The 10 Most Popular International Cuisines in the UK
Coming up to the festive season it would be no surprise to find people across the isles googling for turkey, mince pies and plum duff. What is surprising, though, is that the Xmas and new year holidays also see a spike in Google searches for our favourite international foods, which just goes to show how much we love varied cuisine.
But which is our favourite? Here we use data from Google Trends to find out how the food of the world ranks on the UK’s palate.
Google provides data on a whole range of topics, including national cuisines, and allocates a score that indicates the level of interest in the topic.
Google uses AI to categorize search terms for national cuisines. For example Japanese cuisine will comprise hundreds or thousands of searches related to the topic such as Japanese restaurants, Japanese rice, sushi, sushi recipes, Japanese food, and even names of well known Japanese restaurants.
Google then counts how often they are used in countries, regional areas, towns and cities relative to all local searches and allocates an interest score.
For example if Bristol scores 100 for Japanese cuisine and London scores 80, it means that there is a higher percentage of people from Bristol searching for Japanese cuisine, but not necessarily that there are more searches made from Bristol compared to London.
What is unique about the data is that it doesn’t only indicate the UK people’s dining out habits. It also shows what they are eating at home – or googling to satisfy curiosity.
Let’s look in-depth at the top six, showing each region’s and city’s preference for a cuisine. Read on to find out how the world’s food ranked in the UK this year.
6. Japanese (Popularity Score 8)
This is a relative newcomer to the UK culinary scene as the first Japanese restaurant didn’t open up in London until 1967. But there has been an explosion of interest over the last 10 years, particularly in London where it scored a full 100% in popularity.
It began with sushi, which was actually a bit intimidating if you didn’t know what you were doing. So how has it muscled in on the UK food scene? “It’s never boring” says the Huffington Post. It’s a relative theatre of food, with abundant flavours, a mix of textures and its presentation and colours that make it so photogenic social media loves it.
UK Capital of Japanese Cuisine: London
5. Mexican Cuisine (Popularity Score 11)
Coming in 5th, three interest points above Japanese food, are the vibrant, spicy, full of flavour Mexican dishes. We’ve been eating chilli con carne since the 1970s. But the mid-2010s saw a blossoming of interest in tacos, burritos and enchiladas, and new Mexican restaurants have opened up across the isles. Scotland saw its second Taco Bell, the Californian chain, open up this year.
Interest in this cuisine remains pretty much at the same level across the UK, a single digit percentage in relation to the other four cuisines throughout, with the swinging trio of Brighton, Bristol and Edinburgh registering the highest at 9%.
UK Capital of Mexican Cuisine: Edinburgh
3. Indian (Popularity Score 28)
Shocked? We were at Chef’s Pencil. Indian food, the long-time challenger to the great British roast, came in joint 3rd. But it is enjoying continuing popularity as Britain’s most home cooked food, according to a survey by the supermarket app Ubamarket, which put curry as Britain’s most favourite home cooked food with spag bol in second place and the traditional roast in shameful third.
Of course, we’ve had a long-term love affair with the spicy cuisine, with the first Indian restaurants opening up in London in the late 1700s to satisfy the longings of viceroys returning from India.
But the capital of the dish now is Leicester, home to a wealth of fantastic Indian restaurants, with the London Borough of Hounslow coming in a close second.
UK Capital of Indian Cuisine: Leicester
3. Thai (Popularity Score: 28)
The close cousin of Indian cuisine, though probably closer to Chinese, Thai food combines sweet, sour, salty and bitter to make exceptionally aromatic and tasty dishes. And with key ingredients of fish, rice, and vegetables, it is also incredibly healthy. Not only are the people of the UK eating Thai in restaurants and pubs, they are cooking Thai dishes at home, the most popular being the ever so tasty Thai Green Curry.
The capital for Thai food is hip and trendy Brighton, followed by Hambleton and London. Thai food is also very popular in Edinburgh, Wick and Leeds.
UK Capital of Thai Cuisine: Brighton
2. Italian (Popularity Score: 36)
The UK’s love affair with Italian food goes back to the days of the Roman Empire. And now the cuisine has been named the worldwide favourite in a YouGov survey – though England and Scotland have more of a predilection, each giving the food 20% out of the other four cuisines, while Northern Ireland gave it 16% and Wales clearly not too keen giving it a paltry 12%.
Since the 1950s, pasta and pizza has personified Italian food. A home-cooked spag bol is a weekly staple in millions of homes and the average person puts down 731 pizzas in their lifetime, according to a recent survey.
But Italian food is so much more than this, and now there’s a trend for authentic, quality regional products. Imports of wines and spirits, charcuterie and cheese are in high demand.
UK Capital of Italian Cuisine: York
1. Chinese (Popularity Score: 71)
Thank you to all those Chinese immigrants for bringing us the oriental delights of Cantonese, Sichuan and Zhejiang cooking. Chinese food is the clear winner, coming way ahead of other ethnic cuisines in the UK.
The food was first sold at stalls in London’s docks in the 1880s, serving Chinese sailors who settled in the area. By the 1970s, sweet and sour pork and a spring roll was the staple Chinese take out. But today, our understanding of the food is a little more sophisticated and the number of upmarket restaurants grew in the 2000s. In fact, the British isles have seen a Chinese food revolution as we learnt about the wide variety of regional foods.
Wales is a huge fan, giving Chinese food a full 57%, while city-wise, Belfast is the clear capital, also awarding the cuisine 57%. While the UK puts Chinese food way ahead of the rest, worldwide it came in second at 78%, behind Italian.
So while British food might be seen as bland and boring – it isn’t but that’s another story – the Brits are clearly not as conservative in their eating choices as they are often accused of being.
UK Capital of Chinese Cuisine: Belfast
Chef’s Pencil has analysed Google Trends data for the past 12 months (November 2018 through November 2019). Google Trends popularity scores are relative and not absolute. Please see below how Google defines regional popularity scores:
Values are calculated on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 is the location with the most popularity as a fraction of total searches in that location, a value of 50 indicates a location which is half as popular. A value of 0 indicates a location where there was not enough data for this term.
Note: A higher value means a higher proportion of all queries, not a higher absolute query count. So a tiny country where 80% of the queries are for “bananas” will get twice the score of a giant country where only 40% of the queries are for “bananas”.
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