English Traditional foods to try
British foods don’t often bring to mind a gourmet treat but there are some classic English foods that we do miss from our childhoods. This is part of the reason I love house sitting in England the chance to have all my old childhood English foods as well as heading out to some of the best farmer’s markets and market towns in the world.
When I think of my favourite food in England – things like fish and chips or a roast beef Sunday lunch come to mind but there are certain traditional English foods that make me smile because of the memories attached to them.
The English had a reputation for some of the worst cooking in the world and my mother is proof of that. It used to be that the English boiled the crap out of everything and when it was served all the food was the same grey mess. And then there were those quirky British dishes that defied explanation. English meals have come a long way in the past 30 years.
Well, that was then and now England has a reputation for some of the finest foods in the world. However, there are some old favourites that the British cling to and rightly so. These are some of the famous English food dishes to try if you visit England. Many of you may already be a fan of some of these stalwart English meals – I know my family can’t resist a Toad in the Hole.
But, and there always is a but, England is also home to some of the weirdest foods many of which were my childhood favourites and some which I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. So for your dining pleasure here is my list of the top 56 British dishes you must try.
Top 56 English Dishes
- Fish Paste
- Pie in a tin
- Saveloy and chips
- Chips with curry sauce
- Pie mash and liquor
- Jellied Eels
- Black pudding
- White Pudding
- Mushy Peas
- Battered Sausage
- Scotch Eggs
- Manchester Eggs
- Toad in the Hole
- Branston Pickle
- Pickled eggs
- Chip butties
- Singing hinny
- Hindle Wakes
- Spotted Dick
- Eton Mess
- Chelsea Buns
- Melton Mowbray Pork Pies
- Bakewell Tarts
- Bedfordshire Clangers
- Lancashire Hot Pot
- Cumberland Sausages
- Eccles Cakes
- Cornish Pasties
- Hogs Pudding
- Maids of Honour tarts
- Coventry God cakes
- Staffordshire Oatcakes
- Pease pudding
- Parking Cake
- Potted shrimp
- Rag pudding
- Stargazey pie
- Bubble & Squeak
- Lincolnshire Sausage
- Ploughman’s Lunch
- Battenburg Cake
- Gypsy tart
- Heavy Cake
- Jam roly-poly
- Lardy cake
- Saffron Bun
English traditional foods can be – hmm – well shall we say unusual in other countries. For example in Canada we wouldn’t dream of trying a meat pie from tin and when I mention Toad in the Hole to friends they give me that “oh no here comes some weird food” look. Foraging has always been a part of my British food memories. Picking wild blackberries, gathering rose hips and scouting for mushrooms was always fun when I was a kid. These days responsible foraging is growing and there are many organizations that will teach you how to forage.
These are some pretty traditional foods in England. How many have you ever had?
The following list of 56 traditional British foods some of which may sound weird or unappetizing to those of you who haven’t been to England, but give them a try you never know you may just like them.
- Paste: I know it doesn’t sound appetizing but I loved this stuff as a kid and I still slather it on toast or a sarnie when I need a comfort snack. They come in a variety of flavours: Sardine and Tomato, Salmon, Bloater and a few others these are my favourites though. This is the dictionary definition of English Paste. Paste: a thick, soft, moist substance typically produced by mixing dry ingredients with a liquid. “blend onions, sugar, and oil to a paste”
2. Pie in a tin: Specifically Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney pie. Lever off the lid and pop this into the oven and it doesn’t look too bad once the pastry crust starts to fluff and turn golden. However, upon its release from the oven and an attempt to serve on a plate, all your illusions of lovely steak and kidney turn to ashes because there really isn’t any in this pie merely some gluey gravy, nasty slimy undercooked pastry and tiny little pieces of some kind of meat. Exactly what I remembered LOL and kinda tasty anyways.
3. Saveloy and chips: oh on the drunken nights wandering home from the pub absolutely skint broke and needing some greasy food to sop up the alcohol. Meal of choice you ask? Saveloy and chips a load of lovely hot cooked chips smothered in salt and then Sarsons Malt vinegar alongside a rather large tube of meat encased in an orangey skin – the saveloy.
Best when eaten drunk with ketchup the saveloy is merely a hot dog by another name, around 12 inches long and thicker than the average dog and of course made of pork it is a rather bland tube meat but does the job of soaking up some beer.
4. Chips with Curry Sauce another treat to soak up the alcohol. Screaming hot chips with a creamy curry sauce slathered on top. So popular that you can now buy a myriad of curry sauce versions to make your own at home. This sauce probably first invited the English to try curries and thank god for their taste buds (well some of them) have evolved since that point.
