British food is absurd.
I’m not saying this as an outsider, some North American who knows nothing of the joys of British cooking. My family is so quintessentially British that several of my cousins ran a fish and chip shop where they regularly cheated the tax inspector, a job that combined the proud British traditions of frying fish and flipping off the government.
As someone whose ancestors hailed from all over the UK, I had front-row seats to the weird, wonderful world of British cooking. Britons may mock Americans for their supersized portions, but that’s tough talk coming from a country with food names like chip butty, where the five pence increase in the price of a frog-themed chocolate bar had the nation rioting and jello is somehow acceptable to pair with ice cream. Long story short, British food is weird, and here are twenty-five points to prove it.
1. Pudding Is Pudding … But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Pudding: There is no standardized meaning for what pudding actually is. So, you can have the typical pudding, which is a baked, steamed or boiled dessert, generally involving flour or eggs. Then, you’ve got your Yorkshire pudding, which is a savory, bready confection. And then, you’ve got your black pudding, which is definitely not a dessert (and is in fact made of blood. More on that later).
2. Chips With Gravy: In Britain, this dish is called “chips with gravy.” Here in Canada, this dish (with the addition of fresh cheese curds) is called “poutine,” and emerged from 1950’s Quebecois culinary tradition. In every other part of the world, this dish is known as “a mistake,” or, perhaps “a coronary.”
Back up North, where the only thing you can eat is chips and gravy… and I like it! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ pic.twitter.com/GQOQgm1aKg
— Andrew Leung ™ (@CaptNorth) December 21, 2016
3. Welsh Rarebit: Recently, I enthusiastically told my friends about my childhood favorite Welsh Rarebit (or, as it’s sometimes called, “Welsh Rabbit”), a cheesy mixture poured on toast and burned to a crisp under the broiler. I’d just gotten through explaining how my sister and I were on fan duty for when the smoke alarm inevitably went off and got into how we’d fight over the slices with the most burned bits when I realized that the dish was pretty weird for anyone who wasn’t the decedents of Depression-era Welsh farmers. Still pretty good.
4. The Great Freddos Debate: I’m no stranger to culinary controversy; after all, I come from a country where actual, physical fights have been started over cardboard coffee cups (don’t mess with a Canadian during Roll up the Rim). But the widespread protests, anger, and even marches over the five-pence increase in the price of the Freddo Frog chocolate bar is confusing to anyone without the British emotional ties to the bar.
— Ruth Jackson (@RuthVJackson) January 13, 2017
5. Time for Tea: (deep breath) So, afternoon tea, also known as just “tea,” is a light, special occasion meal (like North American brunch) taken between three and five in the afternoon. But high tea, also known as just “tea,” is what you call the meal eaten between five and seven in the North of England, Wales, and working-class areas of Ireland. And North American “lunch” is called “dinner.” Brought to you by the people who invented the English Language!
6. Deep-fried Mars Bars: Believed to have originated from Scotland’s Haven Chip Bar, the deep fried Mars Bar is a Mars Bar frozen, wrapped in frying batter, and then fried. The dubious delicacy has gained worldwide notoriety since its introduction in 1994, including a hilarious condemnation from Mars, Inc. who said that “deep-frying one of our products would go against our commitment to promoting healthy, active lifestyles.”
7. Spotted Dick: This delightful treat is a pudding (British-speak for dessert) made with suet and dried fruit. The “spotted” part of the name naturally comes from the fact that it is studded with raisins and currants. The other part of the name … well … we just don’t know. And we’d all prefer to keep it that way.
Tell me why I just found this in the grocery isle…spotted dick?! WTF and WHY? pic.twitter.com/sWbKQR5iKl
— Miranda Sipe (@sexxibiotch86) August 18, 2014
8. TV Pickup: This UK phenom happens when enough Britons are watching the same show that them dashing off during a commercial break to make tea actually creates a strain on the national electric system. I can’t think of anything more quintessentially British than causing an enormous national inconvenience by making tea!
9. Scotch Eggs: Like many British foods, this popular pub fare is not what it seems (or what it’s named). It neither involves scotch in their cooking nor originates from Scotland. Instead, the scotch egg is an egg wrapped in sausage coated in breadcrumbs and fried until golden, like a matryoshka doll of cholesterol.
10. Black Pudding: This definitely-not-a-dessert is a sausage made of beef suet, pork blood, and oatmeal, and was named a superfood last year for its high concentrations of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Even though it’s one of the best elements of British cooking, it’s often called “disgusting” or “weird” by North Americans too weak to Google what actually goes into a hotdog (it’s good, you cowards!)
11. The Tragic Death of Colin the Caterpillar: Colin the Caterpillar, the famous themed cake who appears at children’s birthday parties across the UK, died this year (yes, his parent company, Marks and Spencer, confirmed that he is “technically not alive”). In his place, the undead Count Colin the Caterpillar has risen, and the national outcry has been startling for anyone unaware of his popularity.
