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Good British Food - is there such a thing?

Speaking as a true Yorkshireman, just having returned from LA, I think there are a few myths on both sides of the Atllantic that need addressing. Firstly, the food in Tustin was too varied to comment on, all I can say is America is everything but burgers and waffles only. I too visited the King's Head in Santa Monica which did serve decent basic 'pub grub' as we call it. I was horrified to read on the menu that Britain's most popular dish was Chicken Tikka Masala. Because of the many cultural changes in our country, there seems to be a renaissance in traditional English food.

Please look up the menus for these two pubs in the north of England which give a good reflection of food available across the country.

The Queen's Head Hotel, Troutbeck, Cumbria.
The Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire

Also look up the Hairy Bikers cookery books: Food Tour of Britain and Mums Know Best

Last but not least, Fish & Chips is in fact Jewish, sorry to disappoint you.

Bon Appetit.

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  1. I'm not sure who you're posing the question to. Perhaps American readers? I'd take the view that Americans who diss British cuisine tend to be relying on stereotypes from 60 years back - or have only eaten in London's tourist trap areas.

    One only needs to check out the UK/Ireland board to see the reality of British cuisine - local and seasonal produce cooked in a modern style but deeply seated in our country's food roots.

    FWIW, the first documented British fish & chip shop dates to 1863 in Mossley, Lancashire. And to anyone suggesting chicken tikka masala is Britain's favourite dish, I would ask them to show me the evidence. There would then be a long wait, while they fail to find any.

    34 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      <Americans who diss British cuisine tend to be relying on stereotypes from 60 years back - or have only eaten in London's tourist trap areas.>>

      I was in London a year ago, avoided tourist traps like the plague, did tons of research, asked friends, checked blogs -- and still was served some of the worst food I've had. I was as bad as I had remembered from my last trip to England (which was why I did so much planning). The only food in England I had that loved was at Pret a Manger.

      That being said, I really appreciate Jamie Oliver and use his cookbooks with pleasure.

      And I would love to know more about how the derivation of fish and chips is a Jewish dish. Not saying it isin't true, just that I have never heard that and can't see a logical explanation. Does anyone know more about this.

      1. re: chicgail

        I recall your original post, chicgail. I was gobsamacked then and remain gobsmacked now. I suspect there are few visitors to our shores, however poor their research, who find a sandwich chain to be the best food they eat. Amazing that you had such an experience. Truly amazing.

        As for the Jewish origin of fish and chips, it has some basis in fact. Cooking fish in batter was most probably brought to Britain by Jewish immigrants (the batter was originally thrown away, leaving the fish protected). Frying potatoes is as British as it gets. It's perhaps unsurprising that the early mentions of fish & chips shops are in the area where the old and new communities came together - London and North West. Needless to say, canny Britons quickly realised throwing the batter away was a waste of delicious food.

        1. re: Harters

          I agree -- while it's been more than a year now since I've been to London (can't speak to the rest of the country), I ate very well whilst there, mostly thanks to CH.

        2. re: chicgail

          You should have eaten at St. Johns Restaurant. Fergus Henderson is doing God's work with old English recipes.

          http://www.stjohnrestaurant.com/menu/...

          1. re: monkeyrotica

            Looks great. Wish I'd known. Next time (if I can talk Mr. CG into a next time).

            1. re: chicgail

              That must've been *some* research if you've never heard of Fergus Henderson....

              1. re: linguafood

                I agree. I didn't think it was possible to read about British food without reading about Fergus Henderson, Heston Blumenthal, et al. There was a time, before our son was born, that my husband was doing a lot of business in England, and I tagged along whenever I could. We had some amazing meals -- and this was before the current culinary renaissance. I'm shocked that you didn't have any great food in England!!

                1. re: roxlet

                  The renaissance really got going in the mid-1980s with chefs like Gary Rhodes and cookery writers such as the late Michael Smith. Rhodes' TV series in the late 80s probably did more than anything else in developing the "Modern British" cuisine

                  Of course, before this, there had been chefs around the country always cooking dishes that had their roots in traditional food.

                  Blumenthal's food and style is unique and he isnt really part of the renaissance. Fergus Henderson gets a lot of publicity because of the so-called "nose to tail" eating but, if you look at his menu, you'll see many items are in a mcuh more general style that you'd see similar in places up and down the country.

