When I invited some foreign Erasmus buddies round for dinner, I definitely underestimated my offer to cook them some “delicious, real British food”. My optimism quickly faded as the giant bags of fusili and rice in my cupboard reminded me how un-British my usual dinners are.
“You could always do a Sunday Roast?” my housemate suggests.
“On a Wednesday? Madness! And I want to do something more exciting”
The “full English breakfast” is not quite the stodgy, greasy stereotype I want to serve up to my guests either. Surely British food has more to offer than this? Like Toad in the Hole? Or Shepherds Pie? Or Lancashire Hot Pot? … But would these have the ‘wow’ factor to impress my guests?
Surely British food has more to offer than this? Like Toad in the Hole? Or Shepherds Pie? Or Lancashire Hot Pot?
However, I then find dozens of recipes on the BBC Good Food website taking these classics and restoring them to real culinary delights: ‘fluffy’ not heavy pastry, ‘tender’ not chewy meat with chunky seasonal vegetables. The take-away favourite Steak and Kidney Pie is transformed into a delicious, healthy dinner. Plus I never realised how many exciting and unexpected variations there were for roast chicken.
These traditional British classics do then boast a beautiful charm in being good, wholesome, comforting food with a surprising amount of veg sneaked in.
Yet everyday British food is so much more than these traditional classics. Think of your standard pub menu: roast, some kind of pie, cheeseburger, spag bol, pizza, fish and chips, lasagne and a curry. The Indian curry is almost as integral to British culture as the Sunday Roast now. In fact, according to that ever trustworthy oracle Wikipedia, Chicken Tikka Massala was actually invented in Glasgow and is “the most popular dish in British restaurants”.
From this unsurprising discovery I came to the conclusion that there is another kind of beauty in modern British food, the same trait I admire about general British culture: its ability to absorb foreign tastes. It takes interesting dishes from wherever in the world, adds chips, removes anything not available in Tesco, simplifies the name and voilá! – a new cupboard staple.
However, I think I’ll serve up a more traditional dish for my guests. In fear of ending up with Bridget Jones-esque blue soup, I finally admit that Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Best Beef Wellington’ looked way too complicated and return to a lovingly written, easy recipe for roast chicken.
And, to finish, a brilliant British winner for dessert – good old apple crumble. Or Victoria sponge… Or Eton Mess… Well, at least you can’t argue that we British understand our puddings.