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Foods You Absolutely Should Try in the UK and Where to Find Them

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Would you ever move to a country known for having a bland, boring cuisine? Hearing all the horror stories about warm beer and nasty food, I was seriously worried when I first moved to the UK. As a foodie, it’s not exactly inspiring, is it? Luckily, it’s not as bad as they say. I found lots of delicious foods to try, and in fairness to the UK, only the ale is warm.

However, the secret to enjoying UK food is knowing what to eat and where to find it. The best UK meals use fresh, local ingredients, and plenty of places do this well, but eating at big chains, or local pubs that focus on beer not food, will have you disappointed.

Though the UK isn’t known as a foodie heaven, you’d be surprised by just how many tasty foods there are to try. With our recommendations, we hope to change your impression of British cuisine. So, prepare to be hungry!

UK Foods to Try Pinterest Image

None of the restaurants recommended in this guide sponsor us, we just think you would like them.

Full English Breakfast

Full English Breakfast
Full English Breakfast | UK Foods to Try

Waking up to a hearty Full English Breakfast is Jeremy’s ideal start to a day. Though ingredients vary slightly, a Full English usually includes eggs, bacon, sausage, fried/grilled tomato, mushrooms, baked beans, toast, and black pudding. Don’t let the term “pudding” confuse you, basically it’s blood sausage.

Traveling in Wales, Scotland, or Ireland you’ll notice a similar feast, but with a local twist. For instance, a Full Scottish Breakfast includes sliced and fried haggis, a local delicacy of minced sheep heart, liver, and lungs mixed with seasonings, then cased and boiled in sheep’s stomach. Surprisingly, I prefer it over black pudding.

  • Full Welsh – Eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, laverbread (thick seaweed cakes), cockles
  • Full Scottish – Eggs, bacon, Lorne sausage (square), tomato, beans, tattie scones (potato flatbread), haggis, and black pudding
  • Full Irish – Eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, beans, Irish Soda Bread, bubble and squeak (fried potato and cabbage mixture), black or white pudding (grain and fat sausage with no blood)

Where to try this UK food:

You can find a full English just about anywhere that serves breakfast, but we always find homemade breakfasts are the best. Stay at a nice bed & breakfast for the full experience. The breakfast pictured above is from our B&B in the Lake District.

If your London hotel doesn’t serve breakfast, head to Cafe Zilly (126 Cleveland St). Not only is their English breakfast flavorful, but their prices are also great value.

Bacon Butty

Bacon Butty, UK Foods to Try
Bacon Butty | UK Foods to Try

For my fellow Americans, bacon in the UK is nothing like the crispy rashers we add to a BLT, nor is it like “Canadian bacon.” Instead, UK bacon is a mix between the two. It’s fatty, but it’s also thick. And always salty.

Butty is just the term for buttered sandwich but depending on the region you’ll also see these heart-attacks on a bun called a bacon roll, bap, or birdie. The sandwich comes with three rashers of bacon and then topped with ketchup or brown sauce / HP sauce (similar to A1 sauce).

You’ll also find a Chip Butty; thick British fries served in a bun. Look for these at chip shops as a late-night snack.

Where to try this UK food:

Greasy spoon breakfast joints typically have these on the menu. Morning food trucks, especially along the motorways, are another great place to find them. Sandwich shops, like Chequers (47 Bedford St.) in London, usually have a less greasy, but still delicious version.

Coronation Chicken

Coronation Chicken sandwich
Coronation Chicken Sandwich | UK Foods to Try

Out of all the UK foods to try on this extensive list, coronation chicken or rather Poulet Reine Elizabeth, is my favorite, and literally fit for a queen.

Served at Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation ceremony, coronation chicken is a bright yellow curried mixture of chicken, almonds, and dried apricots. Even though the original recipe didn’t contain a single sultana (similar to raisins), it’s common to find them added in the mix. 

Where to try this UK food:

Most cafes, sandwich shops, and tea rooms serve coronation chicken as a sandwich filler or topped on a salad. If you’re in London, Relish sandwich shop (8 John Islip St), near the Tate Britain Museum, has a good one to try.