5. Pie, mash and liquor, no not alcohol but the “gravy” that is always served as Piemashliquor, which is exactly what it says a meat pie, mashed potatoes and the liquor is the green thin liquid splashed on top of this tasty treat that fuelled many a working person in the East end of London.
Liquor is said to be the traditional water in which jellied eels were cooked, parsley is then added and a greenish thin liquid is the result. This liquor is then poured over your mash and pie and seems to some to be quite enjoyable. I always thought it smelled funny and never tried it.
6. Jellied Eels – that, of course, brings me to jellied eels, one of the more historic English foods and it could truly be considered the national dish of England (if you live in the East end) – jellied eels are to me absolutely revolting. Chunks of silvery eel coated in slimy gelatin. In the 18th century, native eels were plentiful in the River Thames and estuary, and Dutch eel barges and fishmongers a common sight.
One cheap and easy preparation, particularly among the East End working-class poor, was to chop the eels, boil them in herbs, and then allow them to cool; the eels would produce enough of their own gelatin so that a soft jelly would form around the pieces. (Today, a bit of gelatin is often added.) They say the taste is mild and salty but not fishy but you would have to get past the nasty look of them and all that jelly.
7. Winkles sigh…another East end favourite – tiny minute sea snails that you have to use a pin to dig out the meat and dip in hot butter or garlic mayonnaise.
8. Whelks are fat sea snails they’re cheap and lend themselves well to all sorts of flavours. Chefs these days are adding them to all kinds of seafood stir-fries and they are becoming very trendy in the upper echelons of British restaurants.
9. Cockles – a type of clam with the distinctive ridged shell you commonly see on British beaches. They are steamed like other clams and added to a dish or simply served with a dash of salt. Another of those traditional English foods that is seeing a return to favour with Chefs all over the country.
10. Black pudding, my husband’s favourite especially when served with a Full English or Irish breakfast, I have to say it does nothing for me. Blood sausage is exactly that – pig’s blood is collected, mixed with some herbs and a little oatmeal or binder pushed into a large sausage skin and served fried with breakfast.
11. White pudding or oatmeal pudding is another very traditional English food favourite. Like black pudding in size, it is a creamy white appearance but is made of pork meat and fat including lots of suet and oatmeal. Some areas have spiced it up with black pepper, and herbs but it still tastes like what it is a sausage made out of fat.
12. Mushy and marrowfat peas oh I remember my Bachelor’s tinned peas with great fondness. I hated those fresh frozen green spring peas we got in Canada and vowed to never eat peas again. On my return to the UK, the first thing I bought was a tin of marrowfat peas. Marrowfats are green mature peas that have dried on the vine, it is a starchy kind of pea that is soaked overnight and then cooked with sugar, salt and a little bicarb of soda.
They can be found dried in many Canadian grocery stores but here in the UK, there is always a quick cook canned kind that I remember fondly from my childhood. Marrowfats also make mushy peas that are the perfect side dish for fish and chips.
13. Battered sausages, it is what it is a cheap sausage; cooked, battered with the same stuff they use on the fish and then deep-fried. Not a particularly gourmet treat but cheap and available in every chippie anywhere in the British Isles.
Here in England, there is a great fondness for battered and fried foods of any description from the famous fried Mars bars to everything in between. Another area of British foods that I just can’t get my teeth into.
14. Scotch Eggs my most favourite treat in the world. These days these things have gone right upmarket and are even sold in Harrods no less. A hard or semi-hard boiled egg (lovely when the yolk is runny) is coated in tasty sausage meat, then rolled in breadcrumbs or oatmeal and deep-fried till golden. A warm Scotch egg tastes like nothing else when that gorgeous orangey yolk bursts over your plate. A cold Scotch egg is the perfect picnic treat, or midnight snack oh hell anytime.
This traditional English food is just that English, not Scottish, it is believed they were invented by Fortnum & Mason’s for picnics to be taken to the Ascot races.
15. Manchester Eggs: A variation of the Scotch Egg found in Manchester obviously. This uses a pickled egg which is then rolled in black pudding and sausage meat and deep-fried.
16. Toad in the Hole: Warning contains no toads and no holes unless you count the deep ditch in your pan of Yorkshire pudding that the sausages nestle in. I know I complained about battered sausages above but Yorkshire pudding is not mere batter. Yorkshire’s are cooked in hot fat and roast juices and rises on the edges like a heavenly pillow. Served with good gravy, mash and cabbage my families favourite English dinner – say no more.
17. Marmite spread a cracker spread like no other. Made from a yeast extract it is sticky, smelly and a dark brown a very distinct taste some have names umami. It is super salty and loads of vegetarians are using it these days as an ingredient, also note that the Australians have a version called Vegemite.
