In Defence of British Food, and a Discussion of Netiquette

I’ve just been reading an exchange between two bloggers who have different views on British food. They were very polite to each other, though there was definite disagreement, and raised the question about how to handle such a situation.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to avoid disagreements by ignoring them. Does my opinion really matter that much if it’s going to upset someone? Much better to stay positive and friendly.

When I was a salesman the all purpose remark for those times. “Yes,” we would say to the customer,”there’s a lot in what you say.”

All you had to remember was not to tell them what there was a lot of. Sorry about the grammar, but I think it conveys the general idea.

My first experience of on-line disagreement was with sports forums, where the most argumentative people in the world seem to congregate. If there was a word to be misinterpreted, a nuance to be missed or an erroneous opinion to be expressed, they are the ones to do it. I soon learned that it was easy to upset people, difficult to explain why you were being misinterpreted and impossible to change anyone’s mind.

In the case of the food debate Ellen Hawley, who writes Notes from the UK, wrote a post called Is British Food Dull? She lists a number of things which show some dull food, praises some American food, discusses the idiocy of modern British chefs and doesn’t use the letter “u” enough.

I think the poor woman is American, so I’ll forgive her the spelling. I’ll also forgive her comments on British lasagne, because most of it does taste as she correctly says, like glue. Mine doesn’t, because (a) my mother taught me to make it with a cheese sauce and (b) I can’t be bothered to make it these days.

When you have such British staples as Shepherd’s Pie, Cottage Pie and Savoury Mince (a school dinners favourite) why bother with sheets of pasta? All that excitement from just one portion of ground up meat.


Cottage Pie (with Sweet Potato topping) served with carrots and samphire

She’s not wrong about modern chefs either.

However, I can see that having our national cuisine run down by a woman from a country that brought us biscuits and gravy, American cheese and pumpkin pie, could be a little irritating. (Not that you can really hold one blogger responsible for the gastronomic iniquity of a Nation).

This brings us on to Emma at EMMA_FOODS, who stood up to defend our national cuisine. It didn’t go too badly to start, but then she admitted she was from London. Well, London isn’t Britain, despite Londoners thinking it is. (Personally I find it just as irritating to be lectured on food by a Londoner as by an American – they eat jellied eels and pies and liquor).

She then goes on to say “I don’t think we are just the stereotypical bland, dull, stodgy cuisine we once were”. Hang on, I thought she was refuting the idea that our food wasΒ bland, dull and stodgy…

Then she goes on the praise the current crop of British chefs. I’m not going to say anything – partly because it’s not polite to criticise and partly because I can’t spell gimmicky.

It’s also partly because I don’t see much wrong with traditional food. There’s a reason we eat what we do – mainly it’s because we can grow it, which used to be important. I like kale and carrots and Brussels – they go well with pies and roast meats. I also like mushy peas, black pudding and Yorkshire pudding (either with gravy or with jam and white sauce). Porridge, in particular, is stodgy, dull, boring and very good for you according to modern thinking.


Chicken Pie with Brussels and red cabbage.

It’s nice, as Emma points out, that we have access to so much other food from other places, but that doesn’t apply all over the country. It’s not bad here in Nottingham,but if you live in Lincolnshire or Cornwall (as Ellen does) the picture is very different.

We are also experiencing a growth in distilleries in the country as a whole, particularly with gin, for people who like drinking scent, and a rise in Farmers’ Markets and Farm Shops, so quality local food is more readily available. This is despite the fact, as I have said before, that they re becoming more like supermarkets. I bought samphire from several farm shops last year, and it all came from Israel.

As for popular modern food – pan-fried sea bass and lamb shanks are only fried fish and stew so what’s all the fuss about?

Strangely, I seem to find myself unable to see much difference between the two positions of Ellen and Emma, and I’ve now stepped in to disagree with both of them. Traditional food, done well, is pretty good. Things like curry and Chinese are pretty mainstream, and in big cities there’s plenty of other food about if you want it.

I didn’t even set out to discuss food, I was meaning to talk about the etiquette of avoiding arguments. I’m not sure I’ve managed that…

I am, however, interested in your views, so what do you think. What’s the best way of avoiding arguments on the web?

109 thoughts on “In Defence of British Food, and a Discussion of Netiquette

  1. navasolanature

    Good tasty home cooked food with fresh produce. My mother was a very good cook of trad British food and Hungarian ghoulash! She tried many different recipes. She even entertained my vegetarian conversion. Strangely now my vegan January has reinstated cottage pie, toad in the hole and even a vegan tortilla from Lidls, Spain. As for argument etiquette, some have to be right, but many don’t get involved and some know they could be mistaken! Perhaps some are trolls as on twitter!

