Thursday, April 14, 2011

UK Flashback: Cider and a Pub Quiz

You know you’re really getting settled into a new place when you start to develop routines: my daily routine involves a walk around the city in the morning, with stops for coffee at the places with the best free treats (see previous post) and in various shops and grocery stores to pick up supplies for dinner (I tend to shop the European way, i.e. small amounts of groceries almost every day rather than one big weekly trip. Grocery shopping is a fun activity to me so I don’t mind doing it often). This is followed by a few hours reading blogs, working on my own, maybe doing a little cleaning, and running in the afternoon. Some routines Todd and I develop together; hopefully one of those was begun this past Tuesday night. Just across the river is an Irish pub called John Mullins that does a quiz night every Tuesday.

I experienced the phenomenon of the pub quiz in London: basically you go with a bunch of your friends, try to fit everyone in at a table and claim as many chairs as you can, order drinks and sometimes food, and then everyone chips in a little cash (usually about a pound; 2.50 euros at John Mullins) and in return receives a blank answer sheet, on which you are encouraged to print a ridiculous team name to identify yourselves. The coordinator (often someone who works at the pub) reads out questions that you answer as a team, usually with several rounds, and the team, sometimes the top two, with the most points at the end wins a prize. In London the grand prize was often the pot of cash contributed by all the players, which, depending on how many people were playing and how many people you had to divide it by on your team, could be a significant amount. At John Mullins the top prize is kind of a rip-off: apparently the winners have to drink an entire bottle of whiskey right then and there (it’s free, but come on, what kind of prize is that? Whiskey’s disgusting.)

Luckily our team (which included a colleague of Todd’s, his girlfriend, and a few of their friends) sucked pretty badly: I think we were 11th out of 20 or so teams. These pub quizzes actually tend to be pretty tough. The questions are all over the board, from pop culture, to music, to current events, to world history. I have been absolutely awful at every pub quiz I've ever participated in, and the John Mullins quiz was no exception,* making it a nice trip down memory lane for me, as I miss living in London ALOT. 

*Though one of the rounds this time was a card with a bunch of pictures of fruit we had to identify, and I got more than half of them, thank you very much! Including gooseberries, which I was especially proud of as they're a somewhat unusual fruit, at least in the States.

All in all a good time was had by all and I am looking forward to the next one, though if you go be prepared to be there a while: there were eight rounds, the questions were read in both English and Dutch, and there were long pauses between rounds, so the whole thing took a LOOOOONG time, like three hours. Todd and I ordered dinner, the only ones on our team to do so as everyone else had already eaten and just ordered drinks. That turned out to be smart, as the food, though pretty good, was also a bit pricey, as is true in almost every eatery in Maastricht except for fast food takeaway type places. Todd had fish and chips (he’s pescatarian) which was well cooked, and I went with a tapas platter that had a nice, though somewhat incongruous variety of British/Italian small bites: two kinds of pate, tomato tapenade, porter cheese & onion chutney, herb butter & “plum-nut bread” (walnuts and figs, actually, I believe), and cherry tomatoes, mozzarella & olives w/ balsamic. Todd’s dish also came with some absolutely wonderful brown bread. So yeah, a lot of food, and tasty, but too expensive to get every week, and we intend to return that often if possible.

I do hope we never win, though, because I absolutely refuse to drink any whiskey at all, much less help polish off a whole bottle. I am not a fan of alcohol generally. Not that I’m a teetotaler or anything, but I was always the abstainer (and therefore invaluable designated driver) at parties in college. The British are a bunch of raging alcoholics (sorry, but it’s true) and I witness the consumption of enormous amounts of beer during my stays in London, but as I was on a tight budget and really don’t like most beers, I usually abstained.

I do, however, enjoy hard cider, which I was turned onto in London by my good friend Kate, my roommate throughout my years at Binghamton was also studying abroad the same time as me (though through a different program). They don’t seem to have apple cider the way we think of it in the States, as in the opaque brownish liquid often served spiced and heated during the wintertime. They have apple juice, but that’s clearly not the same thing; in the UK and Europe, if you ask for cider, you’re going to get a sweet, alcoholic, slightly carbonated beverage. It’s not apple cider the way we American may know it, but it’s still a mighty fine drink. You can find it in the States, though it’s not nearly as popular (I know supermarkets sell Strongbow brand, specifically, though there may be others available too). It also comes in a pear variety which tends to be pricier but is worth the occasional splurge, in my opinion.

Hard cider is pretty common here in the Netherlands too, and I had a half pint at John Mullins, which was nice because often here it only comes in bottles, not on tap. I am a fan of sweet, fruity things that disguise the strong taste of alcohol (I tend to prefer white wine/rose over red for this reason), so I will always go for cider over beer (though I have been tasting Todd’s when he orders them and I don’t mind some of the lighter ones. Who knows, maybe beer’s growing on me, though I’m sorry to any fans, but Guinness, which Todd had at the pub, is still disgusting to me.) I am, however, a big fan of fruit beers, not surprising since they taste less like beer and more like fruit punch. I first had one at a pub in London, also introduced to me by Kate, called Fruli, which is a strawberry-flavored beer from Belgium that they had on tap*. I think it’s delicious, though my dad scoffs at me for drinking it and refused to even try it when I took my family to that pub last year.

I have yet to see strawberry beer in Maastricht, but there is a cherry-flavored beer called Kriek that is quite popular and very tasty, and also very pretty as it is a deep red, almost like red wine. Many bars also sell Framboise, a raspberry beer I have yet to try. This one is next on my list, since I loooove raspberries, and I’ll report back as soon as I do.

*This was my favorite pub in London. I forget what it was called, but it was on a corner near the Brunswick Center, about halfway between my flat and UCL where I took classes. It had good atmosphere and great food (a big deal for a British pub, sorry to say), including an awesome spinach and lentil veggie burger and fries (chips in British-speak) Of course the strawberry beer spoke in its favor, this was the only place in the city I knew of that served it, and they were also the only place I came across that had pear cider on tap rather than just in bottles.

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