Most English people regard food as fuel. I still have vivid memories of grey meat, grey potatoes, grey vegetables and “grey” flavour, eating in England only a few years ago. Just consider and Englishman calling oysters “slippery little blighters” and you will understand the culinary limitation of their stomachs.
For most, an overcooked roast rib of beef along with Yorkshire pudding or popover is a delicacy to be enjoyed Sundays, or pork back ribs cooked until the meat falls off the bone, constitutes a fine lunch along with a pint or two of dark, sweetish ale. Then of course there is the deep fried battered fish fillet called “fish and chips”. Vegetables are usually overcooked and slathered with inordinate amounts of butter. English food is honest and simple. English cookery tends to produce unadorned food, a lost of baked goods, sweets, and tea, Fruits are consumed as marmalades, preserves, and cooked in desserts more than enjoyed fresh in their natural state of enhanced with a little eau-de-vie or rum, and a small rosette of whipped cream. England produces fine cheeses like Cheddar, Stilton, Cheshire, Caerphilly and many more.
The English breakfast on the other hand is a substantial meal, which starts with cereals (cooked or not), fried eggs, bacon, grilled tomato, cookies, toast, jam, butter, teas and more tea. A good breakfast could sustain you for a whole day.
At lunch maybe a soggy white bread egg salad sandwich will tie you over until dinner. The younger generation of English travel and appreciate good food and look for it when they return.
These days there are many TV shows explaining the finer points of cooking, and in fact there are many fine restaurants, albeit very expensive. No wonder there are so many Indian restaurants in England where reasonable prices and tasty food attract those who are interested in tasty treats. Of late, Chinese take-out seems to be popular.
In fact when centuries ago the English nobility knew enough to hire French chefs to cook for them. Here are some English specialties: jellied ell, Chelsea buns, kippers, syllabub, Ipswich almond pudding, fish and chips, banger ands mash, Warwick scones, Fats rascals (raisin scones), ginger cake, candied ginger, fig pie, black pudding (blood sausage), head cheese, hams, bubble and squeak, tripe and onions, soused mackerel, treacle tart, trifle, mince pie, muffins, hot cross buns.
These “delicacies” prompted many to favour Indian, French, Italian, Arabic and Moroccan specialties, and surprisingly, Fortnum and Mason’s and Harrod’s in London operate huge well stocked gourmet food sections with a range of hams, sausages, prepared salads, smoked fish, pates, dressings, cheeses and cold roasts.
The wealth and gourmet foods in London and other major cities may be able to educate those in smaller urban centres who can afford, to appreciate tasty food. The trend started already with the younger and better-travelled generation.
Let’s hope that the trend will continue and the population in general becomes more food-savvy.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu