I’m from Canada. A land where we pour maple syrup in snow and eat it on a stick. A place where condensed milk, vinegar, and garlic mixed together and used as a sauce is normal.
But the Brits eat weirder things than we do.
After living in this country for over a year now, I’ve learned that British food is strange… and (with no bias at all) not quite as good as Canadian food.
One of the first things I realized when it comes to food in this country is that they can make anything into a sandwich. Fish fingers, fries, marmite… You name it. They love their sammies here. But I only recently came to know that the sandwich is actually one of England’s many great inventions.
Apparently nobody had thought to slap some meat between two pieces of bread until the 1700’s, when the Earl of Sandwich (seriously, his title was Sandwich… coming from the Viking word for ‘sandy beach’) asked his servants to bring him cold meat between bread so he could keep working at his desk. So there you go, first fun history fact of this post.
But back to my point. Here’s my list of English food that is just bloody weird. Or at least, weirdly named…
Also known as chip butty, chip sandwich, chip bap, chip sarnie… This is a sandwich which consists of chips. No, not potato chips. I think I would actually find that more normal. This English treat is simply, french fries in a buttered bread roll. Or a bun. Whichever.
As if the bread didn’t have enough carbs alone, let’s add some potato to this. And to heck with meat or actual vegetables, who needs em? I do. I need something to make a sandwich not bland. And no, ketchup and mayo do not count as making it less drab.
Fish and Chips
Although this isn’t really a weird food, or even weirdly named, I do find it weird how limp they like their chips. And it’s probably the best-known classic English meal… I expect better for such a highly-praised English dish.
The fish is almost always huge, and the chips are thick-cut and handmade, but I always find it super disappointing when the chips come soggy/half-cooked. Why they like their fries not crispy, I’ll never know. But the fish is always pretty dang good.
I like to think of these as the UK equivalent to refried beans. Because peas aren’t unattractive enough on their own, Brits decided to make their peas a lumpy, green, mashed mess. However, you can’t judge a book by its cover… I admit, I do enjoy a side of this green goop with my fish and chips.
So how do you make mushy peas? By taking dried marrowfat peas and soaking them in water and baking soda, then rinsing them and simmering with a bit of sugar and salt until they form a thick green, lumpy mash. Or you can just buy ’em in a can, but they aren’t overly great that way.
Sometimes they’re also packed into a ball, deep fried in batter, and served up as a “pea fritter”. I’ll stick to mac’n’cheese balls myself.
Chips with Curry/Chinese Food… or a 3-in-1
The English seem to really love their chips… putting them in sandwiches is weird, but having them with Chinese food? … Another weird thing they do that I can’t say isn’t tasty. Chips and rice together should never work, but somehow, they do.
So what is a 3-in-1, you ask? It’s rice, fries, and (usually curry) sauce. If you’d have told me this time last year I’d be ordering fries with Chinese, I’d have laughed in your face. But what did I have last night? Chips with curry sauce and fried rice.
Disclaimer: I’m not sure if this actually originated in England, or Ireland, or where… but England is the first place I’ve ever heard of it, so it’s on my list of English foods.
A large blood sausage… onions, oatmeal, flavourings, and… yeah, blood. Usually from a pig. Who wouldn’t want to eat pig’s blood for breakfast?
Nice of them to attempt to disguise the grossness of it by calling it pudding, which obviously is a completely inaccurate description, but I reluctantly admit, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. And apparently it’s actually considered a superfood, right up there with kale and broccoli. So if you do decide to attempt to eat a bit of this, don’t feel too badly about it.
They’ve also got another variation called white pudding… which is the same but uses pork fat instead of blood, if you’re too squeamish for the real thing.
Bacon or sausage in a bap/butty/cob/why they have so many names for a bread roll is beyond me. I personally prefer my breakfast sandwiches to include an egg and cheese or, y’know, even a hashbrown maybe.
But nah, the Brits keep it simple for this and just take a roll and throw some sausage or bacon in it and call it a breakfast bap. Or butty. Or whatever, I can’t keep track of all their names for bread anymore. While not my first choice for breakfast, it gets the job done.
A sponge pudding made with suet and dried fruit (usually currants or raisins) and served with custard. I can see the spotted bit of this dessert but the dick…? Maybe I don’t want to know… But where the hell do they come up with these names for food?
This is also available in a can, which I can imagine tastes just as good as it sounds… canned spotted dick. Yum. I have not tried this myself due to my hatred of raisins, but here’s a picture to show you just how appetizing spotted dick really is…
Nothing to do with Scotland… just a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and covered in bread crumbs, and fried. There are other variants, such as the Manchester egg: a pickled egg wrapped in a mixture of pork meat and black pudding, but the original version is good enough for me.
Bubble and Squeak
Made from the leftover veggies of a Sunday roast. Usually includes potatoes, maybe some Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
I didn’t get the name until recently, when I learned that when you fry it up, it bubbles and squeaks… So this is one of the few times British-named things actually make sense. It may not look appetizing, but alas, a lot of British food doesn’t.
