Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The British are now too good at cooking

From the Guardian:

Official: British are better at cooking than the French

…A poll has undermined France's reputation as the home of unrivalled culinary excellence with results that suggest the British cook more often, for longer, and produce greater variety than their French counterparts.

As the French television station TF1 put it: "They trounced us at Trafalgar. They whipped us at Waterloo. Now the English have scored their ultimate victory: they are better at cooking than us … we, the self-proclaimed kings of nosh."

The survey, carried out by the French magazine Madame Le Figaro and the BBC's food magazine Olive, has produced an agony of French soul-searching – and a certain amount of disbelief – over the apparent erosion of the country's most celebrated heritage.

…Marilyn Jarman, 36, a French marketing manager, has lived in London for 15 years and admitted she had noticed a huge improvement in British food. "When I first arrived in Britain, chicken kiev was about as adventurous as it got. Now there are farmers' markets and gastro pubs and we eat really well. French food is good but it tends to be very traditional and the same. My mother's a great cook but it's always the same dishes: sautéed veal, wild boar stew, cannelloni with cheese, fish soup."

Mmmm… wild boar stew. Anyway, this isn’t really surprising at all because the French have no interest in variety or culinary adventure or anything other than the eternal repetitions of a nice if stifling monoculture.

Meanwhile, no cliché about the British is more outdated than that we can’t do food. Never mind the farmer’s markets and gastropubs, which are often rip-offs anyway, the major British supermarkets are exceptionally good, both for ingredients and for readymade stuff. We don’t appreciate this because it has crept up on us. Americans think we eat nothing but liver and custard, but while the States is great for eating out deliciously and cheaply – and their lack of a clear distinction between junk and non-junk food is enjoyable for a bit - they have no notion of reasonable portion sizes and the supermarkets are terrible.

The other day I went to a low-key house party where the hosts served up a buffet lunch. When I was a kid the fare at such events would have consisted of pineapple chunks and plasticy cheese on cocktail sticks, thin ham sandwiches and grisly sausage rolls. On Saturday we loaded our plates from a table holding a platter of seven different continental meats including a quite remarkable chorizo, six cheeses none of which were remotely plasticy, olive bread, two homemade breads, two kinds of olive, a delicious homemade chilli and tomato chutney, a bespoke satay curry rice thing with peanuts which I couldn't stop scoffing, homemade Spanish tortilla and many other such pleasing items, washed down with a few glasses of the host’s homebrewed Weissbier, which wasn’t half bad.

This is normal now in the middle classes (see Channel 4’s hard-hitting social documentary Come Dine with Me) but if anything it’s gone too far. I’m pretty tired of turning on my TV to see somebody trying to serve up grilled monkfish on a bed of puy lentils against the clock while stern-faced judges look on and wait to pronounce on the seasoning. Perhaps Sophie Dahl’s new Nigella-ish show is the sharkjump. The campaign for spaghetti hoops on Mother’s Pride starts here.


Willard said...

'bespoke satay curry rice thing with peanuts'

So true, Brit. I think it's our willingness to eat anything that's described by the word 'thing' that sets us apart.

Not really understanding the language of food, I'm always describing meals in these terms.

Any my CAPTCHA word is 'talpfly' which itself sounds delicious.

Recusant said...

Having gone out with a number of French women in the course of the last two decades, the reason for their culinary Crecy is obvious: no French woman born after 1960 can, or ever does, cook. They all rely on quite disgusting ready-meals from Bonduelle, etc., including those prepared salads consisting of a large dollop of shredded carrot.

Recusant said...

and just in case you might believe I was being sexist in seeming to blame it all on French women: French men won't even heat up a kettle unless their paid.

Gaw said...

That would be very low-sugar, multi-grain spaghetti hoops (one can represents one of your five-a-day) on multi-grain, no-additives Mother's Pride. Even crap has got better.

worm said...

It's true that we are heading down the route towards fetishising our food to ridiculous levels. This is mostly via marketing. Food is no longer just a nutritional necessity, it is a distinct signifier of your buying power and thus social status.

I'm off to Lidl after work to buy the frozen ikea meatballs they're selling now. Where does that put my social status???

Susan said...

Yes, the French seem to have somewhat lost the plot on the food front, but no doubt they're hot on our heels...

Bring on the Marmite infused foaming Mother's Pride froth. Best served with salt and vinegar.

Matt said...

Your drive-by sneer at American supermarkets is endearing, but wrong. In fact, supermarket quality in the US depends on the neighborhood-- here in snoburbia, you can get anything you want, almost always.

David said...

I was just going to say what Matt said, and why should I let Matt having said it already stop me?

Based on comparing my favorite American supermarket with the two or three markets (you don't get to be super unless you've got at least 100,000 square feet) I've been in in London, we've got y'all beat. Everything on your list I can get at my local supermarket, plus a butcher's shop that beats any stand-alone meat market.

It might just be the markets that tourists wander into.

As for the French, I agree that after a few days in Paris I'm ready to throw up ... my hands at the sight of yet another cream sauce, and I once had a room service BLT that was inedibly rich (I think the avocado was the straw too far), but you'd have to go some ways to beat a French farmer's market for freshness, variety and taste.

Peter said...


We just spent two weeks in your fair land. It was a condo vacation, so there were several trips to the supermarket. It's fine to boast that all manner of wondrous things like fresh Italian parsley are avaialable, but when you have to walk through eight aisles of exotic delicacies like flavoured Cheese Doodles and Diet Grape Crush to find each one, you soon become captive to take-out.

Hey Skipper said...

Meanwhile, no cliché about the British is more outdated than that we can’t do food.

British food ca 2009 (my most recent visit) was far, far better than 1992.

Brit said...

Yes Peter, when I said US supermarkets are 'terrible', I should have said 'horrible'. I only speak from my experience however and am willing to acknowledge that I have not visited every single supermarket in the USA and therefore there might be well some nice ones somewhere.


you don't get to be super unless you've got at least 100,000 square feet

Yes but how much should a supermarket weigh?

zmkc said...

It appears that those of us down here who can actually wait until our meal times (ie not me) are pretty marvellous too:

David said...

Despite thinking that blind nationalism over small matters is the finest, purest sort of nationalism, I find that I really don't feel compelled to defend the nation's supermarkets.

Let's just agree that you mean terrible in the sense of "awesome and" and go back to debating health care systems.

Peter said...


Health care systems? That's easy. You're all crazy!!!

But, then, we've sort of known that since Yorktown. :-)

Gaw said...

OK, so who's got the best hospital food?

Hey Skipper said...

Based upon my two most recent experiences, American hospital food is easily good enough.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Ah, this is music to one's ears, practically poetry. But "the British cook more often, for longer..." (my italics) worries me: does boiling sprouts for twice the time they require really make for better cooking??

David said...


Crazy Since Yorktown will be the perfect title for my history of the United States.