I love my country. Not in a weeping, slightly creepy Glenn Beck way, but in a sincere but emotionally reserved way. I’ve had people comment that I don’t often write about England, so this is going to be the first in a series of love letters/handy guides to English culture. In this first one I’m going to discuss our oft maligned cuisine, because that’s the tangent I ended up going on…

It was about eight in the morning, I was in line at Starbucks somewhere in San Francisco. I was in charge of bringing breakfast back to the Grant Plaza hotel, a hotel in Chinatown that looks fancy on the outside but somewhat cheap and sleazy inside.

Eating in San Francisco had been rather disappointing. Due to fifty per cent of the family being a little ill during our stay restaurant visits were forsaken and instead my father and I dined at Subway for the first three nights. Somehow we never went to the same branch again; there were so many Subways in the vicinity of the hotel that even had we wanted to, we wouldn’t have been able to find the same one twice. At least, we wouldn’t be sure if it was the same one. It was kind of like the fast food outlets in the PS2 game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

I digress. Breakfast each morning would be a Styrofoam cup of tea and a large fluffy croissant. For a French food product it was lacking in joie de vivre. Normally I don’t like getting tea from coffee shops, but one thing I dislike more than tea from coffee shops is no tea at all. I love tea— I’m English, of course I love tea.

In this country obtaining tea is easy and simple. You say ”Hello, yes, I’d like a cup of tea please” and a short time later a cup of tea will appear before you. You pay, you sit down, you enjoy your warm beverage. In Starbucks it isn’t that simple; it’s almost as complicated as ordering a coffee, or purchasing a Subway sandwich. Or dismantling a nuclear armament.

If the ‘barista’ had asked if I wanted Earl Grey I wouldn’t have made a bumbling fool of myself. However, he asked me if I wanted ”an English Breakfast.”

My brother still makes fun of my response— ”no thank you, just the croissants and the four teas.”

He looked at me like I was a moron.

To me an English Breakfast isn’t a type of tea, it’s something you drink tea with. An English Breakfast is a pile of greasy fried meat covered in baked beans and brown sauce and congealed cow blood… eggs…bacon… sausages… black pudding (the aforementioned congealed cow blood)… THAT is an English Breakfast.

And since I conceived this piece I’ve been craving one. It’s been ages since I indulged in that rare treat— and it has to be a rare treat, otherwise your heart will eventually replace all the blood in your body with sausage grease. My grandfather died of a heart attack when I was about two years old. Apparently I really liked him, and he would have liked me now. He had sideburns— one white, one ginger. His last meal was an English Breakfast. It’s a macabre thought, but there are worst last meals— Jesus only pretended to consume blood before he died.

It’s amazing how utterly unhealthy an English Breakfast is, and yet whenever I go to America I start the day with waffles. Waffles are unequivocally a pudding. America has pudding for breakfast, and yet it’s healthier than our grand tradition.

I like English food… British cuisine. Did you know tikka masala is British? Do you even know what tikka masala is?! It was invented in Scotland, and was at one point the most popular dish in Britain (it is really quite nice)… The Scots are famous for food even more unhealthy than our traditional breakfast. I’m still not entirely sure what haggis is. I think it’s animal innards ground up inside it’s own stomach, which of course itself used to be an innard before it was the protective exterior of the gastronomic equivalent of a pagan sacrifice. They (the Scots) are also well know for frying things. Anything. The most recent incarnation of The Doctor in Doctor Who says to a young Scottish girl l’you’re Scottish, fry me something.” Never has casual racism been funnier, or more truthful. My old science teacher once told our class about a deep-fried fried pie he’d purchased: a pie that had been fried, and then fried again. Fried pizzas… chocolate bars… sandwiches… and fish of course. Good old fish and chips; nothing says ‘Britain’ like steaming fish and chips by the sea…

I had the worst fish and chips I’ve ever had on holiday in Cornwall last year. It was all wrong. For a start there was no pier, just stunningly beautiful rugged coastline. Then there was the weather… it was warm and pleasant, the sun was setting nicely and the sky was a beautiful glowing amber, with a few stray clouds stuck on the horizon caught like flies in… well, amber. The fish and chips themselves were alright, but nothing to write home about.

That’s not how fish and chips are supposed to be consumed. It should be cold, and preferably raining. You should be huddled up in a Victorian shelter and inhaling the strong, warm, heady scent of vinegar in the cold air and feeling the slightly soggy paper in one hand as, with the other hand, you pick out mouthfuls with a little wooden fork. I say mouthfuls because the fish and chips should be so stodgy that the fish and potato should be almost indistinguishable from each other.

People, mostly French people, dismiss English food as stodge. It’s an accurate description, but it’s usually applied negatively, like a plate of suet, gravy and bits of cow are a bad thing. You can’t beat a bit of stodge; stodge won us the war anyway. Whilst the French rolled over at the first faint sight of an angry German in a red armband and carried on with their noveau cuisine and fantastique pastries we were focusing our energy on putting up a fight, and stretching every penny as far as it could go. Stodge is not a healthy option, but give a man a portion of cheap suet and he’ll be full in no time. You can’t beat a nice stodgy pudding either— I’m a sticky toffee pudding man myself. Spotted Dick is popular, but you can’t have it any more because ‘spotted dick’ sounds too much like a sexually transmitted disease. Now it’s called sponge and currant pudding or something non-hilarious.

