A Complete Guide to Breakfast on the British Isles

December 13, 2017

The world is wide, and we want to see (and eat) all of it. We've partnered with VisitBritain to take a closer look at the foods, producers, restaurants, and regions that make Great Britain a top destination for food-loving travelers.

On behalf of the people of the Great Britian, I’d like to thank you, America, for your morning foods: blueberry muffins, buttermilk biscuits, and French toast. In return, may I offer you a “full breakfast”? I know it sounds a bit generic, but hear me out.

Photo by Jessica Smith

The full breakfast is a meal with components galore: eggs, rashers of back bacon, classic pork bangers (sausages), black pudding (a sausage of oats, pig or cow’s blood, onions and spices), mushrooms, broiled tomatoes, Heinz baked beans, toast, brown or red sauce and of course—English breakfast tea (a whole pot).

If, like me, you are from the British Isles, we could probably argue about this list for hours...

Around these tiny isles, nations make small tweaks to this yellowy-brown feast, and claim the full, complete result as their own. Let’s count the ways! You may note that many of these tweaks and additions are carb-based—carbs are, after all, where the fun is. (If you're going to chuck a load of pork and carbs on a plate, might as well go to town!)

Now *that's* a full breakfast. Photo by Sophie Davidson

The Full English

The most straightforward of Great Britain's breakfasts, you might simply add toast to this greasy equation...but we would see your toast and raise you a few slices of fried bread. Yes, you read correctly! (And no, I don’t mean French toast...this is an English breakfast, after all.) I'm talking about white bread, fried in lots of butter, oil, drippings, or lard until it’s deliciously crisp. Other possible extras in the English caff include those frozen triangular hash browns and some chips (fries). All excellent options first thing in the morning.

The Ulster Fry

Now we’re talking! Northern Ireland has the benefit of being able to borrow from Britain and Ireland, and their cuisine is all the richer for it. They do black pudding best, with pearl barley and spice. But—for bonus points!—Ireland also does white pudding: a blood-free sausage of pork, suet, oatmeal, and spices. Notable carbs this side of the Irish Sea include the potato farl, which is seasoned mashed potatoes, worked into a dough with flour, rolled out, cut into four (“farl” means four), and fried in butter, so that it’s crisp on the outside and smooth on the inside. And oh! The wonder of soda bread! Unlike a yeast bread, this crusty, rugged-looking bread’s rise is powered by baking soda and buttermilk. In Northern Ireland, the soda bread tends to be in a flat, griddle-able format, rather than a boule. Either way, it’s quick to make, so it bakes while the rest of your breakfast sizzles. And it’s best served straight from the oven, warm and soft, buttered and buried beneath all that porky stuff.

The Full Scottish

While your bits fry, you will absolutely eat a starter of Scottish porridge—oats, water and salt, maybe a few luxurious sugar cubes and a dash of milk. Then, the main event might include tattie scones, the Scottish equivalent of the potato farl. This is a special occasion, so perhaps you’ll have haggis, which is sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, and lung) wrapped up in stomach. You won’t be served the full stomach, just a scoop of its plucky innards. And you thought the blood sausage was out there! In for a penny, in for a pound…

The Full Welsh

Now, this one’s going to surprise you. Wales is in the west, and hundreds of varieties of seaweed grow off its coast—which is the foundational element of a Welsh breakfast. Laverbread might sound like a carb, but in fact it’s seaweed paste, made with laver, a particularly nutritious algae. It’s sometimes blended with cockles and oats and turned into little patties, which fry nicely in bacon fat. These are known as Penclawdd cockle and laverbread cakes, and they taste of the sea—a transportive fry-up.

So for your next breakfast, ditch the pancakes and have a farl on me.

Which British breakfast is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

We've partnered with VisitBritain to take a closer look at the foods, producers, restaurants, and regions that make Great Britain a top destination for food-loving travelers. Follow along on Instagram to see what's going on across the pond at @lovegreatbritain and what Great Britain is eating at @greatbritishfood.



Barb December 20, 2017
I feel cheated, I spent a full week in Wales in the 70's and never ran across a 'Welsh breakfast'. For this American, that one sounds the best. I can say, that in subsequent trips to both England and Ireland, though, the only bad meals I had were in 'American' style restaurants. Is the Wimpie Burger chain even still in biz?
Janet M. December 20, 2017
My father's family was Scottish(his grandparents and father were born there) and it was oatmeal with butter and brown sugar every morning of my childhood! Dad liked to add fried eggs and bacon. We never saw blood pudding or haggis--ever!!!
Sharon H. December 19, 2017
I grew up on the Ulster Fry. My family are all from Belfast. I spend Christmas Eve day making my potato farls and my soda farls. I have to admit my potato farls always turn out, but my soda farls are often like hockey pucs. So I usually make a loaf. We always heat them up in bacon fat. That is why I only make it on Christmas, and then we have a light dinner of fresh Dungeness Crab and Sour Dough Bread. In California I try and combine my intertwined heritage on this very special day.
suzybel63 December 15, 2017
My dad was a Brit and his favourite English breakfast was stewed kidneys or fried kippers. And he drank tea from a saucer.
Tessa F. December 14, 2017
About the full Welsh - Your text has it right but the image has it wrong. Its laver bread or laverbread, not lava (!!) bread
Meg L. December 13, 2017
Porridge is most definitely not part of a full Scottish!
HalfPint December 13, 2017
I love the sausage served with the Full English. Puts American breakfast sausage (sorry, Jimmy Dean) to shame. One of the few things I look forward to whenever I go to London. But I've never had fried bread. Where have I been???
Victoria C. December 13, 2017
I recently did a coach tour of the British Isles (sorry, Ireland, you were on the tour) and was very happy to eat a hearty breakfast every day so I didn't have to spend any of my tourist time eating lunch. As my mother is English, and I spent a lot of time in The Wirral growing up every other year for three months at a time, an English breakfast was not news to me. However, what was news was haggis, and I LOVED IT and ate it at every breakfast that it was served.
Ohioan49 December 13, 2017
Great on the breakfasts! But--please don't call Ireland a "British isle"!!!
Meg L. December 13, 2017
In geographical terms, Ireland is in fact part of the British Isles! But you are right that in national terms, it is not a part of Great Britain.
Carole T. December 20, 2017
Neither is Ulster. In fact, the correct title is: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.<br /><br /><br />