A guide to English food and drink

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We've worked closely with food experts to bring you the stories behind the best of English food. Keep reading to discover why modern cuisine in Britain is much more than just fish and chips...

Britain is a fantastic place for multicultural food. All sorts of cultures have had settlements in the country over the years, and their influence is clear in Britain’s food to this day. In 2016 Japanese, Mexican and Indian restaurants and street food are staples in any city, and American-influenced burger chains have also seen a recent boom, with British chains such as Byron flourishing in their own right.

British food – by Lulu Grimes, Lifestyle Director of BBC Good Food 

“Baked goods are popular all over the UK. In the Lake District, Cartmel is famous for its sticky toffee pudding and Bakewell for its pudding: a pastry base filled with jam and a layer of almond cake. Cornwall and Devon both serve cream teas with scones, the difference being that the Cornish serve the cream on top of the jam, rather than underneath it. Meat pies (cold pork pies and hot steak and kidney pies) are a good lunchtime choice, and fish and chips are essential eating near the seaside. Curry is now British through and through, with restaurants such as Dishoom in London and Edinburgh serving particularly good Indian food. There’s also cheese, try Yarg, Stichelton and Red Leicester, as well as Cheddar and Stilton.”  - BBC Good Food

Discover the amazing regional food that Britain has to offer in our culinary guide. 

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London london-flag023

History: The exact origin of Britain’s capital city is unknown. One argument states that Roman merchants established the city around 43AD, though some believe it was founded over 800 years earlier in the Iron Age. 

Having endured a long history of plague and war, by the 18th century London had developed into the centre of the British Empire. The city is home to countless historic buildings, including Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London.


Top three local foods

1. Fish and chips  

Fish and chips has been around since the late 19th century, when it became popular in London and south east England. Its importance was cemented in WWII when it was one of very few foods not to be rationed! Originally it was sold wrapped in old newspapers.

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2. Chelsea buns

Made of dough flavoured with lemon peel, plus cinnamon or mixed spice, Chelsea buns taste similar to a cinnamon roll. 

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3. Paul A. Young’s fine chocolate 

This award-winning chocolate has been voted as one of the best in the world and the shops are exclusive to London. The flavour combinations are often original and experimental, featuring ingredients like passion fruit and goats cheese!

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© Olympia and Paul A. Young


Where to visit: Learn about the sweet things in life at the Chocolate Museum in Brixton. Every day it hosts different workshops about chocolate making and the history of the chocolate bean. The museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday.

How to get there

  • The Chocolate Museum is in Brixton, in London transport zone 2
  • The closest bus stop is Brixton (Stop LA)
  • The Victoria Line also stops at Brixton tube station which is five minutes' walk from the museum

 

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East Midlandslondon-flag023

History: The East Midlands has a very industrial heritage. In fact, the very first factory in the world, the Cromford Mill in Derbyshire, was built here.

The area was home to one of history’s most renowned scientists, Isaac Newton. He was born in Lincolnshire and later went on to revolutionise physics and maths. Sherwood Forest, known for the legend of Robin Hood, can also be found nearby in Nottinghamshire. 

Food facts: The Bramley apple originated in the East Midlands and is named after the owner of the original apple tree. The first recorded sale of a Bramley apple was in 1862, and since then it has become one of the most important cooking apples in England and Wales. 


Top three local foods

1. Melton Mowbray pork pie

The meat in this this famous pie is chopped, rather than minced, and the whole pie is made with a hand-formed crust which gives the dish a slightly irregular shape after baking. It’s named after Melton Mowbray, a town in Leicestershire.

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2. Bakewell tart

This distinctive sweet dish consists of a shortcrust pastry shell beneath layers of jam, frangipane, and a topping of flaked almonds. Some variations include a top layer with almond-flavoured fondant, topped with half a glacé cherry.

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3. Red Leicester cheese

Red Leicester is a crumbly, orange cow's milk cheese with a reddish rind. It has a slightly sweet, mellow flavour that becomes stronger as the cheese matures.

