How old is the stereotype that British food is not a very distinguished cuisine?

I’m 55 and for as long as I can remember the UK has been noted for not having very appealing (overall) cuisine compared to other countries, with Scottish cuisine apparently being the being the pinnacle of bad food.

I’m aware that in the past few decades British food has (I’ve heard) improved remarkably with the addition of international cuisine influences from immigrants and British foodies, and that stereotype is no longer as applicable as it used to be.

I’m interested in *when *that bad/undistinguished food stereotype started and why. I have to assume that it’s not hundreds of years old.

My guess would be since the invention of corned beef and cabbage or hummus.

Whoever thought cooked cabbage or chewed lamb is a food should be shot.

It’s a defense mechanism against foreign invasion. England has rarely been invaded, and Scotland even less often. And Scotland, only by the English, against whom a cuisine-based defense is useless.

It is. It dates back at least to Victorian times, and I’d be willing to bet that William the Conqueror bitched about British “cuisine.”

I’ll leave the reasons for the undistinguished cuisine to others. However I have been fairly reliably informed that the reason that UK pub food is generally better and more available than restaurant cuisine, is due to the history of pubs as coaching inns. The coaching inns had to compete for custom, and part of that competition was the provision of good food.

That said, while traditional English and Scottish food is considered fairly plain to our lucky multicultural palates, it is very difficult to do properly as it generally revolves around the meat and three veg type of dish. Now, for that to be good, it has to be made with fresh ingredients and cooked with care. When it’s done right, (and a nod to the Scots here for their amazing produce) it’s magnificent because the food is allowed to speak for itself. Unfortunately, the modern convenience version of it doesn’t translate well - frozen veg and chips and something with orange crumbs from Iceland.

Apple pie. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Sunday roast? Full English breakfast?


I hate to have to defend the old colonial master, but come on.

World War II and the rationing during and after that? The stereotype is then perpetuated by less-travelled folk and incurious types.

Hummus is Greek, I believe, certainly not a traditional British dish. I do not think corned beef is originally or very distinctively British either. Apart from the canned stuff (which is really quite different), I never ate or, AFAIK, saw, corned beef until I moved to America.

George Orwell has a really great (and hilarious) essay on the subject. What his argument boils down to is that in most countries, high end restaurants are where you find that culture’s best food; for example, in a fancy French restaurant you’d find high quality French food. In England, all the expensive restaurants are either some other country’s food (like a French or Italian restaurant in London), or are awful. The best English cooking is found out in country cottages with homemade trifle and steak and kidney pies, but tourists don’t have access to that - hence the bad reputation.

In my own experience, I can definitely say that in Ireland, the worst food I had was in the most expensive restaurant, and the best was my aunt’s dinners - still supposedly “bad” Irish food, but it was amazing. The problem with this, as Orwell points out, is no one who has no relatives there (aka the people you want to impress) will ever eat the good food.

The stereotype was accurate when I visited the UK in 2013. Before that I cannot say.

I will make an exception for English bacon, however.

Oh yes, my Granny’s cooking and baking:

Egg and bacon pie
Scones - sweet and cheese
Singing Hinnies
Spotted Dick (oh yes!)
Did I mention the egg and bacon pie?
Dark fruit cake (always decorated according to the celebration)
Sultana cake
Battenberg cake
Eccles cake
Treacle tart
Gingerbread cake
Jam roly poly
Rhubarb and custard
Eve’s pudding
Treacle toffee (must be kept in the airing cupboard and broken into pieces to give to your grandchildren)
Tansy and fools
Really, did I mention the egg and bacon pie?
All washed down with lashings of tea and Enid Blyton.

They gave the world spotted dick and mad-cow disease. 'Nuff said.

You know, for my money, the English do breakfasts better than just about anywhere else I’ve been, save maybe a full-tilt Deep South breakfast in the US.

British bacon is awesome stuff, and I wish I could get it in the US without going to a specialty store and paying 5x what it ought to cost.

I have to admit some of the British – and Irish – pubs in Bangkok do great Sunday breakfasts. But beans for breakfast? Never!!

Hell yes! A full English breakfast is absolutely wonderful, as is a ploughman’s lunch.

I think this is it. BBC had a lighthearted documentary series called Supersizers in which the two hosts lived and ate as people did during different historic British periods. I may be remembering this wrong, but I think they mentioned that the British reputation for bland food was a result of the post-WWII rationing and general austerity. Butter, sugar, cheese, and meat were rationed until the mid-1950s.

Nothing here sounds remotely edible. Putting meat in a pie is like stuffing a turkey with fruitcake.

So no chicken pot pies for you? Why do you hate America?

Don’t be too hasty there. About once every 4 months or so the wife will crank out a full English breakfast around here. Beans have to be part of it. We do everything except black pudding, which is an offense before God and the reason the Brits don’t have an empire anymore.


I’m not a beans fan at the best of times except for refried beans in Mexican food. Beans has no place in anyone’s breakfast!