Vendor along the Thames River selling quiche — small crusty pies of cheese, meats and veggies. All photos by Kelli Fitzpatrick.
This weekend I took a break from the beautiful streets of Florence and its heavy meals of pasta and breads. I traveled with five friends to the equally beautiful, but more modern city of London. England has a bad rep for bad food, but as a foodie, I knew I’d find something great to nosh on. I wasn’t disappointed.
Thursday, we arrived in the city center around midnight. Unlike in Florence, restaurants in London don’t stay open for late-night diners, so we resorted to Burger King! But, let me tell you, a chicken sandwich and fries after 11 hours of traveling tastes like the finest cuisine in the world.
Every morning, we enjoyed a free breakfast at our hostel. I was thrilled to see they supplied a toaster, which is nonexistent in our Florentine apartments; toast must be prepared with butter on the stove. We had a table full of tastes from home: crunchy peanut butter (a rarity in Italy), chocolate spread (like Nutella without the hazelnut — straight chocolate goodness) and multiple kinds of jelly. I paired every breakfast with the English staples of tea and biscuits.
I was able to enjoy another American favorite during my first day in London. While waiting to begin my tour at Harry Potter Studios, a huge HP nerd, obviously, just outside the city, I ordered a pulled pork sandwich for lunch. It was served on crispy bread with a side salad. The oddest part of the meal was the salad dressing — it tasted like straight mayonnaise, and may have been just that.
A weekend in London wouldn’t be complete without fish and chips! Friday night was for trying this greasy classic. The meal was served in a to-go box filled with a huge piece of fried fish, flaky and tender, on top of a pile of greasy, thick-cut fries. I absolutely loved it!
The next day, we were strolling along Thames River, waiting to board the London Eye, when we stumbled upon a market area of food vendors. I spotted a vendor selling quiche — small crusty pies of cheese, meats and veggies — two for five pounds. I chose a cheddar and leek quiche and dove in. The little pie was dense and onion-y, paired well with dessert: From another vendor, I purchased a huge “Snickers” brownie made of chocolate, cookie crumbs and chocolate-covered coffee beans, all dripping in caramel sauce. I couldn’t even finish the mammoth sweet; it was so rich.
A surprising London specialty is Indian food. The city is teeming with Indian restaurants, so Saturday evening we asked our hostel bartender for her recommendation. She pointed us toward a restaurant just down the street, and we were not disappointed. We started the meal with an order of papadum, which is a round, crispy, tortilla-like food served with four kinds of toppings: sweet mango chutney, a creamy yogurt dip, spicy vegetable dip and chopped onions.
For my main course I ordered Chicken Saag (chunks of tender chicken cooked in a sauce consisting of spinach and tomato) and white Jasmine rice. I happily cleared my plate, having to remind myself to slow down as I gobbled up the Indian delicacy. My first Indian meal was definitely a success.
Sunday was our last day in London, and three of us tried a little restaurant off the beaten path. The girls who were with me both ordered a full English breakfast, which looked like a cafeteria tray with multiple dishes — egg, hashbrowns,sausage, ham, French fries, baked beans, mushrooms and a tomato. They both loved it, but it looked like too much food for me after three days of greasy English goodness. I went with a chicken and avocado sandwich with potato leek soup. I became a fan of the leek, a vegetable I’d never tried before this trip.
Lessons learned from my London-eating experience: ask locals for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to go big, while also getting a taste from home, when you get the opportunity!
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