Last night I went looking for my friends Ben & Jerry. At the end of a long day, I need chocolate fudge brownie the way many people need Jack Daniel’s.Head pounding and feet aching, I headed for the convenience store across the street from my dorm. I balked a little when the cashier charged me Â4 for the pint. I took the lid off and walked home, eating my $8 ice cream.
To put it delicately, England is not a country known for its food. The food here is both expensive and mediocre, which is not a good combination for a budget-conscious college student. Who cares if the meal is cheap if you can barely choke it down?
And, while the food itself is expensive, you have to pay extra just to eat it at the restaurant. The Value Added Tax is tacked onto your meal if you sit down to eat it. If you are trying to avoid the evil VAT, you must ask for your food “takeaway,” not “to go.” I once stood bewildered as an entire pub staff laughed at my request for a “to go” box.
If you get a takeaway and do not order a beverage, London does provide a few budget-friendly options.
The Indian food I’ve had here lived up to its reputation. The curry is plentiful and spicy, much better than anything I’ve tried in America. For around Â3.50, a single order may last for two meals. Leftovers are your friend.
Do not – under any circumstances, no matter how good they sound – order nachos. It’s just not worth it.
I have had some excellent jackets, which is just a fancy word for baked potatoes. This had to be explained to me, and again, people laughed. You can get pretty much any topping you want, including real cheddar cheese – not the yellow goo that Wendy’s serves. Be careful to specify what you want on the potato, as there are some menu options involving things like peas.
Fish and chips has two distinct advantages. One, it is cheap and plentiful. Two, it is really, really good. The fish is usually cod with crisp breading. The chips were like thick steak fries – crispy on the outside and warm and softer on the inside. The dish deserves its legacy.
I have not tried any food from street vendors because I can’t remember if my Hepatitis A shot is current. Most vendors are dirty-looking stalls that serve delicacies like goat curry. I just don’t know how much I can trust people that regularly eat goat.
A few notes about beverages: If you want something other than tap water, prepare to pay. If you want plain, free tap water, be sure to request it. I accidentally ordered a Â2 bottle of spring water before I found this out. Also, be sure to specify still water rather than sparkling when you order. Coke is cheaper at the grocery store than by the glass, but it will still run you Â3 for a 2-liter.
Mixed drinks will run approximately $11 at any bar or club, and very few are worth the price. If you are willing to take your chances, I have had some excellent mojitos and flavored martinis. Beer costs almost $6 a bottle, and be prepared for thicker, uncarbonated ales. London Pride is popular. I drank Sol and Corona for the first few nights, before deciding that I didn’t travel 5,000 miles to drink Mexican beer. Then I switched to wine.
Wine prices here are actually comparable to in the States, but the quality is much higher. In America, cheap wine equates with that Franzia stuff in the box. I bought cheap wine at the grocery store the other day and it was an amazing, deep merlot from Chile. Some pubs also have deals where if you buy two large glasses, you get the rest of the bottle for free.
Grocery shopping is a good option for many other items as well. Cereal and milk are affordable and can be eaten for every meal, just like at TCU. Fruits and vegetables are cheap and mostly organic. England has better strawberries and raspberries than I have ever had in the States, and pineapple is also cheap.
The bread is fresh and like nothing I have ever tasted before. I have taken to eating entire mini baguettes in a sitting, which I fear negates all the walking I have been doing. Desserts are much cheaper at the grocery than in restaurants. Chocolate here is richer and creamier, and you can often pick up a slice of cheesecake or cookies for around Â1.
I do have a couple of strategies for eating better. I either need to start dating rich men, or fall backward into a pile of money. Until one of those things happens, I’ll be in the cereal aisle.
Skiff London Correspondent Lacey Krause is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Emporia, Kan. She would really, really like it if someone would send her a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.