International food: Adopted favourites

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Related tags: Publican food report, Italian cuisine, Indian cuisine

When does an overseas dish become a British classic? It's not always easy to judge where to draw the line. According to The Publican Food Report...

When does an overseas dish become a British classic? It's not always easy to judge where to draw the line.

According to The Publican Food Report ​2008, published at the end of last year, 77 per cent of pubs describe their core menu as 'traditional British', a figure which rises to 89 per cent for tenanted pubs.

Consumers expect to find their favourites on offer, especially during an economic downturn, when comfort foods tend to increase in sales. That means fish and chips, steak pie, sausage and mash, lasagne… hang on, lasagne? Isn't that Italian? Technically, yes - but it has become such a staple of pub menus that there's a strong case for considering it formally 'adopted' as a British dish.

The chicken curry issue is even more complicated. When he was foreign secretary, the late Robin Cook MP described chicken tikka masala as "Britain's true national dish".

While it has its roots in the Indian restaurant trade, it was invented in the UK - according to urban legend, in Glasgow, where a chef whipped up a sauce by adding tandoori spices to a tin of cream of tomato soup in response to a customer's comment that his chicken tikka was too dry.

Even the burger, a mainstay of the pub menu, found its way into our hearts from Germany via the USA.

With consumers exposed to a wider variety of flavours and cuisine styles than ever, thanks to greater travel opportunities, and more diverse flavours available both in supermarkets and specialist restaurants, pubs have to work harder than ever to keep up with developing tastes.

Diversity

In the pub sector, recent figures from Nielsen's Pubtrack survey show the diversity of global cuisine. While the figures only show the state of play in managed, branded pubs such as those operated by Mitchells & Butlers and Whitbread, they are a good indicator of trends.

Italian food is the biggest selling global cuisine, worth around £98.2m in the year to March, a fair slice of a pub food pie (or pizza) worth just over £2bn in total. However, remember that lasagne? It's far and away the biggest selling Italian dish, worth more than £25m in sales.

But things are changing. The Pubtrack figures show that lasagne sales have fallen by €4.4m year-on-year as a more diverse range of Italian dishes, such as chicken alfredo, finds its way onto menus.

That creates opportunities for suppliers such as the Authentic Food Company, which has just added an Italian range to its portfolio, which also includes Indian, oriental and traditional British dishes.

Rather than opt for a 'me-too' lasagne, the range includes four cheese macaroni, spinach and ricotta cannelloni bake, chicken and pepperoni alfredo rigatoni and seafood cannelloni bake.

The products use ingredients such as pasta made with Italian flour and eggs, olive oil, Sicilian lemons and sun-dried tomatoes, providing the all-important provenance for consumers.

Andy Underwood, commercial director, says: "We feel that through our research and knowledgeable development team, we have created a truly authentic range of pasta dishes that will suit pub menus and enable outlets to meet customer demands."

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