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English cuisine is shaped by the country's temperate climate, its geography, and its history. The latter includes interactions with other European countries, and the importing of ingredients and ideas from places such as North America, Chinamarker, and Indiamarker during the time of the British Empire and as a result of post-war immigration.

Since the Early Modern Period the food of England has historically been characterised by its simplicity of approach and a reliance on the high quality of natural produce. This, in no small part influenced by England's Puritan heritage, has resulted in a traditional cuisine which tended to veer from strong flavours, such as garlic, and an avoidance of complex sauces which were commonly associated with Catholic Continental political affiliations.

Traditional meals have ancient origins, such as bread and cheese, roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, and freshwater and saltwater fish. The 14th century English cookbook, the Forme of Cury, contains recipes for these, and dates from the royal court of Richard II.

Other customary dishes, such as fish and chips, which were once urban street food eaten from newspaper with salt and malt vinegar, and pies and sausages with mashed potatoes, onions, and gravy, are now matched in popularity by curries from India and Bangladesh, and stir-fries based on Chinese and Thai cooking.French cuisine and Italian cuisine are also now widely adapted. Britain was also quick to adopt the innovation of fast food from the United Statesmarker, and continues to absorb culinary ideas from all over the world while at the same time rediscovering its roots in sustainable rural agriculture.

Traditional cuisine

The Sunday roast

The Sunday roast is perhaps the most common feature of English cooking. The Sunday dinner traditionally includes roast potatoes accompanying a roasted joint of meat such as roast beef, lamb, or a roast chicken and assorted vegetables, themselves generally roasted or boiled and served with a gravy. Yorkshire pudding and gravy is now often served as an accompaniment to the main course, although it was originally served first as a "filler". The practice of serving a roast dinner on a Sunday is related to the elaborate preparation required, and to the housewife's practice of performing the weekly wash on a Monday, when the cold remains of the roast made an easily-assembled meal. Sunday was once the only rest day after a six-day working week. An elaborate version of roast dinner is eaten at Christmas, with almost every detail rigidly specified by tradition. Since its widespread availability after World War II the most popular Christmas roast is turkeymarker, superseding the goose of Dickens's time. Before the period of cheap turkeys, roast chicken would be more common than goose, goose being unsuitable for small groups of diners. Game meats such as venison which were traditionally the domain of higher classes are occasionally also eaten by those wishing to experiment with a wider choice of foods, due to their promotion by celebrity chefs, although it is not usually eaten frequently in the average household.

Fish and chips.

Chip shops and other takeaways

England is internationally famous for its fish and chips and has a large number of restaurants and take-away shops selling this dish. It may be the most popular and identifiable English dish, and is traditionally served with a side order of mushy peas with salt and vinegar as condiments. Foods such as scampi, a deep fried breaded prawn dish, are usually on offer as well as fishcakes or a number of other combinations.

The advent of take-away foods during the Industrial Revolution led to foods such as fish and chips, mushy peas, and steak and kidney pie with mashed potato (pie and mash). These were the staples of the UKmarker take-away business, and indeed of English diets, however, like many national dishes, quality can vary drastically from the commercial or mass produced product to an authentic or homemade variety using more carefully chosen ingredients.

However, ethnic influences, particularly those of Indian and Chinese, have given rise to the establishment and availability of ethnic take-away foods. From the 1980s onwards, a new variant on curry, the balti, began to become popular in the West Midlands, and by the mid 1990s was commonplace in Indian restaurants and restaurants over the country. Kebab houses, pizza restaurants and American-style fried chicken restaurants aiming at late night snacking have also become popular in urban areas. Fusions such as chips with curry sauce, chips with kebab meat and so on are also found.

The full English breakfast

The full English breakfast (also known as "cooked breakfast" or "fried breakfast") also remains a culinary classic. Its contents vary by region, availability and preference, with the core components of fried bacon and eggs (eggs may be scrambled or poached rather than fried) variously accompanied by grilled tomatoes, black pudding, baked beans, fried mushrooms, sausages, and bread, which can be either buttered, toasted or fried. Hash browns can be added, though this is a US import. Another course such as fruit juice and / or buttered toast might be included and usually tea or coffee would be drunk.

In general, the British domestic breakfast is less elaborate, and most "full English" breakfasts are eaten in cafes, having been replaced by cereals for many people at home. A full English breakfast at home might happen once a week for those who work out of the home. A young child's breakfast might include "soldiers", finger-shaped pieces of bread to be dipped in the yolk of a lightly boiled egg.

