Eating in England: An Exasperating Experience

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I tend to not put much stock in stereotypes about countries. I would rather show up without any assumptions, and see what is actually going on. So, when people teased me about moving to England and having to eat terrible food, I shrugged it off and told them, “Surely it can’t be that bad.  I know that’s the stereotype, but I’m sure things have changed.”  If only. Let me clarify for a moment:  what I am writing about here is not food in London. I am not talking about little celebrity chef boutique restaurants in charming little towns like Lavenham. I am speaking of all the other food we’ve eaten here, in smaller towns– but also including Cambridge.It started with the traditional English breakfast. When we first arrived in England, we stayed in a little cottage kind of in the middle of nowhere, where there were no restaurants or stores nearby. Fortunately,we had a kitchenette, where we could cook our own meals. Also, we were provided with breakfast every morning. And every single morning (every! single! morning!) we had foil-covered plates delivered with the exact same thing on them:

A fried egg, baked beans from a can, broiled tomatoes, something they called bacon, which is much more like canadian bacon than what an American would consider bacon, hardly-cooked mushrooms, a very strange-tasting little sausage (which it turns out has all sorts of things besides just meat and seasonings in it.)

I am actually very good at eating the same thing over and over and over again. If it tastes good today, it will taste good tomorrow and the next day, maybe even indefinitely. But this meal was so weird and tasteless, carelessly prepared that I started dreading it. And then Jeff and I eventually started just skipping breakfast– we felt bad buying breakfast when it was provided, but in the end we would rather not eat at all than face this meal again. Amelia dug right in, and ate half of our platefuls as well.

It turns out that this meal was pretty standard around here– it had not been poorly prepared, and was probably quite good, when compared with everything else being offered. At first, we tried eating out quite a bit in Bury… Only to discover that the food was exceptionally expensive, and incredibly mediocre. Being a good cook can be a real curse sometimes, since it’s hard to pay for food that you’d be embarrassed to serve at your own table. We found some reasonably okay restaurants, but the meals would cost us over $50, easily. Even at these places, we would order, for example, the Sunday roast– alongside it would come a big bowl of boiled vegetables– completely pale and limp, without so much as a pat of butter to season them. In fact, everything was underseasoned, and sometimes there wasn’t even salt on the table to help things along. We have simply stopped eating out– previously one of our family’s favorite hobbies. We have opted to have a pint in a pub instead.

What makes this really maddening is the fact that we are surrounded by beautiful farmland. Most people have a kitchen garden, and the markets are overflowing with beautiful produce. Grass fed lamb and beef are easy to come by, as are free range chickens and pastured eggs. There are wonderful cheeses being made, and ciders and ales being brewed. But when it comes to actually putting foods together in a pan and cooking them, there is a huge disconnect. No artistry. No harmony. I really am astounded.

Let me illustrate. Before Christmas, we went to a farm shop that we had heard really nice things about. (I removed the link to the website– I wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt a business that is supporting local foods. Just trust me that the site showed lots of beautiful food-related photos!)  They sell a lot of gourmet foods, and the grounds are beautiful, as was the shop itself. Given how lovely everything was, we decided to stay for lunch, and we ordered the special Christmas meal: Roast Turkey, with all the fixings. Get ready. This is what turned up at our table.

Lo! The boiled vegetables!
Potato wedges, with a skinny sausage wrapped in bacon. Turkey, of course.

Am I crazy? Am I being demanding? Does this look like a fancy, fresh, festive Christmas meal to you? Here we are, surrounded by bottles of wine, a cheese counter, and a shelf of artisan chutneys. Should I not have expected something good?

France is very close by, and there are so many cultural influences which could produce many interesting food movements here. There is access to everything a person could wish to cook with.

I totally don’t get it. It’s like the culinary situation is completely broken, and I don’t know what is needed to fix it. There are tons of food-related television shows, and lots of cooking magazines. They’ve got Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater. There is a major move toward “grow your own,” helping people raise their own gardens, and cook food from scratch. It’s pretty easy to do here, actually. But it’s not working!On the bright side, while England may not be a good place to eat out, it’s a great place to cook. All of that fresh produce, local honey, organic dairy, and pastured meats, and genuinely artisan products make really excellent raw ingredients to work with. Many of these would have been unavailable or prohibitively expensive in the States. But in Suffolk, you can find them just by taking a drive in the country. I love cooking here. Leg of lamb for dinner– no big deal!

We eat very, very well, and this is one of my favorite parts of living here. We can go to the farms where the animals and produce are raised, and buy them there, knowing exactly where our food has come from, enjoying it at the peak of freshness. It’s wonderful! But why is it so hard to come by a good meal elsewhere?

One of the best theories I have heard is that since WW2, Britain was on food rations, all the way into the 1960s– there were simply very few foods to work with, and hardly any spices. People just got used to eating really bland food, and there wasn’t much effort toward coming up with something different, since the choices were so limited anyway. People say that the food scene is actually much better than it has been since before the war. Well, I’m glad to hear that. But if you find yourself eating out in a smaller town in England, do yourself a favor, and sneak in a bit of butter, a wedge of lemon, and maybe some fresh thyme. Because those boiled vegetables were probably raised locally and organically, and deserve better treatment.

