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English Food - Good or Bad?

Updated on November 7, 2014

Traditional English Food - Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole - Sausages baked in batter, a popular, traditional, English dish.
Toad in the Hole - Sausages baked in batter, a popular, traditional, English dish. | Source

Standards in Restaurants Then and Now

We English have a reputation for bad cooking and this has made us a real joke in France where food is of paramount importance.

We are improving, though, and some of our traditional food is good when cooked properly using good quality ingredients even if some of it, like black pudding, is an acquired taste.

After the World War II much of food served in restaurants was abysmal. Probably caused by wartime and post-war food rationing but things didn't improve after rationing ended and food was plentiful. Caterers seemed to have got into bad habits because, as a nation, the English are not good at complaining and people were accustomed to poor food when eating out.

“The British Empire was created as a by-product of generations of desperate Englishmen roaming the world in search of a decent meal.”

— Bill Marsano

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

A main course at one of England's award-winning restaurants, famous for fine dining.
A main course at one of England's award-winning restaurants, famous for fine dining. | Source

Now England Has Award Winning Restaurants

Things have changed, though. People go to other countries and experience good food at reasonable prices in restaurants. Additionally, many foreign chefs have come to Britain and opened restaurants and takeaways. The last thirty or forty years have seen new generations of keen, English chefs too.

Nowadays, world famous chefs and restaurants can be found, not only in London, but also the rest of the country. Think of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Rick Stein and his Cornish fish restaurants, Michel Roux and the Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire, to name just three.

There are many less expensive restaurants and takeaways where you can buy good food, well cooked, although there are some that are still terrible but that's the same pretty much anywhere in the world.

Pork Pie - Another Traditional English Dish

A Home-Made Pork Pie - quite unusual because most people buy them ready made.
A Home-Made Pork Pie - quite unusual because most people buy them ready made. | Source

"On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners."

— George Mikes

Great British Cooking: A Well-kept Secret

Great British Cooking: A Well-kept Secret
Great British Cooking: A Well-kept Secret

What a great selection of traditional British recipes! From fish and chips to pork pies, Mulligatawney soup to Coronation chicken. There are starters, main courses, fish, meat, desserts and much more...

 

Cooking in the Home Today

Cooking in the home seems to split into three categories. The first is that nobody in the home can or is willing to cook and they live entirely on take-aways, ready meals or snacks. In the second category, they cook as a hobby and can produce high standard cuisine at the drop of a tablespoon - this is the smallest group.

In between these two extremes are the people who can produce what is described here as 'good plain cooking'. This is food that we all remember from our childhoods and really like. This group is usually made up of older people who learned to cook as a matter of course so it gets smaller every year as people die.

I left school in the late 1960s and all girls (yes, it was that sexist) learned to cook at school and usually at home too. By the time we were 16 years old, we had usually mastered basic cooking skills. Children have not been taught to cook at school or at home for many years now and so there is a whole generation who can't cook although they can use a microwave.

The future for home-cooked food doesn't look bright.

A Sunday Roast Dinner

Roast Beef with Roast Potatoes and Carrots, ready for serving
Roast Beef with Roast Potatoes and Carrots, ready for serving | Source

The English Sunday Roast

The 'Sunday Roast' has been a longstanding tradition in English homes but home-cooked roast Sunday lunches are much less common nowadays.

Families often don't eat together anymore so a roasting a large piece of meat is no longer popular when most of it won't be eaten when it's freshly cooked. The lack of cooking skills also mean there are fewer people able to successfully produce a good roast meal.

Twenty or thirty years ago, Sunday lunch was the best meal of the week and would have been the most expensive meat affordable, usually a 'joint' roasted in the oven. The quintessential Sunday roast was beef served with separate Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, two different kinds of vegetables, like cabbage and carrots for example, and gravy.

It would be followed by a pudding (dessert), perhaps treacle pudding, jam roly poly, apple pie or fruit crumble. All these would be served with custard. If you didn't like custard (like me), then you had it with 'top of the milk' or dry.


Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie, in the past, often made with the leftover meat from the Sunday roast.
Cottage Pie, in the past, often made with the leftover meat from the Sunday roast. | Source

Post-War Frugality and the Sunday Roast

In postwar years, even after rationing ended but frugality was a way of life, a Sunday roast would be expected to last for several meals.

It was served hot and delicious on Sunday, as cold meat with potatoes and vegetables on Monday, as minced meat on Tuesday and as something like rissoles or shepherd's pie on Wednesday. If the cook was really careful and bulked out the meat with plenty of carrots and swede, the shepherd's pie might do two days so you'd eat it Thursday as well.

No wonder we loved our Sunday roast when it was fresh and we weren't fed up with it!

Although beef was thought to be the best Sunday roast, it could also be pork, chicken or lamb. Whatever it was, it was supposed to last for several days. The different meats, except for chicken, had their own special sauces: beef was served with horseradish and/or mustard, pork with applesauce, lamb with mint sauce.

Roast Pork with Crackling

Roast pork with crackling (the skin cooked so it's crisp and delicious). You can see the apple sauce at the top, the traditional accompaniment to roast pork.
Roast pork with crackling (the skin cooked so it's crisp and delicious). You can see the apple sauce at the top, the traditional accompaniment to roast pork. | Source

The Sunday Roast Today

Nowadays, a real Sunday roast dinner or lunch is a treat because so few people cook this kind of meal regularly. Some pubs offer a 'Carvery' Sunday lunch. This means roast meat which is carved for each customer. It's a 'serve yourself' buffet, you take your plate round and help yourself to vegetables, roast potatoes, gravy and sauces. You choose what kind of roast meat you want and a server carves it for you and puts it on your plate.