Apparently, a “marmite” was a covered earthenware pot, my guess is that is what it used to be cooked in or was dumped in after the beer had finished brewing. I’m not sure why this is such an English traditional food – its yeasty, salty soy sauce sort of flavour does nothing for me.
The early 20th Century saw Marmite become a classic British savoury treat as it was included in World War One rations. It would remain popular among troops and civilians alike in World War Two and beyond – it was sent out to homesick British troops in Kosovo in 1999.
18. Piccalilli: I love that name so British. This is a mustard-based veggie pickle that if god forbid it doesn’t include cauliflower it is not authentic Piccalilli. It is sharp and mustardy and coloured with turmeric and it is the best pickle to have with pork pies and cold ham.
19. Branston Pickle is the best served with a Ploughman’s Lunch, good cheddar and thick slabs of ham. Branston is a pickled chutney based product that always includes swede (also known as rutabaga or turnip), carrots, onions and cauliflower. The sauce is made from sugar, tomato, spices and vinegar. It is sweet and sticky and can be bought with a small chunk or a large chunk – heaven with a good cheese sandwich or a Ploughmans Lunch.
20. Pickled eggs are seen in every chippy that might indicate that they are good for those already pickled with alcohol (that’s the only time my hubs eats them). They are hardboiled eggs, pickled in brine or mainly in Malt vinegar with sugar, salt and occasionally some spices and herbs are added to gourmet them up a bit. My guess is that they used to preserve eggs this way centuries ago.
21. Chip butties, my favourite treat in the world, white bread just slathered with butter (Kerrygold Irish butter springs to mind here) then stuff with fresh crispy chips doused in malt and salt. The resulting mess is stuffed into your mouth and enjoyed for its pure and simple taste, nothing better.
22. Parmo, a very traditional Northern style treat after an evening drinking. The famous Teeside Parmo hails from Middlesborough is basically a chicken parmesan cutlet served in a box with chips. Nothing unusual in that, but apparently was brought to the area by an American serviceman who stayed in the UK after WWII. Apparently, the Grand Central Food Bazaar does a primo one as well.
23. Singing hinny also known as Stotty cake: This hails from Northumberland and is a scone-like griddle cake made with flour, butter, lard, currants, salt and milk.
24. Hindle Wakes: From Lancashire, this uses a boiling chicken that is stuffed with prunes then steamed and served with a lemon sauce.
25. Spotted Dick: A very dense thick pudding made of suet, flour lots of sugar and dotted with currants. The pudding is boiled for hours and served with custard.
26. Eton Mess: A traditional dessert from Eton which is basically crushed meringue mixed with jelly and canned fruit and lots of cream, in other words, a mess.
27. Chelsea buns: A yeast-risen dough that is flavoured with lemon peel, cinnamon and mixed spice. Drizzled with a glace icing these taste kind of like cinnamon buns.
28. Melton Mowbray pork pie: Made from chopped or minced pork often combined with bacon and put in a hand raised pastry crust. The pie is named after its place of origin Melton Mowbray, a town in Leicestershire.
29. Bakewell tart: A perennial English favourite this is simply a small tart with layers of frangipane (an almond flavoured filling) with jam on top and flaked almonds. It is always topped with a glacé cherry.
30. Bedfordshire clanger: A handheld pie like a sausage roll but with a savoury filling one end and a sweet filling on the other. The perfect lunch pie.
31. Lancashire hotpot: A slow-cooked lamb stew with a mix of seasonal vegetables and covered in sliced potatoes. Cooked low and slow to tenderize the meat.
32. Cumberland sausages: Well known throughout England and available in many farmer’s markets made from heritage port. The Cumberland is quite peppery but very tasty. It used to be found in flat circular coils but these days you can easily find a regular sausage shape.
33. Eccles cake: Basically a flaky pastry shell packed with sweet fruits, currants, raisins and sprinkled with sugar.
34. Cornish pasties: Everybody’s favourite handheld pie. Shortcrust pastry enclosed ground beef, onions small diced potatoes and seasoning including lots of pepper. It should be according to the pros 12.5% beef and 25% vegetables. Next time you are in a train station in England check out the West Cornwall Pasty Co – trust me you won’t be disappointed.
35. Hog’s pudding: Hog’s pudding is a type of sausage. There are different recipes and ingredients but usually, it is made of pork meat and fat, suet, bread, and oatmeal.
36. Maids of Honour tart: A traditional tart filled with cheese curds but you can find different variations some with jam which would seem to me to be a much better tart.
