CULINARY HISTORY. ITALIAN CUISINE
Updated: Apr 28
Cooking, dining and cuisine has come a long way in the UK in 100 years. Despite, what seems for many of us, a long love affair with international food, you might be surprised to know that we’ve only really been experimenting with new flavours and food from overseas since the 1960s. British cuisine is most commonly known for its heavy reliance on meat, bread and potatoes; a result of food rationing that meant meals were produced with limited ingredients and the aim of keeping everyone full.
Today, if you were to ask any British household about a traditional homecooked meal, you’d be sure to find a lasagne or Bolognese in the mix. Furthermore, Italian restaurants have frequently come out on top as our favourite type of restaurant to visit. We’ve looked back at the history of Italian cuisine, and how it eventually found its way to the UK.
Italy’s division and emergence of regional cuisine
Despite the country we know as Italy today having only formally unified in the 19th century, Italian cuisine and influences can be traced back to the pre-Roman era, with a strong focus on food preparation - a tradition that is still strong within Italian cooking today. When the Roman Empire conquered Britain, they brought with them not only new foods and animals, but more advanced agricultural techniques and introduced the social concept of feasting and banqueting. In fact, we can credit the Romans for introducing many of our favourite ingredients used today: onions, leeks, garlic, figs, basil, rosemary and, notably, grapes – influencing British wine culture and the subsequent winemaking industry.
Italian cuisine developed further after the fall of the Roman Empire, as the country divided and formed individual city states. This period saw the diversification of bread and pasta, with new traditions and methods forming in each region, which they still hold strong within their heritage today. Think Naples for classic, Neapolitan pizza and Genoa for the origins of pesto.
Return to Britain
Whilst the legacy of Italian cuisine had cemented itself amongst British culture, the customs of Roman-Anglo living faded after the Empire’s fall for some time, returning after Sicily’s invasion by the Normans and, centuries later, as many Italians began migrating to Britain. Pasta became a delicacy for families of a middle class or higher status in the 19th century, although wasn’t widely eaten until after the second World War.
It was during the mid-1950s and into the 1960s that the British public gained an appetite for easy to prepare meals, as more women began working full-time. The new trend for frozen food and ready meals saw a wave of more ‘exotic’ meals and flavours entering households, including the Bolognese and lasagne. This, coupled with a rise in takeaways and dining out, helped to embed Italian food within our own traditions.
Italian food distribution in modern Britain
With produce from overseas so readily available and a saturation of Italian restaurants worldwide, it is safe to say that Italian cuisine has influenced the way we, and consumers across the world, purchase and consume.
A large part of Italian food’s popularity is its versatility and simple, yet powerful flavours. Products such as dried pasta and spaghetti are inexpensive, travel well and can be stored for months. As such, the on-trade industry has seen much in the way of diversification, with on-trade suppliers able to meet increasingly demanding tastes for Italian products across a variety of industries, from pubs and bars to restaurants and venues.
As Italian food distributors, we pride ourselves on the excellent range and availability of the products we stock, including prosecco, spirits for classic aperitifs, and snack foods. If you are interested in finding out more about our portfolio of products, or how we can supply your business, you can make an enquiry here and a member of our sales team will be pleased to get back to you.