At the Frugal Expat, we feel British cuisine often gets described as boring or bland, but there is so much more to traditional English food than you think, with some things that might surprise you.
We have compiled 14 of the best English dishes you should try when visiting the country. This article has been put together by a 39-year-old English man who loves traditional English food and has eaten far too much food over the years, so he is well qualified to talk about this subject!
1. Chicken Tikka Masala
Did you know the most popular dish in England is an Indian dish? Yep, that's right, Chicken Tikka Masala has been the most popular dish for years.
This favorite isn't a spicy curry, but one invented for the British pallet by chefs in Glasgow who used a tin of tomato soup and added spices.
If you are in England and head to a curry house, we recommend you give it a go. It's not spicy and includes coconut, cream, and a selection of spices.
This curry is called a “chip dipper,” so order it with a side of chips to mop up all the leftover sauce.
2. Fish and Chips
If you surveyed non-English people and asked them the most traditional English dish, fish and chips would be most people's first answer.
You can't walk down an English high street without finding a fish and chip shop, and these get particularly busy at lunchtime with people on their lunch breaks. A proper fish and chip shop is the best place to eat it; we think eating it by the seaside on a sunny day is even better.
The next best place to have it is in a pub; you will find it on 99% of all traditional English pub menus. Look out for “beer batter.” We like this as it is a lighter batter with a slightly different texture, which is excellent.
Fish and chips should be served with a side of mushy peas, and to be controversial, we love ours with some gravy or even some chip shop curry sauce. However, chip shops vary in the north and south of the UK, and you won't find chip shops down south serving any sauces.
3. Toad in The Hole
There are many English dishes with funny names, but have you ever heard of a stranger-named dish? Despite the name, we can inform you that this dish contains no toads!
What it does contain, though, is a lovely combination of Yorkshire puddings and sausages.
The sausages are cooked in the oven in a dish, then just before they are done, a Yorkshire pudding batter mix is poured over the top, which goes all crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. For some reason, combining the sausages with the batter is a food dream made in heaven.
Serve this with gravy, peas, and mashed potato, and you have a lovely meal that gives you a lovely, warm feeling inside when eaten on a cold winter day.
This is a delicious combination, and when served with mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy, it is a tasty and hearty meal in winter.
4. Full English Breakfast
There is no better way to start the day than to eat a full English breakfast, one of the most classic English dishes.
But what makes up a full English breakfast? This all depends on where you go and what you like, but ideally, it should contain eggs (usually fried), bacon and sausages, beans, mushrooms, and toast.
Everyone has their different way, but we love it when it comes to black pudding, a sausage made of blood, but don't knock it until you've tried it! A hash brown is also a nice added extra, or maybe you can add some fried bread.
Once you have eaten this, you may skip lunch as you will likely be too full. It's also well known that a full English breakfast is the best hangover cure (we think so anyway).
These are best enjoyed at what can be classed as a “greasy spoon,” which is usually a small, independent cafe found in most towns.
5. Bangers and Mash
This is another thing we call comfort food. Traditional bangers and mash is a dish that hits the spot on a cold day and would be classed as a working-class meal due to its simplicity and cheapness.
The bangers (sausages) will vary on where you eat this typical English dish. Our favorites are Cumberland or Lincolnshire sausages, which come with mashed potato, gravy, and some sort of vegetable, but garden or mushy peas are the best. Some people will serve it with baked beans, but certain people might frown at this practice!
This dish can be found on most English pub menus.
6. Sunday Roast
There is nothing better for getting the family together than a Sunday Roast, and that's why it's one of the most popular dishes in the UK. Think of it as a smaller, less fancy Christmas dinner.
Again, just like the Full English Breakfast, this dish can differ depending on who made it and where you are in the country.
The most important part is the meat, usually chicken or beef, but our favorite at the Frugal Expat is lamb served with mashed potato, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, and vegetables such as carrots, swede, and peas, all topped off with plenty of gravy.
This dish is best enjoyed at home with the family but can feel equally as satisfying in a pub, by a log fire after a dog walk.
7. Pie and Mash
The pie in pie and mash can come in many forms, but the most traditional is steak and kidney pie. This is on most English pub menus across the country and is one of the traditional English meat dishes.
It's only a proper pie for us when short-crust pastry wraps around the meat rather than just pastry put on the top.
This is usually served with mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy.
