English Food

(Food and drinks in English)

British cuisine is the specific set of cooking traditions and
practices associated with the United Kingdom. Historically, British
cuisine means «unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients,
matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise
it.»[1] However, British cuisine has absorbed the cultural influence of
those that have settled in Britain, producing hybrid dishes, such as the
Anglo-Indian Chicken tikka masala, hailed as «Britain’s true national
dish».[2]

Vilified as «unimaginative and heavy», British cuisine has traditionally
been limited in its international recognition to the full breakfast and
the Christmas dinner.[3] However, Celtic agriculture and animal breeding
produced a wide variety of foodstuffs for indigenous Celts and Britons.
Anglo-Saxon England developed meat and savory herb stewing techniques
before the practice became common in Europe. The Norman conquest
introduced exotic spices into Great Britain in the Middle Ages.[3] The
British Empire facilitated a knowledge of India’s elaborate food
tradition of «strong, penetrating spices and herbs».[3] Food rationing
policies, put in place by the British government during wartime periods
of the 20th century,[4] are said to have been the stimulus for British
cuisine’s poor international reputation.[3]

British dishes include fish and chips, the Sunday roast, and bangers and
mash. British cuisine has several national and regional varieties,
including English, Scottish and Welsh cuisine, which each have developed
their own regional or local dishes, many of which are geographically
indicated foods such as Cheshire cheese, the Yorkshire pudding, Arbroath
Smokie, and Welsh cakes.

Roastbeef with yorkshire puddings

History

Romano-British agriculture, highly fertile soils and advanced animal
breeding produced a wide variety of very high quality foodstuffs for
indigenous Romano-British. Anglo-Saxon England developed meat and
savoury herb stewing techniques and the Norman conquest reintroduced
exotic spices and continental influences back into Great Britain in the
Middle Ages[3] as maritime Britain became a major player in the
transcontinental spice trade for many centuries. Following the
Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th Centuries «plain and robust»
food remained the mainstay of the British diet, reflecting tastes which
are still shared with neighbouring north European countries and
traditional North American Cuisine.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, as the Colonial British Empire began to
be influenced by India’s elaborate food tradition of «strong,
penetrating spices and herbs», the United Kingdom developed a worldwide
reputation[5] for the quality of British beef and pedigree bulls were
exported to form the bloodline of major modern beef herds across the New
World. [3] Food rationing policies, put in place by the British
government during wartime periods of the 20th century,[6] are often
claimed as the stimulus for the decline of British cuisine in the
twentieth century.

In common with many advanced economies, rapid urbanisation and the early
industrialisation of food production as well as female emancipation have
resulted in a highly modern consumer society with reduced connection to
the rural environment and adherence to traditional household roles.
Consequently food security has increasingly become a major popular
concern.[7] Concerns over the quality nuritional value of
industrialisation of food production led to the creation of the Soil
Association in 1946 and its principles of organic farming are now widely
promoted, and accepted as an esential element of contemporary food
culture by many sections of the UK population and animal welfare in
farming is amongst the most advanced in the world.

The custom of afternoon tea and scones has its origins in Imperial
Britain.

English food

English cuisine is shaped by the country’s temperate climate, its island
geography, and its history. The latter includes interactions with other
European countries, and the importing of ingredients and ideas from
places such as North America, China, and India during the time of the
British Empire and as a result of post-war immigration.

Since the Early Modern Period the food of England has historically been
characterised by its simplicity of approach, honesty of flavour, and a
reliance on the high quality of natural produce. This has resulted in a
traditional cuisine which tended to veer from strong flavours, such as
garlic, and an avoidance of complex sauces which were commonly
associated with Catholic Continental political affiliations[1].

Traditional meals have ancient origins, such as bread and cheese,
roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, and freshwater and
saltwater fish. The 14th century English cookbook, the Forme of Cury,
contains recipes for these, and dates from the royal court of Richard
II.

Other customary dishes, such as fish and chips, which were once urban
street food eaten from newspaper with salt and malt vinegar, and pies
and sausages with mashed potatoes, onions, and gravy, are now matched in
popularity by curries from India and Bangladesh, and stir-fries based on
Chinese and Thai cooking. French cuisine and Italian cuisine, once
considered suspect and effeminate, are also now widely admired and
adapted. Britain was also quick to adopt the innovation of fast food
from the United States, and continues to absorb culinary ideas from all
over the world while at the same time rediscovering its roots in
sustainable rural agriculture.

