Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’Category

What to bring home from a British grocery store

British groceries Whenever I visit a British grocery store I scour the shelves for the most unusual items. But it’s really the comfort foods that define a cuisine — or at least taste like home. That’s the lesson I learned from a lovely woman in Leeds who had lived and worked in Taiwan for 15 years. When I asked her what I might want to buy in the city’s big Sainsbury grocery store, she immediately rattled off the items that she had most craved during her years abroad.

At the end of every visit home, she would pack herself a big care package for her return trip to Taiwan. Here are the foods she couldn’t do without:

Heinz Tomato Soup. It’s ultimate comfort food.

Heinz Baked Beanz. Brits consider this version superior to the American version.

Heinz Salad Cream. This tangy dressing has a consistency like mayonnaise. Dubbed “pourable sunshine,” it’s as popular on sandwiches or baked potatoes as it is on salads.

Marmite. This yeast extract with a strong, salty flavor is equally loved and hated, even in Great Britain. The dark brown paste is usually spread on toast, with or without a little butter.

Walkers Salt & Vinegar Crisps (potato chips, to Americans). Walkers is the favorite brand in the UK and the salt and vinegar variation has a tangy, salty flavor that is quite addictive.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Whole Nut Bars. Introduced in 1933, this bar pairs Cadbury’s creamy, high milk content chocolate with whole hazelnuts.

And here are a few more items that I like to throw into my grocery cart:

HP Sauce. This secret-recipe brown sauce has been manufactured since 1899 and is a favored accompaniment for beef. The original version is available in many U.S. grocery stores, but it’s worth seeking out some of the other flavor options, including the blend of HP and Guinness.

Branston Rich & Fruity Sauce. This mix of tomatoes, apples, and dates is blended with herbs, spices, sugar, vinegar, and molasses to make a sweet but tangy brown sauce. It’s good on scrambled eggs.

Cadbury Flake. The crumbly bar of thin sheets of milk chocolate is the classic adornment to a scoop of ice cream.

A very Fortnum Christmas to you


Since business took me to St. James’s Street in London (mostly to visit the iconic wine shop of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which has been there since 1698), there was no way I could miss visiting Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly; tel: 0845.602.5694; www.fortnumandmason.com), practically around the corner. I could tell that Christmas was coming when I met chocolatier David Burns (above) just inside the front door, handing out samples of his chocolates. (The lavendar English cream that he gave me was as divine as I’d expected.) Burns and his wife Keely operate the small firm that has supplied handmade chocolates to F&M since the 1920s.

By the first week of October, my favorite London purveyor of gourmet goodies had transformed its first floor into the Christmas shop. Given the paucity of British autumn holidays, the retailers start Christmas early. But no one does the flavors of Christmas quite like the Brits, who have spun a whole gastronomic fantasy about holiday sweets and savories (and sweet savories, like mincemeat). For example, who can resist a jar of Christmas rum butter to accompany Christmas puddings and pies?

The store is a great place to buy holiday gifts for foodie friends (I’ll take the whole-grain mustard, please, and a bottle of F&M’s own beef extract–a hideously expensive commodity ever since mad cow mania shut down the British beef industry for a while). Maybe the nicest of the Fortnum & Mason teas is the white Yunnan, but I find the packaging of the “Royal Blend Stronger Tea” irresistibly colorful.

Fortnum & Mason tries to have Christmas both ways, of course. Advent calendars make it nigh unto impossible to find the cash register, and the tins of plum pudding and other sticky sponge-like things conjure up the feel-good emotions of a Charles Dickens Christmas. But even Fortnum & Mason can sometimes jump the shark with its Yuletide enthusiasms. Just who do they think will be serving the “Arctic delicacy” of reindeer paté at their Christmas party?

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12 2010