Just a little note:  Obviously, I haven’t eaten in every pub in every city in England. (In fact, we really haven’t been very far away from home yet at all!)  And maybe we’ve just had bad luck in our area. I would never dream of insulting my host country, which I love, and hope that the experiences and opinions I share here can be taken with good humor by my wonderful British friends and readers.

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79 Responses to Eating in England: An Exasperating Experience

  1. Diana April 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Okay. It’s decided. When I come to England I’m eating at Ariana’s. That was an invite?
    Diana Gruber

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:33 am #

      Yes, Diana, it was! Come on over!

    • Mommypotamus February 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

      I’ve been wanting to invite myself, too. Our girls are almost the same age so it’s meant to be, right?

  2. Sysy April 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Wow that’s so interesting. The theory actually sounds very likely. Such a shame though! I cringe when I buy foods here in Virginia that I know would be much cheaper elsewhere. And sometimes because of that I feel like putting my heart and soul into cooking so as to take full advantage of what we’ve spent so much money on. Maybe people are used to bland, simply prepared foods AND haven’t realized what a treasure they have surrounding them (all that fresh produce and grass fed meat). Either way, glad you’re taking advantage of it all! 😀

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      Yes, Sysy, I know what you mean about trying to totally maximize such a precious commodity. When we were in the States for 5 months last year, feeding my family was one of the most stressful parts of life for me, since I wanted good quality foods– but even in Oregon, the prices were so high! We were pretty broke, so the ONLY thing we ever spent money on was food. If I were to shop in the grocery stores here, it would be super expensive as well– but the relationship between consumers and farmers here is different, so we can actually afford to buy straight from the producers (or via my awesome butcher, who is very conscientious about sourcing his products!)

  3. Marisa April 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    Oh wow – this is a really interesting post. I’ve been hearing a lot about British cooking in recent years and was under the impression that it is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. But to hear of your experiences I am not quite so sure that isn’t just wishful thinking!! One of my main sources is Rick Stein. If you don’t know him look him up by all means! He had the most marvelous program called “Rick Stein’s Food Heroes.” It played in the States on PBS a few years back and I completely fell in love. His premise is that Britain is in a new era of appreciating its food and that more and more people are producing fantastic local food (as you have in fact stated yourself) but also that people and restaurants are rethinking the way they use these lovely products. On his show he travels all over Great Britain meeting up with food producers and restaurants alike to showcase the best in British food. Here are a couple links from youtube to check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVuD0mpyfb4&feature=relmfu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joIztxBLm74

    I feel a bit disappointed reading your post to be honest! I’ve pulled out my supposed knowledge on modern British cooking on more than one occasion – but your first hand experience is not bearing out what I *thought* I knew! But I do suppose this sort of change is something that is probably slow brewing. And I have to believe that as the younger generations come up with so much exposure to all those cooking shows you were mentioning as well as access to fresh produce – surely things will start to change. Actually, one thing I remember learning from Rick Stein is that in the UK farmer’s markets are a very new phenomena. I was very surprised by that but apparently it is has only been in recent years as more Britons have gone abroad and discovered farmer’s markets on the Continent that they have brought the concept back home. So again – access to fresh and wonderful ingredients may be a fairly new thing for the average person. Hopefully they will become inspired to something better in their cooking.

    In any case – very interesting post! Also have to say that you got me so thinking about this that I went on eBay and bought the cookbook that goes with the Food Heroes show!

    Oh and that turkey dinner does look absolutely dreadful! Thank goodness you are a good cook – otherwise what in the world would you do?? Marisa 🙂

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:44 am #

      Marisa, so sorry to break it to you! 😉 I too had high hopes, since I had heard of all of the movements toward fresh food. I’m sure that is true for big cities, and who knows where things started from over here. I have actually found a lot of pretentious attitudes toward food in the restaurants– they are really proud of where they are, and the “new” things they’re doing. But this also comes with a HUGE price tag, and frankly nothing very exciting at all. I think an actual love of food is just sprouting here– there is much desire, but that still hasn’t played itself out in tangible ways (in my opinion.)

      One thing that I LOVE about the food scene here is that everyone really wants to do it “right.” There is huge concern for animal welfare, and for sustainability. There is no market for veal– no one would dare eat it. People are also really into traditional food preparation, and especially wild game. I totally respect and appreciate that!

      Thanks for the Rick Stein link– I will enjoy watching that today!

  4. doro April 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Such a travesty! Such good food. I would die to have legs of lamb like that!

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:45 am #

      I know, it’s pretty wild. So available, so under utilized. But I will take advantage!

  5. Anonymous April 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    you should open a restaurant!!! I think your cooking and passion could be a great addition to English culture! Take it as an opportunity in disguise….
    anna

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      Haha! I don’t think I’m up for such a huge undertaking… Maybe a secret supper club….
      Actually, I often think about just a plain old neighborhood coffee shop! There is nothing like that. Only pubs, and I miss having a cup of coffee, spending hours looking out a window and reading a book or working on my computer. But I just have no idea if that would be appreciated here– would anyone show up?

    • Robinlee April 23, 2012 at 10:05 am #

      If I lived in your neck of the woods I would show up to your coffee shop, everyday! The local coffee shop, whether it’s a chain or privately owned, is what I miss the most when we moved to Germany. I weep everyday because the closes thing to me is 45 min away. I think people would appreciate it.