Brie and Bacon Baguette

Brie and bacon baguette, UK Foods to Try
Brie and Bacon Baguette

Mmm, that melted cheese with a crunchy bread crust. The only thing I love more is when a brie and bacon baguette comes with a caramelized red-onion chutney spread. Just yum!

Where to try this UK food:

Cafes, sandwich shops, and pubs usually have these on the menu, and they can be big enough to share. In Bristol, Café Amore (14 Nelson St), makes a beautifully huge brie, ham, and tomato panini. 

Savory Pies (Hot Water Pastry)

Pies are a big deal in the UK. Not only will you find hundreds of different fillings, but there are also several types of pies and meat filled pastries to choose from. We’ve broken out the most common that are worth trying.

Pieminster meat pies, UK Foods to Try
Pieminster Meat Pies | UK Foods to Try

Traditionally, pies with a hot water crust were densely filled with a pork meat stuffing and eaten cold on long journeys. Today, in addition to various meat fillings, vegetarian options are common, and most pies are served warm, though Brits still prefer pork pies to be cold.

Where to try this UK food:

Our old hometown favorite is the award-winning pie shop from Bristol, Pieminster. Their pies are amazing, especially the Moo & Blue and Heidi. Get them topped with peas and gravy or cheese, for the full experience. Even if you can’t make it to Bristol, they now have shops in a dozen UK cities, including Leather Lane in London.

For an authentic pork pie from the home of pork pies, stop by Dickinson & Morris, Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in the small town of Melton Mowbray, just northeast of Leicester.

Meat Pies (Puff Pastry Topped)

UK Steak and Ale Pie with peas and potato
Steak and Ale Pie with Peas and Potato

If you want a hot meat pie for a chilly day, look for a puff pastry version. Usually, fillings include steak and ale, steak and kidney, or chicken and vegetable.

Served in a little pot and topped with a flaky puffed pastry, typically these pies do not have a pastry bottom. Like a pot pie, the meat and vegetables stew in a thick gravy sauce.

Where to try this UK food:

Gastropubs are your best bet for finding a nice meat pie with a puffy pastry top. Nonetheless, occasionally you’ll find regular pubs serving amazing homemade pies, like The Butt of Sherry in Hythe, Kent (ahh, you have to love British pub names).

What is a UK Gastropub?

In the UK, pubs are everywhere. Liquoring up the locals is their business, but many also serve food. Food quality varies wildly; just don’t be shocked to hear a microwave ding in the kitchen.

With a focus on a high-quality food experience, gastropubs are more like restaurants than bars.

Typically, you’ll know if it’s a “gastropub” with a quick look at the menu. Do they take pride in how they source their fresh food? Do their food selections sound like a Gordon Ramsey menu? Finally, does it feel more like a restaurant with a dining area than a bar with tables?

Not all gastropubs do it well, so check reviews before making reservations. Yes, you will almost always need reservations. 

Final note: Though London has many fantastic dining options, we find the rural gastropubs have a farm-to-table fresh food experience the big cities can’t compete with.

Cornish Pasty (Handheld Pies)

Cornish Pasties, UK Foods to Try
Cornish Pasties | UK Foods to Try

Originally made for the coal miners of Cornwall, a Cornish pasty, pronounced Paast-te, is a crescent shaped pie with a thick crimped ridge. Miners used to hold the pasty by the ridge so they wouldn’t get coal dust and arsenic on their food. Then they would then discard the ridge.

Though you can find pasties filled with all sorts of meats and vegetables, a Cornish pasty includes steak, potatoes, swede (rutabaga), and onions.

Where to try this UK food:

Pasties are an easy UK food to try, you’ll find them at most bakeries, cafes, and even the motorway rest stops.

Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie

Unlike the other pies on this list, shepherd’s and cottage pies do not use pastry, instead the “crust” is made with mashed potatoes.

While chopped lamb fills a shepherd’s pie, a cottage pie uses beef; that’s really the only difference. Adding breadcrumbs to the potato crust changes a shepherd’s pie into a Cumberland pie.