    1. quercuscommunity

      Yes, my mother was a great one for trying new recipes and managed to accommodate my sister turning vegetarian.

      I work with two people who always have to be right – very wearing. I look at it from the point of view that one of them pays my wages. During the working day he is always right. In the evening… πŸ™‚

  2. Cake & Coast

    British food can be fantastic! There’s nothing better than eating a delicious hearty roast dinner or cottage pie sourced from local ingredients but, I can understand that traditional dishes such like these can be bland if not cooked correctly and seasoned.It’s a shame that our nation is stereotyped for serving poor examples of some fantastic classic dishes. I love the food we cook in the UK and watching some new talented chefs create amazing twists on classic dishes. Doesn’t mean I don’t also LOVE food from across the globe (nothing beats a good curry, lasagne or burger) and it’s a shame to see these dishes not done justice they deserve in some many kitchens and restaurants either. There’s nothing wrong with our food or anyone else’s for that matter, we’re all just different and have to appreciate that. If we traveled and found that food was the same in every country surely we’d be somewhat disappointed. By the same token, we can’t all agree and share the same opinion on debates like this.

    1. quercuscommunity

      I’ll eat most things (apart from beetroot) when they’re fresh, but once you let an average restaurant or a supermarket get involved things take a turn for the worse. πŸ™‚

  3. thefoodsnog

    Honestly, lets just talk about American bacon versus the god given Bacon you get across the pond. Hell, I never liked bacon until I tried a full English, my world has been forever changed. The US needs to hop on changing that immediately, none of the streaky, fatty, nasty stuff I’ve been given my past 25 years.

    Since meeting my boyfriend (from the Cotswolds) I’ve tried a lot of new foods/recipes, and I think there is a lot of good seasonings and flavors in the food he makes. His mom has also shared some classic recipes with me, and I’ve never felt like anything was bland or lacking.

  4. Lavinia Ross

    The food varies considerably all over this vast country where I live. Some of it is “good”, some “not so good”, according to my humble tastes. My father came from the Kentucky mountains, and my mother was from New England, so there was a definite clash of cuisine there. She was also a nurse, so many a meal, including spaghetti, was boiled to excess in the name of sterilization and food safety. My husband is a wonderful chef, and for the most part, his tastes match mine, so I am blessed. πŸ™‚

  5. Protopian Pickle Jar

    As an American, I was delighted to learn about the British love of samphire, as well as the Israeli samphire export market. I’ve never eaten prepared samphire as a vegetable, but I have eaten “pickleweed” (Salicornia virginica) from visits to coastal salt marsh estuaries. Tasty pre-salted halophytes!

    1. quercuscommunity

      ” Tasty pre-salted halophytes!”

      That sounds like something Batman would have said in the 1960s.


      I didn’t know the Israelis grew it until last year, so I’m still learning myself.

  6. Belladonna Took

    I don’t understand why one would need a strategy to “avoid arguments” with random strangers who, to all intents and purposes, are no more than random spatters of electrons dancing across an imaginary web. If you’re not in the mood to give some (imaginary) person a sharp poke in the ribs, no maneuvering is necessary. One click of the mouse and you’re somewhere else and they just don’t matter.

    On the other hand, if you’re bored with whatever deadline you’re chasing and need something to get your juices stirred up, why NOT poke? One must be civil, of course – anything less is tacky. And one should strive for the kind of civility that defines diplomacy: “The art of telling someone to go to hell in a way that makes them look forward to the trip.”

    There’s also the very real risk, if your primary goal is to avoid arguments, that you’ll miss out on some excellent discussion. Usually when I engage in a potentially confrontational discussion I’ll start out by genuinely seeking to learn why they believe whatever they do believe. Sometimes people respond in a spirit of mutual communication, and then even if I don’t agree with them, it’s often fascinating and sometimes educational. It’s only if their reaction is rude, hostile or so stupid that it threatens the survival of the species that I whip out my vorpal blade and snicker-snack … until it gets boring, at which point I grab a passing electron and disappear from the conversation.

