Top Ten British Dishes
British food is often unfairly maligned for being bland and stodgy, a poor relation in comparison to French and Italian cuisine. In fact, British food has in its repertoire some delicious dishes.
Some are well-known classics such as the Sunday roast or a traditional dessert such as trifle. More unusual recent additions to typical British fare such as tikka masala mean that the British palate has become more adventurous.
Probably the most well-known British dish the world over is roast beef. In fact, so renowned is the British taste for roast beef that the French like to call them ‘rosbifs’. The British have been enjoying roast beef with sides of roast potatoes, other vegetables and gravy for centuries.
It is traditionally enjoyed on a Sunday when the whole family can sit down and eat together, but it is so popular that it is also enjoyed throughout the week and is a staple on the menu of many pubs, restaurants and hotels in York all the way to central London.
Roast beef is often accompanied by Yorkshire pudding, which deserves a special mention on its own. It was traditionally eaten as a separate course before the meat course to fill you up if you could not afford much meat.
The first recorded recipe appears in 1737 and was a way of using the ‘dripping’, the fat that dropped into a dripping pan underneath the roast, to mix with a batter made from flour, eggs and milk. It has a dip in the middle to soak up the gravy and forms a crisp crust around the edges to make a very tasty treat.
Another British classic is fish and chips. The fish (commonly cod or haddock) is deep fried in batter and served with a generous portion of chips (or fries), also preferably deep fried. As fishing intensified in the late 19th century and transport links improved, it became a popular working-class meal. Fish and chips is a popular take-away dish and is often served with mushy peas, tartar sauce and plenty of vinegar.
The Cornish Pasty is a British dish which despite some arguments about its precise origins between Devon and Cornwall has become an iconic British dish. It is a baked pastry case filled with meat (usually beef), potato, swede and onion. A circle of pastry is covered with the filling and folded over to form a semi-circle with a thick crimped crust.
It was a dish popular with Cornish miners, who could take it down the mines and use the crust as a handle which they could discard so they could eat them safely. Apparently there were high levels of arsenic in the mines and not much opportunity for hand washing before lunch. Nowadays the traditional Cornish pasty has remained popular across the UK but particularly in the north of England. On a weekend stay in Leeds, Manchester or Liverpool you will never be far from one of the popular bakeries selling pastry treats.
An English breakfast fry-up is one of the best ways to start the day. It comprises bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes and some bread, all fried. Black or white pudding can also be added and it is accompanied with a mug of tea or coffee.
It is a popular hangover cure and is open to interpretation, with other common additions to the meal including baked beans, fried potatoes and fried onions. If you want to enjoy this meal with every ingredient available, ask for a ‘Full English’.
Shepherd’s pie is an old recipe which enjoys longstanding affection in Britain. It is a great heart-warming winter dish made of a base of lamb in gravy and topped with mashed potato. It was created to use up leftover meat and can incorporate onions, carrots and peas in a tasty gravy.
As Britain became a more multi-cultural place, it embraced foreign cuisine to the point where Asian food is now so popular that chicken tikka masala is one of the nation’s favourite restaurant dishes. British soldiers, government officials and businessmen returning from India brought back a taste for Indian food. Chicken tikka appeared in Britain but the British preferred a meal with a sauce, hence the addition of a masala, or sauce, to go with the marinated chicken.
Pie and mash is also a very traditional dish, originating as a working-class food in London and sold in pie-and-mash shops since the 19th century. It is a minced-beef pastry pie served with mashed potato and a parsley sauce, traditionally called liquor. The liquor is not alcoholic but is made with water that is used to stew eels – another traditional British meal sold in pie-and-mash shops.
Let’s not forget the British sweet tooth. Britain has produced some wonderful puddings, including trifle, a layered dessert made with sponge cake soaked in sherry or fruit juice, fruit, thick custard and whipped cream. It looks great served in a glass dish so the layers can be viewed. The top layer of cream can be decorated with nuts, fruit or sugar sprinkles for eye-catching appeal.
Jam roly poly is another favourite dessert and was a staple of school dinners. It is thought to have originated in the 19th century and it is a flat suet pudding that is spread with jam and rolled up. It can be served with custard and is part of the stable of traditional British steamed bread puddings.