Guest Long Read: Brit Food – 10 Delicious British Dishes Every Anglophile Should Know About – What’s Your Favorite?

British food has been accused of being boring and bland but dedicated Anglophiles know better. This article is a list of 10 British dishes every Anglophile should know about. Whether it’s their interesting story, their plain deliciousness, their significance in England and Great Britain or just their funny name, you should absolutely know about these dishes – and give them a try on your next trip to Blighty.

The Cornish pasty

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While there are many varieties of pasties, the Cornish pasty is one of the all-time favourites. With the first references dating back to around 1300, I think I can safely say that the Cornish pasty is a classic, traditional English pasty which has been enjoyed by the English for centuries.

A Cornish pasty consists of suet pastry filled with beef, sliced or diced potato, swede  and onion, all lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. A genuine Cornish pasty has a ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top . The filling should have a chunky texture, and all ingredients must go in raw.

It has been around for centuries but the industrial revolution really made it take off. It was a favourite of the tin miners in Cornwall, who often had to eat on the move. Being portable and nourishing, the Cornish pasty was ideal to help them through their long working days. The crimping on the side provided the workers with a nice handle to hold the pasty while eating and the handle would have been thrown away afterwards . It was a clever design because the miner’s hands were contaminated with dangerous chemicals from the mines.

After campaigning from the Cornish Pasty Association from 2002 until 2011 the Cornish Pasty was awarded the protected geographical status in Europe. Which means that in order to be called a Cornish pasty, it has to be prepared in Cornwall.

Stargazy pie

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The stargazy pie hails from Mousehole (pronounced: mow-zul), Cornwall, in the South-West of England. The pie is made with whole pilchards, eggs and potatoes which are all covered by a pastry crust. The name comes from the dish’s unique feature, which is the heads of the fish, and sometimes even the tails, sticking out of the crust gazing skyward.

The pie is traditionally eaten on Tom Bawcock’s Eve, which is held in Mousehole every year on the 23rd of December. The people of Mousehole celebrate the memory of the legendary resident Tom Bawcock, who saved the village from famine. Long ago, on the 23rd of December (the year was never specified) the village was near starvation because terrible winter storms had trapped all the fishing boats in the harbour. Tom Bawcock, a brave widower, dared to go out to sea in the harsh weather. He went fishing and brought back enough fish for all those living in Mousehole, saving the village from imminent starvation.

It is still served in the Ship Inn pub, Mousehole’s only pub, on Bawcock’s Eve every year as a tradition based on this legend.

Fish and Chips

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Fish and chips is an immensely popular dish and viewed as typically British. It became particularly popular among the working classes in the UK around the second half of the 19th century, when the invention of the train and the railway developments made it possible for the fish to be delivered quickly all over the country. This enabled many working class people to taste fresh fish for the first time.

In 1860 the first Fish and chips shop was opened in London by Jospeh Malin in London’s East End. He was probably the first to ever sell the fish alongside chipped and fried potatoes which, up until then, had only been found in Irish potato shops. The number of ‘chippies’, kept growing and around the 1920’s there was a peak in the number of shops, with around 35,000(!) throughout Britain. Although that number has dropped, there are still over 10,000  fish and chips shops in Britain nowadays.

In chips shops in the United Kingdom and Ireland the fish and chips are traditionally sprinkled with salt and vinegar when it is served, but it’s optional. The preferred sauces for accompanying fish and chips are brown sauce and tomato ketchup and more recently Brits have taken to adding mayonnaise as well.

In Britain and Ireland cod and haddock are the common fish for fish and chips, but vendors also sell others. British chips are thicker than the American-style French fries sold by many multinational fast food chains. Often referred to as chunky chips – in the United states the closest equivalent are steak fries.

Bedfordshire clanger

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The Bedfordshire clanger is a dish from the county of Bedfordshire in the central part of England. It is a suet crust dumpling with an elongated shape. It was originally a dumpling, which means it was boiled or steamed, but nowadays it is often baked. It has a sweet filling at one end and a savoury filling at the other end. Both are separated by the pastry equivalent of a dam. While the savory end is usually meat with diced vegetables and potatoes, the sweet end is often jam, sweetened apple or other fruit. This dish combines a main course and a desert into one package.

But how do you know which end is which? Both ends have markings to guide you. Two holes means it is the savoury end and three slits of a knife denote the sweet end.

