The New York Times recently published Beyond Porridge and Boiled Mutton: A Taste of London to praise four London restaurants. Travel writer Robert Draper, who had re-established a relationship with the city after a 10-year hiatus, was pleasantly surprised by the evaporation of a once “dreary baseline” and a “pale and predictable dining experience” and applauded our “recent flowering as a culinary destination” .
Let’s talk about it. London’s rise as a restaurant destination isn’t particularly new (“bloom” suggests we’re in the training bra stage). Why do many, often Americans, continue to sell dire views of British food? As the late American food writer Laurie Colwin put in English Food, a 1992 essay in Home Cooking, compatriots tend to “scoff at you and tell you that it is impossible in the British Isles to have a decent one Get a meal and that the English don’t know anything about cooking. “
Draper obviously felt this way at one point and paid tribute to his appreciation for our apparently new culinary asset with a reminder of how bad our food once was. A Twitter user commented, “What is this WEIRD obsession Americans have when London has bad food? How seriously cooked mutton? Was his last visit in the Victorian Age? “Subsequent posts with stills from Oliver Twist holding out his bowl for more porridge and“ local guide ”Dick Van Dyke whirling around on the Mary Poppins in the guise of his chimney sweep. Like another commenter, I have never eaten cooked mutton, nor have I had porridge for any meal other than breakfast. How did we get here?
The land of plenty is in stark contrast to British food culture, which developed in the 20th century and has been restricted by rationing, its consequences, and curveballs such as BSE and foot and mouth disease. Even so, we have a rich heritage in producing high quality fruits (think apples and pears, the darlings of rhyming slang), cold-climate vegetables (roots, tubers), and outstanding dairy products that deserve more credit. In her essay, Colwin raves about our incomparably thick double cream, the most delicious thing she has ever eaten, about which “lovers of English food … dream at night”; and with titans like Cheddar and Stilton up their sleeves, who can deny British cheese-making skills? When in doubt about Britain’s edible biodiversity heritage, check out Slow Ark UK’s Ark of Taste, a celebration of Britain’s forgotten food.
In a 2001 New York article on the changing face of British food, British journalist (and adopted New Yorker) Rebecca Mead described her homeland as a lack of “strong national cuisine,” which leaves us vulnerable to “the food of globalization ” makes. She is right that we spent many years looking for culinary influences abroad – we practically adore Italian food, love tapas, and still refer to the French canon, not to mention longstanding love affairs with Chinese and Indian cuisine (curry is seen by many be as much a national dish as fish and chips). With her Mediterranean cookbooks, even the deity Elizabeth David encouraged us to look overseas for edible inspiration. But it’s no wonder this certainly happened when there was a lack of good fresh produce.
And on top of that, if your local dishes, however delicious they may be, variations on beige tones (from old believers like Lancashire Hotpot, Pie and Mash, and Yorkshire Pudding to laverbread, pease pudding, and dripping toast) – the enemies of art direction , but friends of the palate – it is not surprising that they have been darkened by dishes from warmer climes.
It had never occurred to me that the food in the UK was bad until I heard Draper berating it. My parents like food, and while they never spent a lot of money on it and relied on supermarkets for provisions, my mother knew her onions especially well enough to turn lackluster ingredients into something we enjoyed.
I reject the flawed knowledge – like Brats “Tamworth village” pork (it’s a breed of pig)
For my generation (I was born in 1985) and older, a British person’s formative experience with British food depends on someone in their immediate family knowing how to cook when they were growing up. Everyone knows someone who can cook, but good cooks are not as ubiquitous as elsewhere in Europe. Somewhere along the way in the UK, cooking was downgraded as a life skill (or maybe it was never really promoted).
While a burgeoning restaurant culture began to flourish in France – as Oxford scholar Theodore Zeldin explains in his book France 1848-1945: Intellect and Pride – British chefs remained invisible in private kitchens, faceless and nameless caterers of the aristocracy. Perhaps this is why cooking in the career up until the 1990s when chef Fergus Henderson stood up to more than just restoring old-fashioned British things to menus – fagot, pot pork, rice pudding, and Eccles cake – is relative Was underrated I think inadvertently starting a revolution in how we perceive the kitchen as a career path.
That brings me to our restaurant scene, which was once described by the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg as “miserable” and derived (“You often give [their restaurants] foreign names to make them more attractive – “Pustza”, “Chez Nous”, “Roma”, “Le Alpi” … [where] There is a sad silence ”), now with the world’s best, which offer a range as diverse and lively as any other leading world city. I have no objection to the positive reviews of the restaurants in Draper’s play, but to the outdated stereotype and sometimes flawed knowledge – like Brats “Tamworth Village” pork (Tamworth is a breed of pig). British food began to change more than a decade ago, and it has changed so drastically that, as we’ve seen, the Twitter boobies will have anyone who goes “drab” for breakfast, lunch and dinner. and “pale” past references, even anecdotal. Probably cooked – with a side of porridge.
Mina Holland is the associate editor of Guardian Feast