From lasagne sandwiches to chicken tikka-flavoured Blackpool rock, Britons' eagerness to embrace 'foreign food' has resulted in some atrocities that other nations find hard to stomach
When pizza was first introduced to a sceptical British public in the 1950s, it was marketed, so the story goes, as "Italian Welsh rarebit". These days, however, nobody feels the need to describe ceviche as "Peruvian rollmops" or quinoa as "Bolivian porridge oats". The British are, contrary to the rest of the world's stereotype, wonderfully open-minded about food and eager to try anything with an exotically "foreign" name.
However, rather than applauding that endearing receptiveness to other nation's cuisines, many of those who have landed on British shores seem appalled when they discover what's been done to it. The otherwise affectionate blog of London-based Spanish writer Jorge Ruiz, for example, has a section devoted to "atrocities committed under the name of Spanish food".
Anyone who has sat through a discussion between two Spanish people about whether or not you should put onion in tortilla might think that this is just the pickiness of a nation who, sadly, lack the iron-stomached British ability to eat absolutely anything. However, it soon becomes clear that he has a point.
Paella in a bag might be convenient, if convenience is the important issue here, but paella in a sandwich? Even Francis Drake would have called that an unnecessary provocation, even if it was invented as a riposte to the equally delicious-sounding lasagne sandwich. Ruiz reserves most of his ire, though, for the indiscriminate use of chorizo in supermarket "Spanish" dishes. It has long upset many Valencians that Jamie Oliver recommends putting chorizo in paella (it makes the rice turn orange), so you can imagine how Ruiz feels about chorizo soup or the even more inventive "chorizo with waffles". "There hasn't been a Belgian-Spanish conflict like it," he says, "since the last War of Flanders."
But it's not just Spanish food that's been given this treatment. Indian food expert Nisha Katona, who is about to open her first restaurant in Liverpool, says: "I spend my life in a state of grimace at the nuclear slop they call curry." Among other terrible "fusion" cuisines, she lists "cheddar cheese saag paneer", fruit cocktail korma and, best of all, chicken tikka-flavoured Blackpool rock.
The Italians still haven't resigned themselves to the rest of the world's version of pizza, but MasterChef finalist and York-based restaurateur Sara Danesin Medio, says that, for her: "The horror story starts with spaghetti in a tin." Even worse is the misappropriation of words to mean something entirely different. "Pepperoni," she points out, "is actually peppers. Not spicy salami." Luckily, she doesn't seem to be aware of the existence of the lasagne sandwich.
You might think that newer culinary arrivals on British shores would be immune to such "innovations" but Robert Ortiz, head chef at London's Lima restaurant, claims to have witnessed ceviche made using vinegar, mayonnaise and, "possibly the worst, ketchup". However, it's not just the British who do this kind of thing. Caroline Bennett, who introduced the first Kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant to the UK, Moshi-Moshi, remembers seeing "strawberries and cream cheese" on pizza when she lived in Japan. "So, when foreigners do similar things to their food it only seems fair," she says.
In fact these so-called "atrocities" against food are pretty encouraging. Anyone trying to export food from Spain must be pleased that British supermarkets believe that the word "Spanish" can help flog everything from sandwiche, to soup, quiche and even waffles (although the Belgians might not be so happy about the last one). There's a lot more affection in Europe for different cultures than certain newspapers would have you believe. Seen anything criminal of a culinary nature?
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