In days gone by, the Bedfordshire clanger was made by women for their husbands to take to their job in the field or in the mines.

It would have been prepared using left-overs from the Sunday roast and whatever fruit was available. It was ideal for the working class because it was cheap and wholesome.

The dish’s popularity dwindled after the industrial revolution but today it is still available at some hotels, restaurants and bakers.

Piccalilli

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Piccalilli is a condiment made of pickled and chopped vegetables in a thick mustard sauce which makes it bright yellow. It is used as an accompaniment to cheeses, cured meats, sausages, pies, corned beef, sandwiches and chips. It is extremely popular in Britain and is also sold in India, where it is part of the long standing tradition of Anglo-Indian cuisine. This cuisine was inspired by Britons in India and the Far East. Like most pickled foods, piccalilli is designed to keep vegetables good for extended periods of time. Pickling was used to store vegetables in areas where farming was hard or to keep vegetables good in the winter.

The ingredients tend to vary, but mostly include vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and cauliflower, although others can be added as well. Goodccalilli will always include mustard and turmeric as these give it the distinctive yellow color, and it can also include chillies for an extra spicy piccalilli.

In older recipes copper and brass pans were sometimes used to deliberately turn the vegetable mixture bright green by boiling the vegetables in vinegar in a copper/brass pan. The copper/brass would react with the acid while cooking and form verdigris, which is a green toxic pigment. Of course, this way of preparation is no longer recommended.

Full English breakfast

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The English breakfast is likely to be the first thing people come up with when asked about British food. Other names for it include ‘full English breakfast’, a ‘Full Monty’ or a ‘fry up’. It started out in England and became so popular that the Scottish, Irish and Welsh came up with their own varieties. An English breakfast is usually made up of, but may not always include eggs, bacon, sausages, black or white pudding, potato, bread, baked beans in tomato sauce, fried mushrooms and tomatoes.

Let’s talk about the regional varieties. In Scotland additions might include haggis, porridge, potato scones and oatcakes. In Wales you will get laver, lavercakes or Laverbread (patties made of seaweed) with your breakfast. Within England there are varieties as well, with the coastal areas often adding (smoked) pilchards or herring.

The history of the traditional English breakfast may stretch back as far as the 13th century, where the gentry of the time adored it. The breakfast table was used as an opportunity to display wealth by serving an array of elaborate dishes.

However, it was not just a meal for the wealthy. The combination of food items that we call a full English breakfast nowadays probably emerged during the industrial revolution. The working classes began to eat a full English breakfast on a regular basis because it provided them with enough energy to get though their day of harsh manual labour.

Nowadays, it is not eaten as often because in the hectic modern lifestyle there’s not much time in the morning. It is also that with today’s health-conscious mindset that this calorific breakfast is not a big favourite. Today, it is mostly reserved for weekends and holidays and it is still available in many pubs and hotels.

Cadbury

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Yes, chocolate is not a ‘dish’, but how could I not include Cadbury in this list? Chocolate is one of the most loved foods in England (and the world), and this particular chocolate manufacturer originated in the heart of England. You can even visit the factory and its adjacent ‘Cadbury world’ and find out about the history of the company and the process the cocoa beans go though on their way to becoming chocolate. All your Willy Wonka fantasies will come true when you enter the Cadbury world. Having  visited it twice, I can vouch for the fact that it is a fantastic interactive day out for the whole family (including free chocolate!).

Cadbury was established in 1824 when John Cadbury opened a shop in Birmingham (England, of course, not Alabama) at 93 Bull Street. It was here that he started selling, among other things, cocoa powder and drinking chocolate as well as tea and coffee. His business was booming and eventually he started manufacturing products himself in a factory in Crooked Lane in 1831. When his first factory became too small, he moved the whole production process to the outskirts of Birmingham. With this new factory he built a neighbourhood, Bourneville, for his factory workers. The houses and facilities in Bourneville were much better than what workers usually would normally have been able to afford in those days.

Ever since moving to Bourneville, Cadbury has been doing very well. It continuously expanded its range and eventually became a household name in England, Britain and beyond. Their delicious chocolate is available all over the world and is enjoyed by people all ages.

Scones

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Scones are single-serving cakes or quick bread.  They are a much loved part of high teas, cream teas and afternoon teas. Traditional English scones may include raisins or currants, but are often plain. They are traditionally eaten sliced in half with each half covered with clotted cream and strawberry jam, but they can also be topped with honey, lemon curd or any other  jam or preserve.

