City Guide to London, UK: Part 4 | Traditional Food
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There are so many ways to experience a place. The culture, the attractions, the people…and the food. Since we want to fully immerse ourselves in a place and have as complete of an experience as possible, we’re trying some of the traditional food in each region we visit. So, each place we visit will take some thought, research and planning. If we’re going to have a good traditional meal that gives us an impression of the region, we want it to be as true to the area as possible. It isn’t always perfect, but we do our best to find a dish or two that are a good representation of the traditional cuisine.
Our Traditional British Food Experience
Once again, we embarked on a quest to find, taste and hopefully enjoy a traditional dish or two in Great Britain. It’s a hard task, we know, but as always, we find a way to endure. (Please note our sincere sarcasm here, since we love food.) As we started asking around and doing our research we found a theme. Traditional food in Great Britain is similar to what we found in Ireland. It’s very hearty food. So, most of what we found was centered around meat, bread and potatoes.
Breakfast Is a Good Place to Start
Just about every café and restaurant seem to offer a ‘traditional full English breakfast’, so this seemed like a good place to start. It’s very similar to a traditional American breakfast, but with a few twists. Here's what it usually consists of:
Back Bacon - A traditional British cut, including both the pork loin and the pork belly (The English Breakfast Society).
Poached or Fried Eggs
Fried or Grilled Tomatoes
Black Pudding – A type of blood sausage made from pork fat or beef suet, pork blood and oatmeal (Wiki).
Bread or Toast
As you can tell, this is a pretty hearty breakfast. We were lucky enough to be in a hotel (staying for ‘free’ using points at a DoubleTree by Hilton property) that served a traditional breakfast. We didn't know what black pudding was, but we tried it before looking up what it was. When we tasted it, we knew it tasted familiar, but we couldn’t quite figure out what it was. While blood sausage wasn't that high on our list of food choices to try, it really wasn’t bad, we actually enjoyed it. (Shannon here: I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, but it wasn't bad!) We suppose that because of the high oat content, it was a fairly mild and familiar taste.
Overall, the breakfast was quite good. Nothing too extraordinary, and everything, except for the black pudding, we’ve had or tried before.
What Else to Try?
After trying a traditional full breakfast, we wanted to see what else there was to try. So, we put together a list of traditional English foods:
Fish and Chips
Bangers and Mash
We’d never had Shepherd’s Pie before but we’d heard Gordon Ramsey talk about it plenty. So, we decided to put this on our list of must try foods. We also had never tried mincemeat pie before and it sounded like a good dish to top off our shepherd’s pie with. Now that we had our traditional foods selected, we needed to find a good place to get them from.
We Stumbled Across Mincemeat Pie
We weren’t expecting it, so when we were offered mincemeat pie, we were delighted to try it. When we arrived at our house sit in London, the homeowner had a few pies that she’d purchased in spirit of the Christmas holiday. She offered a couple of the small pies to us and we, of course, accepted. They were good... they're sweet pastries... how could they not be good?!
For this traditional food item we did some research. First, we’re used to pubs being bars in the US. However, in the UK, pubs are more like restaurants. As a matter of fact, the origin of pubs, or public houses, comes from meeting houses where the town inhabitants socially met-up, gossiped and arranged mutual help within their communities (Wikipedia). Pubs have bars, but also serve full menus and are places where people gather and hang out, as they did during the times of tied houses, alehouses, and even Roman taverns. When we researched top reviews for shepherd’s pie, it’s no surprise that a pub came up as a place to go. We settled on the Porter House in downtown London, which had rave Yelp reviews for their shepherd’s pie.
The waiter was very kind and directed us to a great, quiet table overlooking the entire establishment. When he brought us our shepherd’s pie, it was nothing spectacular to look at, but it was a huge serving. Remembering what our mama taught us, not to judge a book by its cover, we dived in, and it was, of course delicious. It’s meat, mash, and cheese, with spices and about as hearty and as filling as a dish can be. The pie, and the pub were fantastic.
We’ve been on a quest to try traditional foods in each country we visit. However, we’ve come to a realization. We’ve done our research in each place and chosen the dishes we try carefully. Every place we’ve been to, we’ve tried at least one food, if not a couple of foods. We’ve tried traditional food in Ireland, the Netherlands, and now in the UK. One commonality between all of these places has become apparent. The food, as in the ingredients, are nothing new to us. While the way it’s prepared and the combination, and various amounts of ingredients may be unique, the food itself is not that unusual. Meaning, we’ve had dishes similar to shepherd’s pie, Irish stew and a traditional English breakfast before.
On the other hand, some of the things we’ve tried have been very unique. Like drops in Amsterdam or black pudding in England. When comparing the two experiences, from the unique to the not so unique, we’ve realized that we much prefer the unique. That’s what we’ve been after the whole time.
Our Game Plan Has Changed
We now plan on only trying traditional food if it’s truly unique to us. So going forward, we’ll spend time doing research on the food in the local area. If we find something that is truly interesting and unique to us, then we’re absolutely going to seek it out. However, we don’t want to force it. So, if we don’t find something that fits our criteria, and seems like something similar to what we’ve had in the past, then we’ll pass.
The reason for this? We’re all about experiences. We want to put our time, money and in this case calories, towards unique experiences. So, we may not dine in every country, but stay tuned for posts on our future, truly unique (for us anyway) food experiences….