Stodge also plays a part in the Sunday Roast. Good lord how I love a Sunday Roast… I can actually taste my Dad’s roast potatoes as I type this. My Dad is quite simply awesome when it comes to roasting food on God’s day of rest. The first image that comes to mind when I think about my Dad is that of him in the kitchen surrounded by plates and trays and other utensils, an ever emptying bottle of whisky or wine and several strewn albums over the top of a stereo.

I suppose it has something to do with the fact that my interest in music, alcohol and my relationship with my Dad all formed around Sunday nights in the kitchen. The Sunday Roast is a British tradition, but we had our own traditions that went with it. No matter where we were living, from the ages of about fifteen until I left home for university Dad and I would go to the supermarket to buy the weeks shopping and choose a bottle of ale we’d never tried before. Then in the evening we’d drink half a pint each, listen to Dad’s albums (which would gradually also become my albums) and I’d offer minimal assistance in cooking the roast. Sometimes he’d let me drink whisky too, which was always a treat. Looking back at those Sundays it occurs to me that I was basically becoming who I am… largely an ale guzzling classic rock fan with a penchant for potatoes roasted in goose fat (seriously, it’s the best kind of fat.)

The Sunday Roast doesn’t really differ from Christmas dinner, or Thanksgiving dinner, except that it’s a weekly tradition, not an annual one. A lot of our traditional cuisine comes from long, far reaching tradition. Even tikka masala, the Indian food invented in Scotland… The fact we even eat Indian food comes from the old Empire.

Going back to the beginning, back to Subway— to any sandwich store or deli where the sandwich is something grand and overpriced and overcomplicated. These are sandwiches which fail to meet their original purpose: to let a lazy Earl eat and play cards at the same time. It should be so simple— a slice of cheese wedged between two bits of bread in one hand… chomp chomp chomp… and hand of poker in the other. Imagine trying to play Texas Hold ‘Em AND eat a deli sandwich at the same time. A deli sandwich is like clapping: it’s a two hand job. That leaves no free hand to hold your cards, and that means you have to stop gambling for up to five minutes!

That’s why English cuisine is great; what it lacks in flavour it more than makes up for in practicality and tradition. The French have delicate pastries, herbs, bouillabaisse and a history of Nazi occupancy. We have stodge, gravy, animal innards, defeated the Nazis— and have a hand free to play cards.

I forgot to mention scones. Scones are amazing. Moist cake with lashings of jam and cream, washed down with a nice cup of tea… What’s not to love about that?! It beats dainty little crepes and fancy ‘pain au chocolat’ any day of the week.


Stay tuned for next time, when we’ll be taking a look at the British obsession with sport, the mysteries of cricket and why it’s far superior to baseball.

Unless this piece proves to be woefully unsuccessful, in which case I’m deleting this and writing another thousand words on why I think California is pretty great…

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James D. Irwin is a British writer based in the Hampshire countryside. His work has appeared online, in print, and on stage. He can be contacted at [email protected]

80 responses to “The Beginner’s Guide To 
England: Food”

  1. Wonderful post, James. I love England as well. Not for the food so much, but other things. The British Invasion for example. That period of time gave us bands like the Beatles, the Stones, Donovan, The Troggs, Manfred Mann, and so, so many more. And TV for example. Your country gave us The Office. And one of my favorite shows of all time: Life On Mars. I just watched both seasons of that show in a day and a half. Couldn’t get enough of it. The music was amazing. The acting was wonderful. And the storyline was nothing short of innovative and incredible. I have to say that it was one of the most satisfying viewing experiences I’ve ever had. So yeah, James. Please thank your country for that one. And so much more. All the best, my friend…

    • Thanks. I’m planning on writing similar pieces on music, television and other aspects or English/British culture.

      Life On Mars was a fantastic series. Have you seen Ashes To Ashes? It’s a new modern police officer but she ends up in 1980s London, where Gene Hunt has been transferred. It’s not nearly as good as Life On Mars, but not a lot on TV is…

  2. john says:

    More of this.
    Kudos, good man. Kudos indeed.

  3. Ha! Nice, James. Love the postscript.

    My roommate spent some time abroad in York, and she loves a good English breakfast. Our favorite Irish pub in Manhattan serves a traditional one like you mention, although it can’t quite get the eggs right; the first time she ordered it, she requested they fry them, and the waitress looked at her as if she were making shit up, as if to say “Of course we fry them. That’s what you do with eggs. But how would you like them fried? Scrambled?” The one time she got a traditional English breakfast prepared right, it was in Jamaica, of all places.

    She likes pasties, too. The ones people eat in England, not the little nipple appliques strippers wear. I know you know what pasties are, James, but just clarification for anyone who doesn’t know good Brit food.

    I saw an episode of Kitchen Nightmares where Gordon Ramsay went to a British pub aiming to serve traditional pub fare but mucking it up by making it too fancy; prawn cocktail in a seashell, that sort of thing. Apparently, though, the Yorkshire pudding with its gravy was fantastic.

