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Expat Exchange - Spoiled for Choice: What Migration Did for British Food Culture
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Spoiled for Choice: What Migration Did for British Food Culture

By Monica Karpinski

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Summary: How has migration impacted British food culture? Monica Karpinski talks about how foods from the EU, Asia, North America, South America and Australasia have influenced today's food culture in the UK.

There's no denying that migration to the UK is a hot topic at the moment. And unfortunately, most of the press is negative, despite the fact that migrants have actually boosted the British economy by £20 billion, have been found to generously donate their money and time to charity, and have coloured British society with exciting new shades of cultural diversity. One of these ever-so-brilliant shades is the delicious impact migration has had on British food culture.

Often lauded as plain and unimaginative, it's safe to say that the UK isn't celebrated much for its cuisine. But, by 2010, it was found that six out of ten meals prepared in British households were actually inspired by foreign flavours and traditions, with marked preference for French and Italian dishes. A survey by Food Network UK also found that sushi and noodles were eaten as regularly as spaghetti and potatoes in 2012.

In fact, in 2013, a government report found that while foods sourced from Britain made up just over half of the nation's overall consumption, foods from the EU made up almost a third, with foods from Asia, North America, South America, and Australasia making up small cuts of the remainder. In total, 23 countries accounted for 90% of food supply in the UK in 2013.

As well as the obvious popularity of Italian, French, Chinese and Indian food, cuisine from larger migrant groups such as Polish and Pakistani, as well as tastes and flavours from smaller groups such as Brazilian and Iranian are very much being drawn to our attention. For instance, in the 2000's, the amount of Brazilians in the UK increased by 1000%, bringing with them spades of restaurants, tastes, and street food kitchens. Brazilian 'churrascarias', all you can eat steakhouses, were named a key consumer food trend in the UK in 2012, while the 2014 World Cup saw a spiked interest in Brazilian foods, flavours, and dishes. Market data at the end of 2013 also tipped Brazilian cuisine to grow in popularity in years following the football, which, via growing choice outlined in tastemaking publications like Timeout and Londonist, has quite evidently done so.

In a similar vein, Iranian food is another that has floated to the surface in recent years. As well as seeing more Iranian restaurants open up across the UK, plenty of trendy restaurants have been spotted featuring Iranian dishes on their menus. Two key culprits are Arbutus and Dock Kitchen in the heart of Soho, one of London's trendiest culinary hotspots. A number of pop up and takeaway Persian kitchens have cropped up across the capital, too: head to Chatsworth Road Market to try some pomegranate lamb from Noosh, or duck into Holborn for some takeaway at DinDin, which has been dubbed by critics as 'an Iranian Itsu'. Persia Food, a food supplier that brings Persian foods and products to the UK, supply to most Arabic and Iranian supermarkets in London.

And, of course, how could we ignore the prevailing influence of Scandinavian cuisine on the British diet? Interest in the Nordic diet -- fatty fish, cabbage, root vegetables and rye bread— has taken the UK by storm, in part because of the benefits to health it carries, and in another because of it's simplistic reliance on a few strong ingredients (usually the type of fish or meat) to flavour the dish. From 2008-2012, sales of Swedish foods in the UK shot up by 30%, and in 2011, the BBC named Scandinavian food as the 'hottest culinary trend' of the year. You can find Scandinavian produce in Waitrose, John Lewis, and Marks and Spencer, who have launched their own specialty brand of Swedish cinnamon buns. And, as with any British culinary trend, quick uptake of the cuisine by London restauranteurs (think Fika, Nordic Bar, and Scandinavian Kitchen) only works to further whet our appetites for delicious Nordic delicacies.

And as 2015 rolls out, Brits will increasingly turn their sights to more adventurous and obscure food trends. Whether it's a craze for Korean kimchi, Japanese seaweed used in soups or edible insects sourced from Asia, Latin America and Africa, Britain's appetite for tastes either inspired by, or brought in from abroad is only set to grow.

About the Author

Monica Karpinski is a London-based writer for Global Citizen by MomoTop, a narrative-based website that brings inspiration, news, resources, stories, travel ideas and support to expats all over the world. An expat herself, Monica is originally from Melbourne, Australia, and has lived in both the US and the UK.


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