Well, this cook has worked and lived on five continents, sampled all the food, tried to evolve my palate, and tried (with limited success) to incorporate international cuisine into my repertoire, but I have to tell you, I return most of the time to the old British classics, which I suspect I learned from my mum and my grandmothers.
There are some English favorites that I have never been able to get too excited about, like steak and kidney pie, or anything with suet and sweetmeats really, fruit cakes and most British puddings, and I really can’t get on board with anything that has thick lines of fat running through it, but other than that, I think the menus that come out of a British kitchen are exciting and delicious. They may not be as refined as the French (which by the way serves a lot of peasant food, so what do they have to get so sniffy about?) or as individual ingredient focused as Italian or Spanish food (who doesn’t love a good antipasti or tapas?). But English food is often cooked the way I love, long and slow, to get the best taste and texture out of the ingredients, which traditionally would have been cheap and often old or stale.
Those in the know will realise that shepherds pie was made with the leftover meat and veg from a Sunday roast and turned into a great mid week supper for the family. Or toad in the hole would pad out a sausages meal when there weren’t potatoes to be found. And any Irish or British stew will be a way to use up cheap bits of meat and get the best flavour and texture out of them. Cooking anything for 5 hours tends to make it melt in the mouth! And some may wonder why the Brits have a roast dinner every Sunday. Well, we would put the meat, potatoes and veg in the oven and then go off to church. By the time we got back, it would be ready to eat.
And I have always found that traditional British food is intended to be served up piping hot, so hot it would burn the tongue, because the person eating it would be freezing cold and need that delicious heat with a cup of tea to stave off the British winters.
And I think people tend to laugh at British cuisine because it consists of meat and two veg and there will always be potatoes on the plate. Well that’s what we grow in Britain. Our meat is some of the best meat in the world (quickly passing over some rather nasty foot and mouth and BSE episodes…) and potatoes, root vegetables and salad grow wonderfully on our excellent little island with its excellent microclimate. I don’t often hear the Asians mocked for eating nothing but rice. I frequently hear the Americans mocked for their huge portions and their use of fries. Britain and America have produced some of the best chefs in the world and I bet that each of the British chefs grew up eating shepherds pie and bangers and mash, and that the American chefs grew up eating macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
We have a cuisine to be proud of. Our high streets are littered with restaurants and yes, many of these are chains, but what it demonstrates is that food is a national obsession for Britain, and unlike other countries that turn their noses up at international cuisines, our British ancestors travelled the entire world, and traded the ingredients worldwide and brought back to our shores a passion for trying new things that in my humble opinion, is unmockable…
Each high street will have an italian, an indian, a chinese, a British cafe, and depending where you are, you might find an iranian, a turkish, a greek, and I’m not sure if they are still there, but the Brits love a kebab shop. Amusingly, if you go to one of the British lager lout holiday spots like one of the Canary Islands or a Greek Island, there will be chalkboards everywhere, advertising the “All Day Full English Breakfast”. What those people haven’t quite registered, is that us Brits eat non-British more often than we eat British, and we bloody well love it…