Street Food UK – the Street Food Guy presents his 13 must try dishes. For one reason, or another I have found myself studying the Street Food of Rome, an interesting field might I add. Should the article get published I am sure I will end up sharing it.
But this got me thinking about the UK Street Food scene. I have written a lot about street foods from the UK, such as fish and chips, chips and gravy, and a few other bits and bobs. I have though as of yet not put down the must try street foods of the UK. Well, lockdown is here, so here’s my guide to UK street food!
What is the Street Food UK scene?
The United Kingdom is not Asia, I know that is taking the obvious, but when it comes to street food this could not be more apparent. The more developed a country gets the more rules get brought into place, and that usually means a lack of street vendors.
Historically though and like every other country England and the rest of the UK has had street food, primarily to feed the working classes. The fish and chip shop being case in point obviously!
So, you can definitely still buy food, usually from inside and then eat it on the street. This means that the UK take-away and street food scenes are largely one and the same.
So, what street food should you have when you come to the UK? We got you covered. And we will not be suggesting any hipster crap.
This is the real deal non-pretentious guide to British Street Food.
Street Food UK – Fish and Chips
I will tart with the bleeding obvious, but fish and chips is an absolute institution in the UK. And it is about much more than just fish and chips. The chips tend to be a given, but what goes with it can be anything from s saveloy to a deep-fried mars bar. I have written a lot about this subject, so will link to the pieces rather than repeat myself. Although I love the saveloy that much, it will get its own entry.
To read about the correct way to eat fish and chips click here .
Oh and fish and chips were invented by Jewish immigrants!
The Great British Pie!
OK, so nowadays the Aussies and the Kiwis probably make better pies than we do, but we were the teachers. Classics include steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom and minced beef and onion, but hey we have gotten all funky since then and literally anything can be put in one.
These are also very much part of our culture and having a pie at the football is about as British as it gets. Pies are available everywhere from pub grub, to fish and chip shops and petrol stations. A perfect food on the go. Slices, and pasties fit into this category too, but we will cover them later.
To read about Pukka Pies click here
Doner Kebab – Street Food UK
OK, time for some classic cultural appropriation! Well, no not really, most of our street food scene is from immigrants. There is a big Turkish community in the UK and a whole ton of kebab shops. So, as a foreigner you are probably thinking its basically like shawarma, no sir you would be wrong. I take my kebabs very seriously and have tried them across Europe.
There are lots of nuances when it comes to the British Doner Kebab, but we take it not pre-wrapped in the pita bread with fries and the taste is very unique. It is also how we end boozy nights out. Meat and chips from the kebab shop is another thing that is ever so British. And of course then there’s Burger Sauce and Chilli Sauce, the toppings for a British kebab.
To read about burger sauce lick here .
When I visited Northern Cyprus I was so exited to try a kebab and have done so throughout much of Europe. Still nothing beats a British doner. Another great imported British Street Food!
The Great British Bakery and UK Street Food.
The Great British bakery, NOT the great British bake off. When it comes to grabbing food on the go a British bakery is the place to grab some of the best walking breakfasts you can get in the UK. In the old days the industry was dominated by proper local bakeries. These have largely been taken over by corporate bastards Greggs. Much like the pub scene with Weatherspoons, it is hard to “buy local” as it were.
What can you get at a British bakery? So much stuff, from fresh sandwiches, to the aforementioned pies. Then there’s uniquely British stuff such as a sausage roll, not to be confused with a battered sausage. My personal favorite though is our slices, very similar to pies, but flat, you know like a slice. My personal love is the baked bean and ham slice. I hope they still exist.
To read about the battered sausage click here.
The Cornish Pasty
Part of the pie family and available at both chip shops and bakeries, such as Greggs, some might argue the most British thing on the list, but did you know many Cornish view themselves as a unique ethnic group, they have their own language and even an independence movement.
To read about Cornish Independence movement click here
What is a Cornish pasty? I will give this its very own piece one day, but for now I will give you this. Shaped into a half moon it is a golden shiny colour and filled with minced meat and various root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots with a whole heap of seasoning. The rivalry between Cornwall and Devon means they are called local pasties in Devon! And you can get them at football matches in both counties!
