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A glossary of culinary British

With the Summer Olympics about to start, it’s time to line up your English-meal menus.MIKE HEWITT/GETTY IMAGES

Whether you are watching the Summer Olympics from a box seat with the royals or sprawled on your couch, honor the venue by dining on English food while you cheer on your favorites (though they are mostly consuming foods prepared especially for high-powered athletes).

Don’t scoff. English food is hot. In fact, the last time it received such acclaim Edward VII was king, Escoffier was cooking at the Savoy, and the food was actually French.

When that era ended, it was all downhill. England became the land of stodge (heavy, starchy fare), overcooked veg (shorthand for vegetables), and warm beer.

But things have changed. English restaurants and even pubs are earning Michelin stars, which proves that you don’t have to be a nob (rich and powerful) to eat like one. By the way, you book a table: Make a booking, not a reservation.


You don’t even have to be in England. Thanks to e-zines, cookbooks, and TV shows, you can enjoy the food of British chefs such as the down-to-earth Jamie Oliver and the nose-to-tail Fergus Henderson at home.

There’s just one problem — minding the communications gap. When it comes to things culinary, how many Americans speak kitchen English? Since you don’t want to appear naff (clueless) or po-faced (aloof), here’s a cheat sheet. If you feel peckish (hungry) while watching the London Games, you’ll know what to eat. With this in hand, you should be able to navigate an English menu or cookbook without appearing twee (uncool).

Aubergine: Eggplant. For some reason, the English often speak French when they’re talking about veg. (See Courgette.)

Bangers and mash: Sausage and mashed potatoes.

Biscuits: Cookies to us. That’s why those boxes of English digestive biscuits turn out to be filled with cookies.

Chips: French fries, as in fish and chips. Our potato chips are their crisps.


Claret: Red wine the rest of the world calls Bordeaux.

Clotted cream: Sounds like cream gone bad. But it’s actually cooked, thick cream. It’s also called Devonshire cream, which sounds nicer. It’s served with scones and jam and, maybe, lemon curd for a cream tea.

Cornet: Not the brass instrument, but an ice cream cone. Think cornucopia.

Courgette: Zucchini. (See Aubergine.)

Crumpets: Similar to what we call English muffins, which are, of course, American.

Fiddly: Fussy, overcomplicated, as in “Skip that fiddly recipe.”

Golden syrup: Not high-fructose corn syrup, but rather cane sugar syrup, which sweetens many English puddings (see Pudding). Pour it over pancakes or porridge (oatmeal) and even use it to sweeten your tea.

High tea: This is not a fancy tea party with lots of cakes and cookies. Traditionally high tea was supper for ordinary families, and often consisted of leftovers from a previous meal. It was also the meal staff ate at about 5 p.m., before serving dinner to the folks upstairs at 8 or 9. Afternoon or cream tea (see Clotted cream) was served upstairs to tide the nobs over until dinnertime. That tea consisted of dainty cakes, scones, or biscuits and tea. No leftovers were served. Children are often served tea and eat separately from adults, as in “Have your tea” or “It’s teatime.”

Lemon curd: Not lumpy-curdy like cottage cheese; a sweet curd is creamy, lush, and eggy. Lemon curd is something like lemon meringue filling. Today curds are made with all kinds of citrus and other fruits. Often served with scones and clotted cream at a cream tea.


Marmite: A salty, savory (spell it “savoury” to be authentic) spread made with yeast extract that has the look and consistency of tar. If you were not born and raised in England, you cannot abide it. Some say if you haven’t eaten it by age 3, you won’t like it.

Mash: Potatoes. See Bangers.

Pudding: This can mean a real pudding, like plum or bread or rice, and is also what the dessert course is called. Nobs say “dessert,” while downstairs it’s “pudding,” or more commonly, “pud,” “sweets,” or “afters.”

Starter: A first course or an

Suet: Mostly used in puddings, suet is a fat like lard, except that it comes from beef rather than pigs. If you find it at your butcher’s, make sure you don’t get the kind sold for bird feeders. It’s unlikely to be food quality.

Toffee: We say taffy. English use the expression “toffee-nose” to describe one who is snobbish. Stick toffee pudding is divine for those who crave sweets.

Treacle: Molasses, used in sweets such as treacle tarts. The word “treacly” can also mean cloyingly sentimental, as “That holiday movie was just too treacly for me.”

Jeri Quinzio can be reached at