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English cuisine

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English cuisine

Stereotypical afternoon tea in English style at the Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia

English cuisine encompasses the cooking styles, traditions and recipes associated with England. It has distinctive attributes of its own, but also shares much with wider British cuisine, partly through the importation of ingredients and ideas from North America, China, and India during the time of the British Empire and as a result of post-war immigration.

Traditional meals have ancient origins, such as bread and cheese, roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, boiled vegetables and broths, and freshwater and saltwater fish. The 14th-century English cookbook, the Forme of Cury,[1] contains recipes for these, and dates from the royal court of Richard II.

English cooking has been influenced by foreign ingredients and cooking styles since the Middle Ages. Curry was introduced from the Indian subcontinent and adapted to English tastes from as early as 1747 with Hannah Glasse's recipe for chicken "currey". French cuisine influenced English recipes throughout the Victorian era. After the rationing of the Second World War, Elizabeth David's Mediterranean cooking had wide influence, bringing Italian cuisine to English homes. Her success encouraged other cookery writers to describe other styles, including Chinese and Thai cuisine. England continues to absorb culinary ideas from all over the world.


  • History 1
    • Middle Ages 1.1
    • Eighteenth century 1.2
    • Nineteenth century 1.3
    • Twentieth century 1.4
    • Stereotypes 1.5
    • Foreign influence 1.6
  • Food establishments 2
    • Cafes 2.1
    • Tea rooms 2.2
    • Fish and chip shops 2.3
    • Pub food 2.4
  • International and fusion cuisine 3
    • Indian and Anglo-Indian cuisine 3.1
    • Other 3.2
  • Drinks 4
    • Hot drinks 4.1
    • Soft drinks 4.2
    • Alcoholic drinks 4.3
      • Beer and cider 4.3.1
      • Wine and mead 4.3.2
      • Spirits and liqueurs 4.3.3
      • Mixed drinks 4.3.4
  • Vegetarianism 5
  • International reputation 6
  • Dishes 7
  • Food writers and chefs 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • Sources 11
  • External links 12


Middle Ages

English cookery has developed over many centuries since at least the time of The Forme of Cury, written in the Middle Ages around 1390 in the reign of King Richard II.[1] The book offers imaginative and sophisticated recipes, with spicy sweet-and-sour sauces thickened with bread or quantities of almonds boiled, peeled, dried and ground, and often served in pastry.[2] It was not at all, emphasises the historian of cookery Clarissa Dickson Wright, a matter of large lumps of roast meat at every meal as imagined in Hollywood films.[2]

Eighteenth century


Nineteenth century

How English puddings should look, according to Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861

English cooking was systematized and made available to the middle classes by a series of popular books, their authors becoming household names. One of the first was Mrs Rundell's A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1806; it went through sixty-seven editions by 1844, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in Britain and America.[6] This was followed by Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families 1845, which has been called "the greatest cookery book in our language",[7] but "modern" only in an eighteenth-century sense. Acton was supplanted by the most famous English cookery book of the Victorian era, Isabella Beeton's Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861, which sold nearly two million copies up to 1868.[8] Where Acton's was a book to be read and enjoyed, Beeton's, substantially written in later editions by other hands, was a manual of instructions and recipes, to be looked up as needed.[9] Mrs Beeton was substantially plagiarized from authors including Raffald and Acton.[10]

Twentieth century

Elizabeth David profoundly changed English cooking with her 1950 A Book of Mediterranean Food.[11] Written at a time of food rationing and scarcity, her book began with "perhaps the most evocative and inspirational passage in the history of British cookery writing":[11]

The cooking of the Mediterranean shores, endowed with all the natural resources, the colour and flavour of the South, is a blend of tradition and brilliant improvisation. The Latin genius flashes from the kitchen pans. It is honest cooking too; none of the sham Grand Cuisine of the International Palace Hotel[11][12]

All five of David's early books remained in print half a century later, and her reputation among cookery writers such as Nigel Slater and Clarissa Dickson Wright is of enormous influence.[11] The historian of food Panikos Panayi suggests that this is because she consciously brought foreign cooking styles into the English kitchen; she did this with fine writing, and with practical experience of living and cooking in the countries she wrote about.[11] She deliberately destroyed the myths of restaurant cuisine with phrases like "the sham Grand Cuisine of the International Palace Hotel", instead describing the home cooking of Mediterranean countries.[11] Her books "opened the floodgates" for other cookery writers to use foreign recipes. Post-David celebrity chefs, often ephemeral, included Philip Harben, Fanny Cradock, Graham Kerr ("the galloping gourmet"), and Robert Carrier.[11]


