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Expat Advice: Finding or Replacing American Food in the UK

By Edited Jan 14, 2014 0 0

My quest began on my very first day living in the UK.  After packing my life into a few suitcases and flying nearly 5,000 miles to begin my new marriage and my new life overseas, I hit the ground with a terrible head cold, and a sudden craving for chicken noodle soup, and Jell-O.  I sent my husband to the local shop in search of the same, only for him to phone me a short time later in bewilderment as he informed me there is no such thing as Jell-O in the UK.  Eventually, we figured out that there is, but that it’s called jelly and isn’t made by Jell-O.  This proved to be only the first of many searches for American food or its UK equivalent. 

So if you are, like me, an American residing in the UK who misses certain ‘tastes of home’, or even perhaps a British fan of American food, what do you do?   If you are willing to apply a little patience and creativity, or keep an open mind, you may find that you have more options than you think.  In no particular order, here are a few to consider:

1)   Shopping onlineUpside:  Items are shipped to your doorstep.  Downside:  Shipping costs and sticker shock.  Amazon UK is an excellent resource, and when they don’t carry something, there are occasionally sponsored links that may lead to someone who does.  Additionally, you can download Amazon’s ‘wish list’ button that enables you to add an item from anywhere on the web to your wish list.  This won’t enable you to purchase from Amazon, and isn’t any type of guarantee, but might lead to other product links.  Other sites include EBay, American Soda, The Stateside Candy Co (American Sweets), American Goodies, American Fizz, American Grocery, and likely many more.  I haven’t personally used all of them so am not endorsing all that I’ve listed.  Do your research, but know that there are multiple online resources for that Yankee food fix! 

2)   Bringing food into the UK yourself when traveling back from visits in the States.  Upside:  Avoiding shipping costs and keeping purchase prices down.  Downside:  Restrictions on what can be brought in, certain items may need to be declared, or potential taxes, duties, or VAT.  Again, do your homework, and acquaint yourself with the most up to date regulations.  The DirectGov site does have some information, but by no means utilize this as your only resource for understanding what you can or cannot bring across. 

3)   Mailing items from the USA to the UK, or having friends or family send them to you.  Upside:  Delivery to your door.  Downside:  You need to research the same potential restrictions as for bringing food into the UK yourself.   Also, you may end up having to pay a Customs duty or VAT before collecting your parcel.  That being said, the best Christmas card I received in my first year abroad was one from my sister containing a single Ranch dressing packet! 

4)   You can find some American food in UK shops.  Upside:  Instant satisfaction upon discovery.  Downside:  Patience is required.  There’s no formula for this, and supplies do change and vary.  For example, I couldn’t find a single shop in my area in the UK for nearly two years that carried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  Recently, I discovered some in ASDA.  I have come across the odd item in most of the major retailers in the UK.  You just have to be observant, and keep good mental notes when you do spot things you like. 

5)   Recipes.  When all else fails, you might have to make your own.  Upside:  You can find recipes easily on the web, and a lot of things taste better made from scratch.  Downside:  You still have to make it.  (That may be an upside for many of you!)  For instance, I haven’t yet found a bottled blue cheese salad dressing that I like in the UK.  I could import some, but I can easily make my own with locally sourced ingredients.  Even best loved restaurant dishes have often been recreated by clever cooks, and subsequent recipes posted online. 

6)   Equivalencies.  Craving ice cream?  They have that in the UK.  It’s not a third world country.  You might miss certain brands, but you may find better ones if you give them a try.  Upside:  Expanding your palate.  Downside:  Be aware that not all foods are equal on each side of the ‘pond’.  To highlight this point, I have found that cream and dairy-based products do taste different in the UK than in the USA and seem to me to be somewhat richer.  I personally think this is a wonderful thing, except for the time when I attempted to make one of my favorite casseroles and it was just too rich.  Also, if you are seeking dill pickles that do not taste sweet, you may be disappointed to note that the pickles labeled ‘dill’ on UK shelves almost always taste a bit sweet.  You will also find that measurements are not the same.  A UK cup differs slightly from a cup in the United States, so convert your recipes accordingly.  When seeking UK equivalents of U.S. grocery items, be aware that you may find some of what you are looking for under another name.  (Think of my aforementioned Jell-O versus jelly anecdote).  Zucchini is courgette, eggplant is aubergine, chips are crisps, fries are chips, ham steak is gammon, ground beef is mince, shrimp are prawns, and there are many more.  On a side note, when you go to pay, if you are carrying a purse, it’s a handbag in the UK, and when you pull out your wallet it’s a purse.  When you go to eat your food, you might note that your silverware is now cutlery. 

Although it’s perfectly natural to crave things from home when you are far from everything you’ve known, it’s better not to go overboard hoarding American food to the point where you miss out on the chance to fully embrace British food and lifestyle.  Change can be good.  You might just find, as I have, that your tastes and cravings slowly evolve. 



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