Traditional English Foods. What to Expect While in the UK

Fri 10 Jun 2022

Traditional English Foods. What to Expect While in the UK

When it comes to traditional English food, there is no shortage of the nation’s favourite dishes to choose from. However, historically, England, and the UK in general, has had a bad rap regarding its cuisine with visitors often describing the food as bland, heavy and insipid.

A Bit of a Food Renaissance  

In the past 30 years, the UK has seen a sweeping transformation in its food scene. Celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein and Nigella Lawson have elevated British cooking to a new level, and this has also been reflected in everyday cooking.

Furthermore, when it comes to fine dining, a number of UK restaurants, especially in London, proudly sit in the Michelin Star guidebook for their culinary excellence.

From Humble Beginnings to National Favourites

Many traditional British foods have their roots in humble beginnings, and a number of national favourite dishes were born out of leaner times during the Second World War when rationing gripped the nation. Potatoes and apples, for instance, were in abundant supply during the war, and these humble ingredients have endured the test of time to proudly grace family tables across the country even today.

Food that Reflects a Multicultural Society

When people think of England, they often conjure up images of dainty afternoon tea parties with delicate pastries, cucumber finger sandwiches, jam-filled scones and pretty fine bone china. And, to a degree, they would be absolutely right as there is definitely a time and a place for a delectable cream tea.

However, the diversity of British food may surprise visitors. A study by Cauldron Foods found that 60% of the food we eat in Britain is not from a traditional background. Chinese, Indian and Italian foods are among the nation’s favourite cuisines, with Chicken Tikka Masala and Spaghetti Bolognese featuring in the top 10 favourites dishes nationwide!

Traditional English Foods

If you are travelling to the UK as an international student anytime soon, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with some of the foods you might encounter during your stay. We know that you will be spoilt for choice and you are sure to find some of your own favourites.

We have compiled seven of our most mouthwatering favourites here.

1. Fish & Chips

Fish & Chips

It is a well known fact that British people can’t get enough of this well-loved takeaway. Juicy white fish fillets coated in a light batter, then deep-fried to crispy perfection and served with unctuous fluffy chips. What’s not to like?

Fish and chips has been crowned the nation's favourite takeaway many times, selling over 382 million portions every year in the UK! It is so popular that there are more fish and chips shops in the UK than MCDonalds and KFC.

While fish and chip shops can be found in every village and town across the country, arguably, the best place to eat it is at the seaside on a slightly chilly day. Just mind those seagulls!

2. Sunday Roast

Nothing can rival a wholesome Sunday roast dinner, and it is without a doubt a firm family favourite across the whole of Great Britain. Traditionally, the Sunday roast originated in Yorkshire in North England, and it was cooked and consumed on Sundays after church. Today, families all across the UK enjoy this dish on Sundays and on special occasions with family and friends.  

This fulfilling meal consists of some kind of roast meat such as chicken, pork, beef or lamb, and it is served with crispy roast potatoes, scrumptious Yorkshire pudding (a sort of savoury, crispy pancake boat), a wide selection of vegetables and lashings of delicious gravy. 

3. Full English Breakfast

Full English Breakfast

Dubbed as the breakfast of champions, full English breakfasts are so popular that they are often offered as ‘all day breakfasts’ in cafes, pubs and restaurants nationwide. Sometimes called a fry-up, a full English breakfast is a hearty meal containing sausages, bacon, eggs, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, baked beans, toast and all washed down with several cups of steaming hot tea or coffee.

A full English breakfast is not eaten every day, but it is often saved for weekends, holidays or after a big night out. It is a national breakfast tradition and a true icon of British culinary culture.

4. Cottage Pie

Cottage pie, and its variant Shepherd’s pie, is a much loved family favourite all over the UK. It has been cooked and eaten nationwide since the 18th century when it was an affordable and frugal meal mainly prepared by poorer families.

Cottage pie is a simple, hearty, warming dish composed of ground beef (or ground lamb in the case of Shepherd’s pie), which is cooked in gravy, onions, carrots and topped with a mashed potato crust. You can still find this simple but delicious dish on pub and restaurant menus.

5. Toad-in-the-Hole

Toad in the hole

The UK is not short of oddly named delicacies such as Bubble and Squeak, Scotch Egg or Welsh Rarebit. However, as far as bizarre food names go, Toad-in-the-Hole really does take the biscuit! There is plenty of speculation about how this dish got its name but the reality is far simpler.

Toad-in-the-hole is believed to date back to the 18th century when meat was in short supply and families used a combination of pancake batter and meat to stretch out what little supplies they had to make a filling meal.  

Toad-in-the-hole is a large Yorkshire pudding made of flour, milk and eggs, poured over sausages and baked together in the oven. The sausages poking through the cooked batter gave the dish its curious name. This delicious meal is served with lots of tasty gravy and garden peas on the side.

Please Stay for Pudding!

The British language can be confusing at times and this is true when it comes to the sweet stuff. The British are a nation of dessert lovers but don’t be confused if they offer you pudding, rather than dessert after dinner.

The two names are used interchangeably today, but the origins hark back to older times when the class system was more defined. Back then, puddings referred to more homely, rustic sweet dishes commonly eaten by the lower classes, and desserts were the indulgence of the upper classes, and these were prepared with much more finesse.

The list is long when it comes to puddings, but here are two national favourites to whet the appetite!



A proper English trifle is made with real egg custard poured over sponge cake, which is soaked in fruit and sherry and topped with a generous layer of whipped cream.

However, the family version of trifle often omits the sherry, for the sake of the children, and it includes a layer of jelly (or Jell-O in the US) over the cake. It is then topped with a thick layer of custard and a generous layer of lightly whipped fresh cream.

This sweet treat requires very little cooking and it can be prepared ahead of time and customised for everyone’s liking according to taste. It is a fun dessert loved by all the generations and a firm favourite at celebrations.

Apple Pie and Custard

This island nation has a real penchant for sweet treats, and apple pie regularly tops the charts as the nation’s favourite pudding.

The first recorded recipe for apple pie was written in 1381 in England, and it called for figs, raisins, pears and saffron, in addition to apples.

Today, this comforting, rustic dish couldn't be simpler. Layers of apples wrapped in crumbly pastry and doused with generous lashings of piping hot custard. It’s the stuff of dreams!

Experience British Culture With Us

We are delighted to offer international students a chance to fully experience British culture through our exciting illuminate Cambridge summer study abroad program.

In a supportive and encouraging summer school environment, illuminate students can try out new experiences, immerse themselves in British culture, push their limits, develop new skills and interests, and expand their academic and social potential.

During their two-week stay, students will explore a series of lively academic themes devised by our Oxbridge-educated course leaders, and beyond the classroom, exciting educational and cultural visits will bring their learning to life. Book your place today!


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