In the 16th century the culinary reputation of Britain was on a par with France. In fact many recipes we think of as French in origin came from Britain. Despite their French names the dessert crème brûlée and blanquette de veau, a veal stew, actually originated in Britain.
In Britain regional differences abound and result from the history, industry and fertility of areas. History determines cooking traditions and eating habits and the difference between one county and the next is often quite marked. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reflect Celtic origins in their style of cooking. Traditional local produce such as Scots oats, Irish potatoes and Welsh laver seaweed are used to make special meat and fish soups and stews, home baked breads, scones and cakes.
A resurgence of traditional British cuisine has taken place in the UK driven by celebrity chefs and the fast growing number of innovative restaurants. There is now a much deserved return to the excellent international reputation that British fare enjoyed throughout Europe before the Industrial Revolution and World Wars.
The myth of bad food in Britain can now be dispelled. In recent years there has also been a welcome return to the use of fresh local produce, wholesome food and traditional cooking methods. Top restaurants now feature old-fashioned favorites and regional specialties on their menus.
The excellence of cuisine you can experience in Britain receives recognition in the 2004 Michelin Guide to Great Britain and Ireland which awards stars to 110 restaurants, up from 107 last year. British people have long been exposed to and interested in the food of other countries and cultures. This interest is reflected in the diverse range of international cuisine available throughout the country in restaurants, pubs, specialty stores and on supermarket shelves. A vast range of dining opportunities exists in London restaurants to rival any other major world capital and this is increasingly true throughout Britain.
British consumers have sophisticated palates and demand high quality produce whether it is world renowned British beef, particularly high quality Scottish beef, Welsh lamb, pork, game or poultry. The quality of British meat is now assured by strict government regulations making it amongst the safest in the world.
The seas around the British Isles provide UK tables with a rich catch and seafood features prominently on menus throughout the country. By 1999 the British were consuming nearly 300 million servings of fish and chips at the more than 9,000 fish and chip shops or “chippies.”
As elsewhere, demand for healthy food has grown in Britain with organic produce increasingly popular. Since the Middle Ages specialist markets have catered to the population of the capital some, such as Smithfield meat market, are still in operation and at their original sites. Other markets such as Covent Garden, famous for fruit, vegetables and flowers have relocated to the suburbs leaving their original buildings to be occupied by shops, restaurants and wine bars. Some of the Livery Companies, or guilds, of the City of London are still in existence today originate from the food trades of mediaeval London. You can see these origins reflected in the names of streets and areas of the City like Poultry, named after the poulterers (sellers of chickens) who were located there, Milk Street and Bread Street.
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