Discover Traditional English Food

A culinary tour of the UK gives you a chance to discover the wonderful variety of traditional English food. If you plan your tour to include restaurants, pubs, food producers and specialist shops then you’ll be able to sample some delicious regional produce, as well as taste traditional English dishes – some of which you might find surprising.

Best Fish and Chips

Probably the best known traditional English food is that wonderfully simple dish, fish and chips. A dish with Victorian origins, it grew out of the habit of frying fish and, separately, potato pieces in the streets of London, as well as other industrial cities. It was a working class dish that was so delicious that it soon became a favourite with the middle classes too. Fish and chip shops sprang up everywhere – and by the mid 20th-century no trip to the seaside was complete without fish and chips, sprinkled with plenty of salt and vinegar and eaten out of the newspaper in which they were wrapped. Today you’ll find fish and chip shops all over England; there’s even a chain devoted to the dish – Harry Ramsden's. However the best way to eat fish and chips is still outside, by the sea.

Sunday Lunch

Then, of course, you’ll want to try the classic English Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, traditionally accompanied by roast potatoes, greens, gravy and a helping of hot horseradish sauce. You should find it on the menu in country pubs, some restaurants and top hotels. In London a couple of places that offer a great Sunday lunch are Hix (Brewer Street, Soho, T 0207 292 3518) and the Cadogan Arms (Kings Road, Chelsea, T 0207 353 6500). Other English pub food classics are shepherd’s pie (a dish of minced meat topped with mashed potato), steak and kidney pie, and toad in the hole (thankfully not braised amphibian, instead sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding).

Sample Stargazy Pie

However, traditional English food is also characterised by lesser known dishes, wonderful regional specialities like Cornish pasties (a pasty is a type of meat pie, once eaten by tin miners in Cornwall) and Lancashire hot pot (a mutton and potato stew). Not all of these dishes are easy to find, but they’re worth seeking out on your culinary tour.

Go to the village of Mousehole in Cornwall in December, for example, and you might get the chance to try Stargazy Pie. Traditionally served on 23rd December in the Ship Inn, Stargazy Pie is usually made of pilchards or herring, with hard boiled eggs and topped with puff pastry. The quirky touch is that the heads of the fish peep through the pastry, as if gazing at the stars.

If you’re in London you might want to try another unusual traditional English food - the cockney classic, pie and mash. This is a meat pie, served with mashed potato and ‘liquor’, a type of parsley sauce that’s bright green in colour. Pie and mash shops also traditionally sell jellied eels.

If your culinary tour takes you to Shropshire or Cambridgeshire, then you could sample Fidgett Pie. This hearty pie, served to agricultural workers during apple harvests, is generally made of gammon, apples and cider, all topped with a pastry crust. The unusual name is thought to have derived from the original five-sided or ‘fitched’ shape of the pie. It’s a favourite on the menu at the Royal Oak Pub in Cardington, Shropshire.

So What is Spotted Dick?

One of the most distinctive aspects of traditional English food is the variety of puddings, desserts and cakes. Although they fell out of fashion for a time, you’ll now find old favourites like apple pie and custard, bread and butter pudding, treacle tart and summer pudding on many menus – at least in pubs. One of the best known of these is Spotted Dick, a sweet suet pudding dotted with sultanas. The word ‘Dick’ – cue schoolboy sniggers - was thought to have derived from ‘dough’ and was once a generic term for pudding. Recently a council was ridiculed for renaming the popular dessert ‘Spotted Richard’, but was forced to change it back again. Spotted dick, like so many other English puddings, is traditionally eaten with custard.

Regional English speciality puddings include Sussex Pond Pudding, which has a whole lemon at its centre; Bakewell pudding, which originated in the Derbyshire village of Bakewell, and College Pudding from Cambridge. Some people love their traditional English puddings so much that they’ve formed The Pudding Club, and have special meals devoted to desserts at Three Ways House Hotel (Mickleton, T 01386 438429) in the Cotswolds.

English Regional Produce

Ideally, your culinary tour should give you the opportunity to taste traditional English food that is hard to find in big stores. Specialist shops, farmers markets, food producers and of course food festivals, are great places to find fresh, often organic, produce. Go to the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and watch the delicate, crumbly cheese being made. Visit cider makers in Somerset and Herefordshire, try fresh oysters in Whitstable, gingerbread in Grasmere and peppery watercress in Hampshire. Find out where to enjoy all these and more, here at

Now go from Traditional English Food to our pages on Food Festivals in England