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A Brief Guide to Eating in England

November 19, 2010
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I sure wish I had one of these when I came here.  I remember the very first night, in my state of extreme jet lag, opening the menu at a Japanese restaurant and not understanding half of it.  I thought that perhaps it was filled with some odd Japanese ingredients, but it turned out, they were really just ordinary everyday foods.  But, in the next weeks I learned that in the UK, there are many foods that simply go by different names as a result of the different history, location, and background of this country.  Also, as I found out, there are different rules for restaurant and eating etiquette in the UK.  So if you ever take a journey to this country, this brief guide will be a major help in assimilating you to the English food culture and potentially avoiding some embarrassing situations.


Food Word Differences (first in the English version, and then translated to the American version)

Aubergine– eggplants
Courgette– Zucchini. The “g” is not harsh as in the word “target” but is said with a French sounding flair
Bangers– Sausages
Double Cream – heavy cream.  There is also single cream, which is more like half-and-half
Sultanas – raisins
Coriander – cilantro, although you’ll never see it mentioned in any blog of mine…blegh!
Prawns – shrimp
Icing sugar – powdered sugar
Caster sugar – superfine white sugar
Demerara sugar – coarse brown sugar
Mangetout – snow peas
Bap – a soft white roll eaten with usually just bacon or sausage
Butty – another word for sandwich.  Probably the most unhealthy English dish is the chip butty (french fries on buttered bread)


Crisps – potato chips.  They have really strange flavors here too like roast beef and cocktail prawn.
Biscuit – Biscuits can be sweet or savory so it can be used to describe either a cookie or a cracker.
Candyfloss – cotton candy
Fairy Cake – cupcake
Cuppa – A cup of tea
Chips – French fries
Gherkin – a pickle or a very unique building in the East End
Pickle – the easiest association would be relish and the classic Enlish brand is Branston Pickle
Granary – malted, whole grain, brown bread
Jacket – a baked potato.  The name comes from the idea that the potato still has it’s
skin on, like a jacket

Treacle – a sticky syrup used in desserts.  Kind of of like a mix between maple syrup and molasses
Joint – a piece of meat for Sunday roast
Lemonade – a fizzy citrus drink like Sprite
“Tuck In” – The British was of saying “Eat Up”
Mincemeat – a filling used for sweet pastries made of dried fruit and suet, dried beef fat
Mince or minced meat
– ground beef
Nosh – food
Porridge – basically oatmeal but maybe a bit more runny and milky
Rasher – a slice of bacon
Chutney – a sweet and fruity yet savory and oniony preserve that is delicious with cheese and crackers.
Scone – as I’ve said, more like an American biscuit, usually unsweetened and served with jam and clotted cream
Jelly – Jell-o
Jam or Preserves – Jelly
Pudding – dessert, although some savory things are also called pudding, like black pudding
Soldier – strips of buttered toast made for dipping in the center of a soft-boiled egg


So that covers the basics for different UK words for certain foods.  Also note that the metric system is used here so everything will be in liters or grams.  It takes a while to get used to but after a while, you will, like me, be confidently ordering you 250 grams of ground coffee and 150 grams of cheese and reading food labels with ease.  

Also, there are some other things you should know before any dining experience in England and London.

–  If you don’t want to eat in the restaurant or café, ask if you can get the food for takeaway.  It’s not carryout and it’s not to go.  It’s takeaway.  Also, if the place has a takeaway menu, the food is about 20% to 40% cheaper, so it’s a great cheaper option if you’re close to home or a nice park to eat in.


– When at a nicer restaurant, the napkin, like in America, goes on the lap, and if you have a lot of silverware in front of you, just start with the outer ones and work you way inwards with each course.  And, when eating, the English usually hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right and hold the fork downward, using the knife to push the food onto the back of the fork before placing it upside-down in the mouth.

– If you would like water in a restaurant, you have three options and need to be specific.  If you don’t want to pay, ask for a carafe of tap water.  It will be served warm, but it’s free.  If you want chilled bottled water that you pay for, you must choose if you want it still or sparkling. 

– Tipping is bit confusing at first.  Wait staff get much better wages in the U.K. so a tip is not nearly as large. The general rule to tipping is 12.5%, although 10% is acceptable.  In many restaurants, however, the tip of 12.5% will actually already be included in the bill, so there is no need to add any more, which eliminates the tricky math or breaking out the loose change.  It’s actually quite convenient.  But, because the waiters automatically get this included tip, they will not be quite as attentive and cheery as American waiters.  And, in a pub, you will not be waited on.  Instead, order at the bar and they will bring you your food.  Tipping is not necessary in pubs either.

– Finally, instead of saying thank you to anyone who helps you at a food service place, try giving then a friendly ”cheers!” instead.

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