Exploring local food markets and grocery stores are some of my favorite traveling activities. I’m afraid I may actually spend as much time perusing the aisles of foreign supermarkets as I do museums. Then I pack my suitcase full of samples as souvenirs to share with friends back home. Pathetic as it may seem, there is a lot to learn from the eating habits of foreigners, just think of Anthony Bourdain.
When in need of a quick snack while visiting London, pop into any grocery store or convenience market. In order to save some time, here’s the lowdown on typical British snacks to try and those to avoid:
Since 1824, Cadbury has churned out chocolate made in England and is a national symbol. Dairy Milk is the classic milk chocolate bar much creamier than a Hershey bar, Bourneville is their dark chocolate bar and a Flake is a bar of airy ripples often found stuck into soft serve vanilla ice cream. Cadbury boasts at least 17 other variations using concoctions of caramel, peanuts, raisins,cocunut, nougat, wafers and more. Sampling British made chocolate is compulsory.
A couple of non-Cabury suggestions:
Malteasers – little balls of malt honeycomb covered in milk chocolate made by Mars. The bag of those gorgeous critters will disappear in seconds.
Yorkie – a Nestlé thick chocolate bar originally marketed for men as the tough guy, bigger/better chocolate bar. You just have to love the non-pc slogan, “IT’S NOT FOR GIRLS” still emblazoned down the side of the wrapper. Makes it a must for every little boy AND girl under the age of 13.
The term “cakes” is used universally used to described any cake or pastry-like but not a cookie-type sweet snack. And the list of cakes that can be found in England is impressive. For the fun of it, here are several that come to mind: Bakewell tarts, jam tarts, lemon slice, Eccles cakes, Queen cakes, scones, iced buns, sponge cake, mince pies and chocolate rolls. For the most part I wouldn’t really recommend the pre-made cakes, stick to trying them homemade and in proper restaurants.
Two classics deserving further explanation are found regularly in children’s school bags, mom’s purses and in most kitchen pantries . Jaffa Cakes are mini yellow cake discs topped with a dollop of orange jelly then covered in dark chocolate. I find them tastelss, stale and chewy in spite of not knowing a single person who feels the same.
The other is the flapjack, a soft & sweet, buttery oatmeal bar made with golden syrup which is similar to corn syrup. You’ll find them under every brand name and sold individually next to the cash register anywhere you can buy food. Stick with the natural or organic flapjacks and you won’t be disappointed.
Sweet & savory biscuits are essentially cookies & crackers as Americans know them. Sweet biscuits or “bickies” come in a variety of flavors and probably couldn’t be consumed by an adult without a cup of tea. Digestives are Britain’s most perfect biscuit creation and most popular biscuit. Once used for medicinal purposes, the round graham cracker like cookie has no value other than pleasure. Whether they are plain or chocolate covered, Digestives are by far my favorite English snack. HobNobs oat biscuits are my second choice and Robert Pattison’s favorite so I hear. Both are made by many producers though McVitie’s is the pick of the litter.
Crisps are potato chips and chips are french fries in the British Isles. English crisps are fabulous, especially the Walker’s brand with their endless flavor choices. Interested in pickled onion? Maybe flamed grilled steak or perhaps lamb & mint? How about prawn cocktail? My family is split down the middle between cheese & onion and salt & vinegar while roast chicken makes us all gag. Keep in mind that there just isn’t a better snack accompaniment to go with a pint of lager in those famous English pubs than a packet of crisps.
A word of warning though, there a several crisps brands I call kiddie crisps. Tasteless pieces of puffed air with names like Quavers, Wotsits, Frazzles (shaped to resemble a piece of bacon), Skips (floral shaped prawn flavored pillows that stick to the roof of your mouth) & Hula Hoops (kids wear them on their fingers & eat them off) … how can they be taken seriously?
WORST ENGLISH SNACK
Twiglets win the prize as the worst snack in England. Beware, they look pretzel-like at first glance, but those cute little whole wheat twig shapes are pure tomfoolery. One bite and the singed hair taste will stay trapped in your mouth for hours. Twiglets are covered in yeast extract like the Marmite spread used on toast with that “smell my finger” quality. What is yeast extract anyway?
Please feel free to share your favorite English snacks below.
(Photos: Erin Maury)