    Oh, and I can’t wait to see the next Doctor, but I’m so leery, because there’s just no way he’s going to be Tennant, who is, for me, to Doctor Who as Daniel Craig is to James Bond now. Sure, Connery played a fine Bond, but Craig was him (for my money, anyway). I’m not sure anyone else is ever going to be manage to actually be the Doctor for me, as opposed to some other bloke trying to play him.

    • Thanks.

      York is beautiful. It’s perfectly legal to shoot a Welshman in York on a Sunday, as long as you use a bow and arrow. Scrambled eggs goes well with sausages and bacon, but it’s just not the right thing to have for a proper breakfast. What could be easier than frying an egg?!

      Of course the Queen is still head of state in Jamaica, which is probably why they can cook a proper English breakfast. Although I can’t imagine eating such heavy food in such a warm climate…

      I could go for a good pastry right now…

      I used to like Gordon Ramsay, but he is a little too fancy for my stodgy tastes. Jamie Oliver can be quite annoying but he does generally do things quite simply. Simplicity is really the key to English cuisine…

      I actually forgot to mention Yorkshire pudding, despite writing a sentence that originally introduced the subject. I love Yorkshire pudding like you wouldn’t believe. It’s the epitome of stodge. It’s amazing, just fantastic.

      Alot of people are just refusing to watch the new Doctor because he isn’t Tennant. And I don’t think Tennant was as good as Tom Baker. Under Russel T. Davies the show was a bit over-emotional and over-dramatic. There was an awful lot of crying in during the Eccleston and Tennant eras.

      And everyone has very quickly forgotten that they HATED Tennant’s casting at first and saying that he’d never be as good as Eccleston. The new guy is utterly fantastic. From the moment he pops up in the first episode he *is* The Doctor. He seems to be much more eccentric and fun than Tennant’s Doctor. I’ve got a strong feeling Matt Smith is going to be one of the best incarnations yet…

  4. Gloria says:

    I worked at a place here in Portland that serves a proper English Breakfast on weekends. It’s a ridiculous amount of food. Fried, delicious food. Except the black pudding. What the hell is that, man? Ugh.

    • It’s not that ridiculous amount… from what I’ve seen eating in America portions are generally bigger. Having said that, even a small portion of English Breakfast contains more meat than is healthy to start the morning…

      I explained black pudding. It’s congealed cow blood. Oh, okay… there are oats in there as well. But seriously, the wikipedia entry says it all: ”Main Ingredient: Blood.”

  5. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Fun post, James, and perfect for Sunday reminisce. I have a love/hate relationship with English food, such as it is.

    Whenever I land in the UK the first thing I do is find a pub to order full English Breakfast. Not the crap they have e.g. in airport cafeterias (Luton Airport is a particularly bad offender for the bad variety) but proper, heart-stopping pub fare. I usually have just one forkful of the black pudding, if it’s included–more and more places are leaving it out. Just a couple of times a year, I figure won’t clog my arteries too badly.

    The most important bit of that is the bangers. I love bangers. Once my dear cousin Ubu cooked me two dozen bangers so I could bring them through US customs as non-raw meat. US sausages are just an awful, pale shadow of bangers. British rashers are also meatier than UK bacon, which at least these days seem to be about 50% fat.

    I’ve had two experiences of utter divinity with regard to food in the UK. One was eating scones and Devonshire clotted cream in Bath. Wow! I think I just wet myself again remembering. I try out imported clotted creams when I can find them (including the “double Devons”), but there is just nothing to approach the Bath experience.

    The second one was at a Thai restaurant in London, right opposite the Alexander Fleming House. Probably the most delicious and piping hot Thai I’ve ever had. And best of all, as soon as the waiter recognized my name was Nigerian, he knew to suggest the spiciest dish in the house. And he knew the perfect not-too-sweet Gewürtztraminer to pair with it.

    To approach those experiences in the US, I have to tip all the way to seafood splurges in Boston or San Francisco.

    As for tea, yeah the whole “English Breakfast” thing sounds pretty silly, but it’s actually often the best tea you can usually get StateSide. It’s usually an Assam/Darjeeling/Ceylon blend, which combines three of my favorite varieties, although I much prefer to have each separately, with Assam my favorite for morning and Ceylon for tea time. In other words, “English Breakfast” is not unlike the generic P.G. Tips or Typhoo.

    Do not *ever* drink Lipton in the US. Your taste buds may never recover from the horror.

    But please hold the spotted dick. Never mind the name. Ugh, how utterly cloying!

    Oh, and final fun fact. As you say, tikka masala is Scottish, but just a few months ago the oldest recipe was discovered for Haggis, and seems to indicate that it was originally an English dish! Yes, you can imagine the deafening outcry from old Alba. Oh yes!

    I am very much looking forward to more of your Ing-er-lund posts.

