Great(?) Eating in Great Britain

January 16, 2010

As promised, the food I’ve encountered thus far is getting the spotlight tonight. England, especially the East End, is a cultural and culinary melting pot. You can get pizza in one restaurant, Chinese one door down and Indian across the street. However, the primary diet has two big issues for little old me:

  1. Price
  2. Health

First of all, food here is E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E. The cheapest meals I’ve had so far have been £3, or $4.88 (current market value). Admittedly, that’s especially inexpensive. Even Burger King will run you $5 for a relatively small meal in the States. A burrito and a small soda costs $7.87 in Texas (not that I memorized that or anything). But at the same time, $5 will get you a salad at Wendy’s. Eating cheaply in America will at least give you the option to eat somewhat healthy. My $5 meals here have been:

  1. Perfect Fried Chicken: Chicken sandwich, two chicken wings, chips (fries), and a canned fizzy drink (soda)
  2. Random Chips Place Whose Name I Cannot Remember (est. 1969): Fried, battered sausage, a mountain of chips, and a canned fizzy drink

Not exactly something dietitians will tell you to start seeking out.

Two chicken strips sandwiching a slice of cheddar and Monteray Jack, bacon, and secret sauce

Could be worse

I’ll get back to health in a bit. Most restaurants I’ve been to have “similar” prices to those in the US: £6-8 for a decent meal. The problem here is the exchange rate. At the time of writing, the rate I’ve seen at banks and Bureau de Changes has been £1.62 = $1. Better that its previous £1 = $2, but still not great. One hamburger I had cost me £7.50. Had I ordered the “American,” it would have been an extra pound. The slice of home was a beef patty, cheddar, bacon (the ham looking kind), “rocket” (a kind of lettuce, unfortunately), and mustard on a ciabatta bun. The build-your-own-burger I ordered was one entire pound less because I didn’t order mustard.

A rocket sandwiched between bread

England, you sometimes disappoint me

One Indian restaurant appeared to have pretty good prices: a bowl of curry was a mere £5.50. Indian restaurants I’ve been to in America cost somewhere around $12 for curry. Seeing that low low price for the rage of Agni in my mouth was a prospect I could not pass up. We all ordered, and life was looking delicious. Except I had to order rice on the side. And then I had to order the nan bread on the side. Feeding nine people there cost £93 pounds (that’s $153 for you non-mathematicians, and no, I only covered my own meal). The price gouging was possibly unique to this restaurant, but I still felt cheated. Most Italian restaurants hand out garlic bread like there’s a Stephanie Meyer fandemic, but there it felt like… I don’t know, 1/3 of the population has a criminal record. This is exactly why I try to avoid eating out too much.

Grocery shopping here has been exciting. Some things are really expensive (£3 for a box of Frosted Flakes??), while others seem really cheap (60p for a ton of digestives??). Keeping track of prices is actually very simple since most items are one or two quid. Still, occasional items have ridiculous price spikes. Dr. Pepper should not cost £2.50 for a two liter bottle. Especially when………. wait. Ingredients that don’t include high fructose corn syrup? My God, Dr. Pepper here is closer to Dublin Dr. Pepper than most of the DP in the States! God save the queen!!

Ex Lax

If you're still wondering, this is not a digestive. A digestive is kind of like a graham cracker.

To be honest, I’m surprised the Queen’s heart hasn’t kicked her in the head yet. They don’t have the food pyramid here, and my guess as to why is because it got lost in the fryer. Just about everything here is fried at some point. My first night here, when I missed the group dinner, I was forced to find cheap food near the hotel. The nearby Boots had long closed (at 9 PM? What the hell, England?), and I had Burger King for lunch, so I was looking for something more foreign. After wandering around for a while in the dark, deserted streets of Central London, two restaurants caught my eye. One was a dimly lit noodle shop where I could see a couple chefs tirelessly twisting their handmade noodles. Their grace, their skill, the noodles, made it hard for me to take my eyes off them.

Then I went to the cheap looking fried monster next door. Essentially, it was the mall food court’s token Chinese restaurant in London’s poshest district. I ordered noodles (fried), salt and pepper chicken (fried), spicy Thai chicken (fried), and a bottle of water (fried), which cost £5, I believe. Sure, it was good, and the noodles even had some onions and broccoli in them, but I knew I was in for a deep fried adventure. My low cholesterol’s only hope was the restaurant selection around campus.

When Butler hauled us from the St. Giles hotel to the Queen Mary campus, we got a quick glimpse of the area. Off the top of the head, allow me to list every restaurant I saw: KFC, SFC, PFC, WFC, FFC, LFC, BFC, HFC, and Chicken Hut. These restaurants all host the exact same menu. Fried chicken, burgers, pizza, halal, and “Indian food.” My favorite sign so far has to be “A’La Pizza,” whose subtext reads “Burgers – Indian Food.” Apparently fried chicken is a huge deal over here. Not only that, they brag about their American recipes. The fact that they serve American fried chicken must be a deal-breaker for people deciding where to buy their fried chicken. Because if there’s one thing the English know about Americans, it’s that we eat fried chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Chicken and waffles, as well as something that looks like mashed potatoes

They're right, you know

Delicious or not, this is exactly why I’m about to pay £89 for unlimited campus gym access.

Adios!


From Heathrow to St. Giles: Orientation

January 13, 2010

When we last left our hero, both he and his temporary roommate had passed out after their long flight. In addition to destroying any chance of acclimating within a day, this also led to missing the free group dinner. The dinner, which was free, was a chance for the Butler kids to get to know one another. And it was free.