    1. quercuscommunity

      You obviously exist on a higher plane than me – I used to take it quite seriously at one time and did get involved in arguments. Age has now persuaded me that it doesn’t matter. πŸ™‚

      1. Belladonna Took

        Well thank you, Jessica! I call myself a writer … on an optimistic day. On days when I’m frustrated that I can’t more effectively kick my own butt, I call myself a wannabe. Today was hovering between the two, and you just shoved me into optimistic mode, so thank you! Now to get back to that MS…

  7. tootlepedal

    I avoid arguments by not listening to anyone who disagrees with me (except Mrs Tootlepedal of course but i don’t argue with her). I may appear as though I am listening but I am probably sleeping.

  8. bitaboutbritain

    I enjoyed that very much. I think you can disagree with humour – but, clearly, some of those who disagree with me don’t have a sense of one… Food – hmm – food in British restaurants tends toward the pretentious – a sneeze of this and a drizzle of that… I had a burger the other day served on a piece of wood; they hadn’t run out of plates – it was intentional. It actually looked very pretty, but a) the aim was to eat it, not enter it into a photo competition and b) I had to disassemble it in order to eat it – and there wasn’t really room to do that.

    1. Viola Bleu

      Such a good point about the burger on the wood thing!!! I love the rustic presentation.. was it started by Jamie Oliver? Looks great, but you are spot on that there is no room to dissemble it.
      As for the disagreements which take place online, some are very uncomfortable to read and I find myself almost hiding before I read the response to something sent with obvious aggression, but like a lot of things in life, we can wrap ourselves in cotton wokl and never venture β€˜out’ of our immediate comfort zone but how boring would that be! Takes all sorts to make the world go round and if we can learn to smile and wave, we may save ourselves a lot of stress. Because it is ok to disagree with others. Happy Sunday πŸ₯‚

      1. quercuscommunity

        Americans I’ve interacted with have always seemed like very nice people. I’m not so keen on the ones I see on the news. To be fair, I’m not that keen on some of the British I see on TV either.

      2. Jessica Triepel

        Ya, the TV doesn’t give a very accurate portrayal of people/nations. In America it varies a great deal from location to location. The south being largely of Irish descent has the whole hospitality thing down pat. They tend to be very warm and friendly people, but to someone who is uptight and reserved, it can be misinterpreted. New england/new York is different. The people there are more blunt, abrasive and impatient. If you can get past the surface, they’re ok, but I don’t like the impatience. Out west, they are similar to Southerners, but without the southern hospitality and warmth. They keep people at a distance if you are new to the community. That is where foreigners might experience hostility in extreme cases. Of course, there are exceptions everywhere you go.

      3. Jessica Triepel

        Well, I’ve never been to Oklahoma, so I couldn’t say, but I don’t see how any state can beat Tennessee for friendliness! I’ve only ever been there for a couple days at a time, but I loved it! Beautiful, and everyone you meet is so kind and goes the extra mile to make you feel welcome.

  9. Jessica Triepel

    Well…. As a Southerner (from the US South/Confederacy, for those of you who don’t get the distinction), I have to defend one part of American food, the only style that really counts in the States: Southern/Soul food. They are related, though only the African Americans get to claim soul food. First off, southern food most closely resembles Irish cuisine, as well as some Scottish and British. That being said, pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin and biscuits and gravy made by someone who REALLY knows what they’re doing are freaking amazing! Seriously, you don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve tried southern food, but it has to be done right by someone who knows what they’re doing. Luckily, I learned from my grandmother. Now, British food. I haven’t tried much. Mostly, I cook a lot of Irish food. But what little I’ve had of traditional British food was quite good. I love shepherds pie and make it myself from time to time, often with whatever veggie combo I have on hand. Modern cuisine can be fun, but I’ll always like country food! The yuppies can have their hipster cuisine! Give me some game pie or kale, or pumpkin pie! Btw, the foodies are always raving that kale is a super food, but most don’t even know how to prepare it! Haha!

  10. arlingwoman

    All I can say is I could eat with Jackie and Derrick every night, but there was nothing like that on offer in restaurants…and of course a good fry up is hard to pass by. People can be so opinionated about stuff that’s…well, tangential, shall we say.

  11. Dan Antion

    Overall, a very nice post. I will take exception to your using “biscuits and gravy” as an example for the negative influence of American food. I’m sure we’ve sent you far worse, after all, I think we sent the Golden Arches franchise. I’ve often said that the real reason we fought our Civil War (I know that’s what some in Britain call what we refer to as the Revolutionary war) was to insure access to biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and various strains of barbecue, not to mention pecan pie.

    1. quercuscommunity

      Sorry about the delay – you seem to have been sent to Spam (another fine element of American cuisine :-))

      I’ve nothing personal against biscuits and gravy – I was just disappointed to find that they weren’t biscuits and they weren’t served with gravy.