    • Ariana April 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      Oh, so sorry to hear that you don’t have a coffee shop close by either, Robinlee! That was one of the biggest advantages to living in the middle of town when we were in Amberg– I could see the best one in town right from my bedroom window. It was such a nice refuge, and the first place that people started recognizing me, and I didn’t feel like such a stranger.

      Maybe someday I’ll go for it (opening a coffee shop) but for now we have had plenty of excitement to deal with, without a new business venture!

  6. Gretchen April 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    I agree with Anna…. You would be the PERFECT small quaint restaurant owner!

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      Thanks Gretchen. That is a huge commitment. Well, there wouldn’t be too much competition!

  7. alison owen April 20, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    I hear you. England is where I went vegan and just started cooking everything for myself. Shudder.
    A few good things that I love from england: plain chocolate hob-nobs, marmite, and branston pickle.

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      Hi Alison. I have been bracing myself for people who have been here (or live here) to be totally indignant that I don’t think the food’s amazing! So, it’s nice to hear that I’m not crazy. I did have branston pickle somewhere, in the middle of a completely weird and generally inedible lunch, and it was awful. However, I’m pretty sure that there are some really great versions out there, but that first experience was kind of a turn off. There should be a bunch of country fairs coming up, where I can try all sorts of local chutneys and pickles– I am totally looking forward to that! I sent my family a bunch of these sorts of things made locally for Christmas. I didn’t try them myself, but they seemed to like them well enough (or didn’t have the heart to tell me otherwise.)

  8. Great Aunt Gretchen April 21, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    I agree with Anna & Gretchen!! That’s what I was thinking as I read your post! Show them hos to do it!!!!! (I really mean it!)

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      Well, cooking at home is vastly different from running a restaurant! I have just enough experience with that to know that I don’t have what it takes at this point in my life! But I love the idea of getting involved… Maybe I could just work somewhere promising here…

  9. The Expat Wife April 21, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    I was so disappointed in the places where we at when touring the UK, it seemed to be more about quantity rather than quality 🙁

    • Ariana April 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

      Hi Expat Wife– yes, if you’re not picky, it’s pretty hard to go hungry! Almost every plate comes with a huge pile of “chips” (fries) on it. There is plenty of bulk, but sadly, not much to it.
      Come to England for the history, the architecture, and the beautiful gardens and countryside… But not for the food.

  10. The Caldwells April 21, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Hey Ariana (it’s Krista from FA!)… stumbled upon your blog. I didn’t know you were in England! We are in Austria (8 yrs. now) and loving it! Since I’ve only read this post.. I’ll have to read past posts and see how long you’ve been there and the why’s. etc. haha. We’re church planters ourselves and heading back for a furlough in July. We’ve only been state-side 8 months out of the last 8 yrs. (those months were spread out in summer visits). The cooking here is quite flavorful but oh my goodness on the amount of fat/lard they use! My hubby & I have been working toward changing our eating style and making it part of our lifestyle… not a fad. I agree about loving having the farmer’s markets… we also have access to great stuff and for the most part you eat what you buy in a few days otherwise it goes bad bec. they don’t really use preservatives in their food (though sadly I’ve seen a lot of changes in our 8 yrs. and the freezer section is growing with ready made foods). Okay…. this could get long! Hope everything else is well!

    • Ariana April 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      Hi Krista, great to hear from you, and I’m glad you found us! We were actually living in Germany a little over a year ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the food was! They didn’t mince words in descriptions on the menu, and so at first nothing sounded very good (Salad: cucumber, carrot, tomato, yoghurt dressing– ended up being really delicious, with so many positive adjectives and special additions that were never mentioned!) but it was actually really hard to get a bad meal there. It’s kind of the opposite issue over here…
      I also found the food shopping there to be pretty great– lots of shopping in the marktplatz for fresh foods, and even in the little grocery stores, there were plenty of quality things, especially organics, for very cheap. It was pretty dreamy! Here, it is definitely more expensive to buy well in the grocery stores, at least there are the farms and open markets…
      We are really looking forward to visiting Austria someday, and I will definitely be looking you up!
      I hope your furlough plans go smoothly. Take care, Krista!

  11. The Caldwells April 21, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Krista Wiese… I realize you might not know my married name.

  12. allmussedup April 21, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I’m moseying over here from your winsome, thoughtful comment on My Marrakech…I also grew up in Asia (with a smattering of California), but live now in the Netherlands. Being a TCK never quite ends, and it’s always a comfort and a delight to happen upon kindred people with a similar experience. (:

    • Ariana April 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      Hi allmussedup! Thanks so much for coming over and introducing yourself. It does sound like we have quite a bit in common! We would love to visit the Netherlands… For now I’ll just have to go read your blog, to do the travel vicariously. 🙂

  13. monika April 22, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    My goodness, I didn’t expect that! We’ve never gone beyond London, and have always had great food there, so I assumed as you did Ariana, that in the countryside the food was just as good. They’ve had Delia Smith for over 30 years, there’s Nigella, and Hugh, and Tamasin Day-Lewis… LOADS of foodie writers who make my bookshelves groan — I must buy more British cookbooks than any other.

    What a change from France! We lived in Geneva, Switzerland for 4 1/2 years (we just moved back this August), which is surrounded on 3 sides by France. Not only did we do most of our groceries in France (food is much cheaper), we would also go for a Sunday drive or go on vacation there. The only bad meal I ever had in France was a shawarma (several times, in different places). But everything else was very, very good.

