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13 Traditional British Dishes To Eat

If you’re visiting the United Kingdom, try these famous dishes while you’re there.

Food is one of the main components of culture. 

Fish and chips with french fries

The food in a society is not just flavor and health. How people prepare dishes can say much about who they are. 

What about cultures that are more complex than others? 

British food is representative of cuisine from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. 

Due to colonization, Britain has some of the most diverse food options. British dishes have influences from the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman invaders.

Items like meat, potatoes, and vegetables were readily available, but many of these ingredients and foods have an original British history.

Popular British Food

Keep on reading to learn the most popular British dishes.


Fish and Chips

One of the most iconic British dishes, fish and chips, includes pieces of fried and battered white fish served alongside what Americans call french fries. 

People did not serve fish and chips in Britain until the latter half of the 1800s. Despite its late start, the dish quickly took off globally.

Almost everywhere the British had influence created their version of fish and chips. The most significant difference is the type of fish used, usually local varieties. 

Malt vinegar is one of the most frequently used sauces to season fish, providing a tart component to contrast the crispy, moist fish. 

People flavor the chips with vinegar and salt as well. Although this feels way more natural with ketchup, I enjoy eating french fries with the condiment. 


Roast Dinner

A British tradition dating back to the era of King Henry VII, Sundays were meant for roast dinner.

The meal could be left to cook before attending church and be ready when people return home. Typically, this meal consists of a large beef roast, but sometimes people use other meats. 

In addition to the roast itself, this dinner serves beef alongside potatoes, vegetables, and gravy. Later, the Yorkshire pudding became a popular part of the dish.

Yorkshire puddings are known outside Britain as popovers. These delicious puddings drenched with gravy are one of my favorite parts of a traditional roast dinner. 


Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie’s origins can be traced back to Scotland and England, where it was cooked using lamb or mutton.

The meat is placed at the bottom of the pie along with vegetables, usually a mix of carrots, turnips, peas, and onions. All of this is topped with mashed potatoes and baked in the oven. 

My favorite part of shepherd’s pie is the browned mashed potatoes on top! The slight bit of crispiness breaks up the otherwise soft texture of the dish. 

Shepherd’s pie is a filling meal that often uses leftovers from a roast dinner to save money.

While lamb is the traditional meat in shepherd’s pie, beef is also used though many argue using this ingredient classified the dish as a cottage pie. 


Trifle

An English dessert with great versatility, trifle creates delicious layers of tasty sweets.

One of the essential ingredients is a soft cake, traditionally made from spongey ladyfingers.

The cake, flavored by soaking in sherry, is accompanied by layers of jelly, custard, cream, and fruit.

People serve trifles in clear vessels to show these delicately crafted layers. 

New elements have been added to the dish to create unique trifles that deviate from tradition. Some modern recipes use ingredients like chocolate, ginger, and vanilla.

My favorite version is the traditional trifle with raspberries and sweet cream. 


Eton Mess

Eton mess is another traditional English dessert, using summer fruits, especially strawberries.

The fruit is mixed with broken meringue and whipped or ice cream. Many stories about the dish’s origin spread today, many involving a destroyed dessert and eager students choosing to eat it anyway.

The truth of the dish is probably created and gained popularity after being served at Eton College

The second part of the dessert’s name has been up for debate. “Mess” has been thought to reference the dish’s appearance or how it was supposedly created.

Regardless of the origins, this is one of my favorite British desserts, and it’s one you’ll want to try. 


Haggis

Many Americans have at least heard of haggis, and if you ask them what it is, they’ll tell you it’s sheep’s stomach.

This description isn’t entirely accurate. Haggis is a Scottish pudding made from oatmeal, onion, spices, and edible organ meats.

Traditionally, haggis is cooked inside the animal’s stomach, though a different casing is used in modern times. 

Scotland isn’t the only area of the world where this dish is popular, and food similar to haggis has been around since ancient times.

Cooking perishable meat in the stomach would have been a fast and efficient way to eat hunted animals.

The Scottish take is one of the most popular for a reason. It’s one of my favorite versions of the food. 


Steak and Kidney Pie

A great example of a savory pie, steak, and kidney pie, is filled with meats present in its name.

