The Dish List: England Edition

The other day, I popped into The Bishop’s Finger, one of the most popular pubs in Canterbury, Kent, where I am currently studying abroad, for a quick bite. Typical of English pubs, Bishop’s Finger offers a friendly and homey atmosphere — brick walls, wooden floors, tables and chairs and dim lighting. The interior is decorated with framed black and white photographs and the exterior features a beer garden, a set of wooden benches placed in a small yard.

Throughout England, there appears to be just as many pubs as restaurants. Thus, pub food, such as that which is served at Bishop’s Finger, is eaten frequently. Burgers served with fresh chips are the staple, and are often accompanied by coleslaw. Yet the most delicious pub foods are unique to Britain — sausage and mash and fish and chips.

Sausage and mash (sometimes called bangers and mash), my favorite dish that I have tried thus far during my time here, generally consists of two large pork sausages atop a plate or bowl full of hot mashed potatoes saturated in thick onion gravy. Peas or another green vegetable are sometimes thrown in to create a balanced meal. Sausage and mash makes a hearty lunch or dinner, and is especially soothing on a rainy day in England.

Fish and chips, perhaps the most quintessentially English dish of all, usually features cod fish fried in a thick batter, served with deep-fried chips (fries) and is often served outside pubs, at “chippies” or take away restaurants that specialize in the dish. Fish and chips are especially popular in the south of England.

Draft beers, ales, lagers and ciders, always top-notch at pubs, perfectly complement a hearty meal. Almost every pub features a locally-made beer on tap, and a variety of berry ciders. Harder alcohol, as well as bottled ciders such as Gaymer’s and Bulmer’s, are also always available on request.

So if you ever find yourself in England, no matter which city you happen to visit, be sure to check out a local pub. Even the smallest towns have fantastic pubs that serve hearty grub and a selection of ciders and ales on tap. But beware — a British pint is much larger than an American pint.

Outside pubs, one lovely traditional English dish I have tried is roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. Often prepared on Sundays as part of a “Sunday Roast,” thin slices of beef are served with a healthy amount of hot gravy and are accompanied by steamed peas, carrots or other vegetables. Yorkshire pudding, a puff pastry made from flour, milk and eggs, is often placed upon this dish to soak up some of the juicy gravy.

Baked meat pies are another traditional food, and make an extremely hearty meal. Nothing like those in “Sweeney Todd,” English meat pies consist of combinations such as steak and Guinness, vegetable and gravy, and my favorite, chicken and bacon. When I recently tried this pie, the chicken and bacon pieces were served steaming in juicy gravy in an ovular tray, and were topped with a crumbly and thin loaf of bread that served as the crust. Shepherd’s Pie, typically a meat pie made with lamb and mashed potatoes, is also delicious.

For a quick, yet filling bite, grab a pasty. Almost an abbreviated version of the meat pie, pasties are thick and tender baked pastries filled with meat — generally chicken, beef or turkey — and vegetables, and are perfect for eating on the go. Pasties seem to be intended for the hurried traveler, as there are the greatest numbers of them inside or near train and bus stations.

The tradition of afternoon tea is still alive and well throughout the United Kingdom, with many individuals drinking tea at least once a day. Unlike the ultra-healthy herbal teas most popular in California, English teas, such as Earl Grey, after poured, are usually flavored with milk and sugar. The English also eat a great deal more pork than Americans, as ham and cheese is the most popular sandwich, all sausages are made of pork and bacon appears in many dishes and salads.

One of the advantages of living in a small town located a considerable distance away from London is the authenticity of the food. Canterbury’s restaurants serve the most traditional foods and few of its pubs are chains, allowing each pub to have its own unique character and taste. English food is spectacular and provides an excellent way to absorb the country’s culture.