Let’s be honest, not so long ago, British food was frowned upon and laughed about by continental Europe, seen as tasteless, colourless and at times, pointless nutrition. And some still hold the belief that, apart from a portion of Fish ‘n’ Chips wrapped in some old paper, the grub is hideous and the beer is that thick that it has to be eaten with a knife and fork. I remember my English teachers, all enthusiastic and hardcore anglophiles, up to date with current affairs in the country, bringing us articles from The Times and The Guardian to read, slightly shuddering at recalling their culinary experience in the country they loved and adored in every other way. On my first trip to the Big Smoke, which, incidentally was also my last school trip, I travelled armed – lots of healthy snacks in case the food in England wasn’t up to scratch. I wasn’t disappointed: On the second day in our bed and breakfast, willing down stale bread rolls with suspicious looking pre-packed jam pots and un-spreadable portions of what looked like butter, we spotted a cockroach making its way across the breakfast room and decided to do brunch at a nearby Starbucks for the remainder of the time in the city.
When I moved here, a year later after this first encounter, food wasn’t high on my priority list, so I wasn’t particularly bothered by the lack of variety and general simplicity of what I was served at the place I worked and lived. Looking back at some old photos I took of the buffets and dinners, I get transported back to many months of bewilderment by the 70s retro style of catering that seemed to be a signature style of the live-in head chef: platters of sliced ham, beef or turkey, separate bowls of cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce, catering trays of baking potatoes and mountains of grated cheese. It was the epitome of simplicity and lacked any kind of flavour, creativity and passion. Coming from a country which takes pride in hearty, home-cooked food, I started wondering if agreeing to stay for Christmas had been a bad decision. Nevertheless, there were two things I adored from the beginning, especially as they proved a valuable hangover food after nights out dancing and one too many alcopops: Jacket Potatoes with Baked Beans. They were the best thing on earth and became a regular dinner choice when I couldn’t stomach dodgy cuts of lamb with runny mint sauce. (Mint Sauce!! What is that all about?!?) However, once I started leaving my workplace and ventured out, spending time with friends and eating at their houses, I saw a different side to British cuisine. Roast dinners soon became a firm favourite and bacon butties – if you cut the fat off for me – were a treat on a Saturday morning. My bemusement for a full English breakfast was pushed aside once I’d tried it and I was even more delighted when I discovered the fabulous Indian cuisine with its glorious spices and explosion of flavours. How lucky was I to be in Europe and indulge in such treasures from so far away! Over time, and at a rapid pace, I was introduced to more edible gems: Hand Cut Chips, Mushy Peas, Pheasant Stews, Shepherd’s and Cottage Pies, Hotpots, Toad in the Hole, Bangers and Mash, Bubble and Squeak, Liver, Mash and Onion Gravy, and don’t get me started on the Christmas Dinner with all its trimmings. I indulged and was in food heaven. These days, whilst I no longer eat meat, but occasionally fish, I am genuinely impressed with the offer and variety of any thinkable food a human may want to buy and try. Whilst I still enjoy meat-free alternatives of the old comfort food classics, I am overjoyed by the quality and variety of nutrition I have access to and can feed to my family, exposing them to healthy and delicious meals on a daily basis. The old jacket spud is no longer a staple in my diet, but it makes a welcome appearance now and again, when time is short and we need a quick evening meal. I am grateful for and in love with how this country has fed me. The only thing missing is an equivalent for “Bon Appétit!” or “Guten Appetit!” Somehow, “Enjoy your meal” isn’t doing the food of Britain any justice.