Going through the Wikipedia page of “British Cuisine” and trying not to hurl
September 27, 2021
The United Kingdom is known for a lot of things, colonialism, monarchies, boy bands. But I want to focus on one of the less appreciated aspects of British culture. Cuisine. I’m not looking at crumpets and tea or fish and chips. I’m looking at true, genuine British cruising.
The first category is sandwiches - also known as butties.
Chip butty, which is white bread and fries, is sometimes served with ketchup or brown sauces. I can’t even begin to explain how weird I think this is. It’s a carb sandwich and while I can’t imagine eating without ketchup, the idea of having fries and untoasted white bread makes my skin crawl with disgust, and this is only the first I’ve seen.
While it seems redundant, a toast sandwich is actually two slices of untoasted bread, with a third, toasted, heavily buttered in between. Often salted and peppered, I TRULY can’t imagine how odd this would be to eat. Not only is there the textural mix between a toasted and untoasted bread, but the only content of this sandwich is bread.
Bacon butty is a sandwich similar to a chip butty, but rather than fries it contains bacon. I would think that this would be something violently American, but no, it belongs to the British.
Now, the last sandwich we're looking at is the Victoria sandwich, which isn’t a typical sandwich at all. It is a sponge cake with jam in between the layers. It is named for the former Queen Victoria after she frequently ate the cake following her husband Albert’s death.
The British also like open-face sandwiches, things like the well-known beans on toast, which, as the name describes, is beans on a slice of toast. It all started with a marketing ploy from Heinz in the late 1920s. It gained popularity during WWII as beans were seen as a cheap, reliable source of protein. It remains popular all across the UK, where it is often served for breakfast and some have it with mustard and cheese. While I don’t think this would taste bad, I’m slightly unnerved by the look and idea of eating beans on toast.
Another popular open-faced sandwich is Welsh rarebit, which is basically a fondue on toast. Welsh rarebit has been around since the 1800s and it culminates in some of the language from that time. Welsh was used in a vulgar way to call something poor or uncultured. Where the dish name came from is likely from a popular saying from the 1700s, “The Welsh would eat cheese and call it rabbit.” There isn’t a sure answer on where “rabbit” became “rarebit,” but most chalk it up to misinterpretation. Even so, Welsh rarebit is a dish I’ve actually had. It’s a thick, cheesy sauce served on toast, often with more cheese melted on top and sometimes paprika. Welsh rarebit is honestly like a messy grilled cheese and it’s no surprise the recipe has prevailed for centuries.
Now one British food I’m sure no Americans have ever tried is black pudding. When Americans hear about pudding, they associate it with the little chocolate pudding cups like a custard. Historically, pudding is often a savory sausage dish where things are encased and boiled, which causes them to set. In modern UK, puddings describe both sweet and savory dishes that are thick, set, and dairy-based or steamed cakes. Black pudding uses pudding as it was originally defined, and is a meat sausage made from blood and sheep's lung. The process of making it is actually banned in America for sanitary reasons. It is essentially a blood sausage, which I’ve had and did not like.
Along with having weird flavor combinations or weird preparation processes, England also has odd names for their foods.
Toad in the hole originated as a way for poorer families of the 1700s to stretch their meats. It includes sausage, onion gravy, and Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding is a savory baked batter similar to a roll. Originally peasants made the dish with pigeon, because it was cheaper than other meats, and it was called pigeon in the hole based on how the Yorkshire pudding rose around the meat. After a mistranslation in Italian, the recipe was called toad in the hole and the name stuck even though toad has never been included in the recipe.
Bubble and squeak, which is essentially a cabbage and potato hash, is an essential breakfast dish. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the dish is named for the sounds it makes while being fried. It was considered a peasant dish and it is believed that the first written recipe for it was in the 1700s. It remains popular, often served with baked beans, fried eggs, or ketchup.
Another oddly named British dish is bangers and mash. Bangers and mash is just sausage and mashed potatoes, a decidedly delicious meal. “Bangers” being used in place of sausage gained popularity during WWII as meat shortages lead to sausages being supplemented with water. During the cooking process, the sausages had a tendency to explode, creating a loud noise, thus earning the name.
Finally, spotted dick. A traditional baked pudding made with beef fats and dried fruits like raisins. Spotted comes from the resemblance of the dried fruit, and dick was often used in place of pudding, but historically related to treacle (a sweet sauce) pudding. Like a dense, sweet fruit cake I imagine it isn’t all that appealing, but certainly has an interesting name.