Kind of like a chutney… a chunky, brown mixture. Goes with Ploughman’s Lunch.
Which, speaking of… brings me to:
Bread, cheese and pickles. Despite its name implying this used to be the meal ploughmen would take to the fields in the old days, it was actually invented in the ’60s by the national cheesemakers’ organization as a method of boosting cheese consumption.
This is a cold meal, typically accompanied by butter, and/or apples, ham, or other cold meats. Or served up in a sandwich. Because what doesn’t go in a sandwich in this country?
Other variations include: Farmer’s lunch – similar to the above, but with bread and chicken. Stockman’s lunch – bread and ham. Frenchman’s lunch – brie and baguette. Fisherman’s lunch – you guessed it, with fish.
Griddled, light and fluffy ‘cakes’, served with dripping butter. Basically the British version of pancakes and syrup. And essentially, just an English muffin that hasn’t been split apart.
This is pretty accurately described, as it really is a mess, and supposedly comes from Eton College. It’s a traditional English dessert consisting of strawberries or raspberries, broken meringue, and whipped cream. Almost like strawberry shortcake.
Essentially just roast batter, this used to be a stomach-filler before your meal in the days when food was scarce. Nowadays it’s served with a Sunday roast, filled with stew, gravy, or vegetables, or even filled with curry.
Another thing they like to call pudding, when it clearly isn’t…
Bringing Yorkshire pudding together with sausages…
Full English Breakfast
Baked beans, sausage, bacon, toast, roasted tomato, fried mushroom, egg (scrambled or fried but never poached), black pudding. Topped with brown sauce or red sauce. The only real weird thing about this is the black pudding, though HP sauce on breakfast food isn’t something I would’ve ever thought normal when I lived in Canada.
Okay, there’s nothing really weird about this one either. Except that we Canadians refer to it as just simply, corn… but these English folk put it on everything from pizza to Subway. And in tuna sandwiches. And I can’t lie, now I do too.
They have a weird obsession with baked potatoes too. Good God, the carbs in this country… But they like to smother them in baked beans and cheese, or tuna, or chili, or chicken tikka. So I’ll give ’em this one, they do know how to make a meal out of a baked potato.
Life-hack: If you’re really craving a doughnut but don’t want to buy one or take the time to make real ones, just take a hot dog bun and throw some icing on it. Or if you’re looking for an excuse to eat more bread, have it as a “dessert” this way.
Apparently in England, these are a “traditional treat” served with school dinners (usually the day after hot dogs were on the menu)… I’m very appreciative of the fact that we get real treats – like iced cinnamon buns – in Canada.
A food spread made from yeast extract… a by-product of beer brewing. It’s the UK’s version of Vegemite, and just as bad, if not worse. The weirdos that actually buy this stuff must have no taste buds, ’cause there’s no other explanation for being able to consume this crap.
Another popular condiment here in the UK is mint sauce, usually served with lamb or mushy peas. This stuff was discovered in the 16th century, due to Queen Elizabeth I deciding that mutton could only be served with bitter herbs. Her intention was to stop people from eating sheep in order to help the wool trade, but alas, her subjects created mint sauce and it’s been a favourite sauce ever since.
Unlike most British foods, which aren’t what they seem (or what they’re named), this is literally cream that has been clotted…. Similar to whipped cream, but cooked instead of whipped, and less sweet. Made by heating full cream cow’s milk in a steam or water bath, then leaving it to cool slowly, producing “clots” when the cream content rises to the top.
There’s honestly not a whole heck of a lot of taste to this stuff, so I can’t say it’s as unappealing as it sounds. But it goes alright with jam on scones.
Pie made with egg and potato, and… fish. This is a real thing, believe it or not, which must’ve came straight from the old nursery rhyme which shows blackbirds baked in a pie… except this one has fish heads sticking out of it, pointed up (“stargazing”) to let the juices flow back into the pie during baking.
The only real weird bit of this is that they’ve omitted the ‘r’ from pastry. And I still don’t know if it’s pronounced paste-y or past-y. But this is simply a folded pastry filled with chunks of beef and vegetables. Or any meat that isn’t mince apparently. Simple, but tasty pasty.
A strong white cheese, either plain or in the blue-vein variety. In all of England, only five dairies are allowed to produce cheese with this name. And that’s five too many. I like to avoid eating things that smell like rotten feet. If you’re wondering how it tastes, picture finding a block of cheese in a home abandoned for centuries and deciding to take a bite of it. It’s foul.
So if you’ve ever heard that English food isn’t good… a few of these foods are probably where they get the bad rap from. They seem to like things that are soggy and mushy, or just anything to do with bread, so if you’re a big texture person, you probably won’t like a lot of British food.
Personally, I do find the food a bit bland here… as they say, England’s got two flavours: bland or curry. But it’s not all bad; it just can’t compare to a good old donair poutine, or beavertails, or lobster rolls, or hodge podge…
And lastly, because I love to point out how weird their language is here, here’s a couple of Canadian food translations…
- All purpose flour is plain flour.
- Arugula is rocket.
- Biscuits are scones. And usually served with clotted cream and jam.
