Food and drink

Group of friends eating fish and chips at an outdoor cafe

Once upon a time, the UK was known for bland cooking, boiled vegetables and fried food.

Fortunately, all that has changed! In recent years there has been a true food revolution here, for two reasons.

Firstly, there has been a real drive for healthy eating, led by top nutritionists, chefs and the media, and backed by a government health-awareness campaign.

Secondly, thanks to travel and immigration, there's a huge number of international restaurants, and people are cooking more international foods at home. In fact, the most popular meal in the UK is now curry!

Admittedly you can still find fast-food stores and ‘junk food’ (unhealthy food), but the UK’s restaurant scene now rivals the best in the world, and in the shops you can choose top-quality, wholesome food.

Here are some tips about eating and drinking in the UK.

  • In the UK it is safe to drink water from kitchen taps in houses (unless there is a sign near the tap saying otherwise). You can buy bottled mineral water if you prefer, but most people drink tap water.

  • Vegetarian and vegan food is very popular in the UK. It is estimated that there are 3 to 4 million vegetarians here. Vegetarian and vegan food is widely available at UK supermarkets and shops. Even small restaurants usually offer at least one vegetarian dish.

  • If you are concerned about animal welfare, you will find that lots of UK stores now sell meat, fish and eggs from animals that have been treated with more compassion – for example, the ‘RSPCA Freedom Food’ label means that animals have had more space in their barn to move around, while ‘free-range’ and ‘outdoor-reared’ means the animals have been able to get fresh air outside too.

Finding restaurants and cafes serving this kind of meat and fish is more challenging. They do exist but you may have to hunt them out. Have a look on the internet or ask local people.

  • For halal and kosher diets, in large towns and cities you can find international shops and restaurants specialising in this food. In smaller towns, specialist stores are rare, but you can usually find a wide range of meat, fish and vegetarian food wherever you go.

  • If you have a food allergy (to nuts, for example), many shops and restaurants will be able to provide you with specialist alternatives if you ask for this. Most UK food packaging is clearly labelled, so it's easy to see ingredients and nutritional information. If your school, college or university provides you with meals, tell them about your allergies.

  • For cooking, you won’t have to look far for basics such as rice, noodles, pasta and spices. Most supermarkets and food stores sell these. In many large towns and cities you will also find specialist international food shops dedicated to food from a particular region.

  • If your school, college or university has a canteen or cafe, they should serve foods to cater for halal, kosher, vegetarian, food allergies and other diets. But it’s a good idea to check before you enrol if you are interested in this.

  • For healthy eating, most food packaging lists the calorie, fat, salt and sugar content, and if there are any artificial additives, so you can make informed choices.

  • If you are interested in organic food (food grown without pesticides and without any artificial chemical additives), you will find this in major supermarkets and in specialist food shops.

  • Eating out doesn't have to be expensive. Many cafes and restaurants offer discounts for students. Look out for ‘early bird’ deals too – this is where you eat at times when the restaurant is less busy.

Traditional UK specialities and dishes

When you are in the UK, it’s a good idea to try some of the local specialities.

  • With an extensive coastline, the UK has excellent fresh fish and seafood. Smoked salmon and mussels are particularly tasty.

  • For meat lovers, the UK’s lush green grass means the beef steak and lamb are top quality.

  • UK cheeses are a great speciality too. Try varieties such as Stilton, Cheddar and Shropshire Blue... or even Stinking Bishop, officially one of the world’s smelliest cheeses!

  • For drinks, people here are big tea lovers. Most like to add milk to their tea after the tea leaves have brewed.

For meals, try some of these favourites:

  • Sunday roast: This traditional meal involves roast meat (such as beef, pork, chicken or lamb) with roast potatoes and vegetables. Check out our guide to cooking the perfect Sunday lunch.

  • A full English breakfast: Bacon, sausages, scrambled or fried eggs, toast, tomatoes, baked beans and mushrooms… Most people in the UK don’t eat a fry-up every day – they are not very healthy! – but they are a tasty treat. You can find regional variations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too.

  • Cream teas are especially popular in Devon and Cornwall. To drink there is English tea with milk, and to eat there are scones (a type of cake) with cream and jam.

  • Fish and chips are a family favourite across the UK. White fish – usually cod, haddock or plaice – is cooked in batter and served with chips (French fries) and mushy peas.

  • Trifle: Think light sponge cake with raspberry jam, fruit, custard and cream. You might put on weight, but it’s worth it!

A traditional fish and chip dinner at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby, North Yorkshire (©VisitEngland/Andrew Marshall)