There’s no ifs or buts about it. British food has quite possibly the worst reputation for cuisine around the globe. Our infamous grub is mocked, ridiculed and generally treated with sneering contempt from Toronto to Timbuktu. British meals are to fine dining what Baghdad check points are for security, what Bill O’Reilly is for fair and balanced opinion and the Greeks for fiscal responsibility.
Do we deserve such a dastardly reputation? Of course not. What would Argentine beef be without the stocks of British cattle it is produced from? Mexicans love their pastes, mostly unaware that they are nothing but misspelled Cornish pasties. London boasts more Michelin starred restaurants than Paris. And our chefs have become world famous. Gordon Ramsey, Rick Stein, Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Nigella Lawson and Raymond Blanc (sort of!). I know I pick up a few Mexican oriented readers. Who may perhaps be familiar with one of Mexico’s most famous culinary experts, Diana Kennedy.
The legendary Anthony Bourdain once went on a quest to uncover the root of the problem. He loves British food. He has even declared that he would like his final meal on this mortal coil to be a very traditional British dish – black pudding with a fried egg on top. I’m not sure he ever did unearth the reason for our dire reputation.
I have my own opinion. We may have some of the finest ingredients here. The best beef, the most divine venison, the freshest salmon and the tastiest cod. But a meal is not at the heart of British culture. Sitting down to eat is not an important event, as it is on the continent. It’s becoming less of a family event. It’s something we do if we have the time. It’s almost an inconvenience. As such, we’re a nation of lazy cooks, who will happily accept cheap and easy plates of comfort food. But, there is one thing we make that is a staple of dinners tables all over the world…
I was stunned to see bottles of this on the tables of almost every Mexican taqueria I ever went in. The label declares it to be Salsa Inglesa (English Sauce) rather that Worcestershire Sauce. On account of the latter being utterly unpronounceable for most non native English speakers, methinks. It’s in a cupboard in every English kitchen. But I suspect it’s even more popular abroad.
I suspect Mexicans have the US version of the sauce, which is made from distilled white vinegar. The original UK version is made with malt vinegar. Canadians will be pleased to hear that they enjoy the original recipe.The other ingredients? Tamarind, garlic, molasses, onions and other unspecified spices. And, of course, the key ingredient – anchovies. It’s origin? It’s very much a product of its time. A product of the British Empire.
How so? Let me explain. Or rather, let the man who once dreamed of being Prime Minister tell the tale. I enjoy watching Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys. Using his 170 year old guidebook, he has been travelling the length and breadth of the country by train. More recent programs also include some continental adventures. The book concerned is the forerunner to the more famous Lonely Planet guidebooks.
Written by a chap called Bradshaw, it described places to see and things to do when travelling by train. Ironically, it reminds me of Mexico. I used to watch episodes on my iPod Touch to while away the hours I spent on microbuses and the metro in Mexico City. I hope you can see the video I’ve embedded below, and that it isn’t restricted for viewing in the UK only. At about the seven and a half minute mark, the story of Lea and Perrins and their wonder sauce begins…