- Cake seems to be used to describe almost any type of dessert that’s been baked. ie: brownies, squares, banana bread… you get the drift.
- Candy is referred to as sweets.
- Cilantro is coriander.
- Corn is sweetcorn
- Corn syrup is golden syrup.
- A corner store is an offy – coming from the term “off-license”, meaning you can buy alcohol here and drink it somewhere off the premises.
- Cotton candy is candy floss.
- Cream puffs are profiteroles.
- Crepes are pancakes and pancakes are American pancakes.
- A curry is a blanket term for Indian cuisine.
- Digestive biscuits are like Graham crackers.
- Donair is doner.
- Eggplant is aubergine.
- A fish and chip shop is a chippy.
- Icing sugar is confectioner’s sugar.
- Gammon is a large, thick, round piece of ham.
- Ginger snaps are ginger nut biscuits.
- Ground beef, pork, turkey, chicken, etc. is beef mince, pork mince, etc.
- Green onions are spring onions.
- Grilled Cheese are toasties
- Gum is chewing gum
- HP Sauce is known as brown sauce
- Ketchup is also called red sauce, or tomato sauce
- Molasses is like treacle.
- Pies are tarts.
- Popsicles are iced lollies.
- Pot pies are pies.
- Raisins are sultanas.
- Real Ale is beer that’s brewed and served traditionally; called real ale to distinguish it from mass-produced brand. These tend to be warm and flat, and served by hand pump rather than gas pressure.
- Romaine lettuce is cos lettuce.
- Scallions are also spring onions.
- Shrimp are prawns.
- Snow peas are mange tout.
- Takeout, to-go, or delivery is a takeaway.
- Whole wheat is wholemeal.
- Yellow turnip or rutabaga is a swede.
- Zucchinis are courgettes
11 Comments Add yours
Can I ask if in Canada your bread is sweet, or is it just in the US? What about maple syrup poured over your bacon and eggs for breakfast?
Ooh maple syrup on my breaky is the best! and maple syrup on ham is one of my favourites too. I think our bread is the same as here though, we just don’t have nearly as many names for it 😉
Learn a lot from this post! Never remember it all with exception of stilton cheese, so we just have to keep travelling with you
Very interesting, can’t wait to read more. 😄
You write a very interesting blog. Sitting here with your mother having a good read and laugh at your unique perspective of life in the UK and their food. We have many good memories of our time living there.
Thanks Lloyd! It’s certainly been an interesting year and a half here. I swear I find new foods I’ve never heard of every time I go grocery shopping! … or should I say, every time I do the food shop 😉
Doubt this will be seen but here goes.
1) A true Cornish Pasty has meat and veg on one side and usually stewed fruit on the other, separated by a pastry barrier inside the pasty.
2) Egg on a breakfast sandwich is perfectly normal and served in any butty shop worth its salt.
3) Stargaze pie is only local to Cornwall and honestly looks terrifying.
4) If you’re getting soggy chips with your Fish & Chips or just soggy chips in general you need to frequent better chippys.
5) We need good root beer.
6) British people are weird for not having maple syrup on their breakfasts (I’m British but should’ve been Canadian lol).
7) We have a (half assed) Poutine substitute. Just go to a decent chippy and ask for cheesy chips with gravy.
8) Wtf is an “everything bagel”?
9) We’ve never heard of Clamato juice and as such don’t have Caesars.
10) Your blog is amazing, thank you for reminding me just how much I miss Canada.
Ha! Thanks so much for your comments 😄
I should really update this post as it’s three years old now, written before I became more well acquainted with British cuisine. But, I have to say:
1) I had no idea they include stewed fruit! We were just in Cornwall last month and I am ashamed to admit we forgot to try the real thing.
2) I have of course had egg on breakfast sandwiches here, but usually have to specifically request it and that still seems bizarre to me!
3) Fully agree, would love to meet whoever concocted such a monstrosity!
4) The soggy chips are not so much soggy as they are undercooked for me. I like some crispiness to mine and big chunky chips here in Notts are so very rarely crispy at all that it makes me not want to order fish and chips often!
5) Yes, 100%. I have found A&W root beer in Sainsbury’s on the odd occasion though, and our guy at supersinghscanadianthings.co.uk always does his best to hook us up!
6) Again, 100% agree! 😂
7) True, you just can’t beat squeaky cheese curds though!
8) The king of bagels. They’re topped with a bunch of ingredients, usually poppy seeds, black and white sesame seeds, dried garlic and onion flakes, and sea salt flakes. I make the seasoning myself here and put it on eggs and salads; highly recommend!
9) Caesars are a bit overrated in my opinion anyway, but you can get Clamato juice in Sainsbury’s!
10) Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings! So glad you enjoy it 😊
Enjoyed this article very much. Am an Asian American who cooks and eats all different cuisines. Having traveled around the US and UK and Europe, I especially like to try preparing different country dishes at home, especially English and Irish dishes. Made toad in the hole, bubble and squeak, soda bread, scones, curry dishes, and tea sandwiches, oh and poutine which I had in Montreal! Bon appetite!