Fish and chips

Modern British cuisine

The increasing popularity of celebrity chefs on television has fuelled a
renewed awareness of good food and New British cuisine has shaken off
something of the stodgy «fish and chips» image. The best London
restaurants rival those anywhere in the world, in both quality and
price, and this influence is starting to be felt in the rest of the
country. There are a number of chefs striving to reconstruct classic
British country cooking, such as Fergus Henderson, Simon Hopkinson or
Mark Hix.

There has been a massive boom in restaurant numbers driven by a renewed
interest in quality food, possibly due to the availability of cheap
foreign travel. Organic produce is increasingly popular, especially
following a spate of farming crises, including BSE.

There has also been a quiet revolution in both quality and quantity of
places to dine out in Britain; in particular, public houses have been
transformed in the last twenty or so years[citation needed]. Many have
made the transition from eateries of poor reputation to rivals of the
best restaurants. The so called gastropub – very often now are the best
restaurants in smaller towns. The term «pub grub», once derogatory, can
now be a sign of excellent value and quality dining. Some credit for
this sea change has to go to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), for
helping to improve the quality of pubs and their products in general,
and some to the privatisation of breweries, which forced many pubs to
diversify into dining in order to survive as a business, as well as a
greater appreciation and demand among consumers.

Baked bean sandwich

Traditional cuisine

Sunday roast consisting of roast beef, roast potatoes, vegetables and
Yorkshire pudding

The Sunday roast

The Sunday roast is perhaps the most common feature of English cooking.
The Sunday dinner traditionally includes roast potatoes accompanying a
roasted joint of meat such as roast beef, lamb, or a roast chicken and
assorted vegetables, themselves generally roasted or boiled and served
with a gravy. Yorkshire pudding and gravy is now often served as an
accompaniment to the main course, although it was originally served
first as a «filler». The practice of serving a roast dinner on a Sunday
is related to the elaborate preparation required, and to the housewife’s
practice of performing the weekly wash on a Monday, when the cold
remains of the roast made an easily-assembled meal. An elaborate version
of roast dinner is eaten at Christmas, with almost every detail rigidly
specified by tradition. Since its widespread availability after World
War II the most popular Christmas roast is turkey, superseding the goose
of Dickens’s time[2]. Game meats such as venison which were
traditionally the domain of higher classes are occasionally also eaten
by those wishing to experiment with a wider choice of foods, due to
their promotion by celebrity chefs, although it is not usually eaten
regularly in the average household.

Fish and chips, a popular take-away food of the United Kingdom.

The chip shop

England is internationally famous for its fish and chips and has a huge
number of restaurants and take-away shops selling this dish. It is
possibly the most popular and identifiable English dish, and is
traditionally served with a side order of mushy peas with salt and
vinegar as condiments. Foods such as scampi, a deep fried breaded prawn
dish, are also on offered as well as fishcakes or a number of other
combinations. The advent of take-away foods during the industrial
revolution led to foods such as fish and chips, mushy peas, and steak
and kidney pie with mashed potato (pie and mash). These were the staples
of the UK take-away business, and indeed of English diets however, like
many national dishes, quality can vary drastically from the commercial
or mass produced product to an authentic or homemade variety using more
discerning ingredients. However, through ethnic influences, particularly
those of Indian and Chinese, have given rise to the establishment and
availability of ethnic take-away foods.[3] From the 1980s onwards, a new
variant on curry, the balti, began to become popular in the West
Midlands, and by the mid 1990s was commonplace in Indian restaurants and
restaurants over the country. Kebab houses, pizza restaurants and
American-style fried chicken restaurants aiming at late night snacking
have also become popular in urban areas.

The full English

An English cooked breakfast.

