The UK is not highly revered for its food compared to other places, but I would argue that no visit is complete unless you experience some of the great dishes unique to the country. Considering how you might Eat Your Way Around the UK, I polled my Facebook readers and asked the following: “If a friend was travelling to [insert place name] for the first time, which three dishes would you recommend they try?”
Naturally there are more than three dishes to try but in order to keep this post at a manageable length (and not overwhelm readers), it made sense to limit it just to three. Below are the top three responses for each place, as mentioned by my readers.
(If you’re not following me on Facebook, please consider joining me there because I have a very active community and lots of interesting discussions.)
1. Full English Breakfast
The quintessential Full English Breakfast is a staple of English cuisine and traditionally includes fried eggs, back bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, tomatoes, bangers, toast and black pudding. Some people believe this is the daily breakfast of the English and while some may eat it every day, in these more health conscious times it’s generally regarded as a pleasure one should limit to just a few times a week, most especially on the weekend.
2. Fish and Chips (in newspaper)
When people from around the world think about which dish is most closely associated with England, Fish and Chips is the winner, hands down. When my readers mentioned it on Facebook, the “wrapped in newspaper” part was highly emphasised but these days many shops use a food-quality white paper instead of newspaper for hygiene reasons.
Traditionally the fish should be cod or haddock but in recent years there has been a shortage of those species so you may find others being used. The fish is dipped in batter and normally fried in beef drippings or lard. Chips are served alongside and sprinkled with salt and malt vinegar. For the best fish and chips, find a proper “chippy” or shop primarily dedicated to making fish and chips.
3. Cream tea
I won’t get into which is best, the Cornish Cream tea or a Devon Cream tea – just have a cream tea! Tea and scones is almost as closely associated with England as fish and chips, so it would be a shame for you to miss out. A Cream Tea always consists of tea and scones with clotted cream and jam. For the best versions, seek out a proper tea room.
A Devon Cream Tea
1. Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Behold the Haggis! No food says Scotland more. I’ve tried Haggis myself and it’s not bad really; I think the thought of it is what some people find so hard to swallow. The idea of boiling a mixture of lamb parts (to put it nicely), oats, onion, suet, herbs and spices inside a sheep’s stomach is, well, stomach turning.
If you can have it served up on a plate alongside some neeps (turnips or rutabaga) and tatties (mashed potatoes) and miss seeing it scooped out of the sheep’s stomach, I think you may enjoy it more. (Keep in mind, that hot dog or sausage you enjoy? It contains some of the same pig parts as the lamb parts used in Haggis!)
Stovies are potatoes stewed with carrots and onions, along with roast beef, minced beef, corned beef or lamb. To stove, means to stew in the Scots language; the potatoes are first cooked by stewing them in fat or lard. Originating in the northeastern counties of Scotland, Stovies is popular in kitchens all over the country, especially on Mondays as an easy way to use leftovers from Sunday’s roast dinner.
3. Potato Scones
The Scots really do love their potatoes so it’s no wonder potato scones (or tattie scones) would be suggested as a favourite. Made with mashed potato, butter, salt and plain flour, they are cooked in a griddle and traditionally served up with a Full Scottish Breakfast. For more, check out this recipe for potato scones from the blog.
1. Welsh cakes
Also known as Bakestones in Wales (because they’re cooked on a bake stone), Welsh cakes taste great any time but especially as traditional fare on St. David’s Day. Made with flour, sultanas, raisins (and/or currants) and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, Welsh cakes may be served hot or cold and dusted lightly with caster sugar. Normally they are eaten alone but some people choose to butter them or top with jam.
2. Faggots and Peas
If you can get past the off-putting name, you might actually enjoy this dish. Faggots are meatballs made from pig parts (here we go again!) minced together with bread crumbs and herbs. They are traditionally served with peas, mash and gravy as pictured below, making for a very popular meal in Wales as well as other parts of the UK, most especially the Black Country area of the West Midlands. Watch one of my favourite British chefs Keith Floyd as he makes Faggots and Peas.
Another odd name but this Welsh favourite is quite traditional. Cawl is simply a word for soup or broth and it was mentioned over and over again in my Facebook poll. Traditionally eaten in Wales during the winter months, it was originally made from salted beef, potatoes, carrots and other seasonal vegetables. Today it’s more likely to include lamb and leeks, two foods closely identified with Wales.
1. Cornish pasties
No dish is more closely associated with Cornwall than its national dish, the Cornish Pasty (or Pastie.) It was created as an self-contained lunch for miners and fishermen – a compact and portable meal of meat, potatoes, onion and swede wrapped in a pastry. The crimp on the crust makes a pasty easy to hold while eating. Here’s a brief history of the pasty from the Hairy Bikers.
2. Stargazey Pie
Honestly, I have trouble even looking at the photo below. I’m not a fan of seafood so the idea of fish heads in a pie makes me cringe, but Stargazey Pie is a serious traditional dish in Cornwall, having originated in Mousehole. (Phew! Lucky they didn’t make a Mousehole pie. Can you imagine?)
Those little guys you see below are pilchards that are baked along with eggs and potatoes in a pastry crust. It’s called Stargazey pie because of the way the pilchards are placed in the pie, appearing to be gazing up at the stars. Oooh-kay then!
3. Cornish Fairings
Here we are, something nice and sweet and easy on the eyes! Fairings are ginger biscuits traditionally found in Cornwall and originally sold as a treat at fairs, hence the name. No strange ingredients here, just a simple biscuit made from ginger, cinnamon and golden syrup. Fancy making your own? Check out this recipe for Cornish Fairings from Ade in Britain.
1. Ulster Fry Up
The Ulster Fry Up is most closely related to the Irish Fry Up rather than a Full English breakfast and is hugely popular throughout Ulster. Its contents includes eggs, bacon, sausages, vegetable roll, fried soda farls (see next entry), boxty or potato bread. Some people may add fried tomatoes, mushrooms and beans. As with the Full English Breakfast, it’s best washed down with a nice cup of tea!
2. Soda Farls
Soda Farls or Soda Bread is popular in Northern Ireland, as it is in Ireland and Scotland, and is served most often with a traditional fry-up in the morning. They are made from flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk and fried up on a griddle.
3. Irish Stew
On a cold day there is no better way to warm the cockles than with an Irish stew! Traditionally made with lamb or mutton and potatoes, onions and parsley, you may also add carrots for colour and sweetness. Consider washing this one down with a Guinness for the full Irish experience!
Melissa is the Britophile-in-Chief of Smitten by Britain, the world’s first blog for Britophiles. When she’s not blogging here you will most likely find her on Facebook or Twitter whilst enjoying a cup of tea.