          2. re: chicgail

            This astonishes me. We were in London in January 2010 immediately after being in Paris, and the food we had in London was better and more reasonably-priced than what we had in Paris on this trip.
            Wonderful set lunch at Hibiscus - lovely piece of roast partridge and a chestnut dessert among other things - and great value at around USD 150.00 for two with a bottle of Blauburgunder suggested by the sommelier. Anything approaching the level of cooking, service, and wine would have cost at least half again as much in NYC.
            Fun dinner at the Harwood Arms - snails with oxtail and beef marrow (oh momma!), pheasant Kiev (baby lips pink in the center and so juicy), and Camp coffee ice cream with homemade Bourbon biscuits. Also reasonably priced.
            Even the game pie my husband had at a just plain pub hear our hotel hit the spot. I'm in for a week of London and environs for my next big birthday, can't think of anywhere I'd rather do it. Last two big ones were at Per Se, incidentally.

          3. re: Harters

            For what its worth, this says CTM was voted the UK's most popular dish...

            http://www.worldpoultry.net/news/chic...

            I read elsewhere that it is believed to have originated in the UK.

              1. re: huiray

                If you are presenting the opinion of a politician (however respected when he was alive)as "evidence" then we'll have to disagree about the meaning of the word where you are and where I am.

                I note, on your third link, there is a claim that chicken tikka masala sells around 23 million portions a year. Such figures are tiny in comparision with the estimated 300 million portions of fish & chips sold each year (source: National Federation of Fish Fryers)

                1. re: Harters

                  I presented the links without comment. It was your choice to conclude that it was offered as "evidence". Consider it for your amusement. :-)

                  Since you have not disputed Notaslave...'s post does that mean you consider that linked article to be "evidence"? ;-)

                  1. re: huiray

                    Notaslave? If you mean your third link, then I thought I had responded. But, to be clear, no there's no "evidence" in that. More so, the claim that 23 million sales has put fish & chips into second place is clearly not accurate as there are annual sales of 300 million as I quote.

                    That said, there is no disputing the fact that chicken tikka masala is a dish created in Britain and, as stated on your link, is very popular in "Indian" restaurants in the UK. I'm sure that the claim that it outsells other menu items is almost certainly accurate, although I don't know what percentage it forms of total meals served.

                      1. re: Notaslavetofashion

                        If anyone finds an orignal source for this often mentioned survey, then it'd be interesting to read.

                        I wonder what question was actually asked and what responses were actually given.

                      2. re: Harters

                        "If you mean your third link,"
                        ----
                        No, the poster (Notaslavetofashion) above my post. I am nonplussed as to how "Notaslave...'s post" could be mistaken for the third link in my first post which does not contain the phrase "Notaslave" anywhere within the url or within the linked article. Perhaps you choose to read selectively.

                        There is some dispute about whether CTM was created in Britain. ;-)

                        1. re: huiray

                          Clearly I had read selectively and not noticed the posters name. Apologies to both of you. You'll see I've responded to Nota.....'s repeat.

                          As I said, when someone can produce actual evidence that CTM is Britain's favourite dish, then I'll be interested to read it. Still waiting.........

                          Oh, and I'd love to think that CTM wasn't created in Britain but the evidence seems to point to it being invented in a Scottish restaurant (the Shish Mahal in Glasgow) and we've subsequently inflicted it on other countries. A stain on the culinary reputation of my country, I'm afraid.

                          1. re: Harters

                            Tosh and piffle. I love CTM. One of my favorite curries, it is. Thanks to Angus Gandhi or whoever it was, for inventing it.

                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              Nah. It's bland, boring and mono-dimensional. Mercifully, an increasing number of south asian restaurants are offering sub-continent regional cuisine with no reference to stuff like CTM. Hopefully, we will consign it to the dustbin (trashcan?) of history. LOL.

                              1. re: Harters

                                Hmmm. The state of CTM in the UK must be a sad one, because the stuff I get here in the States is anything but "bland, boring and mono-dimensional." Indeed, I had a CTM in Columbia, Missouri in '96 that stimulated my buds to the point of giddiness and cauterized multiple capillaries and one artery. I will never forget it. And I've had several other similar--if slightly less memorable experiences--with the stuff in several places since.

                                As for consignment to the disposal of history, well, I suspect this particular curry has already well and truly escaped the turban.

