City Guide to London, UK: Part 4 | Traditional Food
We spent a month in London and wanted to experience the city to it’s fullest. We left no stone unturned when it came to sightseeing, so what remained was tasting traditional British food! We didn’t let black pudding (blood sausage) deter us from a traditional English breakfast, we feasted on shepherd’s pie, and indulged on mincemeat pie.
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London, United Kingdom City Guides
We explored London from top to bottom and couldn’t fit it all in just one article. Be sure to read the rest of our London, United Kingdom City Guides!
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, no doubt because of the cold and wet weather. So, most of what we found was centered around meat, bread, and potatoes.
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A Traditional English 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!
Black Pudding… Blood Sausage!?
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. Thinking back, we presume it was the high oat content that made it taste familiar.
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!)
Traditional English Breakfast… Not that Different
Overall, the breakfast was quite good. Nothing too extraordinary, and everything, except for the black pudding, we’ve had or tried before.
The beans were a bit different to have for breakfast, but a walk into any grocery store quickly opened our eyes to how much a stable baked beans are in England!
Eggs, sausage, hash-browns, and bacon are pretty standard fare for any American breakfast, so how could we not enjoy it?
If you try it and love it, then make it at home! Here’s a few traditional English cookbooks to bring the experience to your kitchen.
There’s Many Options for Traditional English Food!
After trying a traditional full English 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 with a mix of desire to experience British culture and a recent binge of Kitchen Nightmares, Shepherd’s pie made our must try list of traditional British food.
We then decided that we need something to top off our Shepherd’s pie with. And why not end a pie with a pie?! We’d never tried mincemeat pie before so it all came together well!
Now that we had our traditional foods selected, we needed to find a good place to get them from.
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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 month long 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 English 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 comes from meeting houses used by town inhabitants for social gatherings and community meetings.
While you’re in England, remember that 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 and it was nothing spectacular to look at and 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 was made of meat, mash, cheese, spices and was 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!
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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 and if we find something that’s 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.
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!