In 1953, Britain's first celebrity chef,[13] Philip Harben, published Traditional Dishes of Britain.[13] Panayi observes that "The chapter titles simply list the stereotypical stalwarts of the British diet", from Cornish pasty and Yorkshire pudding to shortbread, Lancashire hotpot, steak and kidney pudding, jellied eels, clotted cream and fish and chips.[13] Panayi notes that Harben begins with contradictions and uncited claims, naming Britain's supposed reputation for the worst food in the world, but claiming that the country's cooks were technically unmatched and that the repertoire of national dishes was the largest of any country's.[13]

Foreign influence

English cookery has been open to foreign ingredients and influence from as early as the thirteenth century. The Countess of Leicester, daughter of King John purchased large amounts of cinnamon,[31] while King Edward I ordered large quantities of spices such as pepper and ginger, as well as of what was then an expensive imported luxury, sugar.[32] Dickson Wright refutes the popular idea that spices were used to disguise bad meat, pointing out that this would have been as fatal then as it would be today. She suggests instead that spices were used to hide the taste of salt, which was used to preserve food in the absence of refrigeration.[33]

Panayi introduces his book Spicing Up Britain with the words of the English celebrity cook Fanny Cradock: "The English have never had a cuisine. Even Yorkshire pudding comes from Burgundy."[34] He cites Nicola Humble's observation that in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, there are about the same number of recipes from India as from Wales, Scotland and Ireland together.[35][36] Panayi created controversy by asserting, with evidence,[2] that fish and chips had foreign origins: the fried fish from Jewish cooking, the potato chips from France; the dish only became "an important signifier of national identity" from about 1930.[13]

Curry was created by the arrival of the British in India in the seventeenth century, beginning as bowls of spicy sauce used, Lizzie Collingham writes, to add "bite to the rather bland flavours of boiled and roasted meats."[37] Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery (1747) contains what Clarissa Dickson Wright calls a "famous recipe" which describes how "To make a currey the Indian way"; it flavours chicken with onions fried in butter, the chicken then being fried with turmeric, ginger and ground pepper, then stewed in its own stock with cream and lemon juice, and served with boiled rice. Dickson Wright comments that she was "a bit sceptical" of this recipe, as it had few of the expected spices, but was "pleasantly surprised by the end result" which had "a very good and interesting flavour".[38] The process of adapting Indian cooking continued for centuries. Anglo-Indian recipes could completely ignore Indian rules of diet, such as by using pork or beef. Some dishes, such as "liver curry, with bacon" were simply ordinary recipes spiced up with ingredients such as curry powder. In other cases like kedgeree, Indian dishes were adapted to British tastes; khichari was a "simple rice and lentil dish". Curry was accepted in almost all Victorian era cookery books, such as Eliza Acton's (1845): she offered recipes for curried sweetbreads and curried macaroni, merging Indian and European foods into standard English cooking. By 1895, curry was included in Dainty Dishes for Slender Incomes, aimed at the poorer classes.[39]

Foreign influence was by no means limited to specific dishes. James Walvin, in his book Fruits of Empire, argues that potatoes, sugar (entirely imported until around 1900 and the growing of sugar beet), tea, and coffee as well as increasing quantities of spices were "Fruits of Empire" that became established in Britain between 1660 and 1800, so that by the nineteenth century "their exotic origins had been lost in the mists of time" and had become "part of the unquestioned fabric of local life".[40][41]

Food establishments


In the United Kingdom, a "cafe", "working men's cafe", or "caff".[42][43][44] is a small, inexpensive eating place, roughly equivalent to a diner or greasy spoon in other cultures. They are usually independently owned, and unlicensed for alcohol. They typically open very early, at 6am or 7am, and close in the early afternoon, from 2pm to 3pm.

The typical working men's cafe serves mainly fried or grilled food, such as fried eggs, bacon, black pudding, bubble and squeak, burgers, sausages, mushrooms and chips. These are often accompanied by baked beans, cooked tomatoes, and fried bread. These are served in a variety of combinations and are generally referred to as "breakfast" even if they are available all day.[45]

In the United Kingdom, the traditional cafe has been in decline due to the rise of fast-food chains; they nevertheless remain numerous all over the UK.[46]

Tea rooms

A tea room is a small room or restaurant where beverages and light meals are served, often having a sedate or subdued atmosphere. A customer might expect to receive cream tea or Devonshire tea, often served from a china set, and a scone with jam and clotted cream – alternatively a High tea may be served.

Fish and chip shops

Fish and chips is a hot dish consisting of battered fish, commonly Atlantic cod or haddock, and chips. It is a common take-away food.[47]

Deep-fried chips (slices or pieces of potato) as a dish may have first appeared in England in about the same period: the Oxford English Dictionary notes as its earliest usage of "chips" in this sense the mention in Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (published in 1859): "Husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil".

