British food can be many things. It is comfort food. It is pub food. It is fast food. It is street food with a wide variety of international influences. But for a lot of foreigners tasting quintessentially British dishes for the first time, the experience can be quite confusing. Some food combinations can appear rather incompatible, not to mention odd.
Meat juices, fat and stock thickened with flour might not be your idea of a roast dinner condiment but the deliciously meaty and warm flavour of gravy is what has kept it around for so long. Recognising the flavour potential of what foreigners would usually pour down the drain is something British mums and grandmas should definitely be congratulated on. But especially if you are not from a particularly ‘sauce-pouring’ food culture, liberally seasoning your meat or vegetables with gravy seems bizarre.
Baked beans on toast
If you have ever lived in university halls in the UK, chances are you have seen this quite a lot. Baked beans on toast is more than broke students’ food. It is a staple of British cuisine, although you can hardly call heating up tinned beans in tomato sauce and toasting bread cooking. Foreigners often struggle to come to terms with the drowning of a slice of bread in tomato sauce, but oh well, maybe we just do not know better.
Buttered bread and fried potato sandwiches are something that sparks both fascination and genuine bewilderment among internationals. Why would you stuff carbs with more carbs? As deliciously unhealthy as it sounds, it does not make sense. Flavour-wise, the thick and starchy texture of the bread and chips provides for a salivating, yet unusual experience. There is something indulgently wrong about biting into a chip butty: tasty, tasty senselessness.
Here is the thing. If you separate how it looks from what it tastes like, it is delicious. But the slurry, gruel-like texture of mushy peas is what puts many untrained palates off. Commonly served with fish and chips, pies or as a garnish, mushy peas are a typical British invention that requires you to focus on the taste more than on the appearance in order to enjoy it.
Nobody can argue against rice, eggs and spice. It is the addition of fish, most commonly flaked smoked haddock, that makes kedgeree worthy to feature in this list. The dish packs a flavour punch, echoing its partly Indian origin, that is really quite something. But it is the essence of spiced up fish and eggs that may not always hit all the right spots upon the first bite.
Words: Asya Gadzheva | Subbing: Jessica Kwan