If you’re anything like me, eating new food from around the world is one of your favourite things about travel and I often overlook famous British food in favour of dishes that are more exotic to me. Going to a restaurant and seeing things on the menu I’ve never heard of before, trying new flavour profiles, seeing how it’s presented, watching things being cooked in fantastic novel ways…I love it.
I always schedule my flights to a destination so that I arrive just in time for lunch or dinner, and of course, I will have sussed out exactly where the best places are and will be ready to work my way through a hit list of culinary hot spots.
But sometimes you just can't beat something homegrown and really, the most popular food in England is popular for a reason. So if you're wondering what do people eat in England and the UK...read on...
A typical English dinner will always serve you well (sorry) and with that in mind, I wanted to share some famous British food that you can make at home, or add to the list of things to sample when traveling to our lovely little Islands.
Start the day right with a full English
The Full English, or ‘fry up’ as it’s also called has many variations around the world and is one of the most famous British foods. The true English Breakfast has the following components - eggs, sausage, bacon, black pudding, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms and a slice of fried toast. A purist would refuse to allow baked beans, but I always add them too. They are particularly enjoyable after a big night when one is feeling slightly worse for wear. The Northern Irish have their own version known as the Ulster Fry and it comes with soda bread and potato farls/cakes as well.
Overindulge at an Afternoon tea
An Afternoon tea is an endurance exercise in eating and this most quintessential of British culinary traditions probably deserves its own article. I will attempt to be brief, but it’s definitely worth starting with this pro tip: do not treat it as a tea. There is enough food for lunch and dinner combined and don’t plan on doing much afterwards. And allow at least two hours to get through everything. Maybe even three.
The Afternoon Tea has three sections. You have your dainty sandwiches, like cucumber or smoked salmon, then your cakes, and then your famous scones with clotted cream and jam.
The scones are the main event. British scones are made with flour, butter, milk and sugar and glazed in an egg wash to get a slightly crisp exterior. These scones are round in shape, and light and fluffy and should be served warm with a big pot of clotted cream on the side and an assortment of jams.
There has always been much debate over which order to add clotted cream or jam onto a scone at afternoon tea. Googling the phrase ‘clotted cream or jam first’ comes up with over 400,000 results and it is a highly contentious issue. Those from Devon traditionally put the cream on the scone first then the jam, while the Cornish prefer the jam first then the cream. You get to choose the order for yourself, but I do have it on good authority that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II puts cream on first…so….
Anyway. Before I move on, I should probably also mention the actual tea (but really, who goes for the tea?). You would normally be presented with a menu of every type of tea you’ve ever heard of from Assam to Earl Grey and champagne often sneaks it way on there too now, which is much more exciting in my humble opinion.
Grab lunch on the go with a Cornish Pasty
Looking for a portable lunch with no pomp? Try a Cornish Pasty. Whilst the Duchess of Bedford invented the Afternoon Tea, it was the miners, fisherman and farmers of Cornwall who are responsible for this famous export. It’s a savoury pastry case in a half moon shape filled with tasty things like a thick beef stew or cheese, potato and onion. It is folded and sealed in a way to form a ridge at the side that’s an edible handle to hold onto whilst eating. This was originally designed so that any toxic residue on the hands of those eating it didn’t get ingested, and they would just throw this part away but now we eat the whole thing, because why wouldn’t you?
Welsh Rarebit (not rabbit)
Often mispronounced and thought to be a rabbit stew this is a cosy and decadent dish and makes a great supper or indulgent snack. A thick, warm cheese sauce made with beer (usually a stout) slathered all over toasted bread? Yes please. You’ll find many a well-known chef has made their own version of this that you can replicate at home including The Hairy Bikers. Or, try it at a traditional pub in the Welsh countryside alongside a pint of local ale.
Friday night takeaway? It has to be fish and chips
A ‘trip down the chippie’ is on the menu for a lot of Brits on Friday nights. For us of course, these chips are thick cut potato fries sprinkled in vinegar and salt serving as a bed for a crispy portion of battered, deep-fried fish. Only cod and haddock will do, and you’ll also want some mushy peas. Simply put, a sloppy pot of pulverised peas. I don’t know why, it’s best to just accept it. Oh, and some Tartare Sauce. In some coastal towns there are now gourmet fish and chip shops, like celebrity chef Rick Stein’s in Padstow which is well worth a visit.
Head to Scotland for haggis, neeps and tatties
Haggis is not, as some believe, a furry animal that runs around the highlands of Scotland. It is in fact a dish made with Sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal and spices and boiled in the animal’s stomach. It looks like crumbly sausage, tastes warm and peppery and is served with mashed tatties (potatoes), neeps (turnips) and washed down with a dram of Scotch whisky. It’s Scotland’s national dish, and if you go you really must try it.
The full works at a Sunday roast
Moving on to England’s national dish, the Sunday Roast! We pile our plates high with roasted meats and vegetables (don’t forget the Brussel sprouts) and slather it in gravy and it is the traditional time for families to come together. You may not know that purists will only serve the famous Yorkshire Puddings with roast beef and no other meat although a lot of people cheat because they taste so good with anything. I think Mary Berry’s recipe is one of the best if you’re making them yourself.
And finally, for something sweet, try an Eton mess
I’m not talking about Prince Harry after a few tequilas, Eton mess is a dessert made with strawberries, whipped cream and meringue all smashed together into one delicious mound. It was originally on the menu at the annual cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School and is now a summer staple all over the country. And very easy to make! Serve alongside a glass of the British summertime tipple, Pimms. If you’re unsure of Pimms, you MUST try it.
What not to eat in the UK
And now before I sign off...there is also some famous British food that you may want to avoid…
Kippers. A popular breakfast choice back in Victorian and Edwardian times (1837 – 1910) this oily fish has a very, very (very) strong smell and fell out of favour in the 1970s. My father loves them and whenever he insists on eating some, we have to vacate the house.
Spotted Dick. This is a baked dessert made with suet and dried fruit but really, with a name like that, would you want to try it?
Jellied Eels. Exactly what it says on the tin. Just don’t do it.