Where to try this UK food:

For this one, Jeremy is partial to his mum’s, so we don’t have any favorite picks, but you can find it in most pubs serving traditional British food.

Afternoon Tea

Three-tiered and two -tiered tea stands set for afternoon tea
Afternoon Tea at the Ivy

I’m obsessed with afternoon teas, even though I’m not actually a tea drinker, but afternoon tea is so much more than a hot cuppa. It’s an experience.

Made popular by Queen Victoria in the 19th century, the afternoon tea is now an English cultural ritual. Warm scones with jam, cream, and sometimes lemon curd start the meal. Next, you’re on to tiny finger sandwiches filled with typical British spreads like chutney and cheese, or cucumber and dill. Finally, dessert!

Our post Afternoon Tea in England, provides a full run down on what to expect when indulging in this beloved tradition.

Where to try this UK food:

Most high-end hotels with a restaurant offer spectacular afternoon teas. In London, The Ritz, The May Fair, The Savoy, and The Rubens at the Palace are all popular and worthy options. Luxury stores, like Harrods, or tourist attractions, like The Shard, have their versions. If you really want to whoop it up, treat yourself to afternoon tea at a castle.

Keep in mind, most places require advanced reservations for afternoon tea.

Ploughman's Lunch

Ploughman's lunch, UK Foods to Try
Ploughman's Lunch | UK Foods to Try

A simple lunch, yet so satisfyingly filling. Commonly served on a wooden board, a ploughman’s lunch consists of bread, butter, cheese, ham, and pickled chutney. Other inclusions, like a slice of pork pie, hard boiled or Scotch Eggs, an apple, and salad are common.

Where to try this UK food: 

In general, country pubs are your best chance of finding a good ploughman’s. They are quite refreshing after a hike in the countryside on a warm day. The Raven in Bath has a three-cheese ploughman’s, which is always yummy.

Scotch Egg

A hard-boiled egg is wrapped in a sausage breading then rolled in breadcrumbs before deep-frying. To many tourists surprise, Scotch eggs are eaten cold.

Where to try this UK food:

Though Scotch eggs are a British pub food, it’s rare to find them on a menu. Look for a “bar nibbles” menu rather than the main menu.

Since you eat them cold, you don’t really need to go to a restaurant. Most grocery stores carry Scotch eggs but look for the best scotch eggs from fancy delis, like the food market at Harrods in London.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips from pub, UK Foods to Try
Fish and Chips | UK Foods to Try

Usually cod, sometimes haddock, but always battered and deep fried, fish and chips are as synonymous with the UK as grey skies and umbrellas. 

Where to try this UK food:

Just about every pub, restaurant, and tourist attraction dining hall has fish and chips on the menu. Finding a good fish and chips is a bit harder.

We find, the closer you get to the coast, the better chance you have. You’re also better off starting with the fish and chip shops than a dine in restaurant. It must be something with not changing the oil, just kidding… sort of.

In Brighton, try RYBKA fish shop. The batter is not overly thick, while their chips are triple cooked.

Sunday Roast

UK Sunday roast
UK Sunday Roast

If you’re blessed to be in the UK on a Sunday, you’re going to want to take part in the cultural ritual of Sunday roast. Basically, it’s a big heavy meal with a roasted meat, like prime rib or pork roast. Accompanying the meat are roasted potatoes, carrots, peas, parsnips, and other vegetables drowned in gravy. Don’t worry, anything that comes with gravy you can ask for it on the side, like I do.

Topping off the meal is a Yorkshire pudding. Once again, don’t let the word pudding fool you. It’s not a sweet dessert, nor is it a sausage of any kind. In this case, it’s a unique bread made with fat drippings. A good Yorkshire pudding should be soft, yet crisp. Not like the cardboard one I first tried at one of the chain carveries.

Where to try the UK food:

In our opinion, the large British carvery chains, like Toby Carvery or Beefeater, don’t do Sunday roasts justice, even if that’s what they are known for. Instead, look for local pubs or restaurants.

