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"English" Food [Split from U.K. thread]

I'll try not to turn this into another "comparing" thread - I don't like London either - or New York - and am glad I don't live in either city.

However, it may be helpful to folk trying to respond to your OP, if you were able to expand on what you mean by "English food". The problem is that there isnt really a simple definition (very like asking what's "American food") - for some, it could be the classic dishes of the 19th century (like , say, a Sussex Pond Pudding), for others it might be the awful stuff of my childhood in the 1950s (the food that gave my country the reputation for lousy food which is still trotted out by some foreigners) or it could be some of the more recent additions to our diet (added since we travelled abroad more and/or included tastes from the diversity of our immigrant communities).

I'd hate to think that, by accident, someone steered you off to some "tourist England" place when what you really wanted to eat was potted shrimps, braised pheasant with celery and some aged farmhouse Lancashire cheese (which is what we had at home on Saturday).


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  1. Oh yes, definitely the latter. New English. There is still far too much scary food abound, but that applies everywhere. Chippies and fried chicken shops make me scared... Braised pheasant with celery and age farmhouse Lancashire sounds great...

    5 Replies
    1. re: JFores

      Don't forget the potted shrimps - one of THE delicacies of this country. If you havnt come across it yet, shrimps are very tiny (about 5mm long) - prawns are anything bigger. You need potted shrimp not prawn.

      1. re: Harters

        What is done with them? What do you mean by potted?

        1. re: JFores

          OK. This isnt something I'd make at home as the shop bought ones generally have the edge. Restaurants might, of course, make their own.

          The finest are a north west speciality with the shrimps coming from Morecambe Bay. Shrimps are the same tiny brown ones you also find in the Netherlands.

          There's a simple recipe in Jane Grigson's "English Food" which suggests taking a pint of peeled shrimp (this is why I wouldnt make it at home - I would lose the will to live peeling some many tiny creatures). You put them in a pan with 4 ounces good salted butter, quarter teaspoon powdered mace, a pinch of cayenne and a little bit of nutmeg. The spices need to be there but sit very much in the background. You put them in ramekin (hence potted - as in put in a pot) and when set , then cover with a layer of clarified butter to seal. Eat as a starter with bread (and more butter)

          You're unlikely to find them in a supermarket but a good fishmonger should have them or one of the upmarket foodie stores (usually in the frozen cabinet).

          Here's link with a bit more info - you'll also find the site has good summaries of our regional food. http://www.greatbritishkitchen.co.uk/...

          If you're interested in seeing abit more about our regional foods while you're inLondon, Borough Market might be worth a nosy. I see from their website, they are having periodic "regional events" with stalls from suppliers who don't normally make the trip. I think the north west "event" is sometime next month


          1. re: Harters

            Okay, when you say "set" do you mean congealed? and then it turns into a "bread spread"? I am actually going to try this for my super bowl party. I will have to use bay shrimp. I have good friends from County Essex (Clacton-on-Sea) and they do love their English food.

            1. re: paso_gurl_100

              Set/congealed. I think I prefer to eat "set butter" than "congealed butter" though - just sounds more appetising.

              But, yes, you put the shrimp and clarified butter into the ramekin and allow the butter to cool/harden. Then you pour a thin layer of butter on top to finish it off. What I would then do when I was ready to serve is warm it slightly so you can turn it out onto a plate. That way, the top layer of butter is now at the bottom and folk can see the shrimp. Needs nothing more than some nice bread and a squeeze of lemon. If you ever get bored with potted shrimp, just melt a portion into pasta.

    2. English food to me is Shepherd's or Cottage Pie, Fish Pie, Roast Beef with Yorkshire Puds, Mulligatawny Soup (might be Scottish!), beautifully fried fish (not chip shop fish), Lancashire Hot Pot, amazing cheeses - Stilton, Cheddar, Cheshire, Lancashire, Sage Derby, Wensleydale, etc.

      Don't forget British food these days is curry!

      2 Replies
      1. re: smartie

        I thought Mulligatawny Soup originated in India.

        1. re: danhole

          I think it did but it's become an English dish - just like curry!!

