Whilst England, unlike many of its European neighbours, isn’t particularly highly-rated when it comes to its culinary scene and gastronomic delights, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find some tasty English dishes to try when travelling around the country. There are some meals that are quite popular across the country, and others that have a strong regional focus.
Here are 5 traditional English foods to try when visiting England:
1. Roast dinner
A meal that was traditionally eaten on Sundays, and is still often served in pubs and restaurants on Sunday afternoons, the English roast dinner consists of different roasted meats served with roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy, and a variety of accompaniments.
Enjoyed as far back as the mid-1700s, roast beef is perhaps the most traditional of the meats, served with Yorkshire pudding. Made from batter, Yorkshire puddings can be large or small. Stuff your Yorkshire pudding(s) with meat and veg and drizzle some gravy over the top. Horseradish sauce is often served with beef.
Roast lamb is generally served with mint sauce, and roast chicken is commonly accompanied by sage and onion stuffing. Apple sauce is often matched with roast pork. A type of roast dinner is usually served at Christmas, with turkey, stuffing, and sweet cranberry sauce.
Diverse vegetables are served with a roast dinner, including items such as carrots, cabbage, peas, parsnips, swede, butternut squash, broccoli, and cauliflower. Sometimes, cauliflower cheese may be prepared, and some people like to have mashed potato or croquette potatoes (small lumps of breaded and fried mashed potato with onion and seasoning) as well as roast potatoes.
A good old English pub is one of the best places to sample a hearty roast dinner. Alternatively, look for pubs and restaurants that have a Sunday carvery – where meat is carved to order. You can usually choose your meat(s) and add a selection of vegetables, potatoes, and other accompaniments from a buffet-style hot counter. Although there are several brewery chains, such as Wetherspoons and All Bar One, there are uncountable independent pubs too. Indeed, you’ll find at least one within easy reach of almost the smallest of villages.
2. Full English breakfast
Sometimes simply called a full English, an English breakfast, a cooked breakfast, or a fry-up, a full English breakfast is a really hearty and filling way to start your day. Such is the popularity of the full English that many eateries now offer an all-day breakfast on the menu, allowing diners to dig into a large “breakfast” at any time of the day.
It is referred to as a fry-up because, traditionally, most ingredients were fried. Today, however, it is fairly common for places to grill items instead.
Although often associated with workers, who wanted a filling start to a hard day at work, the full English breakfast can trace its roots back to the upper classes of society.
Whilst there are regional variations, a full English breakfast usually has at least bacon, sausage, and eggs. Eggs may be scrambled, fried, or poached. Other common items include fried or grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, hash browns or potato scallops, and baked beans. Hot buttered toast is almost always served with the meal, along with a steaming hot mug of tea.
Somewhat of an English institution, the full English breakfast is available in numerous eateries around the country, from cafes and so-called greasy spoons (cheap places, sometimes truck stops, that sell fried food), to fancy independent, chain, and hotel restaurants. In 2015, the Menu Innovation and Development Awards said that the best full English breakfast could be obtained at Morrisons! (A supermarket chain with in-store cafes.)
3. Fish and chips
Perhaps one of the most famous meals associated with the British Isles, fish and chips is widely available across England, and is especially popular in seaside towns. Whether you’re in a slap-up restaurant, a chilled-out café, a pub, or a traditional takeaway shop, often referred to as a chippy, fish and chips is so easy to find! If there’s one dish that most people want to try during a trip to England, it’s this! With a history dating back to the 1860s, it’s certainly an English favourite that has stood the test of time. Harry Ramsden’s is a well- known chain that sells fish and chips.
Thick chunks of potato, more often than not soaked in vinegar and heavily-sprinkled with salt, are served with a large battered piece of fish, sometimes accompanied by mushy peas, tartar sauce, or a generous wedge of lemon.
Cod and haddock are the most common types of fish used, but you’ll find other varieties too, including plaice, rock salmon, and pollock.
In times gone by, takeaway fish and chips were often wrapped in newspaper. You can still find some establishments today that serve this meal on specially-printed paper so as to create a nostalgic air.
Now a popular snack or quick, light lunch in many places around the world, the humble sandwich is a very English-creation. Although bread had been eaten for many years with cheeses and cold-cuts of meat, and sandwich-like meals were popular in a number of countries across the world, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the sandwich got its name.
Named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich (John Montagu), the story says that the earl was so engrossed in a long game of cards that he did not want to stop playing in order to eat. He requested that he be brought meat between two pieces of bread, thus allowing him to eat with his fingers without getting messy. Other subsequently followed his lead, and the sandwich got its name. So, when you’re tucking into your basic meal, keep in mind that you are dining like the English aristocracy of times gone by!
Today’s sandwiches can be like culinary arts, with a vast array of different combinations of fillings to really tempt you. Cucumber sandwiches are often seen as being dainty finger food enjoyed by the upper classes of society, whilst fillings such as ham and tomato, peanut butter, or cheese and onion are often found in children’s lunchboxes. From cream cheese and salmon, roasted peppers with hummus, and roast beef with mustard, to egg mayonnaise and cress, the classic BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato), cheese, apple, celery, and walnut, and tuna with sweetcorn, there are many, many options to choose between.
From supermarkets, convenience stores, and deli-carts to cafes, pubs, and restaurants, sandwiches are available in pretty much every place that sells food!
A real comfort food, hot and filling pies are popular across England. With varieties such as meat and potato, steak and ale, cheese and onion, vegetable, and steak and kidney, there is a pie to suit almost every palate.
Pies are often served with a form of potato, such as chips or mashed potato. They may also be accompanied by boiled vegetables, mushy peas, salad, or baked beans. A major exception is a type of pie known as a Cornish pasty. Mouth-wateringly tasty flaky pastry is stuffed with minced meat and finely-chopped pieces of potato and vegetables, designed to be an entire meal conveniently contained within a pastry casing. It is said that if you need something else with your pasty then it’s just not big enough!
For a quick and easy pie on the go, head to a bakery chain, such as Greggs or Sayers.
Other English dishes to sink your teeth into
Bangers and mash is another traditional dish that follows the custom of pairing meat and potatoes. Bangers is a slang name given to sausages because of the popping and banging sounds that they can make when frying. Don’t expect any pasty if you order shepherd’s pie or cottage pie – they are both pastry-less one-pot meals consisting of minced meat and vegetables topped with mashed potato. Shepherd’s pie contains lamb, whereas cottage pie contains beef.
Don’t panic if you see toad in the hole on a menu! Restaurants in England aren’t in the habit of dishing up actual toads to diners! Rather, toad in the hole is the name for a dish of sausages encased in a thick dish of batter.
A breakfast-time favourite, crumpets are well-worth looking out for, and other English meals include Lancashire hotpot, kedgeree, ploughman’s lunch, scouse, and, especially popular with Londoners, jellied eels.
Book your trip to England and discover that there really are some great foods for the nation to be proud of!
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.