British Food: Traditional English Dishes You Must Try

British Food: 15 Traditional English Dishes You Must Try!

You won’t need to worry about getting hungry when you visit England, because the best dishes in England are hearty, wholesome, and filling! From the full English breakfast to the classic Sunday roast, English food is guaranteed to fill your stomach and satisfy those hunger pangs. 

English food might not have the acclaim of French cuisine or the fiery spice of Mexican food, but there’s no lack of tradition or shortage of history in the best English dishes. You’ll love the pomp of a fine afternoon tea, while the humble origins of the fish pie can be traced back centuries. There’s beef Wellington to enjoy, fish and chips to devour, and Balti and tikka masalas to die for. 

With so many delicious foods in England, you might not know what to order first. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the best foods in England that you have to try. Give these English foodie favorites a go, and there’s no doubt you’re going to have an amazing time eating your way around this gorgeous part of the United Kingdom. 

Don’t forget to check out our web story: 15 Traditional English Dishes You Must Try!

15 Delicious Traditional Foods to Try in England

1. Full English Breakfast

Best Foods to try in England: Full English Breakfast

There’s no heartier way to start your day than with a full English breakfast. This is the full breakfast works, and you’ll need a huge appetite to wolf down a fully stacked breakfast plate at your hotel buffet or in a greasy spoon cafe. 

The full English breakfast is mammoth. As a bare minimum, you can expect your plate to be piled high with sausages (at least two), bacon (at least two rashers), a fried egg (or two, or even three), fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, and baked beans in tomato sauce. And then there will be toast, tea, and coffee on the side, and perhaps a glass of juice. 

We’ll remind you again, though: that’s the bare minimum. It’s not uncommon for the full English breakfast to also be served with multiple hash browns, fried potatoes, chips, or even a little bit of spinach to add a touch of greenery to the breakfast. 

In certain parts of the country, a full English breakfast will be served with black pudding, a type of blood sausage. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but it’s one of the most popular foods in England! 

Luckily, though, you can generally specify or choose the size of the breakfast you’re ordering. Go for a small if you’re watching the calories, but indulge in the “full” full English breakfast if you’re starving!

2. Breakfast Butty

Traditional Foods to try in England: Breakfast Butty

If a full English breakfast is too much to start the day with, then you might want to consider downsizing to a simple breakfast butty. The English have mastered the art of serving breakfast in a sandwich, and you’ll love the options available to you. If you’re searching for foods to try in England, be sure to dig into at least one breakfast butty.

In its simplest form, the classic breakfast butty is served with sausages, bacon, or egg sandwiched between a bread roll. You can order a combination of the above, so if you’re hungry, then a sausage, bacon, and egg butty will go down well. 

Of course, these days the breakfast butty is becoming more and more artisanal. You can find open-faced breakfast butties served with smashed avocado and poached eggs in brunch spots, for example, or the bread roll might be switched for sourdough bread or an English muffin. You might even find a little bit of spinach in there! 

We should note that every region has its own dialect when it comes to breakfast foods and sandwiches. The word “butty” refers to the bread roll, but you could also hear this being called a breakfast roll, a breakfast sarnie, a breakfast cobb, or just a breakfast sandwich!

3. Fish and Chips

Local Foods to try in England: Fish and Chips

Nothing speaks of English cuisine as much as the traditional fish and chips. This is a dish that English people would be ready to die for, and indeed, it’s a dish that the country once went to war for (look up the “Cod Wars” with Iceland if you want to learn more!).

Fish and chips isn’t a fancy dish. It’s also a very beige-colored dish. And given that it’s really just fish served with chips, it should be very simple. But there’s good fish and chips, and there’s bad fish and chips, and as you travel around England, you’ll begin to understand what separates the delicious from the tasteless. 

You need the batter that coats your fish to be crispy but not too greasy. You need the chips to be chunky, not dry, but not too oily. Then you need a good coating of salt and vinegar and a fine selection of sides to accompany the fish and chips. We suggest ordering mushy peas, tartare sauce, and some chip shop curry sauce to go alongside your fish and chips.  