      2. oh man. umm i remember when my father and i used to find snails (??) and winkles and fish crabs out of the rocks when the tide was low with a coathanger. and we would take them home, boil them and pull them out of their shells with our fingers or the ends of pins and eat them with butter.

        i also remember white cheddar and branston grilled sandwiches.

        when i was young in england and my father or brother would shoot pheasant we would hang them up and let the feathers rot off and then eat them that way, letting the meat age.

        i recall eating a lot of mcvities milk chocolate digestives. i can eat those like popcorn, unfortunately. thats actually an english food that i associate strongly with the country.

        i also remember always having a raspberry bush in my backyard and an apple tree, and pretty much all my friends and family had the same.

        i also strongly associate currants/slows and gooseberries with english food.

        and also, every sunday my father and i would walk down to the corner bakery and buy pasties and some dandy comics for me. and of course, there is cornish icecream with a wafer stuck in it <3

        1 Reply
        1. I ate at Haunch of Venison Restaurant in Salisbury once, and absolutely enjoyed the meal - traditional English, but with a slightly Modern/slightly lighter touch. There were 3 of us, and we ordered:

          - Toad in the hole;
          - Braised pork with apple sauce & creamed spinach; and
          - Steamed venison pudding with celeriac mash.

          Everything's delicious - unforgettable meal!

          1. Some of the most remarkable cheeeses and beer anywhere.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Chinon00

              And welsh rarebit- cheese and beer mixed together.

              1. re: marmite

                Doesn't get much better than that. :-)

                  1. re: smartie

                    I love marmite. It really is true though what the adverts say : "you either love it or hate it".

                    1. re: FoodieKat

                      So true. Every person I've introduced to it has hated it, probably because they didn't grow up with it. Only one person said it was tolerable, but not something he'd ask for again.

              2. Isn't curry the national dish?

                This transplanted New Yorker loves cheese (good cheddar and stilton!), pickles and chutneys with cold meat, a good fish and chips, and sticky toffee pudding. However, the roast beef is generally horrendous compared with American roast beef. I can't figure out why.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Kagey

                  When I think of English Food I'm reminded of several of Rick Stein's TV series in whch he travels the countryside and coastal areas in search of farmers growing organic/free-range meats and poultry, and fishermen catching local seafood. Cheese makers and bread bakers continuing the work of their ancestors to insure the old recipes and ways are not forgotten. Local foods brought home and cooked simply and delicious. Those programs are some of the most visually beautiful and inspiring I have ever seen.

                  Aberdeen Angus beef, Herdwick lamb, Aylesbury ducks, Cumberland sausages from a rare breed of pork, Gressingham ducks and black pudding, Caerphilly cheese from Caws Cenarth in Ceredigion .....Award-winning blue Stilton and blue Shropshire cheeses from Cropwell Bishop Creamery in Nottingham....and on, and on. Gawd... what fantastic English food is available if you only know where to look.

                2. and clotted cream, steamed puddings with custard, scones with homemade jams, Cornish pasties, beef and ale pie, bakewell tart, treacle tart. To name just a few more.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: smartie

                    I forgot about cream teas. And bakewell tarts (my favourite).

                  2. Folks

                    Things may have got a little confused since the Chowhound Team split this from another thread on the UK Board. I hadnt started a topic but was responding to one from JFores where he'd asked where he could get "English" food in London. My post (now what appears to be the OP of this thread) was simply to ask that he better define what he was looking for so folk could suggest restaurants. The exchanges between him and me after that are also from that thread.

                    I'm not sure either of us intended the discussion to meander off into "what is English food", interesting as it might be for a topic.


                    1. English food to me is the food my in-laws serve when I am home visiting them. And the food my husband cooks on Sundays. So roast dinners, shepherd's pie, fish and chips with mushy peas, stew with dumplings, suet puddings, etc. And good, aged cheeses, preferably with things like pickled onions.

                      1. The problem with New Cuisines is:

                        1) They exist in most sizeable countries

                        2) There is a lot of similarities among the countries (every freaking country now has French & Meditterranean influenced dishes... plus immigrants from Asia, Africa, Latin America etc.,)... so no none of them are really as unique as their proponents would like to advance.... and no growing the zucchini in England etc., doesn't make Pasta Primavera an English dish.

