I've never had a high regard for British food. Some of my bias, I have to admit, comes from the generally bad rep it gets, and some is based on airport food I've had as I passed through London Heathrow on the way to business meetings elsewhere. We did spend a couple weeks exploring England back in the 80's, but with only a few exceptions, I don't remember the food being all that great. I'm not a fish and chips guy - the gluten doesn't agree with me - nor an organ meat aficionado. Some have names that are a bit "off-putting" like blood pudding, toad in the hole, spotted dick (sounds like a particularly unpleasant STD), and bubble and squeak. I have to say, however, that either the food here has dramatically improved since our last visit, or my memory is even worse than I thought.
On this trip, we have eaten primarily in pubs, and have been consistently and pleasantly surprised at the menus. Most of the establishments have many of the traditional items like fish and chips, cottage pie and bangers and mash, but invariably they also have things like grilled sea bass, curries, and a variety of salads. We had a dinner a few nights ago that featured chicken roulade with broccoli and new potatoes that not only tasted wonderful, but had the most marvelous presentation.
All that said, a few things deserve special mention, one of which is the English breakfast. Marcie and I generally eat a light breakfast - our digestive systems would be complaining audibly, at the very least, if we ate a big breakfast, then cinched in the waist straps of our packs before starting our daily trek. But, as everyone's mom said, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and the Brits really take this to heart. An English full breakfast starts with two slices of bacon, a couple sausages, two or three eggs, fried or grilled tomatoes, baked beans, fried toast, regular toast and tea. After that, depending on the region and the restaurant, it is often ‘supersized’, as we would say, with any or all of the following: fried mushrooms; black or white pudding (a sausage made with oatmeal and pork fat, with or without blood), sliced and fried; fried kippers (small smoked herring); potatoes - hash browns, fries or mashed potatoes fried into cakes; and, of course, fried kidneys.
When I can't find anything else to my liking, my fallback is a jacket potato - what we call a baked potato - with a topping of choice. I can put just about anything on a baked potato and call it a meal. When I was single, at least five days of each week my dinner consisted of a microwaved potato with some sort of frozen glop that I would nuke and pour over the top - something like Swanson’s Chicken ala King. The Brits have taken this concept far beyond anything I ever came up with, however. Just about every pub and small restaurant will offer jacket potatoes with the usual toppings: butter, cheese, chili, sour cream, or barbecued chicken, pork, or beef. Beyond these, many places offer all sorts of additional interesting toppings as well: tika masala, cheesy mince, tuna with peas and mayo, creamed peas, beef bolognese, Hawaiian, cheesy beans, creamed chicken and bacon, masala beans, spicy dahl... in fact, just about anything edible (and perhaps a few things just bordering on inedible) are probably on some menu somewhere as a topping for a jacket potato. I suspect that it's possible to even get a full English breakfast as a potato topping. Ahh - so many options, so little time.
Then there's the coffee. On our previous visit, it was hard to get a good cup of coffee. British coffee made our typical diner coffee taste good by comparison. Not so anymore. Now there are Starbucks and local coffee shops everywhere, all serving a serious cup of joe. Nobody does tea better than the English, however, and so, while the coffee may be much improved, we still both switch camps entirely and drink tea almost exclusively while we're here - except when it's cider time.
Hard cider is another thing the Brits do exceedingly well. Every pub has at least one cider on tap, if not half a dozen. Marcie has always preferred cider to beer, and since, unlike beer, it's gluten free, I've also developed a taste for it. As we near the end of each day's trek, like a horse heading for the barn, my pace picks up as I begin to think about offloading my pack and sitting down to enjoy a cold pint of cider in a warm pub.
I'm quite pleased that we've found the food surprisingly to our liking, especially since I'm usually famished by the end of the day. It seems that hiking 10-15 miles each day while carrying a pack burns a hell of a lot of calories. I seem to be losing weight no matter how much food I eat - a dilemma I wish I had to deal with all the time.