This is a dish that’s been commandeered by many of Britain’s celebrity chefs (Gordon Ramsey, for example), who will charge a fortune at their sit-down restaurants for a poor-quality version. For the most authentic fish and chips, you need to go to the local “chippie,” where your dinner will be inexpensive, delicious, and wrapped up in newspapers for takeaway!

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4. The Sunday Roast

Best Foods to try in England: The Sunday Roast

The Sunday roast is one of the most traditional dishes in England, and we know you’re going to love ending your weekend with a delicious plate of roasted meat and veggies that’s drowning in gravy!

The Sunday roast is a timeless English tradition. It’s more than just a dish because the Sunday roast is as much about bringing the family together around the kitchen table or friends together in the pub as it is about the food.

But we’d be lying if we said the quality of the food wasn’t as important as the company! The Sunday roast has to be prepared in a particular way, and there are certain items that just can’t be excluded. 

The centerpiece of the Sunday roast is the roasted meat, or these days, the roasted vegetarian alternative. Head to a pub, and you’ll often have a choice of roasted chicken, roast beef, roast pork, or roast lamb. Vegetarian options often include a nut roast or a veggie Wellington.

Your meat or veg will be surrounded by roasted vegetables. The vegetable selection can vary, but at the least, you will be served roasted potatoes, roasted carrots, and roasted parsnips. You might also be served turnips or swede, green beans, peas, onions, Brussels sprouts, and more.

The Sunday roast is often completed with the addition of a Yorkshire pudding, a savory treat prepared from a batter and then covered in thick homemade gravy. You might have a few added sauces, too. If you’ve ordered roast pork, you will be served applesauce. If you’ve ordered roast beef, you can add horseradish – and so on!

5. Balti

Unique Foods to try in England: Balti

English cooking has evolved in recent decades, and modern favorites take much inspiration from the country’s multicultural demographics. One such cuisine that has been enthusiastically adopted by the English is the curry, which of course traces its origins to the Indian subcontinent. 

The English, though, have made many curry dishes their own, including the famous Balti. A Balti consists of a garlic and onion sauce and a choice of meat (or vegetarian or fish options) cooked at high heat in a steel pan. 

The Balti traces its origins to 1970s Birmingham when newly arrived immigrants began setting up curry houses. Birmingham became famous for its Balti houses, where a “Balti” would be cooked and served in a metal dish accompanied by a large piece of naan bread. 

Balti has become synonymous with English curries, and while the best Balti houses are in Birmingham, you’ll find this dish on the menu of curry houses across the country. And once you’ve tried the Balti, there are many more Indian-inspired dishes to choose from when you’re in Britain, including the equally famous chicken tikka masala (which originated in Glasgow, Scotland). 

6. Pie and Mash

England Foods to eat: Pie and Mash

The best English food is often the simplest, and you can never go wrong with a good old-fashioned pie and mash!

Pie and mash is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a savory pie served with mashed potatoes. It’s a classic, and you’ll love how many different flavors and fillings there are around the country.

The pie itself is best prepared using puff pastry, which gives the pie a puffy, flaky exterior. The base will be quite thick to hold in all the inners, but the lid should be light and airy. Inside, you’ll find your savory filling, and this is where you can keep it traditional or get creative.

Traditional fillings include steak and kidney, steak and ale, chicken and mushroom, or mushroom and leeks, for example. Less traditional fillings include chickpea curry, macaroni and cheese, and more!

The pie will be served alongside mashed potatoes, and you could also be served garden peas, beans, or mushy peas. If the pie is served with peas, then you can top the dish off with a big serving of gravy to finish.

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7. Shepherd’s Pie

England Foods to try list: Shepherd’s Pie

Take a thick, gravy-swamped layer of minced lamb mixed with diced carrots and onions and pour it into the bottom of a baking dish. Whip up some creamy mashed potatoes, and spread a thick layer over the minced lamb. Place the dish in the oven to bake, and you’ve got yourself a shepherd’s pie, one of the most popular foods in England!

