The Origins of Traditional British Cuisine

The Origins of Traditional British Cuisine
Reading time: 5 min

While not a country particularly celebrated for its cuisine, Britain has a rich culinary history that should not be overlooked or underestimated. The kingdom has created countless classic dishes over the centuries that are still enjoyed by high society today. From the now ubiquitous stews, fish and chips, and sandwiches, to the more luxurious game meats and high tea treats, traditional British food has had a near-unparalleled impact on contemporary gourmet cuisine.

Sumptuous Stews

British Beef Stew with Dumplings

Stew is one of the earliest dishes created in the United Kingdom, introduced to the area during the Roman occupation of 43-410 AD. While the hearty dish has always a staple of the working class - it can be very economical dependent on what ingredients are added - richer versions have likewise always been enjoyed by the British royalty and nobility, with several versions even being favored by historical monarchs.

A common contemporary variant of the traditional stew is made with beef stewing steak, red wine, an assortment of root vegetables, and fluffy herb dumplings. The luxuriousness of the dish, of course, depends on the quality of the ingredients used - choose the right ones and you'll end up with a heart-warming meal fit for a queen.

British Food - British Beef Stew with Dumplings

Wild Rabbit Stew

Game meats are as much a part of the British culinary cannon as stew. Grouse, pheasant, duck, deer, and rabbit are among a few of the most popularly hunted animals in the United Kingdom. Hunting itself, meanwhile, originated in the area as a sport reserved for royalty, with aficionados including King Edward VII, King George VI, and the present day Prince Philip. to It is still most commonly considered a hobby of the British upper class.

While some animals are shot for the thrill of the hunt, others are prepared and used for meals. Wild rabbit stew is among the most loved recipes, and features other staples of traditional British food, including mustard and pale ale.

Traditional Sunday Roast

Roast Beef

Roast beef is a signature national dish of the United Kingdom. It is so entrenched in the kingdom's culture and history, in fact, that it had a patriotic ballad called "The Roast Beef of Old England" written about it by celebrated English writer Henry Fielding in 1731.

It should come as no surprise that roast beef is the centerpiece of the traditional Sunday roast dinner. The infamous weekend meal dates back to the early days of Britain as a celebratory meal to be eaten after church, after having fasted before Sunday services per Anglican and English Catholic tradition. Accompaniments include roasted potatoes and root vegetables - which are cooked in the meat drippings from the meat - as well as a rich gravy made in part with the juices released from the roasting meat.

British Food - Roast Beef

Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire puddings are another addition to the Sunday roast, and one of the most uniquely British. Its recipe hasn't changed a great deal since it first originated back in 1737, with the batter being made of a simple mixture of eggs, flour, and milk or water. The light, savory Yorkshire pudding is cooked either with the main dish or on its own in ramekins. However it is prepared, it is always drenched in gravy.

High Tea

Finger Sandwiches

Afternoon tea is a light meal eaten in Britain between 4 and 6 P.M. The custom was first observed by the wealthy classes in the 1840s, with Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, frequently being cited as the creator of the custom during her visit to Belvoir Castle.

As is custom, full-flavored tea is served in delicately patterned china - such as the Biedermeier porcelain teapot from Augarten Wien - alongside an assortment of gourmet delights. The most famous of which are finger sandwiches.

Finger sandwiches are prepared with bread that is white, thinly sliced, and lightly buttered. Fillings are light and must be dainty in proportion to the amount of bread, with cucumber, smoked salmon, and egg and cress being the most traditional. Prior to being served, the crusts are always be cleanly cut off and the sandwich sliced twice diagonally, making for an elegant and appetizing presentation.

British Food - Biedermeier porcelain teapot from Augarten Wien


While finger sandwiches are the most popular savory item served at high tea, scones are undoubtedly the most popular sugary treat. The lightly sweetened quick bread is either made plain or with dried fruits such as raisins, currants, or dates. An egg wash is given for a more elegant look.

While enjoyed in a variety of ways dependent on the meal, at tea time scones are served with jam and clotted cream.

Decadent Puddings

Victoria Sponge

The Victoria Sponge is a British classic. The traditional dessert received its name from the kingdom's second longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, who was known to enjoy a slice of sponge cake with her afternoon tea.

While the cake itself is fussy to bake (it is so sensitive to changes in temperature that oven makers are known to test their products with the recipe) it is simple to make and prepare. Two layers of expertly baked sponge cake are sandwiched together with raspberry jam and either vanilla cream or whipped double cream. The top of the cake, meanwhile, is never to be iced or decorated. Instead, it is finished off with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

British Food - Victoria Sponge

Battenberg Cake

The Battenberg cake is another popular British sponge cake, known for its distinctive two-by-two check pattern that is alternatively colored pink and yellow. It is made by baking two separate sponge cakes - one pink and one yellow - then cutting and combining the pieces in the famous checkered pattern. Apricot jam is applied between the pieces, and the whole cake is covered in marzipan.

Like the Victoria Sponge, the Batternberg cake also has royal origins, purportedly being named in honor of the marriage of Queen Victoria's grand-daughter, Princess Victoria, to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884.