                        3) Most of the New Cuisine will be forgotten in a few decades... and only the Classics will survive to become part of that nation's cuisine in say 100 years from now.

                        English cuisine is only that dishes that are unique to England (they can have outside influences... after all, all significant National cuisines including the heavily plagiurizing French cuisine has significant outside influences)... and only once they are widespread & commonly consumed & prepared enough to be considered part of that country's culinary tradition.

                        For the most part English cuisine is that 1950's crap & the 19th Century classics... plus we will wait a couple of decades to see what Modern Classics become part of the perpetual English tradition.

                        1. Considering that England was a great seafaring nation, and that it made best-sellers of fine wines from other countires, I've always found English fod to be strangely insular.

                          I admire the British, but the food doesn't seem to have gone much beyond Prince Hal and Falstaff and their buddies chowing down on legs of capon. Bangers? Hey, develop some taste buds.

                          29 Replies
                          1. re: mpalmer6c

                            The grass is always greener elsewhere, but the Cotswold chedder, English cheese in general, and the easy availability of a good prawn sandwich at any Boots or other shop are things locals take for granted but people from farther away appreciate.

                            The better Indian restaurants, beef Wellington, Yorkshire pud, and Welsh rarebit set a standard for us in the US. I think the overcooking of vegetables and food in general gave local cooking the bad name.

                            Clotted local cream and scones - there is much to like, and for some reason a cup of tea tastes better there.

                            1. re: chowfamily

                              For the same reason a Mexican beer tastes better in Baja, and a cafe cubano tastes better in Miami, and a pizza tastes best in New York. It's all about the atmosphere that goes with it -- I can get a cafe cubano here in LA that's made exactly the same way as in Calle Ocho in Miami but it tastes better there because I have to have the humid sun and the Cuban-accented Spanish surrounding me.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                I don't know.... that Pizza in New York is magic independent of the tourist, infested, typical urinated Manhattan corner it occupies (LA can easily reproduce that same atmosphere... and the pizza aint going to taste the same)....

                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  This is very true. Since I moved back to the US I haven't had a cup of PG Tips tea that tastes anywhere near as good as it did after a chilly rainy day in England. Though I can easily buy PG Tips in Calfornia somehow it doesn't taste the same.

                                  1. re: FoodieKat

                                    I think it's because of a couple of things. Americans don't usually boil water in a kettle but use those hot tap things or a coffee machine or a Bunn's hot water machine.

                                    Also, milk is different in the UK and USA so it just tastes different.

                                    1. re: smartie

                                      Disagree--most americans have a teapot (electric or stovetop). I've never seen anyone use a coffeemaker or (at home, not at work) use a hot water dispenser.

                                      1. re: xanadude

                                        I think the difference is Amercans don't add their tea to boiling water - just very hot water - I get funny looks in the office when I put my mug of "hot" water in the microwave to boil it before I add my tea bag (and cardomom pods - but that's another thread). And don't get me started on the tepid water restaurants typically bring with a floppy little orange pekoe teabag on the side. You're lucky if you end up with a cup of room-temperature red dye by the time you drink it.

                                        1. re: butterchicken2nan

                                          I'm sure that is true for some, but I do have an electric kettle at home, which is very similar to the one I used in England. But milk does taste different here, so maybe that's got something to do with it.

                                          1. re: FoodieKat

                                            I think the kettle is the most civilised thing about being in Europe. Every time i come to the US I am dismayed by the lack of a kettle in the hotel room (they expect me to make tea in the coffee maker???). Then again, in UK I am dismayed by the instant coffee love-- can be ok, but usually no more than ok.

                                            Can't speak for English food. I live in Scotland where the produce is remarkable but everything has been battered and fried. (OK, I kind of overstate, but just kind of; plus I left out Irn Bru.)

                                            1. re: Lizard

                                              Yes. The mere prospect of drinking cheap instant hotel coffee is just as appealing as drinking tea made with boiling water from a filter coffee maker - yuck! Having said that, the instant coffee made by Carte Noire isn't too bad, nor is Nescafe's instant cappuccino. It wouldn't be my first choice by any means, but when needs must...it's ok.

