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The gastronomy of the United Kingdom

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The gastronomy of the United Kingdom

Gastronomy is the study of the relationship between good and culture. It studies the types of food, the different ways of preparing and serving food and other food related matters and how these have changed over time. Most of the changes in gastronomy are linked to a change in consumer needs or changes in the food industry. The aim of the paper is to look at the cultural evolution of the British cuisine and the reasons for this evolution, the current state of British cuisine, the impact of consumer needs and globalization to the cuisine and lastly recommendations that contribute to creating longevity of the British cuisine.

Historical Evolution of British Cuisine

British cuisine was originally disdained for being bland. The cuisine was originally largely soggy vegetables and watery meat before the Roman invasion. The cooking techniques at the time were largely stewing the vegetables with herbs and roasting meat over fire especially during celebration. The staple starch for the Britons was wheat and oats. The Roman invasion was the first and major cause of a change in the British cuisine. The Romans introduced vegetables like onions, rosemary, celery, turnips and peas to the UK after 43AD. They also introduced rye to the UK which added bread to the staple food list of the UK people. The potato plant reached the UK in 1586 and was initially not embraced by the citizens for fear of poisoning if undercooked (Go Dine, 2014).The invasion of the Normans into the UK introduced spices like pepper, ginger, nutmeg and saffron into the British cuisine. The Normans also introduced wine to Britain and added into the cuisine vocabulary by providing words for common foods in the UK. Saffron is now a staple in British cooking (Lemm, 2020).

The second historical evolution on the British cuisine was influenced by the invasion of Britain into other countries and especially across Asia. The invasion into Asia and especially India introduced spicy sauces, condiments and love for curry into the English cuisine. The invasion into India also introduced tea into the British cuisine (Johnson, 2013).

The World War eras had negative effects on the British cuisine and especially in the mode of food preparation, making the country the butt of gastronomic jokes globally and the reputation for poor cooking (Lemm, 2020). Since Britain was at the fore-front of the World War, the country’s economy was largely used to provide supplies for the war leaving little for consumption. Food rationing became a norm in most households and ingredients like sugar, butter, meat, cheese, jam and spices were eliminated from food preparation. Watery meat became the norm at the time accompanied by vegetables like overcooked cabbage and potatoes (Go Dine, 2014).

By the end of the world war and into the beginning of the 21st Century, Britain had redeemed its cuisine reputation due to increased European travel by the citizens and a new interest in the British palate by cookery writers who took inspiration from Europe but based the inspiration on British ingredients to restore the image of British cuisine (Go Dine, 2014).

Even with the evolution of the British cuisine, the full English breakfast, Sunday roast, afternoon tea, and the hallowed British pub remain part of the traditional English cuisine. England’s national dishes include the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, steak and kidney pie. The chicken tikka masala or British curry is slowly gaining its way as a favourite among the citizens even though it borrows heavily from the India and Pakistan influence in England (Lemm, 2020).

Recreating Traditional dishes in contemporary UK Restaurants.

The UK has embraced cultural diversity which has contributed significantly to the recreation of the traditional British cuisine across contemporary restaurants. The cultural diversity has changed the consumer food needs and currently in the UK, with the Indian and Chinese ethnic cuisines accounting for a large share of the food market value. Italian cuisine is a favourite in the UK especially when eating out with foods like pizza rapidly becoming a favourite with the UK youth. By embracing ethnic diversity, Britain has moved from the traditional “meat and two veg” diet of the 1950s to contemporary dishes that merger the traditional cuisine with new aspects of the multicultural character of other ethnic cuisines (Dimitrova and Grigorova, 2013).

Most of the contemporary restaurants across the world are now turning to focus their attention back to traditional cuisines of their countries and the UK has not been left out. Contemporary restaurants are now embracing traditional recipes that have been passed down through generations but elevating the dishes with unexpected flavours, international cooking techniques, creative flare to presentation of the food and making the cooking process a participatory process by inviting guests to the cooking processes (Kiniry, 2018). 

