Britain is rated highly for many things, including its museums, nightlife, artwork. However, when it comes to British food culture, the country has a poorer reputation. Many believe British food culture to be either plain dull or a copycat for other countries’ dishes.
While the much-loved Indian curries and Chinese dishes are definite favorites on the British menu, Britain does have several creative dishes of its own. If you’ve yet to try a dish called toad in the hole or to appreciate the quality of a fish finger sandwich (or butty, depending on where you visit), don’t rule out British food culture just yet.
British food culture is a gastronomical pleasure, offering plenty of pub grub, comfort food, and hearty meals. And, if you don’t know where to start, we’ve curated the perfect guide for you. Here are our 11 top dishes, followed by some additional golden tips for British food culture. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
1. Fish and Chips
While the notion of frying potatoes is believed to have been ‘borrowed’ from European influence, fish and chips are one of the most famous British dishes to date. The meal is so prominent in British history that esteemed author Charles Dickens even gave a nod to the dish in Oliver Twist – describing a ‘fried fish restaurant’ in the London scenes.
Nowadays, for battered fish, Haddock is usually the preferred option. Lean, white fish meat, Haddock’s tender texture makes it one of the most popular fish for the dish. Although, vendors will occasionally opt for cod, which has a slightly sweet taste and is flakier than Haddock. Once the fish meat is prepared, it is coated in flour before it is dipped in water or beer. The covered fish is then fried in oil to create the much-loved batter that arrives on our plates, boxes, or newspaper wrapping.
The battered fish is typically served on a bed of chunky-cut chips. Chip shop curry sauce, mushy peas, and tomato ketchup are all then common toppings. Heavy application of salt and vinegar is another popular move after purchasing fish and chips in British food culture.
2. Sunday Roast
Self explanatorily served on a Sunday; a Sunday roast is a stereotypical and much-adored meal in British food culture. Sunday roast was originally intended to be a meal eaten after church, and it is a meal of excitement and anticipation in Britain – a comforting, weekly treat.
Sunday roasts traditionally are a beef-based meal, but you can also use chicken, turkey, lamb, and pork. Nut roast is a common alternative for vegetarians and vegans. The meat, or nut roast, is then cooked by roasting, using dry heat for cooking the meat evenly on all sides. When eating out, you can expect to choose meat serving preferences from rare, medium rare, and well done.
Aside from the main meat feature, a Sunday roast has many other essential elements. Yorkshire puddings, sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, and steamed vegetables are all necessary components to the meal. As a final touch, lashings of meat or vegetable gravy are then poured over the heaped plate. If you are looking for extra acceptable condiments, try horseradish, cranberry, apple, mint, or mustard sauce.
3. Bangers and Mash
A banger is just an affectionate term for a sausage in British food culture. According to Brittanica, the term came from World War 1 ‘when meat shortages resulted in sausages’ being made with new ingredients, such as water, causing ‘them to explode when cooked’.
In modern days, you don’t have to worry about exploding sausages. However, the meat and potato dish of bangers and mash remains a firm favorite across Britain. Sausage meat in Britain is typically made from pork or beef, while vegetarians and vegans can expect Quorn-based mince.
The sausages of choice are served atop of a generous serving of mashed potato, with a heavy drizzling of gravy. In favor of standard meat or vegetable gravy, onion gravy is usually preferred. A rich, brown sauce, onion gravy is a special twist on the classic sauce due to its deliciously caramelized onion slices in the sauce.
4. Steak and Kidney Pie
A staple meal in British food culture, steak and kidney pie is everything you look for in a traditional dish. Hearty, filling, and crave-worthy, the dish was popular in the 19th century and has yet to fall from its reigning popularity.
Steak and kidney pie is definitely for meat lovers. The filling consists of diced steak and kidney, which are usually taken from a lamb or pig. The meat is cooked in a thick gravy, often with sliced onions and mushrooms.
A shortcrust makes up the base for the pastry, while the top is a crispy light puff pastry. The pastry is often decorated with leaf shapes or fork-based patterns around the circumference of the pie.
If steak and kidney pie sounds good to you, don’t worry, it is a commonly served dish. Traditional pubs, restaurants, and even supermarkets sell the meat pie, so it will not be a difficult meal to track down when in Britain.
5. Yorkshire Pudding
A Yorkshire pudding is a savory dish and a necessity to many meals. You can expect outrage if a Yorkshire pudding is absent from a ‘proper’ Sunday roast. A nation-loved dish, the pudding originates from the Northern county of Yorkshire. It is said that cooks originally started using the leftover dripping pan fat for baking savory puddings while they waited for their meat to roast. From this ingenious frugality, the Yorkshire pudding was born.
The pudding is relatively straightforward to bake. Eggs, milk, and flour are whisked together in a large bowl to create a smooth batter. After seasoning with salt, the mixture is then decanted into baking trays to make individual puddings – similar to splitting a cake mixture into buns.
The Yorkshire puddings are taken from the oven less than fifteen minutes later. Always served crisp and golden, a trademark Yorkshire pudding is also sunken in the middle, leaving a perfect space for extra gravy.
6. English Breakfast
The gentry and the upper classes maintained the tradition of an English breakfast throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Originally seen as a display of wealth and refinery, the meal spread through the classes over time. According to The English Breakfast Society, the meal’s popularity peaked ‘in the early 1950s when roughly half of the British population began their day by eating the same English breakfast’.
A typical English breakfast consists of eggs – scrambled, fried, poached, or boiled. Fried bacon, black pudding, and cooked sausages make up the meat portion of the meal. For vegetables, fried tomatoes and mushrooms are served on the plate, with a generous scoop of piping hot baked beans. The plate is often completed with the addition of a couple of hash browns.
