Growing up in Croydon in South London, I experienced a cultural infusion of delicacies from all around the world. The food markets had plantains, yams, coconuts – products neither grown in the UK nor traditionally part of the British diet. Our neighbourhood had an influx of Chinese takeaways, Turkish kebab shops and West African eateries catering to the significant number of locals from that region who had settled here. There were still fish and chip shops, but what did it mean to talk of a British national cuisine?
At home, my mother was the matriarch of our single parent household, and she attempted to keep us rooted in our Ghanaian culture through the food we ate. Jollof rice, banku, fufu – and those yams from the market. None of this was what people would call British national cuisine. Traditional British dishes weren’t lost to me, though. They had their place in the school canteen: bangers and mash, roast with gravy – and, of course, fish and chips on Fridays.
Fifteen years on, school dinners – like dinners at home – have changed. I have school-age cousins who enjoy Jamaican jerk chicken and jollof rice in the canteen. Chicken tikka masala has famously been voted as the most popular dish in Britain, laying claim to be the UK’s national dish.
The decline of what tourists might still think of as the national cuisine is not unique to Britain. Even French cuisine, which emerged from the cooking of the royal court and was renowned enough to be included in 2010 on UNESCO’s list of items of ‘intangible cultural heritage’, is facing a decline. Its traditions, formalities and culture are being challenged by the demand for new flavours, by the popularity of more informal dining and by the adoption by the French (particularly in Paris) of Asian food. A poll of 20,000 people in 20 countries by WSJ research revealed that French cooking was shrugged off as “the most overrated of all cuisines”.
What we eat and how we eat has long been linked to our cultural identity, but the increasingly globalised world we live in is letting us break out of these culinary moulds. When I travel, I discover that my childhood experiences are echoed in the cities I go to: a melting pot of dishes, spicy aromas and styles of cooking. A global potluck. I’m able to enjoy my English breakfast at restaurants in Ghana (and vice versa), a Chinese meal in the Netherlands, Ethiopian in Sweden… Our taste buds bloom amid these diverse flavours from all over the world, which we’re lucky enough to access wherever, and that bring us all together.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you enjoy dipping into the global melting pot of flavours? Tells us at [email protected]