Sure, the English have some strange eating habits. Having dated a Brit for an extended period of time, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them all. While I (embarrassingly) became found of dipping pizza in mayonnaise, the “chip butty” (basically a french-fry sandwich) still remains bizarre. I also never really got into the small store-bought scotch eggs and cold mince-meat pies. Those remain anomalies as well.
Regardless of some of their strange creations, I feel bad for the rap we’ve given our beloved ancestors across the pond. After two visits to the country I just don’t think it’s fair.
Here I stand, American as ever, with a coffee (not tea) in hand to set the record straight.
1. The Steak & Ale Pie
Although there are many types of meat pies, the steak & ale pie is something all carnivorous, beer-loving dreams are made of. It just doesn’t get better than a savory stew over tender meat and vegetables covered in buttery pastry.
Why aren’t we big on meat pies in the U.S.? Why are all our pies sweet? It just isn’t right.
The other day I tried to make my own version at home. I adapted this recipe, but basically only followed the first step. I used a Hobglobin Ale and didn’t add the bacon lardons (whatever those are). After a long simmer, I poured the stew over easy puff pastry shells and served with steak fries and roasted kale. It was seriously delicious.
2. Ale in general
Supposedly, drinking ale isn’t what your typical English female does often, if ever. That’s why when I ordered a pint and a whole steak pie for myself I got a few looks my way. I don’t think they were looks of judgement though, just ones of intrigue.
What’s hard for us Americans to understand is that “ale” isn’t actually equal to all other beers. Our notion of beer is actually “lager”, and an ale is different in the way it’s fermented and served. It is also the oldest beer in the world!
Ales are fermented at a higher temperature making them mature more quickly. In traditional British pubs they also usually come from small batches, using natural ingredients and aren’t filtered or pasteurized. Ales are served slightly cool but not cold. Their flavor is a bit stronger and more robust than lager, and the alcohol content is typically a bit higher.
Overall, an ale is something tasty to sip on at the pub, not something “light” to chug next to a shot of Fireball.
Outside of London, they are also really inexpensive. For about £1.50-2 per pint you can’t go wrong! Ales rock.
3. Yorkshire Pudding
Not the pudding we are used to, this version doesn’t come from a powdered Jello packet. Instead, the Yorkshire pudding is actually referring to the pastry-like cooked dough which holds an assortment of heart attack inducing savory foods.
This specific Yorkshire pudding came with mashed potatoes, sausage and smothered in gravy. Accompanied by an ale, it was great for my soul but horrible for my waistline.
4. Fish & Chips
Unpretentious and simple, fish and chips doesn’t need to impress anybody. It doesn’t need to work for your attention or get dressed up. It’ll be handed over in newspaper or in a cardboard box ready for you to eat on the go or take home for a hot rendezvous on the couch.
It’s comforting, it’s fried to perfection and the fish is usually buttery and meaty. Whenever I ordered, I asked for “scraps” (extra fried bits) and a side of curry sauce. Yes, really, curry sauce. I then doused it in vinegar and alternated between eating plain fried bites and curry dunked morsels.
Ah, curry. In the last few years, I’ve acquired an obsession with curries from Thai to Indian. Sadly, the U.S. just doesn’t really have the same obsession just yet. Our Indian places are usually very grimy or extremely over-priced. The craze just hasn’t taken over.
Next to India, England has the best Indian curries. Actually, the British are a big influence for what curries are popular today around the Western world. Surprising to many, Chicken Tikka Masala is actually a British dish…not a traditional Indian one.
Chinese curries are also popular. While I’m not sure if Chinese curries like this actually exist in China (do they?), they are delicious in England. The Chinese curry is smothered on top of thickly cut chips (fries) with prawns (shrimp) and mushrooms.
Super salty but super yummy. Chug some water post-feasting.
6. Holiday Foods
We are all partial to our own family’s holiday foods, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the English Christmas when I visited. There were vegetables that don’t usually make an appearance on U.S. holiday plates, and I found them to be welcome additions. Brussel sprouts with bacon, leeks and pureed swede and carrot (the orange stuff in the photo) were all delicious. British stuffing is also much meatier (fine with me), and instead of gravy I dipped my bites in bread sauce. Roasted potatoes and little bacon wrapped sausages rounded off the plate.
All the days surrounding Christmas I ate well. If you are a vegetarian though, I would avoid a holiday in England. From paté, to meat pies, to sausage rolls, I probably consumed an entire animal that week.
7. The holy grail of breakfasts, The English Breakfast
By this point in the article, I’m starting to feel like I’m cheating on my home country. For the sake of honesty and setting the record straight, I must press on.
Oh, the English Breakfast. While nothing beats a sweet American breakfast, I must say the English have taken our savory breakfast and one-upped us.
A fried yolky egg, baked beans, sausage, bacon (more like fried ham though), fried tomatoes and fried mushrooms make up the basics of a full English breakfast. Throw in some fried bread (yes, fried bread), hash browns and some black pudding (still, haven’t had this) and the breakfast gets even more gluttonous.
In my opinion, the fried tomatoes and mushrooms go perfectly with the meat on the plate. Dipping your toast in the egg then smothering it in beans makes for a winning bite as well. Overall, this random assortment of food just goes together so well. It’s also enough to set you straight for the rest of the day. Next time, I’ll add a bloody mary and call it my perfect brunch.
So, have I convinced you? Should I feel as guilty as I do for cheating on my home country with England?