                                      2. re: smartie

                                        Disagree. I've an electric kettle in my office and Fortnum tea, but it just doesn't taste like tea does in English, or in Ireland.

                                  2. re: chowfamily

                                    True, a cream tea is a lovely thing. And I do like the culture of having a kettle ready for a cup of tea at all times.

                                    While I appreciate finer British cooking (venison, game, yorkshire pudding, etc), it is, on the whole, too expensive to indulge in-- dining out is expensive here. The average things-- pasties, sausage rolls, sausage pies-- can be good, but on the whole, I find them really underseasoned. Moreover, I'm constantly wondering why immigrant foods like West Indian pasties or Polish sausage have not taken off in these parts. The meat and dough elements should appeal to the local population, these would bring in the spices I find lacking.

                                    Overcooked veg is at least veg. While the supermarkets and markets offer wonderful produce here, I find that the cooking neglects them. My friends think I have a healthful diet simply because I am keen on vegetables.

                                    I should mention that I am not in England and this cannot really discuss ENGLISH food per se. I am in that nation to the north, so perhaps my experience is thus flavoured: in these parts a plate of chips is known as a Glasgow salad, and some restaurants couldn't get people to order a side salad, even when it was free. Seemed for a while I was hard pressed to find anything not battered.

                                    Haggis, neeps, and tatties would be the standard Scottish dish. Plus anything battered. Haggis is nae bad, though. Quite like it when done right.

                                    As for the prepared foods: the excess of mayonnaise depresses me and makes it near impossible to eat. Not sure what to make of the place that was testing out a sandwich with grilled vegetables; they asked if I'd like the margarine and mayo with it.

                                    1. re: Lizard

                                      I can't speak for Glasgow, but West Indian and Polish foods are increasingly making their presence felt in London. There are plenty of Jerk chicken/Jamaican patties on offer in S.E London, in addition to Nigerian & Ethiopian foods, and plenty of Polish grocers, although admittedly few takeaways. Maybe it just takes longer for the immigrant population to make its presence felt in Glasgow - witness the slow but steady growth of the Italian community.

                                      1. re: babybat

                                        I'm curious about WI food in London. Last time I was there I didn't see much evidence and London friends have noted same, as did an article in Guardian a while back (asking why so little WI food).

                                        As for the Polish thing, I was just thinking that because my region is known for a large Polish community, and yet nothing yet. I'm looking forward to that and not another charity shop, or pizza place.

                                        As for Harters' complain about culinary insularity-- I'd say that most European nations, not just UK, suffer the same sort of stasis. That's not to say that there aren't restaurants that innovate or create, or that there aren't restaurants that aren't glorious, but that these are small nations with relatively well defined identities and cuisines (with regions, of course). The US poses more of a challenge for its size and for the fact that it creates, in part, an identity based on immigration. Europe (and yes, I admit I speak broadly here) still struggles with ideas of identity outside of the national identity. (This is why there's a strange discourse on multiculturalism on this side of the Atlantic- but now I've gone waaaayyyyy OT.)

                                      2. re: Lizard

                                        Sounds like Wyoming, where the (curly) parsley garnish on the plate is often the only green thing available.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          Reminds me of a funny story I saw on TV once ... it was some chef, who had been cooking at high end places in big cities and then just up and moved to the rural south. He opened a diner and started serving normal diner food - but slowly and surely gussied it up a bit here and there, to the point that it became both a local favorite and a destination for people doing road trips.

                                          Anyways, he told a story about the very first time he did any sort of "gussying", by putting parsley garnishes on his plates one morning. One of the customers asked him (the chef had the customer talking in a thick, exagerated drawl) "wutz this? buushes?"

                                          1. re: jgg13

                                            A few years back my wife and I walk into a funky looking place announcing "Steaks, Seafood & Mexican Dishes" near Venice, CA... should have left when we saw all the white hair but we were starved & broke. A few minutes after sitting down... a 80ish old guy with a Southern or Midwestern accent (whats the difference... jk).. exclaims "what's that green stuff?" at the waitress... she answers confused "Oh Its just Brocoli"... he says (quite angry)... "get it off my plate".

                                            True Story.

