Where have all the hot dogs gone?

My first two months in England have offered a myriad of differences to adjust to. As I have found out time and again, this country even tastes different.

Prior to coming here, I was told the food is very bland and generally pretty bad. While it certainly is bland as anything, I’ve been able to enjoy at least some of it. Let’s start with what I eat most frequently: dorm food.

First of all, rather than having a hundred choices as to what type of meal plan I want, there is only one choice. Three meals a day, seven days a week. The nice thing about this plan is that I never have to eat out if I don’t want to. I usually end up eating out a couple times a week anyways because of classes, and just to change things up.

There isn’t nearly as much selection within each meal as there is at U of I. There is always a dish with meat, a vegetarian dish, some form of potatoes, and then dessert or fruit.

I can’t stress this enough: I’ve never eaten so many potatoes in my life. They may as well be their own food group here. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there is some form of potatoes with every meal. If it’s not potatoes, it’s chips and if it’s not chips, it’s potatoes.

Dinner usually goes like this. We find a place to sit and fill our double shot glass sized cups with orange juice, apple juice or water. My Indian friend Diva casually empties what looks like half a shaker of salt onto her food. My nutritionist friend Thu tells me everything that is wrong about the meal in front of her. Half the time we go back far from full and end up ordering pizza later.

As far as the actual main courses go here, they are usually hit or miss. There’s always the classic fish and chips, which hasn’t gotten old yet, at least not with me. Another favorite of mine is the minted lamb burger, simply because I’ve never had that in America. French bread pizza and chicken korma always do well too. In fact, I’d consider pizza and Indian food the best choices when not eating in the dorms.

What doesn’t do well with me is toad in a hole. It looks about as appetizing as it sounds. Some of the chicken tends to be especially bland, unless they serve it with barbecue sauce. Above all other food, I miss hot dogs and deep-dish pizza.

I did manage to get a nice German bratwurst from an outdoor Christmas market in town. The smaller businesses tend to be the best places to get food. A big problem with buying food here is that often times the only choice may be between more expensive pubs and American fast food chains. Sometimes my hunger to hold on to money exceeds my hunger for better food.

Good alternatives usually come in the form of small kebab restaurants. They’re just as cheap as Subway or Burger King and just feel better to eat. Before coming here, when I thought of a kebab, I thought of grilled meat and vegetables on a stick. Here kebabs are basically the same thing sans the stick, with some naan and garlic sauce.

Another important aspect of the cuisine is the traditional English breakfast. I was lucky enough to have this at an actual restaurant when two of my aunts came to visit me. It consists of eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, and an interesting variation of toast. The bacon isn’t like American bacon; it’s kind of like extremely salty ham.

As I have mentioned earlier, food is generally very bland. I went to Marks & Spencer’s food store in search of some oregano and red pepper one day (Marks & Spencer is a major chain in England). After walking around for a while fruitlessly I decided to ask about spices at customer service. I got the reply “You mean like in a jar? We don’t do that here”.

Apparently “here” means “England” because I haven’t been able to find spices anywhere else either.

Overall, the food isn’t all bad. The key is to find out where to go. Indian food, kebabs: in. Toad in a hole, massive amounts of potatoes: out. Moral of the story: the first thing I’m going to do when I get back is eat a hot dog.

Phil Collins is a sophomore in LAS. He is studying abroad in Nottingham, England this semester. His column appears every third Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]