Shepherd’s pie traces its origins back to at least the 18th century, when it was popularized as a delicious way to make use of leftover meats. This timeless classic is a dish that everyone enjoys in the winter. It’s easy to put together, and with a rich, saucy mince covered in baked mashed potatoes, it’s even easier to eat.

Traditional shepherd’s pie is supposed to include lamb mince, but you can use beef mince instead. A beef mince base, though, gives you a “cottage pie” rather than a “shepherd’s pie!” Alternatively, you can switch the meat for a vegetarian alternative such as Quorn mince. 

You’ll find shepherd’s pie (or cottage pie) on the menu in many pubs across England, where it will be served with a portion of gravy, as well as a vegetable side such as garden peas.  

8. Fish Pie

England Foods to eat: Fish Pie

The English love of “pies” runs deep, and another traditional favorite is the fish pie. Like shepherd’s pie, this was also a dish that was intended to use up leftover ingredients (in this case, fish). 

Unlike a steak and kidney or steak and ale pie, a fish pie is a type of pie that requires no pastry. Instead, it follows the style of a shepherd’s pie, and the ingredients are baked in the oven with a liberal topping of mashed potatoes. 

Different recipes for fish pies have been found as far back as the 17th century, and this delicious dish has always been a fixture in coastal regions of England where leftover fish was available in abundance. 

While you can use almost any fish or seafood (prawns are an excellent addition!), it’s common for white fish such as cod or haddock or smoked fish such as salmon to be used. The seafood is mixed with a creamy white or cheese sauce, and you can add in extras like onions, sweetcorn, or garden peas as you like.  

The saucy seafood mix is placed into the bottom of a baking dish and then topped with a thick layer of creamy mashed potatoes. Bake the pie until the potatoes are crispy on top, then serve it piping hot with your favorite vegetables to accompany! 

9. Pasties, sausage rolls, and steak slices

What to eat in England: Pasties, sausage rolls, and steak slices

If you’re looking for foods to try in England, then why not pop into a bakery, where you’ll find a vast selection of savory baked goods that are guaranteed to satisfy your hunger pangs!

The English love their baked goods, but none more so than pasties, sausage rolls, and steak slices. They are all best made with flaky or crispy pastry, but the pastry is really just a vessel for the sumptuous fillings.

Pasties are prepared using a mixture of chopped potatoes, carrots, and turnips mixed with ground beef or a vegetarian alternative. Pasties are “crimped” on one side, securing the pastry but also giving the pasty its unique look.

Sausage rolls are prepared using a sausage-type filling that’s rolled up in a light layer of pastry. Steak slices are made using a beef steak filling cooked in a gravy that’s then wrapped inside a square or rectangular “slice” of puff pastry.

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10. Toad in the Hole

Best Foods to try in England: Toad in the Hole

One of the most unique English foods to try is toad in the hole. Not only is the name quite unusual, but the dish itself is quite an unusual concept for anyone unfamiliar with traditional dishes in England.

The first thing we should clarify is that toad in the hole does not involve cooking any toads! The name refers to the fact that the finished dish sort of looks like a toad that’s found its way into some sort of hole. 

The “toad” refers to the sausages, which are gently fried before being added to a large baking tray that’s been filled with Yorkshire pudding batter. The baking tray is placed into the oven, and once the batter has risen around the sausages, the toad is said to now be in the hole!

Toad in the hole is then served with classic English sides, including mashed potatoes, peas, and, best of all, lashings of gravy to soften up the Yorkshire pudding. You can switch meat sausages for veggie sausages to make toad in the hole vegetarian-friendly!

11. Beef Wellington

England Foods to try list: Beef Wellington

If you like the sound of a tenderloin steak wrapped in a light coating of puff pastry, then you’ll love the beef Wellington. This lavish dish is part of the historic English custom of wrapping meat in pastry, but the beef Wellington is an extreme version of this tradition!

