Since the discovery of tea, potatoes and chocolate, foods from foreign countries have made a significant contribution to the diet of Britons. And during the past few decades, the variety and popularity of formerly exotic cuisines has increased to such an extent that the late Robin Cook declared the new national dish to be chicken tikka masala.
Yesterday, the Commission for Racial Equality and chefs paid tribute to the enrichment of the country's food by the waves of immigration in the years since the anti-racism organisation was founded in 1976.
To mark the commission's 30th birthday, 12 leading chefs have contributed recipes to 30 Years On A Plate, a collection of dishes served in Britain that originate abroad. Antonio Carluccio, Gary Rhodes, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Antony Worrall Thompson, Aldo Zilli, Ainsley Harriott, and Ken Hom are among the contributors.
In the typically eclectic entries, Fearnley-Whittingstall advises how to make the Caribbean dish curried goat, and Aldo Zilli, the Italian chef, speaks of his love of Thai food with a prawn curry.
The guide, available at the CRE website, was launched yesterday at the Indian "tapas" restaurant Imli in Soho, one of the most diverse areas of London. The chef Michael Moore, a black Londoner, cooked a tuna dish to show how foreign foods had become commonplace in 21st-century kitchens. His eponymous restaurant in Mayfair serves such "global" dishes as tandoori foie gras with celeriac and cinnamon duck drizzled in honey.
"The biggest change in British food has been that we are using a lot more ethnic ingredients than we were 20 years ago," Moore said. "Twenty years ago, a small number were going for an Indian but now it's a festival of food. You can buy plantains in Waitrose."
Alveena Malik, the commission's head of integration, said that food brought by immigrants had been subtly yet profoundly changing attitudes away from the commission's formal policy work or race discrimination cases. She said food was an excellent way of getting people to interact with each other because in many cultures it was the point at which people met.
Children were becoming interested in other cultures through food, she added. "My own child who is four-year-old has a different dish every day. She had Thai on Sunday, spaghetti on Monday, dal yesterday and she is having shepherd's pie today. Not intentionally, she's eating a very diverse range of food which 30 years ago at her age I didn't have."
Worrall Thompson said his favourite food was Japanese but he preferred to cook Spanish and Portuguese dishes. There were more than 100 different food cultures in the UK, he said, and these days many restaurant menus advertised their wares in French. "You couldn't get away with saying snails; they had to be l'escargot," he said.
"It was a struggle to get an avocado 30 years ago, unless you were in London. Sweet potatoes? We just hadn't seen them. You had the Chinese and Indians at first and then the Thais after that," he went on. "I am sure we are going to get a lot of Polish restaurants now. Of all the cultures in the world, the weakest one we have is Mexican but we don't have a huge number of Mexicans."
He added: "While there are still a lot of racial problems, over the past 30 years things have improved. "We used to be a country that stole countries to make up an empire and now we steal food to make a food empire but we're doing it in a nice way."
The chef Roopa Gulati said that in modern British cooking root ginger, tamarind and hot chillies were as likely to be used in an innovative roast as in a traditional Indian curry.
'30 Years On A Plate' can be found at www.cre.gov.uk
Chefs cook up culture
Ken Hom's Stir-Fried Chicken With Black Bean Sauce
This dish is a favourite for many first-time diners of Chinese food, which is why I chose this particular dish and recipe.
The fragrance of fermented black bean sauce mixed with garlic and ginger is a mouth-watering combination.
It is a dish that is easy to make and even better to eat. It is probably the best introduction to an ethnic cuisine, which now is part of British cuisine.
Antonio Carluccio's Ragu Bolognese
Spaghetti Bolognese is a typical Britalian dish created bearing in mind the ethnic Italian origin but adapted to suit British taste.
Genuine ragù Bolognese is a combination of at least two types of meat, such as lean minced beef and pork, plus oil and butter, a little wine, an onion, plump ripe tomatoes and tomato paste.
The sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan perfectly crowns this very Emilian dish.
Gary Rhodes's Rice and Peas
My stepfather of more than 30 years, John, is originally from Jamaica and my first introduction to Caribbean delights was his amazing dish of rice and peas. It's still a firm family favourite today and something my own children always love to eat when "Gramps" comes to visit.
This tasty dish is such a delight to eat and with its easy mix of simple ingredients, the rice and peas blend together, working with one another to create the perfect result.
Basically, it's just the same method that racial equality should always carry!
Ainsley Harriott's Seared Chicken With Mango Salsa and Sweet Potato Wedges
My lifelong passion for cooking is a tribute to my background as I grew up in an environment where I was always encouraged to help cook for family and friends in an open house in Balham, south London.
This dish is tangy, fresh and full of flavour, bringing to mind exotic tastes and unusual foods. The recipe reflects a wide range of cuisines and cultures, with the salsa and sweet potato conjuring up Mexican and South American flavours, and the mango contributing the sweet taste of Indian cooking.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Curried Goat
You can get goat in the UK - but it's hard to track down. Mutton or at least older autumn lamb, makes a very acceptable alternative. Use cheaper stewing cuts. Leave the chops and scrag end on the bone.Reuse content