    We would always remark how astonishing it is that no matter where you go in France, you will enjoy a great meal. Stop in any small town, and you will eat well. Even if there is only a single thing on the menu, it will be well-made and delicious. For example, when we hung out at a small bar/inn on the route of the Tour de France, they were overwhelmed with visitors, and only had one thing on the menu: roast leg of chicken, frites, a green salad and an apricot tart. But — it was all fantastic. The frites were homemade and delicious, the chicken was roasted with thyme and was served perfect and juicy (not dry and desiccated), the salad was fresh and the vinaigrette tart and home-made, the house wine a perfect pairing, and again, the apricot tart was made with their own apricots, and the pastry obviously hand-rolled. And the espresso to finish it all off, sublime. I still remember that meal, as simple as it was.

    So, in our experience, it is hard to have a bad meal in France. You have to be very unlucky indeed.

    And, with the Mont Blanc tunnel, Italy is but a short drive away. Torino is just over 3 hours, and we would often spend a day there. And Italian food is similarly fantastic, especially in restaurants where the locals hang. And being where the slow food movement was born, the food at Eataly is excellent.

    You are lucky to have a great butcher and farms to source ingredients; good food starts there. It is just so strange that they don’t do that tiny bit that would make it great… I mean, Italian food is very simply prepared, but it is never bland…

    Just want to say how much I love your blog. There is so very much that I relate to, it has been wonderful finding you (through AT).

    • Ariana April 22, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      Monika, suffice to say that I am very, very envious of all the foods that are available to you! We are really looking forward to doing more travel as soon as we can, and the one given there is that the food will most certainly be an improvement, wherever we go! I swear I am not THAT picky, and can enjoy such a huge range of culinary angles.

      When we were in Paris last year, I smuggled home some amazing black walnut fresh cheese. It was insanely good, and was very cheap at a little grocery on the outside of the city. So easy! Those French people are very lucky!

      The only bad meals I had in Germany were when I didn’t order German food (although I did have good ethnic food there a couple of times.) I thought that I wouldn’t like it much, but it turned out to be really, really good, almost all the time and everywhere. As you say, it starts with quality ingredients– and Germans have high standards for cuisine, as well as just about everything else!

      That meal you described (Tour de France route) sounds so wonderful and amazing. I love simple meals that are just prepared well, with care.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your take on all of this!

  14. Nats April 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Yep eating out in the UK is VERY hit and miss and really expensive generally. It takes time to find the hidden gems, but when you do you will go back again and again. I’m embarrassed by that full English breakfast, apart from the bacon, which because we can’t find easily in Germany looks soo good right now. If you ever venture up north, Chester way I’ll recommend you some good eateries.

    • Ariana April 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

      Nats, it’s good to hear from someone who is from the UK! We also had a hard time finding bacon we liked in Germany, too bad. I’m not into back bacon– I prefer “streaky” but I am very lucky to have found a butcher that makes really amazing smoked streaky bacon! I will definitely drop you a line if we go to Chester, thanks!

  15. Felicity April 30, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    Wow this was a real eye-opener for me as we are constantly bombarded with cooking shows by British chefs – Nigella, Jamie, Ainsley to name a few. Even some of our Aussie chefs are going to the UK and doing their own shows highlighting the fabulous produce…what’s going on?

    As I was reading through your post I kept thinking that you really should consider doing something with your skills to showcase the local produce, perhaps a stall highlighting simple dishes made with local delicacies at the local markets, of which I’m sure there has to be at least one.

    This was a terrific read and a great addition into this month’s POTM Club.

    • Ariana April 30, 2012 at 9:30 am #

      Thank you Felicity! There are quite a lot of “food movement” chefs doing that very thing, cooking great local foods and selling them at farmers markets, and trying to educate the public on all of the possibilities. None at our market, though. In fact, the only people cooking up things for people to try are Indian!

      There is some very good food culture here, but I think it’s all based in London, and hasn’t made it very far, in terms of ordinary towns and restaurants. But I do believe things are moving in a positive direction, however slowly.

  16. Happy Homemaker UK April 30, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    I live in a totally different part of England, and I would agree with you. The cost of food is astronomical, and the food often tastes the same. I think the English are comfortable with routine and tradition. We feel we are not eating as healthy here as in the US due to fewer options in the grocery store. And hey, at least the scenery outside the marginal restaurants takes your mind off the food 🙂

    Great post and insights! XOL

  17. Ariana April 30, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    Laura, I have been hoping to get some feedback from other people living in the UK, so thank you for chiming in! I think you are 100% correct about routine and tradition. Maybe “spicing things up” is disconcerting for many people here! As you say, though, the views are beautiful– another reason to go out for a pint, you don’t have to order a whole meal to enjoy the scenery! Last weekend, we went to a pub that was right on the water on an inlet near the coast. It was such a cool place, and a relief to not have to worry whether the food there was any good or not– we always know the cider will be.

  18. Hausfrau April 30, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Oh, those sad boiled vegetables! Where is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when you need him? Apparently nowhere near Bury! I have little experience with British food culture outside the cities, but what you’ve said here still surprises me, as I watch a lot of British TV and see all of these great country meals being prepared–weird. I guess those kinds of meals must be the exception, not the norm.

