Nothing sums up the culture of a country more evocatively than the national food preferences and the way they prepare food. Food occupies a special place in peoples' hearts and minds, not least because of its links to memories, families and personal history.
The British can be so closely wedded to their favourite brands of food that they will go to great lengths to make sure they can take or source them wherever they go in the world. Such loyalty to Marmite and to Cadbury's chocolate is well documented, at least anecdotally!
Some of the greatest food brands in the world were developed in Britain and can trace their history back to the industrial revolution when large scale processing meant it was possible to bring high quality products to the population at an affordable price.
Lyle's Goldern Syrup
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A typical complaint about food these days is that it 'no longer tastes like it used to'. This might be referring to fresh fruit and vegetables that were usually eaten seasonally and sourced locally; meat and fish that came from local suppliers; or prepared on a small scale for example at local bakers. Now, such things are routinely bought at supermarkets, origin unknown. Even things that always came in packets no longer seem to taste the same. This may be down to taste evolving but more than likely, a change in the ingredients and processes used in their manufacture. The makers meddle at their peril as loyal customers vote with their feet when their favourites are altered in any way. Fans of the original Walnut Whip who have tried one more recently will attest to this sentiment.
With the new millennium came a new appreciation for locally produced and organic and seasonal eating as well as animal welfare and sustainably sourced ingredients. There has been a resurgence in handmade foods, not available in supermarkets, from artisan makers and independents, who promote their products on-line and at food festivals and farmers markets.
We now have access to exceptional heritage food products and regional specialities such as Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese and the Melton Mowbray pork pie that benefit from protected status and are in great demand across the world. British brands are still renowned for jams and preserves, chocolate products from the popular to the exclusive, tea blends and cakes, bakes and biscuits.
The culinary delights of each region of the British Isles deserve special mentions as the traditions passed down over many centuries are responsible for producing some of the most sublime examples of food and drink of anywhere on the planet. For example Scotland can hardly be mentioned without making the association with Scottish whiskey, Arbroath smoked haddock (Smokies), haggis and of course, the taste of Scotland, Walkers shortbread. To taste these is to rediscover what real food used to taste like! And you can travel to any region to sample their specialities for the same experience.
It is impossible to talk about British food without also considering the dining ceremonies so indelibly linked with them. The Full Breakfast is a British institution whose popularity has travelled across the globe. The bacon butty is the simpler, but just as gratifying alternative for that time of day. Afternoon Tea, the bastion of civilized society, was invented in the salons of the English aristocracy in the 19th century. Finger sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea, what could be nicer at 3 o'clock in the afternoon? A fish & chip supper is still one of the most popular meals in Britain and a Roast dinner on a Sunday is still a classic weekly meal in many British homes. A Britain without these in it would not be Britain as we know it. Visitors to the British Isles should make sure to add them all to their list of quintessentially British food experiences. The section on Great British Restaurants features some fine establishments for sampling the best British food.
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If the British can't dine at home, then we have our own traditional way of eating alfresco with time honoured picnic favourites. The pork pie, and the scotch egg are both standard items, as indeed they have been for centuries! And why not throw in a tray of sausage rolls too. For something sweet, the flapjack is a firm favourite. We can hardly leave out the sandwiches, a tasty filling such as chicken, ham or roast beef between two slices of bread, invented by the Earl of Sandwich's manservant. Make sure to bring the English mustard and the Branston pickle!
Many British favourites originate from or stem from an aspiration to connect with simple or rural lifestyles. Popularised in the 1970s, the ploughman's lunch, a rustic midday meal of cheese, pickle and bread all washed down with beer is testament to this. Cottage pie and Shepherd's pie, firm family favourites, both came into being with the availability of the potato as a common crop at the end of the 18th century. The pastry crust preceded this having been firmly established in Britain's kitchens by the 17th century. The Cornish pasty adopted by miners and farm workers in Cornwall at that time remains so popular it is regarded as the national dish and also benefits from protected status. Each region it seems, has it's own pastry speciality when it comes to sweet pastry. The Manchester tart, Liverpool tart, Eccles cake and Bakewell tart are all variations on the sweet pastry tart with filling.
It is perhaps the 'pudding' the spongy puddings made using suet and steamed in a basin that is most closely associated with traditional British desserts. Dating back to medieval times, and listed in one of the earliest cook books, suet has been used in puddings served to students at Oxford and Cambridge universities since 1617. Satisfyingly stodgy, those dishes such as Spotted Dick, Jam Roly Poly and Treacle Sponge maintain that school refectory allure.
In browzz.uk we have featured some of these distinctive speciality products and also some of the British brands that have endured for their quality and consistency, many for over a century, by staying true to their original ingredients and recipes.
Please browse our gallery of selected great British Food above for inspiration and enjoyment, and click to find useful information and links to help you locate and source them.