In the United States, toast is mostly an afterthought. A crunchy bit of something, but certainly never a meal on its own, unless recovering from illness. The British, however, practically worship toast. There are countless articles on how to properly do toast right. It’s Emma Watson’s favorite food.
“It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you,” writes Nigel Slater in his book Toast.
Not only do the British take toast to the next level, they glorify toast to such an exalted level, that toast itself has become the filling in a sandwich. That’s right, a toast sandwich. Two slices of untoasted bread around a piece of toast.
The verb ‘to toast’ in the context of ‘making a toast’ to someone has its origins with actual toasted bread, in Britain. From the 1400s bits of toasted bread were put in wine, sherry, and other drinks to add flavor. This flavor likely was a result of the smokiness from the Maillard Reaction (what makes bacon, chocolate and coffee taste so good, too). People usually didn’t eat the bread after removing it from the drink, however, but eventually the simple snack evolved into a much-loved British classic.
There is no end to the creativity when it comes to what can acceptably go on toast. Beans on toast is a common dish, but spaghetti on toast, yeast spread on toast, mince on toast (more New Zealand-ish), cheese on toast, mushrooms on toast, prawn toast, anchovies on toast… the list goes on. The closest thing Americans come to competing is avocado toast. Which, to be fair, is a worthy competitor.
One cannot neglect to mention the important role (roll?) that bread selection plays in the perfect toast. Dark breads, seeded breads, are a no-go. A chewy sourdough or white bread seems to be the best.
How to serve? A plate seems the most obvious, but then you risk the dreaded toast sweat – condensation that forms underneath the toast which could lead to sogginess and, therefore, a less than satisfactory toast experience. Often the British will let the toast go cold (in a toast rack) so as to prevent super drippy butter. It is an admittedly difference experience with cold butter on cold toast and melted butter on hot toast. Very mood dependent.
Needless to say, toast as a bright future as a fixture in British cuisine, spreading its toasty passion to former overseas colonies (Singapore’s coconut kaya toast, Australia’s Melba toast, Hong Kong-style French toast).
Any toast restaurants worth traveling to? While most toast is strictly home-based, there are some places in London that specialize in posh toast.
Burnt Toast Brixton (featuring toasters at the table!): 36 Atlantic Road, SW9, @burnttoastcafe
Jam Circus (with all sorts of sourdough toasts): 330-332 Brockley Road, SE4, jamcircus.com
The Modern Pantry (two words – kumquat marmalade): 47-48 St John’s Square, EC1, themodernpantry.co.uk