It’s time for food blog #2! If you want to check out my first blog here’s the link. Let’s move from breakfast to later in the day: lunch!
FOOD ABROAD: LUNCH
Lunch has been a great adventure in the UK for me, as I am one of
those Carleton students who take advantage of the meal services provided to us. I’ll be real with you; I’ve never had to cook for myself. My mom—who is the best cook in the world, sorry Gordon Ramsay—has always made the best food and made more than enough food for everyone (unlike these tiny portion sizes abroad). Upon going off to college, my diet made a major adjustment from the pork chops, potatoes, lasagna, ribs, and other succulent foods my mother made. I mean grilled chicken breast get REAL OLD, REAL FAST (my record for consecutive weeks in a row having grilled chicken breast for dinner at Carleton is two and a half weeks). I give Carleton credit for trying to be creative with different meals, but I just wish they would serve hot dogs or actual burgers. At least at Carleton the dining halls are buffet style, so I can always make a sandwich and eat as much as I want. In London, I no longer have a dining hall I can pop into and get some food. Instead, I have to (gasp!) buy my own food. Wanting to save money, this meant buying food from the grocery
store and cooking my own meals. With the fast pace nature of the program, many times lunch was a PB&J sandwich. Lucky for me, I discovered the Sainsbury’s meal deal. A sandwich, fruit or veggie and a drink for £3—a great deal! There are many different flavors of sandwiches here: bacon and egg, chicken and sweet corn, Red Leicester Ploughmans Sandwich, and weird stuff with Tuna. They do have the classic club and chicken salad sandwiches—but I came here to try new things. The bacon chicken and egg and bacon sandwiches have become personal favorites. I kept finding sandwiches with weird lettuce in them such as rocket or cress. The rocket isn’t too bad, but I’m not a huge fan of cress—though the egg and cress is good if made right. They also put avocado and cucumbers in many different sandwiches, which is hit and miss for me. I also discovered the Pret (a chain store in the UK) Ham, Cheese and Mustard Toasty. Toasties are basically toasted sandwiches, and they are great. The only addition I have to add to most of the sandwiches here is some sort of sauce—usually HP Sauce, mayo or mustard. This really adds flavor to the sandwich.
Beyond sandwiches, I’ve honed in my cooking skills with pasta, chicken, burgers, bacon, ravioli, rice and vegetables. Thankfully for me, I can’t burn water—and since most of these meals involve boiling water, the cooking wasn’t going to be too hard. It reminded me of my time back at Boy Scout camps. Apparently, bacon and burgers give off a lot of smoke—I’ll have to grill them next time—as my first attempt at cooking a Juicy Lucy with bacon made the fire alarm go off at the Pickwick. The burgers and bacon turned out great though! And the HP Sauce and mayo worked well with the burger. The noodles and ravioli dishes were easy—boil water, warm up pasta sauce, done! I’ve even told by others in the kitchen that my cooking smelled good, so I’d say on the whole I’m not that bad of a chef. Google is a good kitchen assistant as you can figure out how long to cook stuff or find a recipe for anything; however, on the whole, I didn’t really follow a recipe. I just made as much as I needed and if I needed to throw in oil or butter I just guessed. Everything tasted great so I’d call it a win. I still prefer not cooking, but it was a great learning experience! Also, thank goodness for the dishwasher, it will be one of the best purchases I ever make. Washing dishes by hand was a pain. After making chicken in the oven there would be sauce and little food particles baked to a pan and I’d have to scrub with a sponge as hard as I could to get rid of the mess. It was a good workout, but one that I am glad technology has rendered obsolete.
When I was not cooking or going to Sainsbury’s I had time to visit restaurants and cafes where I got to experience a wide variety of food. The Indian and Thai food here has been spectacular. One of the things I was excited for on this trip was the amount of Indian food I’d get to experience. Minnesota has some Indian restaurants, but you can definitely tell they are more Americanized. As a Minnesotan, my spice tolerance is pretty low—and I was taken aback by the heat in some of the dishes—but the food exceeded expectations and I’m going to miss it when I’m back in the states. I still will never be able to pronounce any of the food (which breaks my first food rule of don’t eat something you can’t pronounce). I also got in touch with my roots when I visited a German Café in London and had some Schnitzel. It reminded me of the breaded pork chops I had as a kid.
They also served the richest chocolate cake I had ever had. I also stopped at a German Sausage Cart in Covent Garden once, had a nice chat with the guy running the stand and got a dog with all the fixings. It had this crunchy pretzel-like stuff in it that was amazing. After Urban Field Study class one day, a group of us went to an Italian place and I got the largest calzone I had ever seen. This was the one exception to the rule of everything being smaller in the UK. It had three different kinds of sausage, three cheeses, pepperoni and marinara sauce. Delicious! Paris is definitely in the running for best food I’ve had on this trip. They had what they called a croque madame—bread, ham and cheese topped with a fried egg. They also served a minced steak with a fried egg on top. Now, I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but every food is better with a fried egg on it—EVERYTHING. The food scoreboard definitely goes:
- Indian and Thai
- Croque Madame and Minced steak with fried egg
On top of that, France had crepes everywhere, onion soup (which was a food experience for all
five senses) and pastries everywhere. We also stopped at a number of bakeries where I had sausage rolls and pasties (usually beef and onion pasties for me, pasties in general are dough rapped around something in the middle). There was a Cornish Bakery in Stratford a group of us went to and I had a meat pasty with a butterscotch steamer—basically liquid butterscotch aka liquid gold (sorry Velveeta, your ads are wrong). One of the great things about London is the variety of food you can get—so I didn’t starve too much!
WHAT I MISS FROM THE USA: LUNCH
The first thing I miss: ranch dressing! There is no ranch dressing here. Anytime I wanted a salad, I was relegated to choosing a lesser dressing. What do you dip chicken wings in??? I will be glad to buy a bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch when I get back. There weren’t any lunch food I specifically missed from the US; but, there were different conventions at
restaurants here in the UK that took time to adjust to. First, restaurants had restrooms that charged a price or required a code in order to use them. I found this very annoying. As an economics major, I wonder how this developed and how places determine restroom pricing—but this seems problematic because if someone was really cheap and didn’t want to pay for a restroom, what is stopping them from using the streets? That seems very unsanitary. They do have urinals in the streets as well, which is also kind of weird. Another thing at restaurants, do not ask for water. You will end up paying for bottled water. If you want water, you have to ask for tap water, which was again very annoying. They also do not say “to-go” here, instead you have to ask for food “take away.” And if you eat in a café, you don’t have to put your dishes somewhere or clean up after yourself, you just leave everything at your table and eventually someone gets around to cleaning the tables off—even at Starbucks! Plus, whenever a café was really busy, in order to get a table you would have to sit
down at a table with cups or garbage left over from the last person. But, the most annoying thing was eating at restaurants and having to wait forever for the bill at the end of a meal. Unlike in America where restaurants are eager to kick you out once your meal is done and you are not going to order more food, in the UK they let you sit, and may even ask you again if you want dessert or coffee. They keep you there FOREVER. You have to explicitly ask for the bill, and even then I had to wait 35 minutes once until I got it. It didn’t seem to matter whether or not the restaurant was busy. Again, as an economics major, this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Just a different culture in restaurants I guess.
With lunch completed, look out for my next food blog!
Brandon B. Fabel ’18