LivingTravelBritish Names for Popular Foods - Is That What...

British Names for Popular Foods – Is That What You Call It?

Why would you want to know the British word for zucchini?

Well, imagine you just settled in for a fancy restaurant meal and ordered a plate of exotic-sounding zucchini? How disappointing that they served you a plate of something you had to bribe to eat as a child. You can find strange names in Britain for perfectly common things that you already eat at home.

Some of the things British eat take foreign visitors by surprise and are definitely acquired tastes. Chip butties (sandwiches made from French fries), beans on toast, and pineapple or canned corn on pizza are just a few. Some people also enjoy crispy butties – American-style fries between slices of buttered white bread with brown sauce.

But, most of the time, the common things that British people eat are not that different from what Americans cook regularly all the time. They only travel under false names.

So in the interest of helping you cross the American / English language barrier to find the foods you already know and like, to discover marrow that vegetarians can eat and pickles that are not cucumbers, we have put together this handy guide.

Eat your vegetables

  • Eggplant is aubergine. When vegetables returned to the British table after the end of rationing in the 1950s (if it wasn’t a potato, an onion or a carrot, it wasn’t available), they came from the mainland, taking their French names with them. Ironically, it was the British who brought this vegetable to Western Europe from India, where it is called brinjal (more on that later). The common American name, eggplant, dates back to the 18th century because the fruits of the plant that grew in Europe were small, yellow or tan in color, and looked like chicken eggs.
  • Beets is just another way to talk about beets. Interestingly, they are often sold in supermarkets already boiled, in soaked plastic bags. They may have stuck to the root of the word because there was a time when beet greens (a bit like bitter spinach) were more commonly available. But that’s just my guess.
  • Zucchini crossed the English Channel to Britain from France, but first came to America from Italy, which is why Americans call it zucchini. Ironically, it originated in South America, but we have no idea what the Aztecs called it.
  • The marrow is not only what comes out of the middle of the meat bones, it is also a large, mushy vegetable related to zucchini, it looks a bit like zucchini on steroids (which is actually kind of like it is). Sometimes, for the sake of precision, it can be called a vegetable marrow. It is usually filled with some kind of savory filling to give it character.
  • Pumpkin is not a vegetable in the UK, but a sugary, fruity soda concentrate, with a small amount of fruit juice. It is mixed with water. The vegetable squash that Americans are used to is relatively new to Britain. It’s usually called by its varietal name – butternut squash, acorn squash, and sometimes the orange-fleshed vegetables that would be called squash in the US They are grouped together as squash.


The British have a habit of dropping words and word fragments from the names of some foods. It can be confusing for Americans. Egg mayonnaise, for example, is not mayonnaise made from eggs. It is a hard-boiled egg, cut in half or sometimes sliced, covered in mayonnaise. Cauliflower cheese is cauliflower and cheese. Macaroni cheese is mac n cheese, not cheese made from macaroni. Chicken salad is a piece of chicken, a leg, or a sliced chicken, with a lettuce and tomato salad on the side. Same ham salad.

In fact, the American dish of chopped ham with mayonnaise and seasoning is completely unknown in Britain.

Pudding and cakes

The word dessert appears occasionally in people’s conversation or on menus, but the sweet dish at the end of a meal is almost always called pudding . It is a category that can range from chocolate mousse to fruit salad. The answer to the question, “What about pudding?” it could easily be “Watermelon.”

But to be the contrary, desserts are not always sweet and they are not always served to make puddings (in other words, desserts).

A tasty ‘pudding’ like Yorkshire pudding is a popover served alongside beef or, in Yorkshire, as a starter with onion sauce. Beef and kidney pudding is a traditional main dish steamed inside a cake. Bake in the batter and it will turn into steak and kidney pie. And the black pudding is a sausage made from pig’s blood and some other more attractive ingredients.

Empanadas, on the other hand, are almost never the pudding course and are almost never sweet, with two exceptions: apple pie and mince pie (which are always small individual tartlets). Other sweet cakes are called tarts: lemon tart, Bakewell tart, molasses tart.

Cakes that are made on their own in thick crusts are known as raised cakes. They are eaten cold, sliced or served as small individual cakes, and made solid with aspic. Melton Mowbray Pork Patties are a prime example. Other meat pies, such as meatloaf and ale, only have a top crust, what Americans would call “pot pies.” And some of the more famous ‘cakes’ – Shepherd’s Pie (ground lamb), Cottage Pie (ground beef) and Fish Pie (fish and shellfish in a creamy sauce) – don’t have any pastry dough, they’re topped with mashed potatoes.

Miscellaneous Surprises

Pickles can be the pickled cucumber spears or coins that you’re used to. But the word is also used to describe vegetable seasonings that are similar to hot sauce but extremely bitter or pungent. The Gherkin Brinjal is made from aubergines and the Branston Gherkin, a branded flavor product served with meats or cheeses, is spicy.

And one last word, if you’ve never had English mustard before, don’t slather it with a sausage like American yellow mustard, unless you want to turn your head around. Made from ground mustard powder, English mustard is very very hot, so take it easy.

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