What is a Bacon Sarnie and Where Can You Find One?

Bacon sarnie
••• Bacon sarnies at St. John restaurant in London. Nicholas Brett / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

If you love bacon, come to Britain, where a bacon sarnie is an excuse for eating lots of it.

A bacon sarnie is a bacon sandwich that's a guilty pleasure throughout the British Isles. Some people call it a sarnie, some call it a butty. The origin of the name is a bit of a mystery, but if anyone in a cafe or refreshment van tries to offer you a bacon roll or a bacon sandwich, you are probably not in the UK.

 Whatever you call it, it is essentially a couple of slices of white bread, stuffed with a satisfying amount of bacon that is probably a lot more than is good for you.

And it's one of Britain's favorite foods, turning up in the top ten of food favorite surveys again and again. A few years back, a mobile telecom company surveyed 60,000 of its subscribers, asking them to choose Britain's most important national treasures. The humble bacon sarnie was first on the list - before the country's history, before the BBC, even before Her Majesty the Queen. So if you want to get to grips with Britain's national cuisine, forget fish and chips - it's bacon and brown sauce between slices of bread that leads the way. 

What's in a bacon sarnie?

Besides bacon of course? White bread is essential - the cheapest, most tasteless white bread money can buy. The bread only exists to hold the bacon and any other ingredients together without interfering with the taste of the meat.

And the bread should never be toasted. That would just add another unwanted flavor and texture.

The bread is slathered with butter - I did say this was a guilty pleasure - and while some add ketchup, or (ew) mayo, HP Brown Sauce is the other essential. As to the bacon it can be dry cured streaky - the most similar to American bacon - or back bacon (quite a bit like what Americans call Canadian bacon), as long as there is plenty.

Sometimes you'll be served this sandwich on a bap, a soft roll similar to a hamburger bun. Then it will probably be called a bacon butty

Where and when?

You won't find bacon sarnies (that's pronounced SAH' nee by the way) at formal occasions and dinner parties - unless your hosts are being ironic. Otherwise, they are an anytime filler, warmer and treat. Students eat them for breakfast, workmen for an afternoon pick-me-up, ravers after a night of clubbing - all that bread and fat apparently soaks up a lot of alcohol.

Practically everyone on vacation or on a long road trip seems to have time to stop for a bacon sarnie.You can always find them at motorway stops and in old fashioned "caffs" like Browns in Oxford Covered Market. Even Starbucks have a sort of version of a bacon sarnie that they will heat up for you.  And the best bacon sarnies are eaten outdoors, with a steaming cup of coffee - or milky tea to be completely authentic.

In her instructions for the perfect bacon sandwich, British food writer Elaine Lemm, says, "It is almost rude not to eat bacon on a Sunday morning (outside in the rain if away camping or at a festival). And, always on holiday, especially in the UK."

After an early start on a drive out to the country with friends and dogs, a roadside stop for a bacon sarnie and a cup of milky tea at about 10am is an absolutely essential tradition.

And about that milky tea - a lot of British tea drinkers like their brew pretty strong. Adding milk mellows it. Don't knock it until you've tried it.  

So are they good?

Some things the British enjoy eating (like jellied eels, or beans on toast) are acquired tastes - but everyone loves bacon sarnies. Even vegetarians use vegetarian bacon made from Quorn or tofu for them.

But are they good for you? If you are health conscious to the slightest degree, you should face the fact that from a health point of view there is nothing whatsoever to recommend bacon sarnies.

But the ultimate truth is, once you've tasted one, you won't care - and what's more, you will probably want another one.