Sunday, December 5, 2010

Can I Buy This?..

Gennifer with a G, I thought your question was so good, I decided to move it away from the comments section and blow it up into a post. 

Gennifer just asked about the relative availability/cost of the following food items, a typical grocery list.  I'll admit, I certainly didn't think about something this practical until I arrived-and was then surprised at what I could/couldn't find that I used to buy in the States.  Generally, it's largely the branded, pre-packaged things that are a challenge to find here (and as you'll note from my 'I'm a Hoarder' post....).  The below commentary is simply based on my personal experience-if anyone knows otherwise, give a shout!  Here's Gennifer's list.  My commentary follows:

biscuit dough (like American bread-type biscuits, not "cookies")

1 pkg. Velveeta 16 slices
1 pkg. 12 hamburger buns
1 box Banquet-brand frozen fried chicken, 8 pieces
1 pkg. bacon bits/crumbled bacon (like for salad)
1 quart of heavy whipping cream
1 quart of olive oil
3-pounds/48 ounces ground beef
1 pound-16 ounces ground lamb
1 ounce cinnamon
1 ounce white pepper
1 ounce paprika
2 eggplant/aubergines
1 ounce parsley
1 pkg. pita bread (5 per pk.)
3 ounces of loose orange tea
2 ounces of white loose tea (I have my own bags, brew my own, blah blah)
5 yellow potatoes
2 bags of spinach leaves for salad
6 Bosc pears
1 sweet yellow onion
8 ounces gorgonzola cheese
8 ounces of baker's chocolate
1/2 dozen brown eggs
1 can-diced tomatoes
4 pkgs. toilet paper, 4 rolls each
plastic food storage containers
one 5-pound bag of sugar
2 pounds of coffee
1 gallon of milk, approx. 4 litres
2 oz. pine nuts

The top hilighted items may prove a bit difficult/impossible to find here, but a few comments to clarify...
*'American biscuits' a proper souther girl, there are certainly few months in my life that go by when I don't eat a biscuit.  Made, not purchased-and if you ever find them pre-made here, I'd be stunned.  But, I find even making them has provent to be a challenge-yes, I 'import' my own Crisco shortening (ahem..), but the flour here-even self-rising-must be different.  I haven't actually been able to produce a good biscut here, as they simply don't rise properly. :(  On the flip side, you should introduce yourself to Yorkshire Puddings ('yorkie puds').  They're simply lovely, and you can find pre-made/frozen ones.  I hear Aunt Bessie does a good one (ask me again after Xmas, as they've gone on the shopping list! :)).
*Hamburger buns...You won't be able to find them year-round; they're a summer-only product.  And, the ones that I have found aren't completely like in the US-they tend to be much smaller, and for some reason, a bit harder-and never pre-sliced.  The one thing I haven't done is gone the route of 'butty' buns (butty's are simply sandwiches.  as are 'sarnies.'), and though they don't taste like hamburger buns, they are larger-and if you find good ones-would probably be just as good.  Any good bakery would carry them, and likely and larger grocery store would have packs of them year round as well.
*Banquet frozen fried chicken...Banquet doesn't exist here to my knowledge, but the frozen fried chix part won't be a problem.  I can't comment on quality, but a very quick search on the online grocery store I frequently shop at quickly returned a page of results.
*Velveeta...not a chance.  In fact, I've only once seen 'american-style' sliced cheese here, and it was during the summer.  I've never eaten Velveeta, so I can't actually comment on availablity, but at the least, if you google 'american food store' you'll get a  robust list of both brick & mortar and online shops where you may very well be able to buy Velveta.  Price will certanly be an issue (example: most imported, American boxes of cereal in these shops usually run ~$10), but if you've gotta have it, you've gotta have it! :)
*Bacon bits....I haven't seen these, but I don't eat them, so it's possible they're out there.  As a great substitute however, you can easily purchase 'lardons' (think 'bits') of fresh chopped bacon in the meat cases and make your own!

Everything else, you can easily find-or the subsitution would be so close (not sure about 'bosc' pears, but pears for sure..), you'll be fine.

As far as cost is concerned, I think it comes down to a personal preference.  And it's worth noting that some of the things on your list (spices for example..), you'd buy in bulk once at a higher price-but it couldl take months to fully use.
Presuming the above is just for one person, you could very likely go the basic/essential route that many grocery stores are running these days on their private label brands and probably get away with just spending ~£20-25.  However, if you decide to go a bit up-market, perhaps go for a higher level of quality either in the grocery store, or even venture out to a farmer's market, you could go as high as £40-ish.  In general, for Simon & I, I spend~£25 a week at the farmer's market -and that food tends to get consumed in the week-and I then spend another ~£25 a week at the grocery store, and probably half of that is for things with a multi-week span.  Our food shop also involves buying things we can take to work for lunch, so we eat out less for lunch during the week, but do tend to eat dinner out about 3x a week.  However, I almost *always* use a voucher (coupon...), or my taste card (indespensible!), so we rarely pay full price for our meals out!

Great question, Gennifer.  Hope the above helps.


  1. Interesting.

    Two things stood out: The Velveeta is funny, since it's I believe originally from Germany even though nowadays it's pretty much known as American cheese. My dad used to work in the original Kraft factory in Germany when he was in high school. But some of this is anecdotal.