    • Oh, isn’t food at airports just magnificent?! Almost as good as the stuff you get at train station cafes…

      One of my favourite English Breakfasts wasn’t in any way exceptional, but I’d been camping with a friend. We’d lived off soup because we lacked the means/motivation to cook anything else. After about three days we stopped of in Torquay of all places, found the nearest pub and ordered a full English. We ate in a reverent silence for about ten minutes…

      I don’t think I’ve ever had bacon in America, or sausages. But I know that ours are pretty damn good. My personal favourite is the pork and apple sausage… Bath was one of the stops on my trip that involved Torquay. Bath is so, so beautiful. Of course the best place to enjoy a Devonshire cream tea is Devon. I was in Devon for two days and forgot to have have one… in Cornwall I forgot to eat a pasty… I’m increidbly absent minded…

      In Starbucks the English Breakfast tea is Twinings, which is *the* best tea brand. Stephen Fry often appears in their adverts. I’m by far an expert in all the different varieties of tea. If I’m buying it in a place where their is a variety I go for English Breakfast, at home I drink PG Tips.

      I’ve heard the reason tea isn’t as popular in the US is partially because after the whole ‘Tea Party’ fiasco drinking coffee was the ‘pro-American’ thing to do, and that Lipton tea isn’t all that great.

      Some places still call it spotted dick… the more old fashioned places.

      I look forward to writing more England-centric posts. It was my original intention at the start of 2010. In fact it was Simon’s post this morning that reminded me of my own feeling at the start of the year and the direction I was planning on taking my writing…

    • totally forgot to mention:

      One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in San Francisco after my family got a bit better. A little courtyard type bar overlooking the bay, two t-bone steaks and fries for $10.


  6. Zara Potts says:

    What a charming post. It made me feel all nostalgic and full like I’d just eaten a particularly satisfying Sunday roast.
    Of course, I can totally relate to much of this, living as I do in NZ – which is still in the process of throwing of the old traditions of Mother England and attempting to reinvent its cuisine (Pacific Rim – I believe we now call it) but the comfort food we eat is still some of England’s finest.
    But you forgot a couple of doozies – tinned peas, pork pies and bubble and squeak.
    I was disappointed in the Fish and Chips I had in England – they were mushy to buggery and I recall a couple of bones in my fish. But yes, fatty, salty, steaming chips with lashings of vinegar is unbeatable on a cold raining night.
    Nice one, fella..

    • Thank you, I think that’s my favourite response so far. This post was a slight accident, but I’d like to claim that that is the feeling I was hoping to evoke…

      Almost every roast lamb I’ve ever eaten comes from New Zealand…

      I forgot an awful lot, because it was supposed to be a paragraph about tea… I missed out Yorkshire pudding! I have to say, I know many people who love pork pies but I am not one of them. I missed the ploughman’s lunch and all the wonderful cheeses we have…

      Bones in the fish?! That’s a bloody outrage! Our fish and chips are supposed to taste disappointing. There’s nothing we English folk love more than the taste of disappointment. I mean why else do you think we always dramatically overhype our prospects at sporting events?!

      • Zara Potts says:

        That’s another custom we are trying to shake off.. the overhype of sport.
        England always thinks it’s entitled to win the Soccer World Cup.. NZ always thinks it’s entitled to win the Rugby World Cup… even though neither team has won for centuries.

        • At least we have actually won the World Cup. We’ve also won the Rugby World Cup much more recently, and been to the last two finals.

          I was under the impression NZ had never won the World Cup, but apparently you guys won the very first tournament in 1987…

          We’re the same with almost every sport though, no matter how bad we actually are in reality. The rugby team that got to the 2007 Rugny World Cup final is probably the worst team to have gone that far, and the last Ashes victory was far from convincing… Yet as a result we’ve started to view ourselves as some sort of sporting superpower…

        • I meant to mention, I’ve seen the Webb Ellis trophy. It went on a tour in 2003, and it was in my local shopping centre one day. It was an enexpected treat.

        • Zara Potts says:

          yeah we won it ONCE. And for some reason we seem to think that that entitles us to win it every four years…

        • hey, it was more recent than our footbal World Cup win. That was 1966 for goodness sake… since then we’ve only had one team that had any potential to win it, which was 1990.

          And New Zealand are consistently a good rugby team… you’re not quite as deluded as our football fans. New Zealand are the Spain of rugby.

          Spain have consistently great football teams, with many great players. However, Spain always bottle it at about the quarter final stage. In 2002 they lost to South Korea, which is just ridiculous.

  7. Matt says:

    Fuck. Now I’m hungry for fish and chips.

    There’s a place here in town called, er, Shakespeare’s, but the proprietors are all British and they’ve done the place up as a proper pub (I think…I don’t have the firmest basis of comparison). They have a whole menu of British food, and show cricket, rugby, and football (not the American kind). My last girlfriend’s bosses were English, and they like having company holiday parties there.

    Can’t wait to see how David handles your casual slandering of the Scottish.

    • The whole time I was writing this I could taste a full English breakfast… I’m so hungry…

      I love that there’s an English pub called Shakespeare’s… it’s so incredibly ‘ummm what’s English… um… err… Shakespeare!’ Of course, it also leads to the hilarity of throwing out rowdy patrons and shouting ‘You’re Bard!’ at them…

      Pub interiors vary… but if it’s quite dark, faintly dirty and full of a lot of wood then it can’t be far off… I’m looking forward to writing about English sports next time… I’m a fan of American Football, but cricket and proper football are particularly fantastic…

      I actually a have a strong affection for the Scots and Scotland. Although every time I’ve been there I’ve become violently ill…

      • Matt says:

        Heh. I hear that’s a frequent response reported by anyone who isn’t actually Scottish.