The banger

English sausages, colloquially known as "bangers", are distinctive in that they are usually made from fresh meats and rarely smoked, dried, or strongly flavoured. Following the post World War II period, sausages tended to contain low-quality meat, fat, and rusk. (Reputedly the term "banger" derived from the excessive water added to the mix turning to steam while cooking and bursting the casing with a bang.) However, there has been a backlash in recent years, with most butchers and supermarkets now selling premium varieties.

Pork and beef are by far the most common bases, although gourmet varieties may contain venison, wild boar, etc. There are particularly famous regional varieties, such as the herbal Lincolnshire, and the long, curled Cumberland with many butchers offering their own individual recipes and variations often handed down through generations, but are generally not made from cured meats such as Italian selections or available in such a variety as found in Germany.

Most larger supermarkets in England will stock at least a dozen types of English sausage: not only Cumberland and Lincolnshire but often varieties such as Pork and Apple; Pork and Herb; Beef and Stilton; Pork and Mozzarella; and others. There are estimated to be around 400 sausage varieties in the United Kingdom.

Sausages form the basis of toad in the hole, where they are combined with a batter similar to a Yorkshire pudding and baked in the oven, this can be served with an onion gravy made by frying sliced onions for anywhere over an hour on a low heat then mixed with a stock, wine or ale then reduced to form a sauce or gravy used in bangers and mash.

A variant of the sausage is the black pudding, strongly associated with Lancashiremarker similar to the French boudin noir or the Spanish Morcilla. It is made from pig's blood, in line with the adage that "you can eat every part of a pig except its squeal". Pig's trotters, tripe and brawn are also traditional fare in the North. There are also white puddings, similar but lacking blood.

Bangers and mash

The pie

The English tradition of meat Pies, dates back to the Middle ages, where originally an open top pie crust was used as the container for serving the meat and was called a coffyn. Since then, they have been a mainstay of English cooking. Different types of pastry may be used including the lard rich pastry of a raised pie. Meat pies are generally enclosed with fillings such as chicken and mushroom or steak and kidney (originally steak and oyster). Pork pies are almost always eaten cold, with the Melton Mowbraymarker pork pie being the archetype. Open pies or flans are generally served for dessert with fillings of seasonal fruit. Quiches and savoury flans are eaten, but not considered indigenous. The Cornish pasty is a much-loved regional dish, constructed from pastry folded into a semi-circular purse, like a calzone. Another kind of pie is topped with mashed potato instead of pastry—for instance, shepherd's pie, with lamb, cottage pie, with beef, or fisherman's pie. As usual, there is a vast difference in quality between mass produced and hand-made versions. Good quality pies are obtainable from some pubs, traditional pie and mash shops, or specialist bakeries.

The sandwich

England can claim to have given the world the word "sandwich", although the eponymous John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich was not the first to add a filling to bread. Fillings such as pickled relishes and Gentleman's Relish could also be considered distinctively English.

Dishes of Indian origin

In the Victorian era, during the British Raj, Britain first started borrowing Indian dishes, creating Anglo-Indian cuisine. Kedgeree and Mulligatawny soup are traditional Anglo-Indian dishes, now faded from popularity. The many varieties of Indian curry of whichChicken tikka masala and balti are best known are more recent. The word curry, meaning 'to spice', has been used since the medieval period. The chicken tikka masala is now considered one of Britain's most popular dishes.

Bacon and kippers

Northern European countries generally have a tradition of salting, smoking, pickling and otherwise preserving foods. Britons make kippers, ham, bacon and a wide variety of pickled vegetables. Smoked cheese is not common or traditional, although apple-wood smoked cheddar is available in many supermarkets. Meats other than pork are generally not cured. The "three breakfasts a day" principle can be implemented by eating bacon sandwiches, often referred to as "bacon sarnies" or "bacon butties" in some regions, at any time.

Pickles, preserves and condiments

Pickles and preserves are given a twist by the influence of the British Empire. Thus, the repertoire includes chutney as well as Branston or "brown" pickle, piccalilli, pickled onions and gherkins. The Asian influence is also present in condiments such as tomato sauce (originally ketjap), Worcestershire sauce and "brown" sauce (such as HP). Because Britain is a beer-drinking nation, malt vinegar is commonly used. English mustard is strongly-flavoured and bright yellow; served with meats and cooked with cheese; internationally noted for its pungency; and particularly associated with Colman's of Norwichmarker. Pickles often accompany a selection of sliced, cold cooked meats, or "cold collation". This dish can claim to have some international influence, since it is known in French as an "assiette anglaise".