English breakfasts are available worldwide and often served abroad to draw in those British far from home! If you are visiting Britain, don’t worry, you can try an English breakfast in most restaurants, cafes, and pubs. One of the easiest meals to find in British food culture, it is easily one of our top recommendations.
7. Toad in the Hole
While many of the dishes on our list were developed by the upper classes, the toad in the hole is courtesy of lower-income households in British food culture history. Toad in the hole can be traced back to the 18th century and is believed to have been used to create a cheap meat dish. Nowadays, sausage is used in the dish, but cheaper meats such as pigeon or spam were previously used as low-cost replacements.
Toad in the hole stereotypically consists of a row of sausages cooked in a dough batter. Interestingly, the batter used is similar to the batter used for Yorkshire puddings. Since the dishes were developed at a similar time, you can notice the cost-cutting trend and commonly available ingredients like batter.
After baking, the dish is served on a main plate for diners to self-serve. A generous amount of gravy, typically meat, is then poured over your portion of toad in the hole – perfectly finishing the final touches to the meal.
8. Cornish Pasty
The pasty has an illustrious history within British food culture. Traceable back to the 13th century, according to Historic UK, ‘it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the pasty was adopted by miners and farm workers in Cornwall’. And, it was these miners and farm workers that strengthened the immortality of the famed Cornish pasty.
The pasty itself is made from shortcrust or rough puff pastry. Kneading together a mixture of flour, fat such as lard, and water, you create an elastic dough that you leave to rest refrigerated for a few hours.
While the pastry is resting, the filling is usually prepared. A Cornish pasty is traditionally filled with diced or cubed beef skirt. Potato, turnip, and onion, then bulk out the filling, all peeled and diced. Finally, thick brown gravy is often added to give the pasty some extra flavor and delicious consistency.
After this period, you cut the pastry into circles, adding the meat and vegetable mixture to the center. Folding the pastry over, you create a sealed half-circle shape – the Cornish pasty we all know and love.
If you would like to try a Cornish pasty, the best place to find one would be Cornwall. However, you are not doomed if Cornwall is not on your British itinerary, as Cornish pasties are served in shops and bakeries across Britain.
So, as a quick disclaimer, scones originate from Scotland, not Britain. However, thanks to the age-old practices of afternoon tea in Britain, the scone has remained constantly in the spotlight within British food culture. Its pronunciation is one also of the biggest debates amongst different British dialects – pronounced ‘scon’ or ‘ss-cone’.
Scones are not a massively sweet dish, although some are lightly sweetened or served with jam or marmalade to achieve a sweet taste. The baking process is very similar to baking biscuits, involving a mixture of ingredients including flour, butter, and milk to create a breadcrumb consistency. Scones also have fruits baked into their mixture. Raisins, currants, and even glazed cherries are added to scones – achieving a sweeter taste. Alternatively, some scones are made more savory with the addition of grated cheese.
If you’d like to sample British scones for yourself, you should have no trouble finding some. Book in for an afternoon tea, head to a café, or look for a bakery – there are plenty of scones to go round.
10. Fish Finger Sandwich
A newer addition to British food culture, the humble fish finger sandwich can be traced back to 1955. A simple concept but one many chefs have taken and created masterpieces with; a fish finger sandwich is classic comfort food in British food culture. The sandwich has that much status in Britain that in 2017 Birdseye hosted a Fish Finger Sandwich Awards competition. And, in the celebrity chef world, renowned chef Jamie Oliver even released his own recipe and twist on the budget-friendly dish.
A fish finger sandwich is simply made from cooked fish fingers and bread of your choice. When it comes to condiments and fillings, the world is your oyster. However, popular sauce choices include tartare sauce, tomato ketchup, and mayonnaise. For filling ingredients, shredded lettuce, rocket, and even gherkins make appearances on suggested recipes online.
A fish finger sandwich can be more elusive when dining in Britain. It is typically a popular household dish as opposed to a restaurant or café meal. However, Bill’s chain restaurant serves fish finger sandwiches across London, alongside the independent venues like Chapel Café in Cornwall. With a quick google search, you can find the nearest fish finger sandwich near you.
While not a dish on its own, Marmite is one of the most loved spreads in British food culture. However, it was German scientist Justus Liebig who actually invented the spread. Then, 1902 saw the opening of the Marmite Food Company in Staffordshire, Britain, and its popularity took off.
Marmite comes with the affectionate term ‘love it or hate it’. The spread has a notorious taste, with the brewer’s yeast creating a thick, strong-tasting gloop. Extremely spreadable and a source of national pride, Marmite has become added to the most unlikely of dishes over the years.
Whether it’s Marmite on toast, Marmite crisps, or even Marmite pasta – rest assured sampling Marmite will be an adventurous experience.
What is considered to be traditional British food?
While British food derives worldwide influences, traditional British food is what many associate with pub and comfort food. Yorkshire puddings, bangers and mash, and steak and kidney pie are all dishes considered to be traditional British food.
What is a typical breakfast Britain?
A typical British breakfast is an English fry up. A fry-up consists of egg, sausages, bacon, baked beans, and hash browns. Sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, and black pudding are also commonly served. An English fry up comes as a generous portion and all on one impressively heaped plate – the perfect, filling start to a day.
How important is food in Britain?
Food is an important part of British culture, and dining routines were massively influential as social practices throughout British history.
Dinner parties, afternoon tea, and lunches all made up important opportunities for socializing in British history, particularly in the Victorian and Georgian eras. In the Victorian era, multiple courses of a meal became eaten, and it is said that Queen Victoria would indulge in seven courses. In British history, dining was an important way to network and often a signature of social status.
What food is Britain famous for?
Fish and chips are the most famous British dish. While being a favorite for those visiting coastal towns, the dish is served across the county, with a local ‘chippy’ present in most towns and every city.