British dishes through the decades

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th September 2014
Credit to Great Food ClubThis week and next is British Food Fortnight and we've been looking at the history of British cuisine and now those iconic dishes through the decades...prawn cocktail anyone? Post-WWII British food has evolved to gain a strong reputation for high quality dishes. With British-sourced produce and traditional cuisine alongside foreign flavours and influences, the Great British menu is an amalgamation that reflects the diversity of 21st century Britain itself. Each decade has had its own culinary identity. In part, an excuse to indulge in amusing nostalgia for foods you would never choose to revisit, remembering the classics also provides a reminder of the progress made culturally and technologically in the food world.  

1960s:

Pasta with Spinach,Olives and Mozzarella Following a long period of austerity in Britain, the 1960s had record consumption of food items like meat and sugar after the fifties saw the end of WWII rationing. The late fifties and early sixties was also the period when Britain began importing more food, enabling the introduction of pasta, which according to a 2011 Oxfam survey, is the world’s most popular food. At the time, though, the only pasta available would have been tinned. The food that the 1960s became known for were the cocktail sausages, cheese and pineapple hedgehogs and vol au vents - all staples of any classic cold buffet. When it came to more formal meals, the dishes of the day were British variations of French cuisine like duck a l’orange and coq au vin. Though enormously popular at the time, these did not give the UK a particularly strong culinary reputation at the time and have since dropped out of the food mainstream.  

1970s:

Prawn Cocktail credit to BBC FoodWhen it comes to seventies food, the only way to start would be with the classic prawn cocktail. Ubiquitous in its heyday, the prawn cocktail took the nation by storm in the decade famed for disco and flares. The dish, prawns with a Marie Rose sauce on a bed of iceberg lettuce and served in a wine glass, was a fixture of seventies menus often followed by steak and chips, and then Black Forest gateaux. Angel Delight - credit to the Independent The seventies also saw a further increase in imported flavours and techniques, continuing a trend from the sixties. Spaghetti Bolognese became known in the UK, along with the Anglo-Indian dish Chicken Tikka Masala. This was reflective of a more general increase of Indian and Chinese restaurants and takeaways around the UK, as interest in foreign foods became much greater. For a seventies dessert, Angel Delight aptly delighted millions as it celebrated its peak. With flavours including butterscotch, strawberry and chocolate, the packet-mix mousse dessert was a household favourite, and the sales of instant desserts doubled in the 1970s.  

1980s:

Fast food continued its reign of terror with the introduction of the Pot Noodle as the go-to quick meal of the 1980s. The salty snack food thrived alongside shoulder pads and George Michael, until eventually going out of fashion along with almost everything else from the eighties. Nouvelle Cuisine - credit to nyt The birth of the microwave meant that food was being made quicker, to reflect faster-paced lifestyles, and ready meals began to take hold. This new demand for fast food also led to the success of the hamburger, with McDonald’s and Burger King competing on the UK high-street. In restaurants, a converse trend was occurring with Nouvelle Cuisine becoming popular. A French approach to cooking, where food is served in a very delicate and precise way, Nouvelle Cuisine was notable for smaller portions, lighter sauces and fresher ingredients.  

1990s:

The 1990s was the decade that the nation’s much relied upon ready meals took over, surpassing Caesar saladsales of frozen meals by the end of the millennium. Traditional home cooking took a hit, with the average meal in 1999 taking 20 minutes to prepare compared to an hour in 1980. This increasing demand for faster food also meant nearly a third of people were skipping breakfast at home, opening up a new market for cereal bars that Kelloggs was quick to capitalise on. The variety of produce available became much bigger than in previous decades, meaning the range of fruit and vegetables on supermarket shelves expanded greatly. While snack food sales were on the up, so were sales of pre-washed, ready-prepared salads and balsamic dressings. One dish that became popular at the time was the chicken Caesar salad.  

2000s:

Bolognese With the new millennium came the rise of the celebrity chef and the food blogger, as well as trends towards seasonal cooking and sourcing of local produce. The popular dish of the day seemed to be anything Italian, or what critics might call a British variation of Italian food. When it came to chain restaurants, the market for pizza and pasta was startlingly high, with enough demand to see Prezzo, Strada, Ask, Zizzi, Carluccio’s, Bella Italia and Pizza Express all successfully populate the high-street. With the 2008 economic downturn, the value for money available at the Italian chains sustained consumer interest. This restaurant trend is reflected in the home as well, with UK sales of pasta and pasta-based ready meals at £800m in 2009, according to a Mintel report.Fish and chips The traditional fish and chips remained as popular as ever throughout the decade with the boom of the gastropub but came under threat. Chips served with usually either cod or haddock has been a long-time favourite of the nation, but the popularity of the fish has led to overfishing and an insufficient supply to meet demand. It remains to be seen what dishes will emerge from the 2010s as the popular choices of the decade for the UK, but if the past is anything to go by, they are likely to be an eclectic, internationally-influenced mix. By Jessica Eve Kennedy

What dishes were you eating throughout these decades, we'd love to know. Either comment below or head over to our Twitter page @canteentweets.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th September 2014

British dishes through the decades