Annoying habits of Londoners #10: Being unable to order pub food unless it's a burger
By Mike Pollitt
18 September 2012, 16:07
Burgers have long been a popular option for the hungry pub-goer, and with good reason. They arrive fast, are predictable in nature, and can easily be rescued from disaster by the application of reassuringly familiar condiments. They are a worthy, perhaps even a necessary, part of any pub-diners portfolio.
But for many Londoners, especially the hip young trendsters of the Eastern fringe, the burger is no longer an occasional choice. It is the only choice. That means it is no choice at all.
Following this trend to its logical conclusion, some pubs in Hackney (where else?) have dispensed with other food entirely. Not for them the fading laminate and unlikely juxtapositions of a traditional pub menu. Instead, The Sebright Arms and the Three Compasses have turned their whole kitchens over to gourmet burger grillers. In these pubs, it’s pretty much burger or nowt. You don’t want to make a choice? Don’t worry, they’re not about to let you.
This burger obsession could easily be dismissed as a craze. That would be to understate both its significance and its staying power.
Crazes begin capriciously and end abruptly. Burger-love, on the contrary, is firmly established and deeply rooted. It’s causes are these:
1. A hungry inner child
The twenty-something generation, exposed in its early years to relentless promotion of fast food burger brands, and in its later years to relentless denigration of the same, is a generation confused. It wants the Happy Meal without the heart disease. The pub burger answers this call. It’s a variation on a Big Mac, but made from organic heritage beef and bearing a £7 price tag. With such a meal, the inner child is both fed and reassured.
2. Rank cowardice
For the casual diner (and what other diner is there now?), a burger on a menu is a beacon of certainty in a shifting world. Popping in to this pub or that to meet this friend or that, adrift in places they only pretend to know, the diner welcomes a burger like a lost-lost friend.
Often, trends are novel only in their timing. The burger fetish is actually deeply conservative. It clings to what it knows. The hip young burger eaters of today are the Tory councillors of tomorrow.
3. A crippling lack of imagination
I know why you do it, because I know why I do it. To order a burger is to decide not to make a decision. It’s an abrogation of thought. I may not be certain that I want a burger, but I know for sure that I don’t not want one. So I’ll have the burger, because the burger is there to be had.
I’m not pointing fingers. We’re all of us to blame. The reliance on burgers to solve the problem of feeling hungry in a pub is a collective failure of imagination on the part of a whole generation. The pubs have responded to this in the the only way they know how: with a collective failure of imagination of their own. This results in burgers, and nothing else. Amongst the diversity of the city, a monoculture thrives. We aren’t eating the burgers. The burgers are eating us.
Image – A burger, by Simon Doggett on Flickr under Creative Commons