In London, the Lord Wargrave has one of the best Sunday roasts. Plus, we love that we can pick to try all three of their carved meats, or just go for one. They even have a vegetarian option, which is very unusual.

The best Sunday roasts require reservations and despite often being called “Sunday dinner,” it’s mostly eaten for lunch. Note that the best places run out of servings by dinner time, sometimes even if you’ve booked.

 

Sunday Roast no gravy, UK Foods to Try
Sunday Roast No Gravy

Bangers and Mash

Bangers and mash with gravy
Bangers and Mash | UK Foods to Try

It’s not just the Irish that love sausages with potato, it’s a true staple in the UK and one of Jeremy’s favorites. You’ll usually find them covered in gravy. Are you seeing a theme?

Where to try this UK food:

You’ll find this comfort food in many pubs. A gastropub may add a little pizazz to them. We had these beauties at The Crown Inn in Pooley Bridge, Lake District.

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole, UK Foods to Try
Toad in the Hole | UK Foods to Try

A twist on the typical bangers and mash is toad in the hole. Throw on a few vegetables and put it all in a Yorkshire pudding to get this UK favorite. Oh, of course, don’t forget the gravy.

Where to try this UK food:

A classic pub favorite that is easy to find. The one pictured above is from The Two Sawyers Pub in Hastings, East Sussex. Not only did they have great food, but we loved the building’s character. It’s a true old English pub; just watch your head.

Two Sawyers Pub, Hastings, East Sussex, UK Foods to Try
Two Sawyers Pub, Hastings

Indian Curry

Takeaway Chicken Tikka Masala Curry with nan bread
Takeaway Chicken Tikka Masala Curry with Nan Bread

Does it sound strange that Indian food is one of the most British foods you can try in the UK? Funny enough, it’s absolutely true. It doesn’t get more British than grabbing a takeaway Tandoori Chicken Tikka Masala with a side of nan bread.

Like Chinese food, you pick a protein, like chicken, lamb, or paneer (cheese), then pick a sauce.

In addition to Tikka Masala, other favorite curry sauces include Korma (mild cream curry), Saag (spinach), Vindaloo (spicy hot), and Jalfrezi (stir-fried hot spicy sauce).

Where to try this UK food:

Like fish and chips, curry is in almost every restaurant or pub you go in but resist the temptation. Go to an authentic curry house, you’ll find them in the smallest towns and the biggest cities.

You can find a great curry all over the UK, but Birmingham is the home of the Balti curry. In Birmingham’s Balti Triangle, try Diwan Balti Restaurant on Alcester Rd.

Welsh Lamb Burger with Rarebit or Mint

Welsh lamb burger with rarebit, UK Foods to Try
Welsh Lamb Burger with Rarebit

Growing up in the US, I know burgers are our thing, but hear me out. There’s something about raising livestock on grass rather than corn feed. In my opinion, you can seriously taste the difference in a UK burger.

Now, Wales takes it one step further with some of the best tasting lamb in the world. Top it off with rarebit, a hot thick cheese sauce, and you have an amazing burger.

Where to try this UK Food:

Sadly, the best Welsh burger we’ve had was from a farmer’s stall at a small country fare in Wales. Since that’s hard to replicate, most gastropubs in Wales will have something comparable (almost). 

Lamb Anything

Lamb liver, bacon and onions
Lamb Liver, Bacon and Onions

As lamb is so plentiful in the UK, you’ll find it fresh and good value in most high-end pubs and restaurants. Lamb shank in a red wine sauce is my favorite, while Jeremy tends to opt for dishes like lamb’s liver with bacon and onions.

Where to find this UK food:

We are going with the gastropub again. The White Horse Bilsington is where we enjoyed these lamb dishes.

Lamb shank in red wine sauce, UK Foods to Try
Lamb Shank in Red Wine Sauce | UK Foods to Try

So, which of these UK foods are you going to try? Or do you have any favorites that we missed?

For more help planning your trip to the UK, check out our other UK Travel Guides. Here are a few of our favorites.

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