I’ve been researching Japan and in particular suggestions of Japanese food to try. In order to return the favour to anyone heading to the UK on their travels, here are my top 10 suggestions of British culinary experiences* for tourists who want to experience the typical cuisine.
*Yes, there is an obesity problem in this country.
1. ”Full English” cooked breakfast (aka the Full Scottish / Welsh / Irish elsewhere in the UK)
- Location – Best place to get this is in a B&B (it’s one of the “Bs”) or hotel. Otherwise you can go to a “greasy spoon”, which is a non-chain cafe on the high street or in a motorway service station (look for plastic tomatoes), which will serve an even more calorific version (achieved by extra greasiness and ridiculous portion size).
- Key Components – Bacon, eggs, sausages and toast or fried bread.
- Optional Extras – Mushrooms, baked beans, tomatoes, hash browns.
- Accompanying Beverage – Mug (not cup) of tea.
- For a Bonus Point – Add black pudding – a type of blood sausage.
2. Cream Tea
- Location – Cute cafes in rural tourist spots and posh London hotels.
- Key Components – Scones, a type of small cake, sometimes with dried fruit. They are pretty bland but their purpose is to be a canvas for great big spoonfuls of jam and clotted cream (must be clotted, not whipped etc).
- Optional Extras – Small thin sandwiches and a selection of other cakes.
- Accompanying Beverage – Pot of tea – so you get a whole teapot full, which you pour yourself into a cup and saucer (not mug).
- For a Bonus Point – Try both the “jam then cream” and the “cream then jam” methods on the different halves of your scone. You will then be able to participate in the great scone debate that rages throughout the country (but mainly in the Beet household).
3. Fish and Chips
- Location – A fish and chip shop (or “chippy”). You can get them in pubs and restaurants, but chip shop is preferable.
- Key Components – Deep fried, battered fish (usually cod) and chips. Salt and vinegar. Bread and butter so you can make a “chip butty”.
- Optional Extras – Mushy peas / pea wet, ketchup, curry sauce. Pies and battered sausages are usually offered as alternatives to fish.
- Accompanying Beverage – If eating them at home, a mug of tea. If eating them al fresco, get a can of fizzy drink as you will be thirsty if you have added the requisite amount of salt.
- For a Bonus Point – Try a pickled egg.
4. Sausages and Mash (aka Bangers and Mash, but nobody really calls them “bangers”)
- Location – At home, in a pub or restaurant.
- Key Components – Sausages, mashed potato, onion gravy.
- Optional Extras – Veggies if you’re feeling healthy.
- Accompanying Beverage – Tea at home, beer in pub.
- For a Bonus Point – If you liked sausage and mash then you should try “toad in the hole” which is similar except the sausages are encased in batter (NB not like a battered sausage from the chippy, but like a yorkshire pudding).
- Location – Curry houses are on every high street. Brick Lane in East London is famous for its curry houses and Birmingham has a “curry mile”.
- Key Components – Curry (spicy meat or vegetable stew), rice, naan bread, poppadoms, selection of chutneys. If you’re going to do it properly then these are all required components.
- Optional Extras – Onion bhajis or sag aloo if you think you’ll have any room for them in addition to all the key components.
- Accompanying Beverage – Lager, lots of.
- For a Bonus Point – Choose the hottest curry on the menu, usually a phal or a vindaloo.
6. Sunday Lunch (aka Sunday Roast, Roast Dinner, Sunday Dinner but for some reason hardly ever Roast Lunch)
- Location – Pub or at your (or someone else’s) parents’ house.
- Key Components – Some kind of roast meat, roast potatoes, selection of vegetables (carrots, cabbage, parsnips etc), gravy.
- Optional Extras – Choice of meat; beef (to be accompanied by yorkshire pudding and horseradish sauce), chicken (sage and onion stuffing), pork (apple sauce) or lamb (mint sauce).
- Accompanying Beverage – Beer (pub), tea (parents).
- For a Bonus Point – If your appetite is robust and your trousers loose, combine with no. 7.
- Location – Pub or at your (or someone else’s) grandparents (Grandmothers tend to specialise in puddings)
- Key Components – Some kind of steamed sponge pudding (treacle sponge, sticky toffee, ginger pudding) or crumble (stewed fruit covered in a crunchy topping).
- Optional Extras – Custard is a must during winter months, in the summer ice cream is an acceptable alternative.
- Accompanying Beverage – Probably more tea.
- For a Bonus Point – Once you’ve mastered steamed puddings and crumbles, try a trifle (layers of custard, jelly, fruit, cake and cream). I once confounded a Frenchwoman by taking a trifle to a house party. “There is no word in French for this…trifle.”
8. Pie and Mash (I make no apologies for including both sausage and mash and pie and mash. The combination of cheap cuts of meat and potatoes is the bedrock of British cuisine.)
- Location – Pubs, restaurants or at home.
- Key Components – Meat pie (stewed meat in pastry), mashed potatoes, gravy.
- Optional Extras – Vegetables, brown (HP) sauce.
- Accompanying Beverage – Beer (pub) or tea (home)
- For a Bonus Point – Once you’ve tried steak and kidney pie, try steak and kidney pudding, which is widely considered to be superior.
9. Cornish Pasty
- Location – Service stations and bakers.
- Key Components – To the untrained eye, a pasty is much like a pie in that it is stewed meat and vegetables in pastry. The difference is the pasty is generally eaten by itself as a portable meal and the potato is on the inside.
- Optional Extras – There are such things as “chicken tikka pasties” but these are an abomination. Stick to traditional beef.
- Accompanying Beverage – Sticking with the West Country theme, you could have a cider.
- For a Bonus Point – Get one in Cornwall.
- Location – Kebab shops are on every high street. Noticeable for being open to the early hours of the morning and catering to the post-pub consumer.
- Key Components – Meat carved from the giant, rotating “elephant’s leg”, pitta bread, limp salad, chilli sauce.
- Optional Extras – The shop will usually offer alternatives to the kebab; burgers, chicken etc. As long as it’s something that you would turn your nose up at when sober, but now seems strangely appetising, it counts.
- Accompanying Beverage – 6 to 10 pints of lager beforehand is de rigeur.
- For a Bonus Point – Spot someone fighting, vomiting or urinating in the immediate vicinity of (or even inside) the kebab shop. This is local colour and more important than the kebab itself.
- Tea must be generic, not a specific type (Earl Grey, Darjeeling etc). If in doubt in a cafe ask for “builder’s tea” or if they really insist on offering you an array of “proper” teas then go for English Breakfast.
- Tea bag in cup first, then add hot water. If you just dunk a tea bag into a cup full of hot water, the result is weak as gnat’s piss.
- Award yourself a bonus point for each of the following biscuits identified and consumed; digestives (chocolate and plain), hobnobs (chocolate and plain), rich tea, nice, ginger nuts, jaffa cakes, jammy dodgers, chocolate bourbons, custard creams.