Sunday Roast: The UK's Beloved Weekend Tradition

Lionel Richie had it right when he claimed that Sunday mornings are easy. If you're not working, Sunday is typically a day to sleep in, roll out of bed at your leisure, chill over a cup of coffee and the Sunday Times, and figure out where you're having brunch. A similar ritual happens across the pond in the United Kingdom on Sundays, but the Brits aren't pondering their brunch. As they have for hundreds of years, they're planning their Sunday roasts.

The people of Britain have a lot of cool traditions like afternoon tea, Boxing Day, and Guy Fawkes Night, but the Sunday roast is among their most beloved. It's a time to be with family and friends and enjoy a large, comforting meal. For many, the very concept brings a warm sense of nostalgia with memories of roasts from their childhood. 

On Sundays, families join over a meal consisting of roasted meat, potatoes, various vegetables, gravy, and Yorkshire pudding. Whether made at home or in the local pub, it is as much a part of British identity as tea, The Beatles, and bright red telephone booths. And every demographic in Britain — from Underground tube drivers to the royal family — tucks into the feast. As a bonus, this tradition will put you in a food coma that makes for an epic Sunday nap.

A brief background of the Sunday roast

Some say that the concept of the Sunday roast was developed in 1485 when King Henry VII sat on the English throne. A Roman Catholic nation at the time, the people of England would ritually abstain from eating meat on Fridays. When the fast broke, everyone in England, from the royal court to the commoners, would celebrate by indulging in meat on Sundays. This would have been easy for the higher classes of society, but not so much for peasants and those of lesser means.

By the late 1700s, the industrial revolution had reached Britain, resulting in a time when prices of goods, including meat, dropped to the point where most people could afford to enjoy it at least once a week. Before they left for church on Sunday, people would place their roast in their ovens along with vegetables and by the time they returned home, lunch would be ready. Those who didn't have ovens often dropped their roasts off at bakeries — which didn't bake bread on Sundays — who would roast it for them. Once the 19th century came and costs of meat and fuel fell to an all-time low in Britain, the tradition of Sunday roasts had solidified in the Commonwealth, sealing its place in society for generations to come.

Much more than roasted meat

As the name suggests, a Sunday roast revolves around a roasted piece of meat. Traditionally, this is roast beef, however, it doesn't have to be. Sunday roasts can be centered around roast turkey, duck, pork, lamb ... really whatever is accessible. It's more about the meal as a whole rather than the type of meat used. There are even plenty of restaurants and recipes that offer vegetarian and vegan Sunday roasts

Along with the centerpiece, other elements are just as important in creating this weekly meal. Roasted potatoes are pretty much omnipresent across anyone and everyone's roasts, although some prefer their spuds to be mashed. To be honest, some die-hard Sunday roast traditionalists are appalled at the thought of mashed potatoes as part of the meal, but you do you. In addition, vegetables have a place on the roast plate as well. They can be carrots, parsnips, peas, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, or cabbage.  

It is also absolutely essential to include Yorkshire pudding. Not as sweet as it sounds to the American ear, Yorkshire pudding is a kind of light popover made by pouring a simple batter into a muffin or popover baking tin which is partially filled with sizzling oil. The reaction of the cold batter to the oil makes the mixture puff and rise out of the tins once it's in the oven. 

Finally, to complete the Sunday roast, gravy is a must, and various condiments are also offered on the side, like horseradish and English mustard.

The tradition is still alive and well

Today, on Sunday afternoons and evenings in the United Kingdom, pubs and restaurants are full of laughter, and chatter can be heard behind the doors of many flats and homes. Yes, these places are packed with people enjoying Sunday roasts. The food is iconic and timeless, but for many, these occasions are about joining together with loved ones, cooking, socializing, and enjoying each other's company. It's almost like the Brits enjoy Thanksgiving on a weekly basis. There are even those who celebrate their roasts on other days of the week which has become perfectly acceptable, but Sunday will always be the traditional day to celebrate such a feast. 

Plenty of chefs in Britain stick to tradition when it comes to Sunday roasts, but not all of them. The capital city of London is a bustling melting pot of world cultures, and the food reflects this. You can find Sunday roasts influenced by Italian and Indian cuisine, served buffet-style and in Michelin-starred eateries. Clearly, this delicious tradition has never died, but it also isn't afraid to evolve.