Beyond Fish and Chips and pies that aren’t really pies, it’s sometimes hard to nail down exactly what British food is. It can be easy to poke fun at the Brits for their cuisine, especially with some of their ridiculous names. Toad in the Hole?! But UK cuisine is an expedition through history. Its hearty and comforting style was born out of necessity when meat was scarce and the weather bone-numbing cold.
Traditional British Food
Each traditional British food has a story to tell, one that usually dates back centuries. From Jellied Eels sourced from the River Thames to Kidney Pie with mashed potatoes. The cuisine is far more than what meets the eye and the cozy local pubs are the place to enjoy it.
If you are visiting the United Kingdom make sure to try some of these British dishes to blend in at the local pub. For more food from the Commonwealth, check out Best Canadian Foods to Try.
1. Sunday Roast
A tradition if there ever was one. The Sunday roast dinner is the easiest way to forget the dread that comes with the end of the weekend. One of the most popular UK dishes, the base of the scrumptious meal, is the meat.
A typical roast dinner will have either lamb, roast beef, chicken, or turkey. If you’re dining out, you may even have multiple. The meat is then topped with a thick gravy and complemented by roasted potatoes, cauliflower cheese, and Yorkshire Pudding. While a variety of extra condiments is added depending on the meat, such as a mint sauce with pork.
The Sunday roast dinner is a quintessential part of British cuisine and culture. It’s a coming together of the family that has been a weekly event for generations.
2. Fish and Chips
Other parts of the Commonwealth have their own take on what comprises classic fish and chips, but you can trace the origins right to London. In 1860, the city opened the first fish and chips shop marking the beginning of the most authentic of British food.
Traditionally served with chunky chips (fries) and a white fish such as haddock, fish and chips is an everyday part of British culture. When the clouds are moody and the temps are low, the national dish is the perfect accompaniment.
Smothered in salt and vinegar and wrapped in newspaper, the chips are left to steam as they wait for prying hands. Alongside the hearty meal, you’ll find pickled onions and mushy peas. This recipe makes it easy to make at home. Make sure to also grab a deep-fried mars bar for dessert!
3. Shepherd’s Pie
The line between pie and, well, not a pie is a blurry one in UK’s food culture. One of the best traditional British food is Shepherd’s Pie. While it isn’t quite a pie, it sure is a filling meal.
You can find Shepherd’s Pie all around the UK. It began its rise to prominence in Scotland when it was covered in pastry. From its ancient origins, the pie later lost its shell in Ireland and was replaced by potato.
The pie starts at the base, with a layer of diced or minced lamb. The meat is then slathered with onions, an assortment of diced veggies then topped with a thick layer of mashed potato. After baking the pie, you’re left with a hearty and delicious dish that will soothe the winter blues.
Hot Tip: Switch the lamb for beef to make a Cottage Pie instead or pork for Pork Pie. This is the perfect way to make Shepherd’s Pie!
4. Bread and Butter Pudding
You may be catching onto a theme with British foods. Heart-warming and nourishing, most of the classic British dishes help to combat their consistently chilly weather. Not that we should complain. After all, it brought us Bread and Butter Pudding.
The traditional British food dates back to medieval times when the pudding was made out of bone marrow. Thankfully, the dish has transformed over the centuries. Now, bread is sliced and buttered before becoming the base of the delicious dessert. After topping the base with currants and raisins, the bread is blanketed with egg custard. Bake until the buttered bread is golden and crisp for a sweet post-dinner treat.
5. Sticky Toffee Pudding
Indulging in Sticky Toffee Pudding is something everyone must do when in the UK. In fact, the classic British dessert is one you’ll be racing to make back home. Thankfully, you’ll find everything you need at your local supermarket.
The pudding is essentially a sponge cake that is lathered with melted toffee, creating a thick and sticky texture. It’s sweet and delicious at worst and mouthwatering at its best. To complement the hot dessert, add a side of custard or ice cream, which will melt at the touch of the hot toffee.
6. Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Featuring root vegetables and a traditional Scottish pudding, Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties continue to be a favorite north of the English border. The national dish of Scotland, Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties is a must-try on your travels.
The original recipe would have called for a mixture of sheep offal, which includes the lungs, liver, and heart. The offal is then mixed with spices, onion, and oats before being boiled in a sheep’s stomach! Now, that may be hard for those following along at home. In modern times, the stomach has been switched for a casing, making it easier to recreate the haggis from your kitchen.
For those traveling around the United Kingdom, you’ll have to head to Scotland to try it. But it’s well worth a detour. Or try it at home with this recipe. Read more about Scotland at North Coast 500 – The Ultimate Trip Guide to Scotland’s Epic Drive
7. Irish Stew
As the name suggests, this traditional British food is beloved in Ireland. It’s a working-class meal with origins hailing from the 19th century. Irish Stew is typically served with meat and potatoes. In fact, some would say that those two ingredients are all that you need.
When the dish rose to popularity, mutton was the meat of choice. This was because the community kept their sheep longer than most. So long that the meat was only edible if in a stew.
Today, you’ll find that mutton has been replaced by lamb or beef while the potato is accompanied by a variety of root vegetables. These include parsnips, turnips, and carrots. While you’ll find Irish Stew across the UK, you can’t beat the traditional recipes made around Dublin.
8. Welsh Cawl
Arguably Wales’ national dish, the Welsh Cawl, is the perfect choice for those bitter winter nights. When the sun goes down long before you make it home, there’s something uplifting about having this soup waiting just for you.
Now I’m not usually team soup, but there’s something deliciously filling about Welsh Cawl. The British food straddles the line between soup and stew thanks to the bevy of additions to go along with the soothing broth.
After heating the stock, add potatoes, leek, carrots, and swede for a vegetarian version. A common meat addition is lamb, although you’ll often find beef used around the United Kingdom. Read more: The Best places to visit in Wales
9. Yorkshire Pudding
A traditional British food that you’ll regularly find with your Sunday roast, Yorkshire Pudding, is not your regular pudding. Far from a sweet dessert, the pudding is a savory pastry whose origins date back to the mid-1700s.
Instead of custard or sticky toffee, the pudding is caked with gravy and served as an appetizer. This filling starter was added because the main course would often be too small. Now, in more modern and gluttonous times, the Yorkshire Pudding remains as the accompaniment for the meat.
Baking the pudding at home will take a few tries to master, but adds an extra layer to your roast, or any of your favorite winter dishes.
10. Toad in the Hole
If you’re wondering what ways you can include Yorkshire Pudding in more dishes, then the Toad in the Hole may be the traditional British food you’re searching for. The name may be off-putting, but don’t worry, no toads were harmed in the making of this dish.
Using the pudding, the inside is filled with meat. The meat of choice was typically offal, pigeon, or steak. The pudding and meat are then cooked at the same time, causing the meat to rise to the top, like floating toads.
While this dish was used to further the meager meat supplies in the poorer communities, it grew into a popular dish that’s now served around the UK. Pork sausages are now the usual protein addition, with many restaurants taking liberties and adding their own twist to the meal.
11. Lancashire Hot Pot
Many of us can sympathize with the plight of Lancashire women in the late 1800s. With the local cotton industry thriving, many went to work, leaving little time at the end of the day to cook. A common problem for many of us in the 21st century. Their solution was the Lancashire Hot Pot.
The slow cook recipe is the perfect option for anyone wanting to come home with a delicious dinner ready to be served. The hot pot comprises lamb (mutton in the old times), a collection of chopped vegetables topped with a layer of thinly sliced potatoes.
Left in a high-rise dish to cook throughout the day, the ladies of Lancashire were able to return home to a hearty meal. You can too if you try it from this recipe.
12. Pie, Mash & Liquor
Around the same time that the fish and chips phenomenon swept across the UK, the original Pie, Mash, and Liquor were finding popularity in downtown London. The original dish was comprised of eels that existed in great numbers along the polluted River Thames. The eels were added to a pie and served alongside mashed potato.
