British Food: What to Eat Where

With competition from other European countries, such as France and Italy, Britain has not been traditionally revered for its cuisine. However, the focus of British food has always been on homemade dishes utilizing local produce and typical meals are consequently fondly thought of as filling comfort food. Examples include haggis with neeps and tatties in Scotland, fish and chips in England, pasties in Cornwall, stew with soda bread in Ireland and Welsh rarebit in Wales. But, if this world of haggis, tatties and pasties is all new to you, how are you to know the best local dishes to sample on your UK vacation? Here is our brief guide to British food and what dishes to eat where!


The focus of traditional Scottish food is on game meats and hearty grains, such as porridge oats. Dishes are often simply made, with no over-reliance on expensive spices. Instead, the flavors of the local produce speak for themselves!

Haggis, neeps and tatties: Haggis is the national dish of Scotland and is a savory pudding containing organ meats, onion, oatmeal, suet and some spices. It is traditionally encased in an animal’s stomach, although you are more likely to find it in an artificial casing these days. It has a nutty texture and a savory flavour, and is served with neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potatoes). It is typically served as the main course on Burns Night and those that aren’t keen on the idea of haggis will be pleased to hear that there is a vegetarian version with vegetables and pulses instead.

Shortbread: These are crumbly and buttery cookies made from wheat flour, sugar and butter, with additional ingredients, such as ground rice or cornflour, to give the crumbly texture. Shortbread originated in Scotland and is often enjoyed at Christmas and New Year.

Whisky: This alcoholic spirit perhaps needs no introduction! Scotch whisky is enjoyed all around the world and can be malt or grain whisky, or a blend of the two. If you want to find out more about Scotch, read our recent blog: All About Scotch Whisky.


Irish food, much like food in Britain, focuses on tasty dishes that warm your heart and much of the cuisine centers around the crops grown and animals farmed in Ireland’s temperate climate. In particular, the Irish have enjoyed something of a love affair with the humble potato and many of the traditional dishes include this staple.

Irish stew with soda bread: Irish stew is made with any variety of meat, with lamb and mutton being commonly used. The meat is stewed with root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, and flavored with onions and parsley. A lovely accompaniment to an Irish stew is a chunk of soda bread, which is typically made with baking soda instead of yeast.

Boxty: This is a type of pancake made with finely grated and mashed potatoes, flour, baking soda and buttermilk, the mixture of which is formed into a pancake and fried. It can be used to wrap meats, root vegetables or salads.

Guinness: While Irish whiskey is also enjoyed as a national drink, Guinness is surely one of the most popular alcoholic drinks associated with Ireland. It is a dry stout and the recipe originates from Dublin, which features roasted unmalted barley that gives the slightly burnt flavor that is so distinctive of Guinness. If you find yourself in an Irish bar on your vacation, be sure to order a pint or half pint of Guinness and enjoy some banter with the locals!


England has a wealth of traditional dishes and snacks, including scones served as part of a cream tea, crumpets with butter and jam, toasted English muffins or teacakes and the Melton Mowbray pork pie. While there is no doubt that English cuisine has been influenced by tastes from around the world, including Asian and Indian flavors and dishes, supper staples still include traditional favorites, such as a roast dinner. Here are some of our favorite stereotypes:

English breakfast: A full English breakfast is certainly a hearty start to the day and can typically be found in English pubs and cafes. It dates back to the 19th century and will usually feature sausages, bacon, grilled tomatoes, eggs and toast or fried bread; however, there are many variations so you may also see baked beans and bubble and squeak (a medley of fried vegetables).

Fish and chips: Dating back to around 1870, fish and chips are a take-out favorite in the UK and are particularly enjoyable if you are vacationing in a coastal town, such as Brighton. The fish, which was traditionally cod but is now more typically another type on white fish for sustainability reasons, is deep fried in a thick batter and the chips are actually fries rather than potato chips and are cut in a chunky style. Fish and chips can also be enjoyed with mushy peas, which is a particular favorite in Northern England and the Midlands.

Pasties: If you are on vacation in Cornwall then do not miss out on trying a Cornish pasty! These are made with hearty fillings encased in a tasty pastry that is hand-crimped in a distinctive style. Although the traditional filling is diced beef with root vegetables and onion, there are many variations, including vegetarian options with cheese and vegan options with a selection of local vegetables. Pasties actually have a fascinating history and were eaten by tin miners in Cornwall as they were able to retain their heat and could also be eaten without any cutlery.


While Welsh cuisine has been influenced by other British flavors, due to the extensive sheep farming industry in the region, lamb is a favorite in Welsh cooking, with roast lamb and mint sauce being popular locally. However, there are some lesser-known delicacies that can also be enjoyed in Wales, such as the following.

Welsh rarebit: Although the origins of this dish are unclear, it is widely regarded as a national treasure in Wales and is, in essence, cheese on toast. However, the Welsh version uses a savory sauce made from melted cheese and additional extras, such as ale, mustard and spices, including cayenne. The sauce is either poured over toasted bread or served in a dipping bowl for dunking toast in.

Bara brith: This roughly translates as “speckled bread” and it is a sweet bread made with raisins, currants and candied fruit peel. It can either be made with yeast, whereby it takes on a more bread-like texture, or it can be made with self-raising flour so that it is more like a fruit cake.

Laverbread: This is a Welsh delicacy that reflects the coastal position of Wales. In Welsh, it is called “bara lawr” and it is prepared with locally foraged seaweed and oatmeal, the mixture of which is formed into patties and fried. It is usually eaten at breakfast with bacon or cockles but it can also be used to make laver soup.

This guide to British and Irish cuisine is by no means exhaustive and there are many other dishes, snacks and delicacies that can be enjoyed. However, we hope that we have at least given you some ideas about the sorts of foods that you could enjoy on your vacation in the UK or Ireland.

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