Traveling always gives me ideas and myths to break. Today I am going to break the British Bad Food myth.
I went back on an exploration to my second favourite country in Europe, the UK, my home for few years. A trip down memory lane, basically, and as such an important culinary destination as well.
We all know that the United Kingdom is rightfully recognised for many contributions throughout history (did you know, for example, that printed press was invented in England in the 1534?) and for some obscure reason food has never been one of them. I remember friends complaining about the excessive amount of meat and specifically lamb in most menus, or the plain taste of fish and chips spots all around London. Often the subject of ridicule, even the locals sometimes seem to not appreciate their cuisine.
I’ve heard similar opinions on Canadian food and even the US, and while I might actually agree there, I prefer to stop and focus on the UK first.
I started thinking of what the reasons could be. Is it because Britain’s cuisine scene is saturated with a myriad cultures settling in and highlighting their flavours? Maybe because the most iconic dishes don’t have an understandable name that give an idea to an outsider or seem unfussy? Take the Yorkshire Pudding, Shepherd’s Pie. And my new favourite, the Guinness Pie. Unless you enquire about the recipe, you can’t know what they’re made of. The pressing presence of international cuisines does not mean that British simple sauces dishes should be overlooked, let alone mocked.
Why do people believe food in the UK is bad?
After done some research and asking around, the answer is: History, of course.
England’s monarchs were all different in tastes and dislikes. Kings. Often Queens. Britain saw an enormous change and addition to its fashion style and culinary creativity in the 16th century given the alliances built with European powers and eagerness to explore. In England this is particularly true and documented in many letters found at the hand of reform seekers. French sauces and the growing saffron in England became an inspiration.
Then we come to the Victorian age. While famous for bringing all sort of innovations and entertainment in the country, the Victorian age somehow threw a disapproving eye on exciting food especially if inspired from abroad. The traditional English Breakfast is in fact a Victorian invention mostly prepared and served in the upper and upper-middle classes, such as bankers.
Then the WW II came. Food rationing persisted for many years after the war’s end, giving the Brits an almost permanent greasy-pastry menu of dishes. Under the rationing period, many ingredients were unavailable and so substitutes of inferior quality and canned food took over and became wildly used.
The 1990s saw the emergence of reinventing things. Many chefs looked around and revitalised old recipes with new ingredients in an effort to bring in some culinary excitement and leave behind the old plain days. Plus low cost airlines made it easy for British people to eat better quality dishes and realised they could demand better quality from their home-country kitchens. More on the cuisine reinvention is found here.
I think that was the right move. The New British food, if prepared with the adequate ingredients and passion, is actually quite amazing.