You can get all the fancy-schmancy food in the UK you like in most places, as chefs and street vendors alike vie to tempt your palette with tantalising flavours from around the world. But what about traditional British food? Is it as grim as its old reputation, or will you love British food after checking out this collection of dishes?
Discover the most famous traditional English food and the dishes you’ll likely find in hotels, restaurants and street markets across the country.
Also, check out the stories behind weird British food names like Stargazy Pie, Dead Man’s Arm and Plum Duff, and decide whether you want to try some of these less well-known but equally traditional British foods!
The Most Popular Traditional British Foods Today
1. Sunday Roast
Traditionally, this was the “big meal” of the week, when British families ate together after attending church dressed up in their “Sunday best”.
Today’s typical Sunday roast is a large joint (or cut) of beef, pork or lamb (or a whole chicken), served with crispy roast potatoes, homemade stuffing, heaps of vegetables, and mucky dripping (gravy made from the meat juices).
Forget about posh restaurants – country pubs serve the best Sunday lunches!
Good to Know Older folk and butchers often call the large cut of meat a joint, so you might hear someone ask for “a lovely joint for Sunday”.
Yorkshire Pudding or “Yorkshires” are traditionally served with roast beef, but they’re so popular that you can often get them with any roast dinner today.
Fun Fact: In the 18th century, the British love of roast beef was so well known that the French coined the nickname ” Les Rosbifs” for Brits. (Following the same logic, Brits call French people “Frogs”!).
Related Post: Discover the Best Yorkshire Food
2. Fish and Chips
Freshly caught whitefish (traditionally cod or haddock) cooked in a light, fluffy batter and served with piles of chips (fries) and mushy peas was a firm (and inexpensive) Friday night favourite for families up and down the country.
Note: Brits call fries “chips” while potato chips in British English are crisps.
3. The Full English Breakfast
If your hotel offers this option, gird your arteries and don’t make any plans for lunch, as you will be far too full.
The traditional full English or “Fry Up” is a hearty plateful of sausages, bacon, eggs, baked beans, black pudding (blood sausage), grilled tomato, mushrooms and toast or fried bread, served with a massive mug of tea or coffee.
The full English breakfast is the perfect start to your day if you’re going to be active all day, but it will sit in your belly like a brick if you’re not!
Most Brits love a good curry, and if you’ve not tried one yet, you’re missing out.
Curries run the full gamut from mild and aromatic to blow your head off with chillies nuclear reactor hot! You have been warned. If in any doubt, check with your server.
Chicken Tikka Masala is so popular, that it usually appears in lists of Britain’s favourite foods.
5. Shepherd’s Pie
Ground lamb, slowly pan-cooked with onions and a rich gravy before being oven baked beneath a mound of creamed potatoes. Usually served with heaps of veggies as a side dish.
Shepherd’s Pie (and its cousin – cottage pie, made with ground beef) is wholesome British comfort food at its best, with veggie and vegan versions widely available.
6. Scotch Eggs
The Scotch egg is possibly the most traditional British picnic food. An intriguing mix of hard-boiled egg encased in sausage meat wrapped in breadcrumbs, then deep fried until golden brown.
Scotch eggs are delicious when they are slightly warm and homemade, but absolutely ghastly when storebought!
Read Next: Fairytale Scottish Castles You Will Love
Weird British Food Names
English is a very descriptive language, but some of the more traditional British food dishes have really quirky names. Here’s a quick guide to some weird food names for good old British “comfort food”.
7. Bangers and Mash
There’s no escaping the popularity of the British banger (sausage). In fact, Brits eat 175,000 tonnes of them a year – it’s probably the most traditional English food of all!
Bangers and mash is a staple “pub grub” dish of thick meaty sausages served with a pile of creamed potatoes and lashings of gravy. It’s proper British comfort food.
Why are sausages called bangers in the UK?
Meat shortages during World War I meant that sausages were bulked up with water, causing them to explode when they were cooked.
8. Toad in the Hole
No toads are harmed in the making of this delicious dish of sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter. The combination of light, fluffy batter and well-cooked sausages is divine and rightly popular. It’s a real winter favourite British food.
9. Pigs in Blankets
More sausages! Pigs in blankets are chipolata or cocktail-size sausages wrapped in bacon and baked,
Traditionally, pigs in blankets and strips of streaky bacon were secured to the breast of a Christmas turkey to keep the meat succulent during its long roasting. The pigs in blankets were then served alongside the turkey.
10. Angels (or Devils) on Horseback
An angel on horseback is an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled, while a devil on horseback is a tea-soaked prune cooked the same way.
This British food was a popular Victorian hors d’œuvre as oysters were once a cheap source of protein for the lower classes. As oysters are quite an expensive delicacy, this traditional British food is rarely seen today.
11. Bubble and Squeak
Described by food writer Howard Hillman as one of the “great peasant dishes of the world”, Bubble and Squeak is made from frying a mixture of cooked potatoes and cabbage.
This delicious dish from the Scottish borders is similar to bubble and squeak, with onions added. Rumbledethumps is oven baked rather than fried, and is often baked with a cheese crust. It’s served either as a main meal or a side dish.
The name of the dish comes from the sound the spoon makes as it clatters against the pan when mixing the ingredients.
Looking like a fat brown balloon, Haggis is an ancient Scottish dish. Known as the national dish of Scotland, haggis is an integral part of Burns Night celebrations on the 25th of January each year, when it is “piped” to the table by a bagpipe player!
Haggis was popular in Scotland in the 15th century, but its origins are believed to date back to Roman times and ancient Norse tribes.
Traditionally, the “balloon” is made from an animal stomach, stuffed with sheep’s “pluck” (the heart, liver and lungs) which is mixed with oats, suet, spices and onion. While it sounds ghastly, it’s rather like eating a highly spiced, crumbly sausage. An acquired taste!
14. “Neeps and Tatties”
Neeps and Tatties is a frugal and filling side dish. Neeps (swedes – known as turnips in Scotland) and potatoes (tatties) are mashed and well seasoned. It’s a dish usually served with haggis. Clapshot is a variation of neeps and tatties, where the vegetables are mashed together with plenty of butter and sprinkled with chives. butter.
15. Jellied Eels
Jellied eels made a cheap alternative to meat for the working classes in the East End of London from the 18th century. The River Thames was of eels that were easy to catch, making this a popular dish.
The gelatinous eels were cooked in a water-based spiced stock, which turned to jelly when left to cool. It’s a love it or hate it dish, still popular with locals and visitors.
16. Welsh Rarebit
Welsh Rarebit or “Welsh Rabbit” is actually very tasty cheese on toast! Hot, cheesy sauce is poured onto toasted bread, then grilled until bubbling and lightly browned. The best recipes insist on deep-flavoured mature cheddar, English mustard and beer or stout!
No rabbits in sight, but totally delicious!
17. Stargazy Pie
This traditional British food dates back to the 16th century, to the village of Mousehole in Cornwall. According to local legend, the dish celebrates the bravery of a local fisherman who landed a catch big enough to feed the whole village after terrible storms had made fishing impossible and the villagers were starving.
Stargazy pie is made from pilchards, with their heads poking through the pie crust – gazing up at the stars!
Traditional British Food – Desserts
First things first, most Brits call dessert “pudding” or “pud”. Many traditional British puddings are rather stodgy affairs, that were often served up to fill up hungry bellies as part of school dinners.
18. Dead Man’s Arm
The quintessential nursery pudding (also known as Dead Man’s Leg) is usually known as Jam Roly Poly or Roly Poly Pudding. With origins in the Middle Ages, this tantalising concoction of sugar and starch is a steamed suet pudding filled with jam and served with lashings of custard.
19. Flies Graveyard
While it sounds ghastly, flies graveyard is a tasty traybake made with shortcrust pastry and a sweet, sticky dried fruit mixture, similar to sweet mince pies. The quirky name comes from the use of currants which look a little like dead flies.
This dish has a host of names, depending on which part of the United Kingdom you’re from!
Scots call them fly cakes, fruit slices, or fruit squares, while in Northern Ireland, they are known as currant squares. In the North East of England, the pastries are called fly cakes or fly pie, while the Welsh name is Cacen Pwdin. In New Zealand, this sweet treat is simply known as fruit slice or fly cemetery.
20. Spotted Dick
The butt of many jokes, this quintessentially British stodgy steamed pudding is dotted with plump currants and served with lashings of custard. Whatever you do, DO NOT get confused and ask for Dick Sponge pudding…
21. Plum Duff
Another sweet and starchy pudding, similar to Spotted Dick or Christmas pudding. It’s largely fallen out of favour today, and you’ll probably not see it on any menus!
22. Eton Mess
Unlike most of the other traditional British desserts, Eton Mess is a light summer favourite. Combine broken-up meringue with fresh strawberries and lashings of double cream for this popular pud.
The most widely accepted story about the origin of Eton Mess is that a strawberry meringue was dropped at a cricket match in the 19th century between the famous British school and its rival Harrow. According to the story, the ruined dessert was hastily scooped up and served with broken pieces – named Eton Mess.
23. Frogspawn Pudding
Once a staple on every school’s dinner menu, tapioca pudding was known as frogspawn thanks to its appearance. The tasteless, congealed mess served for British school dinners bears little resemblance to how delicious tapioca pudding can be. Take a leap of faith and give it a try!
Traditional British food is filling, fabulous and tasty. It’s perfect to set yourself up for a busy day exploring the United Kingdom or to enjoy in a cosy pub when temperatures fall.
You might need to go on a diet when you get home, but your tastebuds will love you for trying the best of British traditional food. You might be surprised and decide that you love British food too!
Did you enjoy this guide to traditional foods in England? Has it inspired you to visit the UK and to take your taste buds exploring? Here are some more ideas to inspire your UK visit:
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