Today, we took a black cab tour through Belfast, and visited City Hall. But I want to take a break from the daily recaps to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: junk food.
I’m always interested in taking uncomplicated aspects of culture very, very seriously. Probably my favorite pastime is reading music criticism–a genre of writing which does exactly that.
I also have a terrible diet. Sometimes I get myself together and eat healthy for a while. And I do have pretty wide-ranging tastes, especially for spicy foods. But usually, I enjoy simple junk foods far too often to be healthy, justifying it by the amount of exercise or mental exertion I have at the time.
So it would only make sense that I complete an overly detailed analysis of junk food in the United Kingdom and Ireland. This is all a roundabout way of confessing that I’ve eaten a lot of junk food in the past two and a half weeks. Here are some examples of the notable junk foods I’ve tried while here.
I’ve heard of Mars bars before, but they’ve always been sort of a mystery to me. Mars is the company that makes M & M’s and other snacks in the US, and I knew they also have a bar named after their company, that used to be sold in the US, but is now only available in Europe.
It turns out that I was wrong about this. The old US Mars bar, which was continued in 2002, was actually a different candy bar from the UK version. The Mars bar in the UK is exactly the same as a US Milky Way with a different name. In a show of my lack of discerning taste, when I initially ate the Mars bar, I thought it was similar to a Milky Way, but sort of like a 3 Musketeers, too. Turns out it’s just a repackaged Milky Way. Milky Way has never been my favorite candy bar (that’s Snickers.)
I’ve also heard of Cadbury before, but not really known what it is. The two candies I tried from them were a mixed bag. The Bitsa Wispa were not really my thing, but the buttons were pretty good.
Digestives & other tea cakes
McVitie’s Digestives are perhaps *the* British tea cake. They taste like a far superior version of a chocolate covered graham cracker. Frankly, though, they are way, way better than any graham cracker. They’re more like cookies. I even prefer them to Oreos. I’ve bought a sleeve of Digestives twice, intending both times to eat them as snacks over three or four days. Both times, the sleeve has disappeared in two sittings.
While enjoying my second sleeve of Digestives, I decided to research if these delicious snacks could be found anywhere in the US. They can’t, and BBC recommends graham crackers as an American replacement. Before reading this, I was at a loss for what American food to compare Digestives to, and this article helped me make the graham crackers comparison. However, the site acknowledges, and I agree, that Digestives taste much better than graham crackers.
I’ve tried a couple of other tea cakes, bourbons and custard creams, since they were pretty cheap. Both of them were pretty good, but didn’t match up to Digestives.
Fanta orange soda
As a kid, one of my favorite drinks was what we called a “spritzer”, which meant combining orange juice with a lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7-up. My enjoyment of this drink was compounded by the fact that this drink only came out on rare occasions. As a kid, we were only allowed to have soda in the house if someone was sick.
My first brush with the European orange soda was a bottle of Orangina I bought at an Italian deli near my home in Chicago. It was delicious, but at the time, I didn’t make the spritzer connection. Little did I know that, in Europe, a major soda brand sells a similar product in an unpretentious container.
The first time I tried Fanta in Britain was in Cardiff. Dasheng and I had traveled to the upscale fast-food joint Nando’s for my first time, and on a whim, I decided to get Fanta from what I think was the first “bottomless soda” machine I’d seen in Britain. The Fanta came out looking more yellow than the syrupy orange I was used to, but it tasted delicious. It tasted like my childhood spritzers. I think I’ve had it four or five times since then.I even tried the lemon variety, which unfortunately didn’t recapture the orange version’s magic. But I’ll miss European orange Fanta when I get home. I’ll probably be making a lot more spritzers in memory.
Wine gums are the generic name for what we Americans know as Swedish Fish. However, the flavors of Wine Gums are based on different varieties of alcohol, whereas Swedish Fish are usually all one flavor. They’re not alcoholic, though. These were pretty good, but much like eating Swedish Fish, my jaw felt kind of sore afterwards. The flavor variety was way more diverse than Swedish Fish.
Potato crisps and potato chips
Crisps are the British name for what we call potato chips, since they use the name “chips” for what we call fries. To go on a tangent for a second, I have actually noticed the name “fries” used in Britain and Ireland a few times, in lieu of “chips”. Since “fries” do not refer to anything else in Britain, it seems that British people understand that fries are equivalent to chips.
I’ve noticed the name “fries” used more at American-themed restaurants. And “chips” seems to refer to a very specific type of fries, which are always very thick.
Honestly, I’ve also rarely seen the word “crisps” on this trip. I’ve seen crisps listed on a menu as “potato chips” once. And the crisp bags here often don’t even say the word crisps on them. Take, for example, this bag of Walker’s crisps (their name for Lay’s):
Haagen Dazs is literally so, so good. It’s the best ice cream you’ll ever find at a grocery store. In this country, expensive mineral waters like Evian are suddenly pretty affordable. If you look hard enough, you can find a two-liter bottle of Evian for around one pound. In America, it’d probably be about six or seven dollars. I assume this is because importing Evian from France to England is much cheaper than importing it to America. Another factor is probably that mineral water is considered the standard for bottled water in England, unlike in America.
I had hoped that Haagen-Dazs would be like Evian, and be far cheaper in the British Isles. Unfortunately, it is still prohibitively expensive (seven pounds!!), even more expensive than Ben and Jerry’s, which is imported from much farther away. Still, I figured I’d splurge for one pint while I was here, and I did so in Dublin. It was cookies and cream, and the vanilla they use is just out-of-this-world good.
So there you have it. A 1200-word investigation into junk food. If you’re still reading this, please don’t judge me.