British Food - Here, There, Then and Now
by Billie Ann Woo
What comes to mind when you think of British food?
Fish and chips.
Bangers and mash. (Sausages and mashed potatoes)
Steak and kidney pie.
These dishes still have their place on British menus, but English cuisine has evolved to capture the stomachs of the world. This is the country, after all, that produced: Heston Blumenthal, Fergus Henderson, Gordon Ramsey, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. It’s important to appreciate the incredible contribution that British cooking has had on cuisine all over the world. Although many may joke about the lack of quality British food, it’s popularity all over the world is certainly proof that the sentiment remains to be, just a joke. The above-named chefs and cooks have worked hard to push the envelope in British cuisine and reinvent the classics. Blumenthal is their resident molecular gastronomy guru and his restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars, certainly no joking matter. The country is also on the forefront of the nose-to-tail eating trend as well as encouraging the use of local products and vendors. Although British food has its stereotypes, the diverse ethnic makeup of its inhabitants has also affected their cuisine. The South Asian community in the UK is the biggest outside of the South Asian region. Indian food in the UK is commonly acknowledged to be excellent – both in terms of authenticity and adapting into the local fare. Best example? Curry and chips!
The British Empire reached countries all over the world and their presence has certainly impacted their cuisine. The influence in Canada, of course, is evident – where else can you still have high tea and traditional pubs in cities all over the country? And for many families, roasts and Yorkshire pudding are holiday or special occasion staples. Shephard’s Pie is a dish that I have seen throughout my childhood and still today – and it’s served in establishments that are not pubs! But if it’s pub grub you’re after, you are spoiled for choice. The gastropub movement has turned traditional pub food on its head and has given hungry stomachs a higher quality of choice and cuisine. Gastropubs are moving the emphasis away from the ‘pub’ and more towards the ‘gastro’; trying to bring customers in through quality and interesting cuisine. One of my favourite spots in Vancouver is Bitter, which is a part of the Heather Hospitality Group (also the owners of Irish Heather (also a gastropub). The décor is decidedly un-pub-like. It’s modern but cozy and you won’t find any velvet or plush booths there. However, you can find housemade sausages, Scotch eggs, Welsh Rarebit and sausage rolls along with a terrific selection of beers, wine and spirits. As much as I love chicken pot pie and mashed potatoes, there was something delightful in biting into a Scotch egg that makes me thankful for the impact British cuisine has had on our lives.