Sometimes, English requires a translation.
If you hopped across the pond, you’d expect to be able to understand the local British pub menu, right? After all, we all speak English. Secondly, Brits and Americans are BFFs and enjoy an enduring “special relationship.” If there’s one thing I know, it’s that good friends don’t require a translator to communicate. They just “get” each other.
But actually, it’s a little more complicated — and whimsical. Many beloved local British favorites (err, favourites) ring incomprehensible to an American. This is something I know personally from having spent a few years living as an expat in London and now having my young adult kids in the U.K.
Here’s a cheat sheet for 10 common British foods to help you get up close and personal with a country that is woven into our historical fabric. I’ll describe what these foods are and offer restaurants in major American cities that serve them. Cheers!
This is a side dish of mashed peas, just what the name implies. When you think about it, it’s just as rational as mashed potatoes. Mushy peas, made with marrowfat peas, will most typically appear with fish and chips, England’s national dish.
Pittsburgh: The Pub Chip Shop
To begin with, stop laughing. Butty is a term for sandwich — precisely, cheap white grocery store bread spread with butter (no healthy whole grains or you’re not doing it right). Chips refer to french fries … which means this is a sandwich filled with french fries. Of course, it’s a no-no for anyone trying to reduce carbs and watch their diet. But especially after a night at the pub, Brits don’t care, and neither should you.
Houston: Bayview Duck Restaurant & Pub
The breakfast of champions, Britain’s that is, black pudding is a type of sausage made with blood and boiled, baked or grilled. This dish is part of a healthy start to the day if you’re going for a proper English breakfast.
Washington, D.C.: Duke’s Grocery
Bubble and Squeak
Originally, bubble and squeak was a popular meal for Monday nights, created with Sunday’s leftovers. The dish surfaced sometime in the 18th century when the Sunday dinner menu was reliably a roast. The leftovers of potatoes, cabbage and vegetables were saved and fried on the hob, aka stovetop, apparently emitting bubbling and squeaking sounds. Today bubble and squeak is more readily found on brunch menus as a vegetarian offering.
Philadelphia: The Victoria Freehouse
Mocked forever, this poor British dessert was renamed “Spotted Richard” because of the heckling. But no one remembers. Spotted Dick is sweet raisin pudding cooked in a mold. It’s said that “spotted” refers to the dots of raisins and “dick” to the dough. You can take it from there.
Pasadena, California: Rose Tree Cottage
The national dish of Scotland, haggis is a type of pudding made with minced liver, heart and lungs of a sheep (or other animal), mixed with beef suet and oatmeal and seasonings. The mixture is boiled in a sheep’s stomach. Sound appetizing? From haggis-flavored crisps (potato chips) and haggis pizza to haggis meatballs, be warned that haggis shows up every which way.
Chicago: Duke of Perth
Bangers and Mash
Bangers are a common sausage in Britain (mildly seasoned pork with breadcrumbs), named originally because they tended to burst open while cooking. Mash, no surprise, is mashed potatoes. This is quintessential pub fare, so if you’re looking for go-to comfort food to offset the ales, order this.
Seattle: Elephant & Castle
This British classic is made using crumbled seasoned sausage to encase a soft-boiled egg and deep-fried. Don’t be mistaken by the name. This delicacy didn’t originate in Scotland, but in England. It is rumored to have been inspired by either an Indian or North African dish, depending on whom you talk to.
Boston: The Haven
Toad in the Hole
Comprised of sausages baked into batter resembling Yorkshire pudding, Toad in the Hole is a popular dish from the 1700s. Its name creatively describes how the sausages appear, poking up out of the baked pudding. This low-budget dish is great for feeding the family, and is generally served with onion gravy and, many insist, mashed potatoes.
Atlanta: Stoney’s Pub
Devils on Horseback
A classic appetizer often served at holiday feasts, this savory finger food features prunes or dates stuffed with stilton cheese, chutney or an almond and wrapped in everybody’s favorite — bacon. Secured with a toothpick and grilled, this decadent hors d’oeuvre’s name is guessed to be connected with its estranged counterpart, Angels on Horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon), which, sadly, has all but disappeared from the food scene.
New York City: Freemans
10 Brilliant British Foods To Say And To Eat … And Where To Find Them
How to enjoy all your favourites from across the pond.
Sometimes, English requires a translation.