Americans know all about British food, right? You know that french fries are chips and potato chips are called crisps.
But did you know that if you go out for Chinese food, you have to order rice separately and pay for it as an add-on (literally un-heard of in America)? Did you know that while fish and chips is indeed a popular dish, its popularity triples for some reason on Fridays? That British people pronounce the “t” in the word fillet? Or that haggis is actually rather tasty?
Live here long enough, and you’ll learn all of the above and more. But in this helpful blog, I’ve saved you the trouble of having to do years of research. Herewith I present you insider’s knowledge about what British people really eat, and whether you should eat it too.
And the first thing you should know about the food here, is that mostly it all comes in shades of brown.
MORE YELLOW THAN BROWN
You may not know: A very standard British “pudding” is a tiny dab of sponge cake, absolutely overwhelmed in a deluge of custard. It is in fact the custard and not the cake that the locals care about.
Should I eat it? No. As an American, you will find it flavourless and ‘gunky’ and you’ll be absolutely ‘gobsmacked’ at how much of the stuff they slop over their desserts.
Fish & chips
You may not know: Most commonly eaten on Fridays, especially in work and school canteens (cafeterias). In the olden days it used to be wrapped in newspaper. You may have to pay extra for tartare sauce (spelled with an “e” here).
Should I eat it? Yes. Fish and chips can be delicious, and they are a fairly safe bet in many pubs, but the British say it should only be purchased if cooked within site of the sea.
You may not know: Americans see baked beans as food only for cowboys, or for little kids, but here in the UK, they are an absolute staple- commonly eaten with breakfast, on toast and on top of a baked (jacket) potato.
Should I eat it? There will be no way to avoid them, so you may as well get used to them.
Chicken Tikka Masala
You may not know: Indian food is to Britain, as Mexican food is to America- an inseparable foreign culinary influence. Chicken Tikka Masala originated in the UK, not India. A host of similar dishes and curries can be found in every corner of the country.
Should I eat it? Yes- it’s pretty much the most popular dish in the country.
You may not know: Meat surrounded by a flaky pastry, it is pronounced so that it rhymes with the word “nasty” rather than the word “tasty.” Usually consumed in railway stations.
Should I eat it? It rhymes with “nasty” rather than “tasty.”You be the judge.
You may not know: We call them fish sticks, but they’re the same thing. Quality in the UK can be quite good- if there’s one thing they know, it’s breaded and fried fish.
Should I eat it? If you’re a child, yes. Also, if you see a fish finger sandwich on a menu somewhere, you should eat that too, even if you’re not a child. It’s usually served on a “bap” – a roll of soft bread, and it’s yummy.
You may not know: Americans usually confuse shepherd’s pie, which is lamb covered with potatoes, with cottage pie, which is beef mince covered with potatoes. This is more of a “once-in-a-while” kind of meal.
Should I eat it? Yes- while not much to look at, both varieties are yummy, especially with a bit of brown sauce (see below).
You may not know: Commonly known as “Spag Bol” or “Spag Bowl,” it is a big pile of minced beef on top of over-boiled spaghetti.
Should I eat it? Without exception “Spag Bowl” is an oily horror show, an abomination to Italian food and a culinary crime against humanity. Avoid at all costs, even when (maybe especially when) someone tells you about their great family recipe. I swear, it often involves ketchup [shudder]. You think I’m joking- I’m not.
Steak & ale pie
You may not know: When you hear the word “pie” here, generally it refers to meat pies, stuffed with gravy. The closest American relative would be chicken pot pie.
Should I eat it? Yes. There’s also chicken pies, lamb pies and even vegetarian pies. You should eat all of them, except pork pies, which are prepared differently than the others, is quite gelatinous, and is usually, for lack of a better word, very pork-y.
You may not know: A baked potato, usually served with a big heap of baked beans, tuna with mayonnaise or shredded cheddar cheese on top. Only sandwiches are consumed more frequently at lunch time in the UK than jacket potatoes.
Should I eat it? I want to say, yes- try it. But it’s a potato. And it’s got beans on top. That’s really all there is to it, so if that sounds appealing to you, go ahead. But a jacket potato with a slab of tuna and mayo on top of it resembles a big pile of sick, and is to be avoided.
You may not know: This is an egg, covered in sausage meat, dipped in bread crumbs and then deep fried. These are much more commonly eaten than you might imagine- a staple of outdoor markets and picnics.
Should I eat it? Nowadays you can find “posh Scotch Eggs” and the idea is to use good ingredients to turn this from humble to fancy food. It’s worth a try, but at the end of the day, it’s still an egg wrapped in sausage meat and deep fried. Meh.
You may not know: In pubs and canteens, lasagne is usually served heavy on the bechamel sauce, with a side of chips. I once shared this fact with my Italian mother, who thought I was joking. When she finally realised I was serious she asked me: “Why they wanna serve-a lasagne with french fries?” I had no answer for her.
Should I eat it? Like spag bowl, this is another Italian favourite that has been transformed into a gastronomic disgrace. Please don’t eat-a the lasagne. My momma gonna be very disappointed in you if you do.
KIND OF GREY-ISH BROWN
You may not know: Don’t call them ‘bangers.’ No one here does.
Should I eat it? Definitely. Sausages in the UK are generally much better than those you find in the USA. Breakfast sausages tend to be less sweet than their American equivalent, and in cheaper cafes will have little meat and lots of filler.
You may not know: These are basically meatballs, made primarily out of offal. Not a common dish anymore, but can be found in some traditional pubs.
Should I eat it? I’ve only had these once, and after some initial discomfort in ordering them (I had to say the “f” word), I found them to be really delicious. Closer to large Italian meatballs than IKEA-style swedish golf balls. Your experiences with faggots may vary.
You may not know: Haggis is served many different ways, it can be an accompaniment, like mashed potatoes, or it can be a kind of a main dish. It’s basically like an oatmeal/meat hash.
Should I eat it? Believe it or not, yes, I’ve had haggis quite a few times and every experience was a good one. It’s not that easy to find south of the Scottish border, but it’s worth seeking out.
BROWN MIXED WITH OTHER BROWNS
You may not know: Can be lamb, chicken, beef or even vegetarian, but must always have gravy. There usually are some carrots, so you might actually get to eat something not brown.
Should I eat it? If you find a pub that does a good Sunday roast, you should move nearby. When it’s good, it’s very very good.
Full English breakfast
You may not know: Consists of eggs, sausage, British-style bacon, baked beans, mushrooms and a cooked tomato.
Should I eat it? Sometimes comes with blood pudding and up north, fried bread. That’s right- bread that’s been fried, to go with your fried food. What’s not to like (aside from the heart disease)?
You may not know: The word pudding covers a lot of bases here. It means dessert, it means Yorkshire pudding (a kind of bread thingy served with Sunday roasts) and of course I suppose it also means pudding pudding.
Should I eat it? The best pudding in the country is sticky toffee pudding (pictured). It’s brown of course, but boy is it good. “Spotted dick” is another British pudding, and it’s also brown, but I’ve not included a picture so that you have to imagine just what a spotted dick would look like.
You may not know: Lamb is far more popular in the UK than in the USA. In fact the US Ambassador to the UK recently got “lambasted” and “roasted” for daring to complain about being served lamb dinners too often.
Should I eat it? Why not? You’re going to be offered it “180 times”
You may not know: On every table of every cafe and pub in the country. Most famous brand is HP sauce, which is actually made in the Netherlands.
Should I eat it? In a country filled with brown food, you should probably embrace brown sauce. Go on, get your brown on!