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Happy Eater of Fish and Chips Photo: lloydi, Feature Photo: davinaware

It’s easy to assume that we Brits don’t care about food.

While our neighbours the French enjoy long, leisurely lunches and fine wines in elegant restaurants, we eat our main meal at the bus stop, drink our own body weight in warm lager and then cradle a donner kebab on the way home like it’s our only friend. We consider chips and curry sauce a square meal and we do unspeakable things to peas.

But many of us love food, really we do. In fact, Britain is a haven for foodies if you know where to look. Thanks to immigration, our lack of culinary snobbishness and our willingness to try anything once, you can find anything you want in the supermarkets on this rainy isle. Even better, unlike Rome or Madrid, you can literally eat your way around the world in London.

However, if you’re keen to sample more traditional British fare, here’s what to look for:

Fish & Chips

Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas Photo: psd

Saying you’ve had British food after trying fish and chips in Leicester Square is like claiming you know all about Italian Cuisine after eating in Pizza Hut.

Instead, do it properly at The Fish Club in Clapham Junction where you can get Red Mullet and Sweet Potato chips to go with your mushy peas.

Otherwise, head to the coast and look for any traditional ‘chippie’ where the queue snakes out the door.

Bangers & Mash

Bangers and Mash Photo: avlxyz

Nobody does comfort food better than us. On a miserable cold day with a hangover to mop up, sausages, mashed potatoes and gravy are just the ticket.

In London, The S&M Café in Islington is the place. Film buffs may recognise it as the café used in the Mod classic Quadrophenia.

Chicken Tikka Massala & Basmati Rice

Chicken Tikka Massala Photo: michaelwhays

No one in India has ever heard of our number 1 favourite dish. Lovingly made just for us, the chicken is marinated in yoghurt and spices before being cooked in a creamy tomato sauce and sprinkled with fresh coriander.

Most British expats would sell their own families to get hold of one of these bad boys.

Check out The Good Curry Restaurant Guide to discover the best Indian English joints.

Traditional English Breakfast

If you’re planning on pounding the streets all day, this is for you. The breakfast of champions and fat workmen, fried eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, bread and tomatoes are followed by toast and tea.

Finish it and you’ll never need to eat again. Ever.

Ploughman’s Lunch

Ploughman’s Lunch Photo: dainee

Britain and Ireland produce some of the best cheeses in the world and that’s a fact, ladies and gentlemen. Look out for strong mature Cheddar, crumbly Wensleydale with Cranberry or blue Stilton.

Order a pint of real ale and a ploughman’s lunch (cheese, bread and pickles) at the Mark Addy in Manchester and you’ve got the real deal.

Scottish Salmon, Jersey potatoes and Norfolk crab

You’ll forgive the Scots for their deep-fried Mars Bars when you taste their salmon. Best served with new potatoes and a salad, Scottish trout is pretty damn fine too. For succulent crab, head to Norfolk on the East Coast of England.

Beer & Pub Grub

If you want to learn about England, go to the pub. Get a drink down a cold stuffy Englishman and before your very eyes he’ll turn into a loquacious comedian. Buy him a couple more and he’ll dance on your table with his underwear on his head.

Besides the in-house entertainment, the pub is the place to sample Britain’s one true passion; beer. Traditional hand-pulled English bitter is darker than lager and an acquired taste. If you like it, let The Good Pub Guide or Camra’s Good Beer Guide show you the way.

To soak up some of the alcohol, rich meaty casseroles like Beef Wellington or Lancashire Hotpot are just the thing.

Sunday Lunch

Roast With Yorkshire Pudding Photo: Annie Mole

It takes some preparing but by God it’s good. Whether you plump for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (small rounds of thick pancake batter which are baked and smothered with gravy), lamb with mint sauce, pork with apple or chicken with sage and onion stuffing, this is a feast made for sharing.

Crack open a bottle of wine and then sleep it off in front of the TV. If you really can’t make your own, The Albion in London’s Islington have won awards for theirs.

