I’ve been following Robyn‘s time abroad in Paris for a month or two now, and her adventures have inspired me to write about my food habits during my semester in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Though I don’t have any nifty pictures, except perhaps one of a 500 ml Irn Bru that my Matt brought me this summer.  Bear with me here.)  My flat in Glasgow was university-owned and operated, but with no available dining facilities (aka ‘self-catering’); as someone used to either Smith College’s extensive Dining Services program or The Kitchen of Mum, who cooked for fun and not out of necessity…this was slightly overwhelming.

That said, I got used to it right quick, but I also ate quite a lot of random Easy Food.  Predominantly Frozen Fried Chicken Breasts from Iceland, croissants with salami, and vegetable soup.  However, I also developed a recipe for ground beef (that is, ‘mince’) with pasta, as well as a rather nice salad of cooked red bell peppers and onions, learned to make crepes and shortbread, and generally did well enough for myself, all things considered.  Basically, I was cheap, predominantly because of the exchange rate, but I managed.  Some things you can’t really make too well on your own, and therefore my expenditures increased.

Digestive biscuits: I could polish off half a packet of McVities plain digestives in one sitting.  For those who’ve never experienced them, I’ll paraphrase Douglas Adams and say they’re ‘like, but entirely unlike’, graham crackers.  The flour used to make them is coarser, there’s a different kind of sugar involved, and they’re not processed half as much.  Crumbly and not too sweet and entirely too good.  I can’t get them here, though they were available as an expensive import in Northampton’s Stop and Shop.  A Scottish expat at MU has told me that they do have them at Woodman’s here in Wisconsin, but until the Oak Creek store is completed, the closest to me is in Kenosha, which is 45 minutes if the traffic’s good.  Considering gas prices lately, I’d do better to order them online.

Haggis: You can’t get around talking Scotland and food without this coming up.  I won’t blow it off by saying it’s unimportant incountry, because it actually is a readily available food that’s not just eaten on Burns Night; it’s just only as big a deal as say, bratwurst in Wisconsin–a point of pride that’s probably consumed less often than brats are around here.  Everyone who hasn’t actually tried haggis is completely grossed out by the concept, and the fact that it’s illegal to import here (idiotic reasoning, since foot-and-mouth and CJD, Britain takes far better care of their livestock than we do) probably has something to do with that, but in January of ’05 I took the plunge, even before being well liquored up.
My verdict?  It’s honestly a lot like Hamburger Helper with oat instead of noodles, meaning that it doesn’t taste bad at all.  The only problem I had was getting over the fact that I knew what I was eating, but I was able to consume my portion entire with the help of neeps and tatties (er…turnips and mashed potatoes, for the layperson).  You don’t eat the stomach, and it’s not even included in some packages.  There is also vegetarian haggis, which I have not tried.

Irn Bru: There’s a great post about Irn Bru at The Traveler’s Lunchbox, so I won’t get into too much repetition.  Let’s just say that there seem to be few redeeming qualities to Irn Bru, even if it does make a fantastic hangover cure (my regimen was to drink three parts water to one part IB…NOT mixed, mind).  It stains your teeth and any other light coloured object/fabric faint bright orange, and it has a distinctive taste of artificial fruit bubblegum that’s gone off.
Eventually, a few sips or bottles later, it grows on you, slowly but steadily, until you find it bloody fantastic and miss it like nobody’s business.  Makes a decent drink with vodka, too.  It’s available for import, but expensively so, seeing as it’s not even available regularly in stores south of Cumbria.

Sausages: Not a particularly Scottish thing, more of a British thing.  Where I come from, sausages come in three kinds:

  1. tiny breakfast ones which you cook on the stove
  2. ring bologna, which you bake
  3. ones you grill and put in buns unless you are out of buns for some reason

The British concept of sausage does not fall into any of those categories, making it rather difficult for me to learn how to make a meal out of them.  ‘Bangers’ are a bit smaller than a brat but substantially larger than breakfast links.  But apparently you cook them on the stovetop in a pan as well.  Who knew.  I like my Grilled And Put In Buns kind of sausage fully dark on all sides, which was impossible with the banger, and cleaning the pan out was a pain.  Eventually I took to breaking them up into sausage bits and then cooking them more, which is not proper, but tasted good.  As for bacon…we’ll get to that in my Expat’s Guide as it is a doozy.

Indian Food: I’ll preface this by saying that my mother hates curry spices, and therefore we never had it when I was a kid–the fact that there haven’t been good inexpensive places in Milwaukee also didn’t help.   While in the UK, I learned to appreciate a good chicken tikka marsala, which is a hybrid sort of anglicised curry; pakoras of various foods battered in chickpea and fried; and at one point I treated myself to chicken rogan josh at Ashoka West End.  (Got to put in quick kudos for them–they treated a young student dining alone with a book at dinner hour quite nicely, and the food was fantastic.)  At some point I’d like to recreate the meal, but the ingredients are expensive unless you buy in bulk.  Considering my mother’s tastes, I don’t think that’s happening.

Now that I’ve finally completed this post, stay tuned for a guide for Americans living and eating in the UK: it’s harder than you’d think, considering political and cultural transference.