British diet is shaped by the climate of the UK, its geography and its history. The ever increasing popularity of celebrity chefs has fuelled a new sense of awareness for fresh food and healthy ingredients, the old UK diet image of ‘fish and chips’ wrapped in a newspaper has been shaken off as Britain moves into an era of new British cuisine.
Being an island with no bordering countries makes fishing in Britain easy. Fish are a central part of the English diet. Many species swim in the cold waters: sole, haddock, hake, plaice, cod (the most popular choice for fish and chips), turbot, halibut and mullet. Oily fish are also abundant (mackerel, pilchards, and herring).The stereotypical English garden has long been a source of herbs and vegetables in British cuisine, though many people are now looking further afield for more exotic spices.
English cuisine is most known for its mix or traditional dishes and individual specialities, though cooking techniques have been absorbed into the culture from all over the world; most commonly stir-frying and deep-pan frying. Traditionally, Britain is known for its baking.
English cuisine is most known to the rest of the world for its pies, sausages (there are said to be over 400 varieties of sausages) and its world-acclaimed cheese. Many famous British menus include dishes such as:
- Fish and chips
- The full English breakfast – A substantial morning meal of eggs, bacon, sausages, smoked fish, black pudding, and other offerings
- A ploughman’s lunch – A large piece of cheese with bread and pickles served in pubs. Ale is the favourite accompaniment
- High tea – A late afternoon “snack meal” with tea. A classic option would include scones spread with butter, jam and clotted cream and small crust-less, open-faced sandwiches
- Sunday roast – The friends and relatives gather around the table on Sunday afternoons for a traditional meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, vegetables, and gravy
- Bangers and mash – Sausage and mash potatoes
- Black pudding – Fatty, starchy sausage thickened with pig’s blood
- Cornish pasty – Turnover stuffed with minced meat, onions and vegetables (particularly potatoes)
- Lancashire hotpot – Meat and vegetable casserole covered with sliced potatoes
- Shepherd’s pie – Chopped lamb topped with mashed potatoes and grated cheese
- Cottage pie is similar, but made with beef
- Steak and kidney pie – The above meats are mixed with onions and mushrooms, then crowned with a pastry crust and baked
- Toad in the hole – Baked batter-coated sausage
- Yorkshire pudding – Soufflé-like baked specialty made with flour, milk and egg. Served with roast beef
Many of the best loved English dishes are so through tradition, though many others are due to international influence. The introduction of chicken tikka masala and the balti in the 70s and 80s have lead to a strong Indian influence in our culture. Some cuisines are imported from other countries with an English slant. For example Chinese food has a strong influence, though when dining in a Chinese restaurant we may be offered spare ribs in a BBQ sauce, this is an example of cross over cuisine.
English cuisine still suffers from a relatively poor international reputation, being typically represented by dishes consisting of simply cooked meats and vegetables that need to be accompanied by bottled sauces or other flavourings to make them more palatable after having been cooked.
Though this image is changing with the ever increasing emphasis from chefs for quality, fresh, healthy food, it will prove hard work though to move away from the typical western fast food culture we have all come to accept. Unlike the rest of the world Britain has one of the highest percentages of vegetarians in the western world; around 7 million people claim not to eat meat.
Beyond England, the British Isles sports further diverse culinary traditions. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish cuisine all vary considerably. The Scottish diet is perhaps most commonly associated with haggis and deep-fried Mars Bars. not the most healthy combination!
Northern Irish diets were traditionally based around the potato, and in some rural areas of Northern Ireland they still are. Please check back for sections on Scottish diet, Welsh diet and Northern Irish diet.