    I do have to say that apparently you had a better experience with German food than we have tended to have. Not complaining–I just might like a bit more variety. I love schnitzel in its myriad incarnations, and it’s usually one of the cheapest things on the menu for something that qualifies as a full meal, but I can eat only so much breaded pork and french fries or boiled potatoes. And the creative menu descriptions for pork entrees that are basically ham… We’ve had some delicious steak and fish from time to time, but those tend to get quite expensive. Like you, when we aren’t traveling we don’t eat out much due to the expense as well as the fact that we can prepare pretty darned good food right here at home!

  19. Ariana April 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Hi Diane, I have wondered the same thing about Hugh! And I think you’re the only one I “know” who is not living in the UK that is familiar with River Cottage– our favorite show.

    To be fair about the German food, we only lived there for seven months, and by the time we arrived in the US, I was a maniac for ethnic food. Going to Munich and having a really great Greek meal was a big deal, too. I did get tired of the limited options, but the one thing I could almost always count on was that it would at least be GOOD, even if it was the same everywhere. We loved the huge salads, and did frequently opt for “rumpsteak.” We were even more limited in our options because of gluten allergies, but all those pommes came in handy for that reason.

    And yes, there is really nothing better than enjoying your own cooking!

    • Hausfrau May 1, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      You know, even in our small town, we do have some quite good Italian, Turkish, Greek, S. African, and Chinese restaurants, and there’s pretty good Thai and Indian in nearby villages as well. So, all of that helps when we do want to go out to eat!

      Love, love River Cottage–the shows and the books!

  20. glòria April 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Hi I stopped by from ‘gifts of serendipity’. I just loved your entry I couldn’t agree more with you! especially because I am from Spain where food is delicious and I work as an English teacher so I have also lived in England.

    • Ariana April 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Hi Gloria, thanks so much for stopping by! I am always very curious about the perspectives of people from other countries on my own “expat issues.” Also, Spain is very high on the list of places we would love to live. Maybe we’ll make it over for a visit this summer…

  21. Robyn April 30, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    well-there are places with good and bad eateries-and you would just no not to order (or go into a place that serves) fry ups or go to restaurants that advertise a cheap carvery (meat and veg thing…)-yuk!

    • Ariana April 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      I agree completely, Robyn. Buying unusually cheap food, wherever you are, is usually not the best idea! The only instances would be (in the US) a happy hour for a reputable restaurant, or a food cart. But if the prices seem really low, there’s probably a good reason for that!

  22. ramblinbess April 30, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Hi Ariana. Thanks for popping over to my blog! I would have been like you, sure that the stereotype was no longer true, but you’ve convinced me. The most appetizing picture of food was the meal you made. I’ve been to England and even have family there, but honestly the food doesn’t stand out one way or the other. Tea time does though!

    • Ariana May 1, 2012 at 6:27 am #

      Hi ramblinbess– I don’t think we’ve had a “real” tea time yet. We’ve stopped over at peoples’ homes, and there was tea served, but nothing very formal or organized. We do have a tea house here, and I got together with some women there, and it was really nice. So British– the girls working there had bonnets and pinafores on like you’d picture a scullery maid wearing. I love those glimpses of tradition. Thanks for coming over!

  23. Rebecca May 30, 2012 at 3:36 am #

    I was linking to your most recent post from your selfie on The Salad Days (I’m glad she picked your photo this week, it was definitely my favorite) but haven’t finished reading it yet because I got totally sidetracked reading this one. What you said about the amazing paradox between what the food could be given the astounding farmland and the actuality of what it is made me think of a Saveur issue I read a while back (one of my favorite issues) that was dedicated to Irish food. They talked about a similar disconnect there, but related it to a leftover thinking about the importance of food after the potato famine. It’s going on midnight and I’m too brain dead to describe the details of the article, but I’m attaching the link of you are curious.
    https://www.saveur.com/article/Travels/Ireland-from-Farm-to-Fork
    This is only the second of your posts I’ve had a chance to read, but I’m really enjoying your photos and your voice. Can’t wait to read more!

    • Ariana May 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      Hi Rebecca– thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment! I really enjoyed reading that article. I am so interested in UK history, it was never on my radar before, but it has been fascinating. And the food history part is really interesting to me. We haven’t eaten much Irish food at all, but I am looking at a trip there this summer, hopefully!

      Thanks so much for your visit and input!

  24. Erin June 21, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    This was hilarious! We had “English Breakfast” when we were cooking food from the UK one week. I thought the tinned beans was the weirdest part. My aunt and uncle lived in England a few years while my uncle was going to Oxford. They were never big fans of the food either. Looking forward to strolling through your blogs. Glad Dan introduced us.

    • Ariana June 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      Hi Erin! I think your English breakfast prepared in the US was probably better than what we would get here, just because your sausages are likely better, and I imagine you cooked the mushrooms and things with butter– and seasoned them appropriately. What’s funny is that people are pretty crazy about the English breakfast. I think it’s something to do with being reliable/ predicatable/ familiar. Not the best qualities to build a menu on, but it works over here.

      And I am very pleased to “meet” you, too, Erin!

  25. Anne in Oxfordshire June 27, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    When eating out in the UK can be hit and miss, BUT we do have lots and lots of fantastic places to eat. I notice the reader above (Erin) family came to Oxford, we have great places here. I am sorry that you have been put off, it is not always the case. I do know what you mean about food and eating out in Germany as I lived there for 3 years and I love it when eating out in France.

