Every country has foods that seem strange to outsiders. For example, South Africans eat raw dried beef called biltong which is both very tasty and considered a convenient snack. The Chinese eat bird nest soup actually made from the nests of the White-nest Swiftlet (Aerodramus Fuciphagus). In Cambodia a tarantula is considered quite acceptable for dinner and a Mopane Worm (caterpillar) stew is not uncommon in Botswana. The British have their own collection of unusual foods that other nationalities find disturbing although sometimes it’s just in the name.
1. Spotted Dick
This is one of Britain’s best known and most humorous foods if you get the joke. For those who don’t already know “Dick” is British slang for a man’s reproductive organ and a spotted reproductive organ is never good. Quite recently, and in a spasm of uncontrollable political correctness, several hospitals in Britain renamed this pudding “spotted Richard”. (Dick also being the abbreviated form of the name Richard) It didn’t catch on and common sense prevailed and the name was changed back again. Thanks to this patients can now grin and ask their nurses whether there’s any chance that they could have a spotted dick. In reality this is simply a suet pudding into which raisins and other dried fruits are mixed before cooking. Naturally, these are the spots. Where the ‘Dick’ part of the name came from is still a mystery although some claim it is a derivation of the word “dough” meaning dog or the German word “dicht” meaning thick.Actually … this is a delicious pudding that is usually served with custard, another great British invention made from eggs, sugar and cream and known as Creme Anglais in France.
2. Toad in the Hole
It is well known that people seeking instant hallucinations have sometimes taken to licking toads but to cook and eat them horrifies even the French who are quite happy to sit down to a plate of garlic snails. The very English Toad-in-the-Hole actually has nothing reptilian about it and is simply pork sausages baked in a Yorkshire pudding batter. To the casual onlooker the finished meal might look a little like several toads submerged in mud although many chefs and historians believe that there must be another origin to the name. Some say it was named after a game of skill involving the throwing of disks while others claim that during hard times actual frogs were used. The most likely answer is that it is a curiosity of language. The dish itself probably dates back to the late 1600’s when batter puddings were baked under spit roasted meat and known as dripping pudding. The drips would cause holes in the batter and poor cuts of meat known as toadies were cut off and allowed to fall into the holes. Over the years the name of this dish, Toad-in-the-Hole, has stopped many people from even trying it. This is a pity as it’s not only traditional, it’s tasty and best served with plenty of strong onion gravy.
This is an unusual Scottish meal that is definitely an acquired taste. When you find out what goes into it you can only conclude that it was all they had left to use because somebody had taken everything else worth eating. It’s therefore not surprising that it’s appearance in popular culture is during the 1500’s when the average person Scotland was experiencing severe hardships caused by their own leaders as well as their English overlords. Haggis is made from the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep which is minced and mixed with oatmeal, animal fat or suet, and onions. It is flavoured with salt and pepper before being stuffed into a cleaned sheep’s stomach and then boiled for a few hours. Modern versions tend to now use artificial casings. Once cut or split the Haggis has a crumbly texture and is traditionally served with neeps and tatties (yellow turnip and potatoes) The original version may well date back to the Roman occupation of Britain during the 1st to the 4th centuries AD. Millions of Haggis are produced every year and shipped to every part of the world where Scottish communities traditionally serve it as part of the Burns Night celebrations.
4. Black Pudding
This is the British version of blutwurst and is usually made from a mixture of congealed pigs blood, lard and oatmeal. In Britain the quantity of cereal used is larger than other similar products found around the world. Common seasonings usually include salt, pepper, cloves and onions. It is generally served sliced and fried as part of a traditional English breakfast. The best black pudding is said to come from Bury in Lancashire where it has been considered a local specialty since the 1800’s. In this region it is still common for it to be served boiled and seasoned with vinegar. In general, blood sausage originates even further back in history and it is likely that it was made before the middle ages and is almost always found in regions where it was common to keep pigs as livestock. Fairly recently some fast food shops have started serving black pudding battered and deep fried. You will either love it or hate it. Black Pudding looks greasy but has a dry texture in the mouth and a strong flavour.
Many English wrinkle their noses at the idea of happy French people gobbling down servings of snails doused with garlic and yet one of the great traditional foods of northern England is the common periwinkle, a form of sea snail. The winkle isn’t large and after they’ve been collected they need to be soaked in fresh water for 12 hours to remove excess sand and salt. Once cleaned, they are boiled and the flesh is then picked out of the shell with a pin giving rise to the term winkle-pickers. They are best served with salt, garlic and butter but can also be served soaked in vinegar if a more piquant flavour is desired. They are generally found on the west coast of England and other Atlantic coastlines. Although quite easy to harvest it takes a lot of winkles to make a meal and many considered it simply not worth the effort. Because they are so small they were often measured in pints and two full beer mugs is said to be able to feed six children or four adults. Also known as Littorina littorea, this little sea snail still remains a popular treat for those who have learnt to enjoy them.
