If you wanted six pieces of hormone-packed poulet coated in brown gutter sealant, you went to Kentucky Fried Chicken

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Last Tuesday I wrote about restaurants and the huge number of them that go bust every year. So this week I'd like to concentrate instead on a catering success story. There is a type of fastfood outlet that seems to be going from strength to strength, in London at least. This is what might generically be called the southern fried chicken joint. In the beginning, of course, if you really had to have six pieces of shagged-out, hormone- packed factory-farmed poulet coated in brown waterproof gutter sealant, then the only place to go was the Kentucky Fried Chicken shop.

But as Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC and moved out of the high street and withdrew to larger, out-of-town sites, the gap was filled by smaller independent operations. These places, although they generally seem to be run by people from the Indian sub-continent, obviously feel that association with a US state is worth having. First of all they didn't stray north of the Mason-Dixon Line in naming their shops, so you got "Alabama Fried Chicken" and "Mississippi Fried Cricken" - all well and dixie. But they gradually deserted the old Confederacy so now you have your "Idaho Fried Chicken", your "Wyoming Fried Chicken" and even your "District of Columbia Fried Chicken". As far as the owners of these shops are concerned, that place between Mexico and Canada is the United States of Chicken. In fact, so popular have these takeaways become that their proprietors have run out of American states to name their joints after and have now been forced in desperation to turn to the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the nomenclature of their shops. Travelling round London in the past few weeks I've seen Azerbaijan Fried Chicken", "Chechen Fried Chicken" and, because it is a largely chickenless desert state, "Tajikistan Fried Lizard."

I seem to have led a charmed existence in that I've never felt tempted to eat any kind of fried chicken, no matter how drunk I've been. Partly this is because I try to do most of my eating actually in the pub, sort of cut out the middle man, if you know what I mean. It used to be that the range of food in pubs was very limited - crisps, nuts, ham or cheese sandwiches - that was pretty much it. But now the choice is vast - not better, but just vaster. For example, you can have all kinds of salads thoughtfully heated under bright lights, and then there's game pie, so called because it's made out of old Nintendo machines. But I usually opt for the Jumbo sausage, or at least I did until I learnt from a friend that the Jumbo sausage is so called because it's made out of 85 per cent elephant! Apparently, they use mainly African elephants because the sausage manufacturers get more meat off their ears. In fact, because the Jumbo sausage has become so ubiquitous, several large food combines have started factory farming elephants and people are even breeding them in private apartments. If your upstairs neighbours make strange noises late at night and you think to yourself "What are they doing? Have they got an elephant up there?", you might be right.

My American agent has been in town over the past few days, staying in the same central London hotel as Take That during their week of troubles. The hotel has been predictably surrounded by young girls seeking even the tiniest glimpse of their heroes, even though a month from now these same girls will look at you pityingly if you mention Robbie and Jason - they will have moved on to a newer group. This got us to talking about the fickleness of the youth market. My agent told me that the Morphing Power Rangers movie, formerly the obsession of every 10-year-old in the world, had opened really badly in the States and died at the box office. Apparently, the people who'd been hurt most by this collapse were the toy retailers and manufacturers who'd been left with huge stocks of Power Ranger dolls and ancillary equipment. I said to her, "Tell me about it," because I'd had a similar experience. When the British movie The Remains of the Day, based on the Booker prize-winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, was due to open, I'd invested heavily in plastic Anthony Hopkins butler models and Emma Thompson housekeeper dolls which I'd thought would certainly be a wow with the kids. But as it turned out the toy shops couldn't give them away. This really surprised me, as I'd had an enormous success a few years earlier with my My Beautiful Laundrette puppets. It just goes to show you can never rely on the consistency of the public.

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