37. Coventry God cakes: This is usually given by godparents to their godchildren at New Years. It is a triangular piece of puff pastry filled with currants, cinnamon, nutmeg, candied fruit peel and sugar and dusted with sugar.
38. Staffordshire oatcakes: A crepe-like pancake made using oatmeal, flour and yeast which gives it a rather dense texture. They are particularly good stuff with breakfast items like eggs and bacon.
39. Pease pudding: Sort of like mushy peas but made with split yellow peas cooked in a broth or stock for around an hour. The peas meltdown making a sort of puree. This is usually served with bacon or ham.
40. Panackelty: This is a slow-cooked casserole dish containing root vegetables like carrots, turnip, onions, parsnips and potatoes a true one-pot meal from the Northeast of England.
41. Parkin or Perkin cake: A gingerbread cake made with oatmeal and black treacle. Once the cake is out of the oven and resting it becomes moist and sticky delicious served with a good old Bird’s custard.
42. Potted shrimp: Tiny little brown shrimp that are seasoned with nutmeg, butter and salt then placed in a pot, the pot is then topped with melted butter which hardens and acts as a preservative for the shrimp. By Kai Chan Vong – Flickr: St Pancras Grand and their potted shrimp with toast and pickled cucumber.
43. Rag pudding: Another of those fabulous English puds this one comes from the Manchester area. It’s a savoury pudding with ground beef and onions wrapped up inside a suet based pastry. This is then put in cheesecloth and boiled for hours before serving.
44. Stargazy pie: Everyone has heard of Stargazy pie and the famous story surrounding its invention. It was a pie born of famine in Cornwall when a fisherman braved the cold December waters to make sure Mousehole folk didn’t starve. Made from sardines or pilchards in cream with lots of salt and pepper and some boiled eggs. The sardines poke out of the flaky pastry crust “gazing” at the sky.
45. bubble and squeak: What can I say about my favourite leftovers. Bubble and Squeak is supposed to be potatoes and cabbage and gets its name from the “squeak” made from the cabbage as it fries. My mum always made it with Sunday dinner leftovers so turnip, potatoes, carrots, Brussels, onions and tiny bits of Sunday roast.
46. Faggots: Basically a meatball made from ground pork and other bits of liver, heart and belly meat mixed up with some herbs, salt and pepper. Faggots are traditional in the English midlands.
47. Kippers: We do love a kipper for breakfast at our house. These are herrings that have been butterflied and then cold smoked four hours. The end result is a yellow fish that is the perfect ingredient for a kedgeree or served with a pat of butter in a full English.
48. Lincolnshire sausage: Another heritage type sausage this one has loads of sage in it. They are a thick sausage as the meat isn’t minced but simply coarsely ground.
49. Ploughman’s: A cold selection of bread, cheese, pickled onions and raw onions, with some cold meats and of course Branston Pickle. The bread is white and crusty and good English butter is served with it. You will find these in pubs and cafes and they make a great light lunch.
50. Scouse: A Liverpool stew of root vegetables and lamb or beef. Served in pubs and it was the choice food of sailors as it is cheap and filling. Sensing a theme here with these English pies?
51. Battenberg Cake: A light sponge cake that has been coloured usually pink and yellow then cut into long square pieces and layered into a checkerboard pattern. It is then covered in marzipan and served sliced at a High Tea so you can see the pattern.
52. A gypsy tart: From Kent, this little pie’s filling is made from evaporated milk, muscovado (dark brown) sugar and a shortcrust pastry. It is teeth achingly sweet and made even sweeter when condensed milk is used.
53. Heavy cake or Hevva cake – A traditional cornish cake made with flour, lard and milk and studded with raisins with sugar on top. Called a heavy cake since it is not yeast-raised.
54. Jam roly-poly – Everybody loves a jam roly-poly. Traditionally this is a suet pudding with is spread with jam and then rolled up and served sprinkled with icing sugar.
55. Lardy Cake – also known as Dough Cake or Lardy Bread this is from the southern counties of England and is an egg enriched yeasted dough like bread but with spices and raisins in it.
56. A saffron bun, a deep yellow Cornish bun that is made with a spiced yeast dough coloured with saffron. The bun is flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg and traditionally contains currants and sultanas.
Last but never least is British chocolate. Who can resist a Fry’s Cream bar or a Flakey perhaps a Yorkie. That great British chocolate that simply melts in your mouth and tastes so good. It wouldn’t be right to miss out on that.
It goes without saying that everyone who loves meat enjoys a Sunday Roast meat dinner and of course a Full English breakfast I should definitely mention that some of the best Food Halls I have ever visited with a superb selection of products to enjoy are available in London- foodies should all visit at least once in their lives.
Do you have a favourite British food?
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