I mentioned in my last post there was an Expat Food Incident (otherwise known as “Eggy Bread, to syrup or not to syrup?”) in my house this weekend.
|French Toast, American style!|
You’d think after 14 years of living here we’d have exhausted the potential for these "You say tomayto, I say tomahto!" differences, but alas no. Breakfast is surprisingly the area of most differentiation in the U.K compared to the U.S. - at least for me. I remember the first time I came over here to visit and we went out for breakfast. Not only were there none of my usual dining out breakfast choices (pancakes, French toast, waffles, bagels, English muffins -don’t get me started!), the basic option here, unless you are in a really fancy bakery or hotel nowadays, is still the good old “Scottish cooked breakfast” (known as the “Full English” in England). Known anywhere else in the world as a heart attack on a plate it must be said. Eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding (you really don’t want to know what’s in it), beans, mushrooms and tomatoes. Oh and baked beans. Baked beans are a whole ‘nother story here.
To be fair a fry up is also a popular option in America in its own way, but I don’t really much care for British bacon (it’s more like Canadian bacon, I still dream of crispy bacon), and the sausages are weird too (no Jimmy Dean, etc.; the sort of spicy American style breakfast sausage is a much blander tasting thing here). And they don't do hash browns here either - I mean, come on! (They might do a potato scone, which is just not the same, sorry U.K.!).
Basically I wasn’t a huge meat eater for a long time, (was vegetarian for almost ten years) so I still don’t really want to eat meat in the morning, or even at lunch most days. That first time we ate breakfast out and I asked for scrambled eggs (I only eat eggs scrambled or in omelette form) the waitress looked at me as though I were from Mars: it was fried or poached only in those days in Scotland. I never felt so far from home. Basically I have been made to feel like a terribly picky eater living here, when I have never been accused of that in my life (ok maybe a little when I was veggie by obnoxious meat eater types! ;-).
There are so many little food differences here that I’ve either adapted to or found my way around, and it’s not like it’s super difficult, but whenever I go home to America I do realize how many things I miss and pig out on. Of course there are a few things that I’ve come to genuinely prefer. British chocolate, of course, it’s just so much better it’s ridiculous. And tea... and, um…scones? I don’t know. The Indian curries are better here for sure. Although they’re more anglicized than Indian at this point. Chinese food, no, sorry, I’ve yet to find any that compares, terrible, pizza, in terms of delivery there is not one single place we like in my city. Usually even though they have American chains they have the worst ones (Dominos). If there is a decent restaurant you can bet you will pay three times what you would in America, and don’t expect a doggy bag - they treat you like a dog if you ask for one!
Ok I will stop picking on British cuisine and try to break down some of the things you might have to contend with as an American when you come here to visit or stay - remember to smile and be polite, trying to live down the American reputation for rudeness is something else you’ll spend a lot of time doing (if you care!).
Of course you can cook what you please, as best you can to your old American ways, in your kitchen at home - but bring your own measuring cups and spoons, everything is metric here, which I still refuse to cope with when baking (seriously, so much harder!). There are so many online and high street stores that sell American foodstuffs (mostly junk food) marked up by oh 100% in some cases, truly obscene prices. These didn’t exist when I first moved over, and I’ve gone this long without most of that stuff so unless something in the Tesco American food section online is really marked down I don’t bother.
Pancakes: You will not see pancakes on a menu in all likelihood. If they are, chances are they will be re-heated. They only sell very expensive maple syrup here, which honestly is too rich for my trashy tastes so I have my Mom bring me over Aunt Jemima on the plane! They do this weird thing here where they sell them ready made, like a snack. The put JAM on them and have them with their cups of tea - it’s all very bizarre!
You would not until very recently have found buttermilk in a supermarket to make your American pancakes at home (with the influx of Polish people to the U.K. in recent years you can find it now though). They don’t make them American style here either, but flat and crepe-y, so look for an American recipe .
Bagels: Do they sell bagels here in the supermarket? Yes, but they are mass produced and frankly disgusting compared to fresh bagels. They even have the nerve to brand then “N.Y. Bagels”, which is a slur on N.Y. bagels everywhere. Bagels are always top of my list of things to eat in America. Few bakeries produce them fresh (ok probably in London or somewhere but nowhere I’ve been), and the ones that do are still missing something. (To be fair I know most New Yorkers think all bagels outside NY are gross ANYWHERE, U.S. included).
Doughnuts: How I suffer. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone in the great words of Joni Mitchell. Or Ichabod Crane of Sleepy Hollow, he loves doughnuts!
No doughnut shops, though Dunkin' Donuts existed here before I came over and closed shop, and are currently re-opening shops in England last I heard (come to Scotland please!). I think you can buy Krispy Kremes if you stand in a long line and pay something ridiculous at Harrod's or other crazy places. They do sell doughnuts, in grocery bakeries and things, but they're just not the same. They're kind of dry, not fluffy. They don't make cake doughnuts here at all, and they do weird things like put caramel on top of them.
English Muffins: Ah…where do I begin? “Thomas’s English muffins, made from an ancient family recipe…etc. etc.” You’re familiar with the story, Americans. I hate to tell you this, but THEY LIED! There is no such thing as an English muffin here, seriously, the bitter irony runs deep. No nooks and crannies to go crunchy and trap the butter in delicious tiny pools in the depths of the muffin as you bite into it…no. They sell a thing, called simply a “muffin”, but it’s like an English muffin with the soul removed. Flat, doughy, it looks a bit like an English muffin, but there are no nooks OR crannies! It’s hard to explain but they are utterly pointless. The soul weeps.
Waffles/French Toast, et al: Fuggedaboutit. Make your own or suffer. You can get a nice hot waffle on the street in Amsterdam, but that’s a short flight away….quite tempted now actually. The French toast issue in my house is perpetual. French toast (here's a Martha Stewart recipe, but basically you know, just mix eggs, milk, cinnamon, dip white or other nice sweet bread in, fry til golden, add butter and syrup or powdered sugar if you wish, voila!) is something the other half was raised with as “eggy bread” - egg dipped bread (no cinnamon or other sweet stuff) served with, I kid you not, baked beans. I mean, how am I supposed to work with that? There was some debate on Twitter when I mentioned this from other Brits, they all seem to do something different with it, that does not involve maple syrup, so is therefore pointless to me! ;-)
Basically I eat cereal (thankfully many of the cereals are the same: Raisin Bran, Cheerios, etc.) or toast most days. Of course there are eggs and the aforementioned weird bacon if you require more protein. But do not expect to find turkey bacon or other low cholesterol breakfast meat choices here. Oddly they do have a much larger selection of vegetarian stuff, and I do eat Linda McCartney sausages when the other half has the meat ones, but we don’t really do fry ups in my house.
As for coffee, I’ve addressed that issue before. Of course there are numerous Starbucks everywhere if you are machiato addict, but when it comes to having coffee at home, do not expect to find half and half or any of those new-fangled French Vanilla Hazelnut creamer things...never mind flavoured coffee. It’s pretty basic here. I have a hard time in particular tracking down coffee filters for my coffee maker - they basically treat people who make their own coffee like savages. Ok I exaggerate slightly! But it’s certainly not the coffee lover’s delight that America is.
Yes yes, now drink your tea and shut up, complaining rude American I hear all the Brits say! I’ve only scratched the surface, I think I will have to save lunch and dinner for another day - oh, and condiments, seriously they need their own post. Ok thanks for reading, I love you Scotland I do! Just not your baked goods! ;-) x