British Cuisine

British Cuisine
Originally a basic peasant cuisine aimed at filling and warming, the cuisine of all regions in Britain has been influenced as much by various invasions as it has by the cool, damp climate. The first invaders were the Romans who, arriving in 42AD, brought with them garlic, onions, cabbages, peas and other root vegetables as well as numerous aromatic herbs including thyme, basil, rosemary and mint.

The Italian culinary influence also reached out to the Saxon farmyard and countryside, with chickens, brown hares and pheasants introduced, and deer and boar-hunting supplementing the Roman meat-rich diet. Wine was also introduced and became very popular with the British elite in Roman towns, although peasants had to be content with beer.

The Vikings brought dill, coriander, celery seeds and other flavourings, and introduced dishes based on barley as well as new ways to cook fish. The present-day staples, potatoes, arrived from the Americas in the 16th century as a result of exploration of the New World undertaken in the time of Queen Elizabeth I.

The Norman Conquest in 1066 brought sugar, spices such as nutmeg, pepper and ginger and the rich cuisine of France, with medieval recipes such as Christmas pudding and hot-cross buns still in use nowadays. In the ensuing centuries, the elite ate only French-inspired foods, distinguishing them from the peasant working class.

The far-flung reach of the British Empire and its connection with the New World across the Atlantic introduced many new culinary concepts to the British Isles, including spices from the Far East and curry from India as well as the all-important tea, now a British obsession, along with coffee and hot chocolate, originally from the Americas.

The 2Oth century’s successive waves of immigration, peaking after WWII and still continuing, have brought even more foreign foods to the UK, happily integrated into home and restaurant meals. Indian food is now the most popular eating-out treat across the country, replacing Chinese cuisine, and eateries serving specialities from all over the world are now found in small and large towns as well as major cities.

Even so, a number of irreplaceable traditional foods are still favourites, with British Fish and Chips one of the most notable. ‘Chippies’, take-out and occasionally eat-in as well, are everywhere, with many of the best run by immigrants from Greece, Cyprus and even India. Sausage and mash is best eaten in pubs, and jellied eels are best in the East End of London.

In Scotland, haggis is the traditional dish for festivities such as Burns Night and New Year and, in spite of its recipe involving a sheep’s stomach, is delicious served with rich gravy. Yorkshire pudding, a famous accompaniment to roast beef, Welsh lava bread made with seaweed and Irish stew are all regional favourites.