  12. Suze

    You had me at “All you had to remember was not to tell them what there was a lot of.”!
    I haven’t had the pleasure of ingesting any “English” foods, except plum pudding with hard sauce…now if that is an example, then I think English food must be pretty darned wonderful!

    1. quercuscommunity

      Unfortunately it isn’t all as good as that,. I have to admit Ellen is spot on about our “lasagne”, and semolina puddings at school have left me damaged for life. πŸ™‚

  13. Pingback: British food and online arguments: another link | Notes from the U.K.

  14. Ellen Hawley

    The best way to avoid arguments on the web is to make people laugh–although now that I think about it, that’s how I started one, because if you get enough people in a room, at least one won’t crack a smile while the rest of them are laughing their asses off. (You may notice that I did use a U in laugh. I have nothing against them in principal. I just figure they might be scarce someday, so I don’t want to waste any.)

    If you ever get down to Cornwall, I’ll be happy to demonstrate why pumpkin pie’s a good idea. Ditto baking powder biscuits, although I can’t promise the gravy because it depends on a kind of sausage you don’t have here. Still, I’ll make biscuits with imaginary gravy.

    Even I’m not crazy enough to defend American cheese.

    I’ll keep in mind what “there’s a lot in what you say” really means. I’m sure the knowledge will come in handy any day now.

    1. quercuscommunity

      Yes, I’m sure there’s a lot in what you say about pumpkin pie, πŸ™‚

      As for humour – how true. No matter how funny you are, there’s always someone who doesn’t think so. That’s why I often don’t risk it. πŸ™‚

    2. Jessica Triepel

      Hey, I’m in Germany, and have the same problem acquiring the correct sausage for biscuits and gravy, but I’m also a health food but, and when I was still in the states, I started making my own ground sausage to avoid all the additives and chems. It turned out way better, and you can easily customise the seasonings to your preferences. Also, it’s easy. Just get ground pork and round up all the spices you need, using as much fresh ingredients as you can, and mix it all together. You can freeze any extra, make sausage patties for sausage egg and cheese buiscuits. But use real cheddar and not nasty processed american cheese. Yuck!

      1. Ellen Hawley

        Reading this, I feel the way I did as a kid when a friend of my mother’s said she was going to make applesauce: You mean it doesn’t come from a jar? City kid that I am (or was long ago), I never even thought about making sausage myself.

      2. Jessica Triepel

        Lol! That’s cute! As long as you knew where French fries came from and that beef was from a cow, I think you’re OK. I read a while back how when modern children are asked about what certain foods are and where it comes from, they haven’t got a clue. I did grow up on a farm, however. When my baby brother was 3, his steer (a castrated bull calf) was butchered. It had been like his pet. He named him furry. Sitting down to dinner one evening after, of course I knew what we were eating, so I told my brother he was eating Furry. Aw, the look on his face was priceless, but even funnier how quickly he shrugged it off and went right on eating. My dad pranked a vegetarian/suburban friend of mine in highschool. She called to talk to me, but my dad told her I was outside gutting a pig. He and I had a good laugh over that one!

      3. quercuscommunity

        When we were running the school days on the farm we were constantly amazed by how far removed kids are removed from food these days. When a group told us they were look forward to seeing the turkeys when they came back for a second visit after Christmas we realised they’d rather missed the point of turkeys. πŸ™‚

      4. Jessica Triepel

        Oh wow! That’s bad. How can anyone miss the point. It’s not like saying you’re going to eat beef or a steak. When you say you are eating turkey, the dots should connect.

      5. Jessica Triepel

        I know, and it’s awful. That is one thing public schools could quite easily address by teaching kids about real food, even having school gardens. Some schools are doing that in the states. The redneck mountain town where I lived in Idaho had a school organic garden, and there was a community garden in the town. And the number of people who actually had their own vegetable gardens there was impressive. In Florida, where gardening should be a lot easier, not many can be bothered. It’s so much more convenient to go to the supermarket.

      6. quercuscommunity

        Schools are very variable – some have gardens, even with livestock. Others just don’t seem to care. Much of it seems to be down to the presence of just one enthusiastic teacher.

    3. Belladonna Took

      Yeah … but that “U” you put in “laugh” is almost certainly a fake U, since I’m willing to bet your pronounce the word “laff” – as in “faff” or “chaffinch” – two good British words that prove a U to be redundant.

