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A Complete Guide to Breakfast on the British Isles

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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.

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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!)

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Now *that's* a full breakfast.
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.

Irish Brown Soda Bread
Irish Brown Soda Bread

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…

How Do You Feel About Haggis?
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How Do You Feel About Haggis?

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.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: British