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Where to visit: Leicester Market is the largest outdoor covered marketplace in Europe and offers just about everything when it comes to food. Choose between the outdoor market or the food hall, both of which are open Monday to Saturday.

How to get there

  • From London St Pancras International, take the train to Leicester station (about 1.20 hours)
  • From Leicester train station, it only takes 10 minutes by foot to reach the market 

 

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East of Englandlondon-flag023

History: The most complete mammoth skeleton in the world was unearthed in Norfolk, providing evidence that the species used to roam the east of England. The region also set the stage for some of the biggest milestones in British medical history, including the first female doctor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, in 1865, and the first successful heart transplant in 1979.

Food facts: Stilton cheese, from the village of Stilton in Cambridgeshire, is described in literature from as far back as the 1700s. Writer Daniel Defoe even mentioned the cheese in one of his notes. 


Top three local foods

1. Bedfordshire clanger

A clanger is similar to a pasty but with a savoury filling at one end and a sweet filling at the other, comprising a main course and dessert in one package.

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2. Stilton cheese

The distinctive blue-veined Stilton cheese is known for its strong smell and taste, whereas the white version is milder. It is the only British cheese to be trademarked - meaning it can't be produced anywhere else in the world!

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3. Colchester oysters

Colchester oysters can be traced back to Roman times, with oyster shells found in ancient ruins. They are renowned around the world for their unique taste and texture, and are exported as far afield as Dubai.

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Where to visit: Fancy a good ale? Every summer the Cambridge Beer Festival is held in the university town. It is the longest-running beer festival in the UK, and in 2016 over 86,000 pints of beer were consumed.

How to get there

 

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North West Englandlondon-flag023

History: Lancashire and north west England have a rich industrial history. The railway between Liverpool and Manchester was the world’s first passenger connection. Important scientific discoveries have also been made in the north west – for example, Hans Geiger invented the Geiger counter at the University of Manchester. 

Food facts: Cheshire cheese, which originated in north west England, is one of the oldest recorded cheeses in Britain. The International Cheese Awards is held annually in Nantwich, celebrating this region’s connection to world-famous cheese. 

For over 20 years the World Pie Eating Championship has been hosted in Greater Manchester. The traditional pies are filled with meat and potatoes, however a few years ago a vegetarian version was added. The world record of the quickest time to eat a pie is currently 22.53 seconds. 


Top three local foods

1. Lancashire hotpot

This dish is slow cooked in the oven on a low heat to make the meat extra tender. It is made with a mix of lamb and vegetables, covered with sliced potatoes.

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2. Cumberland sausages

This famous peppery pork sausage, produced in Cumberland, is traditionally rolled in a flat, circular coil which can be up to 50cm long!

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3. Eccles cake

Packed with sweet, sticky fruit, an Eccles cake is made from flaky pastry, which is filled with currants and topped with sugar.

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Where to visit: Do you think you can eat a pie in under 22 seconds? The World Pie Eating Championship is hosted each year in December in Harry's Bar on Wallgate in Wigan, Greater Manchester.

How to get there

 

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South West Englandlondon-flag023

History: The south west of England is home to Stonehenge and the famous Jurassic Coast. The region was heavily populated during the ancient Neolithic period (when Stonehenge was built), the Bronze Age, and Iron Age. It is well known for its folklore, including the legend of King Arthur and the sword Excalibur. 

Glastonbury music festival is held every year in the south west of England. 

Food facts: Cheddar cheese originates from the village of Cheddar in Somerset. It has been around for centuries with early transcripts dating it back to 12th century. It is the most popular cheese in Britain, accounting for around 51% of sales.


Top three local foods

1. Cornish pasties

This shortcrust, savoury pasty consists of minced beef, potatoes, onions, and seasoning. Traditional recipes state the whole pasty must be at least 12.5% beef and 25% vegetables.

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2. Hog's pudding

Hog's pudding is a type of sausage. There are different recipes and ingredients but usually it is made of pork meat and fat, suet, bread, and oatmeal.

