Ask anyone about British food and roast dinners or fish & chips will inevitably come up. But many of the nation’s favourite dishes weren’t created here. Continue reading to learn about dishes and ingredients that were brought to the UK by migrants.
The Napoleonic wars from 1803–1815 destroyed much of northern Italy’s agriculture. As a result, many farmers started emigrating to the British Isles. Along with their farming methods, these new British residents brought their food recipes, including lasagne from southern Italy.
The dish that we Brits know and love originated in the Italian city of Naples during the Middle Ages. The first reference to lasagne can be found in a 14th-century cookbook that described a dish with layers of pasta in between assorted fillings. Typical fillings include ragù (ground meats and tomato sauce), vegetables, cheese, and seasoning like oregano, and basil.
Curries are rice and stew-based dishes that originated in Southeast Asia. They’re best known for their intense flavours which incorporate coconut milk and spice pastes. Curries arrived in the UK in the 17th century, when spice-based sauces were first added to plain boiled and cooked meats by migrants from southern India.
Curries were first served in coffee houses in 1809 and have been popular in Great Britain ever since. Most major cities in the UK have areas dedicated to authentic curries. London has Brick Lane and Kingsland Road; Manchester has the Curry Mile and Birmingham has the Balti Triangle. From Pakistani to Sri Lankan to Thai to Japanese, you can get authentic curries from Asia without going overseas.
Brits love curries so much that there’s even a National Curry Week every October.
Kebabs originated in Turkey where soldiers would spear meat on their swords and roast them over a fire. Nowadays, kebab shops are everywhere in the UK and across Europe – serving all kinds of variations of this wartime-inspired meal. The classic styles of kebabs include:
- Döner kebabs (cooked on a vertical rotisserie and served in pita bread).
- İskender kebab (a döner kebab topped with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread and melted sheep’s butter and yoghurt).
- Shish kebab (skewered and grilled cubes of meat prepared over a grill).
Stir-frying is a Chinese cooking technique in which ingredients are fried in a small amount of very hot oil while being stirred quickly in a wok. A flamboyant cooking method, stir-frying is popular because it allows the food to retain its colour, texture, and nutritional value.
Stir-frying was brought to the UK by early Chinese immigrants and has become a common method for preparing a meal of noodles, meat, and vegetables.
Brits have been eating stir frys and Chinese cooking for centuries. Thanks to trade, port cities like London and Liverpool have had links with China since the 1800s. The oldest Chinese community in the UK is in Liverpool, where Chinese sailors married local women and settled down.
Although Marmite is currently produced in the UK, it was invented overseas in 1902 when German scientist Justus von Liebig discovered that brewer’s yeast could be concentrated and eaten.
For the uninitiated, Marmite is a thick, sticky paste made from concentrated yeast extract. And Brits are some of the biggest consumers of Marmite in the world. Such is Marmite’s prominence in British popular culture that its name is often used as a metaphor for something or someone that tends to polarise opinion: you either love it or you hate it. In 1999, the Marmite Food Company sent extra supplies to homesick British peacekeeping troops in Kosovo.
Legend has it that in 2737 BC, Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree while his servant was boiling drinking water. Chinese mythology states that a leaf from a small tree fell into the water, and Shen Nung decided to taste it. And so, tea was born.
Europe began to learn more about tea in the early 1600s when Dutch traders started bringing it back in large quantities. It first arrived in Britain in the 1650s, when it was served as a novelty in London’s coffee houses. At one point, the high taxes on imported tea meant that social tea drinking could only be afforded by the wealthy. Nowadays, having a cuppa with a touch of milk is customary in almost every household in the UK.
This famous dish was influenced by Spanish settlers in the Philippines during the 16th century. Adobo originated from the word ‘adouber’ which means “to dress meat in vinegar or spices” before cooking. Adobo was used initially as a way of preserving food. However, the method was used as a method of flavouring foods before cooking.
As the century went by, the word ‘adouber’ evolved to ‘adobar’, then ’adobado’, and finally, ‘adobo’. Although chicken adobo is the signature and most popular dish, other items such as fish and jalapenos can be marinated in adobo. This method of cooking produces food that is tangy, salty, sweet, and spicy – all at once. Although more common in Australia, the United States, and Canada, Filipino food, including adobo, is gaining steam in the UK.
Baklava is a sweet pudding, often served in Turkish restaurants at the end of a meal, but you can also order it from cafes as a mid-morning or afternoon snack. Although it’s synonymous with Turkey, migrants from countries like Greece, Iran and Armenia have brought their variations of this sticky treat to the UK.
Baklava is made from layers of paper-thin filo pastry, butter, chopped nuts, and a sweet syrup fragranced with rose or orange blossom water. It’s normally made in big tins, baked, and then drizzled with even more syrup before cutting into smaller pieces.
9. Jerk chicken
The ‘jerk’ style of cooking is native to Jamaica and is a national staple, but it’s now replicated across the world. The method can be applied to fish, pork, goat, and vegetables, although jerk is typically synonymous with chicken.
The chicken is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a mixture of hot jerk spices and placed over an open grill, indigenously called a “jerk pan.” Perhaps jerk chicken’s finest moment in the UK was Levi Roots’ appearance on The Dragon’s Den. The creator of the jerk chicken condiment Reggae Reggae Sauce, Roots sang and pitched his way to £50,000 of funding on the business investment show.
10. Guinness punch
The perfect match to a plate of jerk chicken is usually a glass of Guinness Punch. Any Caribbean restaurant or party worth its salt will have a cool batch in the fridge. Guinness Punch is a creamy and smooth drink with a perfect combination of the bitterness of the Guinness and the sweetness of the condensed milk. And it’s easy to make.
Guinness punch is not just popular in its country of origin Jamaica, it’s enjoyed all over the Caribbean. Countries like Barbados and Grenada prepare it a little differently, but the base remains the same: Guinness, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, nutmeg and cinnamon powder.