6. Bubble & Squeak
As with many traditional foods from Britain and around the world, they seem to have originated from necessity. Bubble and squeak is a meal made from leftover cabbage and potato usually from a Sunday roast. It is made by mashing either roast or boiled potatoes into the cold cooked cabbage and then frying the mixture in a shallow pan. Other vegetables can be added if desired but shouldn’t overwhelm the flavour of the main ingredients. Salt and seasonings are essential and the final meal should have a strong peppery flavour. The name comes from the way that any juices quickly bubble off and the cabbage really does make a squeaking noise as it touches the hot metal of the pan. An alternative origin is that the meal once included lamb or goat in place of potatoes and was imported to Britain from Greece. The name might then have come from cockney rhyming slang, bubble and squeak – Greek. It may look a bit disturbing but Bubble and Squeak seasoned with salt and pepper is actually delicious. Warning: may produce gaseous reactions.
7. Laver Bread
The best way to describe this food is that it is green, slimy and looks like badly boiled cabbage. And … it’s not bread at all its seaweed. Welcome to the Welsh delicacy: Laver bread. Laver grows well around the west coast of England but can also be found off the coast of Japan and Korea. The purple variety is considered best and after it has been washed it will need to be boiled for several hours. It is then pureed or minced and so becomes the green gelatinous mass in the picture. Apparently, it can be fried and served with bacon, rolled in oats to form a patty or even used as a straightforward vegetable accompaniment for lamb or mutton. As with many foods that look revolting it is said to be very good for you as it is high vegetable protein, iodine and iron as well as several other important vitamins. Laver bread is known as Nori in Japan where they simply can’t get enough of it. It’s a pity that Laver bread looks like slimy spinach because it’s said to be tasty and very good for you. Experts claim it has undertones of olives and oysters.
The name of this meal is sure to trouble people from the USA. Originally a faggot was a meatball made from a bundle of off-cut meats including the belly, liver and heart of a pig. The meat mixture would then be blended with breadcrumbs and onions before being packed into a caul. (membrane). Faggots became very popular during the hard times of WWII and are still sold in butchers and supermarkets. The most well known brand is Mr Brains. Unfortunately the name has also had some problematic associations over the centuries. At various times it has also been used to describe a bundle of sticks, an unpleasant old women, a burning torch and more recently the derogatory term for a homosexual man. How the name of a food became a term for homosexuality is still debated and ranges from the mistranslation of the yiddish word faygeleh (little bird) to the 19th century all-boy private schools of England. Regardless of the fact that there is a vast variety of remarkable foods available from every corner of the World it is estimated that tens of millions of Faggots are still eaten every year.
9. Scotch Eggs
These are great even if a little strange. Essentially it’s a hard boiled egg that is then peeled and wrapped in sausage meat of various varieties before being coated with breadcrumbs. It is then deep fried and can be served hot as a meal or cold as a snack or picnic food. Different parts of Britain tend to favour their own local sausages so a scotch egg can taste quite different depending on where it was bought. The tastiest are probably those made from a combination of standard pork and Cumberland filling. How they became known as scotch eggs is a mystery as they have clearly been made across Britain and Ireland for many centuries. One theory is that they were originally called scorched eggs and made in the same way except that they were cooked on a spit or simply by laying them next to the cooking fire. The fat from the sausage meat would filter through the breadcrumbs and air-fry them until crisp. A little scorching just added to the flavour. A crunchy coating and succulent centre perfectly compliment the juicy pork shell. The origin of Scotch Eggs may be a mystery but they are still one of the most popular strange British foods.
Often mispronounced as Welsh Rabbit the correct name is Rarebit. Put simply, it’s a sophisticated form of cheese on toast but all grown up. The base is a strong cheddar cheese that has been grated and into which is mixed various ingredients with the most common being a little cream, worcester sauce, pepper, salt, mustard, a little flour, paprika and a touch of beer. The mixture is blended until smooth and then spread onto toast and grilled in the oven. The rarebit is ready when the mixture melts and develops a golden brown crust. Variations include first putting a fried egg on the toast before adding the mixture or even mixing in a small amount of smoked ham. It’s properly served with a slice of tomato on top which can either be grilled with the rarebit or added fresh after cooking. Warning: This is proper rarebit and should not be confused with thin, runny cheese sauces that are sometimes poured over toast and often taste as synthetic as a rubber tyre. Real Welsh Rarebit made from fresh ingredients is delicious – accept no substitutes