20 APRIL 1991, Page 51

Imperative cooking: Oomph in the grey Confederacy Ate'"... e+..,

THERE are two sorts of countries; those where you can eat and drink well easily and those where it is only possible with Oomph. France, the old France, used to be so easy. In any area — with the notable exceptions of Brittany and various Alsacey places which would have been better left to the Boches — almost any restaurant would feed and water you well: the aperitifs were what you wanted, the hors d'oeuvres, fish, meat, vegetables, salad, pudding, cheese, coffee, wine and even the cigars and cigarettes were adequate. America is an Oomph country. Parts are gastronomic deserts. Mrs A. and I were recently in one seaside town which in England would have boasted 40 pubs and in France or Spain 40 cafés. And we could not even find a bar. I mean a proper bar, not a hotel or restaurant anteroom. And a bar not captured by some cultural minority of homosexualists, Irishmen or commercial travellers. You have to work at it.

Eating places abound though there are but few outside 'ethnic' control that Im- perative readers would enter. And once in, your problems are not solved. It is not uncommon for an otherwise excellent menu to end with no decent cheese or for half pints of pale brown water to be served instead of coffee. Many otherwise hearty breakfasts with fried potatoes, eggs, steak and grits are ruined by this dishwater. And all Spectator readers, whether they be smokers or not, must demand cigars with their brandy, if only to disconcert the pressure-group-dominated cowards who refuse to serve them. Someone should tell the land of gentlemen that gentlemen are often known to have a cigar after dinner. Fellow diners too can be unpleasant. Repe- atedly, on the Gulf, my enjoyment of my excellent raw oysters was marred by seeing other customers squirting tomato ketchup over theirs.

It may be a young nation, but its members should have learned by now how to serve and eat good bread with meals and how to make it. Despite apparent variety it is too fluffy, soggy or sweet. Be on your guard too against unasked-for additions. Like most countries which pride them- selves on 'plain and simple' food, America can spring unpleasant surprises. A piece of grouper simply grilled (Now, you are sure it is just plain grilled? Good. That is what I will have with a bottle of olive oil please.') came with five raspberries on top, swim- ming in syrup. Around it were little plastic tubs of melted butter (or polyunsaturated muck), plastic tartare sauce, ketchup, weak chilli sauce, chili sauce mixed with ketchup, coleslaw and two or three others. When added to the bags of sugar, sweeten- er, packettes of butter, sachets of dried milk and face towels and all the other stuff piled in the centre of the table, Mrs A. and I counted a total of 27 items.

Now before General S. storms Doughty Street, let me make the point again: eating is difficult in an Oomph country. It is not impossible. Mrs A. and I ate very well. Make an effort to find the right place. Charleston is a right place, or Savannah (though the restaurants are not as good). New Orleans is not a right place, any more. It is full of the wrong sort of people. In all this I am assuming you want to be in and on the side which was right in, the Civil War. When you get there, make a two- hour search for promising bars and res- taurants: look for plain fish or meat cook- ing, small menus, no frills, all the usual things. Use the fact that restaurants may double as bars to have a drink and look over what the Americans who often eat incorrectly and unpardonably early are eating— is the bread sufferable, how many tubs, packets and sachets are there, any raspberries . . .? Are micro-sweated, aluminium-jacketed potatoes compulsory? Later, make absolutely sure the waiter understands what you do and, more impor- tant don't want.

Then you will eat well — crabs, clams, oysters, shark, tuna, dolphin, first-class if slightly over-tender beef, fresh but rather tasteless salads, some local variations (we had split-pea cakes and grit cakes in Charleston). And it's cheap; those oysters are £3 for 13. Take your own cheese (Grana keeps well) and munch it on the way from the restaurant to the place which sells Espresso. Your cigar you remem- bered to buy before the shops shut.

This is far better than parts of another country we know where eating is not possible even with effort. So go, have a few days in the holy city of the Confederacy. But don't forget the Grana and Oomph.

Digby Anderson