British food: 20 best dishes

CNN  — 

If British food has come in for a bit of mockery over the years, it isn’t because the recipes are wrong, it’s because they’re misunderstood.

We call sausages “toads.” We cover offal in gravy, wrap it in pastry and call it a “pudding.”

We eat eels! Real, no foolin’ eels!

None of it really makes sense to the casual observer. But that’s just one of the things that makes British cuisine so special.

Eating British food is not just eating: it is a surrealist expedition into a magical parallel universe that will challenge almost everything your eyes, your palate and your gut know to be right and proper.

These are some of the classic British dishes:

The Full English

Full English minus the extra offal

We’re not about to claim that we’re the only nation that eats eggs and fried pork products in some form for breakfast.

But we would humbly suggest that we’ve taken the whole notion of the “cooked breakfast” to more ambitious places than anyone else would probably dare.

A proper British fry-up requires more than a plate: it requires a vast platter capable of accommodating not just predictable eggs and banal bacon but their exotic cousins: kidneys, fried bread, a sausage made entirely of blood (see black pudding, below) and a concoction of leftover potatoes and vegetables that we inexplicably call “bubble and squeak.”

See also: The Full Scottish.

Yorkshire pudding

Available on prescription.

Pudding, for you non-Brits, is what we in the UK call dessert.

But the Yorkshire pudding is a liar.

It looks all puffy and mouthwatering like a pudding, right? But don’t let its friendly appearance fool you. It is not a pudding at all. Like 95% of all British cuisine, it is comprised entirely of eggs, flour, milk and fat.

Before Prozac arrived, this was often the best available alternative.

Black pudding

Tastier than its ingredients suggest.

Despite the name, there’s no mistaking this one for a dessert. It’s a sausage made out of blood. Congealed blood. And oats.

The trick to eating this successfully is to shut your eyes and try not to think or breathe. That way it’s actually quite exquisite.

Toad in the hole

Nightmarish appearance. Dreamy taste

Exactly the same as the above recipe but with sausages and therefore 3.7 times tastier.

Spotted dick

From the loins of a sheep to the school dinner table

They gave you this in English schools in the ’70s and ‘80s when Margaret Thatcher ruled the land with a fist of iron. In fact, it might have even been her idea.

Spotted dick is a dense and delicious combination of sugar, flour, currants and the raw, shredded fat found around the loins and kidneys of a sheep. And if that’s not sophisticated enough, it is traditionally drenched in the national beverage: custard.

Jellied eels

One is probably enough.

Imagine the biggest slug you’ve ever seen. Then imagine eating it.

Pie and mash

Carbs with a side order of carbs

A glorious way, no, the only way, to consume as many carbs as possible in one meal. Pastry on the bottom, a different type of pastry on the top, unidentifiable flesh in the middle, and a tsunami of mashed potato.

Shepherd’s pie

Brown meat and potatoes

Another national dish built upon a tissue of lies. Not a pie but a gigantic swamp of brown meat and gravy hidden beneath a thick blanket of mashed potato. Excessive consumption of this dish risks triggering a neurological condition known as “mash psychosis.”

Fish fingers, chips and beans

A dish for all occasions.

By which we mean, fish sticks, oven-cooked french fries and canned beans in tomato sauce.

By the age of 16, the average British child will have eaten this dish 4,160 times.

Gone to a friend’s house for dinner? Fish fingers, chips and beans. Got a friend round for dinner? Fish fingers, chips and beans. Mom and dad had a few drinks again? Fish fingers, chips and beans.

Proust had his madeleines. The Brits have oven chips and frozen sticks of reconstituted haddock.

Scotch egg

The egg's stare seems to follow you around the room.

An egg wrapped in a sausage

Sausage roll

Contains none of your five-a-day.

A sausage wrapped in an egg (and various other ingredients that make up pastry).


Stick a cherry on it, call it a dessert.

Can’t decide on dessert? Let trifle solve the conundrum. Layer one pudding on top of another pudding on top of another and cover it all with whipped cream.

For good measure, douse the whole thing in fortified wine then chuck on a bunch of brightly colored sprinkles and a cherry.

Brits will put a cherry on top of anything and call it dessert.

Eton mess

Another fine mess.

The heroin of desserts. In some upper-class areas of Britain, you can’t move for the aristocrats passed out in the gutter having overdosed on this intoxicating mixture of meringue, cream and fruit.

Steak and kidney pudding

We couldn't find a steak and kidney pudding to photograph. So imagine this pie, but upside down.

How do you like your steak? Medium rare and served with peppercorn sauce? Gently seared with a crisp green salad on the side?

Or perhaps the way that the Queen Of England (probably) prefers it: cut into chunks, combined with the vital organs of a sheep and stuffed inside a gigantic bucket of pastry?

Rice pudding

Britain's answer to sushi?

In China, it’s fried with egg. In Japan, it’s served cold with raw fish. There’s only one way we serve our rice in Britain: overcooked and drowned in milk and sugar..

Jam roly poly

From the people who brought you the World Wide Web.

A rolled up cake made of shredded fat filled with jam. Something like this could only be conjured from the imagination of a nation that also gave you The Beatles, the World Wide Web and fox hunting.

Fish and chips

Britain on a plate.

We built an empire and subjugated many a nation to protect our right to eat fish and chips out of an old bit of newspaper.

At least I think that’s what British colonialism was about. Either way, we’d go to war with the world all over again if our fried fish in batter was ever under threat.


Which came first, the cream or the jam?

History will probably one day reveal that the English Civil War of 1642-1651 was started by two idiots who couldn’t agree on whether the jam or cream went on the scone first.

This is still a cause of division in the country that makes our bickering over Brexit seem tame and reasonable by comparison.

Christmas pudding

Probably good this is only served once a year.

Was it the 18th-century literary giant Dr. Johnson who said that when a man is tired of Christmas pudding, he is tired of life? That said, Johnson suffered terribly from gout.


World about to end? Have a nice cup of tea.

We stole plants from China and India, sailed all the way back home, dried them, crushed them, drowned them in boiling water then mixed the whole thing with milk and sugar.

We now delude ourselves that there isn’t a crisis that can’t be resolved simply by brewing up a pot of tea.

Anna Pallai is a British literary agent and PR and is the author of “70s Dinner Party” (Square Peg) and @70s_party on Twitter.