Questions for the Cook

Bubble and Squeak and Other British Delights

I was in London for the first time recently and while my expectations regarding British food were (unjustifiably) not too high, I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed much of the typical British fare. Yum. While London has some of the best restaurants in the world, I didn’t partake in any fine dining but stuck with pubs, local tea shops, and cafes. I needed a translator initially to figure out what exactly some of the items on the menu consisted of, but by the end of the trip was quite familiar. Heavy on potatoes and other stick to your ribs dishes, here are some of the meals I enjoyed:

Bubble and Squeak – I guess a term for leftovers – typically sauteed left over potatoes and greens sometimes with eggs. I had an upscale version for dinner in a very nice restaurant that was a base of “mash” (mashed potatoes) with a poached egg on top, hollandaise, crispy “rashers” (aka bacon) and a side of arugula salad. Yum. I am definitely going to try and recreate this at home.

Fish and Chips – A real piece of fish (no sticks here) battered and fried crispy, served with fries, known as “chips.” Delish and on every pub menu. Oh, and chips are known as “crisps.” Very confusing.

Pudding - From what I could gather, all desserts are called “pudding” – not just the custardy-types. I enjoyed many a pudding – I was on vacation.

Scones with clotted cream – Scones are scones but the clotted cream is something we don’t have in the states – thick and creamy with a consistency sort of like sour cream yet a mild flavor. It was delicious on the warm scone with a little jam on top for good measure (note: don’t go to England to lose weight).

Pasties – These are meat pies – not something you put on your body. Available at carts and restaurants everywhere, these are half-moon shaped pastries usually with meat and potatoes inside. My friend got one filled with potatoes, eggs and cheese at the train station and ate it for breakfast and said it was quite good.  

Jacket Potatoes – Baked potatoes – with their skins – with many toppings to choose from were on nearly every menu. The toppings ran from the expected (broccoli, cheese, ham) to the unexpected (baked beans! scrambled eggs!). A big hit with little kids it seemed.

Lemonade – …is 7 Up or Sprite. For the life of me I couldn’t find lemonade of the traditional non-carbonated variety – anywhere.

Land of Treats - I told my friend whom I was visiting that I could never live in England as everywhere I turned there were treats – biscuits (our cookies), delicious chocolate (it seemed there was no bad chocolate over there – Cadbury land), cakes, cream pies – you name it. The gas station even had beautiful birthday cakes at the check out which we had one night for a birthday party – it was delicious!

10 Responses to “Bubble and Squeak and Other British Delights”

  1. marion says:

    What you use instead of sage? My husband is deathly allergic to sage and i find it is used in a lot of recipes!! Please help

  2. Marion says:

    As a born and bred Londoner, I was fascinated by what an American would find interesting about our cusine. ‘Bubble and Squeek’ has bad memories for me: it always looked like a science experimentgone wrong, when it was served at primary school in south London many years ago! But, I must say, it’s undergoing a renaissance, especially as people are having to make use of left-overs in these times of thrift. You must try ‘Toad in the Hole’ next time – saussage wrapped in batter and baked.

    ‘Puddings’ are indeed all deserts – steamed puddings are winter comfort food and the curiously named ‘Spotted Dick’ is a nostalgic school classic!

    Pasties (Cornish are legendary) and fish and chips are rare treats for me, with my waitline in mind – you are right, culturally, fear of carbs is not such a big issue here.

    Like New York, London has become very cosmopolitan – some of the best food includes a ‘fusion’ of a range of world cusines- French, Thai, Indian to name but a few.

    My family and I adore food in the States! (We think ‘arugala’ is our version of ‘rocket’ and we are still trying to work out what ‘chipotle’ is.


  3. Plan B Mom says:

    hi marion – depending on the recipe – you can try fresh thyme or basil – also, italian parsley is a very neutral but fresh-tasting herb that goes with everything.