The name might have come from the Gaelic “sgonn” (rhymes with gone), which means a shapeless mass or large mouthful’’, the Dutch “schoonbrood” or even the German “sconbrot” . Both the Dutch and the German term can be translated as nice or beautiful bread. However, no one is really sure where the name came from.

The word is pronounced “skahn” in Scotland and Northern England (rhymes with gone) and “skoan” in the south of England (rhymes with own), the pronunciation adopted by the U.S. and Canada.

Bakewell tart

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A bakewell tart is made up of a shortcrust pastry base that is covered with fruit paste, filled with almond-flavoured cake mixture and topped with sliced almonds. The fruit paste can range from strawberry jam, lemon curd and coconut fondant to apple puree and everything in between. Other varieties can include honey, nutmeg, lemon zest in the almond mixture, cinnamon or even preserved fruit on top.

The most popular variety is probably the cherry bakewell, which consists of the same shortcrust pastry base topped with a red jam, filled with almond-flavoured cake mixture and topped with plain white icing and a candied cherry in the middle.

The term bakewell tart has only been a common name since the 1960’s. However, it is generally accepted that the bakewell tart has developed from the bakewell pudding which is suspected to have existed since Tudor times. 

Faggots

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Faggots, in this sense, are a type of meatball made from off-cuts and offal, often pork. It’s made from pig’s heart, liver, fatty belly meat and/or bacon, which are minced together with herbs and sometimes breadcrumbs. They are a traditional dish of the Midlands, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire, where they are often referred to as ‘savory ducks.’ Their traditional accompaniments are mushy peas, mashed potatoes and onion gravy.

They originated as cheap yet nutritious food for the country and mine workers, which couldn’t afford the more expensive cuts of meat. They were first mentioned in print around 1851 but have fallen out of favor over the last few decades. However, there has been a revival and they’re now available all over the UK.

Have you had any of these dishes? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments! 

About the Author: My name is Kayleigh Herber. I live in the Netherlands and have been an Anglophile for as long as I can remember. I’m fascinated with Britain; the beautiful landscape, the delicious food and the friendly people. On average,  I visit England once every two years. I have always been a fan of British food, and always defend it when people say it’s terrible. It has changed so much over the last few decades and people should know how delicious it really is.

Comments

  1. avatar says

    My sister’s father-in-law was a native of Lands End in Cornwall. He intended to sail to America on Titanic, but his companion fell ill and they sailed on another ship at a later date. Lucky for my sister or her husband would never have existed. He brought with him the pasty recipe that we all enjoyed. This American boy grew up eating Cornish Pasties! Brilliant!

  2. avatarBecky says

    how could you forget Scotch Eggs, Bangers and Mash, Toad in the Hole, Spotted Dick, and Treacle Pudding?!?! :) But I do love all of the above, except Faggots and Stargazy Pie, I have never had them.

    • avatarLinda says

      Sausage rolls too. And after the war, when meat was scarce, my dad made rissoles. I have no clue what they contained. And don’t forget trifle! The real one, with booze in it. (It won’t hurt the kids, if served rarely)

  3. avatarVirginia Morgan says

    Cornish pasties, we also make these in Michigan. The Bakewell tarts are also good but in New England we call them maids of honor.

  4. avatar says

    How about a recipe for pineapple tarts please….they seem to be a very closely guarded secret, I am especially interested in the type of cream they use, and please do not suggest mall fluff…thank you..

  5. avatarAnon says

    Sunday roasts!

    Scones (which I pronounce rhyming with “gone” because my husband’s a northerner and to differentiate it from coffee-shop scones which aren’t the same thing) and clotted cream with blackcurrant jam are just about my favorite thing ever.

