My worry when I left South Africa for Britain was the having to battle the cold weather when I trek down to the bus station every morning, but the cold hasn’t been that bad and I guess it’s because I was partly prepared for it. What I wasn’t prepared for was the bad British food. What they parade around as good food in this country includes pies – found in many eateries, soggy fish and chips – which are really popular as shops selling them are found on just about every street corner and hamburgers – now there isn’t a shortage of those.
The lack of a good menu in this country has even led to the adoption of the Indian Chicken Tikka Masala as “true British food”. Those that added it to the list justify its inclusion by its popularity in this country’s restaurants. As I write this piece I am in a pub that has decided to have Thursdays at its curry nights. The night being dedicated to the Indian dish has resulted in a 50 minute wait for food.
I am told there is a Sunday roast that is really popular and it is truly British. After my stomach episodes with the fish and chips which made my lactose intolerance seem like child’s place, I am not so sure whether I’ll be exploring with any other dishes that originate from this country. The Sunday roast though includes a huge piece of meat, a small pie, vegetables and something made pout of spud.
In South Africa I would often cook as there isn’t shortage of natural ingredients for food. My dad taught me how to cook when I was a kid and we used to do it together, but finding ingredients in Britain has proven to be a huge difficulty too. I have been going from shop to shop and have realised that they bottle everything in here. The easy to make tomato mix we make in many homes in South Africa is bottled, chicken stock is ready made and packed and so are many sauces one would have to mix with water and make from scratch back home. It just doesn’t take the same when bottled.
With the shortage of normal ingredients then one can forget finding stuff to make South African food that easily, but I have been told that I can find a shop that sells mealie meal to make pap, not that I can cook it – but I will have to learn. I have met Zimbabweans who have been here a while and say they pay top price for these ingredients, but this doesn’t matter for them as they have been in Britain for close to ten years. They need those reminders of home and I think I am starting to need them too three weeks in.
On Saturday evening a housemate and I went to the look for a restaurant at the beachfront in Brighton – something that would be perfectly normal in Durban or Cape Town – but we found that many places stop serving food around 6PM here. London is not the same as I am able to find food even at midnight in the country’s capital. On the Saturday night out in Brighton though we then went to town to see if we could find fast food there and were chased away from many places as they were closing. What surprised us is that there was no shortage of alcohol and the many places with closed kitchens were still serving drinks. Booze is even found right next to the till in supermarkets here which means it’s not hard to miss.
I think the consolation is that South African wine is priced tight, but the search for ingredients to make a meal that will taste good with that wine continues.