                            2. re: Harters

                              :-)

                              I, too, would be interested to see the actual survey which concluded that CTM was the favorite dish in Britain. Perhaps there is significance in some reports about this calling it "Britain's favo(u)rite **restaurant** dish" [my stress marks]? It seems from some articles that the source may be in that book/compilation titled "The Book of General Ignorance" (John Mitchinson & John Lloyd) which appears to be based on the last round of this British panel show called QI. I don't have this book. However, one can "take a look" inside this book via Amazon (for example) and the section on CTM in there (pages 24-25) states baldly on page 24 that CTM came from Glasgow and is "Britain's most popular dish."

                              As for the origins of CTM, some Indian chefs/food historians dispute its Glaswegian birth: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddri...

                              1. re: huiray

                                Assuming there ever was a survey, logic suggests that the question was about most popular dish ordered in Indian restaurants. The relative sales of CTM and F & C as upthread (22:300 million per year) give proof positive that CTM is not Britain's favourite food.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  Maybe not Britain's favorite food; but what if F&C was not considered a "restaurant" dish? (Doesn't one get F&C largely from chippies [is that the term?] that are not really "restaurants" in the normal sense of the word?) Just playing Devil's Advocate here. :-)

                                  1. re: huiray

                                    You may well be right. The nature of the vast majority of aorund 10,000 "Indian" restaurants is that they have pretty much identical menus, so CTM will appear on thousands of menus. Chinese places are generally similar so I wouldnt be surprised if, on the same basis, someone said "sweet & sour chicken" was Britain's second favourite dish. Of course, you go to "British" restaurants and chicken is not going to be prepared in a standard way but will reflect the style of the chef.

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      One of the things that might be worth taking into account is the ubiquity of CTM outwith the Indian restaurant (filled rolls, pub options, etc.).
                                      As for the question of good British food, it seems there is a conflation of national cuisine and national favourites (dishes like haggis, neeps and tatties; curries; pies; etc.) and the question 'Is there good food in Britain?' (to which the answer is 'Of course. There is outstanding food to be had here, but usually only if one has £££-- although there are exceptions.)
                                      Also: I believe we watched the same episode of Jamie's Great Britain in which he discussed the Jewish origins of fish and chips.
                                      There's also some discussion of this topic on the interwebs:

                                      http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,73...

                                      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/artic... (Apologies for linking to the Daily Mail

                                      )

                                      http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnis...

                                      http://www.newstatesman.com/200601230017

                                      http://www.forward.com/articles/126975/

                                      And so on.

                                      1. re: Lizard

                                        Lizard is right to an extent. Some meals in the UK can be very expensive and out of the financial reach of much of the population. A meal at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck is £180 per head (and then add drinks and the service charge) - but you're going to get a world class meal that, in itself, is unique in its style.

                                        Mercifully, you don't need to spend that sort of money to get a good dinner. A cursory glance at the UK/Ireland board, even though it is almost exclusively London focussed, reveals many places offering good food at reasonable cost.

                                        Out and about round the country, where most of us live away from London's higher prices, it is easy to find a good dinner at very reasonable prices. Even folk who live in rural areas are not usually far from an urban centre (we are a small country after all). I can easily find three course dinners of really enjoyable food at £25 or under (often travelling into more rural areas). My nearest Michelin starred place offers a three course lunch at a bargain £26, for example. For further evidence, you need look no further than the two places mentioned in the OP, both of whoich will be well known to many northern foodies.

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Well, for some of us, £25 or so still is pricey.
                                          But yes, I should say that a nearby Inn has a lovely lunch for £11.95 (2 courses) or £14.95 (3 courses). Still, it's not exactly cheap (as when I've lived in certain major cities in Europe and the US where amazing food was had at very low cost.

                                          1. re: Lizard

                                            Indeed, I understand that £25 for three courses will seem a lot of money for some people - particularly if they are on minimum wage or benefits, have several mouths to feed or, like me, are pensioners.

                                            I always find it difficult to compare prices in my country with those in other countries as there can be so many variables. For example, the £14.95 you quote includes tax (whereas in some other countries it is to be added to menu price) and there is no obligation to leave a tip (which, it seems, can add 15 - 20% in America).

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              In the USA taxes will vary depending on the state and municipality (you can have both State and City tax. In Chicago you will pay 11% of the food cost - http://www.illinoisrestaurants.org/ ) A standard "Service Charge", when added by the restaurant, will usually be 18% and functions as the "Tip" to the serving staff. A "Tip" that you add on yourself will run generally from a minimum of 15% to a more usual 20% nowadays. A "Tip" is ALWAYS expected if service has not been defective (and even when it is so in some notoriously-staffed places - they may come running after you if you "shaft them" on it!!) and is supposed to be this 15-20% of the food total for a full-service place. There are arguments about whether one should personally calculate the tip based on the food alone or the food + tax subtotal, based on convenience or significance, which some restaurants improperly provide as the 'bottom printed/written total' ...etc etc.

