A toasted snack with a filling, wrapped in paper
English street food is a great way to grab a tasty bite when you’re out and about

Our Top Picks from the Best of English Street Food

7 minutes

What is English street food? As the name suggests, it’s food sold on the streets, at stalls or markets, rather than restaurants or cafes. As people's lives get busier and more hectic, the popularity of street food in the UK has risen as more people grab a quick bite on the go. Fish and chips, scotch eggs, pork pies, jellied eels… : our top picks of English street food!

The History of Street Food

Although buying and consuming food in this way has become more popular recently, street food has a long history: 

  • For instance, in ancient Greece there were street stalls where people could buy portions of fried fish.
  • In ancient Rome the houses of the poor did not have ovens or even kitchens, and so people bought street food.
  • In fact, a recent discovery in Pompeii showed that there was a thriving trade in takeaway food

Modern street food in the UK reflects
Britain’s multicultural population.

As immigrants came to the UK, they brought their favourite recipes from home, and now you can find dishes from all over the world at food stalls and at artisan food markets. There’s never been a better time to enjoy British street food.

Bubblewrap Waffle from Soho, London
Discover sweet snacks in London, part of variety of the UK street food

1. Fish and Chips: The Classic British Street Food

Fish and chips is perhaps the first dish that comes to mind when you think of English street food. Traditionally wrapped in newspaper and eaten on the go, you could say that this simple meal of fried filets of fish and sliced fried potatoes (chips) is the quintessential British street food

In fact, UK Fisheries reports that up to
167 million fish and chip meals are served every year in Britain.

The fish is covered in a batter made of eggs, flour and milk and then fried in oil, or sometimes lard. White fish like cod, haddock, skate, and pollock are most commonly used. However, cod is the most popular choice, accounting for 60% of all fish and chip suppers. 

Why not try a fish and chip supper the next time you’re in London?

Battered fish and chips served in newspaper
Fish and chips is a classic English street food you can eat on the go

Chips and Gravy: The Best Street Food from the Chippy if Fish Isn’t Your Thing

For those not so keen on fish, another typical English street food is chips and gravy. You’ll find this delicious option on the menu at fish and chip shops and even at some Chinese takeaways. There are different styles of chips and gravy depending where in the UK you are:

  • In the Midlands the chips are dipped in an orange batter before they’re fried.
  • In northern England chips and gravy comes with a cheesy twist.
  • This is similar to a French-Canadian dish called Poutine, where the chips are covered in cheese curds and gravy.

Did you know? Some of the most traditional street foods
in the UK started life in London.

A takeaway serving of chips and gravy
Poutine is a Canadian recipe that has become a popular UK street food

2. Jellied Eels: The Street Food from the Thames

Jellied eels are a very English street food, with a faultless London pedigree. 

They date back to the 18th century when the working-class poor in the East End of London
would fish for eels in the River Thames and use them to create an inexpensive, filling dish.

The eels would be chopped into small pieces and boiled in herbs before leaving to cool. As part of this process the eels produced their own gelatine which created a soft jelly around the pieces, hence the name. 

3. Pie and Mash: The Cockney Street Food

Sometimes described as London's original street food, the first pie and mash shop opened in Southwark in 1844, and the oldest pie mash and liquor shop still in business, M. Manze, opened in 1891. It was a cheap and filling meal that Londoners could buy and eat on the go. 

This most English street food, popular among working class Londoners (Cockneys), consists of mashed potato, a pie made with minced beef and parsley sauce known as liquor. Despite the name, it doesn’t include alcohol. Pie mash and liquor is beginning to disappear as a street food in the UK, although there are still traditional pie and mash shops in London’s East End. Most pie mash and liquor shops also serve jellied eels if you fancy trying two British street foods in one go.

4. The Cornish Pasty: The English Street Food with a Protected Designation of Origin

With its crimped pastry edge that you can use as a handle and then eat afterwards, the Cornish pasty has been called the perfect English street food. As the name suggests, the Cornish pasty hails from Cornwall, in South West England, and has roots dating as far back as the 12th century. 

Considered the national dish of Cornwall, a pasty is a baked shortcrust pastry pocket filled with beef and vegetables. 

Created for tin miners to take down the mines and eat for lunch,
they’re the original English street food or takeaway.

The thick crimped edge served as a kind of handle as the miners’ hands were often covered in harmful tin or copper dust. It meant they could eat without having to wash their hands and then throw the crust away. 

In 2011, Cornish pasties were awarded Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. This means that commercially made pasties using the name “Cornish pasty” in their advertising materials and labelling must meet the following requirements:

  • They can only contain beef, potato, swede, onion, salt and pepper.
  • They must be produced in Cornwall.
  • The ingredients must be raw when the pasties are made and then baked.
  • The edges of the pasties must be crimped in traditional Cornish fashion.
Cornish pasty with beef and vegetable filling
Cornish pasties were the original English street food for tin miners

5. Pork Pies: An English Street Food and Picnic Staple

A pork pie is a traditional English meat pie, and it can be eaten with a salad or just as a snack. It can be served at room temperature or chilled, making it a great flexible option for parties and picnics and a popular street food in the UK. As the name suggests, the pie is filled with chopped pork and pork fat and wrapped in a pastry crust. 

The most famous English pork pies? From the town of Melton Mowbray!

6. Scotch Eggs: The British Street Food with Exotic Origins

Now a popular British street food that people eat as a snack and take on picnics, there are different stories about where the Scotch egg originally came from.

  • Some say London department store Fortnum & Mason created the Scotch egg in the 17th century for wealthy customers to take on carriage rides. 
  • Others say the name comes from the dish created by Scottish farmers to keep them going during long days looking after their land. 
  • But some claim that the Scotch egg is a version of an Indian dish called nargisi kofta and was brought back to England by soldiers who had served in India. 

Now a favourite traditional British street food, it’s made using a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, covered in breadcrumbs and then deep fried. It’s usually served cold.

Scotch egg with sausage meat casing and bread crumbs
A Scotch egg is a British street food or snack

7. Doner Kebab: The Perfect Street Food to Indulge in After a Night Out

A kind of fast-food sandwich, the doner kebab is a quick snack for when you're out and about. It has become a staple of the British street food scene and you'll find doner kebabs shops in cities across Britain. Based on an ancient Middle Eastern cooking technique, the name doner kebab comes from the Turkish words for rotisserie or spit-roasted meat. The outer layer of the meat caramelizes and is thinly sliced and served with rice or in a flatbread. 

In Arabic countries it's called shawarma, and the same technique
is also used to make Greek gyros.

In many countries doner kebab is served with salad, although as it's become a popular street food in the UK for people coming out of bars and clubs in the early hours, it's often served in Britain with chips and sometimes garlic sauce.

A doner kebab flatbread with meat and vegetables
Doner kebabs have become one of the most popular street foods in the UK

There are lots of great places to try British street food. Some of the best places are fresh food markets, where you’ll be able to sample a wide range of fresh produce. If you’re in London try in and around Borough Market for a great variety of street food from different countries and cuisines.

Book a restaurant near Borough Market

Borough Market in London
Borough Market is a great place in London to taste street food
English street food, in a nutshell!

One of the most popular types of street food in the UK is fish and chips. Doner kebabs are also a firm favourite after a night out. For picnics and snacks on the go, Scotch eggs and pork pies are also popular.

There’s a wide range of different street foods in England, from fish and chips and jellied eels to doner kebabs and pork pies.

The classic street food in the UK is fish and chips, but there are different cuisines to try as well. A classic London dish is pie and mash, a popular street food in the capital for over 100 years.

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