In Defense of British Food

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  06.24.09 | 12:47 PM ET

Photo by AndyB in Brazil! via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over at The Titanic Awards, Britain has easily carried the win in a poll on the world’s worst national cuisines, with 25 percent of the vote. I’m not surprised—“British food is bad” is a truism that even many Brits buy into—but I do want to take a moment for some spirited dissent.

The truth is, the meals I had in Britain remain some of the things I miss most about my time living there. I loved sitting down in the pub for a ploughman’s lunch, gorging myself on mulled wine, mince pies and Jaffa Cakes at Christmastime, grabbing a cheese and onion pasty at Gregg’s on an early morning or seeking out a full English fry up on a late, lazy one.

Pimms and lemonade with fresh fruit on a summer afternoon? Perfection. Beans on toast in front of the TV on a winter night? Maybe even better. And that’s not even getting into the country’s adopted (and adapted) imports—chicken tikka masala, for instance, or the much-loved spag bol.

Seriously, people, put your preconceptions aside. Sit down at the British dinner table. And then, just maybe, go back and tell those poll respondents how wrong they are?

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

12 Comments for In Defense of British Food

Alicia Imbody 06.24.09 | 1:02 PM ET

I’d have to agree with you, Eva. Most of the British meals I’ve eaten have been predictably greasy but delicious comfort foods, or at worst, a little bland, but nothing some imported chili paste couldn’t easily rectify. Now American food? Do we even have a national cuisine? Maybe BBQ… but that’s really hit or miss, depending on the venue. A not-so-close second on the poll, I’d rate American food below British, any day.

Eva Holland 06.24.09 | 1:34 PM ET

Glad I’m not alone in the cause, Alicia!

As far as American food goes, I think there’s not as much in the way of distinctive national cuisine, but the regional stuff is a goldmine. Clam chowder… Shrimp Creole… And yeah, a whole world of BBQ to explore. Yum all around!

Jennifer 06.24.09 | 1:42 PM ET

Oh, sorry Alicia, have to disagree heartily with you!!  Simply not having an official national cuisine does not necessarily make American food bad!  GOOD American food is rarely bland and, in addition, for the simple reason that we have such access to a wide array of fresh produce and varied ingredients (probably more so than England does), I would say that American food ranks WAY above British food!!  I’m not saying British food is bad, but better than American?  I don’t think so!!

Darren Cronian 06.24.09 | 2:20 PM ET

Eva, the next time your in England, I will treat you to a Roast Beef dinner with Yorkshire Puddings, it’ll set your taste buds alight.  English food is quite stodgy, filling, and not healthy neither.

Love2SeeNewThings 06.24.09 | 2:23 PM ET

Sorry Eva, I have to disagree w/ you on this one! 

Growing up on “dirty water dogs” means I don’t have a distinguished palate, but I have to say after spending a summer in England I came back a helluva’ ‘lot lighter.  My chief complaint is that EVERYTHING was bland! ...Or had some type of butter on it - case & point: Have you ever had a tuna fish sandwich w/ very little mayonnaise and butter on both sides of the bread?

You just might laugh after I tell you my thoughts on the pasty…I kept buying them thinking it’ll be like an Empanada.  Nope, sorry!  Empanadas are full of spices, fresh meat (tuna, beef, chicken) and full of flavor!  After two bites of a pasty I usually ended up throwing them away.

What I did like…PIMMS, yes!  And STRONGBOW…and the food at Harrods was pretty damn good too.  (I went to the Crepe shop next to the furniture and lighting department.)

Oh, and American BBQ!  I was homesick for some really good food and saw a T.G.I Fridays at Piccadilly Circus and actually had to stop for a table for one.  Ordered the Jack Daniels Chicken and have to say it only made me miss the real thing.

Eva Holland 06.24.09 | 2:33 PM ET

Darren, I just might take you up on that! I meant to work in a mention of a nice roast here. My roommate did wonderful things with parsnips in hers.

Love2SeeNewThings - We might have to agree to disagree. But I hope if/when you go back, you’ll try again, too—I ate lots of foods that were far from bland. Savoury rather than spicy? Yes. But not bland. Mmm, I’m daydreaming about a nice sharp cheddar right now…

Alicia Imbody 06.24.09 | 2:43 PM ET

@Jennifer: The poll is for worst national cuisine. I was referring to American national cuisine (if there really is such a thing), not American food in general. Big difference, I agree!

@Love2See: I hope I read you right, that TGI Fridays is NOT authentic BBQ! Equal parts Jack Daniels and corn syrup over the pre-cooked discarded scraps of what might have been good ribs? Don’t embarrass the sacred tradition! Instead, I’d say that’s a classic example of the more-often-than-not disappointing rendition of the elusive all-American signature dish.

Doug Mack 06.24.09 | 4:45 PM ET

In my experience, it seems like British _ingredients_ are fine, but the preparation leaves something to be desired. Take the “Full English Breakfast” you get at most B&Bs;: there’s a perfectly good tomato stewed into a bland, blubbery mass; an alarmingly undercooked egg (mmm . . . salmonella!); a sausage of unknown meat products; and a slice or two of toast that has been cooled (why??) in a little rack designed expressly for that purpose.

Mind you, I’ve had plenty of great, flavorful, well-prepared meals, in Britain, and I’d agree that it’s generally better than the stereotype. But the ratio of bad meals to good often seems discouragingly high.

Zach 06.24.09 | 8:36 PM ET

I enjoy British food, maybe that says something about me, but I have no reservations admitting it.

Love2SeeNewThings 06.25.09 | 5:18 PM ET

Hey Eva, Yes ~ we can agree to disagree!  I do hope to go back and try more pub grub…there was at least one beef dish served up with a pint of Strongbow that I liked.

And Alicia ~ I completely agree with you that T.G.I Fridays is NOT American BBQ.  But you have to understand that I really missed all the flavor in American food.  Even a bad meal at Fridays was better than another serving of Fish and Chips.  Again, please understand I normally like Fish & Chips.  I used to order a verision of it at Friendly’s…but I just couldn’t stomach it anymore and Fridays looked like a light at the end of the tunnel….

Then I went to Paris…

Nick 07.04.09 | 6:33 AM ET

Having lived in both USA and UK, I disagree with both being bad; there is excellent food in both countries.

Do not Judge America by a MacDonald’s or Supermarket Dinners, same way do not judge England by mass chains. Food in both countries are Mixed for America you have Mexican and UK has Indian. You have bad examples of both. The best tip in any country is to eat where the locals eat.

@ Doug, we like our eggs lightly cooked (and do not have salmonella, we treat against.) As to the other things, sorry :), and we like cool toast, just the way we are. In the same way when I go to America is it I gain 3 stone (in American 42lbs, and am not alone). To us english everything even the bread tastes sweet, why?

Billy Bob 07.15.09 | 10:25 AM ET

There is absolutely nothing wrong with British food. So many critics portray Britain as fatty/unimaginative/bland. I think that the greatest thing about British food is our ability to keep it simple and keep it real. There is no need for pretentious and overcomplicated cuisine. We know what we like and that’s the way we’ll keep it thank you.

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