As an Anglophile who couldn’t wait to get over to the U.K. to study abroad, I was extremely excited to try my taste buds at some English cuisine. British food doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but that doesn’t mean there’s not still amazingly tasty things to eat while you’re there.
Pushing through all the chain restaurants you see, you’ll be able to find pubs and cafes that serve local dishes and still hold that English charm that is often lost when consuming a cheap burger from McDonald’s. These are some musts when it comes to getting the best foodie experience when you’re studying abroad in the U.K.
Fish & Chips
This is the most obvious of them all, but there’s a reason Fish & Chips has become a staple in the public consciousness of British food.
Fish is chips is a very popular English dish and likely very different from how you’ve eaten it back home. In the U.K., the fish in this dish are huge and beer-battered and the chips along with it are more like steak fries. It’s very salty, but savory and filling. Often there are mushy green peas served with it as well. They might sound weird, but they’re a wonderful flavor.
What better to wake up with than a gigantic breakfast full of protein-rich and fatty food ready to give you a boost for the day. Whether you fuel up before final exams or reward yourself after a challenging round of tests (and subsequent celebration with classmates at the pub), finding a place that serves English Breakfast up your way is a must.
The traditional English Breakfast includes eggs, beans, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, toast and tea or coffee. Some people get theirs with mushrooms or chips, but overall it’s the best way to start a day and get your fill of calories for that morning energy boost.
Around the holidays, the best drink to savor in the cold weather is a warm cup of mulled wine. You can find mulled wine across Europe, and whether you’re walking through Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park or even a small town’s holiday celebrations, you’ll find this sold almost everywhere.
The Flat White can be found on every Starbucks menu in the world, but did you know this coffee drink style originates in the U.K.?
The Flat White is the British response to a latte. It’s a hard drink to explain, but think of it as like a latte, but without the foam (flat). It’s a bit of an acquired taste if you’re used to foamy, flavored coffee back home, but as a morning staple before class, you’ll grow to love it.
There’s a rumor that British chocolate (and candy in general) is better than what you’ll find in the U.S. Honestly, it’s true!
Cadbury chocolate is better than any chocolate you’ll ever taste from a grocery store in America. It’s rich and creamy and there are so many different variations of how you can get it. There are bars with peanut butter or caramel inside. There are little malted nibs or chocolate covered nuts. And they’re all so cheap at the local Tesco or Sainsbury’s. Stock up on them to take home to friends at the end of your program, but make sure they don’t melt!
At first glance, Scotch Eggs are not exactly appetizing. This odd food is made from a boiled egg, wrapped inside of meat (usually sausage), then breaded and deep-fried. (It’s a weird analogy, but it’s sort of like a savory Cadbury creme egg!).
Despite this strange combination of ingredients, Scotch Eggs are delicious. They’re not on every menu, but if you come across them, they’re definitely something to try if only to say that you did.
Market Street Food
The U.K. loves its markets. Whether they’re outdoor or indoor, markets will always have incredible street food stands with cuisines from all over the world. But a simple hearty burger made from English-raised beef will make you immediately want a second one.
Borough Market and Camden Market in London are incredibly famous markets that serve amazing dishes from Scotch Eggs to deep-fried halloumi fries to the best mac and cheese you’ll ever taste.
Traditional Afternoon Tea
Nothing is more English than teatime. While you can get a ‘cuppa’ anywhere, a nice sit-down afternoon tea is much fancier than you’d expect.
Pop into any fancy hotel and they will likely have a tea you can attend or book in advance. Tea is typically served with finger sandwiches and dessert treats to enjoy alongside your brew and it’s as filling as any lunch you’d have; many fancier establishments will also serve champagne as part of the experience. The restaurant Sketch in London has a fancy and funky afternoon tea that will make your friends back home jealous when they see pics on Instagram. No matter where you book it, afternoon tea is typically a splurge, but worth every pence.
It’s been said that the best Indian food outside of India is in the U.K. and this is definitely true. Indian food was brought to the U.K. through the British empire, and there are now famous establishments throughout the country who cook up some of the best Indian food in the world.
There are so many great -- and often budget-friendly -- Indian restaurants around the country that will serve up anything from more traditional style food to more Westernized dishes. Whether it’s from a street cart in Whitechapel in London or a sit-down spot in Liverpool, you can’t go wrong with this cuisine, and though it might not seem British, there are strongly intertwined cultural roots.
Many British families partake of Sunday Roast: a traditional dinner served on (you guessed it) Sundays. The meal features lots of meat, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy. It’s basically like a Thanksgiving meal, but not reserved for once a year. You can either be invited by a family to get treated to a meal like this, or find a pub that has it on the menu. It’s a big meal, but is the epitome of comfort food, English-style. It’s especially comforting after a fun weekend of exploring your temporary home while studying abroad in the U.K.
The first time I studied abroad in the U.K. I found the wide variety of English cuisine to both tickle and oversalt my taste buds. After the semester was over, I was left missing many of the foods I had come to love. When I went back for a second program a few years later, I immediately went straight to a pub to make sure I reunited myself with some of my old favorites and found myself using my weekends as a chance to become the foodie I’d always wanted to be, complete with testing out which place had the best English Breakfast on their menu (which has to be Regency Cafe, as any Londoner will tell you).
Hopefully this mixture of traditional dishes and more modern fare is a good place to start your U.K. food journey. And when in doubt, you can always pop into a Tesco or Sainsbury’s for a sausage roll and a pack of gummy candy or grab a 99p filter coffee from Pret a Manger. Any of these options are pretty British as well!