Sausages, eggs, beans, fried bacon, and a coffee on a wooden table
A solid English breakfast to start the day!
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Five Surprising Facts about Traditional British Foods

03/14/2023
3 minutes

When it comes to world cuisine, British food is perhaps not as well-known as Chinese or Italian, for instance. However, most people have heard of, or even tried, a full English breakfast or some fish and chips. What may surprise you is the unusual origins of some of these quintessentially British dishes.

1. Fish and Chips: A British Food of European Heritage

Considered by many as a traditional British meal, fish and chips has actually European and Jewish origins. This dish of battered fish was brought to the UK by Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in 16th-century Portugal. It’s less clear when chips were added to create this typical British dish. However, most historians agree that an Ashkenazi immigrant called Joseph Malin was the first to sell fish and chips in the 1860s. 

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A plate with fish, chips, lemon, salad and a pint
A beer and some fish & chips with greens and dip: traditional meal in Britain

2. Yorkshire Puddings: Why This Typical British Side Dish Used to Be a Starter

Made from a batter of eggs, flour and milk, Yorkshire puddings are a very British food, usually served with a roast dinner. However, they used to be a starter. Back when meat was less affordable for most people, the Yorkshire puddings and gravy were served first. It was a cheap way to fill up and meant less meat was needed for the main course. 

A Yorkshire pudding served with carrots and beef
Discover a Yorkshire pudding, well-known British food

3. The Full English Breakfast: A Truly British Dish

In a 2019 survey by YouGov, 80% of the people polled ranked the full English breakfast as one of their favourite British meals. Perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity is its adaptability. Although it’s called an English breakfast, the ingredients change across the regions of the UK. As well as the usual bacon and eggs, in Northern Ireland it’s commonly served with potato bread and soda farls, while the Welsh version boasts laverbread. 

Sausages, eggs, beans, fried bacon, and a coffee on a wooden table
80% of the people polled ranked the full English breakfast as one of their favourite British meals

4. Shepherd’s Pie: Not Actually an English Dish!

Shepherd’s Pie is often thought of as a typical English food, but its origins are actually Scottish. Shepherd’s Pie started life in Scotland as a way to use up leftover roast lamb. The scraps were baked in pastry crusts, with gravy. The dish evolved to include a mashed potato topping instead of pastry. Swap the lamb for beef and it becomes a Cottage Pie.

A casserole with puree and meat, shepherd’s pie out of the oven
A shepherd’s pie cooked in a baking dish: a filling British dish

5. Bangers and Mash: The British Meal with a Wartime History

Bangers and mash is a typical British dish made up of sausages and mashed potatoes that is enjoyed everywhere, from homes to London restaurants. But why “bangers”? Legend has it that as meat was in short supply during World War I, the sausages in this typical British dish were made with cheap fillers or added water, which sometimes caused them to explode!

Bangers and mash served on a plate
Bangers and mash, a traditional, hearty British meal

 

Like Britain itself, British food is a mix of different cultures. There are many dishes to try, whether it’s a Sunday roast in a great British pub, traditional fish and chips, or sweet treats like trifles, or an afternoon tea!

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British food in a British landscape
An afternoon tea shared in a bus

 

British Cuisine Explained

Shepherd’s pie is a firm favourite among those who appreciate traditional English food, not to mention traditional desserts like Victoria sponge cake, trifle, and apple pie.

Traditional dishes account for some of the most popular British foods. Think fish and chips, a full English breakfast, or a Sunday roast.

British dinners are often “meat and two veg”, like a classic roast dinner. Usually served with hot gravy, it’s a very British meal.

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