Huffpost Food
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Greg Voakes Headshot

British Food Myths and the 'Summer of Sport'

Posted: Updated:

A summer of sport is being celebrated across the pond in the UK. Why? Because like Lord Alfred Douglas talking about a his forbidden love (and the people of the wizarding world talking about Ralph Fiennes) they're not permitted as a nation to name the thing they're really talking about.

As such, every routine sporting event has been bundled neatly into the summer of sport package -- Wimbledon, the British Open, Euro 2012, the Tour de France and the England versus South Africa test match cricket -- to get around the main event's naming restrictions (it rhymes with 'O'Limericks', by the way).

UK residents have plenty of reasons to raise an eyebrow at the unofficial term, which has been variously used in newspaper headlines, subscription TV campaigns and the cold, dark places in which brands shut out of sponsorship congregate to create content. For starters, most people are pretty sure that summer is just a hallmark season, celebrated by clothing stores in lieu of the dismal murk twixt spring and autumn. But there's also a degree of irony involved in encouraging an entire nation to vegetatively consume an entire season of physical exertion. And, if British people pride themselves on just one thing, it's their supposed ability to discern irony better than any other nation.

One multinational left out in the cold by the main event (for the ninth consecutive time, no less) is Burger King (though this is perhaps for the best considering past comments about British Food and Females). It's no secret that British food isn't exactly well-loved, and you're all going to be stuck politely pretending you like it. It's not like many UK citizens will be able to challenge your opinions face to face, either. The clogged arteries of the transport system and the bizarre ticket lottery will keep them all in their homes, even if the televised 'summer of sport' doesn't turn them into the lounge-livers Sebastian Coe wants them to be.

So let's break down the myths about British food, restaurants and eating, so they don't turn into self-fulfilling prophecies: bad food can be found in any nation, and if you're trained to go looking for it -- and not the good stuff -- you're only going to find it.

Myth #1: British food is bland and boring

There's a strange disconnect between stereotypes of British food and the established facts of British eating habits, as we will see later on in this rundown of myths. The British love of spice contradicts the expectation that British food is bland -- historically, the British were a significant part of the spice trade and this has had a massive influence on the kind of food British people eat every day. Even if you don't allow certain spicy dishes into the canon of British food, there are enough spice-packed British sausages and fantastic mustards to paste onto your roast dinners to disprove the most wounding of accusations.

Another stereotype that should be more positive than it actually is: the association of British dishes with roast beef. Britain farms fantastic beef, and has done so for centuries. However, unlike other places where the association has become an asset (Kobe and its allegedly beer-fed cattle, for example), the British have become apologetic about it all. They really needn't be.

Myth #2: Fish and chips are a popular takeout food

The act of battering a fish, frying it with chips and wrapping them both in newspaper makes for a poetic contrast in terms of Britain's island identity. Next to the delicate art of Japanese sushi, it's a crass treatment of piscine life, an oafish mastery of the waves the nation claimed to 'rule' for so long. Perhaps that's why the dish fits so nicely into opinions about British Food. But how popular are fish and chips as a form of takeout food? Even in the UK, they're actually a bit of a novelty -- a tourist treat for seaside visits.

In rankings for ten cities provided by Internet-based takeaway service Just-Eat, fish and chips placed fifth in four cities, and fourth in just one (Edinburgh). In fact, fish and chips appear to be slightly less popular than Turkish takeaway. So what is the national favourite takeaway? Five of those ten cities (Brighton, Coventry, Edinburgh, Southampton and London) say Chinese, but Italian follows close behind and Indian takeaway is a consistent third choice.

Myth #3: Etiquette matters

It wouldn't be a post about debunking British stereotypes if we didn't tackle the 'afternoon tea and table manners' extension of the view that all British people are Jane Austen throwbacks. According to Wikipedia (and accompanied with thorough citation, so who would dare to dispute it?), British table manners dictate that "the host takes the first bite unless he or she instructs otherwise," "applying garnishes before the food is tasted is viewed as an insult to the cook" and "[a soup] spoon should never be put into the mouth, and soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon, not the end."

Apparently, "this article has multiple issues," chief among them presumably being the fact that the Queen herself would have to be having a bad day to bother calling you out on half of them.

Myth #4: Metric burgers

Jules: Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?
Brett: No.
Jules: Tell him, Vincent.
Vincent: Royale with cheese.
Jules: Royale with cheese. Do you know why they call it a Royale with cheese?
Brett: Because of the metric system?

Pulp Fiction fans visiting the world's largest (temporary) McDonald's can relax: the UK has Quarter Pounders despite signing up to the devilish metric system. Furthermore, if you take a trip over the Channel, it's actually a "Royal Cheese."

Myth #5: British food actually exists (or exists as you think it does)

This is probably a little more controversial, but to me 'British Food' is less a meaningful distinction, more a vague conglomeration of dishes that fall into the inevitably dis-preferred 'other' category in people's minds. In fact, many boundaries which the British themselves establish around their food are relics of colonial thinking: dishes like the balti and chicken tikka masala are considered 'Indian food' despite the likelihood that they were created in British industrial cities by people who may well consider themselves British citizens. Today, this is true on a grand scale, with many innovative chefs mixing and matching tastes in quintessentially British dishes.

Even within Europe, the British are responsible for validating many meaningless distinctions about regional foods. Quality cheeses, for example, are associated with France and Italy, yet the British Cheese Board reckons there are 700 distinct local cheeses -- some 300 more than both of the aforementioned nations. British food as we know it is a relic of a 'default' in a time when the nation imposed its rule on others and used its great industrial wealth to import the best of foreign produce: things tend to taste better when you've spent more money on them.

From Our Partners