I think one of the reasons I love the UK is because they eat all day. I’m not kidding — there’s breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and of course, dessert. But realistically, every study abroad student can’t afford to eat out at the trendiest restaurants six times a day over the course of four months. However, just because you can’t always have the newest fusion burrito or Instagram-worthy brunch, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on what the local cuisine has to offer.
When I went grocery shopping in London for the first time, I spent about 2 hours too long just perusing the aisles and looking at the novel items I had never seen in the States. Even as my stay continued, I would find myself peeking into grocery stores for fun. Literally, no groceries were needed; I just enjoyed “window-shopping” at my local Waitrose or TESCO. So after these leisurely strolls and impulse purchases, I’ve decided to share what I believe to be some of the highlights of UK grocery stores.
1. Chocolate Candy Bars
Okay, so in the States, I’m never one to dilly-dally in the candy section. However, ever since I first sunk my teeth into a Galaxy cookies & cream duet bar, I became an overnight addict. Now, it has been said that chocolate in the UK tastes different than that from the US (even the Kit-Kats and Snickers). If my word isn’t enough for you, I did a bit of research to find out the varying forms of chocolate production.
Historically, the United Kingdom was filled with several dairy farms, making milk a common commodity. Whereas other parts of the world use dried milk powder, the UK has been known to combine fluid milk and sugar before drying it. This process creates a caramel-y smooth chocolate. There is a difference, and oh baby is it worth it.
Here are a couple bars (of chocolate) that you definitely need to hit up when in the UK:
- Kinder bueno
- Cadbury caramel
- Galaxy ripple
- Kit Kat CHUNKY
- Nestle yorkie
The UK is the only place on Earth that challenges the US for the greatest obsession over fried potatoes. It’s unclear who actually takes the cake on that, but undoubtedly, the UK wins the creativity award for their everyday crisps. From flavours of oyster vinegar to marmite or roast lamb & mint, their crisps are much more than a side dish — they’re a savoury experience with several layers of flavour.
While no one knows quite where these quirky, extravagant flavours came from, it’s been said that the country’s enthusiasm for the potato comes from their history of dependence and survival with it. So please, while you’re here, throw all caution to the wind and try every flavour you possibly can. Who knows, your new drunchie of choice may become roast ox potato crisps.
Let your true foodie show and just try them:
- Walkers prawn cocktail
- Brannigans roast beef & mustard
- Walkers Thai sweet chili
- Frazzles crispy bacon
- Walkers cheese & onion (UK #1 favourite)
3. Crumpets, Biscuits, and Scones
Once in TESCO’s I asked my friend, “How does one eat a crumpet?” The woman next to me heard, got extremely emotional, and proceeded to give me a lecture on the proper way to prepare and enjoy British delicacies. Not only did I learn how to eat a crumpet, but I also learned that the British are really into their carbs.
So in case you were wondering, crumpets are similar to English muffins (or as the British call them, muffins), except with a lighter pancake-y texture. Stick ’em in the toaster, slab some butter on them, and just watch it melt into the beautiful spongey pores.
In addition to this essential snack, there’s biscuits. Do not get me started on dark chocolate Digestives because I will sit there and munch on a whole sleeve at any time of the day. Look past the awkward name and just try them. Or don’t, if you want to maintain some dignity and don’t particularly like biscuit crumbs in your bed.
And finally, there’s scones. If you’ve ever had high tea, you’ve experienced the magic that is scones and clotted cream. However, in the UK this is acceptable to eat on a daily basis and is sold in the simplest of grocery stores. Do not take this for granted, people.
Some common, yet amazing, British carbohydrates to try:
- Warburtons crumpets
- McVitie’s Digestives
- McVitie’s Jaffa cakes
- TESCO custard cream biscuits
- Any brand of flapjack (like granola bars, but so much better)
4. Pre-Made Foods
The UK is obsessed with pre-made foods; Brits ate more than three billion ready made meals in 2012. Have you heard of Pret A Manger, the epitome of grab-and-go cuisine? It’s more prevalent in London than Dunkin’ Donuts in Boston. And Pret isn’t the only one churning out pre-packaged sandwiches — there’s countless other businesses and grocery stores profiting off of the busy London lifestyle.
But not all pre-made items are equal. Steer clear of items with too much salt and look like they’ve been sitting out for one too many lunch breaks. If you’re choosing pre-made foods from grocery stores, look towards higher end stores such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, which can have more interesting options such as chicken masala wraps and salmon cucumber sandwiches.
Use your judgement here and don’t be afraid to try new things on a quick, cheap budget.
So there you have it — a quick rundown of a few British specialties that you won’t find in the States. Remember, just because you’re not eating out doesn’t mean it has to be pasta or cereal. Use grocery shopping to truly live as a Brit!