In the UK different restaurants have discovered ways to recreate the traditional cuisine in a way that matches the consumer needs and international standards of food culture. The Kerridge’s Bar and Grill in London, specializes in the traditional British roast meats ranging from beef, free range pork and chicken which is accompanied by the traditional Yorkshire pudding that is a staple in the UK. However, the restaurant also offers experimental dishes that are not only non-traditional British meals but are healthy and likely to attract foreign nationals. The restaurant offers gluten-free mushroom risotto that replaces the typical rice in a risotto with mushrooms. The ingenuity of the dish has attracted curious foodies to experiment in the restaurant (Shurvell, 2018).

Other restaurants are pushing the envelope by expanding the reach of traditional UK cuisine. Fish and chips are a traditional meal in the UK. However, restaurants like the Ormer Mayfair in London have expanded on the fish aspect of traditional British cuisine and now offer a wide range of seafood options like crabs, oysters, lobsters and squid. The exotic seafood is served alongside traditional vegetables and desserts (Shurvell, 2018). The Great British Restaurant on the other hand chose to recreate the traditional British cuisine by adding contemporary twists to the menu. Instead of the traditional grilled meat, the restaurant adds the meats in burgers.

Other contemporary restaurants have gone back to basics in outsourcing ingredients from local farms to recreate traditional and modern cuisines from Britain and other parts of the world. The Gilbert Scott restaurant, for example, is well known for its contemporary British menu. The restaurant sources its ingredients from local farms and the sea for fish and other sea food ingredients. The Aside restaurant followed the Gilbert Scott and sources their meats for the grill from local suppliers and butcheries to maintain the standard of traditional British cuisine (Shurvell, 2018).

Other restaurants have relatively retained the traditional cuisine but made the food making process the source of attraction to the restaurants. Britain may be well known for its traditional cuisine but many people may not know how the food is prepared. Restaurants like Gridiron took advantage of this and instead of just selling the meals, they also demonstrate the cooking process as part of an attraction to the restaurant. Diners at the Gridiron can follow the chefs as they grill at the back of the dining area as well as other specialty meals that are cooked over fire (Shurvell, 2018).

Drivers of Change to the British Cuisine

The 21st century had witnessed the awareness of the people towards what they eat with slogans like “you are what you eat” being common (Dimitrova and Grigorova, 2013). The principle that what a person eats has direct effects to their health has made people more careful to what they eat.  There have been studies that link foods high in fats, sugars and salt to lifestyle diseases. The need to promote healthier eating has led to a change in the British cuisine. Contemporary restaurants will try to reduce the richness of the animal protein in the British cuisine to make it healthy and subsequently a health choice for the consumers.

There are also concerns with the origin, sustainability and ethical production standards of food that is now shaping food culture in Britain and other developed countries. Citizens are now aware of the negative environmental impacts of food production systems and to promote sustainability of agriculture Countries are now placing policies on the distance should travel before being sold in stores (Kemp, Insch, Holdsworth and Knight, 2010). Such policies will make citizens consume locally produced food and this could promote the uptake of local British cuisine.

The migrant culture in Britain has had a significant impact on the cuisine (Dimitrova and Grigorova, 2013). The increased numbers of Indians in the UK and especially those from India and Pakistan has increased the prevalence of curry and spices into the traditional British cuisine and especially in the preparation of meats. Contemporary restaurants have taken up this trend and not the chicken tikka which is largely made with curry a favourite with the Britons. The migrant population has also played an important role in shaping food culture in Britain (Dimitrova and Grigorova, 2013). The increased numbers of Muslim migrants has changed the rules of food preparation to make it permitted for the Muslim population in UK. This also means that the consumption of foods like pork or the use of alcohol in the cuisine changes due to the new cultures introduced by migrating populations.

