"May I have some breast?" asked Winston Churchill while at a chicken buffet lunch on a lecture tour of America in 1946. “Mr Churchill”, replied the hostess, “in this country we ask for white meat or dark." The following day, Churchill sent her a corsage with the note, "Pin this to your white meat.”
I’ve also had my fair share of chuckles with fellow Americans from misadventures with words. We might share the same language but we are certainly worlds and words apart in many ways — and when it comes to British food, there are countless terms used that many Americans would find peculiar.
Growing up in the Robin Hood town of Nottingham, U.K., introduced me to a wide range of traditional British dinners with wonderfully weird names. Bubble and squeak (fried roast dinner leftovers), black pudding (fried pig’s blood) and jam roly-poly (“jelly” dessert) are some of my childhood favorites. Many names have been handed down over centuries — some from local dialects, while others are utterly imaginative and even sound slightly naughty! Without inside knowledge, you might be wondering what will show up on your plate, and when it arrives, you could still be guessing what the grub actually is. Here are a few bizarrely named British dishes to titillate your taste buds.
1. Spotted Dick
Spotted what? Yes, the name of this English favorite could certainly raise a few eyebrows from unsuspecting Americans. Spotted dick, a traditional winter “pudding," is a steamed sponge dessert made with suet (hard fat of beef or mutton) and succulent dried currants, and served with lashings of thick, creamy custard. "Spotted" refers to the appearance of the fruit and “dick" is the more puzzling of the two — its origin has been questioned for centuries. Is it referring to the nickname of someone called Richard? Some say “dick” comes from the German word for fat, or from an old English corruption of the colloquial word of pudding, which is “puddick.” The answer is not quite clear, so the mystery of spotted dick lives on.
2. Toad in the Hole
You will not be faced with the unsavory prospect of amphibian for lunch. Instead, delicious “toad in the hole” consists of pork sausages baked in a Yorkshire dough and served with gravy. Originally created around 250 years ago, there are a variety of interpretations as to why the dish has such a curious name. One theory is the sausages poking out of the rich batter look like frogs peering out of a hole. Another fanciful idea is that the recipe was created in Northumberland, UK, as the signature dish of a golf tournament where a toad pushed his head out of the 18th hole, dislodging the leading player’s ball. Whatever its origin, it’s a much-loved British classic with a conversation-starting name.
With the first recipe dating back to 1598, cock-a-leekie (also spelled cockie leekie) is a traditional Scottish soup made with chicken, leeks, and prunes simmered in chicken broth and thickened with barley or rice. Cock-a-leekie is often prepared on the Scottish national holiday, St. Andrew’s Day, the birthday of Scotland’s poet, Robert Burns, and Hogmanay — the Scottish New Year celebration. Perfect for any cold winter’s day, the hearty soup was served onboard the Titanic on 14th April 1912, the day she struck the iceberg in the North Atlantic Sea. A salvaged menu from the Titanic’s fatal day sold for $88,000 in 2015 and listed at the top is “cockie leekie” — the Titanic’s final first-class lunch.
4. Bangers and Mash
Bangers and mash consists of sausages and mashed potatoes topped with a rich onion gravy. While the “mash” portion of this traditional dish is easy to figure out, the term “bangers” used to describe the sausage component has quite an interesting story. Sausages were always a very popular dish for the British but after the outbreak of World War 1, meat was in short supply. To keep up production, cheap fillers like dried bread, scraps, and high amounts of water were used to fill sausages. When placed in a frying pan, the sausages would splutter and explode, giving them the named “bangers.” British bangers are one of the U.K.’s most popular meat-based meals, and around 470 different sausage recipes and flavors are prepared by butchers throughout the U.K.
A British man was banned on Facebook for saying how much he loved these. He was later reinstated when it was clear he was talking about a traditional British meatball (rhymes with maggots), not the derogatory and unacceptable term for a gay man in the U.S. Also a favorite of mine at school, these extra large meatballs are made from offal such as pig’s heart, liver, and intestines, then mixed with breadcrumbs, a selection of spices and herbs. The spiced meats are rolled into big balls and wrapped in caul fat (lacy membrane) to hold them together. The popularity of these meatballs grew during the food rationing of World War II when leftover meats mixed with bread and cereals made a great dish when meat was scarce. Originally, the word meant a bundle of sticks tied with a piece of string, and when used with food, simply referred to a bundle of meats wrapped in caul fat.
6. Stinking Bishop
This notable, full-fat soft cheese made in Gloucestershire, holds the title of Britain’s smelliest cheese and comes sealed with a royal emblem of the British monarchy. Although named after a variety of pear used to make the brandy the cheese is washed with, Stinking Bishop is said to be based on the washed-rind cheese once made by Cistercian monks in a nearby village farm. To keep up with the tradition of monastic cheeses, Stinking Bishop is also matured in humid cave-like conditions. Described as smelling like a rugby club changing room at Britain's Smelliest Cheese Championships, Stinking Bishop is produced in very limited quantities but its stinky smell and quirky name have made it very popular in the United Kingdom and abroad.
So next time you pick up a menu at a traditional British pub, why not aim for the quirkiest name and surrender your tastebuds to a quintessentially British culinary adventure?
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