Best of Britain: traditional dishes

There's so much more to traditional British food than fry-ups and white bread sarnies. Try these regional delights for starters:

Spotted Dick, England & Ireland

Much loved for the single entendre of its name, this pudding is rich with dried fruit that appears as spots studded in the pastry. It first appeared in Britain in the 1800s. If you're still snickering at the name, consider this: it was a favourite gobble of swashbuckling hero Captain Jack Aubrey from the books and film Master and Commander. In Ireland a version is made that's closer to soda bread with a heavier body, which is often called spotted dog or railway cake. In some prudish circles spotted dick is euphemistically called spotted richard, but whatever you call it a serve of gooey custard is a must.

You can sample it under the name ‘spotted dog' in Australia , where it can sometimes be served cold as a cake.

Haggis, tatties & neeps, Scotland

Once you're over the grossness of sheep's guts (often the liver and lungs) in a large sausage, you'll find haggis spicily tasty. Many Scots make the deep-fried version their after-pub scoff, but it's best served with tatties (mashed potato) and neeps (turnips, swede or rutabaga). Lately haggis has gone upmarket to make Highland chicken, where a fowl is stuffed or combined with more tourist-friendly serves of haggis. Historians debate the origins of the haggis, saying it might have been an import from Scandinavia, but it only takes a bite to know you've got what the Scots call The King o' Puddens.

Scotland's national dish is best sampled at a Burns Night (January 25), when poems are read to the pud and a bagpiper heralds its arrival.

Bara brith, Wales

In Welsh it literally means ‘speckled bread' but it's so much more than bread. Loaded with plump raisins, juicy currants and candied peel, bara brith is more fruit cake than plain old staple and, so, is often called Welsh tea bread. It's sometimes made without yeast to make it last longer, enabling it to be a well-travelled bread. Welsh settlers took the dish to Argentina, where it became known by the more mysterious name of torta negra (black bread).

Bara brith is best enjoyed slathered with full-cream butter and is still available from most bakeries in Wales.

Toad in the Hole, England

Just as there's no bunny in Welsh rarebit, this meal is amphibian-free. It involves sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding, a light pastry common to northern England, and is best served swamped with gravy, with a few root vegetables tossed in for roughage. The name may come from the vague resemblance the sausages have to a toad sticking its head from a hole (squint hard!). The dish was served in London's chop houses of the 18th century, where it was sometimes called pudding pie doll.

Try Jamie Oliver's reinvention of the dish.

Richmond Eel Pie, London

Never mind four and 20 blackbirds. The real taste of the Thames is at least two slippery customers, skinned and boned and baked, usually with boiled eggs, sherry and nutmeg. London's waterways once teemed with these squirmy fish and you can still see signs for eel, pie and mash shops south of the river. The popular Cockney snack of jellied eels tastes a little like pickled herring – if you don't mind the slimy texture. Close your eyes and think of Eng-er-lund.

This treat is best sampled at a proper cockney gaff like Manzes, where they still serve pie with eel and mash for less than a three squid, guv.

More information

Spotted Dick? Captain Courageous wonders about food with confusing names.  Check out what other food loving travellers are saying on the Thorn Tree, Lonely Planet's travel forum.