In the UK there is a dizzying array of food from around the world available to the Brits to try. Almost every country from across the globe’s food is sold in restaurants and takeaways across Britain. Even though the British thoroughly enjoy a Chinese or Indian takeaway at the weekends for a treat nothing quite beats the traditional dishes that originate from the four countries that make-up the UK. Even the world-renowned celebrity chefs in the UK have been gravitating back towards traditional British dishes in their cookbooks and television shows, albeit often with a gourmet twist.
One of the most famous dishes in the UK is the Roast dinner which originates in England and dates back to when the wealthy land owner would treat his workers to a dinner of (traditionally) roasted oxen on a Sunday to reward them for their week’s work and this is why it is also known as a Sunday dinner. The meal consists of roasted meat (usually a chicken or a large beef joint) which is accompanied by a selection of vegetables, roasted potatoes, gravy and the all-important Yorkshire Puddings. Yorkshire men and women (me included) are very precious about Yorkshire Puddings and the standard of one’s ‘Yorkshires’ is a testament to one’s cooking ability. They are made by putting pancake batter into Yorkshire pudding trays filled with very hot oil and cooking for 12-15 minutes. However there are pre-made, frozen ‘Yorkshires’ available in the shops with ‘Aunt Bessies’ being the most widely sold make. Roast dinners are notoriously difficult to cook well and take a considerable amount of skill and time to prepare so these ‘shortcuts’ are understandable, but uttering ‘Aunt Bessies’ in the presence of a Yorkshire man or woman is akin to blasphemy. The importance based on the Sunday dinner is shown in famous British chefs Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay including many recipes for the ‘perfect Sunday roast’ in their books, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Dinners and Ramsay’s Gordon Ramsay’s Sunday Lunch – a whole book dedicated to this one meal.
Scotland is best known for Haggis which is a kind of sausage made from sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs) mixed with onions, oatmeal and spices. It is usually served with boiled and mashed swede or turnip, ‘neeps’, and mashed potatoes, ‘tatties’. Even though the description of Haggis doesn’t make it sound overly appetising it really is a delicious meal that is very popular with both the Scots and tourists alike. Every year Scotland celebrates their National poet Robert Burns on the 25th of January, otherwise known as Burn’s Night. On Burn’s Night people get together for a party to celebrate Burns by singing songs written by Burns, drinking ‘drams’ (glasses of whisky) and enjoying some haggis. Before the haggis is served Burn’s ‘Address to a Haggis’ is read out and then everyone drinks a toast of whisky to the haggis. Haggis is served in many different ways in Scotland; it is served deep fried with chips in Fish and Chip shops, known as a haggis supper, whilst many restaurants serve a chicken breast stuffed with haggis which is known as the ‘Flying Scotsman’ which is transformed into ‘Chicken Balmoral’ by wrapping it in bacon. Scottish celebrity chefs embrace their roots by creating innovative recipes using haggis such as Gordon Ramsay’s haggis ‘hash brown’, haggis mixed with grated potato and fried and a haggis soup made by famous Scottish chef Nick Nairn on the popular TV show Ready Steady Cook.
Many traditional British dishes are hearty and filling due to the infamous cold weather that is present for the majority of the year. One of Ireland’s most famous meals, Irish stew, is no different. It was originally a peasant dish made from using left-over meat and vegetables to create a cheap, filling meal. Mutton, an older sheep, is usually used which dates back to the economical aspects of the dish as historically the Irish raised sheep for their wool and milk and, when the sheep got older, for food as it was a readily available source. The farmers also grew lots of root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, both of which are main ingredients in Irish stew. The distinctive flavours which make this dish famous come from the use of mutton and parsley. Over the years the recipe has been adapted and modernised with lamb being a more popular meat choice instead of mutton and for a boozy twist Guinness stout, Ireland’s famous beer, is usually added to the recipe. British people like an excuse to add some alcohol to everyday recipes. One of Ireland’s most famous chefs is Paul Rankin and he competed in the TV show The Great British
Menu in which chefs from all the countries that make-up the UK compete to cook their regional dishes at a banquet. Rankin took this traditional dish and modernised it, making it more contemporary by using many of the staple ingredients from an Irish stew in his main course in the competition – Lamb with a parsley and mustard crust. He also served ‘champ’, another traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes mixed with ‘scallions’ (spring onions).
A time-honoured dish in Wales is Welsh Rarebit, a kind of ‘posh cheese on toast’. Served as a snack or for lunch it is prepared by making a sauce out of local ale, Welsh cheddar cheese, mustard and spices and heating it all up together. The sauce is then served over toasted bread. Successful Welsh chef Stephen Terry adapted this traditional recipe for his main course dish in The Great British Menu by adding another welsh ingredient, rabbit. He substituted roasted rabbit legs for the toast and covered them in the beautiful Welsh
rarebit cheese sauce. It is a running joke that Wales’ national dish doesn’t take much skill or preparation in comparison to its English, Scottish and Irish counterparts but once you have tried it you realise that it deserves to be celebrated as a national dish. Plus, you would be hard-pressed to find a Brit who doesn’t like cheese on toast.
This is just a tiny selection of the traditional dishes eaten across the UK and with all the adaptations of these meals you can see how much wonderful food the four countries have to offer. So with all these delicious options available and world famous celebrity chefs singing the praises of British food why eat anything else?