Why does England have such a Poor Culinary Tradition?

The consensus around the world seems to be that the food in England tends to be terrible on average. I am curious as to why a country with such a great and lengthy history as England has not established a rich culinary heritage? Across the English Channel, France has establishes itself as a major influence in world cuisine. Why doesn’t England also have its own great culinary heritage?

Please realize that I do not wish to insult the English. I am an American of pure English descent and my mother-in-law is from London. I am just wondering why this is?

You have not tasted a really good steak and kidney pudding or perfectly cooked roast beef and yorkshire pud.

Remember that Britain’s climate isn’t conducive to a lot of fruit, and that the world wars left Britain rationing food.

Britain was indistinguishable from a Communist utopia unti 1970. This is reflected in the food. The anti-English bias is largely due to long time French pooh-poohing “a land of only one sauce”.

Lots of English food is delicious. However, these are “classic” foods like roast beef or pheasant, thick pudding dessert and cookies. The English were slow to adopt international foods like pasta and rice – I don’t think my Grampa ever tried Pasta before his death in 1990 since it was in his view a foreign food. The English tendency to boil things is genuinely disturbing, use of spices was minimal and good restaurants were rare outside of great fish and chips and a reasonable facsimie of Chinese fast food.

This is fortunately changing – London now has lots of great restaurants and curry is omnipresent. I wish Marks and Spencer’s was still in Canada since I do miss their trifle, sandwiches, Sizzles potato snacks and cheeses.

When I was in London there was this great little pub well off the beaten track that served up GREAT meals every lunch hour. Shepherd’s Pie, Steak & Kidney Pie, you name it. Delicious.

Add me to the list of people who think English food has gotten a bad rap.


I lived in Birmingham for a year and yes…English food sucks. Currie is great but that’s Indian, Communist state or not you’d think they’d get their act together on cooking. The crap they put on pizza’s to make them more interesting is terrible. Whatever their climate they have no excuse for not comming up with a grill and BBQ sauce!

FTR, I’ve eaten at McDonalds in England, Portugal, Spain, Scotland, France, Italy, and Poland. And the US, of course. They all taste the same, save for regional additions to the menu. :slight_smile:

As long as you have McDonalds, you’re home.

I’m hoping someone with better sources can help on this - I recall reading (I think in the NY Times Food section(?)) that a major part of the reason British cookery got such a bad rep. is due to its early industrialization. Impoverished urban dwellers couldn’t afford what few fresh products were available, and came to rely on canned, dried or other package foods (potted meats, baked beans and such). Plus, cooking skills tended to atrophy, what with 12-hour workdays and few holidays.

The rest of Europe industrialized quite a bit later - for example, although northern France was industrial pretty early on, IIRC the rest of the country didn’t really take off until after World War II. Part of the reason the French defend agriculture so passionately is that many more French than British either grew up on farms themselves or recall visiting their relatives’ farms.

Put me on the list of people that believe that English food has been given a bad reputation. In my 6 trips to the UK, I’ve had excellent food, passable food, and bad food–just like you would travelling to any other country. I particularly found that my worst food experiences were in high tourist/traffic areas; my best food experiences were in small, out of the way places that local friends knew of.

I’ve always found the best way to describe English food as being very simple, basic comfort food. It’s not spicy or exotic, but it’s damned good on a cold night.

This is what The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson has to say about English food:

That being said, there are some great English food traditions. Their cheeses, although not as varied and numbered as France’s, still have achieved world-wide attention, such as Stilton, Cheddar, and Wensleydale. Sausages, English breakfasts, and Afternoon Teas (along with all the tarts, sweets, and sandwiches that go with Tea) have made their marks on the culinary world.

I believe that, all too often, tourists from other countries miss out on the better foods that England has to offer. I once went to a pub in a highly touristy area (British Museum) and ordered fish & chips. I was served a plate of soggy, cold fried crap. No wonder, I thought to myself, that people think English food is awful. If only they had gone to this tiny little pub in Bristol and had the Stilton Pepperpot (melted Stilton, with a little beef broth and mushrooms, served with a bunch of crusty French bread). Now, that was yummy stuff.

The answer is really rather simple. They had an empire to run and were far to busy to come up with great culinary tradtions. heh heh heh


Ahhh yes,

“Britain, the land of seventeen religions and three sauces!”