      1. quercuscommunity

        Yes, I’ve often wondered why the American simplification of English did not extend to removing the “gh”. I’m now wondering what a chaughfinch would look like…

      2. Jessica Triepel

        What I find really interesting, is that prior to the French influence on the English language, many letter combinations and pronunciations were grafted into the language by the Saxons and would have had a more Germanic pronunciation. Like ch as in loch. The French had trouble with the older pronunciations, so their influence softened a lot of sounds, which explains why the English language is so illogical at times. Lol! I’m sure a real linguist could explain this a lot better than me, so my apologies.

      3. Jessica Triepel

        Actually, since I was a kid, I’ve been using as well as an American can the English spellings. So there is no shortage of “U’s” in my writing. πŸ˜…

  15. Laurie Graves

    As an American who leaves out the letter “u” in many words, I should be reluctant to join this conversation, but I am going to throw caution to the wind. My take might be a little different from many Americans because I come from Maine, a state with a cold climate, and our cooking is not exactly known for its dash and spiciness. But I am in complete agreement with you—plain food cooked well is delicious. In Maine we have marvelous fish and seafood, blueberries, apples, maple syrup, corn on the cob, potatoes, and other wonderful things to eat. A cheesy white sauce is pretty darned good, as my Yankee husband might say. My scalloped scallops have been described as the “best scallops ever.” Does that mean we should eschew food from other cultures? Of course not. But in today’s world, with climate change wreaking havoc in so many places,eating as much local food as possible not only supports farmers in your area, but it is also the right thing to do. Finally, I visited England thirty years ago, and I adored the food. Maybe it’s because I’m from Maine. I don’t know. But there you are. πŸ˜‰

    1. quercuscommunity

      All good sense, as I would expect from a resident of Maine. I think the food required to live in colder climates is different from that needed by the more volatile residents of warmer places. You seem to have missed out lobster rolls…
      …I always like your posts about lobster rolls.

      1. Laurie Graves

        That’s right! Lobster rolls! I lumped them under seafood, but I should have listed it separately. πŸ˜‰ And so true about climate influencing what we eat.

    2. Ellen Hawley

      I lived in Minnesota for 40 years, where we had pretty much the same food except for–well, anything that comes from the sea. And, given the Norwegian influence, we had lutefisk, but most of us talked about it than tasted it. But I’m a New Yorker at heart–it’s where I come from–and I never really did get used to the lack of dash and spice. The corn and blueberries and tomatoes, though, were amazing.

      1. quercuscommunity

        In the spirit of positivity I will merely agree that I would avoid lutefisk too, and puffins, sheeps head, fermented shark and all the other Nordic delights.

      2. Laurie Graves

        As Quercus has noted, climate plays a big role in what we eat. So does location. A major city such as New York is bound to have more options than a northern rural community. And yet, I think we can be generous and allow that plain food cooked well is delicious while at the same time rejoicing that there are spices. We might have our preferences, of course, but it’s not an either/or situation.

      3. Laurie Graves

        Very cosmopolitan! In fact, I never heard of cumin until I was a young adult. πŸ˜‰

    3. paolsoren

      I think your point about eating local food as much as possible is excellent. The worst thing is importing food from overseas just so we can have out of season produce. In Australia we grow more oranges than we can consume but in the ‘off’ season we import orange juice concentrate from California. And of course we happily buy it even if we know how stupid it is.

      1. Laurie Graves

        Oh, goodness! We do a similar thing in Maine, which is known for its potatoes. Guess where most of our French Fries come from? Idaho! Argh!!!!

  16. higgledypiggledymom

    I stay out of those arguments as it’s too public and I think I’d prefer to take the high road, let them think they are right and move on…they aren’t worth the trouble. They usually have their minds made up. Although, we ate well in London and avoid jellied eels, yikes!

  17. Helen

    I’d go with your strategy for avoiding arguments!

    Regarding British food, in my years of travelling and eating many different cuisines, I’d say that food can be good or bad anywhere. Quality of ingredients, skill of the cook, personal taste…. One thing I have noticed about British food is that is seems to frequently require an oven. As mine doesn’t work I do tend to do a lot more β€˜alternative’ food.

  18. derrickjknight

    Subtlety is the best policy. You have illustrated some excellent English classics, especially the revered fry-up which is supposed to be bad for us. Fish and chips will continue to vie with chicken tikka masala for our national dish; but, for integration, the Shaan Bangladeshi restaurant in Newark couldn’t be beaten. A superb vindaloo followed by spotted dick – I ask you!


Leave a Reply