Culinary Surprises: 15 British Dishes That Defy Common Stereotypes

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Since collaborating with the United States in World War II, we Brits have endured multiple cultural stereotypes. Our cross-pond cousins love to deride our food, which was, until recently, not the best. However, anyone visiting Britain nowadays will be pleasantly surprised at the food. 

1. Eton Mess

Eton Mess, British Food, Dessert
Image Credit: Acabashi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

The English have a secret weapon in the food war — desserts. One might say England has Europe's sweetest tooth (no doubt where Americans get their god-level sugar tolerance from), and Eton Mess sums this up perfectly. A blend of vanilla meringues, broken up and flurried with strawberries (or raspberries if you prefer) and heavy cream. This dessert is a favorite at village fetes, cricket lunches, and on long summer days.

2. Fisherman's Pie

Fisherman's Pie, British Food
Image Credit: Conall, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

A good fisherman's pie (or fish pie, for short) is to seafood what shepherd's pie is to ground lamb meat. A fragrant, buttery cream sauce filled with shrimp, white fish filets, and egg slices is topped with more comforting mashed potato and cheese before going into a hot oven. The result is British comfort food 101, found on most pub menus — the closer to the sea, the better.

3. Full English Breakfast

Full English Breakfast, British Food
Image Credit: Ewan Munro, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

I am a massive fan of the great American breakfast; I will admit that I love it. However, the English breakfast can stand up to its American counterpart if done right. Our bacon is more similar to Canadian bacon, though this comes fried or grilled, along with fried eggs, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, and fried black pudding. Sadly, we don't serve those delectable pancakes or biscuits and gravy, but who says you can't experiment with some trans-Atlantic fusion?

4. Roast Beef With Yorkshire Puddings

Roast Beef With Yorkshire Pudding, British Food
Image Credit: Acabashi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

The name pudding is misleading: Yorkshire puddings are not sweet but savory pancakes roasted in beef fat. Furthermore, roast potatoes are mandatory with roast beef, as is thick, rich gravy made from the beef juices. I once read a story about someone's university housemate who baked giant Yorkshire puddings and used them as the ‘bread' for his sandwiches. We are serious about Yorkshire puddings in Britain.

5. Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington, British Food
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Anyone who watches food TV shows will have seen a beef Wellington, named after the much-celebrated Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, who was the victor of the Napoleonic Wars and the Prime Minister. With fine ingredients such as filet mignon wrapped with mushroom Duxelles and pastry, Beef Wellington is a fitting tribute to one of Britain's greatest heroes, gracing Michelin-starred menus worldwide.

6. Cream Tea

Cream Tea, British Food
Image Credit: Liyster – Own work, CC BY 3.0/Wiki Commons.

This dish requires freshly brewed tea as an addition, hence the strange name. However, the bulk of a cream tea is its dry ingredients: a butter scone, clotted cream, and raspberry jam. Sidenote: we call biscuits scones, and clotted cream is a super-thick baked cream. This Southwestern fare is a bone of contention for Cornish and Devonian citizens, who claim it is cream first and jam second. Cornish cream teas are served in reverse: the jam sits under the cream.

7. Pies

Meat Pies, British Food
Image Credit: Ewan Munro, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Pastry dishes are usually a good choice if you visit a British countryside pub. The variations we have are endless, though nothing beats a steak pie. Steak is mixed with thick gravy and encased in shortcrust pastry, then baked to a golden crunch. The best way to enjoy this British classic is sitting by a fire in an old pub with local ale on a cold night.

8. Bubble and Squeak

Bubble and Squeak, British Food
Image Credit: Kolforn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

This odd-sounding dish is the Sunday roast leftover vegetables blended with egg and flour into patties and then fried. The most common place to see this side dish is on a greasy spoon cafe breakfast menu. However, I like it next to thickly sliced charred ham and poached eggs for dinner, with cheese bechamel poured on top.

9. Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips, British Food
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I have never understood how Americans mock British food, yet fish and chips are on most taproom and bar menus across the land. In any case, the British pinnacle of this dish involves freshly caught cod, haddock, or plaice, fried in crunchy batter and served with chips (not fries). The secret is the frying oil; beef fat for the chips elevates this food to an elite level.

10. Bacon Sandwiches

Bacon Sandwiches, British Food
Image Credit: Christian Cable, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Wherever I travel, I am surprised at how few countries serve bacon sandwiches, though they require careful execution. Without a condiment to add moisture, they risk being too dry. Enter British brown sauce, a concoction of tamarind-based sweetness and sourness, or ketchup to balance this sandwich, then watch the results. Bacon sandwiches work best with a cup of strong English tea. 

11. Lancashire Hotpot

Lancashire Hotpot, British Food
Image Credit: Roby Milne.

Originating in Lancashire, north of Manchester, this satisfyingly rustic meal is a winter farmer's dream. The lamb neck is browned before being stewed for several hours in thickened broth. Next, layers of potato discs form a protective roof over the meat below; then, it is baked in a hot oven until brown. The only problem with a good hotpot is how sleepy you feel afterward.

12. Jam Roly-Poly

Jam Roly Poly, British Food, Dessert
Image Credit: EAT & ART TARO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

Yes, it sounds like a weird children's book character, but this recipe is seriously delicious. The roly-poly label comes from suet dough rolled with a liberal raspberry or strawberry jam spread. The result is a decadent, soft dessert that must be served with hot vanilla custard for the whole experience. I usually argue that puddings are best shared, but I struggle to share jam roly-poly.

13. Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding, British Food
Image Credit: DuncanHarris, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Although the United States is quite aware of this recipe, they must remember that, like American sports, it originated in Britain. A good bread pudding requires elite-level custard and quality butter for the best outcome. Moreover, cold vanilla ice cream adds a good contrast to this dessert's pleasing warmth, though it is advisable not to operate heavy machinery after eating it.

14. British Curries

British Curry, British Food
Image Credit: Ewan Munro, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

The world knows our affinity for chicken tikka masala, but dozens of distinctly British curry dishes were born after waves of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigration in the 1950s. My favorite curry is chicken dhansak, a lentil-based sweet, spicy curry with pineapple, served with Peshwari naan bread and pilau rice.

15. Victoria Sponge Cake

Victoria Sponge Cake, British Food, Dessert
Image Credit: Simone Coletta, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

We love naming foods after regents and war heroes, don't we? What could celebrate Britain's second-most famous queen (after the much-missed Elizabeth II) than a vanilla sponge sandwich filled with raspberry coulis and thick vanilla cream? We love Victoria Sponge at summer picnics, evening tea, and local town hall gatherings.

Author: Ben Rice

Title: Trending Topics, News, Features.

Expertise: Lifestyle, Travel, Music, Film.


Raised in England and with a career background in international education, Ben now lives in Southern Spain with his wife and son, having lived on three continents, including Africa, Asia, and North America. He has worked diverse jobs ranging from traveling film projectionist to landscape gardener.

He offers a unique, well-traveled perspective on life, with several specialties related to his travels. Ben loves writing about food, music, parenting, education, culture, and film, among many other topics. His passion is Gen-X geekery, namely movies, music, and television.

He has spent the last few years building his writing portfolio, starting as a short fiction author for a Hong Kong publisher, then moving into freelance articles and features, with bylines for various online publications, such as Wealth of Geeks, Fansided, and Detour Magazine.