For today’s post we have a lively analysis by our soon-to-leave-us French intern, Lucie Jannon (the one in the middle of the featured image above), on what she found surprising about the food in England. Thank you for your candid thoughts, Lucie!
« Fais attention Lucie les rosbifs ne mangent que de la jelly, il va falloir t’habituer à la nourriture anglaise !»
I will admit, I was pretty pessimistic about food when planning my stay in London for my internship at Tried & Supplied.
In spite of having a few English friends and living in Pas-De-Calais, the French region located just on the other side of the Chanel tunnel, my grandma has strong opinions about British food. She is a lady for whom the kitchen is sacred and who thinks that Brits are absolute gastronomy sinners. And I guess she passed on this myth that English food is a disaster to her children. At Christmas, when I told my uncles that I would soon be living in London for my internship at Tried & Supplied, they were thrilled but still warned me. « You’ll see, English dishes are bland and they like funny textures; and Brits eat fluorescent jelly instead of a nice yoghurt for pudding! ».
I’m ashamed to say that, at that time, I tended to agree with them because I had a very bad experiment with English food five years ago. I stayed with an old couple living in Somerset during a school trip and the menu was: pizza topped with fries; cucumber and butter sandwich; and overbrewed tea with milk! So back in December, I was just mentally preparing myself to live through the worst five months gastronomical experience I could imagine.
Why do the French think English food is so awful?
I have to say though, I think that my family making fun of English gastronomy is a very French thing to do. When I searched for « Pourquoi la cuisine anglaise a mauvaise réputation?», Google came up with a dozen articles, and some published by leading serious media. Jokes about our neighbour’s cuisine are deeply rooted in French popculture, from cartoons to comercials, especially amongst the older generations. It seems that history can explain this funny cliche about the awfulness of English cuisine that the French have been enjoying for years. Apparently, it goes back to the Victorian era when English puritan morals forbade the pleasures of the flesh and the enjoyment of abundance. Moreover, the industrialization of cities like Manchester and Liverpool gave birth to a number of frugal recipes, created by poor workers and immigrants. Meanwhile, across the Channel, French gastronomy was probably in its golden era. Auguste Escoffier and Anthonin Carême, amongst other genius chefs, were in the process of developing French cuisine. With cook books respected like The Bible, highly refined and technically demanding French recipes were served in some of the fanciest palaces at the time. According to historians, it was in this era that the deep gulf between the perception of English and French cuisine opened up.
The honest truth
But now I have lived in England for five months by myself and my internship is coming to an end. Before I leave I thought I would restablish the truth, or at least express my honest opinion on English cuisine. Because I have to say, I have been pretty surprised! First on the podium for me are scones with clotted cream and jam, I think that they are absolutely delicious and would definitely belong in my grandma’s holy kitchen.
One of my best memories is probably going for tea and scones at Richmond’s Petersham Nurseries when my best friend was visiting for a weekend. When I think about England, flowers come to mind and this place perfectly reflects this feeling. It is a mix between a garden, a plant and flower merchant, a restaurant, a tea house. They served us scones with black tea, and a splash of milk (“of course, Darling!”).
Scones even made me change my mind about milk in the tea, I now think milk actually lightens the taste of tea and smooths the texture.
Second winner for me is Sunday roast. I like the idea of a simple and comforting dish that just brings family and friends together, whether it is at home or the local pub. And the gravy! What a blast covering perfectly cooked chicken and crispy potatoes with this rich shimmering sauce. I wish I could marry an English guy just so we then have to go and have Sunday roast every week at his parents.
Third medal probably needs to be split between pea and mint soup and the steak and ale pie. I like how Brits use mint way more than we do in France, because I think when well used it is actually a very interesting and refreshing ingredient.
Finally, I almost forgot the English breakfast, and it is probably because you can’t really see clearly when you have finished a whole plate, but how delicious it is!
I also have been quite surprised when grocery shopping in London, because I think supermarkets here offer way more vegan and vegetarian options. In France, depending on where you go, you will probably find a shelfs at the back of the store where only « bobo » and seed eaters dare to adventure. True, it is perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it is the case that the UK is much more advanced when it comes to diet alternatives, even gluten free products look so much more interesting here! I even tasted a veggie salmon piece that was quite reasonable.
So I have to say that English cuisine is much more tasty that we arrogant French like to let on! I think dark times are gone and British chefs are also getting more adventurous, creative and there is no doubt that London is a capital of gastronomy today. What I also like about food in Britain is that multiculturalism in this country gives so many opportunities for taste! Spices, textures and taste get influenced by Jamaican, Indian, Portuguese and so many other origins and it makes cuisine in the UK way more diverse, lively and vibrant than old cliches would have you think. So thank you London, Saucy Dressings and Tried & Supplied for pleasing my palate this past few months and I will carry on my mission to challenge mockery on English food once I get back to France.
PS: No one seems to be actually eating jelly on a regular basis here I have discovered and you barely even notice it in supermarket.
PS bis: One thing I will never defend though is marmite, it tastes like licking a gas station’s floor. (not that I ever did that don’t worry!)