Top 10 foods to try in England
English food today is far from stuffy, with international imports and fusions, homegrown crops and fresh seafood. Here, we share 10 must-try foods from around England
It’s unlikely that you’re travelling to England just to sample the cuisine. You might be coming for the nation’s heritage and history, to visit its quaint villages and vibrant cities, to enjoy live music, sport and outdoor pursuits, or maybe just for a chance to see Mr Bean in real life. Whatever the reason, it’s a good idea to identify some foods you’d like to try while you’re there.
English cuisine owes a lot to the nation’s rain-sodden farmland and coastal waters, and even more to its multicultural population and global connections. Visit a market in one of the big cities and you’ll see these facets for yourself: traders selling foods like authentic cheddar, Jamaican patties, fresh seafood, Southeast Asian delicacies and more, all within metres of one another.
A traditional English diet still exists – but at the same time, so does a newer and more open food and drink culture that has strengthened in recent years.
You can read more about England, other British nations and beyond in our foodie travel hub.
Don't leave England without trying...
England’s coastline is longer than the distance from London to Canada: about 2,750 miles. The nation’s diverse coastal waters are home to myriad sea life. While every region has its specialties, there are a few English seafoods we’d recommend.
Cromer crab, caught in the waters around the North Sea village of Cromer, is a jewel in the coral crown of English seafood, prized for its juicy meat and sweet flavour. Potted shrimp, a dish made with small, brown shrimp, spices and butter, is a traditional staple that dates back to Tudor times. And the smoked, butterflied herring fillets known as kippers are a low-cost, high-flavour breakfast treat.
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2. Pork pies
Conveniently pocket-sized and packed with protein, fats and carbohydrates, pork pies are an enduringly popular on-the-go snack – whether it's for a picnic or simply breaking for lunch.
Created in the Middle Ages, pork pies seem to have changed remarkably little in the last 500 years. Many are still made with a traditional combination of fatty pork, hot water crust pastry and aspic, which is a savoury type of gelatine.
The Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray is nationally well-known for its pork pies, which are notable for their bowed sides and high content of fresh pork.
Discover our mouthwatering pork pie recipes.
3. Balti curry
Birmingham, England’s second-biggest city, is famed for South Asian cuisine. Pakistani and British Pakistani chefs, in particular, have propelled ‘Brum’ to new heights of culinary importance. It’s believed that one of England’s favourite curries, the balti, was created by Birmingham Pakistani chefs in the 1970s.
Baltis can be made with any of a wide range of meats, vegetables and spices. The dish is fried in vegetable oil (not ghee), at high temperature in a metal pan called a ‘balti’, which gives the curry its name. There is some debate over the origins of balti-style curries. The region of Baltistan also stakes a claim, but regardless, it's worth trying while you're in England.
Make a healthy balti curry at home.
4. Forced rhubarb
If you think you don’t like rhubarb, try forced rhubarb. This specialty crop is traditionally grown inside low, brick buildings known as forcing sheds (and more commonly these days, in plant-sized forcers). In search of light, the rhubarb rapidly sends out stems, which can then be harvested while they’re still young, sweet and tender.
Much of England’s forced rhubarb is grown in an area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in West Yorkshire, known as ‘the rhubarb triangle’. There, you can find some of England’s last traditional forcing sheds, as well as open fields of rhubarb.
English cooks tend to use rhubarb for one purpose above all others: making rhubarb crumble. Other dishes to try include rhubarb fools, rhubarb and custard, and rhubarb cider.
Read Wakefield-born food writer Carol Wilson’s guide to rhubarb.
In the Mendip Hills near the Somerset village of Cheddar, you’ll find the birthplace of the world’s most popular cheese.
Cheddar owes its singular taste – strong and sharp, yet satisfyingly creamy – to the unique ‘cheddaring’ process. Traditionally, the cheese is cut into slabs, which are turned multiple times during storage in order to remove moisture and enhance the flavour and texture.
Since the 12th century, Cheddar's cheesemakers have been making the cheese in limestone caves. This style is now mass-produced around the world, but if you want to taste a traditional cheddar that’s true to its history, look for a certified ‘West Country farmhouse’ version.
Learn more about cheddar.
6. Cask ale and sparkling wine
While England’s alcohol consumption has steadied in recent years, the nation is still fond of a tipple.
Maybe we’re just spoilt for choice. Excellent beer is abundant, from pale ales and IPAs to bitters and porters. Try some cask ales, which will have been stored in a pub cellar and poured without the addition of carbon dioxide. These lukewarm, low-fizz ales are an acquired taste, but their special treatment makes for mellow drinking.
English sparkling wine has also emerged as a must-sip drink of late, as vineyards such as Gusbourne and Exton Park continue cultivating their vines in the relatively sunny south.
Read our guide: How have wines evolved in recent decades?
7. Afternoon tea
Afternoon tea is a British institution, and it can be made up of various finger foods such as sandwiches (without crusts), scones with jam and clotted cream, and patisserie-style dessert items. These treats are traditionally presented on a three-tier stand and served with a pot of tea and/or prosecco.
Discover some of our favourite afternoon tea experiences in London, or try the Betty’s chain of Anglo-Swiss tea rooms in Yorkshire.
Read our top tips for throwing your own afternoon tea party.
8. British Chinese-style dishes
Much British Chinese-inspired food differs greatly from traditional regional dishes, as any Brit will admit. But this does not make British Chinese food any less delicious.
Chinese dishes and ingredients started arriving in England as early as the 1800s, and these were soon fused with British staples such as curry sauce and chips. The archetypal British dish salt-and-pepper chips is a must-try takeaway. They are loaded fries, topped with chopped veg and a mix of Chinese spices.
It’s getting easier to find foods like wontons and youtiao in England now, too – especially in cities which have a strong Chinese food scene, like Sheffield.
Make your own salt & pepper chips.
9. Caribbean-inspired dishes
England is blessed with some outstanding Caribbean restaurants and grocers, especially in London and some of the other larger cities. There’s a multinational abundance of dishes to sample, including jerk chicken, Jamaican patties, salt fish and oxtail stew.
One of the best ways to experience Caribbean cuisine in England is to find a good food stand at a Carnival event, such as the Leeds West Indian Carnival or Notting Hill Carnival. If you can find it, try some curried goat with rice & peas.
Make jerk chicken at home.
10. Fish & chips
You didn’t think we’d publish this list without including fish & chips, did you?
Classically, the dish comprises a battered haddock or cod fillet, and thick fried potato chips (which you might think of as ‘fries’, depending on which version of English you know). Both the fish and the chips are seasoned with salt and malt vinegar. Optional sides include mushy peas, tartare sauce, curry sauce, gravy – and ‘scraps’, which are left-over pieces of batter.
The secret to good fish & chips is the fat used to fry the ingredients. As most traditionalists will tell you, frying in beef dripping imbues the chips and batter with an unrivalled richness. For pescatarians or the mildly health-conscious, sunflower oil might be a more appealing pick.
Fish & chip shops – or ‘chippies’ – have seen declining custom in recent years, leading to closures. Now would be a good time to sample and support this English staple.
Raise your fish & chip game with our next-level recipe.
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Do you agree with our English food choices? We'd love to hear about other classic dishes we've missed off. For more lists like this, visit our travel section.