        In defense of the Shakespeare’s folks, they are English, and I think they even make their own blood sausage. And they have Newcastle on tap!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          even most pubs down here don’t have Newcastle Brown Ale on tap… only in bottles.

          It’s a different story in the north of the country of course. It’s a grand beverage is Newcy Brown.

          When my dad was a student he and his friends hired a boat, emptied the water tank and filled it with Newcastle Brown so that the taps would pour beer instead of water…

  8. Jude says:

    My father was English so your post resounded nicely for me. Every Sunday he was the cook – in the kitchen cooking up the Sunday roast. Yorkshire puddings! Yum! Loved them – although I seem to remember it was my mum that cooked those (and we only ever had them with roast beef). Mint sauce with lamb (mint grown in the garden), apple with pork and stuffing with chicken…

    And then he’d do the ‘fry-ups’… complete with black pudding. As a child I never knew what this was, only that I loved it and wanted more!

    I guess it’s the climate in the UK that makes stodgy food popular. Wasn’t it the English that first deep-fired Mars bars?

    • Our roasts seemed to get better once my parents cultivated a Dig For Victory style vegetable patch. My mum has always been very good at cooking, but I don’t recall her ever making a roast or yorkshire pudding…

      He did good fry ups too. ‘Home made’ ones are usually the best. Quite often we’d have them for lunch on Saturdays…

      I’m not entirely sure if anybody truly knows what’s in black pudding… all I know is it tastes delicious…

      It’s partially the climate, but as I mentioned briefly a lot of it does come from the Second World War where we’d have to fill ourselves up with as little food as possible… I was going to mentioned the deep-fried Mars bar but I wasn’t sure anyone would know what I’m talking about. (I know that the US and UK products known as Milky Way bars are very different). But anyway, that was the Scots. Again. I think… I’d put money on it being them…

      • Zara Potts says:

        Ahhhh.. nothing better than the night before’s boiled potato’s sliced up into chips and fried in fat. MMMMMMMMMM.

  9. sheree says:

    Never had english food. To me eating seafood on the west coast is like getting mexican food in New Hampshire in the 70’s. It sucks. I’d rather have seafood in Boston or Maine and mexican food in California or Texas. Last night I had sweet whiskey glazed salmon for my dinner. I love that dish more than any other food I have ever eaten. Second favorite is Calamari breaded with pistachio nuts.

    Why are welshmen fair game in York on a sunday? Being part welsh I’m dying to know.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Seafood on the West Coast is hugely different from seafood on the East Coast, and I like both, differences and all. In San Francisco and Seattle, it will tend to have an Asian flavor, and I love that. The Mexican analogy breaks down completely because there is only one Mexico, and there are many seas.

      Anyway, even more completely different is seafood on the West African coast, e.g. in my maternal hometown of Calabar, which I think has a greater variety than anywhere except maybe Thailand (from what I’ve heard). East African seafood (e.g. Malagasy cuisine) is also different, but I’ll admit not being as taken with it.

      Seafood in Scandanavia is yet again completely different, and quite nice, but only if I happen to be in a very particular mood.

      • sheree says:

        I only have american food to go by. I’m not a world traveler.

        • sheree says:

          And California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas will always be a part of Mexico to me. Seeing how there are still mexican bloodlines in those states that have been there since before the Spanish and other nations invaded this land.

        • I really wish that I was the sort of person who loves seafood, but alas I am not. Probably because it tastes so fresh and un-stodgy.

          The shooting Welshman in York thing is one of those medieval laws that have never been repealed. After Oliver Cromwell established himself as Lord Protector he banned the eating of mince pies at Christmas, which is another law that hasn’t technically been abolished…

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          Ooh, sheree. I hadn’t meant to make it sound as if being a world traveler is the only way to appreciate seafood. How about good old Cajun cooking? Do you e.g. like crawdads? Crab Etouffee? (love the linguistic juxtaposition of that)

        • sheree says:

          Cromwell was a real bastard.

        • Nothing says ‘bastard’ like nailing babies to church doors for being born into a different religion that you…

        • sheree says:

          Uche, I grew up running screens in the creeks with my siblings to catch crawfish. Sometimes it’s all we had to throw in the pot. Also used to gig frogs and catch rabbits to be roasted. Country life was hard but it was also fun.

  10. Irene Zion says:


    Didn’t the English contrive Yorkshire Pudding? Seriously, what could be better than that?

    • The line where I start talking about roast dinners was meant to be about Yorkshire pudding. I went off on a tangent and forgot to mention it…

      Yorkshire pudding is my joint favourite part of a roast dinner alongside roast potatoes…

  11. Laura says:

    Ah Irwin this has reminded of all the incredible meals I had in London two years ago!!!!

    I’ll never forget the the fish and chips I had at a pub near Victoria Station. I had just visited the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, after walking about 5 miles from my hotel, so I was very hungry and so tired, that I wondered in the first place that advertised Fish and Chips on their board outside. I sat at a small table in the corner of the dark pub, and waited and waited for a server, while the bartender stared at me for several mins. from across the room. Finally, a man sitting next to me, leaned over and said “…you order with the bartender.” The bartender had the thickest cockney accent I had ever heard, that I almost thought he wasn’t speaking English. Once I got over feeling like dork for not knowing how to order in a pub, nor understanding what the bartender had just said to me, I had the best experience, and the best food and pint ever. I know I won’t duplicate that experience again, until I return to England some day.

