British Food: Why It Isn’t As Bad As You Think (Matador)

Photo by avlxyz

It’s easy to assume that we Brits don’t care about food. While our neighbours the French enjoy long leisurely lunches and fine wines in elegant restaurants, we eat our main meal at the bus stop, drink our own body weight in warm lager and then cradle a kebab on the way home like it’s our only friend. We consider chips and curry sauce a square meal and we do unspeakable things to peas.

But many of us love food, really we do. In fact, Britain is a haven for foodies if you know where to look. Thanks to immigration, our lack of culinary snobbishness and our willingness to try anything once, you can find anything you want in the supermarkets on this rainy isle. Even better, unlike Rome or Madrid, you can literally eat your way around the world in London.

However, if you’re keen to sample more traditional British fare, here’s what to look for:

1. Fish & Chips

Saying you’ve had British food after trying fish and chips in Leicester Square is like claiming you know all about Italian Cuisine after eating in Pizza Hut. Instead, do it properly at The Fish Club  in Clapham Junction where you can get Red Mullet and Sweet Potato chips to go with your mushy peas. Otherwise, head to the coast and look for any traditional ‘chippie’ where the queue snakes out of the door.

2. Bangers & mash

Nobody does comfort food better than us. On a miserable cold day with a hangover to mop up, sausages, mashed potatoes and gravy are just the ticket. In London, The S&M Café  in Islington is the place. Film buffs may recognise it as the café used in the Mod classic Quadrophenia.

 3. Chicken Tikka Massala & Basmati Rice

 No-one in Indian has ever heard of our number 1 favourite dish. Lovingly made just for us, the chicken is marinated in yoghurt and spices before being cooked in a creamy tomato sauce and sprinkled with fresh coriander. Most British expats would sell their own families to get hold of one of these bad boys.

Check out The Good Curry Restaurant Guide to discover the best Indian English joints.

 4. Traditional English breakfast

If you’re planning on pounding the streets all day, this is for you. The breakfast of champions and fat workmen, fried eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, bread and tomatoes are followed by toast and tea. Finish it and you’ll never need to eat again. Ever.

5.Ploughman’s Lunch

Britain and Ireland produce some of the best cheeses in the world and that’s a fact ladies and gentlemen.  Look out for strong mature Cheddar, crumbly Wensleydale with Cranberry or blue Stilton. Order a pint of real ale and a ploughman’s lunch (cheese, bread and pickles) at the Mark Addy in Manchester and you’ve got the real deal.

 6. Scottish Salmon, Jersey potatoes and Norfolk crab

You’ll forgive the Scots for their deep-fried Mars Bars when you taste their salmon. Best served with new potatoes and a salad, Scottish trout is pretty damn fine too. For succulent crab, head to Norfolk on the East Coast of England.

7. Beer & Pub Grub

If you want to learn about England, go to the pub. Get a drink down a cold stuffy Englishman and before your very eyes he’ll turn into a loquacious comedian. Buy him a couple more and he’ll dance on your table with his underwear on his head.

 Besides the in-house entertainment, the pub is the place to sample Britain’s one true passion; beer. Traditional hand-pulled English bitter is darker than lager and an acquired taste. If you like it, let The Good Pub Guide or Camra’s Good Beer Guide show you the way.

 To soak up some of the alcohol, rich meaty casseroles like Beef Wellington or Lancashire Hotpot are just the thing.

8.Sunday Lunch

It takes some preparing but by God it’s good. Whether you plump for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (small rounds of thick pancake batter which are baked and smothered with gravy), lamb with mint sauce, pork with apple or chicken with sage and onion stuffing, this is a feast made for sharing. Crack open a bottle of wine and then sleep it off in front of the TV. If you really can’t make your own, The Albion  in London’s Islington have won awards for theirs.

9. Pudding Heaven

Sweet-toothed travellers need to come to Britain. Frankly we rock when it comes to pudding. Rhubarb crumble with Cornish vanilla ice-cream, the meringue shaped heart attack that is Eton Mess, treacle tart, the delightfully named Spotted Dick, they are all utterly delicious and unashamedly designed to make you fat. If you’re in the North, make a pilgrimage to Bakewell in the Peak District for great trekking and the hands-down mother of all desserts,  Bakewell Tart. In London, stuff your face in style at The Brew House in the grounds of a stately home.

Read it on Matador here



Filed under britain, Features, Food

4 responses to “British Food: Why It Isn’t As Bad As You Think (Matador)

  1. I would kill for bangers n’ mash right now…

  2. Pingback: Barcelona blog: Benvinguts! « Natasha Young

  3. I agree that there are some amazing traditional recipes in the UK and that there certainly is some sort of food culture in Britain nowadays and that things are improving slowly in some ways BUT the problem is that no-one knows how to cook anymore and we are incredibly overdependent on bad quality snack food and ready meals. Knowing about and caring about food and actually cooking meals from scratch has become intertwined with class issues and is (absurdly) almost perceived as snobbery.

    I recently read a really excellent book on this topic- “Bad Food Britain: How A Nation Ruined Its Appetite” by Joanna Blythman.

    Here is an extract from the book:

    “Nation of foodies! Food revolution! Who are we kidding? British eating habits are getting worse, not better.

    In reality, Britain is second only to the United States in the bad food stakes. Of course, this flies in the face of the perceived wisdom that we are in a ‘You’ve never had it so good’ phase of British gastronomy, the throes of a dynamic food renaissance.

    After all, isn’t London’s restaurant scene the envy of the rest of the planet? What about all the farmers’ markets, regional food festivals, and new artisan food products that are popping up left, right and centre? And how about our regiment of celebrity chefs? Isn’t Cool Food Britannia a runaway success? After all those decades of cringing on the world food stage, surely we can now strut our stuff with conviction and show off our new-found gastronomic credentials.

    This is how Britain likes to see itself nowadays, as a fully functioning, participatory food culture. In truth, this vision is a chimera, an unconvincing construction built and talked up by the media, the chattering classes, the food industry and TV chefs on the make.
    It is a delusion that selectively ignores all the gaping discrepancies that don’t fit the story. Discrepancies like our growing incompetence in the domestic kitchen and the endangered status of home cooking surely one of the most telling indicators of a nation’s culinary health.

    The sad truth is that the more media space food and cooking occupy in Britain, the less practical there is in our kitchens. We have become a nation of food voyeurs, hooked on food pornography, where watching other people cooking, or talking about cooking, has become a substitute for doing it yourself.

    In 2001, the most recent year for which figures are available, the average British household actually cooked from scratch that is, prepared a meal from mainly raw ingredients just 3.36 times a week. For the rest of our meals, we simply shuffle together convenience foods then plonk down to eat them on the sofa while watching Jamie, Gordon and Nigella on the box.
    The statistics are staggering. Our demand for ready meals grew by 70 per cent between 1994 and 2004, and we now eat more than £900 million worth of them every year. None of our international neighbours eats like this.

    By the end of 2003, we already had the distinction of eating 49 per cent of all the ready meals consumed in Europe. The way things are going, we’ll eat more than half by 2007.”


  4. youngnatasha

    Sadly it seems the Mark Addy in Manchester is no longer a haven for cheese fans. If anyone knows a place that is, please feel free to add it here!

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