    On the bisquit dough, I actually suspect it has to do more with climate and environmental factors than ingredients that it doesn't rise the same. In fact, I think that is one of the original reasons many European breads aren't available in the US as much. This post here touches on a few of them:

  2. Tesco used to sell Baco's. Dont know if they still do. Also, I think you can get Kraft cheese slices here as well.

  3. Just moved over from the States. I can't find corn meal to make cornbread with, which I really miss. Also, no grits. I did find Bisquick in a shop in Kingston-upon-Thames.

  4. I second Kristina on what you can find. (And the flour issues too.) If you need American items, find your nearest Partridges store. They have a good American section. You will pay dearly for your needs though. In fact, unless you are on a tight budget, stop looking at prices for groceries. If you have to budget, then cut out things like American good and other luxury items. For staples though, there are few ways to save money unless you have time to shop at multiple places, and even then, you will still pay more than you are used to.
    And Velveeta has a long shelf life. Bring a few bricks over whenever you travel from home.

  5. Great additional commentary, all. Thanks!
    @Jan, I had no idea Velveeta was made in Germany. Learn something new every day from you!
    @AHLondon, '...cut out things like American goods..' couldn't be more spot on. I've broken down once & bought Aunt Jemmima Pancake syrrup & mix, and probably paid about $15 for the lot. Otherwise, I suck it up and take an empty suitcase back to the US whenever I go. Even with the possibility of a surcharge for an extra bag by some carriers these days, $50 for a suitcase that contains what I'd easily pay upwards of $200 for in London (if I can find it at all...), is worth it!
    But, on the flip side, I've started to drastically reduce my 'dependence' on American food the past 6 months, and except for one or two things I simply can't live without, have managed to either convert to a UK produt or make do without.

  6. interesting post. Tesco used to carry hamburger and hot dog buns in the bakery. They were prepackaged and had an American Flag on the package. I think the longer you are in the UK, the more adaptable you DO become and thus, reduce the dependence on American Foods. At least, that was the case with me.

    That said, I always had people bring over - powdered Ranch dressing packets, canned pumpkin, sugar free Jello boxes, cake mixes in odd flavors (cherry chip, anyone?), Hershey's Candy, and Holiday M & M's.

    Back here in the US I miss British Bacon, Pizza Express (that you could buy at Sainsbury), and all the cheaply priced wine.

  7. Wow! I am really thrilled to have received such an informative response! Thank you Kristina and all the comments.
    I want to have all my cost-of-living needs and expenses known and met before I ever get there, the point being to make sure I am asking for/accepting an adequate salary. I'll soon be adding a cellphone bill, transportation costs, rent, etc. to this list. And to minimize the "culture shock" some, aiming for few surprises and no blind-side hits. :)
    I'm an American football fan, so my current project is talking to UK internet and satellite providers about what kind of NFL programming packages they have so I can figure that into the cost-of-living. :P

    The comments on the list were helpful. Most of what I eat is something I make from scratch and it seems like those ingredients are available. For example, the "biscuit dough" was used to make Middle-Eastern meat pies, so as long as I could find a basic bread dough, I could work it within the recipe. The eggs, sugar, chocolate and whipping cream became chocolate mousse. As long as basic ingredients exist I shouldn't experience too much variation in what I eat here from there. Most pre-packaged food I eat is something I'm either miserable at making or too lazy to cook, like the Banquet fried chicken. :)
    I carry a lunch to work usually every day, and would expect to do so there, too. Usually whatever I make for dinner the night before I will save some out for work the next day thanks to the microwave. I currently spend about $110-140 for a two-week period with no eating meals out. For just me, it looks like I can expect a 40-60-pound/wk. grocery bill (plus delivery costs).
    Again, thank you! The information has been extremely helpful!

  8. ah, just moved here from the states, and boy do I miss my velveeta to make queso! and finding hot sauce is a nightmare. ha
    i do have a question for you that i would rather not post on the blog. could you email me please?
    would be greatly appreciated!!!!!

  9. Okay, I have one more grocery list ready for you if anyone would like to comment. The two lists together are technically one month's worth of groceries for me.
    My sister reviewed some of her grocery costs with me, but I'm wondering if there are cost variations by city. For example, would my sister in Salisbury pay less at a place like Tesco for the same products I would buy from a Tesco in London?

    And the list:

    inexpensive soap/body wash, hand soap, hair shampoo, hair conditioner
    4 pkgs. toilet paper
    2 p. coffee
    2 litres approx., milk,
    1 p. edamame
    1 small bottle, sweet rice wine/mirin
    2 p. white fish (tilapia, cod, haddock, etc.)
    1 small jar, toasted sesame seeds
    1 small jar, minced garlic
    2 small steaks, cheap, approx. 1/4 in. thick, 4 in. long
    2 litre bottle (?) of Pepsi
    1 lb. butter
    2 medium-size pizza crusts
    2 jars of pizza sauce
    1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese
    1 tomato
    1 green bell pepper
    1 small can of olives
    1 stick of pepperoni
    1 small can chopped pineapple
    1 bag of chocolate chips
    1 lb. fresh green beans
    1 pkg. pita bread, 4-5 pieces
    2-3 bundles of green onions
    1 stalk of celery
    1 large can of beef broth

    Again, thank you for any comments/thoughts.

  10. @Gennifer...sorry for my delayed response-crazy holidays & all that.
    I would almost guarantee that there will be price differences between London & Salisbury-higher on some items & perhaps even lower on a few things. I'd suggest you check out
    It's the online grocery ordering portal for Waitrose-probably the most 'expat' friendly grocery chain in the UK; though usually a bit more expensive than Tesco. they even had an online 'Thanksgiving' section in November for us expats! :)
    They just revamped their site and it's very user-friendly for browsing.

    Good luck!