One Bite at a Time (or, Eating my way Through London)

For this post, I want to focus on something I really enjoy, no matter where I am: food. I really love food. While I’m a fairly picky eater, I’m enough of a foodie to try an eclectic mix of things fairly often. London is just playing this up as much as it can.

Here’s a list of things that are different (for better or for worse) about London’s food scene:

  • Fast food is everywhere (but not how you think it is):

When I first got here, I was amazed at the amount of food options available on every corner. Chain restaurants are huge, and quick eating is really the only practical way to eat in the city (unless you have a lot of time to spare for a sit down meal). Everything moves much quicker here, so there really isn’t the equivalent of a Bread Co. (or Panera for you non-Saint Louis natives) here; something where you can grab and go or relax and sit down in a comfortable environment. Everything is either sit down meals, or you cram into a corner with a tray and scarf your food down because you don’t really want to be there with the 75 other people jockeying for tables.

That being said, the food I’ve gotten at these establishments has been wonderful. Wasabi and Tossed, you’ve stolen my heart and need to open chains in the USA soon. Pretty much every UK fast food chain is ridiculously healthy. Sure, they still have unhealthy stuff, but not to the extent that American chains do. The States need to step up their fast food options, pronto.

  • The American chains that are here are super weird:

You’d think that with all the options the Brits have, they wouldn’t be interested in the trash we serve. While not wildly common, I still see chains in every major section of the city. And the ones that they do choose to have here are usually strange and not all that popular with Americans. Sure there’s McDonalds, but KFC? TGI Friday’s? A Hard Rock Café (that people in my group actually wanted to go to)? There’s also a ton of local hole-in-the-wall chains boasting the delicacy of fried chicken and “BBQ”, which always makes me laugh. We all did have a moment when we saw a Five Guys and Chipotle, because those chains actually made a little more sense.

Surprisingly, Starbucks is not king of coffee here, either (the horror!). Costa Coffee and Café Nero are both incredibly popular, and far more common. While Café Nero serves incredibly good coffee and tea, I don’t get the hype behind Costa. Starbucks seems to be the only American brand I can’t kick. *sigh*

  • Authentic London food is found in the pubs:

Thinking about traditional faire, pub food seems to be the only thing that really comes to mind (although I haven’t had a full English breakfast yet). Obviously, fish and chips are the big thing to eat here. I haven’t had any yet, though! Beer-battered style fried food is something I cannot stand, but I’ll probably steal a bite whenever we go again. When we did go to the pub, I got a brie wellington (cheese wrapped in a flaky dough), and it was simply delicious.

Otherwise, purely British food is pretty…bland. They’re not huge into seasoning here, so finding something with salt and pepper is a bit tough, let alone any obscure spice flavors. A lot of us are starting to miss and crave certain foods that aren’t a thing here. I’ve already requested a turkey burger from the grill the second I get home.

  • Ethnic food is wildly popular:

Building off my last point, “British” food chains don’t seem to exist. It’s pretty generic stuff: sandwiches, salads, soups, etc. After eating at Pret a Manger and Eat. (the Panera equivalents) we decided to try some kind of international food. This is what London seems to get right, and everyone else can’t figure out. Even though these are chain restaurants, they seem to know how to make the cuisine of whatever country they’re representing. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that their “home” food isn’t that great, but their ethnic food is. And ethnics chains are everywhere. London is incredibly internationally diverse, so I guess they kind of have to be. But this is another thing America needs to take note of.

I even got to experience an Asian-inspired afternoon tea (but I have to write a separate post about that). To summarize, it was amazing and blended two cultures so seamlessly. I was highly impressed.

  • Dessert is a meal within itself:

Ahh…the dessert. Here is yet another example of London being way ahead of its time, leaving America in the dust. While bakeries are becoming trendy in the states, London has been doing this for a while now. And the caliber of their bakeries is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They take a lot of pride in their work, based on what they make. Bakeries are every couple of blocks in trendier areas of the city (I’m looking at you, SoHo). Within a stretch of a street, you can find at least 3 bakeries to stare at as you walk by. Picking which one to have a cup of tea and dessert at is the tough part. And then you have to pick which dessert to eat! It’s stressful, but you really can’t go wrong.

  • The Cereal Killer Café:

It’s a cereal bar. And it was great.

  • A brief side note about Japanese food:

Of all the food I’ve eaten so far, I’d say at least half (if not more) has been Japanese food. I’ve been in heaven, eating all kinds of amazing Japanese cuisine on the fly. That’s right, it’s all chain restaurants! And it’s still so great. Being Japanese, I was skeptical when I went into my first chain place to get sushi to-go (or “takeaway” as they call it here). I was super surprised with how good and fresh it tasted. I proceeded to happily scarf my food down, hunting for a Japanese chain every time I go out now. Living here makes me want to visit Japan and get the real deal. Maybe for my next travels abroad, right?