When you think of cuisine, you probably think of the restaurants of Paris, or the regional dishes of Italy or Spain. What you probably don’t think of is traditional British cooking, but don’t assume it’s all soggy veg and over cooked meat. Britain’s multicultural heritage has given it a range of food every bit as interesting as its more prestigious European culinary cousins. I wouldn’t for a minute suggest that this list represents the best of British cooking but it certainly qualifies as quirky.
Straight out of Alice in Wonderland, this Victorian dish is both macabre and strangely poetic: forlorn fish faces gaze heavenward from a golden pastry crust. This pilchard pastry coffin also contains boiled eggs, bacon, onions and mustard. The elevated heads of the fish allow the oil to seep back into the pie. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. This marvellous metaphysical dish originates from the impossibly quaintly named Mousehole in Cornwall and is traditionally eaten on the occasion of that well-known festival, Tom Bawcock’s Eve.
The Cornish Pastry
A thing of beauty. A savoury version of the banana. The perfect portable lunch. A plateful of food wrapped up in its own pastry packet. There must be something about being situated at the very tip of an Island that made the people of Cornwall so inventive. This tasty pastry dates from the fourteenth century and was taken by tin miners, it slips easily into a pocket, as a mid-morning snack. Originally the pastry case probably contained just potato, swede and onion but no modern pasty would be complete without a few chunks of meat.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Apparently, according to a prominent British politician, nothing could be more British than Chicken Tikka Masala. Its origins lie not in the heart of India but with the British Indian community. Legend has it that back in 1971 a Glasgow bus driver complained that his curry was too dry so the enterprising restauranteur added some tomato soup and yoghurt and Britain’s favourite dish was born. Not surprisingly there are a wide variety of different recipes for this dish but most will contain tomatoes, cream and coconut cream with turmeric and paprika to give that distinctive orange colour. If you want to give this true UK delicacy a try, you’ll find a large selection of Indian takeaways here.
Battered Mars Bars
Contender for the world’s most unhealthy food and consequently disowned by Mars Inc. ‘deep frying one of our products would go against our commitment to promoting healthy, active lifestyles’. This treat is never the less an audacious stroke of Scots’ genius. A chilled mars bar is deep fried in the batter used for frying fish. Some chip shops were unhappy with the practice because it turns the oil black, but the people of Scotland took it to their hearts.
The Bedfordshire Clanger
A regional nineteenth century variant on the pasty, this pastry takes the idea of a meal in your pocket one step further by including a sweet course as well. Chopped beef skirt resides at one end and ripe pear at the other, all wrapped up in a tube of suet pastry. There must be an art in knowing which end to start.