  6. avatar says

    Have had all but the stargazy pie, clangers, and the bakewell tart. Favs are fish & chips and scones with clotted cream and jam. We visit Britain every other year to visit wife’s family in Dorset (Poole).
    p.s. – You forgot to mention Marmite (love it!)…

  7. avatarSue Hospedales says

    As a brit living overseas, i miss my Sunday morning Fry up…you have to have Black pudding on it, or blood pudding as it’s known this side of the pond….I am Derbyshire born, and lived not far from Bakewell , love those tarts but they were bigger than the ones shown in your article, Another dish typically British Tripe and onions served with Mash and peas, to me Savoury Duck is another dish , not faggots…it is more like Haggis but not in a skin….when we have visitors they always bring Walkers Cheese& onion crisps, Marmite, Galaxy Chocolate, milky bars, thorntons toffie ,Ribena,

  8. avatarTraveljunkie says

    Sticky toffee pudding, scotch eggs, bubble and squeak, and although it isn’t technically ‘food’ it is made of apples – lovely British cider!

  9. avatarBrenda Lezala says

    I have had an authentic Cornish pasty, and can find nothing like it in the US. Clotted cream should have an entry all it’s own. And what about shepherds pie?

    • avataranon says

      Ive searched high and low and cannot find any place that does the pasty justice in the us. We have a place here that does nothing but pasties, but they aren’t as good.

  10. avatarJason says

    Faggots were my favorite as a kid. Now that I live in the US, that sounds a little bit strange to say.

  11. avatarJenny says

    I’m born and bred British, Never heard of Stargaze Pie or Faggots. Shepards Pie, Traditional English Roast with Yorkshire Pudding. 2nd the scotch eggs, Toad in the Hole, and Bangers and Mash.
    For she who asked about pineapple pie – it is not a traditional Englisg dish.

  12. avatarAnn Frampton says

    I never had the Stargazy Pie or the Bedfordshire clanger but grew up on war rations eating all of the rest, except for the chocolate. We had smarties shared out by the color. My uncle was a butcher who made the best Faggots ever, along with sausages to help out the meat ration. The fish would be delivered from the coast, fresh caught that morning and my mother would pick her choice from the back of the van. Cornish Pasties were a treat, lard for the pastry was in short supply. We used to wait for hours on a Saturday morning to get a lb. of lard from the tripe shop, along with the tripe and hope by the time we reached the front of the line there was still some lard left. Never did we go hungry, the women in those days cooked everything, except the bread, that was delivered daily by horse and cart. As was the milk with the thick cream on top. Vegetables, you grew yourself if you had a patch of ground, or an allotment to share.

  13. avatarDiane McDonald says

    The first thing I ever had was Toad in the Hole, from a recipe found in a British Girls Magazine back in the 60’s that was sent by my pen pal I thought it was delish! But I love fish and chips and we have Pasties here in Michigan.

  14. avatarLanina123. says

    Scone rhyming with gone, is the most frequent southern pronunciation. Scone, rhyming with dome, is the northern.

    • avatarMinerva says

      …not so….I’m in the Northern Midlands, & have Yorkshire family…..by your definition Yorkshire is now in the South…..which in northern circles is tantamount to swearing!

  15. avatarDana says

    I’ve had scones, Cadbury and fish & chips many times. We are having fish & chips for supper tonight! An Irish pub here serves delicious bangers & mash and I make shepherds pie in winter. I’ve had Scotch eggs at the Ren Faire and hard cider at our local bar. I would love to try the rest!

  16. avatarHelen C says

    No one mentioned Eccles cakes, delicious. Used to have faggots and chips regularly as a child Mmmmmm!

  17. avatarMaureen says

    Born and spent my childhood in England. Love my British Heritage and the country in general. Sorry we ever left it. Would have to say my favourites are cooked English breakfast, good English fish and chips, bakewell tarts, scones and of course Cadburys anything. Doin’t forget the pickled onions though. I used to bring them back to America along with English chocolates and bacon until the airlines started charging by weight. Those were the good old days when we could shop over there for all the goodies and bring them back here. Oh I must not forget REAL English Christmas cake with almond paste and icing, and plum pudding with Bird’s custard. Makes my mouth water just thinking about them..
    Maureen

  18. avatarJohn Sinclair says

    Faggots are horrible and I haven’t had them since childhood when they were regularly served in school for lunch. Piccalilli too is awful and tends to be the sort of thing grandmother’s try to feed you! Love bakewell tart and of course fish and chips… Proper thick chips and not those horrid french fries which I imagine is what deep fried polystyrene would taste like (Styrofoam??). Fish and chips were one of the few foods that weren’t rationed in the second world war and remain a firm favourite to this day. They were often served, wrapped in newspaper and people would save their newspapers and give them to the chip shop proprietor. I remember as a child in the 1970s the local two week long funfair had a coal fired deep fat fryer and to this day I have had no finer fish and chips.Nothing quite beats the smell of fish, chips and newsprint, though nowadays they would be closed down if they tried to serve them in such an unhygienic manner!!

