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Spotted Dick And Other Delights

Flavourless, stodgy, and dry — British food has long served as the subject of international ridicule. Voltaire wittily described us as a country with “a hundred religions and only one sauce,” while Chirac sniped that “the only thing Britain has contributed to European agriculture is the mad cow.” Our sweet — rather childish — cuisine has come to symbolise all our cultural deficiencies, acting as the national equivalent of having a floppy handshake or being a Friends super-fan. To most of the world, the British diet is a beige wasteland, ubiquitously associated with potato smiley faces, baked beans, and blobs of ketchup. It functions as a byword for the deadliest of all culinary sins: blandness. 

Contrary to this trendy tosh, British food is nothing to be sniffed at. If we’re talking hungover breakfast, nothing beats the fry-up. This grease-laden mountain is an undeniable masterpiece, capable of fighting the foggy morning after with quasi-medicinal precision. Even on weekdays, our morning meals impress. Ponder the humble charm of the buttered crumpet, the whimsical wonder of eggs and soldiers, or the plentiful possibilities provided by a jar of Marmite.

Then, there’s afternoon tea — in my mind, eternally tied to the eccentric world of Alice in Wonderland. While Europe siestas, we tuck into a busy assortment of finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes. Moreover, the mouth-watering Sunday roast constitutes an unrivalled family meal. This steaming, gravy-drenched heap of crispy potatoes, scrummy veggies, and tender meats is enough to single-handedly redeem our entire cuisine. For a fabulous whistlestop tour of many more national dishes, check out Florence Pugh’s Vogue Mukbang. 

Britain is roundly mocked for its bastardisation of foreign cooking. However, this philistinism ignores the fluctuating nature of food. Whereas other countries taxidermy their culinary practices, we opt for an easy-going, relaxed attitude — innovatively combining chips and curry sauce. Although our version of ‘spag bol’ would give Giorgia Meloni an aneurysm, this ebb and flow has created some compelling fusions. After all, the iconic tikka masala was invented in Glasgow.  

Now, I will concede that the British diet isn’t flawless. As a nation, we are easily dazzled — content with lards, carbs, and dates rather than exciting spices. Much of our food can be graded on a scale between cream and sepia. This plainness is brilliantly captured in the skit ‘Going for an English’. 

To make matters worse, British nosh is also strangely sexual. Try toad in the hole, spotted dick, or gentleman’s relish! Our repressed Protestant culture breaks down in the hot marinade of cuisine, poking back at us with peevish glee. The comically alluring Nigella Lawson embodies this national fixation. Certainly, this Victorian attitude is responsible for many edible oddities — bubbles of our hidden passion. 

Sadly, we Brits have also neglected vast swathes of our culinary heritage. Paralleling the decline of our wilderness, scores of quaint country dishes are on the verge of extinction. Any takers for Sussex pond pudding, or calf’s foot jelly? And it’s not just the obscure dishes that are fading away. Preferring squelchy avocado toast, a third of millennials have never tried the glamorous pineapple upside-down cake. A fifth haven’t even enjoyed a sticky toffee pudding! As broadband replaces the bluebell, we are losing little nuggets of gastronomic glory. Brits aren’t lacking in culture, we’re just ignoring it. 

Nevertheless, the reputation of British cooking is on the up. Justifying Orwell’s lament that it is not a law of nature that every restaurant here should be either foreign or bad, the British dining scene has been utterly transformed, generating a host of fancy establishments and snarky food critics. In fact, Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck is arguably the world’s leading restaurant. Despite the online sneers, Britain exercises an outsized culinary influence. Consider the global reach of Gordon Ramsay and The Great British Bake Off. Whilst a British food renaissance is, as of yet, unlikely, the tide is starting to turn.  

Fundamentally, our food doesn’t deserve its woeful reputation. There’s a mismatch between words and tastebuds here! From Greggs to the Ritz, it’s about time we acknowledged the merits of the British diet.

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