The modern fish-and-chip shop ("chippy" or "chipper" in modern English slang[48][49]) originated in the United Kingdom, although outlets selling fried food occurred commonly throughout Europe. Early fish-and-chip shops had only very basic facilities. Usually these consisted principally of a large cauldron of cooking fat, heated by a coal fire. The fish-and-chip shop later evolved into a fairly standard format, with the food served, in paper wrappings, to queuing customers, over a counter behind which the fryers are located. Fish-and-chips is usually eaten with salt and vinegar, and may be accompanied by gherkins or mushy peas. Chippies may serve other takeaway foods, such as burgers, sausages (particularly the kind known as a saveloy), Chinese spring rolls, pies and Doner kebabs.

Pub food

The public house, or pub is a famous English institution. In the mid 20th century, they were drinking establishments with little emphasis on the serving of food, other than "bar snacks", such as pork scratchings,[50] and pickled eggs, salted crisps and peanuts which helped to increase beer sales. If a pub served meals these were usually basic cold dishes such as a ploughman's lunch.[51]

In the 1950s some British pubs would offer "a pie and a pint", with hot individual steak and ale pies made easily on the premises by the landlord's wife. In the 1960s and 1970s this developed into the then-fashionable "chicken in a basket", a portion of roast chicken with chips, served on a napkin, in a wicker basket. Quality dropped but variety increased with the introduction of microwave ovens and freezer food. "Pub grub" expanded to include British food items such as steak and ale pie, steak and kidney pudding, shepherd's pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Sunday roast, ploughman's lunch, and pasties. In addition, dishes such as burgers, lasagne and chili con carne are often served[52][53] The gastropub movement, on the other hand, seeks to serve restaurant-quality food, cooked to order from fresh ingredients, in a pub setting.[54]

International and fusion cuisine

Indian and Anglo-Indian cuisine

Kedgeree, a popular breakfast dish in the Victorian era.
Chicken tikka masala, adapted from Indian chicken tikka and called "a true British national dish."[6]

Indian cuisine is the most popular alternative to traditional cooking in Britain, followed by Chinese and Italian food.[55][56] The chicken tikka masala is now considered one of Britain's most popular dishes.[57]

Indian food was served in coffee houses from 1809, and cooked at home from a similar date as Mrs Beeton's cookbook attests. There was a sharp increase in the number of curry houses in the 1940s, and again in the 1970s.[58] In the Victorian era, during the British Raj, Britain first started borrowing Indian dishes, creating Anglo-Indian cuisine. Kedgeree and Mulligatawny soup are traditional Anglo-Indian dishes.[59] Anglo-Indian fusion food continued to develop with chicken tikka masala in the 1960s and Balti in the 1980s.

Home-cooked curries by ethnically English people are often based on ready made curry powder sauces or pastes, with only a minority grinding and mixing their own spices. Curries may be home-cooked to use up leftovers.

In 2003, there were as many as 10,000 restaurants serving Indian cuisine in England and Wales alone. The majority of Indian restaurants in Britain are run by entrepreneurs of Bangladeshi (often Sylhet) and Pakistani origin.[60] According to Britain's Food Standards Agency, the Indian food industry in the United Kingdom is worth £3.2 billion, accounts for two-thirds of all eating out, and serves about 2.5 million British customers every week.[61]

Indian restaurants typically allow the diner to combine base ingredients — chicken, prawns or "meat" (lamb or mutton) — with curry sauces — from the mild korma to the scorching phall — without regard to the authenticity of the combination. The reference point for flavour and spice heat is the Madras curry sauce (the name represents the area of India where restaurateurs obtained their spices, rather than an actual dish). Other sauces are sometimes variations on a basic curry sauce:[62] for instance, vindaloo is often rendered as a fiery dish of lamb or chicken[63] in a Madras sauce with extra chilli, rather than the Anglo-Indian dish of pork marinated in wine vinegar and garlic, based on a Goan Portuguese dish carne de vinha d'alhos.[64][65]

In addition to curries, Indian restaurants offer "dry" tandoori and tikka dishes of marinated meat or fish cooked in a special oven, and biriani dishes, where the meat and rice are mixed together. Samosas, Bhajis and small kebabs are served as starters, or can be eaten by themselves as snacks.

In recent years, some Indian restaurants have started aiming higher than the norm for ethnic food, two of them garnering Michelin stars in the process.[66][67]


Chinese food is well established in England, with large cities often having a Chinatown district. Predominantly derived from Cantonese cuisine,[68] it may be so adapted to Western tastes that Chinese customers may be offered an entirely separate menu. South-East Asian cuisines, such as Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese are catching up in popularity.

