Traditional British cuisine is all about hearty comfort food, and while it’s not always considered healthy by today’s standards, it’s still loved by the masses. Our London locals Chris and James have put together a list of dishes you simply must try next time you visit England.
1. The Sunday Roast
The Sunday roast is a real British institution. Every Sunday a good proportion of the population feasts on a roast dinner, either at home or down at the pub with friends. Typical roasts include chicken, lamb, pork and beef, with turkey being served on more festive occasions. The meat is traditionally served with roast or mashed potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, stuffing and vegetables.
Every good pub does a decent roast, but beware of inner city tourist pubs. The best places for a Sunday roast (even according to Time Out) are The Hawksmoor for a slightly fancier experience and Delauney for a truly upmarket meal.
Photo credit: Jeremy Keith
2. Fish & Chips
This one is obviously another British institution. Small shops (“chippies”) all over the country specialise in this deep-fried delicacy of battered cod or haddock and chips. The origins are not as British as some might think according to this article. The fried potato is believed to have originated from Belgium or France as a winter substitute for fish when the rivers froze over, and fried fish itself is believed to have been introduced by Jewish immigrants in Europe. No one can be sure who combined the two, but it became an affordable and tasty favourite for the working classes during hard times, and has been credited for keeping the British masses fed and happy during both WWI and WWII.
Nowadays fish and chips are outsold by other greasy offerings in London’s crowded fast food scene. Most good pubs serve decent fish and chips, and there are many fancier restaurant interpretations. To experience the humble neighbourhood “chippie”, however, you must check out Benny’s in Clapham Old Town – it’s certainly not fancy, just authentic and simple! Benny has been serving the neighbourhood for almost forty years and is one of the friendliest guys you’ll ever meet. He still offers among the most affordable meals in London, plus the walls of his place are lined with photographs of famous customers.
Photo credit: Adam Lerner
3. The English Breakfast
Also known as the “full English” or a “fry-up”, the English breakfast has become a staple dish in working-class pubs, cafés and greasy spoons across Britain. The composition varies from place to place, but traditionally includes back bacon, eggs, sausages, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding and toast, accompanied by English Breakfast tea or coffee.
As stated by The English Breakfast Society, however, its origins are slightly “posher”, dating back to the 13th century when the gentry (English high society) considered breakfast an important social event and used the breakfast table to display their wealth. The gentry would enjoy a full breakfast of hearty meats and farm produce before going out to hunt or embarking on a long journey. The English breakfast eventually found its way into the lives of the middle and working classes during the Industrial Revolution and was considered an important start to a long day’s labour. In the 1950s, approximately half the population was starting the day with an English breakfast, and it has since become a much-loved national dish.
The best place for a traditional English breakfast is a “greasy spoon” – a café that serves all-day breakfasts and an assortment of fried foods. Regency Cafe is a brilliant choice.
Photo credit: Gary Denness
4. The Cornish Pasty
According to The Cornish Pasty Association, the origin of the humble pasty can be traced back as far as the 13th century, but was firmly established in the 16th and 17th centuries in South-West England as a traditional Cornish dish among poor working class families. Pasty fillings typically included a mix of potatoes, onions and swedes – basically anything that was affordable at the time. The crimped crust edge was used as a disposable handle, allowing tin miners to eat with their hands without being exposed to dangerous toxins.
Today pasties are enjoyed as a hearty hot lunch or snack, and are available at most bakeries. The Ginger Pig offers some of the finest examples of traditional pasties in London.
Photo credit: slimmer_jimmer
England is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of apple cider. Its history is unclear and debated, but England’s perfect climate for apple farming, in addition to Roman and Norman influences, led to its production all over England. Large amounts of cider were produced on farms, and in the 18th century it became customary to pay a part of the labourer’s wage in cider, typically 3–4 pints a day!
Nowadays cider is available on tap at most British Pubs, including dry as well as sweet varieties. It’s a particularly popular drink during the warmer months.
Photo credit: Rebecca Siegel
Opening photo credit: Adam_T4