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Comfort Food: British & American

Updated on June 10, 2015
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Comfort foods: Comparing British with American

We heard someone on the radio talking about comfort food recently which resulted in quite a conversation between me and himself. What exactly, we asked each other, is comfort food? That naturally developed into the further discussion between us - a couple of Brits living in the USA - namely, are comfort foods different in each country?

The answer, which you'll see below is 'yes and no'.After researching hundreds of websites (probably not, but it felt like it) I've developed the ultimate top ten comfort foods for each country. What do you think? In addition to hearing from British and American people,I'd love to hear from people in other countries too. What would your list be? Let me know in the comments section below.

Images from Wikimedia Commons and artworked by BritFlorida.

Definition

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Here's Google's definition. Do you agree? Before we start with the list, do you want to guess which foods are the most popular in each country? I wonder if you'll be surprised?How different are we? How similar are we? Let's find out.

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First place

Were you expecting this or does it surprise you? Yes, pizza wins in the States and a good old fashioned roast dinner is the top of the charts in Britain.I'm pretty torn here. I love pizza - cold pizza for breakfast is even fine by me - and I don't eat meat so that should exclude the roast dinner. But look - fluffy, gorgeous Yorkshire puddings...

Pizza in its various forms was eaten thousands of years ago by ancient civilizations and was popular throughout Europe but it only became truly popular in the USA after the Second World War.As for the roast dinner, it's said that its origins are in Yorkshire (of course).

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Second favourites

The American choice here is one that baffles many English people. 'Biscuits' in Britain are what are known as 'cookies' in the States. Very confusing - imagine, cookies with gravy sounds gross.What's interesting about this list of foods is noticing which of these dishes originate in other countries. As far as I know, biscuits and gravy is a completely American dish. (Let me know below if I've got it wrong).

Whilst shepherd's pie was listed as being incredibly popular in the UK, cottage pie was mentioned too. Aren't they the same? Nope.To be strictly correct, shepherd's pie should be made (hence the name) from lamb or mutton and topped with mashed potato.Cottage pie can be made with any meat (even leftovers) and can be topped with mash or sliced potatoes. True.

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In third place

Now at first glance, it looks as though the two countries agree here but that's not strictly true. The clue is in the descriptive words you see alongside the images.Americans like fries, British people like chips. Fries, which are considerably thinner than chips, originated in Belgium, although the French hotly dispute that as you can imagine.

The English chip is larger and should,in order to be a proper chip, be cooked in beef dripping and not oil.My question is, do people still make chips / fries at home? My mum was a chips-with-everything cook and we only had 'bought' chips on Saturday lunchtimes. Do people still make their own?

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And fourth on the list...

Again, the two counties have something in common as our fourth choice is pasta. See how different they are though. Americans didn't didn't specify which sauce they prefer on their spaghetti.

As for the British choice, lasagne, I have a firm bee in my bonnet that lasagne was invented in England in the UK. There is a recipe in the Forme of Cury (written in the fourteenth century) that describes a perfect lasagne recipeIt's interesting though that both countries chose pasta when it isn't 'native' to either - although I do think that when something has been around since the fourteenth century, that's pretty native.So our third choices were similar, as were our fourth selections. What will our next choices be?

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Fifth on the list

Interesting. Americans had spaghetti as their fourth choice but didn't specify a sauce. But in fifth place, the Brits had spaghetti too but specifically with bolognese sauce.The chicken soup that is so popular in America would be considered 'broth' by most British people. When we think of chicken soup we think of the 'cream of' version. (Well, I do).

By what I have read, I'm a little surprised that the States doesn't have this soup higher on the list. Isn't it supposed to be a cure-all? Oh, Britain's favourite soup? I'd say either cream of tomato or some form of seafood bisque.What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below. Now,let's see how similar (or dissimilar) our sixth choices will be.

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In sixth spot

Well, the two countries are different again. Or are they? It might seem odd that there are no chicken dishes on the British list but it's true that the most popular curries are chicken, notably chicken tikka.Fried chicken is nowhere to be seen on the British list and curry isn't on the American list. We've had the famous colonel and his stores in the UK for as long as I remember but nevertheless, fried chicken doesn't feature on any British list.

And it's the same with curry - it's nowhere to be seen on any American list. It this because the UK has a high Asian population? Plus (I'm at it again) there were distinctly 'curry-like' dishes in the Forme of Cury ... um... look at its name.Of course, we also occupied India for a long time which probably also went some way towards making Indian food our national fish.

