There’s No Such Thing as ‘English’ Food

Even the most stereotypically English food — we’re looking at you fish and chips — has foreign origins. The Brits, it turns out, have essentially created an entire cuisine out of colonialism
There’s No Such Thing as ‘English’ Food

English food has a reputation as bland at best and outright objectionable at worst, full of vegetables boiled to mush, dubious “puddings” that bear no resemblance to the Snack Packs we love overseas, and jellied eels, possibly the least appetizing combination of sounds in the English language. 

But that’s not totally deserved. Remember those amazing feasts they always had on the first day of school at Hogwarts? Sure, the actual food in those scenes was usually on the third day of its journey toward the Warner Bros. trash heap, but it sure looked tasty. Or you ever had a sausage roll? Shit’s delicious. Of all the things we’ve imported from England — racism, discomfort with nudity, Coldplay — we couldn’t have saved room for some sausage rolls?

All of that is beside the point, though, because it turns out there really is no such thing as English food, or at least not what we think of as English food. Fish and chips, afternoon tea, beans on toast, all manner of meat pies or non-pies that are still confusingly called pies, and yes, even sausage rolls — they or their components all come from somewhere else in the world. The Brits have created an entire cuisine out of little more than theft and colonialism.

Let’s start with what many bewilderingly consider England’s national dish: curry. Obviously, curry wasn’t invented by some dude who looks and sounds like Colin Firth, coming to England via its colonization of India. But modern English curry bears about as much resemblance to Indian cuisine as Taco Bell does to Mexican food, so maybe they get a pass on that one. Tea, of course, also came from India, which got it from China, though it’s as entwined with English identity as large clocks and the wrong kind of football. For their part, scones originated from Scotland. That might sound close enough, but tell some burly Scottish dude that he’s basically English and see what happens.

Another country that England didn’t colonize, despite their best efforts, but still cribbed much of their cuisine from is France. Shepherd’s pie, for example, was once an actual pie, with crust and everything, filled with mutton and diced potatoes until someone apparently heard about hachis parmentier, a French casserole of lamb and beef topped with mashed potatoes, and decided that was shepherd’s pie now, explaining why it’s under no circumstances a pie. English chefs began making pork pies at the same time the French were perfecting pate en croute, aka meat paste in crust (which itself traces back to Imperial Rome), and the first pasty recipes come from a medieval French cookbook, not Cornwall. It’s like if we started blending basil and olive oil and calling it Ohio leaf sauce.

Basically, the most traditionally English meals, broken down to their constituent parts, have roots outside England, sometimes literally. For example, the only English part of fish and chips is the newspaper it’s served on, and that might be suspect as well. The fish came from Jewish immigrants, who fried it in flour for religious reasons (it turns out God wants us to live deliciously), and was initially advertised in England as fish “in the Jewish manner.” The chips, which we — probably correctly, it turns out — call French fries, actually do come from either France or Belgium. (We got something right, guys!)

The Sunday roast, meanwhile, consists of either such common foods that no one can really claim them (pretty much everyone everywhere has roasted meats and vegetables) or stolen ones like Yorkshire pudding, which in the grand tradition of slapping an English name on a foreign food are believed to come from — you guessed it — France. The full English breakfast? It’s a mess. Potatoes weren’t eaten in Europe until they were brought over from the New World and popularized in France, ditto tomatoes and Spain, sausage came from Rome and baked beans came from freaking America. What’s left — eggs, bacon and mushrooms? Again they’re too widespread to be traced. Leave it to the English to declare “food” as their food.

Speaking of America, even English desserts, usually consisting of various fruits, cakes and creams thrown at a plate like the Jackson Pollock of patisserie, aren’t exempt from foreign influence. An early version of the Knickerbocker Glory — essentially a layered ice cream sundae in a tall glass — was first created in New York, which makes sense. Where else but the land of jeggings and Jerry Springer would someone think “I just wish this sundae had less of a bottom”? The mince pie, an English Christmas staple, came from the Middle East, and anything with custard owes a debt to Ancient Rome. And the Eton mess, another Englishly named dish considered so English that it’s used to insult local politicians, is based on meringue, which comes from just about everywhere in Europe except England.

Okay, okay, that’s not entirely fair. There are some foods that are as English as rain and forced politeness — they’re just the ones tourists would not only never eat, they’d start looking around for the camera crew of the prank show they’re clearly on. They include all those puddings, or pies that have more or less had all the flavor boiled out of them; pease porridge, an oatmeal made of peas, in case regular oatmeal was too wild for you; and bread sauce, which is exactly what it sounds like — milk, bits of bread and various seasonings that fail to disguise the fact that you’re eating milk with bits of bread. 

We’re sorry, England. Raise your mugs of bread sauce, and raise them proud.

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