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3. Cheddar cheese

This distinctive cheese is relatively hard and is off-white in colour. While other countries in Europe may sell cheese labelled as cheddar, these often differ greatly from the original in taste and style, typically resembling Red Leicester cheese.

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Where to visit: The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is the only surviving cheese maker in Cheddar, and it boasts an impressive tour and a visitor centre, where you can look over the shoulders of the cheese makers at work and help yourself to some tasty treats.

How to get there

  • From London Paddington station take the train to Weston Milton and then a bus (about 3.30 hours) or drive (around 3 hours from London) 
  • The closest bus stop (bus no. 126) to the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is Tweentown (E-bound) 
  • From the bus stop it's a three minute walk to the cheese makers

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History: This region’s history goes way beyond the Middle Ages - the oldest human remains in the UK were found here, dated to be from about 500,000 years ago. In addition to that the bones of an actual dinosaur were found in Oxfordshire.

Cookery writer Elizabeth David heavily influenced British home cooking in the 1950s by introducing European cuisine into British kitchens, and south east native James Pimm invented Pimm’s – a popular drink in Britain and beyond! 

Food facts: The south east of England is to thank for two popular types of apple: Cox's Orange Pippin and Granny Smith. The latter technically originated in Australia, but its cultivator, Maria Ann Smith, was born and bred in Sussex.  


Top three local foods

1. Pimm's

Pimm’s is a gin-based drink containing a mixture of herbs and liquors. A bottle of Pimm’s is often mixed with lemonade and chopped-up fruits to make a refreshing summer cocktail.

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2. Banoffee pie

Banoffee pie is sumptuous dessert consisting of a pastry base, bananas, cream, and toffee made from boiled condensed milk. Tins of Nestlé's condensed milk sold in Britain often feature the original banoffee pie recipe, taken from The Hungry Monk restaurant in Sussex.

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3. Maids of Honour tart

This dish is an English baked tart consisting of a puff pastry shell filled with cheese curds. Other variations have a filling made with jam, almonds, or nutmeg.

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© The Original Maids of Honour Shop


Where to visit: The Hook Norton Brewery is over 150 years old and one of the few breweries that still uses a manual brewing process. It has a visitor centre and offers a tour through the facility which includes stopping by the stables to meet the horses. All the beer is still delivered by horse and carriage to local pubs!  

How to get there

  • From London’s Marylebone station take the train and bus (about 2 hours)
  • The closet bus stop to the brewery is the Pear Tree Inn
  • The visitor centre is 3 minutes' walk away from the bus stop

 

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West Midlandslondon-flag023

History: The West Midlands roughly corresponds with the greater Birmingham area. Although the metropolitan county of the West Midlands has only existed since 1974, the settlements within its borders have long been important centres of commerce and industry. The first English bicycle was made in Coventry. Built in 1870, it was called ‘Ariel’ and had a large front and small rear-wheel, in a style that would later be known as a ‘penny farthing’. 

Food facts: A thoroughly local product is the Staffordshire oat cake. A theory states they date back to the British Raj and the return of the Staffordshire regiment to Britain. Wanting to make chapattis but without the necessary chickpea flour, they replaced it with oatmeal, creating the oat cake.


Top three local foods

1. Pork pie served with apple chutney

A traditional British cold meat pie. It consists of roughly chopped pork and pork jelly sealed in a crust pastry.

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2. Coventry God cakes

A Coventry God cake is a triangular parcel of puff pastry, glazed with milk and sugar to give it a crunchy texture, and filled with currants, mixed peel, and spices. God cakes were traditionally presented by godparents to their godchildren at new year, along with a blessing for the year ahead.

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© The Heritage Cake Company


3. Staffordshire oat cakes

A savoury pancake made from oatmeal, flour, and yeast.

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Where to visit: Built like a real-life village, the Black Country Living Museum is a huge and fascinating open-air museum, displaying 300 years of the region’s history. The museum organises live bakery demonstrations throughout the day. In the morning, you can watch dough making and kneading, and in the afternoon see how the bread is baked in the hot coal oven.