Italian cuisine is the most popular form of Mediterranean food, vying with Chinese and Indian food as the most popular ethnic food. Greek and Spanish restaurants are well established. Turkish tends to be associated with the take-away sector in particular late night kebab shops.

Apart from beefburgers and hot dogs, food from the Americas tends to be represented by Mexican or Tex-mex cuisine, although there are a few Creole and South American restaurants.

Caribbean and Jewish cuisine can usually only be found where there is a concentration of the community in question.

In England, French cuisine stands somewhat apart from other generally less expensive cuisine, although there are some inexpensive French bistros.[69]


Hot drinks

Black tea with milk (from c. 1660)[70]

Three of the major hot drinks popular in England, tea, coffee, and chocolate, originate from outside Europe and were already staple items by Victorian times.[71]

Catherine of Braganza brought the Portuguese habit of tea to England around 1660. Initially, its expense restricted it to wealthy consumers, but the price gradually dropped, until by the 19th century its use was widespread.[70]

Introduced in the 16th century, coffee became popular by the 17th century, especially in the coffee houses, the first opening in Oxford in 1650.[72] Coffee is drunk in instant and percolated forms; Italian-style preparations such as espresso and cappuccino are increasingly popular, while sales of tea are falling (2013).[73]

Hot chocolate was a popular drink by the 17th century. Chocolate as a food was developed and marketed by English Quaker-founded businesses such as Joseph Fry's (1847),[74] Rowntree's (1862),[75] and Cadbury's (1868).[74]

Soft drinks

For much of the 20th century Britain had a system where fresh milk was delivered to the doorstep in reusable glass bottles in the mornings, usually by electric vehicles called "milk floats", though it has largely been replaced by supermarket shopping.

Dandelion and burdock was originally a lightly fermented beverage similar to root beer. Later versions were more artificially made and alcohol-free. Soft ginger beer was popular from the late 19th to mid 20th century. Tizer and Lucozade are British carbonated drinks, the latter marketed as an energy drink. Lemonade generally refers to a clear, fizzy beverage in the UK. International brands of cola and energy drinks became popular since in the 20th century.

Barley water, usually flavoured with lemon or other fruit, is a traditional British soft drink. It is made by boiling washed pearl barley, straining, then pouring the hot water over the rind or pulp of the fruit, and adding fruit juice and sugar to taste.

Squashes and cordials are an alternative to carbonated beverages. They are a non-alcoholic concentrated syrup that is usually fruit-flavoured and usually made from fruit juice, water, and sugar, which needs to be "diluted to taste" before drinking. Some traditional cordials also contain herbal extracts, most notably elderflower and ginger.

Alcoholic drinks

Beer and cider

A pint glass of Bitter

England is one of the few countries where cask conditioned beer is still a major part of the market. Lager or Pilsener style beer has increased considerably in popularity since the mid 20th century, and is often used as an accompaniment to spicy ethnic food. Any kind of beer may accompany a meal in a pub. English beer cookery includes steak and ale pie and beer-battered fish and chips.

Stout is a globally known style of beer which originated in England, although it came to be associated with Ireland. It has a culinary association with oysters; they can be used to flavour stout, or it can be drunk with them.

In Britain, "cider" always means an alcoholic drink of fermented apple juice and is served by the pint or half pint like beer. It is traditionally associated with certain regions, such as the South West and Herefordshire, but commercial brands are available nationwide like Bulmers Cider and Strongbow. The cloudy, unfiltered version is called scrumpy and the related beverage made from pears is called perry. In England it is sometimes distilled into apple brandy, but this is not as widespread as with Calvados in France. Culinarily, cider is sometimes used in pork or rabbit dishes.

Wine and mead

A vineyard at Wyken Hall in Suffolk.

Wine often accompanies formal meals. It was introduced to England, for both production and consumption, by the Romans. Wine has been imported ever since, although it has not always been accessible to the average person.

From the Middle Ages, the English market was the main customer of clarets from Bordeaux, France, helped by the Plantagenet kingdom, which included England and large provinces in France. In the 18th century, the Methuen Treaty of 1703 imposed high duties on French wine. This led to the English becoming a main consumer of sweet fortified wines like sherry from Spain, and Port wine and Madeira wine from Portugal. Fortified wine became popular because unlike regular wine, it does not spoil after the long journey from Portugal to England. Fortified wines are used in dessert cookery, for instance sherry features as an ingredient in trifle.

