Most people who visit England probably don’t go there for the food. And who can blame them? English food has the reputation of being some of the worst – in the world. So when we went to London in August I didn’t expect a whole lot in regards to food – except delicious fish and chips which I thoroughly enjoyed on a previous superbrief visit. And boy, was I surprised! Either all these people who complain about English food have never actually tried it or they just didn’t know where or what to eat. I was there for a week and didn’t have a single dish I didn’t like. I do have to admit that I avoided such horrible-sounding things like black pudding and tripe… but why would I order that anyways when I had so many other great-sounding things to choose from? So, here’s my personal guide to great English food in London. There will probably a post or two about specific places that I really loved in a little while, so stay tuned…
English Breakfast. Let’s start with breakfast. From what I have seen it typically includes eggs, sausage/ham/bacon, sauteed mushrooms and/or tomatoes, baked beans, toasted bread, and jam. I think cereal, granola, and yogurt are common as well. And of course, there are coffee, tea, and juices. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the sausages, but loved the ham. Everything else was just typical breakfast stuff for me – except maybe the baked beans, but I am used to those from Texas BBQs and actually like them. Breakfast is where you could maybe find the dreaded black pudding, but as I said, I would have stayed as far away as possible from that anyways. My aunt wasn’t so lucky in her breakfast pics: First, she put Marmite on her toast and was very surprised by the salty/Maggie-like taste. Then, she started chewing on a Weetabix bar and quickly stopped when her mouth was getting drier and drier. Lucky for me I wasn’t in the mood for jam or granola bars that morning in the hotel. I might have picked the wrong stuff too!
- Fish and chips. I’m not sure if this is actually considered traditional English food, but it sure is popular and a classic choice for people visiting England. It’s sold everywhere in London! For your best experience, I would avoid little food stalls and fast-food places and splurge on a good seafood restaurant. It’s worth it! My sister took us to The Grapes, an amazing fish restaurant in Limehouse. The whole place is really authentic and I loved the views of the Thames. Everybody ordered the same thing: the catch of the day (a white fish – battered and fried of course), chips (i.e., thick-cut fries and not the Pringles-kind), and mushy peas (mashed peas). It was super delicious! And way too much. We made the mistake of ordering sides per person… next time, one side for two people. For dessert we ordered traditional apple crumbles with custard or ice cream and lemon & rhubarb possets (a creamy, lemony, mousse-like dessert with rhubarb at the bottom). I loved the posset!
Indian or Bengali food. I know, not really English, right? But apparently it depends on what you order; I learned that my favorite “Indian food”, Chicken Tikka Masala, isn’t even Indian at all. It was supposedly invented in Glasgow and is the United Kingdom’s most popular restaurant dish according to some survey. And apart from the Tikka Masala, the Indian/Bengali food in London must be some of the most authentic outside of their respective countries given that the restaurants are owned and run by immigrants from those countries. Yummy! So when in London, head over to Brick Lane, a street where you can find a ton of Indian and Bengali restaurants. I found it a little annoying that people would try to get you into their restaurants by reciting special offers to every person passing by on the sidewalk, but I am told that it’s way worse on the weekends. Kind of reminded me of Khan-El-Khalili in Cairo 🙂 Either way, the food is really good on Brick Lane! The only one who went to bed hungry that night was my grandpa. He’s not a very adventurous eater and was put off by all the spices he didn’t know – my grandma made up for that by eating for two. Literally! I have never seen that tiny woman eat so much food before 🙂
- Bangers and Mash. Around lunchtime one day we were on a Hop On Hop Off tour through London and got really hungry. Must have been all that fresh air on the upper deck 😉 Luckily, we found this bar/restaurant, The Apollo, and not one of the dishes we ordered was bad. Marco was tempted by the ribs they were selling and still blames me for NOT having them. Why not? Well, we live in Texas and were going back a few days later and I kind of convinced him that it would be more fun to order English food. He finally settled on Bangers and Mash (sausages on mashed potatoes) and liked it… but deep down he still thinks he missed the best ribs ever I think. After the Bengali food boycott the night before, my grandpa was very happy with the much more English cuisine at The Apollo. If I remember correctly he went for more fish and chips 😉
- Pies and Pasties. I instead had a delicious chicken and ham pie at The Apollo. The pastry dough was nice and flaky and the filling reminded me of chicken pot pie in the States – except that it also had ham. One evening we went to a more upscale kind of place, the Paternoster Chop House close to Saint Paul’s, and I ordered the cottage pie. I don’t know why it’s called a pie because there is no traditional pie crust, but I do know that it is really good. It’s ground beef with a few veggies, topped with mashed potatoes, and then baked in the oven. I would have it again in a heartbeat! Just FYI, apparently the same dish with ground lamb instead of beef is called a Shepard’s Pie. I’m honestly not quite sure what the difference between a pie and a pastie is. I’ve tried to look it up online, but the explanations differ depending on the source. Some people say that a pastie is different from the pie because it has a pastry top on it. But, the chicken and ham pie had a pastry top, so that can’t really be it either. It’s a mystery to me 🙂
- Desserts. The Paternoster Chop House was also the place we tried two of the most traditional English desserts ever: sticky toffee pudding and an almond & marmalade tart. Want to hear something funny? After looking at various English menus I concluded that the English must eat a lot of pudding and that pudding was some sort of traditional English dessert. But, not all desserts are puddings. Pudding just means dessert. And that’s why I kept seeing the word “pudding” all over the dessert section in the menus. So, buyer beware, just because it says pudding, that doesn’t mean it is pudding. Sticky toffee pudding for example is sort of a small sponge cake with dried fruit bits covered in toffee sauce – no pudding anywhere inside. It was good though! We didn’t find any on the menu, but apparently another popular dessert is spotted dick, a soft pastry with dried fruit and served with custard. Cracks me up!
Pubs. Irish pubs are much more well-known than British pubs, but the pub culture in England is huge. I didn’t go to too many, but I liked the ones I went to: kind of small, very cozy, lots of beer, and good hearty food. My dad and grandpa loved the whiskey selection and the only English guy at the table just about died when he saw how much water they poured in. I didn’t actually think it was that much, but apparently too much for the quality of whiskey they were drinking 😉
Here are a few word you are likely to find on an English menu that you might not be familiar with. I am sure there are more, but we continuously ran into these few here:
- aubergine – eggplant
- courgette – zucchini
- chips – fries
- crisps – chips
- minced beef – ground beef
- porridge – oatmeal
- rocket (salad) – arugula (salad)
Other random observations:
- They have mac and cheese also in England. It seems to be called “macaroni cheese” though. By the way, I still haven’t tried the American typical mac and cheese yet…
- Chili seems to be popular. I saw it on quite a few menus.
- I think I might know where the PR problem the English have with their food might come from. While the English food I tasted was delicious, some of the descriptions on the menus sounded really off-putting. It might just be me, but why would I order something called “spatchcocked poussin” (see The Apollo Menu pic below)? And Scotch duck eggs? I actually saw them somewhere and they looked delicious… there’s just something about the names of some things…
- Fun fact: There’s a Texas Embassy in London. It’s a restaurant we saw from our Hop On Hop Off bus tour. Marco and I had a good laugh when we saw the sign 🙂 We didn’t actually eat there, so I can’t say anything about the food. If I lived in London, I would try it out though. On such a short trip, I decided to stick with the local cuisine.
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