Newcastle upon Tyne, more commonly known simply as Newcastle, is one of the most distinctive of English cities. The largest major city in the far north of the country, Newcastle was founded on the banks of the River Tyne, when it was merely a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall. At that point, it was known as Pons Aelius, getting its name from the Emperor Hadrian’s family title.
The next incarnation of Newcastle was as ‘Monkchester’ in the centuries following the departure of the Romans and it became part of the powerful Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. It didn’t earn the name Newcastle until the time of the Normans.
When the son of William the Conqueror, Robert, returned from beating the Scots in 1080, he stayed in Monkchester, and has a wooden castle built there to fortify the main crossing of the Tyne. The area then earned the name Novum Castellum, meaning ‘New Castle’. The castle remains to this day, although the Castle Keep was built by Henry II between 1172-1177 and the main gatehouse, known as the Black Gate, was built by Henry III between 1247-1250.
Newcastle remained a strong points of resistance to the Scots during the Middle Ages, and at the same time, it began to flourish as a key part of the wool trade. By 1400, the town had its own Mayor and sheriff, and despite the decline of the wool trade during the 1500s and 1600s, Newcastle continued to thrive, thanks to coal.
A Royal Act of 1530 decreed that all coal exports in the North East of the country had to be shipped from Newcastle quayside, which enabled Newcastle to prosper as a regional centre for trade. Although the town suffered for its support of King Charles I during the Civil War, it was able to resume its strong trade position during the years after the Restoration and exports of iron, slate and glass led the continuing growth of the town.
By the 1800s, Newcastle had its own bank, and a thriving printing industry, with the Newcastle Gazette and the Newcastle Courant being the first newspapers in circulation in northern England. The town was also well placed to thrive during the Industrial Revolution. Between 1750 and 1850, numerous heavy industries were established in the area, most notably the building of ships and steam trains. There was a huge influx of people, with the population passing the 250,000 mark by 1911, just 29 years after Newcastle was awarded city status.
That industrial strength waned throughout the second half of the twentieth century as overseas competition and a decline in manufacturing hit the town hard. But in recent decades, it has been able to reinvent itself as a cultural centre and home to new and innovative commercial enterprises.
Like many of England’s industrial heartlands, Newcastle has generated a distinctive cuisine, rooted in the popularity of warming and hearty food that kept people nourished during long cold winters. To help you get a taste of Newcastle food, here are some of the city’s most famous dishes:
If you’ve never tried a stottie, imagine a bread bun but on an epic scale and you’ve got a good idea of what it looks like. Usually, a stottie will measure around 12 inches across and nearly two inches thick, and provides a stodgy bread texture. It is named after the local word ‘’stott’ which means to bounce and was so called because the ideal stottie should bounce if you drop it. This is a versatile food that can be stuffed with a range of fillings, though one of the most popular is ham and pease pudding.
Singin’ hinnies have some similarities to scones , whereas scones are baked, singin’ hinnies are cooked on a griddle pan. Usually made with flour, milk, baking powder, butter, lard, salt and currants, the whole mixture is rolled into a fatty dough before being fried. The singin’ part of its name apparently comes from the sizzling sound the fatty ingredients make as they cook. This is the ultimate in Newcastle comfort food and is particularly tasty served with jam and vanilla ice cream.
Considered by many of the best chefs to be the finest kippers in all of England, Craster kippers are North Sea herring that are marinated in brine and cured over smouldering oak and whitewood in a smokehouse for as long as 16 hours. As their name suggests, Craster kippers originate from the small fishing village of the same name on the Northumberland coast. The kippers can be bought from the original Craster smokehouse or sampled in the Craster Seafood Restaurant.
A particularly breakfast-friendly food, Tyneside floddies are potato cakes that are similar to rosti or hash browns and traditionally made from grated potato, finely chopped onion and a bit of chopped streaky bacon. When combined with sausages and eggs they make for a distinctive Newcastle take on the full English breakfast, although you can also find more ‘up market’ floddies served in the city’s restaurants, with more elaborate accompaniments such as duck and spinach.
Pease pudding is arguably the most significant of the cannot be underestimated. Usually made by boiling split yellow peas with a joint of ham before then draining and mashing the whole into a hummus-like paste, pease pudding has even been referred to as ‘Geordie caviar’.
As mentioned above, it is often paired with ham and stuffed in a stottie but it also goes well with the saveloy sausage, a combination that was so iconic, it earned a mention by the hungry orphans in the musical version of Oliver Twist. It can be bought throughout the city.
The best way to describe this dish is as a Newcastle take on the French dish potato Dauphinoise. It is a deliciously filling recipe consisting of layers of potato, onions and cheese cooked until perfectly crispy. There are plenty of different takes on this delicacy, including some recipes that suggest adding carrots, cabbage or bacon. It’s just as delicious as it sounds and a dish sure to keep your cockles warm during the arctic North East winters.
The saveloy dip is a form of sausage sandwich but on a grander scale! It starts with a bread bun sliced in half and dipped in gravy which is then spread with a generous layer of pease pudding before the addition of a saveloy sausage, a drop of mustard and a dollop of sage and onion stuffing.
Lindisfarne oysters date back to the late 14th century when monks first set up oyster beds in the waters off Holy Island. Since 1953, they’ve been farmed on the shores of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve and can be tasted at fishmongers shops and restaurants throughout the area.