    WE are not all crazy about the English breakfast , but if we cooked one for you, I can tell you it would be fantastic, and my son is a chef in the Royal Air Force, I would make sure he cooked it for you. We don’t have it everyday or week, it can be months sometimes.

    I get very bored with British food, and I live here, have done most of my life,

    • Ariana July 9, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      Hi Anne,
      We have only eaten in the home of one British family, and the food was very good. I hope we can find and meet more families that, like yours, enjoy cooking and sharing food with others– we will be inviting people in more and more as we meet them, which I think is much better than eating at a restaurant, anyway!

  26. my honest answer June 29, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    You’re right about the boiled veg! I think it’s a cultural thing, perhaps about quantities. In the States, Mac and Cheese would be served as a ‘side’. Here, Mac and Cheese (called Macaroni Cheese), would be the meal, perhaps with a salad or some veggies. We just don’t go in for the variety during one meal, perhaps because we are more conscious of cooking too much, and then either eating it, or wasting it.

    We would also never mix sweet and savoury on a plate. I remember being astounded once when my American host put my desert on the plate I had eaten my main course from! We would not usually serve fruit with a main dish either, but afterwards.

    Also, American food all seems very sweet to me. Even the ‘health’ type breads are full of honey, they taste like cake! Similarly, I find savoury dishes too salty. It depends what you are used to, of course, but from a health point of view, a ‘lack’ of seasoning might be good.

    Eating out is definitely expensive here. In part, I think it’s because in the States, you pay for ‘service’ kind of separately. I have friends who work as servers over there who get paid very little – almost all their income is tips. Here, everyone is paid at least the minimum wage, and then tip are just a bit extra on top. When I was a server the vast bulk of my income was in the form of wages (maybe 90%?). That makes the bill when you eat out a lot more expensive.

    It’s a shame local places are so hit and miss though (and they are all over the UK in my experience), because it encourages us to rely on chain restaurants which in turn puts off smaller independents. It’s a vicious cycle, but it explains why Pizza Express is so popular!

    • Ariana July 9, 2012 at 10:50 am #

      I agree with you completely about your issues with the flavors of standard American food. We actually never eat at chain restaurants there, and I have problems with everything being too sweet and salty, as well. I think processed foods and fast food have kind of ruined the average American palate. That said, I have always lived in places with an exciting food scene (Los Angeles and Portland) and so this was never much of an issue. If I lived in London, I’m sure I wouldn’t be complaining, either– except for the prices!

      Thank you for weighing in!

  27. Nikki Wall September 21, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    There are quite a few stereotypes here. As with anywhere there are good places to eat and bad places.

    With regards to ‘spicing things up’, Birmingham is the home of the balti and has a veritable raft of restaurants from the Indian subcontinent and a wealth of other restaurants offering cuisine from around the world – some good, some bad. I would say that many English people are used to spice. I think, however, that one may struggle on this front, rurally and one would probably need to look for something else at that point (although it isn’t always the case).

    I really think it depends on where you are and the mix of people there for the availability of items, for example: I find okra more challenging to buy where I live now, whilst when I lived in Birmingham it was easy to get hold of. Some things I have to order online (or do a co-op order to a wholefoods wholesaler) to get.

    Rationing may well have something to do with it for older generations, but we’re talking 50 years ago now – far more damaging, IMO, is the onslaught of fast food and ready meals, it hasn’t just ruined the average American palate, it’s done the same here too. Whilst there are fab chefs on TV, that’s part of the problem: people prefer to sit on their bums in front of the TV and stuff their faces with pizza rather than get into the kitchen and cook!

    • Ariana Mullins September 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

      I enjoyed reading your take on the food situation here, Nikki. Especially this: “Whilst there are fab chefs on TV, that’s part of the problem: people prefer to sit on their bums in front of the TV and stuff their faces with pizza rather than get into the kitchen and cook!”

      I am sure that there are some regions in the USA as well that I would struggle with the food culture– I have been very lucky, in terms of where I have lived in the US so far. I can’t say things have improved at all since I wrote this post months ago– we’ve tried more places and have continued to be pretty exasperated. But we’ll save our eating out money, and go have a great meal in London now and then, and just continue cooking at home!

  28. Nick D F G September 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    I read your blog on English food, and thought “yeah, been there, done that”. I live in the country, and the reality is that, like many others, I would rather spend the money on food I cook myself than go out to a restaurant. So Ariana, here’s two suggestions:

    (1) At home early dinner party. Invite some friends, set a theme, everyone bring some ingredients, add imagination, cook and share. One evening a friend brought a dozen fresh eggs, other ingredients were spinach, bacon, goats cheese, onions, celery, potatoes … yes we grow veg in the garden and have local farm food stores. We boiled the potatoes, wilted the spinach, sauted the bacon and rest of the veg, whisked the eggs (and seasoned …), cubed the cheese. Made baked omelette with spinach and sauted food. Melted the cheese on top. Served with potatoes.

