Marmite, Kebabs, and Tea: a Short Summary of My Food Experiences

Pictured above is my politically incorrect flow chart of the British versus American palate (for those of you who read my last blog, I like pictures and graphs). The results are quite obvious, which is why I didn’t label the end questions, but it’s not as though this is a soul mate quiz from Lucky. This blog exists because I happened to have a few “firsts” over this weekend.

1)  First time trying Marmite

Alright, alright, Marmite is a little too easy to make fun of.  Luckily, my first encounter with the brown spread was not due to the classic “I thought it was Nutella” mistake—confusing Nutella with Marmite is a grave mistake indeed. Let’s just say that even in moderation, Marmite is an acquired taste.

After I managed to wash the taste of fermented yeast by-product out of my mouth, I recalled the first time I tried Cheez Wiz. That encounter was because of a “I thought it was frosting” mistake—an equally crucial error. While the memory didn’t particularly help the situation in my mouth—Cheez Wiz and Marmite would definitely be another acquired taste—I think to say that my worst food experiences have occurred in England would be very unfair.  I reserve that honor for the street markets of Hong Kong and my first time trying deep fried cicada (a “I didn’t actually think it was a real cicada” mistake).

2) First time visiting a kebab truck

These British staples are the American hot dog stand’s more ethnic cousin. The food is just as guilt and grease-laden as they are in America— I’m convinced there must be a special map these guys use to find the exact location where students in all forms of desperation convene. I won’t divulge the reasons I was at this truck, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that in addition to the standard burger and fries this truck advertised piri piri chicken wraps and vegetable samosas.

Although it wasn’t my usual greasy pizza slice from that random hole-in-the-wall, I can definitely say that the comfort and convenience of having a slightly sketchy food vendor open at obscene hours of the night is universal. It may be over-priced, it may be over-priced, and they may even get the order entirely wrong, but that’s the appeal trucks/delivery places. When it comes to that time of night when we should have gone to sleep three hours ago, we all enjoy the comforts of the food that we would never approach in the daylight whether it be enormous pizza slices dunked in ranch sauce, cheese samosas the size of your face, or a take-out box filled with chips drenched in garlic mayo.

3) First time buying 35p scones from Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s is the local chain supermarket here.  They sell 10 scones for 35 pence, which is about 50 cents.  I would never ever steal the muffins/bagels from Leo’s again if I could buy ten scones from Safeway for less than a dollar–and they actually taste good.

I’ve been making cheeky analogies between the US and British system in this and past blogs, but as a person who has nine different boxes of tea in her room currently, I desperately wish America loved tea as much as the Brits. Aisles exist with foodstuffs for the sole purpose of being eaten at around 4 o’clock with a nice cuppa.  Hobnobs, Digestives, and Jaffa Cakes may sound like the names of characters on some ridiculous children’s puppet show, but these tea treats could give Girl Scout Cookies (which also have silly names) a run for their money.

Cheap cookies aside, why I love tea time here is that most people just take tea seriously enough to slow down.  High tea isn’t just a fifteen minute break where you elbow your way up to the counter at Starbucks and then chug your Machiatto so you can sprint to lecture.  I make time for my tea: I talk with friends, catch up, and generally forget about my work for an hour or two while sipping tea and feeling fancy.

And it’s not just me: twice a week, our college has Welfare Tea where student representatives make tea and buy biscuits to lure sleep-deprived students out of the library.  Really.

Honestly, I like British food beyond the realm of tea and kebab trucks (not Marmite, though).  Yes, the food in general is bland, but it’s still an experience.  If I described my culinary adventure here, I might have to include a prologue, so in summary: I’ve eaten more potatoes here than I think I have in my lifetime and I’ve tried things called “bubble and squeak” but as a person who has eaten a deep-fried giant insect (on a stick, no less), I could do worse.

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