If you watch any American comedy show and they ever talk about British people, you will hear three kinds of jokes.
- British people are polite.
- We all have terrible teeth.
- Our food is the worst in the world.
If you ask any non-British person to describe our national cuisine, you will most likely hear the words bland, tasteless and “please don’t make me eat it”. But how has our food developed this dreadful reputation and is it really deserved?
They say a great chef is only as good as their ingredients. In the past this was a major problem. While these isles are blessed with some of the best fish, meat and dairy products in the world, there are a lot of things missing from our natural pantry. It’s no surprise that some of our traditional dishes taste like wallpaper paste seeing as they were invented before we had any pepper, spices, sugar or chocolate. We couldn’t even have fish and chips until potatoes were introduced from South America in 1588.
So which dishes are the worst offenders? According to a 2019 survey, black pudding, jellied eels and haggis were rated as the least popular. When you look at a brief description it’s easy to understand why. Black pudding is a sausage made from congealed pig’s blood. Jellied eels look like bits of fish that have already been eaten by another fish. Haggis is a cow’s stomach stuffed with oats, heart, lungs, liver and pretty much anything else the butcher finds on the floor. The weird thing is though, once you get past the idea of what’s in them, they’re absolutely delicious. Apart from the jellied eels- they taste like something a ghost sneezed.
Some of our more questionable dishes were invented in post war Britain. Food was in short supply and rationing didn’t end until 1954. Some of our more questionable dishes were invented in post war Britain. Food was in short supply and rationing didn’t end until 1954. This meant each household could only have a limited amount of key ingredients and had to make do with plain food and mystery meat. The focus had to be on function rather than flavour. Even the rich tradition of local cheeses like stilton and wensleydale was under threat. To make sure there was enough for everyone, the only cheese allowed to be produced was the unappetizingly named ‘Government Cheddar’. Yum! However, it wasn’t all bad. Fruit crumble and carrot cake were both invented as a way to make a dessert using less sugar.
But surely this was all a long time ago? This may be the country of the kidney pudding and the deep-fried mars bar but it’s also the land of Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver and the Sunday roast.
In truth, the old joke about British food is an outdated stereotype that, like the smell of jellied eels, refuses to go away. There has been a food revolution in this country in the last 20 years brought about by a combination of multi-culturalism and Masterchef. Today there are 66 Michelin starred restaurants in London alone serving up some of the finest delicacies from all over the world. If you look around you’ll find a plethora of amazing taste sensations. Just don’t order the jellied eels.
If you want to learn more about our food, here are 5 British dishes you should try: