by Rosalie Archer,
When you think of destinations around the world that are known for their food, the United Kingdom is probably not the first place that comes to mind — at least not in a positive way; in fact, it’s been said that hell is a place where the cooks are English, and many people associate British food with meals that are bland — or just plain scary.
However, British cuisine has come a long way, and many tourists are now pleasantly surprised to find that they can get food that is not only palatable, but interesting; in fact, there has been a renaissance among chefs in London, and hotels and restaurants around the city have a renewed focus on improving the gastronomic experiences of visitors and locals alike.
That being said, there are some traditional foods that you should make it a point to try when you visit the U.K. Some may be familiar —while others are actually familiar foods with different names — but all will surprise you.
- Fish and Chips. Is there any meal more quintessentially British than fish and chips? Originally served as street food, wrapped in newspaper with malt vinegar and salt, fish and chips are fried fish and potatoes; however, English fish and chips aren’t just fish sticks and French fries; they are actually delicious fresh and served in almost every pub.
- Bangers and Mash. The name might sound like that of a cop duo in an action flick, but bangers and mash is simply a meal of sausages and mashed potatoes. The name “bangers” comes from World War II, when rationing led sausage makers to add water to fill the casings, causing the links to explode in the pan.
- Spotted Dick. With a name that is sure to incite giggles in young children (and some adults), spotted dick is actually a popular dessert. It’s a steamed, spongy type of cake (Brits call it a pudding) made with flour, brandy, raisins and eggs, and served with cream.
- Black Pudding. Just to keep things interesting, the Brits extended the term “pudding” to this dish as well, which is not a sweet dessert at all. Black pudding is a type of sausage, made with either pig or sheep blood. It’s an integral part of the traditional English breakfast, which generally includes the sausages with eggs, bacon, fried bread, baked beans and mushrooms.
- Bubble and Squeak. You probably won’t find this dish on the menu at any of London’s five-star restaurants, but it’s a staple in pubs and home kitchens. Essentially, it’s a creative use of leftovers: cooks fry cold, cooked and chopped vegetables (usually cabbage or Brussels sprouts) and meat with mashed potatoes. The name comes from the sound the food makes while it cooks.
- Shepherd’s Pie and Ploughman’s Lunch. England’s agricultural roots are acknowledged with these two popular menu items. Shepherd’s pie is a base of ground lamb covered with vegetables and mashed potatoes
and baked. A ploughman’s lunch is a hunk of cheese served with bread, pickles and pickled onion.
- Yorkshire Pudding. If you order Yorkshire pudding and expect dessert, you might be disappointed. Traditional Yorkshire pudding is a biscuit-type bowl made from eggs, flour and milk and served with gravy; many Brits enjoy a Sunday meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
- Curry. With the influx of immigrants from India and Southeast Asia, some have argued that curries have become the national dish of England. The exact opposite of dull and bland, you can find Indian restaurants on almost any corner in London, and takeaway curry is one of the most popular meals in the city.
Like any international city, London has attracted chefs from all over the world, and it’s possible to find cuisines ranging from Italian to Middle Eastern, as well as gourmet fusion restaurants, all over the city; however, for the true experience of England, be brave and try one of the local specialties, no matter how oddly named. You never know — you might just find yourself attempting to cook one of these dishes when you get home.
Image provided by Craig Nagy from Flickr’s Creative Commons