ONE of the exciting things about eating out in Britain is that you don't have to eat British. That is not to say there is anything wrong with good old roast beef, haggis, tripe and onions, bangers and mash, or fish and chips: all of these, done well, can compete with dishes from around the world.
And here in Britain, they have lots of competition. Successive waves of immigrants have brought their cuisines with them. It probably started with the Romans, and has been going on ever since: we have been invaded by the French, cheered up by the West Indians, seduced by the Italians, spiced by the Indians, Pakistanis and many others from South-east Asia, and grilled by the Americans.
From about 1950 onwards, we have seen three big invasions: European refugees, mostly following the Second World War; people from the old Commonwealth countries starting a new life in Britain; and the Americans.
At some point, as curry houses, Chinese restaurants, trattorias and other establishments offering food from more and more countries proliferated on Britain's high streets, someone started generalising about something called "ethnic cuisine".
Literally speaking, that phrase means "the food and cooking style of a particular cultural or racial group". What it has come to mean, in the sloppy jargon of popular journalism, is "Asian food". Our article this week (see page 127) does use the offending word "ethnic", but it extends to Italian and Tex-Mex styles, and the writer has taken the trouble to look at the food of individual countries - even regions - individually.
There was a time when the food in virtually all the curry houses in Britain tasted virtually the same - a toned-down version of a rather indifferent style of food from western India. Now the tandoor of the north has arrived, and the choice is wider. But while the restaurateurs are being more adventurous, we lazy British have yet to make the effort to distinguish between Indian and Pakistani cooking, and we lump them together - along with Thai, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese and several others - under the catch-all "ethnic".
Not any more - not in Caterer & Hotelkeeper, at any rate. When we talk about Indian food, we'll call it that. If we mean Japanese, or Chinese, or South-east Asian, we'll say so. We promise to respect the cuisine of each individual culture, and not to bury them all in the meaningless collective, "ethnic".
In return, we ask restaurateurs to explain to customers the cultural - even ethnic - origins of the foods they serve. That will lead to better understanding.