Home Blog Scouse and Wet Nelly: The Foods of Liverpool

Scouse and Wet Nelly: The Foods of Liverpool

Scouse and Wet Nelly: The Foods of Liverpool

Liverpool is not the largest city in England, but it is one of the best known. The name of the city comes from the old English words for muddy water and creek or pool, and it has gone through a number of different spellings before the current version was settled upon. The pool in question refers to an inlet that no longer exists, while the muddy aspect may have referred to the fact that the waterway was full of weeds such as liverwort.

The city’s history really begins in 1207 when the borough or Livpul was established under King John, and by 1235, Liverpool had its own castle. Early on, there were just seven streets in the city, all of which survive to this day, and the place remained a relatively unimportant settlement until it began to play a significant role in transatlantic trade during the 18th century.

There was a sinister aspect to this expanding wealth in that Liverpool played a major part in the slave trade, and this sad history is commemorated at the International Slavery Museum based in the city.

Liverpool was the site of the first ever commercial wet dock in England, built on the River Mersey in 1715. It was originally able to accommodate up to 100 ships. In 1737, Canning Dock was added, but the most significant addition came in 1846 with the opening of the Albert Dock, which transformed the way that the port of Liverpool operated, enabling it to fully capitalise on the vast quantities of trade that were passing through the city. In fact, by the time the Albert Dock was opened, it was estimated that as much as 40% of all global trade was going through Liverpool.

The growing wealth of the city was reflected in widespread construction and the founding of some famous buildings including the Congregational Church, the neoclassical St George’s Hall and the 1836 unveiling of Lime Street Station. Another famous Liverpool building, Albion House, is also known as being the previous home of the White Star Line, the registered owners of the ill-fated RMS Titanic.

Many Liverpudlians worked on the various cruise ships that set sail from Liverpool and this brought many cultural influences to the city, particularly from places such as the USA and Jamaica. Beginning  in the late 1860s many Chinese migrants first arrived in Liverpool, mainly as a result of the employment of Chinese seamen by the Blue Funnel Shipping Line. This created strong links between the cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Liverpool, with the importation of silk, cotton and tea bringing more trade to the city, and helping to bring a unique cultural diversity to the area.

Liverpool suffered some of the most widespread damage during the Second World War as the Luftwaffe targeted this important trade and industrial hub. It is estimated that as many as 2,700 people were killed during these bombing raids and the damage was widespread.

The effects of this damage, plus the declining economic situation, as other ports and global locations began to compete more effectively, meant that Liverpool suffered an economic decline, but in place of its role as a trade hub, the city became known as a centre for culture, thanks to the thriving music and cultural scene that developed throughout the 1950s and 1960s, leading to arguably the city’s most successful and famous export, the Beatles. Liverpool’s cultural and industrial history has led to it being recognised as a World Heritage site, and these days, it is one of the most vibrant places in England.

Not surprisingly, this bustling port has developed a unique cuisine, informed by the various influences that have affected the city over the centuries. Here are some of the most famous and popular culinary contributions made by the city of Liverpool:


The most famous of Liverpool’s foods, scouse is so popular in the area, that the name has become a nickname for people from Liverpool and for their local dialect. Scouse is a rich meat stew, usually made using mutton or beef along with thick-cut vegetables. It isn’t related to the various other regional English stews or hot pots and is actually believed to originate from a Norwegian recipe that was brought to the city by travelling seamen. Many pubs in the city serve fresh scouse, often served with pickled beetroot or cabbage as well as a slice of bread.

Wet Nelly

This unusually named treat is a delicious dessert that was originally devised as a way of making use of leftover bread. Similar to the well known bread and butter pudding, Wet Nelly is a great standby recipe if you want something sweet at the end of a meal. The basis of the dish is scraps of stale bread and cakes that are left to soak in water before being mixed with spices, sugar, dried fruit and eggs. The finished dish is usually served with custard, but cream or ice-cream work just as well.

Everton mints

Also sometimes known as humbugs, these small hard-boiled sweets have their origin in the part of the city known as Everton. They are usually peppermint-flavoured and are traditionally brown with white stripes, and can be found in many convenience stores or specialist sweet shops.

Bubble and Squeak

This is a relatively well known dish throughout England, but it is most popular in Liverpool, where it is a regular feature of family dinners. It is traditionally a way of using up any vegetable leftovers following a Sunday roast, and usually has a potato base. All the ingredients are chopped up and cooked up in a frying pan, with the name of the dish deriving from the sounds coming from the pan as the meal is cooked. Bubble and squeak is versatile enough to be eaten at any time of day.

Potted Shrimp

Potted shrimp is a distinctive seafood dish, made from small prawns which have been clarified in a flavoured butter, before being put into a small jar. The butter is usually flavoured with nutmeg, although sometimes cayenne pepper is used, and the dish is normally served spread on fresh bread or toast. Shrimps are plentiful off the coast of Liverpool, and they were traditionally preserved this  way to allow for surplus stocks to be stored for times when catches were less fruitful. J

Liverpool Gin

As a busy maritime city, gin used to be extremely popular in the docks of Liverpool. It was a favourite tipple for both sailors and their wives, due to its high alcohol content and its reported health benefits. The trade of unusual herbs and spices through the city also meant that Liverpool Gin developed a unique flavour. Although gin production in Liverpool halted for many years when the city went into economic decline, there is now a new distillery producing gin based on original recipes and many bars in the city now serve gin cocktails that are a throwback to Liverpool’s maritime heritage.

Pea Whack

A Liverpool take on pea soup, Pea Whack is a hearty and warming dish, that features a ham bone,

split peas, carrots, onions, garlic and celery. The peas are soaked overnight, then added to a pot of water along with the other ingredients, brought to the boil and then simmered low for a few hours. The final step is to remove the ham bone and add the trimmed meat to the pot.

Salt and Pepper Chips

Liverpool is home to one of the oldest and largest Chinese communities in Europe and salt and pepper chips is the expression of that link. The dish is made using traditional chip shop chips that are then mixed with onions, peppers and chillies before being tossed together with a blend of spices. The dish is believed to originate during the 1990s, but is now a firm favourite across Liverpool.


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