The full English breakfast (also known as «cooked breakfast» or «fried
breakfast») also remains a culinary classic. Its contents vary but it
normally consists of a combination of bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried
bread, black pudding, baked beans, fried mushrooms, sausages, eggs
(fried, scrambled, poached or boiled) and other variations on these
ingredients and others. Hash browns are sometimes added, though this is
not considered traditional. In general, the domestic breakfast is less
elaborate, and most «full English» breakfasts are bought in cafes,
having been replaced by cereals at home. A young child’s breakfast might
include «soldiers», finger-shaped pieces of bread to be dipped in the
yolk of a lightly boiled egg.

The banger

English sausages, colloquially known as «bangers», are distinctive in
that they are usually made from fresh meats and rarely smoked, dried, or
strongly flavoured. Following the post World War II period, sausages
tended to contain low-quality meat, fat, and rusk. (Reputedly the term
«banger» derived from the excessive water added to the mix turning to
steam while cooking and bursting the casing with a bang.) However, there
has been a backlash in recent years, with most butchers and supermarkets
now selling premium varieties[4]. Pork and beef are by far the most
common bases, although gourmet varieties may contain venison, wild boar,
etc. There are particularly famous regional varieties, such as the
herbal Lincolnshire, and the long, curled Cumberland with many butchers
offering their own individual recipes and variations often handed down
through generations, but are generally not made from cured meats such as
Italian selections or available in such a variety as found in
Germany[5]. Most larger supermarkets in England will stock at least a
dozen types of English sausage: not only Cumberland and Lincolnshire but
often varieties such as Pork and Apple; Pork and Herb; Beef and Stilton;
Pork and Mozarella; Sundried Tomatoes and so forth. There are estimated
to be around 400 sausage varieties in the United Kingdom[6] Sausages
form the basis of dishes such as toad in the hole where they are
combined with a batter similar to a yorkshire pudding and baked in the
oven, this can be served with an onion gravy made by frying sliced
onions for anywhere over an hour on a low heat then mixed with a stock,
wine or ale then reduced to form a sauce or gravy used in bangers and
mash. A variant of the sausage is the black pudding, strongly associated
with Lancashire similar to the French boudin noir or the Spanish
Morcilla. It is made from pig’s blood, in line with the adage that «you
can eat every part of a pig except its squeal». Pig’s trotters, tripe
and brawn are also traditional fare in the North.

Bangers and mash.

The pie

Pies, originally a way to preserve food, have long been a mainstay of
English cooking. Meat pies are generally enclosed with fillings such as
chicken and mushroom or steak and kidney (originally steak and oyster).
Pork pies are almost always eaten cold, with the Melton Mowbray pork pie
being the archetype. Open pies or flans are generally served for dessert
with fillings of seasonal fruit. Quiches and savoury flans are eaten,
but not considered indigenous. The Cornish pasty is a much-loved
regional dish, constructed from pastry is folded into a semi-circular
purse, like a calzone. Another kind of pie is topped with mashed
potato—for instance, shepherd’s pie, with lamb, cottage pie, with beef,
or fisherman’s pie. As usual, there is a vast difference in quality
between mass produced and hand-made versions. Good quality pies are
obtainable from some pubs, traditional pie and mash shops, or specialist
bakeries.

The sandwich

England can claim to have given the world the word «sandwich», although
the eponymous Earl was not the first to add a filling to bread. Fillings
such as pickled relishes and Gentleman’s Relish could also be considered
distinctively British.

The Curry

Kedgeree, a popular breakfast dish in the Victorian era.

In the Victorian era, during the British Raj, Britain first started
borrowing Indian dishes, creating Anglo-Indian cuisine, some of which is
still eaten today although many once-popular Anglo-Indian dishes such as
kedgeree have largely faded from the scene[citation needed]. However the
word meaning ‘to spice’ has been used since the medieval period.

Bacon and kippers

Northern European countries generally have a tradition of salting,
smoking, pickling and otherwise preserving foods. Britons make kippers,
ham, bacon and a wide variety of pickled vegetables. Scottish smoked
fish—salmon and Arbroath smokies—are particularly prized. Smoked cheese
is uncommon. Meats other than pork are generally not cured. The «three
breakfasts a day» principle can be implemented by eating bacon
sandwiches, often referred to as «bacon sarnies» or «bacon butties», at
any time of the day or night.

