What Visitors to the UK Really Think of British Food
Over-boiled vegetables, deep-fried Mars bars, chips. To figure out what went wrong with Britain’s food rep, we tracked down recent visitors to the UK and asked what they really think of our country’s cuisine.
Britain has given the world Cornish pasties, Yorkshire puddings, chip butties, and the deep-fried Mars bar. Bakery chain Greggs reportedly makes £100 million a year just from sausage rolls. We spend an artery-hardening £1.2 billion on fish and chips annually, and the UK boasts just shy of 1,000 Wetherspoons pubs, including one in a service station in Buckinghamshire—because why let a lengthy motorway drive get in the way of a bevvy?
Kind of understandable then, that Britain's key culinary contributions aren't exactly viewed by the rest of the world as paragons of either health or quality.
Of course, we all know that "British food" is more than just meat and two veg or "cheeky" chicken joints—just look at the dim sum hiding in unassuming corners of South London or hear what Margot Henderson has to say about Lancashire hot pot.
To figure out what went wrong with our national cuisine's rep, we tracked down recent visitors to the UK—from students and backpackers to award-winning chefs—and asked what they really think of the culinary offerings in this green and pleasant land.
Vix Nowak, archaeology and anthropology student, 20, Knurow, Poland "It's so weird how everything is frozen here. And rows and rows of cheddar cheese in the supermarket. I go anywhere that has fish and chips, but my British friends tell me there's nowhere really good to try them in London. For something nice, I go to this small Korean restaurant near Tottenham Court Road, the food there is amazing." João Sineiro, artist, 31, Barcelos, Portugal "British food is generally bad compared to food in more southern countries. Apart from Christmas dinner, which I really like. Other than that, all I really know about it is fish and chips."
Curtis Stone, chef, author and television personality, 40, Melbourne, Australia "I first visited the UK when I was 22. I made my way to London, where I literally knocked on the back door of Marco Pierre White's restaurant and asked for a job. I started working for him that day and continued working there for eight years. Brits don't seem to have the best reputation for good food, but this is far from the truth. I have some very fond memories of dining in the UK. There was a great Indian restaurant above our local pub, The Warrington Hotel in Maida Vale. I've been lucky enough to eat at The Fat Duck and The Ledbury. There were a few places on Portobello Road I frequented as well—E&O and The Electric. I'm constantly cooking and eating British food that reminds me of my chef days there and that also just tastes downright delicious." Briana Lewis, musician, 26, Connecticut, USA "I grew up being told that lots of British food is boiled so I guess I think of British food as being hearty to combat the cold winters. I've had a few English breakfasts–breakfast is my favorite meal. I've also been to Nando's, a burrito place similar to Chipotle, and a Lebanese restaurant. Beans on toast seems strange to me. I just put jelly on my toast."
Line Darmon, film student, 24, Antwerp, Belgium "British food for me is eggs and soldiers, Marmite, and Christmas dinner. And Come Dine With Me is my favorite show ever! When I visit the UK, it's usually to see family at Christmas so we have a big turkey dinner. I hate Christmas pudding though, Other than that, we'd go out for sushi or an Indian. It's not so easy to find a good Indian in Antwerp." Todd Boyer, 32, acquisitions CEO, Philadelphia, USA "I don't know much about British food, other than fish and chips. That was the first thing I ate when I landed. I've also had steak with mashed potatoes and asparagus at the Audley in Mayfair."
Kenji Lopez, 36, managing culinary director at Serious Eats, San Francisco, USA "I used to think of British food the same way that many Americans think of it: over-cooked beef, heavy pies, and vegetables that are cooked to mush. Now I think of amazing seafood, excellent Indian food, late-night doner kebabs, savory pies, and pasties–why don't we have those in the US? I still don't think anyone in the UK knows how to make a proper hamburger though. Also, the amount of toast and tea that's consumed is a little concerning to me."
Rosella Pisanu, MA student, 25, Bologna, Italy "I think the British diet has a lot of meat and the first thing that comes to mind is the English breakfast. I prefer to go for meals out at Indian restaurants, they're cheaper. But if I was going for something British, I'd probably head for a pub."
For British cuisine beyond toast and beer, check out the MUNCHIES Guide to British Food.
Illustrations by Tom Delves.