OPINION: 'British cuisine' is now a mash-up of foods from around the globe

A supermarket survey revealed that 41% of young Brits didn't know what bangers and mash was

A supermarket survey revealed that 41% of young Brits didn't know what bangers and mash was - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ever since a study suggested that Britain’s national dish was no longer roast beef but chicken tikka masala, a debate has been raging about how our food has evolved as our society has become more multi-cultural.

Personally, I think this is a very positive thing. There can be little doubt that the choice of dishes available to us in the UK today is as diverse as pretty much anywhere in the world. This is not because of some British exceptionalism, a kind of wave-the-Union-flag, ‘we must be best’ attitude.

Quite the opposite, in fact; we have assimilated so many culinary influences from other cultures because what could be regarded as traditional British cuisine is unutterably dull.

Not for nothing were our national eating habits mocked by everyone else in the world in those grey days after the war.

A combination of lack of ambition, a creaking supply infrastructure (ring any bells?) and an introverted attitude meant we were stuck with tasteless stodge while the rest of the world enjoyed colourful, flavoursome food.

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It is nothing to be ashamed of that our route out of this foodie desert was to adopt other countries’ cuisines.

Only the most died-in-the-wool xenophobe would think our palates are not better off for having the choice of curries, ramen, pasta, Mediterranean vegetables, tropical fruit and the myriad other things which have been brought to our menus from foreign shores.

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Good for us for accepting them and embracing them; our diet is infinitely more interesting for having done so.

And despite a rear-guard action being taken by those who would re-close the drawbridge and have Britain revert to an exclusively white, foreigner-free monoculture, it seems that the younger generation is never going to go back to the bad old days of bland British grub.

A survey undertaken by Aldi (a German supermarket which has been enthusiastically welcomed by even the most ardent Brexiteer) shows that ‘classic’ British dishes are on their way out. Apparently, 41 per cent of Brits aged between 24 and 35 don’t know what bangers and mash is, with 46 per cent thinking that spotted dick is a made-up dish (if only), and 41 per cent thinking the same about toad in the hole – 16 per cent think this last dish actually contains a toad.

Two-fifths of those aged between 18 and 24 have never tried bubble and squeak, while a third of the wider population have never eaten black pudding or Eton mess.

The survey was commissioned to coincide with British Food Fortnight. It suggests that the organisers of that particular awareness campaign may need to refocus their efforts.

There will be those who will be horrified by these statistics, believing they spell the end for British food.

I’m not sure that is right: what the survey proves is that our national cuisine is dynamic, constantly-changing and open to new ideas. Everything we should be as a nation, instead of insular, scared of anything foreign, and closed-minded.

Let’s face it, just a couple of short decades ago, a similar survey would have found a tiny proportion of Brits familiar with peri-peri chicken, or ramen, or falafel, or bao buns, or pho.

These dishes, and many more like them, are now a central part of the British diet – at least for the younger generation, and those of more mature years who have managed to keep an open mind.

Why should we not be celebrating these dishes during British Food Fortnight, instead of flavourless stodge which belongs in a dark past when food was more about achieving calorific intake than actual enjoyment?

Sadly, British society – or at least great swathes of it - is becoming increasingly rooted in the past, inward-looking, and terrified of anything unfamiliar or foreign. Thankfully, our dynamic food culture shows it doesn’t have to be like this.

If that means leaving things like toad in the hole and spotted dick in the past, then so be it.

When British Food Fortnight can properly celebrate a diverse, multi-cultural cuisine, then maybe we really will have taken a step towards that mythical status ‘Global Britain’.

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