For some reason the mention of “British” food always manages to bring a smile to the faces of the food connoisseurs of the world. The British have always had a hard time shaking off their reputation for bland, boring meat & potatoes type fare. However, there are some real gems to be found when exploring today’s British food scene and London is easily one of the best cities in Europe for eating out. Every type of food can be found in London – from the food of the common man, to food fit for the queen. Some foods can probably trace their origin back to the days when the Brits ruled faraway lands and developed their love for rich spices.
2010 statistics from VisitBritain.com show that visitors to Britain enjoyed eating out and almost eight out of ten (79%) overseas holidaymakers said eating in British restaurants was their top activity. Also according to VisitBritain, British restaurants won more Michelin stars in 2010 than at any other time in the 35-year history of the gastronomic award. So maybe it’s time to visit Britain, hop on a train, explore new cities and open up your taste buds to the latest in British gastronomy.
While the food scene is changing, some all time favorites always need a mention and where better to start than with the popular “take away” (aka take-out) dish of fish and chips. This is best enjoyed when the chips (aka French fries) are fat, quite greasy, seasoned with lots of salt and vinegar and served to you in a brown paper bag. The fish traditionally used is cod and it is usually lightly battered and deep fried, although bread crumb coated varieties can be found too. Every town in Britain has a “Chippy” or two to choose from and this is a dish enjoyed by the Brits since the mid 1800′s, preferably on a Friday night after a hard weeks work and a pint at the local pub.
The traditional British Sunday roast still survives and is enjoyed in most homes every Sunday. Tender roast beef with crispy roast potatoes, lashings of gravy and steamed vegetables always makes for a tasty and satisfying meal. In London a good place to try this is at a restaurant simply called Roast in the Borough Market. If you plan to travel to the north of England for your Sunday roast, you will find Yorkshire puddings on your plate. These small savory dumplings are the perfect companion to roast beef and gravy. Its best to try real Yorkshire puddings in Yorkshire – Britain’s largest county is only 2 hours by train from London and well worth a visit.
Afternoon tea is a must-do when visiting Britain, of course the list of iconic ritzy places to savor finger sandwiches, scones with jam, strawberries and cream is endless, but if in London, The Langham hotels Palm Court is the place to indulge. This hotel is famed as the place where the tradition of afternoon tea was born over 140 years ago. Tea times may vary slightly, but tea is usually served between 2.30 and 5pm. Note: The photo is not of the Langham hotels Palm Court afternoon tea.
Afternoon coffee is a nice alternative for those who aren’t big tea drinkers. Why not combine a good British literary experience with a cup of perfectly brewed coffee! Take the train up north and visit the little village of Howarth in Yorkshire. Here you can tread in the footsteps of the Bronte sisters, take a walk in the moors to see the ruins of the house that is considered to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights and when you are done, leave plenty of time for a visit to Number 10 and where Clare – the owner of this little café, will act as your barista, allowing you to sniff your way through her selection of coffees before she grinds and brews them to perfection. She bakes like an angel too and after a walk on the moors there is nothing more enjoyable than a cup of coffee and a slice of her chocolate cake.
Continue north of Yorkshire up into Scotland and if you dare you can try the famed Scottish dish of Haggis. The cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow are just over 2 hours by train from the north of England. Of course if Haggis is not what you want to sample, you can always get a great Shepherd’s Pie in most pubs or restaurants and wash it down with a good Scottish whiskey. Shepherd’s Pie is the ubiquitous comfort food of Britain. This staple in the comfort food genre was originally made from leftover lamb or mutton, but many would argue that the ground beef version of this dish is just as good. It consists of meat topped with mashed potatoes and is served just about everywhere.
No visit to Britain is complete without trying Britain’s versions of Indian food. Britain is probably the best place after India to experience the diversity of food from the Indian sub continent. However there are some Indian dishes that are considered to be quite British, such as Chicken Tikka Masala. This dish is as widely available as Shepherd’s Pie. As the name suggests, it is made of “tikka” or cubes of chicken in a mildly flavored “masala “or sauce. Its origins are disputed – some say it was created as street food in the Indian state of Punjab, while others credit London’s Soho district for this flavorful but mild chicken curry. We say it doesn’t matter where it’s from, just use your city sightseeing passes to travel around the cities you are visiting and sample as much of it as you can.
Another Indian favorite with roots in Britain are the famous “balti” dishes of Birmingham. “Balti” or “Balty” comes from the Urdu or Hindi word for bucket. Fortunately this curry isn’t really cooked in a bucket, buts its distinct flavor comes from the cooking process in a thin, wok shaped steel pot called a balti. Birmingham is easy to reach by train – it is only an hour and 22 minutes from London, so makes for an easy day trip. Consider having lunch in Birmingham one day – after all there is nothing quite like a balti curry with hot buttered naan bread or basmati rice.
British food has evolved over the years and the “meat and potatoes” dishes have embraced other spices and flavors. British food is a great gastronomic experience, whether your palate prefers the traditional comfort foods or the ones influenced by the spices from far flung lands.