                                    2. re: mpalmer6c

                                      When you say "insular", it is the nature of being a small country located on a small island. There isnt a cross-border influence that you might get in other countries.

                                      But if you're suggesting that we havn't absorbed influences from our immigrant communities or from our European neighbours, then that is simply wrong.

                                      It's a strange old thing though. There are frequent posts about how undeveloped British food is, indicating that we havnt moved on (from some often unspecified point in time). But we never seem to see the same criticism of classic Italian cusine, or French, or Spanish, etc , etc. I really can't account for it but it's probably as old-fashioned and out-dated a view as if I was to say that Amercian food is all Pizza Hut and Dennys.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        Do Chocolate Hobnobs by McVities count?

                                        Addictive. Glorious.

                                        1. re: dolores

                                          I'm a plain choccy digestives girl myself! Sadly unavailable in America though I can get the milk choccy ones but they are not as good dunked in tea.

                                        2. re: Harters

                                          Yet, if you go to a large European city, that is exactly the view that many people have. One instance that stands out in my head is having a really divine plate of galta amb llor in Barcelona and exclaiming (in Catalan) that it was so flavourful... the waiter smiled and said that people in Barcelona knew how to eat, unlike America with McDonalds and Starbucks.

                                          I invited him to come to San Francisco or New York and Los Angeles and let me prove him wrong. But insularity seems to have spread beyond the insulae.

                                        3. re: mpalmer6c

                                          I'd love to know what experience you base that assessment on! "British" food has certainly grown to include lots of international influences by now, though it's true that the best of British restaurant cooking these days is too expensive for most people. But I would argue that the proliferation of ethnic cuisines (in my town--not a big city--alone, we have three Thai, about four surprisingly good Italian, many Indian, a Mexican, a pan-Asian, a French, and a few other decent restaurants, not including chains like Wagamama and Cafe Rouge) is evidence of taste buds!

                                          And by the way, the English wine industry is booming down in the south!

                                          1. re: Kagey

                                            "...is evidence of taste buds!"

                                            In the U.S. we speak of the "Ugly American".... Brittain also has this legacy... with the Brittish arguably historically being even more ethnocentric, arrogant & patronizing... BUT the newer generations are certainly more cosmopolitan, well traveled & cultured (I think younger Brittish people understand what I am talking about since there seems to be a cultural coup against the Queen these days).

                                            How does this apply to food? The older generations seemed to regard cuisines (other than French) to be of an inferior culture, and used that filter to nitpick the food and rationalize its inferiority to English cuisine (this is succintly recorded in a mid 1800s travelouge "Life in Mexico" written by a brittish nobelwoman married to Calderon - a Spanish ambassador. I don't think every Brittish traveler gets Mexican cuisine... particularly the spicy etc.,... but the approach I see from the current generation of tourists seems so different to what you read in that back... and even compared to Brittish travelers over a certain age.

                                            So what I am getting at... arguably the Brittish didn't have genuine, appreciative taste buds for cultural reasons (would anybody really thinks its physiological?).... and those aspects of Brittish culture seem to be changing rapid with the new generations that grew up questioning the Queen etc.,... I belive the Brittish have developed taste buds... and we shouldn't be so ethnocentric, arrogant & patronizing to not recognize that.

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              Well, the Queen and her class and the anglo-centric British upper classes certainly eat some of the best foods in Britain, taking advantage of the the nation's excellent meats, fish, dairy products and produce. Prince Charles in particular has been a champion of organic farming in the UK and is certainly one of the leading experts on sustainable agriculture, and his line of baked goods and preserves, Duchy Organics, is a bestseller in supermarkets across the nation.

                                              Taste buds are different to different people. I avoid eating too much of too spicy and too salty dishes, like the hot curries of India or the moles of Mexico, because they tend to blunt my taste buds and make it difficut for me to actually taste the food I'm eating. French cooking, for example, has its basis on the subtle flavors of fresh produce and meats, not spices. Good UK cooking is much the same.

                                              The trend to more bastardized Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian etc foods, where the flavors of oil, salt and a few other strongly flavored processed ingredients dominate, has helped to dull many people's taste buds and turned them off from eating, say, vegetables and other healthier foods. This is particularly a problem in America and among the working class English.

