British cuisine is the heritage of cooking traditions and practices of the United Kingdom.
New foodstuffs have arrived over the millennia, from sausages in Roman times, oranges in the Middle Ages, sugar, potatoes, and bananas in the Columbian exchange after 1492, and spicy curry sauces from India in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Traditional British dishes include full breakfast, fish and chips, and the Christmas dinner. People in Britain, however, eat a wide variety of foods based on cuisines from around the world. British cuisine has distinctive national varieties in the form of English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish cuisines.
In Roman times, further foods were introduced, such as sausages, rabbit, herbs and spices from further south in the Roman empire such as chives and coriander, and wine, which was produced in Britain in vineyards as far north as Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire.
In the Middle Ages, the Anglo-Saxons introduced bacon to Britain sometime during the 1st millennium AD. The Norman conquest reintroduced spices and continental influences into Great Britain in the Middle Ages; oranges arrived in the late 13th century, sugar cane in the 14th, and carrots in the 15th century.
Early Modern to 19th centuryEdit
With the Western exploration of the New World in 1492, the Columbian exchange led to the arrival in Europe of many new foods, including refined sugar, the potato, the banana and chocolate. The growth in worldwide trade brought foods and beverages from the Old World too, including tea and coffee. Developments in plant breeding greatly increased the number of fruit and vegetable varieties.
The turkey was introduced to Britain in the 16th century, but its use for Christmas dinner, with Christmas pudding for dessert, was a 19th century innovation. Other seemingly traditional British dishes, like fish and chips and the full breakfast, are likewise inventions from the Victorian era; while they have a status in British culture, they are not necessarily a large part of many people's diets.
During the World Wars of the 20th century difficulties of food supply were countered by measures such as rationing. Rationing continued for nearly ten years after the Second World War, and in some aspects was stricter than during wartime, so that a whole generation was raised without access to many previously common ingredients, possibly contributing to a decline of British cuisine. A hunger for cooking from abroad was satisfied by writers such as Elizabeth David, who from 1950 produced evocative books, starting with A Book of Mediterranean Food, whose ingredients were then often impossible to find in Britain. By the 1960s foreign holidays, and foreign-style restaurants in Britain, widened the popularity of foreign cuisine. This movement was assisted by celebrity chefs – on television and in their books – such as Fanny Cradock, Clement Freud, Robert Carrier, Keith Floyd, Gary Rhodes, Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay, Ainsley Harriott, Nigella Lawson, Simon Hopkinson, Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver. From the 1970s, the availability and range of good quality fresh products increased, and the British population became more willing to vary its diet. Modern British cooking draws on influences from Mediterranean, and more recently, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Colonial British Empire began to be influenced by India's elaborate food tradition with strong spices and herbs. Traditional British cuisine was modified with the addition of Indian-style spices and ingredients such as rice, creating dishes such as kedgeree (1790) and mulligatawny soup (1791).
Curry became popular in Britain by the 1970s, when some restaurants that originally catered mainly to Indians found their clientele diversifying. Chicken tikka masala, a mildly spiced dish in a creamy sauce, invented around 1971 in Britain, has been called "a true British national dish."
English cuisine has distinctive attributes of its own, but also shares much with wider British cuisine, partly through the importation of ingredients and ideas from North America, China, and India during the time of the British Empire and as a result of post-war immigration. Some traditional meals, such as sausages, cheese, roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, boiled vegetables and broths, and freshwater and saltwater fish have ancient origins. The 14th-century English cookbook, the Forme of Cury, contains recipes for these, and dates from the royal court of Richard II.
Northern Ireland's culinary heritage has its roots in the staple diet of generations of farming families—bread and potatoes. Historically, limited availability of ingredients and low levels of immigration resulted in restricted variety and relative isolation from wider international culinary influences. The 21st century has seen significant improvements in local cuisine, characterised by an increase in the variety, quantity and quality of gastropubs and restaurants. There are currently two Michelin star restaurants in Northern Ireland, both of which specialise in traditional dishes made using local ingredients.
Scottish cuisine shares more with Scandinavia than with England. Traditional Scottish dishes include bannock, brose, cullen skink, Dundee cake, haggis, marmalade, porridge, and Scotch broth. The cuisines of the northern islands of Orkney and Shetland are distinctively different from that of mainland Scotland. The nation is known for its whiskies.
Welsh cuisine in the Middle Ages was limited in range; Gerald of Wales, chaplain to Henry II, wrote after an 1188 tour that "The whole population lives almost entirely on oats and the produce of their herds, milk, cheese and butter. You must not expect a variety of dishes from a Welsh kitchen, and there are no highly-seasoned titbits to whet your appetite." The cuisine includes recipes for Welsh lamb, and dishes such as cawl, Welsh rarebit, laverbread, Welsh cakes, bara brith and Glamorgan sausage.
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- Food Stories – Explore a century of revolutionary change in UK food culture on the British Library's Food Stories website
- George Orwell's essay "In Defence of English Cooking"