Pickles, preserves and condiments

Pickles and preserves are given a twist by the influence of the British
Empire. Thus, the repertoire includes chutney as well as Branston or
«brown» pickle, piccalilli, pickled onions and gherkins. The Asian
influence is also present in condiments such as tomato sauce (originally
ketjap), Worcestershire sauce and «brown» sauce (such as HP). Because
Britain is a beer-drinking nation, malt vinegar is commonly used.
English mustard internationally noted for it pungency is particularly
associated with Colman’s of Norwich, is strongly-flavoured and bright
yellow and served with meats and cooked with cheese.

Pickles often accompany a selection of sliced, cold cooked meats, or
«cold collation». This dish can claim to have some international
influence, since it is known in French as an «assiette Anglaise».

High tea

It is believed by some that the English «drop everything» for a teatime
meal in the mid-afternoon. This is no longer the case in the workplace,
and is rarer in the home than it once was. A formal teatime meal is now
often an accompaniment to tourism, particularly in Devon and
neighbouring counties, where comestibles may include scones with jam and
clotted cream (known as a cream tea). There are also butterfly cakes,
simple small sponge cakes which can be iced or eaten plain. Nationwide,
assorted biscuits and sandwiches are eaten. Generally, however, the
teatime meal has been replaced by snacking, or simply ignored.

Tea itself, usually served with milk, is consumed throughout the day and
is sometimes drunk with meals. In recent years herbal teas and
speciality teas have also become popular. Coffee is perhaps a little
less common than in continental Europe, but is still drunk by many in
both its instant and percolated forms, often with milk (but rarely with
cream). Italian coffee preparations such as espresso and cappuccino and
modern American variants such as the frappuccino are increasingly
popular, but generally purchased in restaurants or from specialist
coffee shops rather than made in the home. Sugar is often added to
individual cups of tea or coffee, though never to the pot.

For much of the 20th century Britain had a system whereby milk was
delivered to the doorstep in reusable glass bottles in the mornings,
usually by special vehicles called «milk floats». This service continues
in some areas, though it has increasingly been replaced by supermarket
shopping. Many Britons consider their milk superior to the heat-treated
variety found in some other countries.

Cheese

Cheese is generally hard, and made from cows’ milk. Cheddar cheese,
originally made in the town of Cheddar, is by far the most common type,
with many variations. Tangy Cheshire, salty Caerphilly, Sage Derby, Red
Leicester, creamy Double Gloucester and sweet Wensleydale are some
traditional regional varieties. Cheddar and the rich, blue-veined
Stilton have both been called the king of English cheeses. Cornish Yarg
is a successful modern variety. The name ‘Cheddar cheese’ has become
widely used internationally, and does not currently have a protected
designation of origin (PDO). However, the European Union recognises West
Country Farmhouse Cheddar as a PDO. To meet this standard the cheese
must be made in the traditional manner using local ingredients in one of
the four designated counties of South West England: Somerset, Devon,
Dorset, or Cornwall. Sheep and goat cheeses are made chiefly by craft
producers. Continental cheeses such as French Brie are sometimes also
manufactured.

Pudding

Pudding consists of many original home-made desserts such as rhubarb
crumble, bread and butter pudding, trifle and spotted dick. The
traditional accompaniment is custard, sometimes known as creme anglaise
(English sauce or English cream made with eggs and milk) to the French,
however in Victorian times Alfred Bird, a Birmingham Chemist, operating
from premises in New Street found that his wife much enjoyed custard but
was allergic to eggs and so he invented a substitute made from cornflour
and vanilla . The dishes are simple and traditional, with recipes passed
on from generation to generation. There is also a dried fruit based
Christmas pudding, and the almond flavoured Bakewell tart.

Savoury course

Another formal British culinary tradition rarely observed today is the
consumption of a savoury course, such as Welsh rarebit, toward the
conclusion of a meal. This now though may be eaten as a snack or a light
lunch or supper. Most main meals today end with a sweet dessert,
although cheese and biscuits may be consumed as an alternative or as an
addition. In Yorkshire, fruit cake is often served with Wensleydale
cheese. Coffee can sometimes be a culminatory drink.

Drinks

Wine can be served with meals, though for semi-formal and informal meals
beer, lager or cider may also be drunk.

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