Pudding Heaven

Treacle and Cornish Ice Cream Photo:Kai Hendry

Sweet-toothed travellers need to come to Britain. Frankly, we rock when it comes to pudding.

Rhubarb crumble with Cornish vanilla ice-cream, the meringue shaped heart attack that is Eton Mess, treacle tart, the delightfully named Spotted Dick, they are all utterly delicious and unashamedly designed to make you fat.

If you’re in the North, make a pilgrimage to Bakewell in the Peak District for great trekking and the hands-down mother of all desserts, Bakewell Tart. In London, stuff your face in style at The Brew House in the grounds of a stately home.



About The Author

Natasha Young

Natasha Young has lived in Barcelona on and off since 2004. When not teaching English or writing, she can be found by the sea, stuffing her face with arroz negro or putting the world to rights over a bottle of Viña Sol.

  • Andy Jarosz

    Brilliant description of some of the best of British. One gripe though Natasha – why knock the deep-fried Mars Bar? It is a heavenly concoction, and one of the best places to sample this delicate pleasure is from the kiosk in the city gate in Chester.

    Oh, and three more words: Gregg’s sausage rolls.

  • Paul Sullivan

    Damn Natasha you just went and made me homesick!

  • Candice

    I seriously loved the food in Britain, particularly for the fact that everything had onions in it. Even pastries.

    Are peas supposed to be so bright?!

  • dfinepa

    Amen! Amen! Amen! I spend half my life here in Germany having to defend my home cuisine. And that in a country where jellied meat is considered a delicacy!

    p.s. Props for the Bakewell reference! ;-) I grew up in that rainy wee town. Just make sure you get the tarts and not the puddings! No innuendo intended…..

  • Kathy

    Love those mushy peas! Which I’d never even heard of before living in London last fall. Let’s just say Alfie’s Fish & Chips in the Houston of my youth didn’t offer them as a side with the fish 8-).

    And I’ve spent a fortune in an upscale-yuppie grocery in the US for English cheese that wasn’t as good as the cheapest stuff in my corner market in London. I miss the cheese!

  • Michelle

    Mmm, I made chicken tikka a few nights ago. And one of the very best breakfasts I’ve ever had was in London! Good stuff.

  • neha

    I love a good English breakfast but if I were to choose one and only one aspect of British food it would have to be the fresh scones and tea combination! Hmmm!

  • Eva

    Yum, yum, yum to all of the above! The food is actually one of the big things I miss about living in the UK. I’d add Jaffa cakes, the many awesome flavors of crisps, Branston pickle (kind of covered by the ploughman’s lunch, but you can’t mention it too often!) and, oh, someone up above mentioned Gregg’s sausage rolls. Count me in for a Gregg’s cheese and onion pasty any day. I loved their cheese savoury sandwiches, too, though I think that may just be a northern England thing.

  • Eva

    Oh oh oh and BEANS ON TOAST!

  • Natasha

    I may be biased, but I’m living in the continent of empanadas and I’ve still never had anything nearly as good as a Greggs Vegetable Pasty.

    Yes, those mushy peas do look a bit radioactive but I bet they’re gooood. On the east coast they’re eaten with vinegary mint sauce which sounds disgusting but tastes magnificent. The same could be said for baked beans.

    I didn’t mention Marmite as I feared that anyone from outside Britain, South Africa or Australia would have absolutely no idea what I was talking about but I mention it now. Marmite and butter on toast. I can’t live without it. When friends send it to me it always gets through customs, probably because nobody believes for a moment that it’s edible..

    Re Bakewell. Call me a tart but I’d settle for either.

  • AdventureRob

    This article has made me feel home sick and hungry.

    I miss my local chippy and indian take away.

