Traditional English Dishes and the History of English Food

February 21, 2020  - by 
English Recipes

“I still think it’s essential for a parent to cook with their children. Weighing out the ingredients and learning where the food comes from is educational, but it also helps to place meal times at the heart of family life.”        

Mary Berry

Mary Berry, previously a judge of the popular Great British Bake Off, hit the nail on the head. Mealtimes are significant times for the family to come together. Memories of specific foods, family meals, and recipes are often intertwined with memories of gathering and family. 

Even beyond your immediate memories, your food heritage tells a story of your ancestors. The meals your parents cooked may have been passed down for generations.

Share your family recipes with your relatives. Or try making some of the English recipes below to find out how your ancestors enjoyed their food.

11 Traditional English Dishes 

These traditional dishes are characteristic of English food. While known for hearty dishes of stews and meats, people in England enjoy a variety of foods.

Yorkshire Pudding

This light and airy bread is a true staple in English cuisine. The trick is to get the mixture to puff up just right in the oven.

Try the recipe.

A pile of yorkshire puddings

Fish and Chips

This classic combination of breaded fish and fried potatoes has been made popular around the world, but it originated in England.

Try the recipe.

fish and chips on a platter

English Pancakes

English pancakes are a thin pancake comparable to the French crêpe. They are traditionally rolled up and eaten with sugar and lemon.

Try the recipe.

a photo of english pancakes

Shepherd’s Pie

Made with lamb and topped with mashed potatoes, shepherd’s pie is a hearty dish that is popular throughout the United Kingdom.

Try the recipe.

A shepherd's pie

Black Pudding

Black pudding is actually a sausage made with onion, pork fat, oatmeal, and congealed blood. Don’t think too hard about how it’s made, because it is delicious.

Try the recipe.

english dish black pudding


A traditional English trifle has layers of fruit, cream, and cake to make an eye-catching dessert.

Try the recipe.

english trifle, a traditional english dessert

Full English Breakfast

This dish is aptly named the “full English breakfast.” Enjoy a full platter for the most important meal of the day, with bacon, sausage, eggs, beans, toast, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

Try the recipe.

a full english breakfast.

Toad in the Hole

Yorkshire pudding is made all the tastier by adding sausages to the batter and serving it with gravy. The name apparently comes from the way the sausages poke out of the batter like a toad poking its head out of a hole.

Try the recipe.

toad in the hole, an english dish.

Steak and Kidney Pie

Steak and kidney pie is a known British comfort food. It is a traditional pastry crust filled with kidney, chunks of steak, and gravy.

Try the recipe.

a steak and kidney pie

Scotch Egg

In this dish, a hard-boiled egg is traditionally wrapped in sausage and coated in breadcrumbs before being cooked.

Try the recipe.

English dish, scotch egg

Lancashire Hot Pot

Lancashire hot pot is a casserole of meat and vegetables topped with sliced potatoes.

Try the recipe.

lancashire hot pot, a traditional english dish.

What Influenced Traditional British Cooking?

Traditional English food has a rich history, with influences from around the world. Groups such as the Romans, Saxons, and Vikings colonized England at different times. Each added new tastes or skills to England’s culinary traditions. 

When the Romans conquered England, they brought with them modern staples. Cherries, cabbages, peas, and wine were all new to England thanks to the Romans. 

various herbs that may be used in English cooking.

The Saxons, a Germanic tribe, were skilled farmers. They grew a variety of herbs, which added flavor to existing dishes.

The Vikings unsurprisingly introduced the tradition of smoking meats. Smoked fish quickly became a staple in Great Britain.

Aside from these three main groups, England’s food has influences from around the world, thanks to trade. Foreign spices particularly have had a huge impact on English flavors and cuisines; widely used spices include ginger, cinnamon, pepper, and vanilla. England’s flavor profile as it is known today results from a world of resources.

Your English Heritage

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  1. The fish for traditional fish and chips is NOT breaded, it is battered. A batter made with beer and the fish and chips fried in beef fat is the most traditional and most delicious. I speak from experience as an east end of London cockney

    1. I have to admit that a preference for steak and kidney pie is apparently not hereditary. Otherwise, I agree with you completely.

  2. My Granny was born in Redruth Cornwall and made the most divine Cornish Pasties, she had a wood stove outside the back door used for baking her Bread and Cornish Pasties.
    Her pasties only had Potato, onion and meat on top, the pastie was long with the joining of the pastry on top, I would like to try other recipe’s of Cornish cooking.

    1. When I moved from Cornwall to London in 89, I don’t recall seeing any Cornish Pasty shops there. (I only ever managed to get one when I went back to stay with my folks in Cornwall.) When I left London in 2003, they were everywhere, and even more now. So my guess is that they are not in this list is that they were not always a common traditionally eaten food around Britain until pasty shops started popping up around the country. Whereas the other dishes mentioned here have been well known for a long time. If anything the Cornish Pasty would be in a list of traditional Cornish food.

  3. i prefer the very bland boiled foods that have been the trademark of british english cooking for decades –their greatest contribution is of course ketchup — invented during the irish potatoe famine

  4. This site is amazing, it was helpful with my paper about English foods, And I loved learning about all the interesting foods they ate back then.

  5. Things may have changed recently, but when my husband served a European mission he was told by his mission president NOT to eat blood pudding because quite a bit of blood is an ingredient.

  6. I’m from Southern England as are many of my family. The food you describe always was considered delicious but from the Northern parts and quite heavy. We ate many many home grown vegetables, fruits, fish, sliced chicken and ham. Simple roast beef on Sundays with Yorkshire pudding and rice pudding for dessert. Don’t you have any Southern dishes? Maybe our food was too plain to mention? I’m looking for old fashioned recipes.