    (2) Travelling food. Have thermos, will travel. I have an old thermos which has three separate food tins inside. (I also have teenage boys.) I cook sausages, tomatoes, and beans (seasoned with Lee & Perrins). They stay hot in the thermos. I buy fresh bread at a bakery as we travel. Take forks and spoons, and no squabbaling over the sausages!!! (I got my thermos as a wedding present, but I have seem similar on eBay. They are heavy so really for car-based travelling, not bus or trains.) My mother-in-law has similar thermos, but is more up-market … she takes soup or stews, veg and sin-ful bread and butter pudding (real cream, nutmeg and fruit juice soaked sultannas).

    It is truly sad what you can get in restaurants in the UK … but us gels can do better than that!

    Regards, Nick

    • Ariana Mullins October 1, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      Nick, I agree with you 100% on just putting the food money into great ingredients for meals we make ourselves. That is exactly how we do it, and we LOVE picnics. We always have a picnic kit in our car, so when we come across a nice spot and maybe a good farm shop, we can stop and enjoy a really nice little meal.
      I will definitely have to look into getting a thermos set for keeping home-made food warm, too– great idea.
      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in!

  29. Nick D F G September 22, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    … and just in case … a pic of similar thermos to mine from eBay (I’ve bought a cheaper one for my ex-bro’-in-law, so price is not typical) … and another type I’ve never seen before.

    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/GREEN-VINTAGE-THERMOS-FOOD-FLASK-WITH-THREE-STORAGE-POTS-DIA-19cm-HEIGHT-37-cm-/380474657571?pt=UK_HomeGarden_Kitchen_Cookware_GL&hash=item58960e8b23

    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/VINTAGE-RETRO-GERMAN-PICNIC-BOX-BY-THERMOS-/160883787316?pt=UK_Collectables_Vintage_RL&hash=item25756bc634

  30. Meghan @ Whole Natural Life October 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Fun post. It reminded me of an article that I read on NPR a while back, about why British food was bad for so long (and still is, in some places, judging from your experience). If you’re interested, it’s here: https://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/19/147039706/dining-after-downton-abbey-why-british-food-was-so-bad-for-so-long

    • Ariana Mullins October 16, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Hi Meghan! Yes, that’s a great article. It was also interesting to read the comments there. I think people are quite sensitive about the stereotypes of British food. Yet, that doesn’t change much about the realities. Here’s an interesting comment: “My heritage is Irish. As a kid, we had potatoes with EVERY dinner we ate. Chicken, no spice. Hamburgers on soggy white bread. Pepper was as spicy as we got.” I just read “Toast” by Nigel Slater, and the foods he wrote about having eaten as a child, even fondly remembered, made me shudder.

  31. Christine November 4, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    I found this article funny. I was so pleasantly surprised at all of the delicious food I had in London 13 years ago. I went to the petrol station in the mornings for breakfast pastries, they were so good! And I found the pub food to be delicious. I guess I just got lucky. Or my standards were very, very low. Then again, having grown up in the 70s, I actually like soft veggies. Go figure…..

    • Ariana Mullins November 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

      Christine– I have to tell you that eating in London is VERY different from eating everywhere else! When I just can’t take it anymore, we go to London to have a couple of good meal…

  32. PJ December 29, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    England has never recovered from teh diet imposed upon them during WW2. This was not helped by the fact that the medical establishment declared that the country was healthier as a result of eating very little meat and real fats, and the introduction of margarine.

  33. Anonymous January 1, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    I think you hit jackpot on bland meals! Sorry to hear but funny story nonetheless. I was warned and expected these type of meal when I went to England many (20) years ago but was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed everything, and I ate my way around London, over to Frome and up to York. Being an anti-crowd kind of person, we hit the most random of places, and the weather was amazing. I took a double decker bus tour out of London and got sun burnt!

    The people we met along the way were wonderful, one of the highlights up at a little pub in York was being invited over to a table of workers from Liverpool. We all bought one another a few beers and they each took turns standing up and singing Elvis songs all night. We couldn’t understand much of what they said, thick accents and alcohol don’t mix, but that night was insanely fun. -JeanneR

  34. Menzoned February 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Hiya! Do you happen to know how to test if your own content is exclusive around the web and no other blogger is it without making sure you know about it?

  35. mduddridge April 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    The portions in the breakfast and Christmas “feast” pictures look stingy, but then, these aren’t affluent times. The breakfast looks about half the size it should be and where’s the black pudding?! And one slice of turkey?!

    I remember a Bill Hicks routine where he talked about British food and one of his lines, in response to the food, was “You don’t boil pizza!”. *lol* There is a tendency to boil vegetables…

    I think “PJ December 28, 2012 at 6:39 PM” is on to something with their hypothesis.

  36. Naz(@CinnamonEats) April 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    We’ve only eaten out twice since we’ve been here. Once when we were staying in our temporary accommodation when we first moved here at the local pub (the food was ok) and once when we had takeout fish and chips (never again!). We prefer to eat at home and I prefer to cook since I know what’s going in my food so haven’t had much experience in eating out although just by walking around there seem to be some decent looking restaurants (who knows what the food is like!).

    One thing I have noticed and maybe it’s just were we are but people here are not as friendly as they were in the States. No one says hello to us when we do our nightly walk and no one smiles back at you! I don’t know it’s strange!

  37. Alexandra Murray June 23, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    There does not seem to be any mention of the excellent Indian restaurants. Almost every large village has at least one. Also Chinese and Thai restaurants are plentiful. Give them a try. They are very popular.

