There Is No Substitute

26/Sep/2004

When Australians living in Scotland congregate, the conversation will inevitably swing to Is The Food Here Shit Or What!? at some point.

We all know there's actually an abundance of deliciousness, but when you meet your fellow countrymen there's a strange compulsion to get misty-eyed about vegetables that don't come shrink-wrapped from Kenya and checkout chicks that don't ask "What the hell is this?" when you buy some passionfruit. That cost £1.20 each.

Sometime last year Rhiannon, Jane, Rory and I were pining for Mint Slices. They are a true classic of the Arnotts family – a delicious chocolate biscuit with a layer of peppermint cream, elegantly coated in smooth dark chocolate. They marry the adultness of an after dinner mint with the dunkability of a biscuit.

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"Oh yeah," piped up Gareth, the only Scotsman in the room. "That sounds just like a Viscount!"

We shot him doubtful looks, certain that the country that gave the world the deep-fried pizza would be incapable of producing anything near the standard of a Mint Slice. But he bravely faced the panel of Australian critics, bringing a pack to our next gathering.

I was excited, as I was by anything that combined chocolate and mint. You get to scoff the goodness of chocolate and bonus! – your mouth is left minty-fresh like you've just brushed your teeth! It's like the calories never happened!

The Viscounts came individually wrapped in green foil. We turned them over in our hands, slowly unwrapping, regarding them suspiciously. After examining from all angles we all took tentative bites.

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"It's pretty good," I said diplomatically.

"No. Nooo," said Rhiannon, "It's all wrong."

"It's not quite the same," said Rory, "The biscuit isn't chocolate, for starters."

"And the chocolate coating should be dark. This is low-quality milk."

"The mint isn't evenly distributed across the surface of the biscuit."

"It's basically nothing like a Mint Slice at all."

"Oh," said Gareth.

"Well I think they're alright!" I said brightly, and promptly shovelled down three more. One, because I am a big fat guts and two, because I desperately wanted to get into Gareth's pants.

A few months later I was reading Women's Own on my lunchbreak and came across this disturbing article that confirmed the inferiority of the Viscount once and for all. Can you imagine the horror of the daughter of Mrs Engel-Gilmore of Eastleigh, Hampshire when she found a DEAD BEETLE inside her Viscount?

That would surely never happen to a Mint Slice!

This is the first entry in a special series on Scottish Cuisine, the result of eighteen months of exhaustive research and lard consumption. Stay tuned!