  4. Fionnuala says:

    Like Marion I found it very interesting to read what an American thought of typically British grub. I grew up in England, lived in the US for a few years and now live in Ireland. British restaurant food rightly had a pretty bad reputation in the past, but in the last 30 odd years things have changed dramatically and now British restaurants would rival the best in the world. What has remained consistent over the years though, is the quality of traditional British family style food, the type of dishes still served in pubs and cafes throughout the country. As the writer has found, these dishes give a truer picture of the food that has sustained the country for generations.

    The writer found that the food tended to be hearty, which can largely be attributed to the vagaries of the British weather. It is not a warm country so rich warming food has always been the order of the day. It did make me smile that an American would find it hard to watch the calories in England, as I have the same problem in America. You are the country of enormous portions, with more delicious high fat or high sugar foods than anywhere I have ever visited. Perhaps it is just that wherever we are on vacation, we forget all the good rules we have at home and just indulge in the tasty treats another country has to offer.

    Regarding the food mentioned, it is interesting that both pasties and clotted cream come from Cornwall an area of England seldom visited by American tourists. It is the most south westerly of the English counties, and has the mildest of the British weather. Pasties were originally invented for the Cornish tin miners and were meant to be a whole meal in a pastry case, easily portable in a lunch box down the mine. They traditionally have meat, vegetables and potatoes in a half moon of pastry. In Cornwall there are shops that just sell freshly baked pasties and there is nothing like them…yum yum yum. If you fancy heading off the beaten track next time you visit the UK then try a trip to Cornwall, my favourite place is St. Ives. The clotted cream is also fantastic. The Cornish maintain that the climate and the quality of the grass make their cows cream so thick and creamy yellow. Scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam…ooh my mouth is watering.

    As Marion said Toad in the Hole is also a delicious supper dish, and Lancashire Hotpot a hearty casserole with dumplings on top is great. Shepherd’s Pie (Lamb) or Cottage Pie (Beef) are classic family meals too. Puddings from Spotted Dick (a kind of fruit cake) with custard to Treacle Tart are an after dinner staple. I’m making myself hungry.

    By the way, the language barrier runs both ways. I had to learn a whole new vocabulary when I lived in the US in the late 80′s. When reading recipes I had no idea what a zucchini or eggplant was until I saw them in the store and realised they were courgettes and aubergines. Oh and by the way it is almost impossible to get American style lemonade on this side of the Atlantic. It is something I really miss. The closest is Lemon Squash which is lemon flavoured liquid that is diluted to taste.

    And as for Irish food, that’s another interesting story for another day….

    Happy cooking. xxx

  5. Hi Rachel, I can boost about my beef stew it is awsome. I put everything but the kichen sink and it turns out perfect every time. I also make the best gravey ever at least my family thinks so. If you want I will let you know how I do it. We just love you so much I wish that we could have all your pots and pans but our budjet won,t allow it, we really learn alot from you. We love you, Elaine and Jim

  6. Katherine Collier says:

    My husband was recently diagnosed with diabetes 2.
    How about featuring some dishes I can make for him.
    For example, carrots seemed to raise his blood sugar.
    Its sometimes hard to determine what increased his blood sugar. Hash brown potatoes or meat patties?
    Thank you for your help,

  7. carol cook says:

    Hi Rach! was wondering about purchacing some of your wonderful spoons. Is the only way on line or does a outlet sell them. I live in Canada,Alberta to be precise Thanks

  8. Hi Racheal Ray
    I watch your website some day because I am 15 years old, grade 9 and I LOVE your recipes
    We should meet sometimes

  9. Deb says:

    I’ve come to love bubble and squeak, and I think I could live on Toad in the Hole (even if I didn’t live long, I’d be happy. I think the latter could easily be fixed with vegetarian sausage. Both are great food for cold weather days.

  10. Debby says:

    Can I add a note? I’ll bet most foods we first meet in institutional cooking leave us alarmed, if not by the look, by the taste. When I went to church camp, we’d have leftover pancake batter with canned corn added, and then when the pancakes were cooked they were topped with peanut butter and often got to our table cold. These were called “corn fritters” and were served for lunch about once a week, and we HAD to eat everything we were served, unless we had documented allergies, or no one at our table could leave. It took me YEARS before I could eat any kind of pancakes without gagging.

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