There is a saying ‘Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince and dine like a Pauper’ – I have no idea what a King would have for breakfast, but to Brits the ‘Full English’ is a great tradition, although in these busy times often saved for those special weekends when time permits.
The actual phrase ‘Full English Breakfast’ can be traced back to the early 1960’s when British tourists first ventured overseas for holidays. Somewhat shocked by the paucity of the traditional croissant based European breakfast. Enterprising café owners sourced authentic ingredients and advertised their ‘Full English’ breakfasts to tourists.
A traditional ‘full English’ should contain most of the the following items, which may differ from their equivalents served elsewhere so here at Bob the Brit I will attempt to clarify:
· Sausages – British sausages are larger than those I’ve encountered elsewhere in the world, they tend to be about five inches long, by about an inch diameter, you get about eight sausages to the pound. Usually made of pork (well bits of pig anyway) and occasionally with added herbs. Lincolnshire Sausages tend to have added Sage while Cumberland Sausages are peppery and usually formed into coil shapes. The British ‘banger’ is a key feature of the ‘Full English’.
· Bacon – an English Breakfast should include a couple of ‘rashers’ (slices) of ‘back’ bacon – what Americans would call ‘Canadian Bacon’ – not streaky bacon and not normally overcooked.
· Eggs – don’t expect anything fancy here, you won’t be offered many options, they’re normally fried and almost always ‘over easy’, but scrambled eggs are sometimes offered.
· Fried Slice – as the name suggests, a slice of white bread that’s been fried in the bacon fat. (Grilling is FAR too healthy for a Full English.)
· Baked Beans – these are a pale imitation of the baked beans served in the US… British baked beans are served in a pale tomato sauce, despite the most popular brand being made by the American company ‘Heinz’
· Tomato – either a fresh grilled tomato or a spoonful of tinned ‘plum’ tomatoes.
· Mushrooms – a few fried mushrooms on the side.
· Black Pudding – sometimes known as blood sausage – as its name suggests is made from pigs blood. It’s tastier than its provenance would suggest.
· Hash Brown – a recent introduction. More traditionally you might be served ‘Bubble and Squeak’ which is a dish made by frying up leftover mashed potatoes and cabbage.
So you know what to expect if you order ‘Bacon, Egg, Sausage, Beans and a Fried Slice’.
Breakfast would normally be served with a mug of strong tea, and perhaps a couple of slices of toast and butter, perhaps with Marmalade – which is a type of Jam (Jello) made from bitter oranges from Seville.
Other accompaniments might include English Mustard, Tomato Ketchup or Brown Sauce, the last two being closest to Katsup and Steak Sauce in the US. English Mustard has a kick to it and should be treated with respect, despite the similarity in colour it is very much the grown up relative of the mustards served in American fast food restaurants.
There are, inevitably, regional variations.
I received disdainful looks when staying in Edinburgh a few years ago when I asked for a ‘Full English’ instead I received a ‘Full Scottish’. The main differences being that the Scots (never Scotch) serve :
· Lorne Sausage – which is about four inches square, and a third of an inch thick and made from a mixture of Pork and Beef (or at least bits of pig and cow).
· Haggis – I will detail the constituents of Haggis elsewhere, suffice to say that it has a minced consistency as it’s served and is quite peppery. Like Black Pudding it’s tastier than it sounds and if you’re ever in Scotland really should be tried at least once.
· Scots also famously eat Porridge at breakfast, this is an oatmeal paste made with water and salted. It CAN be made with milk, and sweetened but much like popcorn – real men eat salted porridge, not the sweetened variety.
Similarly in Northern Ireland the breakfast would be an ‘Ulster Fry’ which features fried Soda Bread
And in Wales the breakfast would include ‘Laverbread’ which isn’t a bread but a blend of boiled Seaweed and Oats.
If you are tempted to try a full English while visiting the UK I personally suggest you avoid the hotel breakfasts, these are usually served in buffet form and are priced at up to £15 (over $20 at the time of writing) – unless you’re staying in a very, very fancy hotel.
My suggestion would be to venture outside the hotel and try a local cafe or pub (seriously) or even department store cafeteria. Breakfasts in these places can cost less than a fiver (£5) and are usually cooked fresh. I tend to do the same when visiting the US, you would always find me in a local coffee shop rather than a hotel dining room.