By the late, 20th century wines from around the world were available to the mass market. Viticulture was restarted in the 1970s after a very long break. England is currently a major consumer, but only a very minor producer of wine, with English and Welsh wine sales combined accounting for just 1% of the domestic market.[76]

Another form of domestic wine production is "country wines" or "fruit wines", which are made from wide variety of fruit and vegetables — elderberry, damson, parsnip and so on — other than grapes. Commercial varieties are available, but country wines are also often home-made, sometimes from garden produce or personally harvested wild fruit. Crème de cassis is made in Herefordshire.

Mead, fermented honey, was popular in the Middle Ages, but is now a curiosity.

Spirits and liqueurs

A pot of wassail

Although gin itself is not a British invention, its most popular style, London Dry Gin was developed in England. Gin and tonic has historical roots going back to the British empire, since the tonic was originally quinine taken to combat malaria in tropical climates. Rum likewise has historic associations for the English.

  • Wikibooks: Cookbook: Cuisine of the United Kingdom
  • British Library Food Stories, a century of revolutionary change in UK food culture
  • Foods of England Database of still used and 'lost' English dishes

External links

  • Ayrton, Elisabeth (1974) The Cookery of England: being a collection of recipes for traditional dishes of all kinds from the fifteenth century to the present day, with notes on their social and culinary background. London: Andre Deutsch.
  • Ayrton, Elisabeth (1980) English Provincial Cooking. London: Mitchell Beazley.
  • Grigson, Jane (1974) English Food. London: Macmillan. Enlarged edition 1979 (ISBN 0 33326866 0); later editions Ebury Press with foreword by Sophie Grigson.
  • Dickson Wright, Clarissa (2011) A History of English Food. London: Random House.
  • Hartley, Dorothy (1954) Food in England. London: Macdonald (reissued: London: Little, Brown, 1996, ISBN 0-316-85205-8)
  • Lehmann, Gilly (2003) The British Housewife. Totnes: Prospect Books.
  • Panayi, Panikos (2010 [2008]) Spicing Up Britain. London: Reaktion Books.


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  82. ^ "Le Cordon Bleu, London". Le Cordon Bleu. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 


  1. ^ Cury here means cooking, related to French cuire, to cook.
  2. ^ Panayi cites the Fish Trades Gazette of 29 July 1922 as stating "Later there was introduced into this country the frying and purveying of chip potatoes from France ... which had made the fried fish trade what it is today." He also notes that The Times recorded that "potatoes chipped and fried in the French manner were introduced in Lancashire with great success about 1871." The Financial Times noted of Panayi's claim on 9 January 2004 "Kosher French Connection with Fish and Chips" while the Daily Star announced "Le Great British Feesh and Cheeps: It's Frog Nosh Claims Prof". He further observes that fish and chip shops in the 1920s were often run by Jews or Italians.[13]


Mrs. Beeton, c. 1860

Major chefs and writers advocating English cuisine include:

Food writers and chefs


In 2005, 600 food critics writing for the British Restaurant magazine named 14 British restaurants among the 50 best restaurants in the world, the number one being The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire and its chef Heston Blumenthal. The global reach of London has elevated it to the status of a leading centre of international cuisine.[82]

English cuisine once suffered from a poor international reputation. Keith Arscott of Chawton House Library comments that "at one time people didn't think the English knew how to cook and yet these [eighteenth and nineteenth century] female writers were at the forefront of modern day cooking."[81]

Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream, a dish served at The Fat Duck restaurant.

International reputation

Since the end of World War II when there were around 100,000 vegetarians in Britain, increasing numbers have adopted vegetarianism As of 2003 it was estimated that there were between 3 and 4 million vegetarians in the UK,[78] one of the highest percentages in the Western world, while around 7 million people claim to eat no red meat.[79] The majority of restaurants have at least one vegetarian dish on the menu. Quorn, based in the United Kingdom, is the leading meat-free brand in the world,[80] offering substitutes for ham, bacon, chicken and numerous other meat products.


Mixed drinks can also be based on beer (Lamb's wool) and cider (wassail).

An early mixed drink, dating from the 17th century punch. It is typically made of water, fruit, fruit juice and spirits and served in a large bowl to a group of drinkers. Cocktails are thought of as American, but have a British connection: Harry Craddock, a British-born US citizen invented a number of classic cocktails during his tenure at the Savoy Hotel bar. Pimms is a company which has been selling ready-mixed drinks for well over a century. Pimm's associated with the British summertime and events such as Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta, and the Glyndebourne opera festival. It is often used as the basis of further mixtures including fruit, lemonade, etc.

Mixed drinks

were centres of English whisky production. Liverpool and Bristol Previously [77]

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