Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
As a self-confessed foodie I love trying all manner of cuisines, however, some of my greatest memories all revolve around classic British grub. It is this love of British food and the feeling of nostalgia towards it that that makes me find it difficult to believe that British food has such an awful reputation with visitors. Maybe this is because British food has a bit of a lost identity due to its rich social and cultural influence, or maybe it is because it simply is not great.
When thinking about what British food it is easier to imagine it as a melting pot of worldwide cuisine. With curry houses and Chinese restaurants popping up on every street corner, and the ongoing British love of Italian food, it is clear to see that traditional British food could easily get lost in this global tapestry. Many traditional dishes are however still integral to the British diet, such as fish and chips, shepherds pie and the good old fashioned Sunday roast.
Historically speaking, the British empire occupied so many countries around the world during its existence that it is unsurprising that our food has been influenced. For example, Britain occupied Hong Kong right up until 1997 so it’s unsurprising that a love of oriental cuisine was brought back to Britain. Another influential factor in British cuisine is immigration. In my local area of South Wales, there is a very prevalent Italian community that dates back to the 19th century, meaning that there is an array of authentic Italian restaurants, cafes, and bistros that all celebrate their heritage.
One of the most popular dishes in Britain is curry. The curry houses of Britain have a very long and vibrant history. Since 1971, 65-75% of Indian restaurants in the UK were owned by Bangladeshi immigrants and today there are more Indian restaurants in Greater London than there are in Delhi and Mumbai combined. Clearly, the foods that we Brits typically enjoy aren’t British at all and we often take their history for granted, so next time you’re sat in Manzils tucking into to your 3am post-jesters student deal, remember that it is in fact steeped in social and cultural history.
Although there are many dishes in Britain that aren’t of British heritage, there are ones that bring back excellent memories of most people’s upbringing. For most of my childhood, my grandparents had caravans along the coast and even now one of my favourite things to do is sit on a beach with fish and chips bought from the local chippy. Now, this memory of fish and chips fuels my excitement of heading down to the Cornish fishing village of Padstow. Another food memory of mine stems from the good old-fashioned Sunday dinner. I’m unsure if it’s because my dad has always cooked the best roast potatoes or that it brings the whole family together, but when I’m at uni I often get a little sad around 3pm on a Sunday knowing that back home there is a slap up feast of Lamb, veg, roasties and gravy being dished up for my whole family to enjoy.
My excitement around the Sunday roast intensifies from about November onwards when I start to get excited for the greatest meal of the year… the Christmas dinner. As well as the traditional roast, I am unsure that I would survive the winter without shepherd’s pie and a big lashing of gravy. It is the ultimate comfort food and it baffles me to think that visitors to Britain are unimpressed. For me shepherd’s pie was my dads go to dish for when I was sad, unwell or stressed and when I moved to university it was the first dish I learned to cook. It may be the humble Shepard’s pie, but it holds a special place in my heart. It is probably obvious to you that these British dishes, however simple they may be, trigger a feeling of nostalgia in me. That is probably down to my dad’s love of cooking, and food, however this love of food that was sparked in me at an early age means that I am now a massive foodie who enjoys home cooked meals and a trip out to a restaurant.
Over recent years the UK food Scene has massively improved, and the country has gone from being ridiculed on the international stage, to being regarded as a culinary hot-spot. This is unsurprising when the UK has churned out top chefs such as Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsey. London also has the 6th highest concentration of Michelin-Starred restaurants in the world. With a wide and diverse cultural influence on the British restaurant scene, there are few cities on the planet that offer good food across the board as well as London. As well as boasting 70 Michelin-starred restaurants, London is home to huge markets offering fresh produce. As for the rest of the UK, Birmingham is the home to Cadburys chocolate, Cornwall offers some of the best seafood, and Wales boasts some of the best lamb you will ever eat. The point is, wherever you go in the UK, you will not be disappointed by the food on offer.
British food does not deserve the bad reputation it often gets by international visitors. Although British food may have a slightly confusing identity, its cultural influences make for a more vibrant, varied and colourful food scene that reflects our social history and celebrates those that have emigrated here. I find it difficult to believe that our food often gets criticised when Britain is the home of the Sunday roast, pie and mash and fish and chips, some of the most nostalgia-fuelling dishes there are. Britain boasts 163 Michelin-starred restaurants and has produced an abundance of famous chefs. Our food is far from bland and boring… it is great.