    Don’t forget the cooking apples too, apple pie or apple crumble or apple and blackberry crumble with custard or ice cream is a great end to a weekend

  • joshua johnson

    sounds like a bunch plea for pro pea propaganda! Way to stand up to the mountain of data that suggests the UK has no culinary heart beneath that thin patina of mashers!
    Sometimes I have to defend my countries cuisine, why…just last week someone had the gravitas to talk down McDonalds…can you believe that!
    one word, two syllables; McGriddle!

  • Alouise

    I stayed at a B&B in London and had the English breakfast every morning. It was so filling and good I didn’t even think about food until the evening.
    And Eva those jaffa Cakes are delicious. I found an Italian Grocery store near me that carries them.
    I’m gonna have to go back to the UK soon and try the food I didn’t get to, you know to be fair and all.

  • Natasha

    Sorry Paul. Sorry Rob.

    If it makes you feel better, ever since I wrote this I’ve been having weird cravings for Cadburys Swiss rolls and Malt Loaf…

  • Alan Canon

    This yank had the best fish and chips he’s ever had in Cambridge. I thought my date would want the same, so I ordered two plates. She didn’t, so I et both myself! Heavenly. The traditional English breakfast, compulsory at our B&Bs from Bath to Berkshire, was a little heavy, meat-wise (I felt like a poor guest at not being able to clear my plate of sausage links AND bacon AND ham) but as the article says it was just the thing for a day of walking about.

    However, I visited a few rest areas on the Motorways, and you English may keep your prawn and mayonnaise sandwiches (served on foccacia bread.) But the Yorkie bars (they’re not for girls) made up for it: my Scottish physical science teacher here in the ‘states would bring them for his favorite students when he went home on holiday, so it was fun reliving a favorite confection from my teenage years.

    Oh, and your whole country is lovely. Rain and all. It’s a cold rain here in Kentucky as I type this. The British are welcome in Kentucky any time (Queen Elizabeth II, you were in my neighborhood last time you attended the Kentucky Derby: Churchill Downs is so close I can smell the horses.)

  • Hal Peat

    Anything like British sweet (aka “dessert”) is disgusting beyond compare for the most part, especially the stuff servied hot and especially what Natasha drools over like rhubarb crumble. I’d rather be tortured 10 times over in Guantanamo than be forced to eat rhubarb crumble. Countless British schoolboys know this who fought to sit next to me at lunchtime and switched the sweet plates with me when the master wasn’t looking. Happy memories (but not of rhubarb, thank you).

  • Boon

    Good for you standing up for British food! Many people make a mockery of it, yet it really is quite good. Granted, it doesn’t look like fine dining, but its good wholesome food and tastes good too, and that’s all that matters!

  • Daniel

    Thanks for this mouth watering article Natasha. But Chicken Tikka is quite well known in India, it’s served at all the North Indian and hybrid Indian restaurants in India I’ve been to. I dare say it’s more spicy than the U.k version though :-)

    I plan on visiting the U.K soon so I’ll be looking forward to all of these dishes.

    • Welshpenguin

      Chicken Tikka Masala – and it should have chips n’ rice…

  • Natasha

    Thanks for all the comments.

    Hal Peat, you sound like the perfect lunch partner. Two portions of rhubarb crumble. Doesn’t get better than that.

    Daniel, I now have even more reason that ever to go to India. I like it spicy!

  • Philippa

    Spotted dick and custard! Faggots and peas. Cider [hick!]. BEER!!!

  • David

    Fantastic article! You’re right about the desserts—really good! I just Googled Eton mess and now I really want to try some!

  • samuel welsh

    apart from fish and chips it looks good

  • Adam Roy

    Nice article. I’m afraid that, after a few trips to the UK, I’m unable to believe that British food can really ever rise above “not bad.” They serve beer a pint at a time, though, so it’s all good.

    • James Bullingham

       They must of seen you coming.

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  • Welshpenguin

    Best fish & chips: go to St David’s in Dyfed and get them from the shop on the square – and eat them sat on the steps of the cross in the middle of the square

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