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Seventh place

I was a little surprised to find pizza so low on the British list but there again, this is a list of comfort foods not favourite foods. (If it was, I'm convinced that curry would be at the top.)I'm also surprised that mashed potato makes its way onto the list from the States. Do Americans eat it as a dish on its own? (Let me know in the comments section below).

On some British lists, mashed potato would find its way in - at the bottom - but that was invariably bangers and mash; mashed potatoes served with sausages and gravy.Here's a 'did you know' - did you know that pizza restaurants and takeouts (in both countries) say that the least popular topping is anchovies?

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Eighth

Another surprise for me - especially on the American front. I didn't realise that burritos were so popular. It seems that the American version of today is different to the original Mexican dish.Mexicans have been wrapping their food in this fashion for many years (but mostly with vegetables) and surprisingly, they were only commercially introduced into the US in the 1930s.

Luckily for the UK, fish and chips were one of the few foods that weren't rationed in the Second World War. This makes sense - they are cheap, filling and nourishing.Now we are approaching our ninth items on the list. Will we be similar or completely different?

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Our ninth selection

Were you expecting this? Once again, America is showing its preference for pasta although as far as I know there is no real Italian equivalent. A recipe for the dish was recorded in France in the fourteenth century and in the UK. (Guess where? Yep).It's interesting though that both countries chose a cheese dish.

I have to say that cheese on toast (very different to American grilled cheese) is one of my favourites.One version, the Welsh Rabbit, was recorded in the eighteenth century and then of course there is the wonderful French croque monsieur (or madame - the meat-free version with egg).Mac & cheese is known more as 'macaroni and cheese' in the UK and is oven-baked - rather like a lasagne - to create a crunchy topping.

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Can you guess number ten?

Ah, another melted cheese dish! Grilled cheese in the States is very different to the British cheese on toast though. Grilled cheese is essentially and sandwich unlike the British version.Grilled cheese when bought commercially is often made from American cheese (and even after all these years I'm not sure what that is). Traditionally, British cheese on toast uses cheddar.

There's a common fallacy in the rest of the world that the British eat a hearty breakfast such as you see here every day of the week. This is probably because most hotels serve it to guests.We don't - firstly because we don't have the time and secondly because our cholesterol levels would be sky high. But that's what makes it perfect comfort food.

Points to ponder

  • I was surprised to see that every dish was savoury. I would have expected ice cream and chocolate cake on there somewhere - from both countries.
  • It's interesting to note how many of these foods have their origins in other countries. That's more to be expected from the USA of course, because it has a 'received cuisine'.
  • It's also interesting to speculate how many of these foods are actually made at home. Correct me if I'm wrong (below) but how many people in either countries actually make pizza from scratch?
  • If you're a Canadian reader, how has your country and your own personal tastes developed its comfort food? From your neighbour the USA or from your origins, the UK?
  • Similarly if you're from Australia, New Zealand or another Commonwealth country (past or present) do your comfort foods have a British bias or have you developed your own?
  • Wherever you're from, do let us know what the comfort foods are in your country - we really want to know.
  • Do you think that any of these dishes have become popular because of their ease of purchase? After all, you can buy fries / chips on almost every street.
  • What do you think these foods show about our general eating habits? Do you think that they show that the American diet is generally healthier or vice versa?
  • If like me you're no longer living in the country of your birth, are your comfort food tastes from your new country or the original one?

Further reading

What is 'American food'? What is 'British food'? See the books below for more. Let's start with one of the most famous American cooks.

Martha's American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation's Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast
Martha's American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation's Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast

Is MarthaStewart the most popular recipe publisher?I know so many people who are absolutely devoted to her recipes. Are they typically American?

 

There are so many British chefs to choose from but if television success is anything to go by, Jamie Oliver is an excellent example.

Jamie Oliver's Great Britain
Jamie Oliver's Great Britain

Jamie Oliver is a great example of a British chef because he prefers to use local ingredients, natural products and always has his eye on the budget.

He also believes that recipes should be quick to make and easy to do - that's my sort of chef.

 

There are some of who would say that the heartiest food in Britain is to be found in our pubs.

Have you ever wondered what people ate hundreds of years ago? The book below is brilliant.

