There’s an old saying* that you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper* in order to live a healthy life. The idea is that if you eat a lot of food at the start of the day, you will have calories to burn for the rest of it. Wise as this may be, it can’t be applied to many European countries, where people often have very small breakfasts. The opposite is true in both Britain and Ireland where this saying has really been taken to heart*.
The ‘full breakfast’ is famous throughout the world. The big plate containing sausages, bacon, and eggs evokes as much love from us as it does confusion from other countries. In Spain, people have asked me, disbelievingly, ‘how do you eat that for breakfast everyday?’ Well, the short answer is: we don’t. Just like here with churros and chocolate, it’s something that we have every now and again as a treat on the weekend or, for some people, as a hangover cure. That being said, we do love it, and it is something we take very seriously. Every country and region has its own version, each with their own name: the full English breakfast, the full Scottish, the full Welsh, the full Irish and the Ulster fry*. Trying to decipher the difference between them all, where they came from, and what each one should consist of, is a minefield.* Getting it wrong is a lot like telling someone from Valencia that paella should have chorizo.
The problem is, there’s no set rule as to what you should put on the plate. In general, every fry-up should have eggs, bacon and sausages as standard. From there it changes: in Scotland it might have haggis (something similar to morcilla made from a sheep’s stomach); in Ireland it will have white and black pudding (morcilla, with and without blood); in Wales it may have seafood and an ale*; in Northern Ireland it would often have a soda farl (a type of Irish bread); and in England it could have bubble and squeak (the fried leftovers from a traditional roast dinner). To make matters even more confusing, the regions next to each other can have the same ingredients to the one beside, while still being different. For example, it’s not uncommon for both the Ulster fry and the full Irish to have soda farls, but you would never find this in England or Wales.
So, amid all this confusion – how did the fry-up become a tradition? In Britain especially, the full breakfast is associated with builders and labourers in cheap cafés, accompanied by a cup of milky tea. Originally, however, the fry was a luxury reserved for the rich. In the middle ages, people would generally eat two meals a day, with the first around mid-morning. Poor people would have bread and cheese, while the rich where able to have more expensive meat. The most lavish breakfasts were originally served at weddings, and were quite early in the morning as the ceremony had to take place before noon*.
It wasn’t until the Victorian era when the breakfast became popular with everyone. As more and more people had to work in factories, they needed something filling to start them off in the morning. This carried on up until the 1950’s, where up to half of the population of England started each day with a fry-up.
In today’s more health conscious world, it is less common to have it every day, although some experts say that it is actually not as unhealthy as you would imagine. If you grill the food instead of frying it, it can give you a lot of energy to carry you through the day – like the saying at the start.
Either way, the fry-up is a tradition that is never going to go away. It is popular in every part of Britain and Ireland, and, no matter where you go, you are sure to find a plate of food that is delicious and cultural. So, when you go on holiday to any of those countries, make sure to try it – whatever they happen to give you is sure to be nice.
- To Saying – proverb
- Pauper – poor person
- Take to heart – take something seriously
- Ulster fry – ‘Ulster’ is the province Northern Ireland is in
- Minefield – a subject with many controversies
- Ale – a type of beer
- Noon – 12:00 pm