What do people eat in England?

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During your intensive English course in Winchester, you will learn a lot of things about the culture of England, and part of this is the understanding of what is typically eaten at meal and snack times. Your English language classes may include some references to habits, routines, food and diet, but here is a quick summary to get you started.

English cuisine is shaped by the country’s climate, geography and history. The importing of ingredients and ideas from places such as North America, China and India during the time of the British Empire has resulted in a vast array of classics from around the world being found on the one table. 

As a result, traditional foods with ancient origins, such as bread and cheese, roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, and freshwater and saltwater fish, are now matched in popularity by potatoes, tomatoes and chillies from the Americas, spices and curries from India and Bangladesh, and stir-fries from China and Thailand.

Britain is famous for its fish and chips and has a huge number of restaurants and take-away shops catering to it. It is possibly the most popular and uniquely British dish, and is traditionally served with a side order of mushy peas, sliced bread and butter and a cup of tea (yes, a cup of tea!) From the 1980s onwards, a new variant on curry, the balti, began to become popular, and by the mid 1990s was commonplace in Indian restaurants and takeaways over the country. Kebab houses and pizza restaurants aiming at late night snacking have also become popular in urban areas.

At teatime (around 5pm), and especially in Devon and neighbouring counties, meals eaten include scones with jam and butter or clotted cream, while nationwide, assorted biscuits and sandwiches are often eaten. Teatime is not practised by many British people in the 21st century, having been replaced by snacking, or ignored altogether.

The Sunday roast is perhaps the most common feature of British cooking and you may find your hosts preparing one at the weekend during your Immersed English course in Winchester. This Sunday dinner traditionally includes roast potatoes accompanying a roasted joint of meat such as roast beef, lamb or pork, or a roast chicken and assorted vegetables, served with a thick gravy (a hot meat-flavoured sauce). Yorkshire pudding is often served as an accompaniment to the main course. The photo above was taken during our summer intensive course in 2012.

There is also “Bangers & Mash” which is simply sausages with mashed potatoes and gravy. To many English people this is a ‘comfort food’, great any day of the week.

The full English breakfast also remains a culinary classic. It normally consists of a combination of bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, black pudding (similar to the Spanish ‘morcilla’ sausage), baked beans, fried mushrooms, sausages, and eggs (fried, scrambled or boiled). Hash browns are sometimes added, though this is not considered traditional. 

Bacon sandwiches, often referred to as “bacon sarnies” or “bacon butties” are commonplace as well, sometimes eaten as an informal outdoor breakfast or in midmorning as a workplace snack.

At home, the British have many original home-made desserts such as rhubarb crumble, bread and butter pudding, trifle and spotted dick. The traditional accompaniment is custard, known as creme anglaise (English sauce or English Cream) to the French. The dishes are simple and traditional, with recipes passed on from generation to generation. Most main meals end with a sweet dessert, although cheese and biscuits may be consumed as an alternative or as an addition.

A unique sandwich filling is Marmite, a dark brown savoury spread made from yeast extract, with a tar-like texture and a strong, salty taste. Many people have a love/hate relationship with Marmite, you simply have to try it to find out for yourself.

Tea, usually served with milk, is consumed throughout the day and is sometimes drunk with meals (much to the disgust of many foreigners!). Coffee is perhaps a little less common than in continental Europe, but is still drunk by many, typically with milk. Italian coffee preparations such as espresso and cappuccino are popular. In recent years herbal teas and specialty teas have become popular. In more formal contexts wine can be served with meals, though for semi-formal and informal meals beer or cider is commonly drunk.

In Winchester and many other places, you may discover that some of the above dishes morph into something a little different. For example, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Union Jack’s on Winchester High Street offers pizzas topped with locally sourced sausage, as you may normally find in the traditional “bangers and mash”.

Additionally, you may find yourself enjoying a roast Lincolnshire pork belly on a Tuesday in Raymond Blanc’s restaurant Blanc’s Brasserie on Jewry Street, as opposed to on a Sunday at home, served with a side order of buttered French beans.

Another celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is due to open his own restaurant in Abbey gardens in Winchester in the autumn of this year. Renowned for his campaigning on issues of fishing and factory farming, we may find ourselves filling our bellies with a totally free-range and organic English breakfast by this time next year.

If you would like to try some English cuisine on one of our intensive English immersion courses in Winchester,UK, ask us for some recommendations.

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