High tea

It is believed by some that the English "drop everything" for a teatime meal in the mid-afternoon. This is no longer the case in the workplace, and is rarer in the home than it once was. A formal teatime meal is now often an accompaniment to tourism, particularly in Devonmarker and neighbouring counties, where comestibles may include scones with jam and clotted cream (known as a cream tea). There are also butterfly cakes, simple small sponge cakes which can be iced or eaten plain. Nationwide, assorted biscuits and sandwiches are eaten. Generally, however, the teatime meal has been replaced by snacking, or simply dispensed with.

Tea itself, usually served with milk, is consumed throughout the day and is sometimes also drunk with meals. In recent years herbal teas and speciality teas have also become popular. Coffee is perhaps a little less common than in continental Europe, but is still drunk by many in both its instant and percolated forms, often with milk (but rarely with cream). Italian coffee preparations such as espresso and cappuccino and modern American variants such as the frappuccino are increasingly popular, but generally purchased in restaurants or from specialist coffee shops rather than made in the home. Sugar is often added to individual cups of tea or coffee, though never to the pot.

For much of the 20th century Britain had a system whereby milk was delivered to the doorstep in reusable glass bottles in the mornings, usually by special vehicles called "milk floats". This service continues in some areas, though it has increasingly been replaced by supermarket shopping.


Cheese is generally hard, and made from cows' milk. Cheddar cheese, originally made in the village of Cheddarmarker, is by far the most common type, with many variations. Tangy Cheshire, salty Caerphilly, Sage Derby, Red Leicester, creamy Double Gloucester, pungent Lincolnshire Poacher and sweet Wensleydale are some traditional regional varieties. Cheddar and the rich, blue-veined Stilton have both been called the king of English cheeses. Cornish Yarg is a successful modern variety. The name 'Cheddar cheese' has become widely used internationally, and does not currently have a protected designation of origin (PDO). However, the European Union recognises West Country Farmhouse Cheddar as a PDO. To meet this standard the cheese must be made in the traditional manner using local ingredients in one of the four designated counties of South West England: Somerset, Devon, Dorset, or Cornwall. Sheep and goat cheeses are made chiefly by craft producers. Continental cheeses such as French Brie are sometimes also manufactured.


Pudding consists of many original home-made desserts such as bread and butter pudding, Eccles cake, rhubarb crumble, apple pie, treacle tart, spotted dick, summer pudding, and trifle. The traditional accompaniment for many of the aforementioned desserts is custard, sometimes known as crème anglaise (literally "English sauce"), or English cream made with eggs and milk to the French. However in Victorian times Alfred Bird, a Birmingham Chemist, operating from premises in New Street found that his wife much enjoyed custard but was allergic to eggs and so he invented a substitute made from cornflour and vanilla . These dishes are simple and traditional, with recipes passed on from generation to generation. There is also a dried fruit based Christmas pudding, and the almond flavoured Bakewell tart originating from the town of Bakewellmarker.

Savoury course

Another formal British culinary tradition rarely observed today is the consumption of a savoury course, such as Welsh rarebit, toward the conclusion of a meal. This now though may be eaten as a snack or a light lunch or supper. Most main meals today end with a sweet dessert, although cheese and biscuits may be consumed as an alternative or as an addition. In Yorkshiremarker, fruit cake is often served with Wensleydale cheese. Coffee can sometimes be a culminatory drink.


Wine can be served with meals, though for semi-formal and informal meals beer or cider may also be drunk.

International and fusion cuisine

Indian cuisine is the most popular alternative to traditional cooking in Britain, followed by Chinese and Italian cuisine food. Thai, Spanish, Jewish, Greek, Tex-Mex and Caribbean restaurants can also be found, with American and Middle Eastern food mostly represented in the take-away sector. Whereas most international food is pitched in the middle of the price range, French food tends to be considered haute cuisine.

Indian restaurants typically allow the diner to combine a number of base ingredients– chicken, prawns or "meat" (lamb or mutton)– with a number of curry sauces, without regard to the authenticity of the combination. (Many restaurants are run by Bangladeshi Muslims, so pork is rarely offered.) Meals are almost always accompanied by rice, usually basmati, with bread sometimes ordered in addition. India's well-developed vegetarian cuisine is sketchily represented.

