British Cuisine

food04 waiter couple w words

In continuing the theme of linguistic differences between American and British English, we must talk about food.  And since dessert is my favourite part of any meal, it is as good a place to start as any.

I am a rather picky eater, but I rarely meet a dessert that I don’t like.  In Britain, dessert might be called afters, pudding (pud for short), or sweets.  (Sweets are also candies)

christmas pud w words final

American pudding = British custard
British pudding = Dessert

Our first year in England, Christmas was approaching and I kept hearing references to Christmas pudding.  I didn’t know what it was but I imagined it was some sort of custard – like what we call pudding in America.  I couldn’t wait to try it because it was apparently something very special.  Finally, I saw it on a restaurant menu and ordered it.  When the waiter brought it out, I looked at it suspiciously and said, “I ordered Christmas pudding”.  He confirmed that this was indeed Christmas pudding and I said, “But this isn’t pudding at all – it’s fruitcake”.  This was when I learned that pudding was a general term used for any kind of dessert.  I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed in my “pudding”.

Eggplant = Aubergine               
Zucchini = Courgette

Another problem comes from words that we don’t use in America.  The British still use the French words for some foods.  For example an eggplant is called an aubergine and a zucchini is called a courgette.  At first we got the names of these two vegetables confused. Once Jeff ordered our groceries online and as he unpacked them, he found an eggplant.  He was a bit aggravated because he was sure he had ordered a zucchini. He called the supermarket to complain.  He said, “I ordered an aubergine – it is right here on the order form and apparently somebody doesn’t know what an aubergine is because I got an eggplant.”  He was right, but that somebody who didn’t know what an aubergine was, was him.  He had intended to order a zucchini (courgette) but instead ordered an eggplant (aubergine).

Here are some other British foods with confusing and sometimes amusing names:

Chips – British fries are called chips and are usually larger, more like potato wedges.  And American potato chips are called crisps.

Toad in the hole – if you are expecting a frog, you will be disappointed.  It is simply a banger (big sausage) with batter around it, but the name conjures up an interesting image.

Bubble and squeak – One of my favourite food names because it is so descriptive.  It is made by frying up leftovers (usuallly vegetables and meat).  And when it is cooking – it bubbles and it squeaks.

cornish pasty w words

Cornish Pasty – Rhymes with nasty, but tastes pretty nice if you get a good one.  The best ones are found in Cornwall.  It is a circle of pastry, folded in half and filled with various fillings, mostly meat and potatoes.  They are Cornish because they originated in Cornwall.

fairy cake w fairies w words

Curry – Britain is chock-a-block with Indian restaurants and the Indian curry has become a staple for many Brits.  A curry is a  dish with curry sauce and there are all types from very mild to mouth burners.

Fairy Cake – A wonderful name for cupcake.  Can’t you just imagine those little winged fairies eating them?

Gateau – a cake, it is another French name that stuck.

Jelly  – In Britain, jelly is what Americans call jello.  No wonder the Brits aren’t keen to try a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Can you imagine peanut butter wobbling around on jello?

Lemonade – If you order lemonade in Britain, you will be served a Sprite or 7-up.

Marmite – They say you either love it or hate it.  I am in the latter category.  It is a yeast paste with a very strong salty taste.  It is usually spread on toast.

spotted dick words final

Mushy Peas – Just what they sound like, mashed peas with butter.  They are normally served with fish and chips.

Spotted dick – Not at all what it sounds like, it is a dessert (pudding).  It’s a suet cake containing raisins or currants, which represent the “spotted” part of the name.  No one knows exactly why it is called “dick”.

Yorkshire Pudding – Not a dessert (pudding).  It is more of a kind of pastry/bread that is served with a roast.

Maybe you are familiar with some other British foods – with or without amusing names. Any favourites?  And what about American food?  There must be some odd food or food names that seem normal to me because I grew up with them.

Read more stories like this in my book Bowlers, Brollies, and Brits: Curious Histories of England

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Margo Lestz
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  1. Great blog..really enjoyed this as well..the pudding one always confused you..I was expecting a dish of vanilla or chocolate ‘pudding’.. The spotted dick always got me..and always a subject for joking..Well done!!!

  2. Have to admit that I have not tasted some of these things – I just like the names 😉 Oh, I just thought of an American food with a humorous name – ‘pigs in a blanket’. I guess it is similar to ‘toad in the hole’.

  3. LOL, love this. We certainly are creative with our names. I do have to point out though that a gateaux is not JUST a cake… it’s a specific kind of cake. Usually containing more cream than actual cake batter. A sponge cake is not a gateaux 😀

    Yorkshire pudding is actually pancake batter cooked in the oven – seriously, it’s the EXACT same recipe. Of course, I’m talking thin British pancakes here (the kind that can be rolled up), not thick American ones.

  4. Thanks for the clarification on cake and gateau – I didn’t know there was a difference (and that is one of my favourite foods). And I never would have guessed that Yorkshire pudding was made with pancake batter either. You learn something new everyday living in an “adopted country”. I had a peek at your blog as well and it looks like you are having some great adventures in Germany. Enjoy!

  5. I am making my son an English sticky toffee pudding for his birthday cake! Go figure!!

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