Part of Britain’s perpetual charm is its ability to retain regional traditions that maintain a city’s pride. Etiquette would encourage us to dive in to a local pub in a new town and order the local delicacy, the server would even be happy to fill you in on the inception of the dish and how it revolutionised until modern day, as after all, it’s a history lesson as well as a tasty dining experience!
Here, with the help of Durham pub and hotel, Kingslodge Inn, we take a brief look at some of the country’s weird and wonderful local dishes and how they came to be.
An elegantly light, traditional English dessert, Eton Mess is made up of strawberries, cream and smashed meringue. Believed to have originated at Eton College in the 1930s in the school’s tuck shop, the dish is served at the annual cricket match against the pupils of Harrow School, but is now recognised as a nationwide dessert. ‘Mess’ may refer to the appearance of the food, owing primarily to the broken meringue that makes up the majority of the meal.
Chicken tikka masala
This may come as a surprise to some however this is a perfect illustration of the way us Brits absorb and implement external influences into our culinary landscape. Historically, tikka’s origins lie truly in India. The word translates to “bits”, referring to the chunks of chicken we eat today, that are marinated in yoghurt and spices before being cooked over charcoal on skewers in a tandoor oven. There is the counter argument that we can all sympathise to that this is merely an adaptation of a foreign dish already in circulation, but if a painting was enhanced and added to would that make it that same original painting?
It was only in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, when a customer declared their wishes to have their chicken tikka smothered in a sauce as it was ‘too dry’, when the dish that would go onto become Britain’s most popular dish was born.
It’s a well-known fact that Geordies love their “scran” or food for non-NE readers, so nodding in their direction was inevitable.
But don’t let the appearance of this savoury staple of Northumberland deter you from giving it a go, and certainly don’t say pease pudding’s name in vain in a Newcastle pub!
Made by boiling legumes (a mixture of peas, lentils, chickpeas and varied beans) then mixed with water, salt and spices into a paste. Usually paired with a joint of ham or bacon and sandwiched this is the much-loved pick-me-up and the Geordie version of caviar.
Although its origins aren’t exactly known, it is said that before potatoes arrived in the British Isles, pease pudding was one of the main filler for many dishes but we just loved it that much we decided to keep it going in many industrial areas and still to this day!
Hearty and homely, this stew was made by the working classes of North West of England. Before industrialisation, the scrags or cheaper cuts of mutton, were stewed slowly over a low fire, which was regularly attended to by the members of the family over the course of a day, due to unquestionably long working hours.
Topped by thinly sliced potatoes and onions, the slow cooking process allows the flavours of the meat to soak into the potatoes, creating an enriching taste from start to finish, and affordable for the families of post-war Britain to come home to, think Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters.
Perhaps not for the fussy eaters amongst us, this unorthodox dish hails from a small fishing village in Cornwall, called Mousehole. Made from a variety of different fish but primarily pilchards, the name stems from the heads of the fish protruding through the pastry crust appearing to be ‘gazing at the stars’, if you will, while their bodies are skinned and boned and smothered in a creamy sauce.
In fact, legend has it that on December 23, every year, the Cornish village celebrates Tom Bowcock’s Eve. Back in the 16th century, when frightening storms hit the coastline and the main source of food was from the sea, fishermen weren’t able to land their catch due to the extreme conditions, but one man – Tom Bowcock, stepped forth and landed enough to feed the whole village, thus filling several pies with several types of fish. Local pubs now serve the dish for free on this day to immortalise this tradition.
Chances are you’ve already tried most of the above, but get out there and start exploring the country’s furthest corners and see if you can uncover more local culinary traditions or come up with your own!