Welcome to the UK: home of Shakespeare, The Beatles, Hugh Grant (they try not to talk about that one), and Piers Morgan (they really try not to talk about that one).
Like its celebrities, the UK’s cuisine is a heady mix of the good, bad, and the deplorably ugly. It can be something of a shock to discover, on arrival in the UK, the truly extraordinary, often bewildering nature of Brits’ attitude to food. However, with the following ten servings of insight, you’ll be navigating the tiny island’s gastronomical delights in no time.
There is always an excuse to eat
Did you miss breakfast? Have elevenses. Too late for elevenses? Let’s go for brunch. Getting on a bit for brunch? Definitely time for lunch. A little peckish after lunch? Join us for afternoon tea. Busy during afternoon tea time? No worries; it’s dinnertime. Still hungry after dinner? Supper! Still hungry? Well, only eight hours to go ‘til breakfast.
Local shops become dear old friends
Being a student, it’s unlikely that you’ll have money to spare. Local supermarkets and newsagents often have great deals on locally-sourced vegetables and dairy products, so indulge in these good quality yet affordable items; it’s far harder to find quality yet affordable booze.
Reductio ad absurdum: (Price) reduction to absurdity
Listen up. Hit your nearest chain supermarket right before it closes one evening. All its perishable food will be on offer for at a hugely reduced price. Someone’s got to eat it, right?
The island is replete with meat…
Sunday roast. Christmas turkey. Sausage and mash. Scottish haggis. Welsh cottage pie. Full English breakfast or the Northern Irish Ulster fry, with bacon and eggs. Need I continue? Excuse my salivating.
…and, funnily enough, is surrounded by the sea…
Fish and chips. There’s a lot of other traditional seafood (kippers, anyone?), but anything but the ‘classic option’ barely matters. Once you’ve had classic English battered cod and golden chips, there’s no going back. Best served wrapped in newspaper, this dish hits the spot when you need that warm and deliciously 19th century feeling.
…but the veggies need not fear
The UK is one of the easiest places to live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Not only is the country home to a plethora of specialised cafés; all reputable restaurants also provide a substantial alternative, meat-free menu. Supermarkets sell fabulous synthetic meat brands (Quorn, Linda McCartney), but if you get tired of Glamorgan sausages, all sorts of vegetables, fruit, cheeses, rice, beans, breads and more are easily accessible.
In fact, the UK caters for all specialised diets
During the course of an average walk down the street in any UK city, you will pass stores and restaurants that specialise in kosher, halal, gluten-free, lactose-free and nut-free food- to name but a few.
The world is your oh-so-convenient oyster
Thanks to immigration and influence from territories of the British Empire, one of the UK’s most famous culinary traits is its diversity: you can find food from everywhere in the world. Chinese stir-fry, Italian pasta dishes, Indian curries, Jamaican jerk spice, French pastries and a host of other international dishes have become part of day to day life. Wherever you’re from, you will almost certainly be able to find a taste of home (or something similar…) in the UK. And if not – introduce it! The Brits are always eager to learn.
Prepare for sandwich shops galore
Since that fateful day in the 1700s when John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, requested a meal of meat slices served between two slices of bread, the sandwich has become a source of both British pride and British comfort. Sandwich shops are, literally, everywhere. Explore, find the best flavours and most reasonable prices; it’s an accepted fact that no-one leaves the UK without memories of their favourite sandwich shop.
Beware the chip shops galore
Wandering home after a cider or two (or simply a hard all-night stint in the library) in the early hours, you will be tempted by the neon beacons of greasy gratification: the kebab shops. Just ask yourself: is all that meat and cheese and fried food really worth the yellow polyester cartons littering your room, served with a large portion of nausea and shame, in the morning? The truth is, more often than not, the answer is yes. Yes it is. Those kebabs are just so good.
Welcome to the eating habits of the UK student. You’ll barely recognise yourself, but you’ll love every second.