This dish dates back to at least the Victorian era (it was named after the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo), and the mixture of expensive beef and delicate pastry ensured that the beef Wellington was only enjoyed by the upper classes.

To prepare a beef Wellington, a whole tenderloin is braised and then wrapped in puff pastry. The beef Wellington is then baked in the oven until the beef is cooked on the inside and the pastry is crispy on the outside. Beef Wellington will then be sliced into portions and served alongside roasted or steamed vegetables with plenty of beef gravy. 

Beef Wellington is an English classic, but it’s a dish that takes skill, timing, and experience to get absolutely perfect. The best restaurants in England will have beef Wellington on the menu (it’s a popular Sunday lunch option), making sure all of the hard work is done for you!

12. Afternoon Tea

Best Foods to try in England: Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is the most quintessential of English culinary traditions, and if you love the pomp and pageantry of English culture, then you’re going to love this!

Afternoon tea revolves around a selection of hot teas (such as English Breakfast, Darjeeling, Earl Gray, and so on) served with milk. Alongside your cup of tea, you’ll also be served a fine selection of finger sandwiches, cakes and pastries, and scones, cream, and jam.

As you might expect, there’s a correct order to things. Indulge first in the finger sandwiches (which will include beef, salmon, and cucumber sandwiches), then enjoy the cakes and pastries, and finish with a scone piled high with clotted cream and jam.

Afternoon tea was first developed in the Victorian era as a way to stave off hunger between lunch and dinner, and so traditionally, it’s taken around 4 pm. Tea rooms and high-end restaurants around England will offer an afternoon tea package you can book, but for the fanciest experience, try and book a spot at The Ritz in London!

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13. Sticky Toffee Pudding

Traditional Foods to try in England: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Dessert lovers will love the medley of options available to them on English menus, including the ever-popular sticky toffee pudding. 

This sweet pudding is prepared with a sponge base that’s both light and fluffy. The sponge is mixed with dates and sweet spices, giving this pudding a particularly sweet taste. To complete the sweetness, the pudding is finished with a thick toffee sauce that’s simply decadent. Sticky toffee pudding is served hot, with either a large scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream. 

The origins of sticky toffee pudding are unclear. Despite the dessert’s popularity and traditional appeal, it’s thought to have only evolved in England in the 20th century. A family favorite in England is the microwavable sticky toffee pudding you can buy in supermarkets, but you’ll find more gourmet options available in pubs and restaurants! 

14. Spotted Dick

Traditional Foods to try in England: Spotted Dick

Okay, so this one’s not what you’re thinking! Spotted dick is a notoriously named English dessert, but once you’re finished being amused by the name, you’ll love the fluffy sponge and sweet raisins of this traditional pudding.

Spotted dick is prepared using a traditional pudding base mixed with dried fruit. The mixture is then steamed, giving spotted dick a light and fluffy texture. Once it’s been steamed, spotted dick is served piping hot with a large serving of custard to finish. If you’re not a fan of custard, then this can be switched to cream or ice cream!

And in case you were wondering, the name “spotted dick” is derived from regional English dialects. “Dick” was a name given to puddings, while “spotted” refers to the raisins!

15. English Cheese

Local Foods to try in England: English Cheese

With upwards of 900 distinct varieties of English cheese produced around the country, cheese lovers visiting England will find themselves in cheesy heaven!

There are some English cheeses you’ve probably already heard of and tried. Cheddar, for example? Cheddar Gorge, in Somerset, is where cheddar cheese originated. While cheddar has been exported around the world, they still make it the old-fashioned way in Cheddar Gorge by maturing huge cheese wheels in caves!

You might have heard of Stilton, too, a crumbly blue cheese from the Midlands that takes a strong palate to enjoy. There’s Shropshire Blue, Oxford Blue, Single Gloucester and Double Gloucester, and many more regional specialties that you may or may not have heard of.

Needless to say, English cheese is a delight, and you’ll find it in everything from sandwiches and burgers to cheese sauces and pies!

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There you have it! The 15 best foods to try in England. What’s your favorite thing to eat in England?

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About the Author:

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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