As for the liquor part, well, that was created from the eels but doesn’t contain an ounce of alcohol. As better meats became readily available, the Eel Pie, Mash, and Liquor fell out of favor until minced beef replaced the fish.
Since then, it has risen to be one of the most popular British foods and is covered in a delicious but unsightly green sauce made from spices and parsley.
If you still want to try eels when in London, jellied eels are commonly found in the city’s pie and mash shops.
Found at every afternoon tea across the UK, scones are a fluffy, sweet bread with a crisp exterior. The dish harks back to the 1500s in Scotland. But it was the Duchess of Bedford that caused scones to become so popular and a necessity with your afternoon cup of tea.
She would often become famished around 4 pm, and one day asked for some sweet breads. Scones were placed on her plate, beginning her own obsession, and soon the nation followed.
Scones come in a variety of tastes, some savory, some sweet. But the scones in southern England are renowned. Here you can enjoy your afternoon tea with a scone, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. Now, if only we could all agree on one pronunciation.
14. Steak and Kidney Pudding / Pie
Also known as Steak and Kidney Pie (because it actually is a pie), this traditional British food is a common lunch order throughout the United Kingdom. The suet pastry is mouthwatering thanks to its buttery and flaky taste. The inside is a burst of warm gravy, steak, and kidney (from pig or sheep) along with plenty of chopped onions.
The steak and kidney pudding is typically served alongside mashed potatoes, beans, and an additional coating of gravy. The meat-centric meal is sure to be filling, but when accompanied by a refreshing ale, you’ll feel like you truly understand local cuisine.
15. Deep Fried Mars Bars
If you’re wandering around the UK and get a hankering for a warm sweet treat, then make a beeline for your local fish and chip shop. A common menu item alongside your haddocks and fries is the deep-fried Mars bar.
You won’t find this dessert in the healthy eating pyramid, but its confectionary goodness is beyond tantalizing. A deep-fried Mars bar is first caked in batter (beer is sometimes used) and then dipped into the searing oil, locking up all the sweetness and adding a crunchy exterior.
Part crispy donut, part succulent chocolate bar, the deep-fried Mars bar will give you that sugar boost to continue on your adventures.
16. Full English Breakfast
One traditional British food you would have come across prior is the full English breakfast. Served around the world, you still can’t beat the original. Just be prepared for an epic cooked breakfast spread that will tie you over well past lunch.
Comprising eggs how you like them, baked beans, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, and fried bread, it’s no wonder why they call the Full English Breakfast a fry up. It’s been replicated but not duplicated, and there’s no better way to start your morning.
The simplicity of the dish, however, makes it one of the best UK dishes to try at home. While when traveling around the UK, you’ll find unique twists depending on the country you’re in.
17. Black Pudding
Commonly found on your Full English Breakfast Plate, Black Pudding is a polarizing but quintessential British food. The item is similar to a sausage but is made with blood combined with a mixer such as oatmeal. After a while, they coagulate.
Black Pudding has been around for centuries, with evidence tying it to the 4th century. From the days of Roman occupation to now, the dish has remained controversial, especially in some religious communities.
You’ll either love it or hate it, but as you travel around the UK, give it a shot to experience one of the oldest British foods.
18. Bangers and Mash
Hot and hearty comfort foods make up the bulk of the local cuisine. This is arguably why pub culture is so strong in the United Kingdom. You’ll find many of these dishes on the pub menu, with a long-time staple being Bangers and Mash.
Simple and delicious, Bangers and Mash is a typical working-class meal. The meal features British sausage (exact type changes wherever you go) and, of course, mashed potatoes served with a generous portion of gravy, vegetables, and often baked beans.
A great example of a British colloquialism is the term banger. At no other time is the term used to describe a sausage. So be sure never to order a sausage and mash.
19. Bacon Sandwich
From the most controversial of traditional dishes to something almost everyone can get behind, the Bacon Sandwich is as delicious and simple as it sounds.
