There isn’t a place I visit in the world quite like London when it comes to my return luggage. it’s not exactly filled with souvenieurs of t-shirts, magnets, and museum posters like you might suspect. The chocolate photo to the left is just a snapshot into what the entire damage was from my last trip to the UK. My obsession with visiting local grocery stores wherever I go was capitalized on at 3 of UK’s finest establishments – Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, and Marks and Spencer. It’s known by my family and friends in London that a visit to these stores has to always be on the itinerary during my stay.
My immediate thoughts on the day I arrive to the UK is in short order: what food I am going to eat, and when are we going to the grocery stores, and then I start my day..
England is filled with an array of different cultures and an abundance of good food. 4 Michelin starred restaurants in all of the UK has more than all of the US at 3 [reference map to see the difference in area]. From the corner chip shop, kebab shops, Jamaican restos, to Chinese food galore on every street corner, to my beloved Indian cuisine that will blow your best neighborhood restaurant in the US away, they have it all! And i was only covering some of the local neighborhood places. You want it, they have it, outside of an authentic American sub. I swear If we ever move to the UK, I will be opening a chain of sub shops. And Subway is not the American sub I’m referring to – just a clue that this would be a successful endeavor to consider given that they are in every neighborhood now.
It’s no wonder that shopping in the local grocery stores is a melting pot of food cultures and cuisine. I consider my adventures to these stores as nothing short of a stop in paradise and I treat each aisle as if it’s a separate store withina store.
The chocolate aisle is always the easiest. I know what my husband and I enjoy the most and I can get through that quickly though as you can see from the photo, it does take up about 1/4 of the weight. You might say to yourself that they sell KitKats in the States and why would I bother? They are different, like vastly different in taste, so much that it’s difficult to go back to the American version afterwards. The crisps/chips aisle is somewhat of an adventure as they offer crisps that we don’t have here – Twiglets – which is a firm favorite of my husbands that I will never fully understand, to Scampi Fries which seem to be more and more challenging to find each time I visit, to Pork Scratchings …there’s nothing healthy in this category but they are all unique and can’t be purchased in the states at a reasonable price.
Then I venture around all of the rest – from the ready-made meals that I review each and every one, to the every day cheese that we pay a hefty premium on in the States for. I always manage to pick up random items along the way like the Peanut Bar pictured below, or papadums. I enjoy reviewing the prices of common items we buy weekly like Ting (pictured below) – even with the conversion rate, we are still paying a premium for the same drinks in the US. I check out the baking aisle and purchase items like this Xantham gum for gluten free baking pictured below. Some might think that we could get that at home but the unavailability in my local grocery store makes me purchase it there.
Then there’s my love of the smell of laundry. Over a decade ago upon my first visit to the UK, I discovered this beautiful detergent called Persil that has been impossible to find in the US up until Walmart decided to wage a war against Tide and started stocking it. When i visit London, I purchase 2 boxes of capsules and can condense them into 1 box to make the journey home in my luggage. M&S has another detergent that I have recently discovered to be a MUST HAVE. Nice to know that they are vegan, too.
It’s worth mentioning the wine stocked at the local grocery stores in the UK though I never bring any home. They offer a lot of great wines given their location to France, Italy, Spain, and Chile. The wines are very reasonably priced. Tesco’s offers Chateauneuf du Pape at a price even less than you can find in the US stores at £12/bottle or £78/case. Sainsbury’s also offers the wine at £14/bottle. They are all different, but Total Wine in the States offers the equivalent wine at $35/bottle as a point of reference. I do make sure to buy some while I’m there, of course.
Suffice it to say that there is another empty piece of luggage set aside for my trips to the UK, and the contents are mainly from my trips to the grocery stores. The visits are always so much fun and the bag to open upon return to the US is nothing short of a Christmas morning.