So here it is, the post you’ve all been waiting for…. *drumroll*…. FOOD IN LONDON!!!!!!!!!!!
“Why is he making such a big deal about this? It’s just food,” you may be thinking to yourself.
The answer is simple. I love food and so do you. We all love food. George Bernard Shaw once said “There is no love more sincere than the love of food” and he was right. This is the only truly sweeping generalization about humankind I am willing to make. Sure, some contrarians may object to such a statement, but I ask all who claim not to love food, “Do you eat food?” The answer is yes, unless you are dead and in that case I’m sorry but I am only accepting comments and questions from the living at this time. Yes, I know that just because you have to eat food doesn’t mean you love it. It does mean though that deep down inside of you at the purely physical, instinctual level of humanness is the carnal desire to satisfy your hunger for sustenance and that’s close enough to loving it for me.
All joking aside though, this is an important topic to cover. For many people one of their biggest traveling fears may be “Will I like the food?” The problem is whether they like it or not they have to eat so they may have to adjust to the local diet anyway. Sure, you may think it’s just easier to eat imports or imitations of food you loved back home, but that isn’t always the best idea. Here’s a few reasons why you should try the local food.
First and foremost, you may have no other choice. Depending on where you are staying you may not have access to foods that are like the ones from home. If that’s the case you just have to embrace the local cuisine or starve. If diving right in to the deep end isn’t your style when it comes to food, there are ways to deep your toes in to get adjust. Find the food most similar to what you eat at home and work your way out from there. A good example, at least for London is fish and chips. Maybe you really like fried chicken and french fries. Then try fish and chips! The fish is fried very much like the way they fry fried chicken and it is usually a lighter fish like cod so it doesn’t taste so fishy. Chips are just the English word for french fries so there’s not much difference there. If you try it again because you liked the dish the first time, try putting salt and vinegar on the chips as is custom over here rather than ketchup or mustard. You could also try lemon on your fish as is custom here as well. Many English even use mayonnaise to dip there chips in!
A greasier example of fish and chips below
Now London isn’t one of those places where you can’t find American food. They have peanut butter, Oreo’s, Doritos, pizza, burgers, etc. This brings me to my next point though. Sometimes when eating food that you would find in your home country you’ll experience that it is quite different than at home. I like to call this cultural distortion. For example, I’ve noticed in London that chocolate is not as sweet here. They don’t load they’re cappuccinos and coffees with sugar like we do and don’t even get me started on the peanut butter. That peanut butter was the most disappointing peanut butter I’ve ever had in my life and I’ve eaten A LOT of peanut butter. This type of thing can be a real problem for some people, especially if they planned to rely on food that was just like home. This can also be a positive for others though because some people enjoy the differences in taste between the originals and their copies. One of my fellow study abroad students told me she loved the peanut butter here. and although I disagree with her opinion I’m glad she enjoys it. In this way you can not only explore new tastes, but also get a sense of what how importing culture from one country to another can affect the aforementioned cultural import. This may also give you some insight into what the other culture thinks of yours. Peanut butter is a big American thing. If a Brit eats peanut butter they bought in Britain, they probably think they’re experiencing an American taste when they’re really experiencing an American taste distorted by their own culture. Many Brits would be surprised that our peanut butter is much sweeter.
So say you find food that isn’t culturally distorted, what’s the problem then? Here’s an example of the problem that can cause. You’re wandering through the streets of London. You’re wishing you had some food from back home in, let’s say, Philadelphia. Then you stumble upon a place that claims to be a Philly style grill. They also claim to have an authentic Philly cheese steak. “Taste’s like the real thing!” Just to prove that it’s impossible to find a good cheese steak outside of Philadelphia let alone out of the country, you hand over you’re money and wait for your order. Next thing you know you’ve got a greasy, meaty mess covered in cheese sitting before you. Five minutes later it’s gone. You don’t know how they did it, but they made a real Philly cheese steak. Maybe, the chef was from Philadelphia. Maybe, they used witchcraft. It doesn’t matter. It’s delicious. It reminds you of the cheese steaks from you’re favorite place down the corner from your house. It reminds of your dad’s homemade pizza cheese steaks. It reminds you of when your grandma took you to Pat’s and Gino’s in South Philly so you could decide for yourself which has the better steaks and you realized neither of them were really that great as far as cheese steaks. It reminds you of the time you and you’re friends made this really gross cheese steak with everything they had in the fridge and then dared you to eat it. It reminds you of the time you made cheese steaks for you and your girlfriend during a date night. It reminds you of that time you met your idol Max Bemis at Jim’s Steaks on South Street right before his concert at the TLA and how you wouldn’t have seen him if your girlfriend and your brother hadn’t pointed him out and god you were shaking the whole time you talked to him and it was a great concert too. In short, it reminds you of home. Next thing you know your homesick. You miss everyone and everything back home just from a stupid sandwich. Homesickness can put a real damper on any trip and although you’re bound to run into it at one point or another, it’s best to avoid putting yourself in any situation that you may get it. That’s one of the major problems with eating cuisine from your country.