                                              1. re: Roland Parker

                                                There's been a wonderful program on BBC America early on Sunday mornings called something like English menu - where top chefs from different regions of the UK competed to make the dishes that would be served at a birthday party for Queen Elizabeth. I really enjoyed it - often the chefs would go out themselves to obtains some of the ingredients - stalking the deer, catching the fish etc.

                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                  It will have been "The Great British Menu" - there's been two series. The first is the one you've seen. The second was for a meal at our Embassy in Paris.

                                                  Both show fine examples of modern Brit regional cuisine (and I've recently eaten at Richard Corrigan's restaurant - it was fab).

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    Yes indeed - that's it - thanks! I should have known that "English Menu" was wrong, since Scotland and Ireland were included!

                                          2. re: mpalmer6c

                                            Actually, it's not at all insular, making extensive use of tropical spices (mace, caraway, clove, nutmeg, mustard etc), fruits and herbs like sage. The problem is diametrically opposite to what you claim to identify - it has lost its roots in Prince Hal etc. The dishes of the Elizabethan age were much more interesting, and even up to the thirties things were much better. I blame WW2. Fortunately, traditional British/English cooking is being rediscovered, slowly. Re bangers - nothing wrong with my taste buds, thank you. I like bog standard bangers with a Full English breakfast and a strong cup of tea. Later on in the day, perhaps with alcohol, I like more flavoursome sausages, which are now plentiful fortunately. See them in any good supermarket.

                                          3. I immediately think fish and chips, then beef wellington, then a great assortment of fabulous beers, then Lyles Golden Syrup pudding, then London curries, then haggis, etc.... I'd be happy in London... forever.

                                            1. If jfood can add one of his favorites that he gets every trip to the UK. The bacon/egg/cheese on a roll from the 100's of little places tucked in the side streets of Mayfair are fantatstic. The use a wonderful piece of English bacon (not the US strips) real butter to cook the egg (not spray) and a good slice of cheese (all gooey). That and a good cup of English tea and the day begins.

                                              1. I quite like English food, when it's done properly. For those who would like (or, need) a glimpse into the tradional cuisine of the lower rural classes in the south of England at the end of the 19th century, I recommend The Lark Rise Recipe Book, by Mary Norwak, based on the writing of Flora Thompson. The recipes are simple, but truly mouth-watering.

                                                1. I enjoy British mysteries, in which the foodstuffs most often mentioned are the "full English fry up" and "beans on toast", with "steak and kidney pie" coming in a distant third. I take it these are not PC cuisine nowadays?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: DonShirer

                                                    All remain very popular home food - and justly so.

                                                    Although the "full fry-up" for breakfast can be dismal affair if, particularly, cheap sausages are used ( see the above comment by my co-patriot, Lord Brazing).

                                                  2. I miss the pub food: the Ploughman's lunch, the steak and kidney, Cock-a-leekie and seafood pies along with "in the wood" ales.
                                                    One of my fondest memories was going to a Brit-Am formal dinner party in Helsinki. Dinner was served and a silver, covered chafing dish brought out, the cover lifted off and all the Brits sang out in joyous union, at what looked like a pile of dog turds on the tray, SAUSAGES! Oh the joy of one's native foods found abroad. The Yanks were a bit confused and the Brits, rapturous. Damn, they were good sausages.

                                                    1. I enjoyed the tea with milk, the fish and chips, and the scones. I do think these things tasted better in the UK and Ireland, to agree with others on this board. Maybe this had to do with the weather or the great conversations with people that came with a good cup of tea and biscuits. :)

                                                      For the most part, I'm sorry to say, British food is not too appealing to me. I prefer Mexican, Korean and Persian food, and these were not readily available whiIe I was there (over a decade ago). I know things have changed, with the influx of new immigrants. I would be very interested in trying some of the new ethnic cuisines available there now, if I ever go back. :)

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: katkoupai

                                                        My views on British food (which mostly consisted of vicarious nostalgia based on the many English mysteries/novels I read) have changed quite a bit since I've been cooking from Simon Hopkinson's books lately. Two of the dishes were truly outstanding and some of the most memorable things I've cooked in a very long time.