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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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 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.
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, 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.