“The grocery store is the great equalizer where man comes to grips with the facts of life like toilet tissue.”
So, there’s a side to the whole study abroad experience that doesn’t really get talked about much. For many people, including me, this is the first time they have to regularly buy their own groceries. At school, I’ve got a meal plan, and at home I’ve got mom. So not only have I been thrown into the deep end on the whole providing-for-myself thing, I’ve also had to learn to swim in an unfamiliar swimming pool.
Where the Magic Happens
For the most part, I tend to do my shopping at this place called The Co-Operative about a block down the road from my flat. There’s a Marks and Spencer next door, but they’re much more expensive, as well as a Sainsbury’s quite a ways away, but that’s a bit of a trip. The Co-Op is a little shop with a lot of food that is cheap but expires fast. Fortunately I haven’t encountered a whole lot of trouble with that yet, since I shop on a weekly basis and only have to buy for one.
The other advantage is that they sell a lot of stuff that doesn’t require a lot of “assembly.” More on that later.
A New Definition of “Cooking”
I don’t cook. Well, that’s misleading. I can cook. I’ve done it before, but I tend to avoid it as a rule. It’s mostly just that I don’t feel spurred to look up recipes or be adventurous with trying new things, so for me cooking is a daunting and directionless endeavor. So I tend to limit my at-home cooking to meals that fit these criteria:
1. Stuff that I don’t have to do anything to.
Your Greek Yogurt, your fresh fruit (Which, incidentally, is AMAZING here), and your digestive biscuits. Pretty self explanatory: open package, remove food, put in mouth.
2. Stuff that you just have to reheat.
Heinz is not just a ketchup company in England. In addition to the famous beans that the Brits are notorious for enjoying on their toast, I’ve encountered their canned Macaroni and Cheese (yes, you read that correctly), their version of Spaghetti-Os, and their canned beef-filled ravioli. They’ve all been if not delicious, at least palatable. They’ll fill you up, they’ve all been under 400 calories per can, and they only cost about a quid and a half.
3. Stuff that can be easily combined with other stuff to make you feel like you’re cooking when you’re not.
Sandwiches are wonderful things. So are breakfast cereals. But the king of this category is hummus. Or “houmous” as it’s spelled here. Either way, the past two times I’ve been, The Co-Op has been running a deal on all of their varieties. The Moroccan is a life-changing experience. 50 grams of houmous (Which is a heck of a lot of houmous) and a pita or two is a low-cal lunch that tastes like spicy, chickpea angels are tap-dancing on your tongue.
There’s a phrase I didn’t think I’d ever type.
Bonus Heading: Bryson’s Top Three Favorite Little Pieces of British Grocery Trivia
1. In British grocery stores, they don’t refrigerate the eggs. I haven’t personally bought any (They fit nowhere in my acceptable criteria for groceries.), but from what I’ve heard from my flat-mates they taste better as a result of this.
2. Nothing here is re-sealable. Even stuff like a package of deli meat or a couple of pitas that you couldn’t possibly be expected to finish in one sitting has to be put into a bag. Also, The Co-Op doesn’t sell Ziploc bags.
3. Alcohol comes packaged like soda. In that, at The Co-Operative, you can buy a two-litre plastic bottle of Strongbow Hard Cider for under £5. It’s 5% alcohol and tastes like apple juice. Which is both wonderful and dangerous.