdough with poached eggs and sriracha sauce as an obvious brunch in upmarket eateries, I swear I only encountered an avocado about ten years ago, and never once saw a mango, a passion fruit, a lychee, a butternut squash or a shiitake mushroom before then also. Has anyone calculated the extent of the culinary mediocrity Ulster was condemned to before the Troubles ended?