Food is an emotive topic and different people have such different tastes and preferences. On top of that, trying to compare the food culture of two countries in a thousand words is, frankly, impossible. But I will do my best and maybe revisit certain elements of this subject area at a later date. Anyway, here are my personal musings on British and American food differences.
British Food Culture
English cuisine used to be considered as crap when I was growing up in the 1970s and rightly so. In short, it was a national joke. It had a reputation for being bland and greasy, badly prepared and badly presented. Sometimes it didn’t taste of anything at all and you had to smother your pile of mushy, overcooked vegetables with tomato ketchup and brown sauce just to give your palette something to detect.
But then something weird happened in the 90s, the British fell in love with food. But it wasn’t our own food. We realized that we could steal it from other people. There had always been (well, for a long time) Indian, Italian and Chinese restaurants, but now we started stealing the entire world’s cuisine, be it Thai, French, Japanese, Spanish, Lebanese, etc. Now British food is great, though technically it isn’t really British food anymore.
The rising standard of living and influences from continental Europe also helped, I reckon. With more people traveling abroad I think it raised expectations and the EU pushed Britain in the right direction methinks (more on that later).
|Giant red crab legs - yummy!|
If you go in an American supermarket, you won’t see a great deal of difference to what you see in the UK. Of course, down here in Florida, there is more of a Cuban, Caribbean and Mexican influence, say, with the food. But the same regional and local variations can happen in Britain, though not as extreme (for instance when I worked in the Moor Allerton area of Leeds, the supermarkets had large kosher sections to reflect the Jewish community there). I think the variety’s much greater in the USA however because of the larger and more diverse population clusters of immigrants from different countries. That means it is only ever possible to talk about American food in a general sense, as the variance is huge across this big country.
For the sake of argument, I am trying to focus this post on the staple and classic American foods (although it is a stereotype that Americans live off burgers, fries, pizza, pancakes, and lots of deep fried food, many Americans do actually live like that, certainly down here in the South).
One general element of American food culture which I would say is subtly different is that in the sliding scale of cheapness vs quality, Americans in general place more value on cheapness than the British, as far as I can see. This can be problematic for me as I am more of a quality person. Some of the food (normally, but not exclusively the low price stuff) in the USA really is bad with all sorts of sweeteners and chemicals added to bolster what is in essence a bad product (I am thinking about things such as bread). The attitude in the US tends to be that food producers and stores should be free do whatever they like and people should be allowed to eat whatever they want (even if it’s poisoning them and there weren’t any clear guidelines on the label).
I really think that the EU helped to make British food better in the UK because we were forced to adopt the higher standards of the continentals and some of the practices that happen in the USA in terms of additives, inadequate labeling of ingredients etc. were banned in Europe and the UK some time ago. (On a side but related note, I think that the country that values quality most in its culture, out of all the ones I’ve visited, is probably Germany and that’s one reason I suspect that they do so well with manufacturing exports and Britain and America do relatively badly).
There are exceptions to the cheapness/quality thing, of course. For example, Americans have always placed a higher value on quality coffee than the Brits.
|Broiled lobster tail and salad - yummy!|
British Foods I miss
Not much I really. I did have a craving for good old fish and chips the other day. We ate some battered fish and oven chips, but it’s not quite the same (though healthier!)
I also miss all the cheap Indian food that you get in British cities. Plus all the cheap Indian restaurants. There are far less Indian restaurants here and you have to search a bit more to buy ingredients for curries and when you do find things, they aren’t cheap.
Weirdly, some of the Chinese dishes have different names here, even though they are still in Chinese! And they don’t have prawn crackers or fried seaweed!
As I mentioned in my comments on the previous blog, there is a big supermarket here which has, in the ethnic section between Indian and Chinese, an area of British food. Stuff like tinned treacle pudding, baked beans, Jaffa Cakes, Tate and Lyle syrup etc. I guess I know it’s there if I ever feel the urge.
Things I like about the food here
I love the Cuban, Caribbean, Mexican food here. Although you can get it in the UK, all the ingredients are fresh here and the meals more authentic.
I must admit I have grown fond of American pancakes.
Florida is a grower’s paradise, so there is lots of great local food, especially citrus fruit, vegetables, sea food that is locally grown and fresh.
Generally speaking I am eating lighter foods here because some of the typical English food I ate back home just seems too heavy and stodgy here in the hot Florida climate. I guess will have to wait until the short Florida Winter to eat some of the typical English food.