8. Sausage Rolls
Sausage rolls aren't quite a dish, but we think they deserve an honorable mention as they're a traditional English food that's been a stable lunch for the working class for years.
These are made of ground-up sausage meat wrapped in hot, buttery, flaky pastry. What more could you want?
You will find these mainly sold at high street bakeries all over the UK in chains such as Greggs, The Pound Bakery, and many others. This is the best place to try them as it is where they are in their simplest form, and they are always baked fresh on the premises daily.
They are a cheap, affordable on-the-go option that's a nice warm lunch. The only problem (a good one) is most places have them on offer where it's 2 for £2 or something similar, so you will likely buy more than you need.
9. Lancashire Hot Pot
Hot pot comes in a few different forms wherever you have it. It usually contains big chunks of beef cooked for hours, so they are nice and tender, along with chunky carrots and large potato chunks. This is all cooked in a rich beef stock gravy.
Like many dishes on this list, it's an old-fashioned family dish that's great for the whole family. Usually, the large cooking pot is placed in the middle of the table, and everyone helps themselves.
The best part? Get a fresh white uncut loaf, slice it nicely and thick, add butter, and mop up the gravy at the end. If you are after easy English dishes, give it a go.
10. Jam Roly-Poly
There are so many traditional English desserts that you just don't see anywhere else in the world. In our opinion, the best one is Jam Roly-Poly.
This comprises a simple suet or sponge rolled up with jam in the middle. It is then steamed or cooked in the oven and served with hot custard. The jam and sponge work so perfectly with the custard that it has to be tasted to believe it.
If you ask people of a certain age, they will remind you of when they had it in school, as this dessert was a school dinner staple.
This dessert is massively underrated, and it's a shame it's not on more pub and restaurant menus across England. It's cheap, delicious, and one all the family can enjoy.
11. Apple Crumble
The best way to describe Apple crumble is like a warm hug in dessert form, and it's one of the best traditional English dishes.
Apple Crumble comprises stewed apple on the bottom and a crumble topping on the top. The crumble may be slightly different wherever you have it. Some use oats and more of a crumbled-up pastry and sugar, but they are all fantastic.
We like a ratio of 50/50 crumble to filling when we have it here at the Frugal Expat.
Depending on your preference, this can be served with either custard or vanilla ice cream. We prefer custard, and some pubs across England serve theirs with “unlimited custard,” meaning you can keep asking for more!
Nothing says traditional English dessert quite like a trifle. This comprises layers of sponge, fruit, and jelly with a layer of custard and whipped cream on top!
Trifle used to be a trendy dessert, but it's slowly becoming less popular, which is sad. You won't find this on many pub or restaurant menus, so the only chance you will get to try this is if you go to someone's house.
There are a few variations, and the author's mum makes her version with Baileys in the cream, giving it a nice boozy kick!
This is best enjoyed in the summer, sitting outside in the garden.
13. Bread and Butter Pudding
Bread and Butter Pudding is one of the oldest desserts in England. Years ago, when food wasn't as mass-produced, nothing was left to waste, so this usually used up any stale old bread to ensure it didn't go to waste.
It might not sound delicious, but add some butter, milk, sugar, and sultanas, heat it in the oven, and it works! You can serve the pudding with ice cream or custard.
14. Afternoon Tea
We were unsure whether this should be classed as a dish, but the words “Traditional Engish” made us think it simply has to.
This classic is served in hotels worldwide, is very popular with the older generation, and is usually served in fancy hotels.
It all comes on a fancy, tiered stand and certainly has the ‘wow' factor!
There are three layers, usually a sandwich layer, containing fillings such as tuna and cucumber, prawns, or something fancy. Then, a dessert layer with things like Victoria sponge cake or other traditional English cakes. The top layer usually has a few little chocolates on it.
Let's not forget the tea! It comes with a pot of tea or sometimes a glass of champagne.
Afternoon tea is costly in some fancy hotels, and some require you to book weeks in advance. If you are in England for a holiday, it's one of the dishes we recommend you put at the top of your list.
We hope this list of traditional English dishes has changed your mind about English food being bland. While a lot of it is pretty simple, there is a back story from when people had less money, and nothing went to waste.
Times are changing in England, and in 10 years, some of these dishes may no longer be traditional.
Let us know what your favorite English dishes are in the comments below. Do you agree with our choices?
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.