Anyone who’s gone abroad at least a handful of times will tell you that if there’s one thing that differentiates every country, it’s their breakfast. Every culture’s idea of a morning meal is unique. So even common Western concepts like eggs and bacon can lead to a case of culture shock when you travel. A perfect example of this is the full English breakfast. What exactly does this mean? And if you order it while in Britain (or even stateside), what can you expect to arrive on your plate?

What’s a Full English Breakfast?

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As the name implies, a full English breakfast is a big meal. It’s meant to give you the sustenance to fuel you through the afternoon. The idea is that you haven’t eaten since dinner the night before, so it tends to be fairly protein-rich with a focus on meats and hearty side dishes that will keep you full. But the dish is also known as a “fry-up” since pretty much every ingredient is cooked in this manner. You can order a full English breakfast pretty much anywhere  in Britain and at select restaurants around the world (including the United States) that offer typical English fare.

So what’s in it? A full English breakfast is a pretty big meal that is usually offered with two common variations — the “core” full English breakfast and then iterations with popular additions.

The “Core” Full English Breakfast

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With this variation, the dish includes the most essential ingredients that you’ll find in any pub, restaurant, or quick-service place that claims to offer a full English breakfast. So, you should see the following on your plate:

  • Meat: Sausage and bacon are the common options here. And we don’t mean either-or: No, you get both portions of meat on your plate. But if you’re thinking of crispy thin strips a la American-style bacon, think again! Bacon is one of those meats that can look really different depending on the country. By English standards, the “bacon” in their full English breakfast is a thicker style cut from the pig’s back or loin. You might be more familiar with its more common name, “Irish bacon.”
  • Beans: Yes, beans are a staple in a lot of traditional English dishes — including breakfast. But don’t get this confused with a sweet and zingy plate of baked beans as you’d expect at an American cookout or barbecue. These aren’t cooked in that style.
  • Tomatoes: Yup, we’re talking about that fruit that often masquerades as a vegetable. According to experts, the acidity in the tomatoes plays against the inherent fattiness of the meat to create culinary balance.
  • Fried bread: Apparently traditional toast isn’t an option for a full English breakfast as you want something far more savory that can stand up to the other flavors in this dish. Common ways of preparing the bread include frying it in a pan with butter, lard, or even bacon grease.
  • Eggs: We weren’t lying when we said the dish is protein-focused. For a true English-style dish, you should opt for fried eggs with a slightly runny yolk that will mix well with the juice from the beans and meat on your plate.
  • Sauces: While there are variations depending on the restaurant, you’ll usually receive ketchup and brown HP sauce. But you might also find Marmite and marmalade for the bread.
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Yes, we did. If a restaurant wants to go the extra mile, in addition to the core ingredients listed above, you might be treated to the following add-ons:

  • Black and white pudding: This isn’t a sweet, and the name is a bit of a misnomer. Instead, it’s a sausage made of oatmeal, pork fat, and blood. Usually served fried, a few slices are more than enough.
  • Kidneys: Yes, we really mean kidneys like the organ meat. Also known as “offal” (anything made of organ meat), this is a popular option that’s usually served fried.
  • Kippers: This is just another name for smoked herring. This side is served fried up as a base for your poached or soft-fried eggs.
  • Potatoes and mushrooms: Both of these more traditional sides are served fried up in butter or roasted.

So, those are the two most common versions of a Full English Breakfast. But depending on where within the United Kingdom you happen to be, there can be even more variations. While it’s certainly something to put on your “must-do” list for the next time you visit Great Britain, you don’t need a passport to experience the dish. Try your hand at making a Full English Breakfast in your own home or find a local restaurant or pub that specializes in English cuisine.