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What: Unlike, say, Boston’s baked beans, the most famous British bean dish is supposed to come from a can—preferably a blue Heinz can of “baked beans in tomato sauce” (which remain quite different from America’s sweeter, porkier canned baked beans), although other brands are out there. Never mind that these navy beans are actually stewed, or that this is hardly flavorful gourmet fare: The point is that it’s inexpensive, filling, and oh-so-British, literally just canned beans heated up and dumped over (hopefully) buttered toast. Heinz claims that an executive invented the dish as a marketing ploy in 1927, but it’s likely the dish is still around today because it was so common as a cheap protein during World War II, for breakfast, dinner, or both. Today it’s more popular as breakkie for broke university students, budget-strapped travelers, and, well, people feeling nostalgic for those days. Some people add mustard or HP sauce; some melt cheese on top; many won’t eat a traditional English fry-up without it on the side. As for the taste? It’s just exactly what it sounds like—there’s no secret hidden ingredient, though butter definitely makes it better—so if you like British canned beans, you’ll be in good shape.
Where: In pretty South Kensington, we breakfasted on baked beans and toast at Greenfields Sandwich Emporium & Café (0207-584-1396; 13 Exhibition Rd., map), a cozy little take-away and café with sidewalk seating.
When: Mon-Fri, 7am-7pm, Sat-Sun, 8am-6pm
Order: Our beans on toast (£3.50) got the job done: a few triangles of lightly buttered brown toast, a huge pile of tomato-y beans. We added a little hot sauce and HP sauce to taste, and couldn’t help thinking a fried egg on top would really take it up a notch. Also on the breakfast menu here was the always-lovable bacon sandwich and some other items “on toast,” including that other British favorite, Marmite.
Alternatively: Look for this dish in similarly casual cafes and delis. It tends to be more commonly prepared at home than not, but we did spot it at Bar Centrale (020-7278-5249; 4 Bernard St., map), a deli across the street from the Russell Square Tube station. You might also try the homemade baked beans with slices of blood sausage and fresh sourdough on the breakfast menu at St. John Hotel (1 Leicester St., map)—not quite so traditional, but a welcome riff indeed.
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