Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

What Happened to Britain’s Awful Food?


My very first travel memory might concern food. I am, I think, about six years old and visiting London for the first time, and I think that maybe my tastes were already running to fine cuisine. I’m sitting in Lyons Corner House with my parents, and being force fed greasy chips, which I hate, and I’m pouting and protesting that I don’t want them.

Looking back now to my most recent London visit, I  realize that my memories fall into three categories. Most important, of course, are the personal ones, time spent with family and friends I hadn’t seen in too long, and meeting new folk amongst whom, surely, there are embryo friendships – so let’s call the category “people.” Third I’ll christen “work” – that’s all the fascinating stuff at WTM, wee thrill of my first press pass and all the new stuff I’ve learned and the hopes for the future. So, what, you might ask, is in second place? It comes as a surprise to name this category “food.”

When I left the UK for warmer shores in 1987 the thing I didn’t miss was the food, which is not to knock fish and chips, steak & kidney pies or lovely pub grub, but, overall,  great food wasn’t the norm. Perhaps that’s still true to some extent, but far less I think. For one thing there are plenty of decent chains around now, as I’ve discovered in the last couple of years.

Camden Market’s food stalls. As colorful in presentation as they are in taste!

However!!! I have to declare my most recent London visit an unexpected foodie delight…..and most of it wasn’t even sit-down meals, but food grabbed whilst wandering around, like the eclectic and quirky food stalls at Camden Market, where I dithered over pork jerk, tagine, jian bing (from the Mei Mei street cart – sublime!), noodles and pizza, I finally settled on a kangaroo burger, partly out of curiosity and partly because, well, I like burgers (there are other exotic meats to choose from depending on the season, including bison and emu)…..and note to the guy selling them, whose name I sadly forgot to ask – nice chatting with you! I will definitely be back to sample another kind of burger next time in London!

Nor was my sweet tooth un-catered for – I feasted on tablet in flavors un-imagined (to my Scottish friends, never having tasted it “in situ” I don’t know how authentic it was, but it melted in the mouth and I could almost cry now thinking about it!); churros not only con chocolate but filled with dulce de leche and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar (….I did go twice, I hasten to add that not all of this was consumed in one day!); and rainbow-colored macaroons, which tasted and smelled like fresh fruits and whose slightly crispy outsides melted into a sweet, chewiness inside, which then simply disintegrated onto the tongue – now, I’ve never rated macaroons much, but these changed my mind – however, note to the lady selling them – if you’d been a bit less pushy I might have bought more and would certainly have taken photos which would have been posted all over the internet – your loss,  but your product is delicious.

And to warm the toes and wash down all that decadent consumption? What else but a seasonal cup of mulled wine or apple with cinnamon? Ah – now I truly want to cry just remembering.

But Camden Market wasn’t all! The previous weekend we had gone to a Tea and Coffee Festival on the South Bank. Big coffee fan here, so that was sufficient draw for me, so the yummy foods were a huge bonus….including my very first, ever cupcake! Can you believe that I have reached this advanced age without a cupcake ever passing my lips? The advantage is that it was all the sweeter and more appreciated for the delay, is all I can say! This festival was the third of four this Autumn, two previous being Real Bread and Cheese and Wine and the remaining one, December 7th to 9th is The Chocolate Festival! Oh that I could be there for that! But I have memories of light-as-air quiche and cookies my son declared to be “the best in the world” to feast on!

After South Bank we trotted down to Covent Garden……and more mulled wine. Cheers!!

Perhaps it’s down to the amazing ethnic mix that is now London, perhaps that mix harks back to the days of Empire and the cultural exchanges which resulted, because I appreciate that many of the foods I relished weren’t English in origin. In fact, without traveling too far I had my first bubble tea too (yummy and more-ish) and my first egg waffles in Chinatown… least there was plenty of walking involved in this feasting to ease the guilt!

Sitting here, feeling bloated just thinking about the deliciousness makes me want to dash down to the airport and get back to London, and I never would have thought that it would be the food which would draw me back – the city has come a long way from greasy chips!

And another nod to who eased my stay in London and added to my comfort!


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

8 thoughts on “What Happened to Britain’s Awful Food?

  1. Isn’t it funny how food and or smells of it bring us memories? And the vast changes we have seen since we were kids, going with our penny spending money to Aruthur Banks for spearmint chews (pink waffle appearance) and Highland toffee bars. you could do a whole post on sweetiess alone and how as we mature we prefer dark bitter chocolate to diary milk stuff etc.
    I think the food of our childhood was influenced by wartime rationing and our mum’s cooked more or less what they’d grown up eating until magazines and Fanny Craddock came along. Now we are bombarded with cookery promgrammes and competitions it is hard not to be influenced byt them, even when you don’t really watch so many. my favourites always involve travel and how people eat in other parts of the world, Rick Stein being excellent at this sort of thing.
    When I buy sausages I still think of the fact that your household always had beef sausages and now you never see those anywhere and I can’t actually remember eating pork sausages as a child. the most delicious thing my mother made was old hen pie, wonderful name eh? the way the underside of the dumplings soaked up the chicken gravy is somehting I still try to get right. also, olive oil, which I can’t imagine a day without using, was confined to the medicine cupboard ina tiny bottle for earache!

  2. LOL! I’d entirely forgotten that about olive oil! You’re right – how things have changed. Old hen pie sounds wonderful. It was chicken pie?

  3. well yes and no, chicken was a luxury food, old chickens that stopped laying went into the pot and took a lot of cooking to stop them being tought. I seem to recall a pressure cooker being involved and there’s another blast from the past!

  4. So pleased you had good food experiences on this trip Linda. Our food has improved at a rate most other countries have yet to catch up. The chances of getting a bad meal in the UK are really remote nowadays thank goodness!

    The irony of it is that the holiday resorts abroad still seem to cater for British tourists that I remember from the 70s. Still serving fish/burger/chicken n chips, overcooked roast beef & Yorkshire and pizza. The two teenage boys I took on holiday this summer couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find either local dishes or decent English food. Maybe we need to start a campaign abroad now!

  5. It most certainly has. I’m used to great pub grub in the Lake District, but London is so much better than it used to be. Went to a couple of press breakfasts with really impressive food too. One at the Automat in Mayfair and another just around the corner from Excel, but to my shame I didn’t note the name. Guy & I also had breakfast in Garfunkel’s which I presume is a large chain, and it really was ok.

    I can only guess that a lot of folk emigrated back in the 70s and 80s to live their dream and run bars in Spain! – which is only half a joke. As you can imagine I tend to steer clear of resorts, although Los Cristianos has some decent places to be fair. Yes, a campaign would be good!!

    Thanks v much for the comment, Zoë.

  6. Pingback: Empire: a Restaurant Worth Wearing Shoes For! | Islandmomma

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