MANILA, Philippines - For many people around the world, the mention of British food conjures up ghastly images of pale, bland meals. Never would one say ‘I am going to have a British take-out.’ Globally you will come across Chinese and Indian take-outs in abundance, but ask for a British one and you will be met with a blank gaze.
So what is it about British food that means that it was never destined to be available and drooled over across the world?
Give a plateful of traditional British food to anyone across the world and, whether they enjoyed it or not, one unanimous bit of feedback would be that it filled them up. In the UK, hot platefuls of stodginess are served up every day to grey Brits trying to escape the drizzly landscape and find some comfort in the dish in front of them.
Stodge, the humble pie of every variety, the steaming pot of stew, bangers and mash, bubble and squeak (yesterday’s leftovers fried until crispy and brown), fish and chips, roast beef, shepherd's pie, toad in the hole (sausages baked in a sea of batter), cakes, scones and vast quantities of biscuits--these make up British food.
|Tea, scones and biscuits
Thousands of families still sit down every Sunday to come together over the most quintessentially British meal, the roast dinner. Mountains of golden roast potatoes, pans of dark thick gravy, at least three different varieties of vegetable, crispy Yorkshire puddings and, of course, the meat--pork, chicken, lamb or beef--will be on the table. The man of the household will suddenly, at some point on a Sunday morning, brandish his treasured carving knife, and start ferociously sharpening it in the kitchen. Woe betides the meat not being cut just right.
The only truly British meal available for take-out in the UK is fish and chips--a huge slab of battered fish with chunky bronzed chips (fries, if you will).
Locals flock to their nearest ‘chippy’ to purchase their deep-fried goods, with the option to load up on battered sausages, battered mars bars…in fact you can take pretty much any food item into the chippy and they gleefully deep-fry it for you. To add moisture to the plate, the food is sluiced in vinegar and drowned in curry sauce (a yellow liquid tasting nothing like curry), ketchup, mushy peas or brown sauce. This meal in the UK is truly take-out as it is very rarely ever actually cooked in the home, but this does not mean that chippies can be seen anywhere else in the world.
With thousands upon thousands of Indian restaurants and take-outs in the UK, Indian cuisine has become inextricably part of the British food landscape. The food has been modified, toned down perhaps, to suit the British palate and many Anglo-Indian meals are considered today to be traditionally British. Nights out in England are frequently followed by a sloppy curry on the street corner and the Indian take-out has become a family favorite.
The reality is that in England, foreign food is much more available than British food. The streets are a myriad of American fast-food joints, Indian and Chinese take-outs and pizza and pasta restaurants. In fact, to locate traditional British food in England you need to either have a home-cooked meal or find one of the dwindling supply of classic British pubs.
This is why, in the half year I have been away from England, the closest I have come to food reminding me of home occurred in an Indian restaurant.
This is also why visitors to England may leave without having ever had the opportunity of eating a traditional British dish.
So truly, with Brits themselves eating foreign food more frequently than our own, it comes as no surprise that the hearty, filling meals have not, and probably never will, make the journey overseas.
Photo from Makati Shangri-La Hotel