Some of the world’s finest restaurants are now cantered around the larger cities of England and they all serve world food from across the globe. However if you wish to taste the traditional English meal then it’s important to sample a few typically British dishes.
Food in England is simple, hearty and influenced by the foreign invasions and colonial conquests. For example the Viking, roman and French invaders gave the English saffron, nutmeg, pepper, ginger and other spices while its colonies like India gave them curries and hot sauces …all of which are now deeply embedded in British cuisine.
You will find that entire songs are dedicated to food like Christmas cake and hot cross buns… dishes which contain an abundance of French and roman gifted spices.
At one point of time during the Second World War essential produce like meat, butter, eggs and sugar were rationed which led to England gaining the reputation of a poor cook…a gastronomic butt of jokes.
However those days are long gone and the English have plunged themselves wholeheartedly into offering the finest restaurants and cafes in the world.
English food has traditions… For example, the roast beef and Yorkshire’s pudding (used as a starter and not as a dessert) was actually served all across England on Sunday lunches for the whole family. These two dishes along with fish and chips are called as national dishes of the English.
If you are an Indian… you will be intrigued by the fact that Chicken Tikka Masala is now the 4th national favourite food of England… waves of Indian and Pakistani migrations triggered this.
Roasted joints of meat are huge here… be it beef or pork or lamb or sometimes turkey, goose and duck. There are certain dishes like Toad in the Hole (Yorkshire Puddings marriage with sausages) and Bangers and mash (mashed potatoes and sausages).
In East London the pies were made with eel originally and Eel pies and mash with a bright green sauce (parsley) was a typical meal… jellied eels were also popular. Of course now if you ask for pie and mash in an English restaurant you will be served beef pie.
England has a lot of wet and rain laden days and this is when puddings like Spotted Dick with custard sides are savoured. England is noted for its non-sweet puddings like Steak and Kidney pudding and varied Pies like Cornish pasties, meat (beef/ pork/ chicken ) pies and these are served with chutney and pickled onion.
Shepherd’s Pie (minced meat, vegetables and potato mash in one dish) and cottage pie along with Gammon steak and eggs are other traditional English meals.
Unlike the French and the Italians, English desserts are uncomplicated and easy to handle besides being endowed with cute names. The Bakewell Tart was born when a careless cook put almonds and egg instead of jam on a tart…it’s a classic now.
Every 5th of November Guy Fawkes’s day is celebrated with fanfare here and everyone feasts on warm treacle toffee… it’s also known as Bonfire Toffee. Another staple English dessert is Bread and Butter Pudding… buttered bread with nutmeg and vanilla flavoured milk and custard.
Chelsea Buns were conceptualised in London in 18th century and these rolls filled with spice, sugar, dry fruits are now a speciality. Eccles cakes/ squashed fly cakes are a regional Lancashire favourite while the strawberry concocted Eton Mess is an invention from Eton College.
Trifles top the list of desserts in terms of taste… they have cake, jelly, sherry, egg custard, whipped cream etc. and is traditionally known as a leftover desert.
Mince pies get a sweet makeover on Christmas and other festive occasions and get stuffed with almond paste, nuts, sugar etc.
England’s “go to” food is deep batter fried fish (plaice/ cod/ haddock) and fried potato sticks that’s known as Fish and Chips. Fish and chips is sold in umpteen places on every street in rural as well as urban areas.
The story of English food would remain incomplete without a mention of the Afternoon Tea which too has had a deep tradition and almost like a ritual now. Read: Traditional English Afternoon Tea to know about that.
Great Eateries In England For Fish N Chips
London and Lancashire are at cultural loggerheads as both claim to be the birthplace of this famous dish though the first fish and chips commercial stall opened at Moussely near Oldham Lancashire in 1860. You can try paying a visit at Oldham’s Tommyfield market…it has a placard “the first British fish and chips stall in the world”.
You can choose to snack in any of the odd 8,500 fish and chip shops around UK… Chippy’s in London is the most popular takeaway eatery here. London is full of fish and chip stalls that are touristy and rather low on quality though Rock and Sole Plaice on Endell Street is kind of an exception.
