What foreigners think about British food

The other night we cooked one of our favourite Portuguese dishes, arroz de pato (duck rice). It’s a popular dish in Portugal, you can even try it at Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport. Yet I rarely see it mentioned in travel articles about Portuguese food, most of which concentrate on the same handful of dishes. Thinking about this led me to wonder if travel writers/bloggers in other European countries were guilty of the same. Carrying out research into this threw up a few surprises regarding what foreigners think about British food.

Arroz de Pato
Homemade arroz de pato.

I compared travel websites from three countries – France, Spain, and Italy – to see what others considered were the main British foods to try. Among all three, the suggestions for British dishes to try were virtually identical – fish & chips, roast dinner, full English breakfast, black pudding, Scotch eggs, pies, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties, Yorkshire pudding, toad in the hole, chicken tikka masala, and jacket potatoes. There were a few other honourable mentions, things that turned up occasionally, like haggis (described as a popular Christmas dish by a Spanish website) and bubble and squeak.

The first thing that was interesting was how many confused English and British. There was a tendency to write about English food when they clearly meant British. One writer talked about haggis coming from the region of Scotland, then went on to say that made it a typically English dish. Plus, it was disappointing to note that too many travel writers/bloggers never venture further than London. When it came to British cuisine itself, generally there were low expectations. An Italian writer claimed, ‘most Italians are convinced English food is bad.’ Others described it as being ‘simple,’ ‘bland,’ and ‘mundane.’ One article was even called How to Survive English Cuisine. Despite this, most writers ended up thoroughly enjoying most of the dishes they tried.

The reactions to some individual dishes give an insight into gastronomic differences between countries, as well as throwing up a few comedic classics.

What foreigners think about British food

Fish and chips, Halse
The first meal we had back in Britain after 18 years abroad.

Fish & chips

Most liked fish & chips, which isn’t surprising as many countries have their own take on it. We’ve eaten versions in Portugal (peixe frito), and Spain (churros de pescado). Some claim British fish and chips came from Italy in the first place. One Spanish writer was under the impression it was a summer staple, while an Italian blogger described the fish used as being cod, hake, plaice, or shark (presumably they’d seen reports from a few years ago about some chippies using spiny dogfish as the white fish in their fish & chips.

Full English Breakfast

An object of wonder for many because eating something so heavy at breakfast time is just not done. ‘You may feel nauseous just reading the ingredients’ wrote one Italian blogger. ‘Eating something salty in the morning is strange,’ commented another, while a Spanish writer was shocked at the very idea of eating eggs for breakfast. Quite a few southern European countries prefer light sweet things such as pastries to get them started in the morning. Nearly all admitted loving a good fry up though, which is why whenever you’re in a multinational hotel in Europe that serves eggs, bacon, sausages for breakfast, first in line are often guests from the countries who don’t put a lot of effort into their breakfasts.

Fry up breakfast
A Scottish English fusion, thanks to the tattie scone.

Toad in the hole

Unsurprisingly when you think about it, the idea of toad in the hole caused concern for some nationalities. ‘Don’t worry, there is no toad in it,’ reassured one French blogger.

Yorkshire pudding

Yorkshire pudding also bemused French travel writers. One was surprised to find it wasn’t a dessert, describing it as a bread roll made with sage, rosemary, and beef fat. Another was amazed by something they’d seen in York. ‘They sell it like it’s a wrap – this is not a hoax!’ they told their readers.

Yorkshire pudding, Malton
This Yorkshire pudding in a hotel in Malton really was a dessert, but that’s unusual.

Welsh rarebit

Things can sometimes get a bit lost in translation. One French travel blogger was shocked to find Welsh rarebit didn’t actually contain any rabbit. ‘It doesn’t contain any meat at all,’ they complained.

Scotch eggs

Despite being our closest neighbours, the French seemed to be most perplexed by British food. ‘A little too weird for me,’ was the conclusion of one writer from the country whose residents nibble at frogs’ legs.

Scotch egg, Porto
Scotch egg, also popular in Portugal. This one was in Porto.

Chicken tikka masala

Of all the curries that could have made it onto culinary lists of British food, the one which crossed borders to appear on French, Spanish, and Italian websites was chicken tikka masala. At first this baffled me, and then I remembered that in Britain, we tend to like food a lot spicier than some of our European neighbours. Spain is particularly notorious for having a national allergy to spicy food. The last curry I had in Spain was in an Asian fusion restaurant in Santiago de Compostela. It was described as being very hot and was about as spicy as a slice of white bread. Tikka masala is simply a safe and mild option.

The dish which had all three nationalities cooing their approval came as a complete surprise.

So common that I couldn’t actually find a photo of a baked potato in its skin in my files, so here’s one not only in its jacket but with hat, belt, and knife as well.

The jacket potato

The humble baked spud seems to have all nationalities in raptures.

‘The most British of side dishes, with a crisp outside and a soft inside it is very, very tasty.’ – Spain.

I don’t even think of the jacket potato as being a British dish, I’ve seen jacket potato carts at carnival on Tenerife.

‘So good, I dream of it at night.’ – France.

Best of all was the Italian contribution whose ‘beautiful to look at and eat,’ was followed by the advice ‘don’t send it back when it arrives because it is still covered with skin.’

Overall, it was just another example that, underneath it all, we’re all the same. Other nationalities’ knowledge of British cuisine is just as limited as our knowledge of theirs.

About Jack 799 Articles
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a Slow Travel consultant and a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Facebook for more travel photos and snippets.

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