The jellied eel and seafood stalls
I’ll talk a bit about the jellied eel, but it is about much more than that. In older times there were fresh seafood sellers either outside most pubs, or would go into most pubs selling their wares. Ocean sticks, whelks, cockles, and the famed jellied eel. These were legitimate food stalls, or food trucks, Quintessentially street food UK and what made me love seafood.
And the jellied eel? I actually hate this. It’s an eel that gets cooked until it creates its own gelatin. So a jellied eel. Eels were abundant in the Thames River, so it became the cockney sensation.
You can still see a few seafood stalls on the Isle of Sheppey .
Chips and Gravy – Chinese style
Chips and gravy are served at Chinese restaurants throughout the UK as part of their British menu. You do not find this in other parts of the world.
Served piping hot in Chinese food containers, they more resemble roast potatoes in Chinese style gravy than say poutine. Chinese shops tend to open later than fish and chip shops, so for me at least more than one evening has ended with a bit of chips and gravy.
To read about Chips and Gravy click here .
Primarily this is a very seasoned type of British sausage served mostly in chip shops. For many a Brit Chips and a Sav is more popular than the fish option. I could have easily left this as part of the Chip Shop section, but they are also served differently in other parts of the country.
I am yet to try these, but apparently theres’s a battered version, as well as the holy grail a saveloy as part of s sausage roll. Also available throughout the colonies! This really is a must try street food dish when you come to the UK.
To read about a Saveloy click here .
Another one that passes through the British chip shop scene, but passes through into many other stratospheres. A very simple dish, you take marrow peas, soak them in water adding baking soda and they become mushy, like really mushy. Usually something eaten at home with chips for dinner, but there are at on of regional varieties.
In Northamptonshire mushy pease and mint sauce are a HUGE thing and sold at most fairs and fetes. I have yet to try this, but i is very much on my list. In the notoriously fiscally conservative Yorkshire it is known as “Yorkshire caviar”. The best way to eat it though is a mushy pea fritter. Yep deep fried mushy peas. We will deal with the whole deep frying thing next.
To read about Mushy Peas click here .
Deep fried Mars Bars and other things
We said Street Food UK, so lets bring in the Scottish. The main dish the Scots brought us was haggis. They then waited many hundreds of years before investing the deep fried Mars Bar. A Mars Bar is a very British chocolate. You basically deep fry it in the same batter that is used to make the fish.
Nowadays name a chocolate, or pretty much anything edible and the Scottish arguably deep fry it. The dish is very unhealthy and simply should not work, but work it indeed does, both at tasting great and slowly leading you o a heart attack.
To read about haggis click here .
Street Food Northern Ireland – The Pastie
OK, so I will get my beef out of the way first. I went to Belfast a few years ago and was literally heartbroken by the lack of real pubs and street food. I was told I had simply gone to the wrong places/
I never got to try the pastie when I was in Belfast, but it is a pub and fish snd chip shop favourite. An Irish style pie, the pastie is typically made with ground pork or beef, potatoes, onions, and various seasonings, with gravy for dipping. A pastie supper is a pastie with fries.
Street Food Wales? Welsh rarebit
Not exactly street food, nor even all that Welsh. There is no evidence this dish originated in Wales. It is though popular in Wales and out on a lmb to find something for wales we have gone with this.
For all intents this is a toasted cheese sandwich! Or more specifically cheese melted on some fine British bread. Yes we invented melted Cheese and bread. I don’t care what the French or Swiss have to say about the matter.
Street Food Gibraltar – Calantila
I’m aware that including a dish from Gibraltar is really taking Britishness perhaps a tad too far. Where next? Street Food Falkland Islands? The reason I have included this is because I love fusion cuisine and in my days as a sailor I would often stop in Gibraltar. My main memories being the vodka for $2, but this dish was at least in the top 5 memories.
It does not take a linguist to guess this dish is not English in origin. Translated as the “warm one” it is a dish baked in the oven that resembles a pizza without toppings, aside from the Cheese. The dish was bought in by Genoese immigrants, and is now such a big deal it is not only the national dish of Gibraltar, but also has its own festival.
Available as street food in Gibraltar, or even in a great British Gib pub.
And that is our REAL guide to Street Food UK, the famous dishes that we were brought up on and continue to remain popular. Yes there might be a great UK Street Food pop-up scene, but they are hipster fashions that will come and go, my list on the other hand has stands the test of time.
I’m the British Street Food Guy after all