Anglo Indian Fusion food started during the British Raj with such dishes as mulligatawny soup, kedgeree and coronation chicken. The process continued with chicken tikka masala in the 1960s and Balti in the 1980s, although some claim the latter has roots in the subcontinent.

Pizza and pasta dishes such as spaghetti bolognese and lasagna with bolognese ragù and Béchamel sauce are the most popular forms of Italian food.

Chile con carne is also a popular Mexican dish: it is generally made with kidney beans and minced beef, and served with rice.

Chinese food is predominantly derived from Cantonese cuisine, and so adapted to Western tastes that Chinese customers may be offered an entirely separate menu. Spare ribs in OK sauce is an example of crossover cuisine.

Caribbean and Jewish food are mostly eaten within their respective communities, although bagels are becoming more widespread as a snack.

Reputation abroad

English cuisine may suffer from a relatively poor international reputation when compared to that of French cuisine and Italian cuisine. However, at least for the English, this perception of English food may seem outdated: the poor reputation of industrially produced urban food in the twentieth century did not ever really represent the quality or taste of food cooked in the home. Traditional English food, with its emphasis on 'meat-and-two-veg' falls squarely into the north European tradition extending from Northern Germany to the Low Countries and Scandinavia, albeit with a marked French influence.

During the Middle Ages and Enlightenment, English cuisine enjoyed an excellent reputation; its decline can be traced back to the move away from the land and increasing urbanisation of the populace during the Industrial Revolution. During this process Britain became a net importer of food. British food also suffered heavily from effects of rationing during two World Wars (food rationing finally ended in 1954), followed by the increasing trend toward industrialised mass production of food. However, in Britain today there is a renewed fascination with the politics and culture of food popularly led by celebrity chefs who seek to raising the standard of food understanding in the UK.

In 2005 British cuisine reached new heights when 600 food critics writing for (British) Restaurant magazine named 14 British restaurants among the 50 best restaurants in the world with the number one spot going to The Fat Duckmarker in Bray, Berkshiremarker and its chef Heston Blumenthal. In particular, the global reach of Londonmarker has elevated it to the status of leading centre of international cuisine. Meanwhile the heavy promotion of gastronomy as a post industrial economic solution has lead to a proliferation of very fine quality producers across the country.


Since the end of World War II when their numbers were around 100,000, increasing numbers of the British population have adopted vegetarianism, especially since the BSE crisis of the 1990s. it was estimated that there were between 3 and 4 million vegetarians in the UK, one of the highest percentages in the Western world, and around 7 million people claim to eat no red meat. It is rare not to find vegetarian foods in a supermarket or on a restaurant menu.


English food writers and chefs

Examples of English cuisine

For more complete lists, see the British section of the List of recipes. For traditional foods protected under European law, see British Protected designation of origin.

Savoury dishes

Sweet dishes

Other specialities


breakfast, elevenses, brunch, lunch, dinner, supper, dessert, tea

Dates of introduction of various foodstuffs and methods to Britain

Prehistory (before 43 AD)

  • bread from mixed grains: around 3700 BC
  • oats: around 1000 BC
  • wheat: around 500 BC
  • rabbit: late Iron Age/early Roman

Roman era (43 to 410)

Middle Ages to the discovery of the New World (410 to 1492)

1492 to 1914

After 1914


See the article on rationing in the United Kingdom during and after World War II (which started in World War II and lasted for several years afterward)

See also


  • Hartley, Dorothy (1954) Food in England. London: Macdonald (reissued: London: Little, Brown, 1996, ISBN 0-316-85205-8). This is a charmingly old-fashioned survey of the history of English food from prehistory to 1954, full of folk wisdom and recipes (not all practical).

Further reading

  • Ayrton, Elisabeth (1974) The Cookery of England: being a collection of recipes for traditional dishes of all kinds from the fifteenth century to the present day, with notes on their social and culinary background. London: Andre Deutsch
  • Ayrton, Elisabeth (1980) English Provincial Cooking. London: Mitchell Beazley
  • Grigson, Jane (1974) English Food. London: Macmillan (With illustrations by Gillian Zeiner; an anthology of English and Welsh recipes of all periods chosen by Jane Grigson, for which she was voted Cookery Writer of the Year. A revised and enlarged edition was published in 1979 (ISBN 0 33326866 0), and later editions were issued by Ebury Press with a foreword by Sophie Grigson)

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