Everyone knows French cuisine is about terrine and mother sauces and staying infuriatingly skinny while mainlining cheese. Italian food is the carb-and-wine fest we all wish we were eating with our extended family on a patio in Sicily. Even German cuisine has a clear-cut identity: beer und sausage.
But how do you go about explaining British food?
Let's try. British food is as comforting as beans on toast for tea, and as embarrassing as having to describe Greggs to an American exchange student—feeling surprisingly upset when they snigger at the concept of a beef paste-ee. It's marvelling at the confusing series of migratory and deep fat frier-related events that led your local chippy to serve both curry sauce and jumbo battered cod, or exactly how depraved a country's inhabitants must be to enjoy something called a pork scratching. It's defending your nan's Sunday roast to the grave and being expected to laugh at the phrase "soggy bottom."
Or you could just make a spotted dick joke.
But limiting British cuisine to this vision of overboiled vegetables and Cath Kidston napkins does it a terrible disservice. With a history spanning invaders and settlers, colonisation, mass immigration, and wartime rationing, Britain has ended up with a uniquely patchworked food culture. And it tastes great.
Look inside the right Asian supermarket in South London and you might find the best dim sum you ever ate, or walk a few doors down and see all life (and tabbouleh) laid out in a 24-hour kebab shop. Our food personalities—Fergus Henderson, Ruby Tandoh, Marina O'Loughlin—are as outspoken as our pub landladies. There are chefs in south Wales doing barbecue to rival any Austin smokehouse and Glaswegian curry shops that'll make you sorry you even mentioned chicken tikka masala.
Plus, we gave the world Keith Floyd. Out of him and René Redzepi, I know who I'd rather go for a pint with.
This sprawling mass of flavours can't be crammed into a cheese toastie gif or Saturday food supplement, so every day this week, MUNCHIES will be exploring the stories that make Britain's cuisine.
Pull up a chair, BYOB, and prepare to forget everything you know about British food.