  19. avatar says

    In Feb 2012 my 82-year-old mother had just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer that had riddled her abdomen. She was given literally days to live, and was told she didn’t have to eat if she wasn’t hungry, as it was just feeding the cancer and no longer nourishing her body. I was spending a quiet afternoon with her. She was mostly dozing, as the morning visitors had gone. Suddenly, she sat up and told me she felt like eating a Cornish pasty and sent me down to the “British store” to get her one. She only ate about a third of it, just a few bites. I wrapped up the rest of it “for later” knowing that would be her last meal. And it was.

    When I’m feeling nostalgic and weepy, I head over to the British store to have a pasty and think of my mother.

  20. avatarStacy H. says

    I’m married to an Englishman from Surrey, and he had never eaten blood pudding until he had it at an English pub in Las Vegas (of all places). He hates it, But the rest of a good british fry up he loves, I never understood the Heinz baked beans at breakfast, or the fried tomato. I’m more of a Galaxy chocolate girl, I love, love, love Ripple! Haddock fish and chips are my fav (more because I grew up In Nova Scotia where haddock is our fish of choice) and nothing is as wonderful as a good Roast dinner with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. My husband also loves sausage rolls!

  21. avatarDavid Hargrove says

    An American am I, and I would love to try the Bakewell, please! My favorite is St Clement’s cake! I had my first piece in London and will forever link them in my mind.

  22. avatarTC says

    Seriously? This is the list you came up with? As a brit ex-pat, I know many brits who would not eat items on this list. You may as well have included Jellied Eels! :(

  23. avatarJill Swanink says

    I have heard of stargazy pie but I would have a job of eating anything that was looking at me. One of my Welsh aunts loved her faggots and my mum also Welsh adored laverbread. Laver is mostly found in South Wales in the Gower area. I do love Cornish Pasties and it is the only way I will eat turnip. I had a Pasty made and sold in a British shop here in Canada. It tasted quite nice but contained minced up beef, potatoes, onions and carrots. It had great pastry but it was not a Cornish pasty. No turnip and the contents should have been diced not minced up. Shepards Pie should be made with lamb and the beef type would be called Cottage Pie. I also used to like kippers for breakfast.

  24. avatarjoe says

    I love almost everything on the full English breakfast–just not the black pudding. I’ve had scones, fish and chips, Cornish pasty and, of course, Cadbury chocolate.

  25. avatar says

    I;m an expat living in Canada and I love them all except Stargazy pie & I can get most of these things listed locally here in southern Ontario, but not savory ducks which I used to love. I make my Scotch eggs & Steak & Kidney pies I have always loved & sometimes make my own Piccalilli even though I can buy it locally, however I have NEVER seen or heard of it containing tomato. No thanks

  26. avatar says

    Being a child during WW2 (blue ration books) my mother was a genius, we never went hungry, I remember her making faggots, I don’t remember what they tasted like!!! I remember buying for a penny cherry wood and liquorice wood, and chewing on that on the way to school. Happy days – although we slept in the Andersen Shelter every night!!! listening to the sound of bombs dropping!! (not near us). I thought the meat (which was rationed) kept fresh, no fridge, for the whole week. I really don’t know how I would have coped.

  27. avatarColin says

    Bread ‘n’ Butter pudding, Scotch eggs, Gala pies, Branston pickle, Weetabix; This lust (intended) could just go mouth-wateringly on and on! As so many others have eluded to in the comments above, our US friends have tried to imitate much of our grub but, it just doesn’t really hit the spot. I too am in Michigan as Virginia Morgan is but, the pasties just aren’t the same, especially when you’ve had them hand baked for you by a pub landlady at the Commercial Inn in St.Just in Cornwall at 2am!

  28. avatar says

    Living in the US, growing in in the 1950’s, my grandmother always canned piccalilli every fall.The family came from the UK back in the 1600-1700’s, but here in Nebraska, seemingly a natural home relish.

  29. avatarGaby Carbajal says

    My grandmother is from Hidalgo, Mexico where many cornish established, therefore, I had pasties and they taste amazing! And there are so many options, from salty to sweet.
    I really need to taste a British one.

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