How to get there

  • From London’s Euston station take the train and bus (around 2.5 hours) to Tipton
  • The museum is about 1 mile from the train station. You can walk or take a taxi or bus
  • Network West Midlands operates a number of bus routes that stop outside the museum: 24, 229, 311, 313, 610

 

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North East Englandlondon-flag023

History: Early settlements in the north east were connected to the church, until the Vikings landed in 793AD and started their reign and settlement. To this day the Viking legacy in the region can be found in the DNA of its people. Recent history of the north east is linked to industrial activities such as coal and salt mining. The region’s working-class history is evident in the practicality of its traditional regional dishes. 

Food facts: An American chef called Nicos Harris was fighting in France with the US army, and when injured was nursed in a British hospital. After his recovery, Harris moved to Middlesbrough where in 1958 he created the chicken Parmo, one of the region’s most popular dishes.


Top three local foods

1. Chicken Parmo

Traditionally, this dish consists of chicken in breadcrumbs covered with a white béchamel sauce and topped with cheese.

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2. Pease pudding

Making pease pudding involves steeping soaked split yellow peas in stock, and then cooking them for about 40 minutes. The resulting mixture can then be blended with other ingredients – it is often served with ham or bacon.

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3. Panackelty

This is a casserole dish consisting of corned beef and root vegetables that is slow baked over a low heat. 

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Where to visit: There's nothing like sipping a beer in beautiful surroundings. The Wylam Brewery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is located in the beautiful Palace of Arts, and offers brewery tours every Saturday – which of course include beer tastings.

How to get there

  • From London’s King’s Cross St. Pancras station take the train and bus (about 3 hours 40 minutes)
  • The closest bus stop to the Wylam Brewery is Great North Road-Clayton Road (northbound)
  • From the bus stop it's a five minute walk to the brewery

 

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Yorkshire and the Humberlondon-flag023

History: Yorkshire has a long industrial history which is still evident in the architecture of its cities and villages, as well as its food. Notable people from Yorkshire include the Brontë sisters who wrote famous English novels Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey. Star Carr in Yorkshire, which is just south of Scarborough, is probably one of the earliest settlements in the UK.

Food facts: Yorkshire is especially well known for its pudding which is part of every traditional Sunday roast. The Yorkshire pudding originated as a low-cost meal to fill the stomach. A gingerbread cake, Parkin or Perkin, is traditionally eaten on Guy Fawkes Night (5 November). It is similar to German Lebkuchen.


Top three local foods

1. Yorkshire pudding

Yorkshire pudding consists of eggs, flour, and milk. It is traditionally served with beef and gravy. Its bowl-like shape is useful to mop up every last morsel of a delicious Sunday roast!

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2. Parkin or Perkin cake

This dish is a gingerbread cake which is traditionally made with oatmeal and black treacle. It is hard but becomes moist and sticky when resting.

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3. Wensleydale cheese

Wensleydale is a valley in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. The cheese that bears its name has a crumbly, moist texture, with flavours of honey and fresh acidity.

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© Wensleydale Creamery


Where to visit: In the middle of the Yorkshire Dales is the Wensleydale Cheese Museum, where you can learn about the history of this regional treat and watch cheese making in action. There are also tasting sessions where you can discover new flavours – a must for any cheese lover!

How to get there

  • From London’s King’s Cross St. Pancras station, take the train and bus (about 4 and a half hours)
  • The closest bus stop to the museum is Market Place (E-bound)
  • The museum entrance is 5 minutes' walk from the bus stop

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Wherever you're visiting in England, be sure to try some specialities. We’ve highlighted the places you don’t want to miss below.

The tips from BBC’s Good Food and our guide show that eating in England means so much more than just fish and chips. The nine different regions of England all have their own specialities, and travelling to each one is more than just a culinary adventure. Often, it’s not only the taste of the food itself, but the people and the setting that make a regional dish authentic.

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