Okay, so some of you may claim that you’re resistant to the homesickness. No mere sandwich can conquer you’re emotions. You are as solid as a stone wall. “Why should I try different foods from this country if I can eat food I like from my country and be comfortable?” Because you aren’t supposed to be comfortable! That’s not why you’re traveling the world. Why would you want to just experience your own culture and not try anything new? Why did you even leave? You aren’t learning anything. Every new food you try is a new cultural experience. Every cultural experience you gain is cultural capital in your bank. The more cultural capital in your bank the more you can relate to other people and share that cultural capital. I’ve never had fish and chips before I came here. Now that I’ve had it I can talk to people about it. I can write about it. I can trade stories about it. I can compare with other people their experiences when it comes to fish and chips. Where’s the best place to buy them? How do you make them at home? Do you like them better with the lemon or without? How do you feel about vinegar on the chips? Maybe, it all seems like silly small stuff but its that silly small stuff that connects people on a deep cultural level. The more I have to share with the people of England, the more we can understand each other, and the more Americans and English that understand each other the better relations there are as a whole between our people. There’s a movie that just came out recently called Hyde Park on Hudson. In that movie there’s a scene in which King George visit FDR with the Queen to see if he can get help from the US against the German invasion during World War 2. FDR wants to help, but he needs to strengthen relations between the US and England before he can make any sort of attempt. How do they start the strengthen of relations between these two countries? The King of England eats a hot dog. Guess what? The American people love it. If he hadn’t eaten that hot dog, Hitler may have won the war. It was a simple shared cultural experience that brought our two countries together. This just goes to show that food can change the world.
Don’t believe me read this article: http://www.hvmag.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=9913&url=%2FHudson-Valley-Magazine%2FDecember-2012%2FFranklin-Delano-Roosevelt-The-Picnic-That-Won-the-War-the-Royal-Visit-the-Hot-Dog-Summit-of-1939-and-Hyde-Park-on-the-Hudson-Movie%2F&mode=print
So maybe you aren’t into that whole brotherhood of humanity thing. You really just don’t want to eat the food. You don’t want new cultural experiences. You like your food and that’s that. Well here’s my final reason. You’re simply missing out. London is a great city for cuisine because it’s an international city. There’s food from all over the world available here. I’ve had authentic English, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Spanish, and Indian food all while here. I tried churros for the first time, which were delicious. I had my first lamb samosa. I’ve tried meat pies and Cornish pasties. All of these things were fantastic. I’ve also had my share of food here I didn’t like, but now I know to avoid that food Maybe, I’m finally getting to you and you’re thinking “Yeah, he’s right, but I live in a pretty well rounded city when it comes to food. Why don’t I just get this stuff back home?” Because you might not be able too. It’s the same reason it’s impossible to find a good Philly cheese steak anywhere but Philly. While here I’ve tried a lot of Indian and Middle-eastern food which is one of the many things London is famous for. This type of food includes the doner kebab. Now this kebab was quite delicious and I’ve never had anything like it. In fact I had never had a kebab before in my life. My friend and fellow study abroad colleague who convinced me to come to get the food told me that I should come back here as many times as I could before I go. I asked him why and he said, “Because you just can’t find these anywhere back home or at least you can’t find ones this good.” So if you’re too afraid to try the food in a foreign place, you just might be missing out on something just plain tasty and you may never get the chance to try it again.
So if you don’t want to try the food when you’re in an unfamiliar place than I’m truly sorry. You really are missing out and something awesome. I hope some day you change your mind. If you do try the food let me know what it is so I can try it too!