Letters from the Dorm: In defence of British cooking

By Tacye Hong, University of Cambridge

British food tends to get a bad rep, but English muffins, mince pies and other English culinary classics deserve a chance

By Tacye Hong, University of Cambridge |

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Toad-in-the-hole does not actually mean amphibians are served.

British food has always had a bad reputation. When I told my friends in Canada that I was moving to Britain to start my graduate studies, many joked that I would get tired of alternating between fish and chips, and beans on toast very soon. Having been here for seven months already, though, I can safely say that the country’s cuisine is wonderful and it doesn’t deserve to be defamed like this.

I will admit that the names can be rather misleading. For example, English muffins here are just called “muffins”, which, although confusing, is to be expected – after all, Canadians never refer to Canadian bacon as anything other than plain “bacon”.

Most mince pies do not have any meat in them; they just contain a mix of dried fruit and spices that is still known as “mincemeat”. And toad-in-the-hole thankfully has nothing to do with actual toads, but just means sausages served in a Yorkshire pudding batter.

Aside from these, steak pies and cottage pies – minced beef topped with mashed potato crust – are among my favourites. In addition to traditional English cuisine, Anglo-Indian dishes are very popular among the country’s people, due to the Indian subcontinent once being ruled by the British crown. In fact, chicken tikka masala, which is an Indian inspired dish, is one of the nation’s favourites.

Mince pies are actually sweet and do not contain meat.
Photo: Shutterstock

Another misconception is that food in the country is expensive. In fact, one of the first things that I noticed in supermarkets here is that they offer different meal deals.

For £3 (around HK$35), you can get a main – either a sandwich, salad, or pasta – a drink and a snack. There are so many varieties to choose from, but one of my favourite combinations is the bacon, sausage, and egg triple sandwiches, a smoothie and a pack of beef jerky. This would cost £6.30 if I didn’t buy it as part of the deal.

There are also family deals where you can buy three types of protein (you can in fact choose three whole chickens!) for just £10. The only downside is the lack of fresh seafood in supermarkets. Supermarkets in Cambridge’s town centre tend to be rather small and so do not have in-store fish counters. You will only be able to find fishmongers and cheesemongers (though sadly not Killmonger, for any Marvel fans) in bigger and fancier groceries out of town.

While the selection of cakes in grocery stores is also a bit lacklustre, there is one surprisingly popular cake called Colin the Caterpillar produced by Marks & Spencer which has gathered a huge fan base – it’s now sold in Hong Kong, too. While you might think it would only appeal to young children, many – including footballer David Beckham and politician David Cameron – choose to celebrate important events with this staple cake. In fact, more than 7 million Colin cakes have been sold since they were first introduced in 1990.

For those who make fun of the British culinary scene, please do come and try it with an open mind. I guarantee that you will find something you like in this quirky world of amazing food.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

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