    Second memorable meal was a proper English breakfast at a Punk Rock pub in Camden Town. The pub was full of authentic punk rockers, eating their English breakfasts with pints of beer at 10 o’clock in the morning. I was in Heaven, sitting there with my tea, eggs, beans. tomatoes, etc. I tired the blood pudding… just could not get beyond that first bite. ewwww.

    Love your country Irwin….love the food….I’m the epitome of an anglophile. Wanna trade houses some summer? 😉
    Thanks for writing this and bringing up all the memories.
    Now, I’m hungry….

    • If it’s any consolation I still get confused as to the etiquette of ordering food in pubs. Especially now there are all these ‘gastropubs’ which are basically places that would rather be a restaurant than a pub. Usually though it’s always order-at-the-bar.

      I would definitely trade with you one summer, if I had a house to trade. Although England is arguably at it’s best in the weeks before Christmas…

      I’m hungry too… so incredibly hungry…

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    My mum is actually a Yorkshire lass from way back – and yet she never prepared us Yorkshire puddings. Goddamnit. I don’t get no respect…

    Awesome post, Jim. Australian cuisine hearkens back to a lot of its UK ancestry – and man, there’s nothing quite like that gigantic breakfast to keep you going for the rest of the day (especially if there’s been too much to drink the night before…)

    • But you have had a Yorkshire pudding… right? Not eating a Creme Egg is one thing… but a yorky pud…

      I don’t think I’ve ever had an English Breakfast after a night at the pub… I don’t seem to suffer from hangovers all that badly— I say, no doubt jinxing myself. I can see it being the thing though… it has been touted as a hangover ‘cure’…

      Talking of Australian cuisine… I’m having a barbecue tomorrow. At least if the weather is on my side…

      • Uche Ogbuji says:

        If you have friends like mine, watch how you say that! I had never been drunk before I was about 25. Just never interested me, really, but as soon as one of my old college buddies caught wind of that he made it his holy mission. And he succeeded once, though he had to get a hella lot drunker than I did to succeed 😉 . Strangely enough I had a bit of a headache, but no major hang-over the next day.

        • Before I came to this university I was never much of a drinker. I had a four pint limit. The first two months here I had about three beers.

          A few months in and I’m the ‘alcoholic’ of my friendship group. I’ve grown an alcohol tolerance from nowhere… St. Patrick’s Day is now my proudest drinking feat. 10 pints of Guinness and a glass of Jameson, coupled with a hell of a lot of headbanging to the cover band. My friends were apparently astonished when instead of falling asleep I ended up vigorously air guitaring for about an hour, unwittingly drank vinegar and then walked home unassisted.

          All I felt in the morning was slight tiredness.

          One of our classes had an end of term party where I ended up drinking close to two bottles of red wine. That, actually, was probably the event that got me labelled as an an alcoholic.

          I could have done with an English Breakfast that afternoon actually…

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Nope! No Yorky Pud for this guy…

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Up until now your life has only been half lived…

  13. Richard Cox says:

    Nice conversational piece about a subject everyone loves…food. I’m craving an English breakfast now, even though I already had dinner. I had fish and potatoes, ironically enough, which I made before reading this post. Not exactly fish and chips but on the same wavelength.

    I bet an English breakfast is a good cure for a hangover.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Every time I check out the comments here I end up craving various foods… at least today I have a barbecue to look forward instead of empty dreams of roast dinners and fish and chips.

      As I was saying to Uche a little while ago, the English Breakfast is widely said to be a cure for hangovers. If I ever have one (a hangover) I’ll be sure to try it out…

  14. I used to start my morning with a mug of English Breakfast Tea. Now I feel a bit like a douche. But not completely. I switched to Irish Breakfast Tea about two months ago.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      If Irish Breakfast Tea is anything like Irish coffee then I think you should seek help of some kind…

      from the age of about 5 up until I was 19 I had tea every morning of my life. Then all of a sudden I swtiched to black coffee, because I like black coffee and I thought it was the sort of thing a writer should drink (I was writing a novel at the time).

      I woke up at the start of the year feeling a little different, and much more English. I’m back to tea. I’ve only had about three cups of coffee this year…

  15. Joe Daly says:

    James- this is phenomenally helpful, as I’m making my inaugural trip to Scotland/England in May. Although my family is from Ireland and I’ve been over there many times, I’ve never touched British soil, outside of Heathrow.

    As a vegetarian, I was surprised to find so many options for me in Ireland, and it would seem that while the UK loves its meat, I’ll be able to find respite in a bag of chips or perhaps some Indian food. When I did eat meat, chicken tikka masala was one of my favorite dishes. Never knew it was a Scottish creation. Great info!

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Where abouts are you visiting?

