The Full English Breakfast

When you think of British cuisine, what do you think of? Our friends in Europe might name stereotypically famous dishes such as ‘fish and chips, roast beef or even sausage and mash’. Those further afield might not know at all, just assuming us Brits like to eat Americanised western food often found in generic fast food restaurants or sandwich bars etc.

All this talk of our national cuisine got me thinking, what are our best dishes? How often do we eat them? Are they popular abroad? The problem is British food is actually quite diverse, some aspects are very well known and extremely exportable overseas, while other dishes less so. In order to truly answer those questions, I would need to break this blog down into segments analysing one dish at a time thus giving you a better idea as to what British food really is. Where better to start than with our office’s most popular dish, the only issue however is finding out what that is. I therefore went about my day asking around our close-knit office what everyone’s favourite British dish was. After some fairly vociferous discussion, I came to the conclusion that the run-away winner was indeed none other than the ‘Full English Breakfast’!

So, introduction over, what is it and how did it come about? The modern day Full English Breakfast is essentially a collation of all basic ingredients we British enjoy eating, fried up and eaten together. The basics must include:

  • Bacon
  • Sausages
  • Eggs (friend, scrambled or poached)
  • Hash browns (potato)
  • Toast and / or Fried bread.

Other optional items can include:

  • Baked beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Black pudding (fried pigs blood)
  • White pudding (made from oatmeal)
  • Bubble and squeak (collection of vegetables mashed together and fried).
  • Grilled tomatoes

So where did this dish come from? The truth is, no one really knows. As with many things in (British) history, it’s very hard to find a definitive moment where certain cultural and culinary moments actually came from. It’s often the case that our cultural practices (in this case our taste pallet) slowly begin to seep into our way of life before becoming ‘mainstream’.

The amateur historian in me might well argue that the reason we like this dish so much today is part of the reason people started eating it in the first place I.e. back in the Middle Ages, those who could afford the luxury of having a lavish breakfast simply gathered their favourite ingredients which were available at the time and voila, the ‘Full English Breakfast’ was born. One must remember this was before the age of mass transport and imported food. It was often the case that our ancestors (even the ones with money) had little more ingredients available to cook with than what we see in the modern English Breakfast. What I can definitively tell you however, is that the dish really went mainstream in 1861 when it appeared in Isabella Beeton’s classic ‘Book of Household Management’ which would go on to set the template of cookery books around the world.

So how often would your typical British person eat a Full English Breakfast? It’s highly likely that many people in Britain would eat a variation of the dish almost every day (plus or minus a few major ingredients) as the basic aspects of the dish (bacon, eggs sausages etc) can be found in numerous other cuisines and dishes all around the world. When it comes to eating a full ‘fry up’ (slang for a Full English Breakfast) however, I’d guess that most people would limit themselves to just one or two a week. Not because they are expensive. Indeed the dish would normally cost around £4-5 at most ‘greasy spoon’ cafes (a type of cafe where the dish would normally be served). It’s more a case of preparation time as the dish can take a little while to cook and assemble as well as health implications. Please bear in mind a Full English in its basic form will have at least 800-900 calories plus approximately 65 grams of fat! Hardly what your average nutritionist would call a healthy start to the day is it?

In terms of popularity abroad, variations of this dish can be found all over the British Isles, North America and even in far flung places such as Australia and Hong Kong. Of course, what links these places together? Their historical link to Britain and its empire no doubt. You can even find the dish served in places which British tourists often like visit such as Spain, Italy and even Thailand!


What do you think about the Full English Breakfast? Have you tried it before? Would you like to try it? It just so happens the Full English Breakfast will be available at each of our centres at least six times a week (view our 2017 centres providing residential English Summer courses).

In the words of W. Somerset Maugham “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day”.

 24th August 2017 /    Alice /   Schools, Culture

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