                                              ETA: BTW, if a "compulsory" service charge (say, that 18%) is added by the restaurant *and is applied to everyone*, that charge is considered part of the cost of the meal as it is no longer discretionary - so the taxes are applied to the subtotal of (food+drinks+service). This is distinct from when the "tip" (rather than "service charge") is "voluntary/discretionary", i.e. up to you, when the taxes are calculated on just (food+drinks).

                                              1. re: Harters

                                                Harters, I know you dislike including sandwich shops and the like in estimations of a place's cuisine; however, I would say that I am able to purchase incredibly delicious sandwiches in cities like Brussels, New York, and Paris for costs equivalent to those here. The difference is that those sandwiches are filled with delicious. (The situation in my village and neighbouring cities has been pretty grim so far. Not awful, but not like what I've found elsewhere...)

                                                But yes, I understand what you mean by assessing costs. I think in the States there are many hidden costs that are meant to give an illusion of a good deal. When neither VAT nor service are included, everything can look cheaper.

                                                1. re: Lizard

                                                  Agreed on the sandwich issue. For a nation of sandwich lovers, many of us accept a right load of shite. There certainly wasnt a decent butty place in the town where I worked before I retired. Although fried black pudding on cheap pappy white sliced could be a lovely mid morning treat (lots of mustard, please)

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    Ohhhh. Black pudding. At aforementioned inn I had an excellent black pudding salad.

                                                    1. re: Lizard

                                                      I remember in one of Gary Rhodes' first TV programmes, in the mid 80s, he did a black pudding salad for the Manchester United team. IIRC, there was also some chopped bacon in there - and a poached egg for the dressing. Lovely idea.

                  2. I'm not quite sure what exactly you are getting at with your post.
                    As for Fish & Chips being Jewish this may well be true.
                    This was brought up by Jamie Oliver in his latest programme on British food.
                    He also mentioned that apples the most of English fruit are actually from Asia and brought over by the Romans.
                    This really annoys me. I mean how far do you go back?
                    Tomatoes aren't from Italy originally but no one questions the authenticity of Italian cooking.
                    The same can be said of chiles and Asian cooking.
                    Cuisines don't come about in vacuum and and have been influenced by waves of conquest and immigration.
                    There is a rich tradition of food in Britain which we are now rediscovering as Harters rightly points out.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Paprikaboy

                      Yep, I watched those Oliver programmes as well. Absolute tosh - as you say, how far back do you go? Chillis aren't from the Indian sub-continent but no-one questions their inclusion in that region's food. I think it was a series less of "Jamie's Great Britain" and more of "Jamie's Great Britain, as influenced by immigrant communities".

                      1. re: Harters

                        Definitely a question of how far back do you go. Though it is interesting where various ingredients/foods originated--it may not be all that relevant. Carrots are from Afghanistan (well, what is today Afghanistan), citrus basically from China, chickens from South East Asia. Sugar cane from the area of Melanesia. I guess that some how makes Chicken dishes from Africa or Europe or Mexico less authentic. Rum is based on sugar cane; is it Melanesian? Etc...

                    2. In what sense is Fish & Chips Jewish? Was it something that Jews ate a home, or something sold by Jewish fishmongers in London? Did they only sell to fellow Jews?

                      http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/...

                      1. Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post did a Googleyup/ Googlenope search in June.

                        A Googleyup is an exact phrase that returns a hit on Google, and a Googlenope returns nothing.

                        Googleyup: “I want to eat my own foot”

                        Googleyup: “I want to eat a bicycle made of candy canes”

                        Googleyup: “I want to eat lard with sprinkles”

                        Googleyup: “I want to eat a bar of soap”

                        Googlenope: “I want to eat British cuisine”

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Steve

                          I think that's just about the funniest thing I've read in months. I nearly pissed myself laughing

                        2. Of course there's great food in Great Britain. I remember my first bubble & squeak. I recall going to Marco Pierre White's Criterion when it first opened. Heston Blumenthal has done great things with bone marrow. But I still go back for bubble & squeak. The chicken tikka sandwich at McDonald's? Not so good.