Driving around England gave us the opportunity to try a lot of unique pubs and dining establishments. I wanted to be sure to eat some local foods. Though England is not known for its gourmet cuisine, I wanted the kids to experience as much of the authentic culture as possible.
I was worried about my junior high son, as he survives on white bread, chicken strips, and pizza at home. I knew from my last experience in international travel that sometimes those foods aren’t available, and when they are, they can be much different than those in the U.S.
Experiencing the authentic culture started at the petrol stations, which, like American convenience stores, sell a variety of snacks and drinks for the road. Very few of the snack items resemble anything like what’s commonly available in the U.S. My husband was distraught when he learned that his beloved Dr. Pepper is rare in the UK. Poor Joel had to be content with Coke, without ice. I told him his Coke might taste better if he quit diluting it with his tears. Though we didn’t find a single petrol station or “lay-by” that offered fountain drinks with ice, we did discover several edible drinks and snacks.
When we jammed back into our vehicle after our first petrol stop in the UK, my friend offered everyone some “Crusty Nuts.” I remarked that “Crusty Nuts” sounded more like a personal hygiene problem than a snack, but I managed to set aside my distaste for the name to try them; they were actually cheesy bite-sized nuggets.
Since I usually experience (eh-hem) regularity problems when traveling, I was drawn to a snack called “Digestives.” These chocolate-covered biscuit wafers did nothing to speed up my metabolism, but they were quite tasty.
Another snack I eagerly tried was “wine gums.” These are wine-flavored gummy candies. After I devoured two bags with no effects, I read the ingredient list, only to discover they contain no alcohol. At least I was able to keep the snacks away from the kids on the pretext of saying they weren’t of drinking age, even in the UK.
At the pubs, we discovered a variety of surprisingly good food. Of course, we had many servings of the ubiquitous “fish and chips.” Joel tried and loved “toad-in-a-hole,” which is sausage baked in a flakey pastry crust. His other favorite was “bubble and squeak,” which is fried leftovers, including cabbage. The waiters assured us that the dish is named for the sound it makes while frying, though in the car afterward, I drew a different conclusion as to the origin of the name.
We stopped short of trying “spotted dick,” though I understand that it is simply a sponge cake with dried fruit baked in, and not a politician with chicken pox.
American travelers must be careful to always designate “still water” when ordering, or carbonated water will automatically be brought. My children got a few giggles when incredulous waiters asked whether we really wanted our “water without gas.”
I was right to be concerned about what Dashiell was going to eat on this trip. He survived on ice cream and “chips” (what Americans call French fries) for the first few days. Finally, we came to a nice restaurant which listed “grilled cheese” on the menu. We were a bit taken aback by the price, but we were all tired of shouting out suggestions to Dashiell, only to be met with, “Ew! No, thanks!” He ordered the grilled cheese and we waited merrily for our food.
I wish listeners could have heard the guffaws (from everyone except Dashiell) when our order arrived. My boy received four thick steaks of white goat cheese, lightly grilled on both sides. The rest of us dug in and heartily enjoyed the slabs of cheese while Dashiell furtively snuck gummy worms from his pockets.
Once we crossed the English Channel, Dashiell had better luck, though he was still the only one of the group who actually lost weight on this vacation. Here’s to trying new things. Tune in next week to find out how we managed the crossing of the English Channel.