These Carvery meals are hugely popular and in the best pubs, you have to make a reservation or arrive early to make sure you get served.

How to Cook Roast Beef for Sunday Lunch

Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities, and Country Villages...

Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast: Authentic Pub Food, Restaurant Fare, and Home Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities, and Country Villages Across the British Isles
Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast: Authentic Pub Food, Restaurant Fare, and Home Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities, and Country Villages Across the British Isles

We are used to watching the famous chefs like Jamie Olivers and Gordon Ramsey but there is great cooking going on all over the UK. Here is a selection of recipes from those chefs who are unsung heroes of good food.

 

Fish and Chips

When writing about English or British food, fish and chips must make an appearance because it's one of our most famous meals and one that most people here eat from time to time.

It was part of our childhoods and a great treat when our mother or father brought fish and chips home, hot and wrapped in newspaper in those days. Not only did we have a lovely meal to eat, we had something to read too. Most people just unwrapped their food and ate it out of the paper. In fact, the same thing happens today except now it's wrapped in nice, clean, white paper to keep it hot.

We also eat it walking along the street or sitting on a public bench somewhere.

A good fish and chip shop can have long queues (lines) stretching out the door of people waiting to buy. You can get served in a few seconds in a bad fish and chip shop because their reputation will have driven customers away.

Watch the video below to see what a good example is like and how it's cooked.

Traditional Fish and Chips

The Michelin Guide 2015

MICHELIN Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2015 (Michelin Red Guide)
MICHELIN Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2015 (Michelin Red Guide)

The famous Michelin Guides to hotels and restaurants lists only the best of the best. If you love fine dining, this is the guide you need when visiting the UK and Ireland.

 

So is English Food Good or Bad?

My feeling is that it's both, depending who is cooking or producing it. Like many industrialised countries, here in England we suffer from lack of time or inclination for home cooking as well as loss of skills to do it at all.

This isn't universal, though. There are many young people who love cooking and do it well. Some love it so much they choose it as a career and eventually open their own restaurants producing excellent food.

Too many people still use the microwave for 'cooking' or buy ready meals that only require the addition of boiling water to make them edible - although the definition of edible in some cases might be a bit loose or even inaccurate.

As for eating out, restaurants, hotels and many cafés provide excellent food and range in price from very affordable to extremely expensive.

Bad food isn't an English problem, it's a modern life problem and perhaps the growing emphasis on healthy eating will encourage more people to make sure the food they eat is good and well cooked.

© 2014 Carol Fisher

What Do You Think of English Food?

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    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Loved all that stuff... pork pies, lamb with mint sauce, faggots and mushy peas... an English breakfast... ahh, thanks for the memories!

    • mio cid profile image

      mio cid 

      3 years ago from Uruguay

      Well ,if you don't write a whole hub about it add it somewhere because I would really like to try it.I have no Irish ancestry that I know of but my home becomes an Irish home every Saint Patrick's day with a different corned beef and cabbage dinner every year.I know this is really not a real Irish meal for Saint Patrick but an American creation but ,who cares, it's delicious and my family loves it.

    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      3 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      mio cid Thank you for the suggestion to write about the pork pie. Maybe I will, I'll think about it.

    • mio cid profile image

      mio cid 

      3 years ago from Uruguay

      I think any meal no matter how simple can be delicious ,and I love to try all kinds of foods from different cultures.You should write a hub on the pork pie recipe,that one looks particularly appetizing .

    • peterb6001 profile image

      Peter Badham 

      3 years ago from England

      English food is definitely improving, with some great chefs leading the way, like Tom Kerridge and Marcus Wareing. I don't think anybody could argue that chefs now couldn't make Englands dishes into stunning cuisine.

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      3 years ago from Canada

      Old English style fish and chips get a huge thumbs up from me. I love it. The heavier meat meals not so much but for the fish I would attempt to swim the ocean to get there.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      3 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      You reminded me of my mother's home cooked meals - Sunday roast that lasted most of the week, with fish on Friday (not that we were Catholic, just that's the way it was). And as a student I ate a lot of fish and chips! It all seemed very delicious too.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 

      3 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Pork pies make great (though guilty) breakfasts

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 

      3 years ago

      I rather think that any cuisine that features blood pudding is suspect.

      And that thing your relatives do to a sheep's stomach is nauseating!

      American cooking which features the otherwise inedible portions of the nether regions of a pig is clearly superior if somewhat untruthful. Though we refer to it as a hotdog, alas, none of the mangier representatives of the dog kingdom are sacrificed in the making. At least, as far as I know...more's the pity. Given that all my neighbors have their dogs "visit" my lawn, I have decided I don't like dogs in general and I like dog owners even less.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna 

      4 years ago from UK

      I'll answer your question before reading your Hub in case you sway me! English food is VERY good, and that's coming form an Italian!

      Yes you've 'nailed it' - I love your photos. Great Hub.

    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      4 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I agree, you can find excellent food here although there is still badly cooked food too. Having said that, I've occasionally had poor meals in France - it all depends on where you eat and, often, local knowledge.

    • David Paul Wagner profile image

      David Paul Wagner 

      4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      British food has been put down as recently as 2005 by French President Jacques Chirac when he said "One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad". I think the reality these days is that English food and British food more generally can be excellent.

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