      Ireland has recently become a very modern European country. You should be okay over here too, I mean we do have vegetarian dining in abundence, but all our traditional dishes are bathed in either grease, blood or a combination of the two…

  16. paul bowman says:

    great story..though you forgot to mention the delights of kippers for breakfast and the repeating aftertaste they leave all day following a good burp/belch…as for saying our food is stodge..well I live in the states now and explain to people..”when its 3 degrees c, foggy, 100% humid and feels like the arctic.at 7am in the morning you need that kind of stodgy lump of food inside ..before you venture outdoors, spend 10 minutes scraping the icicles off the car windscreen(inside and out) before you start your day.
    I will never again take a criticism from an american on our food..not after seeing the junk they sell here..never seen so many ingredients on, say a loaf of bread..tons of sugar and HF corn syrup…my Nan used to bake bread at home every day..Cant ever remember her saying “blast, Ive run out of High Fructose Corn syrup and I need to bake bread…run down the shops and get some..theres a love”.
    I think flour,water,yeast,salt was all she used and it was the best.
    Enjoyed your story thanks Paul

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Oh, kippers are magnificent.

      I think American food gets a bad rap, especially in this country, because people seem to be under the impression that all Americans eat is burfers and fried chicken. Needless additives are more a sympton of Western society in general…

  17. angela says:

    your post and the comments have made me totally hungry.

    i was going to write that i hope you had something besides Starbuck’s and Subway while you were in SF! while i like the food in NYC better, SF has some awesome tacos, produce, and seafood.

    i was in london for 2 weeks last summer, and i have to say i really liked the breakfast they served us at the cafeteria (it was for school and i was in a dorm). beans and toast, yum! otherwise i ate mostly “ethnic” stuff – indian, thai, indonesian (the most authentic indonesian soup i’ve had so far), japanese (overpriced!), and korean. and i admit i frequented pret a manger quite a bit. there were much more interesting sandwiches in the london pret than in new york.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I get hungrier and hungrier with every comment…

      I think I mentioned it earlier, but I had a fine steak with home made fries in a small outside restaurant with a good view of the bay… We stopped at a cafe somewhere in Golden Gate park at some point… oh! We had lunch in a very hippie-ish vegetarian cafe in Haight-Ashbury too. That was amazing.

      The food in New York though… some of the most magnificent sandwiches I’ve ever eaten… grand, grand pizzas… wonderful diner breakfasts and burgers. Oh, and the biggest steak I’ve ever seen…

      Although Savannah probably wins it for the size of the breakfasts and the beautiful, beautiful pecan pie…

      Funnily enough London is probably the hardest place in England to find British food. It’s so damn trendy and multicultural that is does pander more to people who like to pay £50 for a little plate of raw fish… On a college trip to see a play everyone dashed of to one of the nearby fancy eateries. My friend and I headed straight for a greasy spoon, got a fry up for under £3 and used the money saved to go the pub….

      I find the American branches of Subway are way better than ours. The steak is thicker and you have sourdough bread… still, despite that Subway is the traditional destination after a few pints of ale on a Wednesday night…

  18. You had me at Glen Beck… Seriously. I hate the guy enough to be taken in by any insult against him. And I’d argue that no, he doesn’t love America. He hates it. That’s why he’s trying to destroy it with his fucktard anti-intelligence/justice/compassion agenda.

    I hope Glen Beck dies.

    But there was more…

    As a Scottish man I’m supposed to pretend that I hate all English people and everything that comes out of that country. But I don’t really care for that nationalistic bollocks. I like English food, English swear words and English TV.

    But you’ve got nothing on haggis. Fish and chips is alright, but you need a bit more grit and gristle in there.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I don’t understand the Republicans.

      ”No, we don’t want some african-american liberal that the majority of America want as president! That’s un-American.”

      ”No! Not universal healthcare! That’s un-American! It’s unpatriotic to give people who can’t afford health insurance medical care!”

      Fucking Palin really dumbfounded me a few months ago though with her snide, jeering ”how’s that hopey change-y stuf working out for ya?!” Like she doesn’t realise or understand that she lives in, and is a citizen of the same United States Obama is the President of. She’s basically gloating that the Democrats couldn’t push any reforms forward… reforms designed to fix the mess the last Republican administration left…

      It always seems to me that England and Scotland only hate each other is rugby or football is involved… Whenever I’ve seen haggis it has looked quite appetising… I shall aim to try it this year..

      • I’m confident that one day scientists will one day find a cure for Republicanism. Of course, FOX News will spread rumours that the vaccine actual causes Communism, and no one will take it…

        In Scotland there are a lot of people who legitimately dislike England… These people are Scotland’s answer to Republicans. They are brain-dead morons.

        I enjoy pretending to hate England, though. When an American says, “Scadland, that’s in England, right?” I reply with a profanity-laden tirade against English imperialism. It confuses the American and leaves them claiming a long and glorious “Scaddish” heritage.

        • Oh, and if you find haggis I’ll give you $100 to send it over. It’s illegal in Korea, apparently. It’s not that I particularly like it or want it… I just want to force it on my non-British friends.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Haha. It’s fun to fuck with people. I can pull off a very convincing Irish accent, and spent the whole of St. Patrick’s day trying to fool people into thinking I was Irish…

          I might be going to Scadland in the next few months… see what I can do. Sometimes supermarkets have haggis, but only the really big ones…

  19. New Orleans Lady says:

    I’m not sure how I missed this post but I’m happy to have found it now!

