Wherein Cheez-its are my Madeleine. . .

When you move to a new country, you get a little obsessed with food. The taste of home becomes something you long for, and you’ll find yourself gorging yourself with pleasure on. . . say. . . a box of Cheez-its that your mother-in-law brings over on her recent visit. AND YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE CHEEZ-ITS! Back in the US, on road trips, your husband would buy them as his preferred road food and just eating ONE would make you gag. “These taste like gasoline!” you’d cry indignantly! But two months out of America, and those Cheez-its will taste like apple pie baked by an eagle, and you won’t be able to stop eating them.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things I LOVE to eat here that I can’t duplicate back in the US, but food is so fundamental to identity that it’s the thing that constantly smacks you around reminding you that you are a foreigner.

So, here are some observations about food in the UK since I’ve arrived, in no particular order:

1. Loads of markets don’t refrigerate eggs.
I saw a PBS program once about marketing, and one of the PR guys was talking about how to market a product, you must understand its essence. For example, in America, cheese is a dead thing–we wrap it in plastic and keep it cold (like we do a body.) In France, though they might put cheese in the fridge to keep it cool (not cold,) they avoid wrapping it in plastic as cheese is a living thing. So, the eggs here in England are no different than in the U.S., except that you’ll often find them in the baking aisle, which I guess makes them alive? Inert? No different than a bag of flour?

2. There is compulsory composting.
I have a little brown caddy with a lid that I keep on my kitchen counter. All food waste goes in there (in bags that I get free at my local library,) and my council (local government) picks up and composts food waste every Monday. As my daughter would say, easy peasy lemon squeezy. I can’t imagine such a system in the U.S. (CORRECTION AFTER A WISE COMMENTER: “I can’t imagine such a system in NEW JERSEY.”)

3. There is booze everywhere.
From the corner store to the posh grocer, they’re selling booze. There are no, “Well, we can sell beer and wine, but we need a separate store with a separate entrance for hard liquor, and we can’t sell on Sundays, so we’ve got this weird grate that goes up around everything for the few hours we’re open on Sundays, except when we get close to Christmas, then for some reason, it’s suddenly ok to sell on Sundays because Santa made a miracle!” There’s none of that. You can get wine, beer or spirits everywhere groceries are sold, and you can have it delivered with your groceries or your takeout dinner if you’re too drunk to make to the market.

4. Puddings are desserts, but not all desserts are puddings.
Puzzle that one yourself.

5. Applesauce comes in tiny jars to use as an accompaniment to meat.
(CORRECTION: Applesauce ONLY comes in tiny jars to use as an accompaniment to meat.)

6. The delight of fresh apple cider is, alas, not a delight valued here.

7. Kindereggs!
Seriously, best invention OF ALL TIME. It’s a chocolate egg–with a toy inside. My daughter is nuts for them, but they’re banned in the US.

8. Boiled cakes full of raisins that come in a can are a thing.
Boiled cakes full of raisins that come in a can are an acquired taste that I have not acquired.

9. Popular flavors for drinks and sweet things include elderflower and redcurrant.
Those are not acquired tastes, sports fans; those are tastes you will love if you happen to be human.

10. The Mexican situation still isn’t good.
It’s not as bad as when my husband lived in Hull many years ago and went to a “Mexican” restaurant called Chaplin’s (first clue that something was off) that served marinara as salsa, but the ubiquity of Mexican ingredients in grocery stores is a thing you’ve got to cross an ocean to enjoy. Good salsa is hard to come by. Real corn chips are a small fortune (and are often sprayed with powdered flavor like Doritos,) and things like queso fresco? I LAUGH AT YOUR DESIRES! However. . .

11. Indian food is everywhere.
Your corner store probably stocks garam masala. You can get corn chips and salsa at every gas station quickie mart in the whole of America–substitute mango chutney and papadums in England, and you’re good to go.


6 thoughts on “Wherein Cheez-its are my Madeleine. . .

  1. In fairness, SF has mandatory, centralized composting. The City of Boston subsidizes bins and other materials for you to make your own compost on your own premises.

    Also – Applesauce is a tried and true condiment to garnish pork.

    See, we’re not all philistines over here.

    1. Ok. I’ll take that criticism about composting and edit my comment: I can’t imagine compulsory composting in New Jersey! The magic of the system here, which may be the same as SF, is that because the city picks it all up, everyone composts all food waste. No one needs to figure out how to compost in an urban setting, and let’s say you don’t want to do the composting yourself, but want the benefit of the compost for your garden, the system provides a vending machine for you to get some community made fertilizer for your soil. Genius.

      (The thing about applesauce was more to note that I haven’t seen the big jars or lunch packs that are ubiquitous in American grocery stores.)

  2. My American-food obsession that only pops up when I’m in England is Oreos. Don’t eat ’em here, but crave them over there. Weird.

    As for the booze everywhere, I *loved* the fact that I could get single-serving wines (in a sturdy, reusable glass) at M&S Food — perfect for picnic lunches and suppers, or when I was there short-term and didn’t have a kitchen with bottle opener, glasses, etc. Do they still have that, or is it just a summer/picnic-season thing?

    Oh, and I love all the fresh (not frozen) heat-and-serve take-away meals, entrees, side dishes, etc., that all the grocery stores have — perfect for the single gal eating for one. How I wish there were things like that in the US.

  3. The ready meals thing is out of control–so many fantastic choices. No-cook eating here is really an art.

    As for the glass of wine on the go. . . I assume you mean these:

    HILARIOUS! I haven’t seen those, but it seems very, very British (though in the US, I remember the hilarious tiny soda bottles of champagne designed to drink with a straw.) I guess it’s better than a) bringing a glass from home, b) slugging from a tall boy of Stella on the tube or c) not drinking at all?

    1. Yes! Those are the single-serving wines I was talking about (in fact, the exact ones)! (Missed your reply when you made it — sorry for the late response.) Love those!

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