Confusing “Chips” for Chips: Exploring English Food Culture

Rachel Lewis is a student at St. Ambrose University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in London, England.

Sitting down for a meal, in general, is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s even more exciting to explore an entirely new food culture when doing so. Sitting down for a meal at a restaurant in England is an entirely different experience than say, sitting down at an American diner. One of the reasons: customer service in England is a lot different. English waiters and waitresses do not usually receive tips, so they aren’t “working for their tip” so to speak or waiting on a person hand and foot. That’s not to say they aren’t friendly and lovely people, but it is something to get used to when you don’t have someone constantly asking if you need your drink refilled (did I mention refills aren’t free?).

Of all the quintessentially English foods (pork pies, black pudding, lamb) there are a couple of things I have actually dared to try because, unlike pork pie and black pudding, fish and “chips” and a traditional English roast dinner sound appetizing to me. Chips though (and this is something I still can’t get used to) are interchangeably called fries, french fries, or chips from place to place. I thought it might be consistently just “chips” but you really never know based on how multicultural restaurants  are in London.

I’ve had many traditional roast dinners equipped with green beans, peas, roasted potatoes and chicken with tea to wash it all down. Interestingly, “tea” here is what I would call black tea, but to the English, black tea is tea and everything else is, with humor, a “downgraded herbal drink”, at least to my friends that are local to England. I can never tell whether something is personal opinion with the English or whether it is actually representative of what the English think and believe as a whole.


Pictured above is a traditional fish and chips meal in England. You can find fish and chip joints just about anywhere and they are usually called “fish and chips” or have a sign denoting you can find the meal there. Based on that, I believe it is a fairly popular dish. The fish is fried and placed on top of American french fries/”chips”. They offer a dish of mayonnaise and tartar sauce for dipping.

Of course, a lot of people might wash this meal down with a glass of Diet Coke (because unfortunately Pepsi is not as popular in the UK… everywhere you go there are Coke products and mostly Coke products which is incredibly sad for a Pepsi fanatic like myself). Even though I was warned about Coke being more popular, I had no idea to what degree. But anyway, I have been drinking a heck of a lot more tea here in England, something I will probably carry home with me because now it is standard to have a cuppa (a cute little English word for ‘cup of tea’) in the morning before doing absolutely anything else.

As you can see I’ve decided to wash my traditional English meal down with some traditional English tea (it was peppermint, so apparently it must be a “downgraded herbal drink” to some of the locals). I’ve also found it interesting that in the UK the tea is actually filtered in the teapot they give you at the table and very rarely are you given an actual bag of tea. It’s very high quality tea and it feels like a treat every time!

Check out more about England or sign up to learn more about studying abroad!