Beef, lamb, or pork are the most popular options for creating the dish. Besides the meat, there’s little else in the steak and kidney pie though onion is another common ingredient. 

For me, the best part of a steak and kidney pie is the flaky crust. My preference is for a double-crust pie with pastry on the top and bottom.

Other variations use only a pastry lid. Many of the top crust-only recipes use puff pastry to add more texture. 


Bangers and Mash

A simple meal of sausages and mashed potatoes with a name influenced by history, bangers, and mash is British comfort food.

During World War I, rationing meant links had more water content than usual. The water caused the meat to pop during the cooking process. Bangers and mash contain either beef, lamb, or pork sausage. 

In addition to mashed potatoes, vegetables are usually served with the dish. Popular choices for accompaniment include peas and fried onions.

My favorite side is the fried onions, typically cooked next to the sausage in the pan, soaking up all the delicious juices. 


Cream Tea

From the name, one might assume cream tea is a drink, but it’s a type of meal.

A deviation of afternoon tea, a midday meal with small snacks served with tea, cream tea is a version of the meal popular in regions like Devon and Cornwall.

The menu defines a cream tea consisting of scones served with clotted cream and jam. 

Even in places where cream tea is commonly served, there are disagreements about how it should be done.

Some insist the clotted cream should be added before the jam, while others recommend the opposite. 

As for me, I’ve tried both and couldn’t see a remarkable difference. However, both styles are delicious so take the opportunity to have cream tea no matter how it’s served. 


Toad in the Hole

A modern toad in the hole contains sausage cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter but historically has referred to many types of meat cooked in this method.

The dish is served topped with savory onion gravy. I love slightly crispy Yorkshire pudding that makes an excellent vessel for the sausage and soaks up all the tasty gravy.   

The name toad in the hole references the food’s appearance. The meat inside the Yorkshire pudding looked like a hunting toad waiting in its burrow.

No toads were ever used in the dish, despite rumors about the dish’s history.  


Cornish Pasty

A Cornish pasty is a pastry stuffed with meat, rutabaga, and onion.

The dish became associated with Cornwall because of its popularity with miners. Cornish pasty was an easy food to transport and traveled well compared to others.

Since these tasty pastries were made for travel, they are often eaten cold and warm. I enjoy eating them both ways as a satisfying snack. 

Globally, there are many pastry dishes with similar styles. The Cornish pasty stands out among these for its crispy crust.

There are many variations inspired directly by the Cornish variety of stuffed pastries, especially in places occupied by Britain in the past. 


Spotted Dick

Another sweet pudding dish, spotted dick, contains dried fruits like raisins.

Traditionally the dough contains suet, raw animal fat, but modern substitutes like butter are starting to replace it.

In my opinion, the original version is a little richer, and I prefer suet rather than other fats. 

No matter the recipe, spotted dick is a simple but tasty dish. The name of the dish has interesting origins.

Spotted refers to the fruit inside the pudding, creating small dots of color. Regionally, dick refers to pudding where the dish was first served. The same dialect uses the word dog for the same purpose.    


English Breakfast

Also called the full breakfast, the English breakfast provides a filling way to start the day.

Since many of the components are fried, a fry-up is another popular name for this dish.

Fried items include bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Baked beans are also a part of an English breakfast. 

On top of everything served as part of the breakfast, cereal is often served before this dish, and toast is provided after the meal.

My advice for those taking on the full breakfast is to come with an appetite! You’ll want room for each tasty component of this traditional meal. 

Check out other English breakfast dishes you can enjoy in the UK!


Popular British Food

  1. Fish and Chips
  2. Roast Dinner
  3. Shepherd’s Pie
  4. Trifle
  5. Eton Mess
  6. Haggis
  7. Steak and Kidney Pie 
  8. Bangers and Mash
  9. Cream Tea
  10. Toad in the hole
  11. Cornish Pasty
  12. Spotted Dick
  13. English Breakfast

Final Thoughts

The United Kingdom has many traditional dishes, with influences from near and far. These are some of the most popular British foods worth trying if you visit a traditional pub! There are even more classic dishes, but these examples are recognizable favorites. 

Britain has a remarkable food history, and there’s always more to discover. If we missed one of your favorites, let us know in the comments below. 

Learn about food from around the world on our blog, like the best French breads!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.