I think Java said it all very well. Those of you who haven’t mopped up roast beef juice from your plate with some piping hot Yorkshire pudding may consider yourselves to be unclean.

Stilton is one of the great contributions to the wine and cheese plate. Imagine all the virtues of Cheddar and blue cheese combined. And please tell me where civilization would be without English muffins?

“The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul” as Adams would put it. Imagine a world without tea, personally, I cringe at the thought. A bloody Mary without Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce? Perish forbid and heaven the thought!

Fish and chips with malt vinegar splashed freely about? A banger or two with your mash? Don’t get me started, you know how I get.

Schools of Cooking: French, Italian, Chinese, Mexican.

These areas seem to be closer to the equator than England. Would you default the great contribution of Denmark of split pea soup?

Try this:


I mentioned this in the thread about foods you wouldn’t eat. Mine was most British food. I lived in King’s Lynn (Norfolk, East Anglia) for a year and believe me, the culinary revolution hasn’t happened. Outside of London (where the ‘new culinary marvels’ can run you $125 for lunch for two) you can’t find anything satisfying. Yes, there are Indian and Chinese restaurants galore, but they aren’t generic British food. We had things in our office canteen like cottage cheese sandwiches on white bread (with nothing else between the slices), spaghetti on toast, beans on toast, vegetables that were boiled for hours after being soaked the night before, lasagne without noodles or tomatoes (I think it was leeks in a cream sauce), corn pizza, no seasonings whatsoever.

Sure, the Brits on the board have fondness for those things that bring back memories; hell, there are probably a few Americans who miss roadkill.

There are undoubtedly restaurants outside of London that serve passable food - I’ll bet in the heart of Iowa there’s a French chef escaping a bad marriage who has opened a nouvelle cusine establishment. These are few and far between.

The author of the Salon article might appear a bit histrionic when she dissolves into tears; well, it happened to me too and I pride myself on being able to ‘eat anything.’ I traveled for nearly two hours to a restaurant near a US military base where I was assured I could find authentic Mexican food. It was a stale tortilla wrapped around Brit food and they wanted to know if I wanted chips with my meal. Sure - I always order fries with my enchilada. I wept.

The reason why Americans have this impression is that there are darned few good English restaurants in this country. That reminds me to go to my favorite English restaurant this week and have some roast beef and Yorkshire pud. In this city of 500K people there are 50 Mexican, 200 Chinese, 50 Italian restaurants, 400 McD’s but only 2 English eateries.

I have always thought, like most who have posted here, that English food is quite good. I believe that one of the reasons for the bad reputation was because of the Englishman’s desire to taste the food being served rather than the sauces that potentially bad food might be hidden under.

Some of the previous posters have used as illustrations restaurant fare. If you want a delightful and wonderful meal, you shouldn’t depend on restaurant food, have a breakfast prepared by any British housewife. I lived in Great Britain and on the continent and I can say I truly love British food.

Yeah, I have mostly enjoyed my food experiences in Britain, whether pub food, ethnic food or whatever. I’m especially fond of Stilton (my 3-year-old in the grocery store to my wife: “Let’s get some stinky horrible cheese for Daddy. I don’t LIKE stinky horrible cheese, I like NICE cheese.”). But is there anyone here who can explain the dread “mushy peas”? & does the toast rack serve any purpose beyond ensuring that the slices are instantly stone-cold?

& I’m surely not the only traveller who learned that in many regions of England & Ireland it’s an essential survival skill to learn to pull the teabags from the pot the moment it hits the table before the liquid turns to undrinkable ink? Sometimes you get half-a-dozen bags crammed into a tiny pot! --N

Yes, but proper tea is theft.


I can buy a few english food items in California, crumpets for example, which aren’t anything to write about.

Perhaps with that nifty new Chunnel, there might be some new foods allowed there & they can make something special.

My friend said the beer there is still served warm, yuck.

If you drink anything too cold you numb your mouth and can’t taste anything. Good beer needs to be drunk at “cellar temperature” so that all the many flavours can be appreciated otherwise you may as well inject novocain in your mouth and lose all the taste.

My impression was that if it held still long enough, the British would bread it and fry it.

That said, I will concede that they do breakfast fairly well. But for the two months I worked in Great Britain, all I can say is thank God for Chinese and Indian food, and one orgiastic trip to McDonalds!