Alex Massie Alex Massie

Edible food: a triumph of immigration and globalisation

As usual I enjoyed Hugo Rifkind’s column in the Times today. His central point that fights, whether on Europe or Scotland or whatever, can’t be ducked forever and that complacency is fatal is all very sound. But that’s not what really caught my eye.

No, I was taken by his reminder that Roger Helmer, Ukip’s sword-bearer in the Newark by-election, reckons that Indian restaurants are the only good thing to have come from immigration and I remembered that, gosh, Mr Helmer is hardly alone in thinking that.

Pretty much anytime anyone writes about immigration commenters will chunter that it’s all very well for you swanky, hoity-toity media types to bore on about the wonders of your local oh-so-authentic Kazakh or Peruvian or Persian restaurant but what about the rest of us, eh? The rest of us being stout-hearted types who sup on salt beef and honest boiled-to-death British vegetables and don’t give tuppence for all this metropolitan crap. Who needs goat curry anyway?

Well, fine. Actually, not fine at all but let’s ignore that for a moment. It’s not as though interesting ethnic restaurants are the only thing Britain has gained from immigration but, just for the fun of it, suppose that were the case? Wouldn’t that be enough to make you hellish appreciative of immigration?

I think so. True, immigration is not the only thing that’s made eating in Britain a worthwhile adventure in recent decades. Foreign travel helped. Britons, having eaten well overseas, began to ask why they couldn’t eat well at home too. At least, not reliably well.

It’s easy to forget how things used to be. I was reminded of this recently when reading some of Elizabeth David’s cookbooks. True, they were written in a time of post-war austerity but even so the extent of the privations endured by Britons makes for pretty grim reading.

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