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7 Great Things About British Grocery Stores And 6 Things That I, An American, Find Very Odd

Ready meals = amazing. Ironing water = confusing.

Hi I'm James and I'm an American living in London. I love British grocery stores for many reasons, but some things I find a bit odd. Here are a few quirks I've noticed that make British grocery stores different from American grocery stores.

James Lamon

1. The chip (or "crisp") flavours in the UK are LIGHTYEARS ahead of our American flavours.

James Lamon

Dear American chip makers: we do not need another flavour of nacho cheese. Why don't you try something like "Japanese Wasabi & Ginger" or "Vintage Cheddar & Chutney" (both real UK flavours). UK chip flavours make me feel like a prince among men while I eat an entire bag in front of the TV.

James Lamon

2. Some people in the UK buy special scented water for their clothing irons they call "ironing water."

James Lamon

WHY!? No one needs this! Use good smelling laundry detergent or fabric softener or dryer sheets. If you are relying on your iron to make your clothes smell good, you need to rethink your entire laundry supply chain.

James Lamon

3. Your average British grocery store sells foods that seem so damn fancy to me.

James Lamon

Typical American foods: "Pepper Jack Cheese," "7 Layer Dip," or "Chilli con Carne Exploders."

Typical British foods: "Double Gloucester Cheese," "Welsh Rarebit Cheese Bake," or "Coquilles St. Jacques."

It's like... wow the president of America eats McDonald's every single day meanwhile regular shoppers in the UK are filling their carts with foods I cannot even pronounce.

James Lamon

4. Eggs are not refridgerated in the UK.

James Lamon

I'm not afraid of unrefrigerated UK eggs (I've eaten them for 3 years and I'm fine), but I am frequently surprised by where they are placed in the grocery store. The good thing about refridgerated eggs in the USA is they are always by the milk and cheese. In the UK, the eggs could be any number of places. Sometimes you'll turn around on the soup aisle and go, "Ah! Eggs!"

James Lamon

5. UK "store brands" offer both lower cost and higher cost options, meaning you can buy, for example, store brand olives, regular olives, or extra premium store brand olives.

James Lamon

In the USA, every grocery store offers it's own "house brand" of dietary staples that undercuts the cost of a name brand, such as Coca-Cola, Nutella, or Kellogs. But in the UK, a store brand (such as Sainsbury's pictured above) offers multiple levels of niceness in its house brand, in this case bacon. We get levels of bacon! Many UK house brands do this! It's great because you can go simple if you're saving money or you can go premium if you're feeling bougie. Choice = power.

James Lamon

6. In the UK, beer is often sold in four packs.

James Lamon

I literally thought I was on a prank show when I pulled out this "case" of Corona. I'm told you can find bigger quantities of beer at bigger grocery stores, but in London grocery stores I only see four packs. Occasionally I will see a six pack but it's more rare. And some American instinct I have feels like this just isn't enough. It needs to be a six pack. Single beer or six pack. Nothing in between.

James Lamon

7. You can buy tin cans of alcoholic mixed drinks.

James Lamon

In America, tins (aka "tinnies," aka "gin in a tin") are not a big thing. You can buy them but people don't drink them very often. We buy bottles of liquor and mixers instead. I have concluded tins are popular in the UK because you can drink on the street, or in the park, or anywhere you want, so people need "on-the-go" alcohol for those who don't want beer or wine. And so, the tins.

Tins come in many interesting flavours.

James Lamon

And this leads to many wonderful British colloquialisms such as "tinnies in the park?" or "Tins for the train?" which translated to American English means: "do you want to day drink?" British people even have multiple ways to ask you to partake in drinking on the train. They will say "train tinny?" or "tins for the train?" or even "journey juice?" It's a fascinating culture.

James Lamon

8. British grocery stores only seem to stock "mild" salsa.

James Lamon

The image above is the entire salsa section of the store. Just one mild salsa. I find this funny mostly because I'm from Texas where every store has "mild," "medium," "hot," and even "extra hot."

But it's even more silly when the label gives away the fact that mild is just the first of multiple heat levels. Where are the other levels?

James Lamon

I'm pretty positive I've purchased Old El Paso "Hot" in America. I've never seen the stuff in the UK. Mild for days.

James Lamon

9. Cheese comes in strength levels.

James Lamon

I cannot explain why I find this so satisfying but I do. After a long day, I can go to the grocery store and be like "yeah it's a level 4 kinda night." (also: Mambo Number Five joke? Anybody?)

James Lamon

10. The number of savoury jams, jellies, and marmalades in stores is astounding to me.

James Lamon

Americans eat basically none of this. This is an entire store section you could not find in an American grocery store. You may find ONE single jar of savory marmalade. In the UK, you guys have GOBS of the stuff. And I don't really know what people eat it on? I don't see my British colleagues or friends eating it. I suppose they must do it in secret away from me, an American.

Let's just explore a few of the unusual flavours on offer at your typical British grocery. I don't know anything about these. Are they for cheese boards? Meat? Bread?

James Lamon
James Lamon

11. British meats all specify that they are home-reared in the UK, which makes me feel like I'm buying local and getting a higher quality product.

James Lamon

I have read that misleading marketing tactics in the USA trick people into thinking they are eating domestic beef, pork, or chicken when in fact it comes from elsewhere. The British seem very proud of the quality of their domestic meat and produce, and it tastes good and natural.

James Lamon

12. British sandwiches seem to only have two ingredients.

James Lamon

I know the meal deal is an institution and I respect it. But it's funny to me how many British sandwich staples have only two ingredients. In America, sandwiches would contain these same ingredients PLUS lettuce, tomato, pickle, and even onion as standard on all sandwiches. The BLT is probably the simplest American sandwich with three ingredients. But in the UK, you guys seem to never go above 2 ingredients. What gives?

James Lamon

13. And finally, the greatest thing about British Grocery stores is the range and quality of "ready meals."

James Lamon

"Ready Meals" are cold (but never frozen) meals freshly-prepared by the grocery store that you take home, heat up, and eat. They have short expiration dates because they are made of real food — unlike in America where our "processed" prepared meals contain chemicals I cannot pronounce.

Ready Meals are incredible because they're not super expensive yet they taste very delicious. These meals make me feel fancy as hell.

James Lamon

These meals cost between £3 and £8 pounds — yes, even the lobster thermidor. They also have different cuisines (Indian, Mexican) and dietary options (Vegetarian, low calorie, vegan).

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