Let me make this perfectly clear: London is E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E. Cheapest meal I’ve had so far (and I am fully aware that this blog is a week behind) was £3: a chicken sandwich, fries (chips), a canned soda (fizzy drink), and two random chicken wings. Eclectic, sure, but for that price, it was a lot of food for not a lot of hard earned Bed Bath & Beyond beatings.

Perfect Fried Chicken

Also, it was perfect

Getting back on track, I panicked a little when I woke up. It was dark, the clock in the room was slow by some unknown degree, and I was hungry. After getting my bearings, I did what anybody in this situation would do: I complained on the internet!

Some guy clearly not happy with his computer

At £3 per hour, I made sure I got the most out of my hotel internets. Lucky for me, the Butler group got back within half an hour. I ran into the lobby and told the first official I could find what happened. She said not to worry and that there’s plenty of cheap food nearby. On my way back to the computer I noticed an older man sitting at my computer with a translation book, staring with a confused look on his face. I went up to him and said I was using the computer. He replied “I am not speak Italian.” If the Simpsons taught me anything, it’s that Spanish and Italian are the same language. I was able to convince him that the face book was, in fact, proof that I was logged on to the computer. He apologized in Italian and left.

Who is Mr. X?

The most reliable news source on the internet

Don’t worry, the blog remain this detailed. The Italian Facebook man anecdote was worth telling and needed some backstory to fully understand. After my hour expired, I ate Chinese food, watched bad American movies on TV, and went to bed. The next morning, orientation started bright and early. From all the orientation sessions we had, here’s everything I learned:

  • 1 in 3 British men have a criminal record
  • At least one of us will be robbed by the time we leave the program, likely within the first month
  • Being male or female does not make you less likely to be robbed
  • Being female actually increases your chance of getting into a physical fight with another female (i.e. you’ll get a shoe up your nose)
  • My age group is the most likely to be robbed
  • Robbers are potentially batcrap crazy, what with the drugs
  • Continental Europe has developed several methods of robbing you, ranging from pretending to clean off bird poop to throwing babies
  • Pearly Kings and Queens have been around since the late 19th century
Okay, not really. These are great philanthropists and activists.

Not pictured: my just stolen wallet

Lovely! During this nearly week-long orientation I met several of the Queen Mary students. Key players (i.e. people that will show up frequently in this blog) are Ted (my hotel roommate), Ryan, Carly, Remy, Chris, Madison, Elizabeth, Caitlin (my flat neighbor), Bennett, and Matt. They’ll all pop up at some point. Other IFSA Butler students that weren’t mentioned: I’m sorry if I left you out! I don’t hate you (much), we just haven’t hung out enough!

Besides exploring the area around the hotel, I actually went to a real tourist destination that didn’t primarily feed me: The British Museum! Twice! Here is a quick glance at my first excursion:

A statue of maybe Venus

Busty statue

Statue of a maternity goddess

Uh...

It looks like I may have a trend here. One that does not present me in the most positive of lights. Let’s see a sample of my second trip…

ANOTHER nude statue

Crap!

In all seriousness, the albums can be found here and here. Believe it or not, those are the only pictures of naked statues I took.

On Thursday we were bused from the St. Giles Hotel to Queen Mary. More to come! But first, a dietary intermission!

Adios!


Necessary rough first post: Arriving in London

January 12, 2010

Like a TV show’s pilot episode, I find that the first entry in a blog is often one of the weakest. Getting into the groove of things takes a few attempts. With that in mind, I will push through this as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’m doing this for you folks!

If you hadn’t gathered, my name is Ben. I’m a senior at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, planning to graduate this coming December semester. I’ve lived in Texas for most of my life, and I love it so much I decided to leave it. I went through the planning process blah blah blah… Background information? Pshaw. You want to hear about England.

I left Bush Intercontinental on January 3 and arrived in Heathrow on 4 Jan at 7 in the freaking morning. The flight was long, boring, headache-inducing, and had me surrounded by children with delightful British accents. And one American girl who was playing Cooking Mama. It was strange.

Customs were easy, besides sweating like a pig in my unfamiliar wool sweater and having to haul my two massive duffel bags. The London Underground was a lot for me to learn while completely jetlagged (it was 1 AM Houston time when I arrived), so I just followed some random guy throughout the entire Heathrow Express. For something with “express” in the title, it sure had a lot of traffic jams…

Words cannot describe my elation when I saw the luggage carts. Other words can describe my frustration when I saw they cost £1 to use and had a weird locking mechanism. While hauling my corpse-sized duffel through Paddington Station, I never once thought to go over to Platform 9 3/4. You know what, though? Totally didn’t care at the time. I was tired, cold, and had to go to the bathroom. A kindly Paddington employee guided my cart to the taxi place for me, and even hailed a cab. I tipped him and thanked him profusely, never realizing that I could have gotten my £1 coin back if I returned the cart somewhere. What a jerk.

The cab dropped me off at the hotel we IFSA Butler students were supposed to go to, and I was the very first one there. Suck on that, group flight people! You may have had people already paid to carry your luggage, but I got there first! (*whimper*)

Got to my room, relaxed for all of six minutes, and went right back outside to buy a plug adapter and British DS AC Adapter (the charging thingy on my Gameboy with the two screens). When I finished my brief shopping trip, I popped into the most British restaurant I could afford.

Burger King in the United Kingdom

Tastes like Britain

When I got back, there was a mob of people all the way out of the hotel. The other IFSA Butler kids had arrived! After making my way back to my room and meeting my roommate, we both started watching TV on our beds. Before we knew it, we both fell asleep.

For over seven hours.

To be concluded!