  38. lightpathphotography March 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    So – I could have written this myself. After living here for almost 7 months now (very close to Bury) this is my exact sentiments. I am baffled by it quite often. Our family has also stopped eating out… The farm shops – markets – and bakeries have became very familiar to us (Bury and Ely being the markets I bounce between the most). Great post – and glad we are not the only ones confused by this… we love being here, and enjoy our host country. It is beautiful and rich in history… but we will skip the meals our for now… (with the exception of a couple of Indian places we have found close to our village)….

  39. Cheryl Chamberlain May 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    There are some better restaurants to be found, yes even in the countryside! I moved here 14 years ago and enjoy eating out. I don’t see the bowls of boiled veg so often anymore as I once did but I know they do still exist. There are more bistro type pubs and these are often good, tho ensure it is not a chain – avoid as everything is typically frozen and fried! I recommend checking local restaurant reviews as well as the Good Food Guide, which is a book, but also I believe has information on their website, http://www.goodfoodguide.co.uk. Also, eating out is expensive here compared to the states, tho I’m from Canada and it was cheap there too. But the quality is so much better here, tho sadly service in the UK is very hit and miss! And no one complains here! I embarrass my friends by complaining if the food is not up to standard! My husband and I love eating out but we always check reviews and don’t eat out as often as we did in Canada; eating out here is more of a treat. In Canada I know people eat out several times a week!

  40. Sam October 3, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    As an Englishman living in the US, I find it slightly comical that you think American food is vastly superior to that in England. This comment was particularly bizarre:

    “something they called bacon, which is much more like canadian bacon than what an American would consider bacon”

    Sorry but my experience of bacon in the US is that for some reason it’s always streaky bacon (!?) and is ridiculously overcooked. In fact in many diners out here (which, if you were being fair, might be a more appropriate comparison for your complimentary breakfast in England) seem to like to turn their bacon into near tasteless and brittle ash. In contrast, English bacon contains a far better meat/fat ratio, and is often cooked to achieve a much better balance of being both crispy and juicy (and is not cremated). Let’s be clear: bacon should be juicy!

    Anyway, it sounds as though you’re making sweeping assumptions about a whole country based on a very small sample size. All countries have some appalling examples of food on sale (I’ve certainly had my fair share in the US & certain parts of France). You must know how easy it would be to write an equivalent blog post about American food, but that’s just too easy and doesn’t reflect the overall picture. Have you honestly never, for example, been to an English country gastropub in fall/winter and had a beautiful homely meat pie with a world class cask ale? If not then frankly I don’t know what you’re doing writing a blog about food in England.

    • Paul, Yorkshire foodie September 25, 2016 at 8:11 pm #

      Ah! Sam, thank goodness for Sam. Sadly no reply from the author of this drivel.

      Sam, you are so right. This is a blog which appears to be based on three meals outside London. Fully formed opinions are always better when unencumbered by empirical evidence. Every country in the world has hit and miss food. It’s just that when you’re familiar with what’s likely to be a miss you don’t go. Perhaps if the author had been somewhere other than a tourist restaurant in Cambridge and a Beefeater in Bury there might have been a more intelligent and informed balance.

      Come back when you’re prepared to eat with an open mind rather than just wanting what you get back home. Your opinion may count when you’ve tried the amazing vibrant scene in places like Cardiff, Manchester and Leeds, when you’ve sampled curries in Birmingham and Bradford and pork sandwiches in Sheffield, when you’ve sat on a headland in Cornwall eating fresh lobster salad while the sun sets. It’s actually quite difficult to eat badly in Britain provided you avoid chains, which obviously the author would at home.

      Whilst I always enjoy being patronised for my tastes, I found this blog utterly maddening. Perhaps the solution is for the author to carry around a huge pat of butter, a bucket of sugar and maybe a jar of cinnamon to make herself feel at home.

  41. Michelle Francis December 17, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    What a moaning minnie! Lets hope you never come back and you can take your american processed cheese and disgusting hersheys with you!

  42. offpeaktraveller December 4, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

    I’m really amazed at this! I find English food some of the best food available. There are many places in Europe that I’m not a fan of, particularly Eastern and Northern Europe as I find the stews too heavy. But English food is amazing! Veggies and salad with everything. Usually everything is fresh. Lots of fresh fish because most places are near the coast. And particularly in Suffolk all of the meat is organic and from animals that have been well brought up. I compare this to my experiences in America whereby everything is HUGE and greasy and falling off the plate because there’s just too much and everything goes to waste. I find American food so bland and beige – like the whole plate is beige because there’s no veggies to be seen anywhere! Btw those are not potato wedges – they are roast potatoes. And those sausages are normal – we put seasonings in our sausages so they’re not bland or taste like hotdogs. And also “something they call bacon” ??! This IS bacon. It’s the thick chunky yummy part of a pig, not an overcooked strip that you can’t get your fork into! I never thought I’d get so defensive about my country because I know there are plenty of things wrong with it, but surely you cannot say the food is one! Our food is delicious. My American husband agrees, he absolutely adores all of the English food, for part because it’s different and quirky, and much healthier! And when his American aunt and uncle came to visit they loved all of the homemade soups we had, the scones, the fish & chips! They had a blast and I know they’ve now gone back to America wanting to look up recipes so they can try new things rather than just the greasy meat feasts they’re used to. Sorry to be so negative on your post… just am amazed at how you can find English food horrible!

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