Oh hiiiiiii Count Colin the Caterpillar 👻😍 pic.twitter.com/a2K3kRcgDy
— Gemma Cutting (@GemmaTweets) September 11, 2017
12. Variety Is The Spice Of Life … Or Not: Britain’s reputation for bland dishes is tied to a whole bunch of different factors, but perhaps the funniest one is taste elitism. When Europeans started colonizing India and the Americas, spice got a whole lot cheaper for the average European. The aristocracy was not thrilled that the plebs were now eating the same food as them, and decided that unseasoned food was the way to go.
13. Chips and Curry: Despite two hundred years of competition, the invention of chips and curry is somehow still among the worst things that Britain has done to Indian culture.
— Kevin Brennan MP (@KevinBrennanMP) October 1, 2016
14. Haggis: Making fun of Haggis is too easy to bother with, almost as easy as hunting the mythical wild haggis itself. The creature is native to the Scottish Highlands, and it has mismatched leg lengths, making it easy to hunt on flat ground and … Just kidding, haggis is actually made from sheep’s innards mixed with onion and oatmeal inside the sheep’s stomach. But the funniest thing about haggis is how many Scots have fooled unsuspecting tourists with the aforementioned story. And by the way? The dish itself is delicious.
15. Mushy Peas: Britons claim up and down that this dish is delicious, which makes me wonder whether 1) they’ve somehow evolved culinary Stockholm Syndrome or 2) as I always suspected, Britain is an elaborate piece performance art aimed at making non-Britons cry.
— Silverdale School (@SilverdaleNT) November 25, 2016
16. Fish Finger Sandwiches: British cuisine prostrates itself at the altar of carbohydrates, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that the humble battered fish finger has found itself a home within two slices of bread. This regional delicacy has sparked debate about whether it’s cheating to use fish fancier than budget fish fingers. Oh well, I suppose it’s still better than fish fingers and custard.
17. Toad-in-the-hole: After many distraught childhood readings of Roald Dahl books, young me was pleased to discover that toad-in-the-hole does not actually involve toads (or, really, holes). Instead, it’s a set of sausages nestled in Yorkshire Pudding (which isn’t really a pudding. Yeah, it’s complicated). Apparently, the name comes from the fact that the sausages look like they’re little toads poking their noses out of holes in the ground, which is understandable if you’ve never seen a toad.
Do love some homemade toad in the hole! pic.twitter.com/xplDYeBRO7
— Ross Gledhill (@RossGledhill) December 19, 2016
18. Chip Cob: Also known as a chip sandwich, a chip a batch, a chip roll, a chip muffin, piece and chips, a chip piece, or a chip sarnie, the famous British dish is a sandwich featuring french fries on a buttered white bun. In North America, it’s known as “the sandwich kids make at family potlucks when their parents aren’t paying enough attention to stop them.”
19. Stargazy Pie: The Cornish pie recipe features eggs and potatoes, but the most distinctive part of the dish is the sardine heads peering skyway through the crust. They’re placed upright to allow the oils from the cooking to leak back down into the pie. The most baffling part of the dish is why The British Food Trust insists on describing it as “fun as well as amusing to children.”
20. Ice Cream And Jelly: Okay, I understand that dishes like jelly fluff (a combo of evaporated milk and jello) came out of WWII-era rationing and poverty. But there’s no such excuse for serving ice-cream and jelly. Jello is literally the worst thing to become popular during the American 1950’s (including McCarthyism and the threat of nuclear war), and it’s distressing to see it flourishing across the world.
21. Mince Pies: Again, never trust British food names. Mince pies are filled with “mincemeat,” which doesn’t always involve meat! While the traditional mince pies often had meat and suet (animal fat) in them, today’s mince pies are just as likely to be vegetarian, containing only dried fruit and spices. Again: tasty concept, utterly confusing name.
22. Crisp Sandwich: In some regions of the world, local cuisine prohibits the inclusion of beef, pork, or alcohol as part of the diet. It’s a little-known fact that British cuisine has similar rules, except the prohibition is of vitamins or nutrients. Or, at least, that’s what the chip-and-bread staple sandwich leads me to believe.
23. What’s In A Name?: British cuisine is well-known for its twee names. I’ve already mentioned toad in the hole and the spotted … ahem, but there’s also bubble and squeak (a dish made of fried vegetable leftover from a previous roast dinner), and devils on horseback (dried fruit wrapped in bacon). After mentioning all this, I should probably say that Canada is the home of the beavertail, a fried round of dough coated in cinnamon and sugar.
24. Beans On Toast (with ketchup?): I realize I walk a lonely road in saying this, but baked beans on toast actually makes a pretty decent meal, especially if you’re broke/out of time/out of energy/a university student, which means all of the above. But ketchup (oh, excuse me, “red sauce,” as they call it in Britain) is just too much. And I’m saying this from a country where we made the terrible mistake of putting ketchup on chips.