There are several establishments like Chez Fred in Bournemouth, The Company Shed in Essex, Latimers Seafood Deli in Sunderland, Burton Road Chippy in Lincoln, Seniors Fish and Chips in Lancashire and Whetstone Fish Bar in Leicester that have been recognised for their quality and consistency.
Breakfast in England
Very few countries in the world offer a better version of breakfast than England and even if you don’t intent to have your breakfast in front of Tiffany’s… make sure that you try out this meal at least once. It’s called “the Full English” or “Fry Up” nowadays and it’s deliciously soaked in fat!!
Sausages (bangers), bacon, runny eggs (at least 2), tomatoes cooked in fat, kidney beans (home cooked or canned), fried bread and toast and strong tea are essentials while add on can include mushroom, potatoes, black sausages, kidneys, kippers and whatever else you desire. Modern England doesn’t expect its citizens to have it every day… this is reserved for special occasions.
Full English is actually a showcase for all the different kinds of English food and has now taken over the world… it’s offered everywhere from the Mediterranean to the orient. Like all English food this has its roots in history… Anglo Saxon customs dictate that house owners provide a hearty breakfast to neighbours and relatives who drop in. Estate owners in old England used the Full English to showcase the richness of their estate’s produce.
Great Breakfast Venues in England
England is again flooded with breakfast places but if you are picky then choose London’s Pistachio and Pickle on Liverpool Road (reservations recommended), Archibald in SE12 (famous for its vanilla brioche toast), Bellanger in N1 (duck egg buckwheat crepes are the stars of the show) besides Dishoom (multi locations) which provides full English breakfast tailored to the Asian Palette.
Other notable names are the Yorks Bakery Café in Birmingham, Vaughan’s Sandwich Bar in Shropshire, Delilah in Nottingham, Common in Manchester, Starks Kitchen in Newcastle, Laynes in Leeds and the Jericho Café in Oxford. If you are breakfasting at these places make sure you eat light for the rest of the day!!
Edible Snacks To Take Back Home From England
The British do not widely export their snacks like Americans so collect a few special edible collectibles when you visit Tesco or any other supermarket here. Hobnobs, Mc Vities Penguin, Sausage Rolls, Walka Cakes, Walkers Salt and Vinegar Crisps, scones and the Buttery Viennese Whirls are what you can load up a bag with.
And oh… do not forget loads of Cadbury Chocolate (Cadbury, Shakespeare and Benedict Cumberbatch are the three most awesome entities born here)!!
Traditional British Pubs
The British have been drinking in pubs for the last many centuries and pubs in England are social hubs where people hang out, converse, relax, date and even play games. Most pubs especially in semi urban and rural areas are attached to their own brewery and they sell several varieties of beer and alcoholic beverages including their own produce.
A famous British beer is bitter that’s darkish (brewed from hop and malt) and is served at room temperature. Lager is the most popular beer today and is light golden …its served ice cold. You will find a dark creamy beer called Stout in traditional British pubs…it orally came from Ireland.
Pubs in urban areas will have more extensive global menus and more glamorous settings but it’s the rural pubs you should go to if you want to understand the authentic English pub atmosphere… these are quaintly named after lions, foxes, stars, swords etc. A walk in the lovely English countryside followed by a few drinks and hearty food at the village pub will tell you far more about the local culture than a guidebook can.
Most British pubs will sell lunches and nowadays every kind of food can be found in the more urban pubs. However traditional pubs offer things like the Ploughman’s lunch that comprises of a gigantic piece of cheddar cheese, bread, onion and pickle (apple, meat pie, hams etc. are optional)… ploughmen used to take it out as their work meal.
Some of the most iconic pubs in London are the Betjeman Arms in St Pancras, Royal Oak in Borough, Bricklayers Arms in Putney etc. Cambridge Blue in Cambridge, Canal House in Nottingham, The Thatcher’s Arms in Essex, Old Green Tea in Bath, the lord Nelson in Suffolk are few other famous pubs in England and you can visit any of them depending upon the area you are touring.
Wine production and England are not famously linked to each other but a lot of sparkling wine is produced in the rich limestone filled soils of South England. Sussex, Kent and Surrey are the best wine growing areas in England and majorly Champagne variants like the Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir along with German strain Bacchus are grown here. Bottles of these beauties are cheaper than their French, Italian and Spanish counterparts so you can carry a couple of these back home.