It’s unfair to visualize British food as akin to its dull, dreary weather, or to compare it to that of its nearest neighbors – the Mediterranean delights of France and Italy that have stolen the world’s heart and stomach.
It is certainly not fair to even compare it to the vibrant spread of the eastern kitchens. However, to give Her Majesty’s staples their due, British food has a lot more to it than credited for. Yes, the classic British fare that we have drooled over in Enid Blyton’s stories are certainly worth trying out. They can get addictive though!
Here’s a list to wade through and relish, at any British home or eatery, when the next opportunity presents itself.
Fish and Chips:
A child of the Industrial revolution, this dish of fresh fish doused with flavored batter, crisp – fried and served with chips and vinegar has many interesting stories about its origin. Fried fish of East End in London was first immortalized by Dickens in his Oliver Twist, 1839.
So when did Fish & Chips become Britain’s National Food? It is a duel here, between London and Lancashire, both claiming credit for having invented this dish.
Some believe that in 1863, a resident of North England, Mr. Lees, first started selling fish and chips out of a wooden hut in the Moseley market, near Oldham, Lancashire. He later expanded his business and moved to a bigger, better shop that he proudly branded with an inscription, “This is the first fish and chip shop in the world”.
London, on the other hand, claimed that Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant, opened his fish and chips shop much earlier, in 1860, at Cleveland Street.
Be it as it may, Fish & Chips are here to stay – as the best comfort food of all time.
Scotch Savories for all time:
Haggis is a traditional Scotch pudding made with ‘offal’, the organs of sheep– heart, liver and lungs. With oatmeal, onions and spicy stock to add flavor, this is a favorite among meat and sausage lovers. Rooted in history, this pudding is associated with Scotland’s beloved son, Robert Burns, the poet of the famours’Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Address to Haggis’. Burn’s nights and suppers are a tradition at universities and Haggis is served with Turnips and Potatoes with a great deal of Scotch for good measure.
This dish of soft boiled eggs cooked just- so to hold, and not run, engulfed in spiced mince or sausage meat and crumbed and fried, is one of the best legacies of the Scots. Usually served cold with salad and pickles, the dish’s origin is obscure but tempered with tales.
According to some sources, a department store in London, Fortnum & Mason, invented the dish in 1738. Others say that the creators of the dish took inspiration from Nargisi Kofta, a Mughlai dish of meatballs.
Kedgeree, a Colonial Classic
When the ‘East India Company’ came to India, they found comfort in the comparatively less spicy ‘Kichri’ – a soft bland comfort food made of legumes and rice. True to form, the English added protein to fortify the dish they had come to love, and brought home their version laced with eggs, fish and more.
While today, smoked haddock may be on the list of ingredients, Victorian England even added leftover morsels to excite the English breakfast table that quickly moved from porridge to Kedgeree, much to the chagrin of hotel chefs all over. Still a treasure that clings to its past, the Kedgeree today can get as exciting and exotic as the chef or the gourmet that enjoys it, wills it to be.
Steak and Kidney Pie
Up until World War II, the puddings and pies of England served the hardworking laborer well, with a happy balance of carbs, protein and fat. It was days of slow cooking and the women had chores to complete even as they piled food on the table, to suit their affordability and lifestyle.
The pie, sweet or savory, could be made ahead of time and assembled to slow cook while work got done. Pastry was made and chilled for as long as it was needed, the filling needed to be cold, so was thrown together ahead of time. Meat, Kidney, Mushrooms or Oysters and onions were spiced and cooked well, fried and baked with plenty of butter. Assembled and baked for hours, the pie and its brown gravy remain classic food that levels all – the wealthy or the Dickensian man on the street; this was wholesome fare within reach. And thus it remains.
Welsh Cawl: Heart and Soul Soup
Nothing can beat a British hot water bag and a bowl of Welsh Cawl, for a cold winter’s day however far away from Great Britain you might be. Known as Wales’ National dish, this simple wholesome meal in a pot is as tasty as it is satisfying and nourishing.
Cawl, traditionally, can be made using any meat or vegetables and has many recipe variations. Known as ‘lobscows’ in the northern parts of Wales, this soup that borders on a stew tastes much better the day after it is made, once all the flavors blend to make culinary magic. Traditionally served on wooden bowls and slurped from wooden spoons, the soup is accompanied by Welsh cheese and homemade bread, torn to bite size chunks.
Bread and Butter Pudding
The best British treats are often surprisingly simple to make and serve. The classic bread and butter pudding is exactly what it sounds like: a pudding made of buttered bread. Of course the custard is the friend that binds the two and has held its place from times bygone until today.
A day old bread is good enough and cuts well into triangles that are generously buttered and layered with sultanas and spices. Golden homemade custard of milk, cream and eggs provides the filler and topping that bakes to a golden brown.
Served warm or cold, this is a dessert for royalty and peasant folk alike.
A dessert that is an eternal favorite for all age groups, what’s more, the trifle is far from decadent.
This old British classic, the standard fare and legacy of colonial clubs all over the world, is nothing but layered cake bits or sponge fingers, jelly, cream and loads of fresh fruit. Nothing to make one guilty about, if one can go easy on the cream.
Second only to the Christmas Plum Pudding, this great British dessert has won the world over, colony or not.