Let’s face it. Britain has a bit of a reputation for offering a poor dining experience in terms of home cuisine. Visit London and you’ll find no shortage of superb restaurants, but the prospect of going for a ‘traditional British’ leaves many feeling slightly underwhelmed and many diners opt for cuisines from other cultures instead. Here we take a look at ten strange British dishes that might just challenge your notion of British food – some you’ll like, some you most definitely won’t , but none of which you’ll be able to say are uninspiring.
1. Jellied eels: It’s safe to say this is a bit of an acquired taste. Originally from the East End of London – a typically working class area – the jellied eel was once the staple dish for the working people. Containing chopped eels boiled in a spiced stock, once cooled it forms a gelatinous quality from the proteins in the fish, and is then served up hot in jellied form. Although less popular today (from that description we can’t think why!) you can still pick up a traditional jellied eel in certain parts of London’s East End.
2. Spotted dick: This one always raises a smile on the face of school children when served up at lunchtime in the school canteen. A spotted dick is actually a steamed suet pudding containing raisins (hence the spots), possibly other dried fruits, and sometimes brandy. It is best served steaming hot, with lashings of custard, and remains a popular dessert in Britain.
3. Toad in the hole: Despite having a rather unappetising name, this dish is actually rather delicious, and contrary to what you’d think, doesn’t contain any amphibian. The recipe is simply pork sausages (or bangers) baked in a giant Yorkshire pudding, and is at its tastiest when served with plenty of strong onion gravy. The name itself is just a quirk of language; originating from the late 1600s when batter puddings were baked under spit roasted meats and known as dripping puddings. The poor cuts of meat, known as ‘toadies’, would be cut off and added to the pudding to create this unique dish.
4. Bubble and squeak: This one is traditionally served on a Sunday evening and was born out of making good use of leftovers. The recipe involves mashing up the remaining cabbage and potato from a Sunday roast dinner and frying it. The name originates from the sound of the ingredients touching the pan; cabbage really does make a squeaking noise.
5. Scotch eggs: This is a delicious snack, traditionally eaten on the go or as part of a picnic. A scotch egg is a boiled egg encased in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Originally from London, these have been around since the 18th century and although the name is something of a mystery it is thought to originate from ‘scorched’ eggs, when the eggs were browned from cooking next to an open fire.
6. Welsh rarebit: Often incorrectly referred to as Welsh rabbit, rarebit is little more than a deluxe version of cheese on toast with strong melted cheddar cheese mixed with various ingredients like Worcester sauce, mustard, paprika, salt and pepper. The name is thought to be something of an old English joke, coined in the 18th century when many Welsh people were so poor they couldn’t even afford a cheap cut of meat.
7. Pigs in blankets: This is a side-dish that makes an appearance almost exclusively at Christmas. The ‘pig’ refers to a pork sausage and the ‘blanket’ a rasher of bacon, which is wrapped around the sausage. As it is typically eaten as an accompaniment to a main dish such as a gamey meat, miniature chipolata sausages are the most common used, but you can also buy the full size sausage variety, or make your own!
8. Cornish pasty: Hailing from Cornwall in the south west of England, a Cornish pasty is a meal in itself. According to the Cornish Pasty Association a genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape pastry casing and is crimped on one side, never on top. The texture of the filling for the pasty is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%), swede, potato, onion and a light peppery seasoning. It was traditionally eaten by the Cornish miners who were able to take a complete, hand-held hot meal to work, and today it remains a popular snack for people on the go.
9. Haggis: I wouldn’t read on with this one if you’re at all squeamish. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish containing the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep, as well as onion, suet, spices, salt and pepper. It is traditionally encased in a sheep’s stomach before being boiled for several hours. To give some context for its creation, it was invented during the 16th century when the average person in Scotland was experiencing severe hardships caused by their English rulers.
10. Black pudding: You’ll find variations on this across the World, but in the UK black pudding is a sausage made from congealed pigs blood and oatmeal. It can be eaten raw (not particularly tasty) or fried (surprisingly good!) and is traditionally served as part of a full English breakfast. Don’t be put off by the mention of blood in this one, it’s actually delicious.