While Britain may not have the same reputation for food as, say, France and Italy, it definitely has its own distinct dishes. Traditional British food and drink has seen seeing something of a revival over the last ten years and, if you are travelling around the UK, keep your eye out for regional specialties such as the Cornish Pasty, Bakewell Tarts, Cumberland sausage and haggis, as well as the many locally brewed ales.
In general, British food tends towards the substantial and, while the unkind may say it’s kind of stodgy, that’s a definite bonus for travelers wanting to fill up on a budget. Here are five affordable British dishes to try before you leave London.
Pie and Mash served with liquor is one of the most authentic London dishes—it’s been served up since the 19th century. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to find the real thing, with many traditional establishments closing down. That’s probably because London pie and mash has a really distinct taste that may not appeal to all palates.
Check out Manze for a low-cost taste of pie and mash. Photo: Kake
The meal normally consists of beef-filled pastry, served with a side helping of mashed potato. So far, so good. However, the (non-alcoholic) liquor sauce is traditionally made using water that has previously been used to cook eels (at one time eels were also used as the filling for the pies), flavored using parsley. Hardcore eaters can also try the specialty side order of jellied eels. If this doesn’t appeal to your taste buds (and you’re definitely not alone in that opinion), it’s still worth trying to peer inside one of the pie shops: they’ve often retaining their original décor, giving a glimpse into a long gone London.
Where to get it: Try Manze, where a pie and mash should cost you less than £4.
It’s also worth noting that us Brits love our savory pasty concoctions in all kinds of forms: keep an eye out for steak and kidney pies, sausage rolls and pork pies on pub menus. All tasty, filling and definitely involving no eels.
It doesn’t get more traditional than a roast dinner. Photo: Annie Mole
Ask an English person about their favorite meal, and they’ll probably get misty eyed about their childhood roast dinner. Come Sunday, the majority of British households will probably be tucking into a roast: roasted beef, pork, lamb or chicken, served with Yorkshire puddings (made from a pancake-style batter cooked in the oven), roast potatoes, carrots and as many different vegetables we can stack onto our plate, all dowsed in a layer of thick gravy. Most pubs will serve up a roast on Sunday: in general you get what you pay for in terms of quality so it’s probably best to avoid the really cheap offers.
Where to get it: We’ve rounded up some reasonably priced London pub roast options here.
With a name like that, you know the fish & chips will be tasty. Photo: Clive D
While Britain’s best fish and chips are probably bought within sniffing distance of the seaside, London serves up some pretty decent options too. You’re looking for a perfectly battered piece of fish (London fish and chip shops tend to serve cod, while you’re more likely to find haddock on the menu in the north of England): crispy on the outside with a succulent flaky fish on the inside. By chips, we mean a deep-fried, chunkier kind of potato fries, rather than the snack served in a packet (we call those crisps instead). The crowning glory of this dish is the mushy peas: marrowfat peas that have been soaked overnight to give a distinctive lumpy texture and flavor. Add salt and vinegar to taste.
Although, you’ll easily find fish and chips on a pub menu, head to a dedicated ‘chippie’ for the real deal and to experience the fun of eating with a chip fork straight out of the paper.
Where to get it: Try the Fryer’s Delight near Holborn for a really old school chippie, or Poppies in Camden and Spitalfields for a generous portion of fish and chips and sides for under £15
A loaded jacket potato alongside a platter of fish & chips. Photo: Jason Swihart
The jacket potato is what us Brits call baked potatoes. And rather than being served as a side or stuffed, they’re often served as a main dish, topped with a choice of different ingredients. The best potatoes have a crispy, crackling skin on the outside and a soft and fluffy middle, the result of slow baking in the oven, perfect for smothering with butter.
Perhaps the most loved topping is a grating of cheddar cheese and baked beans. British baked beans are slightly different to those sold in the US: they’re more tomato flavored with no pork and less sugar. In fact, baked beans are a Brit store cupboard staple.
Where to get it: Again, you’ll find jacket potatoes on pub menus, while there are some businesses who consider them their specialty: you should be able to order one for £5 or less. Here’s a jacket potato directory (no joke!). Or—if you are staying in a hostel with a kitchen—you could easily recreate it in the oven for the quintessential British money-saving meal.
A classic English breakfast is always a full plate. Photo: Phil Campbell
Forget delicate pastries or specialty bread. The typically English way to line our stomachs for the day ahead (or to soothe them after one too many beers the night before) is with an English breakfast. There are many components that make up an English breakfast: juicy sausages, crisp bacon, egg (fried or scrambled), baked beans (yup, again), buttered toast, cooked tomatoes, sometimes mushrooms and hash browns, and possibly black pudding, a rich blood sausage.
Add tomato ketchup or some tangy ‘brown sauce’ to lubricate all that meat and wash down with mugs of tea. Although the typical English breakfast is a meat lover’s dream, it’s fairly easy to get veggie versions too.
Where to get it: We’ve rounded up some of our favorite places to tuck into ‘a full English’. Be warned: you probably won’t want to eat anything else for the rest of the day.
Canteen is a restaurant chain that specializes in “Great British Food”, from sausages and mash to traditional desserts such as Eton Mess. It’s reasonably priced by London standards, but it’s also worth looking online for money-off deals.