Changes in the social and economic aspects of life in UK have had an impact of the British food culture. Industrialization in the agricultural sector means that increased and diverse food production is available in the UK which diversifies the cuisine of the country. Issues of food rationing are now not common as food is produced in surplus. The change in the global economy has seen women take up positions in the workplace rendering them less likely to be available to prepare meals for the family. This has introduced the concept of ready meals, take-away, eating out and convenience food stores which have had an impact on UK cuisine.

Since most of the traditional British cuisine requires a lot of preparation time, it means that such meals now become a reserve of the holidays or the weekends when people have time to prepare the meals. The preference for the east to prepare meals that are less time consuming due to the demands of the current busy life of the citizens has meant that the food culture has to adapt to fit the new lifestyle of the people. The traditional British cuisine especially with the roasting of meat of the elaborate pies can be time consuming which explains why the country is now adopting more foreign meals that are easy to prepare as part of its food culture, especially the Indian and Chinese ethnic foods that are now the most popular in the UK. Increased foreign travel and globalization has exposed the UK citizens to foreign food. The citizens then assimilate the new foods and flavours into the British food culture.

Recommendations

The British people are generally adventurous and especially in regard to eating out and this has predisposed them to diverse food palates that are slowly changing the nature of traditional cuisine in the UK. There is need to preserve not only the traditional cuisine but also the traditional process to prepare the meals. Culinary schools in the UK should consider offering traditional cuisine as part of the curriculum to retain the traditions.

 It is undeniable that globalization has introduced new ingredients and techniques to British cuisine. This incorporation of new ingredients from various cultures in Britain is recommended not only to improve the quality of the food but to also promote inter-cultural mingling for harmony in the country.

It would be beneficial to have restaurant work towards making the traditional British cuisine more suitable for the delivery services as this is the current trend in the food sector. The Yorkshire pudding, roast meat and other foods can be packaged for delivery to promote the consumption of traditional cuisine.

Conclusion

The British traditional cuisine has evolved over centuries to be one of the most sort after cuisines in the world. It is difficult not to find the English breakfast in any menu across the globe. The country is well known for its rich meat cuisine that is grilled to perfection and the desserts that accompany the meat. However, the changes in the country and the world at large have brought out changes in the traditional form of the British cuisine. Globalization, advancement in technology and the ever changing consumer needs have played a role in the re-adoption of traditional British cuisine or its recreation to fit the current times.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also enhanced online purchasing of food. People are able to order meals from their favourite restaurant and have it delivered at home. However, most of the food outlets that are more likely to offer such services are fast food outlets and for the British people, fast food is traditionally fish and chips.

Bibliography

Dimitrova, D. and Grigorova, E., 2013. Food Culture in Great Britain and France. Konstantin Preslavsky University of Shumen, [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323736230_FOOD_CULTURE_IN_GREAT_BRITAIN_AND_FRANCE> [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Johnson, B., 2013. The History of British Food. [online] Historic UK. Available at: <https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/History-of-British-Food/> [Accessed 2 March 2021].

Kemp, K., Insch, A., Holdsworth, D. and Knight, J., 2010. Food miles: Do UK consumers actually care?. Food Policy, [online] 35(6), pp.504-513. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222233124_Food_Miles_Do_UK_Consumers_Actually_Care> [Accessed 4 March 2021].

Kiniry, L., 2018. Four Restaurants Bringing Traditional Dishes into Contemporary Cuisine. [online] Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/four-restaurants-bringing-traditional-food-contemporary-cuisine-180968188/> [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Lemm, E., 2020. The Food and Cooking of England: A Rich Cuisine Steeped in Heritage. [online] The Spruce Eats. Available at: <https://www.thespruceeats.com/food-and-cooking-of-england-435476> [Accessed 2 March 2021].

Go Dine Blog. 2014. Short History of British Cuisine. [online] Available at: <https://www.godine.co.uk/blog/short-history-british-cuisine> [Accessed 2 March 2021].

Shurvell, J., 2018. London’s Best Restaurants For Modern British Cuisine. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanneshurvell/2018/11/29/londons-best-restaurants-for-modern-british-cuisine/?sh=22f9a537c2c8> [Accessed 3 March 2021].

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