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English food encompasses the cooking styles, traditions and recipes associated with England. It has distinctive attributes of its own, but also shares much with wider British cuisine, largely due to the importation of ingredients and ideas from places such as North America, China, and India during the time of the British Empire and as a result of post-war immigration.
Since the Early Modern Period the food of England has historically been characterised by its simplicity of approach and a reliance on the high quality of natural produce. This, in no small part influenced by England's Puritan heritage, resulted in a traditional cuisine which tended to veer from strong flavours, such as garlic, and an avoidance of complex sauces which were commonly associated with Catholic Continental political affiliations.
Traditional meals have ancient origins, such as bread and cheese, roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, boiled vegetables and broths, and freshwater and saltwater fish. The 14th century English cookbook, the Forme of Cury, contains recipes for these, and dates from the royal court of Richard II.
Other meals, such as fish and chips, which were once urban street food eaten from newspaper with salt and malt vinegar, and pies and sausages with mashed potatoes, onions, and gravy, are now matched in popularity by curries from India and Bangladesh, and stir-fries based on Chinese and Thai cooking. Italian cuisine and French cuisine are also now widely adapted. Britain was also quick to adopt the innovation of fast food from the United States, and continues to absorb culinary ideas from all over the world while at the same time rediscovering its roots in sustainable rural agriculture.
English cuisine may suffer from a relatively poor international reputation when compared to that of Italian cuisine or French cuisine. However, for many English people this perception seems outdated, for the poor reputation of industrially produced urban food in the twentieth century did not ever really represent the quality of food cooked in the home. Traditional English food, with its emphasis on 'meat-and-two-veg' falls squarely into the north European tradition extending from Northern Germany to the Low Countries and Scandinavia.
During the Middle Ages and Enlightenment, English cuisine enjoyed an excellent reputation; its decline can be traced back to the move away from the land and increasing urbanisation of the populace during the Industrial Revolution. During this process Britain became a net importer of food. British food also suffered heavily from effects of rationing during two World Wars (food rationing finally ended in 1954), followed by the increasing trend toward industrialised mass production of food. However, in Britain today there is a renewed fascination with the culture of food popularly led by celebrity chefs who seek to raising the standard of food understanding in the UK.
In 2005, 600 food critics writing for (British) Restaurant magazine named 14 British restaurants among the 50 best restaurants in the world with the number one spot going to The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire and its chef Heston Blumenthal. In particular, the global reach of London has elevated it to the status of a leading centre of international cuisine. Meanwhile the heavy promotion of gastronomy as a post-industrial economic solution has led to a proliferation of very fine quality producers across the country.
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