Probably known to most of you out there, British food has a reputation of being less than excellent. Having been to Britain a few times as a tourist, but not having lived there yet, I always used to think that this was unfair. I thought the food you could buy in this country was perfectly acceptable. There were restaurants of different cuisines, and there were many ready made meals in supermarkets, many of which weren't even expensive. I guess I should add that I have never been very fond of cooking, so I thought those microwave meals from Tesco or Sainsbury's were great. But here's what happened when I eventually decided to stay in Britain for a bit longer than the duration of a typical holiday.
After two weeks, I was thoroughly sick of the microwave meals. They had seemed delicious to me at first, but then I noticed that I could not keep up with this kind of diet permanently. Everything tasted the same suddenly, and it tasted like cardboard too. I never went back to microwave meals after that, unless there was an emergency. I decided that my taste buds needed a change. So what was I to do now?
That was one of my first moments when I really and truly noticed that I was in another country now. British supermarkets looked similar to German ones at first glance, but when I started looking more closely, I discovered that there was a whole new world to be discovered. In Germany, I had always eaten a lot of pasta and vegetables, in different combinations, and, here is the best part, usually prepared with the aid of pre-spiced powder which only needed water added to produce a really tasty sauce. Now, for the world of me, I could not find anything like this powder in Britain. One of the few things that reminded me of home, food wise, was pizza. So I took to eating that for a while. A lot, actually. But I grew tired of that as well. So, believe it or not, I actually had to employ drastic measures and have a go at trying to cook properly, i.e. buying spices and adding them to my food myself. Very fortunately for me, I had a couple of terrific flatmates who were happy to share their knowledge of cooking with me. (One of them was British, by the way – and a very good cook!) With their help, I was finally able to prepare vegetable-pasta kind of food again, complete with spices I had added myself – the result being tasty food and an increase in my self-esteem.
So, the problem of my home cooking was solved. But there was still the issue about what to do when eating out. After spending a few weeks and then months in the country, I discovered that food seemed to have a different meaning to British people from the one it has to continental Europeans like me. For starters, they don't seem to like it when other people add salt or any other spices to their food. In pubs, you usually get your hot meals without any spices and you are invited to help yourself to salt, pepper and vinegar from nearby tables. You also add your own dressing to your salad. In restaurants, similar forces are often at work, the difference only being that the waiters actually bring spices to your table and occasionally ask whether you would like them to put salt, pepper or oregano on your food.
Then there is the issue of takeaways to consider. But, being honest here, I just never considered them at all, apart from one great Chinese takeaway in an otherwise grim small town in Scotland. I had tried takeaways before, with an ex-boyfriend in the South of England, and I will never forget the smell that filled our B&B room for a whole night after getting a Turkish takeaway. This is not to have a go at Turkish food, far from it in fact – I've had delicious Turkish cuisine many times in Germany as well as Turkey itself. I am, in fact, having a go at British takeaway food though – it's greasy, it's usually tasteless, and occasionally smelly!
Most British people I met, though, seemed to adore takeaways, especially Indian curries and, of course, fish and chips. Believe it or not, Scottish people even like combining haggis (sheep stomach) and chips! Considering this, it comes as no surprise that not many British people seem to like cooking in their homes. In amazement, I realised that my rather limited cooking skills seemed advanced compared to those of many British people, who were perfectly happy eating either takeaways or the aforementioned microwave meals. Traditional home cooking usually consists of meat with thick gravy and vegetables such as carrots, peas and potatoes. Plus, I discovered that chips could actually be combined with anything, be it pizza, pasta or . . . more chips!
Another thing I just need to mention is the difference between German and British bakeries. In Germany, I am a regular customer at bakeries, which usually sell mostly bready things, sometimes with butter, sometimes with salad or vegetables, and the occasional sweet pastry. In Britain, though, there is sweetness all over. It is next to impossible to buy something without chocolate or sugar or both in a British bakery. British people like their snacks very sweet. I am not really one for sugar, though – a muffin suits me perfectly fine, occasionally a chocolate one too, but that is my borderline – so I usually ended up giving the bakeries a wide berth. A shame in a way, as their food was usually very tastefully arranged!
Coming back to restaurants, the cuisines I enjoyed the most by far when I was in Britain were Thai and Chinese. I actually had two restaurants that I came to love over the time: a Thai restaurant in Beeston (yes, the one opposite Sainsbury's) and a Chinese buffet restaurant in Ayr, Scotland, where I later resided for a while. But, apart from those, I am sorry to say I didn't enjoy my food experience very much in Britain. I also missed German bread – usually dark and crusty – and started to get sick of toast as well from time to time, although I had always loved it when still in Germany.
Come to think of it, when people used to ask me if I ever got homesick, my standard reply was: "Not really, but one thing I do miss is the food!"