When we talk about British icons, we might think of red phone boxes, The Queen and our need to form an orderly and polite queue. But some of our quintessentially British traditions aren't as home-grown as you would think…
As a nation, we’re well-known for our love of a good cuppa. Whether it’s a fragrant cup of Earl Grey or a hearty pot of Yorkshire Tea, most of us struggle to make it through the day without getting our fix. But it turns out that tea isn’t that British at all! Legend has it that Chinese emperor, Shennong, discovered the drink almost 5,000 years ago, when some tea leaves blew into a pot of boiling water he was about to drink from. The concoction quickly became an integral part of Chinese medicine, and over the centuries, tea was adopted around the world.
Fish and chips
If someone asked you 'what Britain's favourite dish?', you'd more than likely guess it was fish and chips. But ironically, the recipe was actually brought over from Portugal and Spain in the 17th century by Jewish settlers, who sold them on the streets from huge trays which they hung round their necks.
There’s also a famous feud as to who opened the first official fish and chip shop. Many credit a Jewish immigrant called Joseph Malin as the man who kick-started our national dish in East London during 1860. Others claim a northerner named John Lees was the first, selling his fish and chips from a wooden hut in Lancashire.
Talking of fish and chips - who doesn’t love dousing theirs in Heinz Tomato Ketchup? Since being introduced in 1876, this iconic condiment now sells an estimated 650 million bottles a year in more than 140 countries. But, while Heinz may have set the standard, ketchup isn’t actually British. And, if you think it was the Americans who invented it, you’d be wrong.
Modern ketchup’s ancestor was born in 17th century China, where instead of using tomatoes as a base for the sauce, it was made from the brine of pickled fish. The sauce became a staple at tables across Indonesia and Malaysia, and it wasn’t long before English colonists became hooked, too.
Although he may be the Patron Saint of England, this brave soldier was actually born on foreign shores. Many have debated his birthplace, but it’s widely believed that he was born over 2,000 miles away to a Greek Christian noble family in Syria. It’s highly unlikely that St. George visited England, but his reputation for virtue and holiness spread across Europe, which led to King Edward III forming the Order of the Garter in St. George's name in 1350.
When we think of British traditions, having a pint at your local has to be up there. But in actual fact, the British pub actually started out as an Italian wine bar. It was only after the arrival of the Romans, and the Roman road network, that inns began to pop up and became the go-to place for a refreshing beverage. Now you’ll find a public house in almost every village, town and city in the UK.
Nothing speaks British aristocracy like a game of polo. Although we’ve been playing the sport on our shores since 1834, it actually originates from Persia (now known as Iran). Our anglicised version of the game came from the plantation owners who learned from locals in the Indian state of Assam, in the 19th century.