De Laura McWilliams , Responsable académique, British Council

04 mai 2022 - 11:38

British Food and cakes
Delicious cakes! ©

Sebastian Coman on Unsplash

When I sat down to write my May blog, I decided to google what special days were coming up this month. I was very tempted by May 18th, International Museum Day – after all, Paris is perhaps museum capital of the world ! – but then I saw that May 6 was International No Diet Day and I realised this was the perfect chance to talk about one of my favourite topics in the world : food !

Just as for museums, Paris is probably the gastronomic world capital too, and don’t get me wrong, I adore French cuisine (especially the cheese) but today I’m going to propose that you ignore your diet and try some of the amazing specialities the UK has to offer instead.

I know what you’re thinking – British food?! Bland and boring! That is certainly the French stereotype of British food, but I promise you that it could not be further from not the truth. Read on to follow me on a food tour around Great Britain…

Scotland

The most famous Scottish food is of course the haggis. It’s incredibly traditional, but has become increasingly popular in recent years again because of its sustainability - it uses every part of the animal. It tastes earthy, spicy and delicious, especial when served with “neeps and tatties”.

However, my favourite savoury Scottish dish is actually something called Cullen Skink. This is a stew made from smoked haddock and potatoes. Scotland has thousands of miles of coastline, so you’ll get great fish and seafood anywhere you go in the country, but for me the warmth of a bowl of creamy Cullen Skink, served with a crusty bread roll fresh from the oven, just can’t be beaten!

If you have more of a sweet tooth, I’m sure already know how fabulous Scottish shortbread is, but you might not know about the beautiful traditional dessert that is Cranachan. This originated as a celebration of the raspberry harvest and is a yummy combination of fresh berries, cream, oats, and that other famous Scottish product: whisky. It’s surprisingly easy to make, so why not give it a go?

And if your tastes run a little more ‘downmarket’, you can always pick up a fried Mars Bar at the local chip shop, and wash it down with Irn Bru, Scotland’s answer to Pepsi or Fanta!

Check out these and other dishes by watching this YouTube video.

England

Everyone knows about fish and chips, but there are lots of other great English foods too. However, one problem with British food is that you really can’t always guess what it is just from the name: Toad in the Hole contains no toads, but is in fact sausages in batter.

Spotted Dick is not a man called Richard with an acne problem, but rather a sponge pudding.

And Yorkshire pudding is not a dessert, it’s a savoury side dish made from a batter of eggs, flour, and milk or water, and an integral part of a Sunday roast lunch. It is from Yorkshire though, at least.

Actually, that is another thing we do a lot in England: name food after where it comes from. Two of my favourite sweet treats follow this pattern, and are both from places near where I am from in the north of English.

First of all, there is the Bakewell Pudding. This originated in the picturesque rural town of Bakewell, in Derbyshire.

When I was a child, my family used to go on Sunday ‘drives out’ in the car and I loved going to Bakewell to feed the ducks in the river and then to pick up a Bakewell pudding from one of the many bakeries and sit and eat it on a park bench in the sunshine. 

Bakewell pudding is a flaky pastry base with a layer of jam, and is topped with a filling made of egg and almond paste. It dates back to at least the 1800s and there are various legends about how it was invented, but no one really knows the truth. The mystery perhaps means it tastes even better, somehow!

The other local dessert I adore is something called an Eccles Cake. It’s not exactly what we normally think of as a cake – it’s almost more of a sweet pie. It’s make of flaky pastry topped with demerara sugar and filled to bursting with currants! It is named after the town of Eccles, in Lancashire, and is even more historic/traditional than the Bakewell Pudding, dating back to at least the 1700s. I recommend trying one with a thick slice of tangy Lancashire cheese!

Yorkshire pudding
The famous Yorkshire Pudding served on with meat and vegetables! ©

Lisa Baker on Unsplash

Wales

And that brings us to Wales, home of dragons! However, dragons don’t usually feature on a traditional Welsh menu. You’re much more likely to see the really good lamb that they are also famous for. One of the nicest lamb dishes is Welsh Cawl, also known as ‘lobscows’, which is a lamb stew with onions, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables including, of course, the leek: one of the national symbols of Wales! (The leek’s connection to Wales dates back to at least the 16th century and is referenced in William Shakespeare’s Henry V.)

On the side of your Cawl, perhaps you could try some Laverbread? And before you ask, no it’s not a type of bread – it’s seaweed! The seaweed is washed several times and then boiled until it becomes a soft purée, which is then typically fried.

If you want bread, then for dessert you could try Welsh cakes (also known as bakestones or pics) which are not cakes, but instead a traditional sweet bread containing fat, sugar and dried fruit, baked on a griddle. Yum!

Northern Ireland

I’ve never had the chance to visit Northern Ireland, so I am no expert on their cuisine – but I am going for the very first time next week, for a teaching conference. I am so excited to get to try some of their traditional foods for the first time, and the first thing on my list is an Ulster Fry! This is a traditional – and very hearty – breakfast, especially popular in Belfast. It has a lot in common with a “full English breakfast” but what makes it special is the appearance of both soda and potato bread. Carbtastic!

 And please don’t tell my dentist, but I intend to try Yellowman candy as an afternoon treat! The idea of brown sugar, golden syrup, and butter all melted together and then made into bubbly and crunchy chunks makes my mouth water!

Did any of these foods tempt you to break your diet on International No Diet Day? Would you like to learn more about traditional food from Great Britain or the UK? Let us know what your favourite dishes are!

Biography of the author

Laura McWilliams

Responsable académique, British Council

Laura est la responsable académique pour les cours d'anglais pour les secondaires au British Council depuis 2017. Elle détient le CELTA, CELTYL, DELTA ainsi que la qualification de l'ELT management et elle forme au TYLEC. Avant de devenir enseignante d'anglais, Laura travaillait dans le domaine du théâtre, elle aime intégrer son amour pour le théâtre et la narration dans nos cours au British Council.

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