Recommended

The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery Compiled, about A.D. 1390
The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery Compiled, about A.D. 1390

This is the book that I've mentioned once or twice (!) above. How did people eat in days gone by?Were there meals really any different to the ones we're used to today? Am I pulling your leg when I say that lasagne was first recorded in Britain in the fourteenth century? (No.) This is completely fascinating.

 

© 2014 Jackie Jackson

Comments

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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Craftypicks - I know what you mean. I try to cook meals like my mum (her Yorkshire Puddings for example) but I never get even close.

    • Craftypicks profile image

      Lori Green 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas

      Comfort food for me is Jewish Cooking. My Grandmothers were amazing cooks. I miss it. While I can cook what they did, it's not the same.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 

      4 years ago

      Interesting - they seem pretty similar though I think the British food looks healthier in general.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @christine-bubeck-5: Ha! Himself would have HP on everything if I let him!

    • profile image

      christine-bubeck-5 

      4 years ago

      I still make my own chips, no beef dripping tho' I do use lard to fry the taters in. I will also eat mashed taters as a meal but I want HP Sauce on them>

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Colin323: Blimey. So I can't use the expression 'cheap as chips' anymore!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @PAINTDRIPS: Thanks for reading! Good to hear that people still make pizza from scratch.I used to but haven't for years - I use readymade Pillsbury dough these days. I love the idea that Americans don't know what American cheese is :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Merrci: Biscuits and gravy always sounds funny to me :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Lorelei Cohen: Weird isn't it that there were no sweet foods on either list? Both countries love apple pie!

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      4 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Pizza and French Fries are on top of my list. Thanks for a read!!!

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I thoroughly enjoyed this lens and love seeing the comparisons.

    • DreyaB profile image

      DreyaB 

      4 years ago from France

      I love this list! It's the sort of thing that goes through my head... My no. 1 comfort food is macaroni cheese, closely followed by bread & butter pudding and rice pudding - there's another Brit opinion for you - though we did have Yorkshire puddings with our meal last night and they were ace! My no. 1 French choice would be bread and cheese - but it has to be the proper French stuff of course... :0)

    • profile image

      Colin323 

      4 years ago

      Fish 'n chips is still my number 1 UK comfort food, although the quality is variable, and it's not a cheap meal these days. British bought pizzas taste like ****. I make my own.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      4 years ago from Fresno CA

      I'm a little surprised by the no burgers too, but the biscuits and gravy are a largely Southern dish that has spread. As for fried chicken and fried potatoes, I think they go back to the pioneer days when lots of oily foods meant you wouldn't get hungry again too soon. Important if you are out grubbing stumps and plowing fields. That goes for the biscuits and gravy as the mash potatoes dripping with butter. Also American's don't know what American cheese is either, but then we don't want to know. Believe it or not many people do make their own pizza. It just takes time and if you've got the money for delivery, why not. My daughter still makes a fabulous homemade pizza. Yum. Love the comparisons. Thanks for the laugh.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      My first would be fried chicken, hopefully with mashed potatoes! It is sad that most of our comfort foods are less healthy that we'd like. I'm surprised no burgers! Hard to believe biscuits and gravy would trump that! Fun list and fun comparison. I'm off to ponder now.

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Pastries for me please. Butter tarts first but cookies and pie a close second as my favorites.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @notsuperstitious1: I must admit, I'm surprised to see that neither country had burgers on their lists. Not even bacon (apart from in the English breakfast).

    • notsuperstitious1 profile image

      Edith Rose 

      4 years ago from Canada

      I also like a well made Hamburger, but not from a hamburger take out outlet, My favorite right now is a restaurant called Nellie's, which is a small restaurant run by a Chinese and Vietnamese couple, and is within walking distance for us. .

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @notsuperstitious1: That's interesting. I wonder if pizza is universal? It's certainly one of our favorites :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Erin Mellor: Ha - you won't believe this but guess what we are eating AT THIS VERY MOMENT? Beans on toast! It's certainly on list.

    • notsuperstitious1 profile image

      Edith Rose 

      4 years ago from Canada

      As a Canadian, I would say that pizza is my favorite but it has to be made at a specific restaurant called Venice House, as I do not like pizza made at "Pizza Only" outlets. My make at home favorite is Mac & Cheese.

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      4 years ago from Europe

      Wot no Beans on Toast? With a dash of Henderson's to elevate it to "food of the Gods" status?

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