Friday, October 12, 2007

Shopping Delights

As of today we have been in England for two weeks. In some ways it's surprising that it has only been a fortnight; we've settled in and Avram has begun school (at this writing he's completed his first week of classes) so life sometimes seems almost normal. Then the large truth rears its head in some small way, today in food, and I remember that I am truly in a foreign country.

I'm currently eating peach yoghurt with whole grains (barley, oats, wheat, rye and rice) added in, giving the yoghurt a 'lovely chewy taste' as the add copy proclaims. I meant to just buy normal peach yoghurt, and in fact had never heard of people pre-adding grains to yoghurt, or most premade food, and so only briefly glanced at the packaging and managed to miss the wheat stalks tucked between peaches on the container. Luckily I bought Avram and Lydia normal, grain-less raspberry yoghurt. Being frugal and also loving peach yoghurt, I'm having it anyway, and really very pleasantly surprised. It's not bad. Weird? Yes. But it's not bad. I don't think they cooked the grain, either.

I'm not really surprised I made this mistake; shopping here is a challenge, at least for us. In Britain they don't use American measurements, but neither do they completely use metric. Instead they use a hodgepodge of both, with a couple exclusive British measurements (stones comes to mind) as well. Sadly enough, although I spent four months in a country which exclusively uses the metric system, I never progressed beyond figuring that a kilogram was roughly equal to two pounds. Here I'm trying to be much better, but currently I'm still very lost. The first week Avram and I went to the grocery store found us spending a lot of time peering at the shelf, trying to figure out and compare prices.

One product would have price per kilogram, a different brand next to it price per pound, and something else price per gram (I finally figured out two days ago that there are a 1,000 grams in a kilogram, and so really this wasn't a different measuring system, it just seemed so at the time). Then there was a very similar product, at least to Avram and I, that had price per milliliters, and we really didn't know how to tell of all of these which was cheapest. As well, we still often convert the British pounds roughly into dollars, to try and see how expensive an item is "truly," so shopping has become quite the mathematical exercise for us.

This week we went to Sainsbury's online (the story we go to; it's where the minibus takes us), and preplanned most of our trip, so that we would know if they had the item we wanted. For example, we wanted pork sausage, but sausages here are preformed, and usually have very British seasonings. This reminds me of another food experience...last week I bought pork sausages, to have with fried potatoes and eggs. They come in casings, so you can't actually see the meat, but they were quite cheap (49 pence for eight, so about $1.10, really very cheap). This should have been a warning to us.

When we cooked them and opened them up, they were rather...odd looking. Avram tried them first, and said they had the texture of Jello. I tried them, and to me it tasted like pork flavored bread, or something. We looked up the ingredients on the package, and sure enough there was only 32% pork in them, the rest being things like flour (hence the bread flavour). Now, they're not bad, necessarily. They just don't qualify as meat to Avram and I, and certainly not pork sausages. That's another aspect of British food; it has a much higher range of quality. They sell amazing cheeses here, and if you buy 'swiss' you buy Emmentaler, the Italian cheeses are really from Italy (the Parmesan is around 18.00 British pounds per kilo. The cheddar (made in England) is 5 pounds a kilo). As well in addition to common fowl, the local supermarket also offers guinea fowl, duck, and turkey, which is unusual to them at least. They also offer many options of Lamb, venison burgers and steaks, and untold amounts of various sausages (although none are plain crumbly Italian sausage). To end my previous story very quickly, I ended up buying Pork mince (what they call ground), because at least I know it's real meat (and fat), and Italian spices, and we're going to make our own. I do admit to thinking of Samuel often as I walk up and down the sausage aisle.

In addition to the very high quality aspect of food, they also seem to have a much lower range of options, such as not-real -pork sausages. in America if it said pork, I would expect pork. In a lower range, at least to me, they have aisles and aisles of pre-made food. It seems to be very popular here, even more popular than in America, if possible.

There's a store brand, called Sainsbury's basics, that has incredibly cheap food. Then there's another store brand, Sainsbury's that's cheaper, but not even in the same league. For example, we bought a box of Cornflakes, good ones that are better than the American ones in my opinion, for 29 pence (70 cents). That's ridiculously cheap, especially because most food here is as much as twice as expensive. But then next to the plain white cheap box is the Sainsbury's brand of cornflakes with a coloured pictures that's around a pound. So why is is so cheap? Also super-cheap are Sainsbury's basics baked beans, other canned goods, tuna fish (17 pence), and lots and lots of items from meat, which isn't super cheap, to vodka, which to me isn't a basic, but I am in England.

Now, in closing I want to be clear that of course if a British person came to America they would be very confused by our methods of food as well, after all we use ounces, pounds, cups, liters, gallons, etc, etc. And we have some pretty low quality food, like hot dogs.


  1. I love your posts because they make me laugh.

  2. If you try to think of physical things, instead of converting, the metric system makes sense. A meter is the width of a twin bed, half a kilo is the right amount of beef for a meal for two adults, etc. "Everyone knows" (in metric countries, which includes everywhere in the world except the US) that a liter = a kilo, a ml = a gram, etc. Works with Celsius, too: 10 degrees is a cool Spring day, 20 is a good indoor temperature, 30 is a hot summer day, 40 is a hot summer day in Phoenix. Etc.

    I love your stories!

  3. I have sausage. Actually, I think this is one of the few times that we actually do not have any kind of sausage in the house at all. Sounds like you guys are having a good time out there. I kinda miss food shopping with you guys. Aleatha was just saying the other day how she missed going to your home, too. Anyway. Later.

  4. Plenty of sausages in the stores here, but I haven't had the courage to actually eat one. I know cooking will probably kill anything in the sausage, but we are living in a country where we have to wash every bit of food that comes into the house in bleach water before we can store it in the fridge. Makes you think about what you may be buying.