The sandwich is a common breakfast item. Being so simplistic, it’s easy to make at home if you’re in a rush, while take away joints will have it ready in no time. The bread is usually cut thick, with sourdough being a scrumptious option. While the rasher bacon is lightly cooked, making it easy to chew.
Chosen condiments can vary for taste with tomato or Worcestershire sauce, a popular choice. If you have time, add some arugula and mozzarella cheese.
20. Scotch Egg
A version of Nargisi Kofta, an Indian dish, Scotch Egg is a much-loved but odd dish that’s popular at local picnics. The egg is first hard-boiled before being wrapped in sausagemeat and deep-fried.
The sausagemeat is generally made from minced pork and topped with herbs, spices, and breadcrumbs. Once the dish is frying, wait until it turns golden brown and has a crunchy exterior. From there it is placed in the fridge to later be served cold.
If you’ve been invited to a picnic in the park by your UK mates, bring along some Scotch Eggs to show off your knowledge of local cuisine.
21. Jam Roly Poly
Through the bulk of the 1900s, Jam Roly Poly was a welcome sight at after-school lunch. The delectable dessert has a shorter history than many British dishes on this list, but Jam Roly Poly is held in high esteem.
The dessert is simple and easy to make from your own kitchen. The “stodgy” dessert is created from dough made from suet and covered in strawberry jam. Afterward, the dough is rolled up before being baked or steamed. Once the dessert is ready to be served, add on a hearty contribution of hot custard (and extra jam if you wish) for a memorable burst of warm flavor.
It’s no wonder school kids looked forward to Jam Roly Poly every afternoon!
22. Cullen Skink
Although a little harsh on the ears, Cullen Skink tastes a lot better than it sounds. Originating in Cullen, a small town on the northeast coast of Scotland, Cullen Skink quickly spread through the northern lands.
The soup rapidly warms the body and spirit, a part of what made it so popular during the long Scottish winters. Back then, the fish soup was made from cold-smoked haddock known as Finnan Haddie. Now you’ll find all sorts of haddock that is used, accompanied by a delicious broth.
The best way to try Cullen Skink is in Scotland as it rarely features on menus elsewhere in the UK.
23. Christmas Pudding
Alongside Trifle, Christmas Pudding is a popular dessert post-Christmas dinner. After enjoying all the trimmings of a large feast, with plenty of Shepherd’s Pie and Sausage Rolls, the nation returns to the table to enjoy a sweet mix of fruit, spices, and a dash of alcohol.
Christmas Pudding first appeared on local plates back in the 14th century. Back then, it also included mutton and beef, restricting its popularity. It was changed to what we know today a few decades later before being banned by Puritans. 70 years later, King George uplifted the ban, allowing the populace to once again indulge in the Christmas dessert.
To make it at home, you’ll need to soak stale bread in milk before adding candied citron, nutmeg, eggs, raisin, and, importantly, brandy before boiling. Serve alongside whipped cream.
Vegetarian British Cuisine
With so much traditional British food featuring meat-centric recipes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the UK will be difficult for vegetarian and vegan travelers. Thankfully, this is not the case.
The vegetarian movement in the United Kingdom actually has a distinct starting point. Cranks, a restaurant in west London, championed the movement in the 1960s, bringing a breadth of delicious vegetarian dishes and twists on traditional cuisine to our plates.
It’s easy to experience some of the best dishes on this list with vegetarian replacements such as tofu or tempeh. While authentic international cuisine, especially Indian is readily available around the UK.
Why we love Traditional British Food
The best British food will leave an indelible mark on your travels through the United Kingdom, while quickly making an appearance in your home kitchen.
The style is simple. It’s homely, savory, and soothing. The cuisine makes the cold weather bearable and the summer picnic scrumptious. Some will become instant favorites, whether it’s Cottage Pie or Sticky Toffee Pudding, the choice is yours.
But when you’re back home and missing the cobblestone streets and the Yorkshire countryside, cozy up with any of these easy meals, and be whisked right back to the UK.