    Irwin, as I’m sure I’ve said before, you would fit right in in New Orleans. Not so much for the blood consumption (unless you’re an Anne Rice follower) but more for the fried stuff. If it isn’t fried it’s smothered in some sort of heavy sauce, or both. If it isn’t, it’s boiled in the most amazing spices but most people won’t try it because it looks like “bugs”. My thought is, if you can eat innards, you would have no problem eating boiled crawfish, crabs, and shrimp.

    I’m not a tea drinker but that’s pretty unusual here in the south. Only, ours isn’t hot with lemon. It’s full of sugar and over ice. Our days are too hot for such things. Although, we do drink coffee around the clock. So, go figure.

    Great post.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      It got bumped off the front page pretty fast…

      I’m dying to visit New Orleans. I’ve only been to the south once— Savannah— but I loved it. All that food sounds amazing…

      Iced Tea, right? Sounds quite horrible to be honest… tea is good in the summer OR winter… so refreshing…

      • Matt says:

        It’s not just iced tea, it’s a particular southern specialty called Sweet Tea. Walk into any restaurant south of the Mason-Dixon line and order one and they’ll know what you’re talking about.

  20. Glad to see someone standing up for British cuisine. I can personally attest to the smear campaign the French continue against it and, as the neutral American party, would be happy to fan some flames. There’s an ad for Tetley tea, for instance, shown over here featuring several people sitting around a bowl of jello that asks “How can the English tolerate their food? The answer is the tea.” Meanwhile, I find myself craving the heartiness of the fish and chips after the pile of crumbs and flakes I’m left with when eating a pain au chocolat.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      The French are somewhat snobby when it comes to food…

      Tetley tea is inferior to PG Tips, and contrary to what’ expressed in that ad we don’t drink tea with every meal! What we have fills us up and offers value for money. I’ve never been a fan of pan au chocolat.

      In most high street cafes they either do the ‘continental’ approach which means a croissant or pan au chocolat with a little latte for about £7.50, or the US coffee shop style which is a humungous jug of coffee and a bread loaf size muffin. That comes in at the same price.

      I’d far rather get hold of a nice cup of tea and a sausage and egg roll. And I can. And it’ll cost about £3 at most…

  21. Slade Ham says:

    “He had sideburns— one white, one ginger. His last meal was an English Breakfast. It’s a macabre thought, but there are worst last meals— Jesus only pretended to consume blood before he died.”

    His sideburns, and the entire rest of that paragraph…. might just be me this morning, but I totally loved that. The comparison between his meal choice and Jesus’s… I have no idea why I like that so much, but I do.

    With that said… when I pass back through London, and I will at some point, you are going to have to be my designated food guide. And even if the food sucks, we’re bound to find enough Guinness and James to forget that it did.

    This was a really fun read. I’m sorry it took me so long to get over here.

  22. Slade Ham says:

    PS – We can skip the congealed blood. Just sayin’.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Thanks, I was quite pleased with that bit.

      The thing is, the best Englsih food is outside of London, because London is full of people who want to eat fancy expensive food. But yeah, the next time your over here let me know and we’ll try and find the scuzziest cafe we can.

      Congealed blood is compulsory though!

  23. Tat says:

    I like this. It always enrages me to see English food slated by the Americans. We NEED stodge; we live in a cold country. Cream tea is without a shadow of a doubt the most delicious combination of liquid and solid, and I shall run out to by some scones, posthaste.
    The French call us ‘Rosbeef’ which, according to Heston, originates from the fact we taught them how to roast beef properly. Ergo, we win the food war.

    • And pretty much every other war since Harold got an arrow in his eye…

      English and German food is very similar. No-one ever has a go at German cuisine. Like ours it’s basically sausages, potato and pastry-based puddings.

      I like American cuisine though, in general. The fact that they’ve got so many immigrant cultures means that have a fine variety of very good food. Of course they also have the corn dog, which undermines pretty much any attempt at claiming gastronimc superiority…

      • Tat says:

        Don’t forget their pitiful excuse for cheese! Kraft I spit on you! Speaking of which, I hear the chocolate is nothing to write home about either…

        • In all fairness they do also make some very fine cheese— almost the whole of Wisconsin is devoted to cheese production and Monterey Jack is the perfect mild cheese for cheeseburgers. What is the point of synthetic cheese, really?!

          US chocolate is shit. It’s really, really, really awful.

  24. […] He may not feel like a writer, but he’s pretty damned funny, and he makes a good argument that there is such a thing as British cuisine. […]

  25. How did I miss this?

    It’s 1:45 AM and I just ate a Waitrose Essential mini pork pie. I’m drinking Dragonfly Earl Grey rooibos, but only ’cause I’ve run out of Yorkshire Gold.

    There are four slices of Bury black pudding in the fridge. And some other stuff, but I don’t care about that.

    I’m only about 60% of the way through writing this book and two full Englishes (with black pudding) have already happened.

    Have you seen The London Review of Breakfasts? it’s edited by a bloke called Malcolm Eggs. http://londonreviewofbreakfasts.blogspot.com/

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