Food Memories: What Do You Miss From Britain?

Award-winning bacon sarnie. (Photo via The Register)

Award-winning bacon sarnie. (Photo via The Register)

For many British expats, there’s nothing like food to get us waxing lyrical about our childhoods or weeping softly into our expensive, imported favorite tea from home.  Just the mention of a Battenburg or Garibaldi brings fond memories of Sunday tea time flooding back, never mind that they’re not even that popular over the pond these days.

Fortunately, for many expats in the USA it’s getting easier and easier to score our beloved victuals — either from a local “Brit” shop or one of the increasing number of online British food suppliers. One such shop in my area (Chicago) is Jolly Posh, owned by expat Brit Nick Spencer.  Spencer tapped into the British horror of no-decent-bacon-in-the-States a few years ago and began delivering heaven in a bun, (otherwise known as back bacon and pork sausage sandwiches), at local Farmers’ Markets.

He has since gone on to open a lovely old-fashioned shop in the Irving Park ‘hood, which is packed with goodies from the UK and Ireland; however it’s bacon and sausage butties that most of his customers salivate over. Jolly Posh has an extensive range of condiments such as HP sauce and Branston pickle as the icing on the cake, so to speak. As well as bacon and sausage, Spencer says that any kind of cake and biscuit (cookie to Americans) also sells well.

Another Chicagoan riding the nostalgia wave is expat Irishman Sean McGuire. He’s soon to open an ice cream parlor in the West Loop, to be called Cone. Apart from the absolutely divine sounding Jameson-infused ice-cream (I’ll take three), McGuire will also be selling — wait for it — 99’s. Oh yes. While the Cadbury’s flakes will be the real thing, he’s had to re-work the Mr. Whippy ice cream component, and he won’t be calling it a 99 either. When I expressed my shock and outrage on behalf of Brits and Irish folk everywhere, he very sensibly said that he doesn’t want people to think it costs 99 cents. Fair enough.

For me, it’s the silly things like pease pudding, a tradition in the northeast of England. Pease pudding is a savory dish made mostly from split peas. It has a consistency like thick hummus and is only a little lighter in coloring. Typically served with ham and at its best between two pieces of light, fluffy bread. Apparently you can buy it in a pot, but I wouldn’t know that as I always have to have mine fresh from the meat counter. Just call me a foodie!

When in England, I also make a mad dash for the huge variety of Schwartz cooking sauce packets available in every supermarket. Weighing an ounce at most, dozens of these are stashed in my suitcase and serve to relieve the utter tedium of having to cook daily meals to please every family member. (It works!) Sometimes I buy things that I probably wouldn’t even look at were I still living in England. I have to have fish and chips once when I’m there, a dish that would probably be banned from my diet if I actually lived there. I usually include a culinary experience or two for my kids; a trip to the coast will include a fresh fish market where I insist on buying a packet of winkles, and then instruct my kids to pull one out of its shell with a pin and eat it. (Ok, so far I haven’t convinced a single one of them to eat something that looks like it was pulled out of their noses.)

Winkles. (Photo via

Winkles. (Photo via

Talking of supermarkets as I was, I often just wander the aisles, taking in the familiar varieties of crisps (chips to Americans), juices and ready-made meals, marveling at the tidy shelves and faultless merchandising. There may be huge variety in the States, but there’s nothing quite like a spotless Sainsbury’s dairy aisle.

A British Expat’s Guide to Cooking in the U.S.
10 Items You Should Stock Up on When You Visit Britain
Food and Drink: 10 Things That Taste Different in the U.S.

So what do you miss from Britain?


Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • Transatlantic Blonde

    Well I’m still here but if I were to repatriate I’d miss Diet Irn-Bru and Square Sausage & Tatti Scone rolls.

    • expatmum

      Like I miss Diet Dr. Pepper. I can find regular Dr. P here (UK) but not diet.

      • Transatlantic Blonde

        You can get Dr. Pepper Zero in the UK!

        • expatmum

          Gah! Missed it. Obviously couldn’t see the forest for the trees!

  • gladleynet

    I really miss fruit squash (Robinsons, but also Ribena). I can buy it in Wegmans for $5-7 a small bottle, but I have held off because daylight robbery. Sometimes my husband catches me diluting the Tropicana trying to recreate that watery orange flavor…

  • Guy Phipps

    I miss pies, but that has been relieved since I discovered the English Pork Pie Company :)

  • applechan53

    I’m an American, and I have seen SO MANY people (especially teens) that practically worship American bacon. I like it myself, but only when it’s really crispy. So if British bacon is better… then it’s official. I have to try it.

    • Protocol417

      I’m an American who worships at the altar of all things British, food especially (I’ll take a pasty over a burger any day of the week), and bacon is the one area (related to food, at least) where I have to say… American bacon is better. To me, at least. And I like mine crispy, too.

  • Polly

    My niece & her friend have just returned from visiting family in New Jersey (which BTW is beautiful). They packed a whole host of things requested by the family, including Salad Cream, PG Tips tea bags, Cadburys Fruit & Nut, Galaxy, Coleman’s Horseradish & English mustard + Branston pickle.

    They returned home with 2 family sized bags of peanut butter flavoured M&Ms which take a little getting used to.

  • Joanne

    The food that I miss the most from the time I spent there: Branston Pickle
    Wensleydale cheese (not that you can’t get it here, but MAN is it expensive)
    Orange Fanta (easy to get here, but it tastes different…sharper, more carbonated in the States)
    Of course beer, but to me there are some decent substitutes. not the same, but good.

  • kirstizoe

    I did a semester in Ireland when I was in college and fell in love with SEVERAL food items that I now can’t get in the states. While I may be a midwesterner at heart, I’m also an Anglophile and I love hunting down Barry’s tea and some good biscuits to go with it. What I miss the most and what seems to be the hardest to find is fruit squash! Ah well.

    I adore Jolly Posh, its my favorite place for those little bits of memory for me, so I second that recommendation if you are ever in the Chicago area.

  • Tina

    Bread. I miss my Hovis Granary. American bread is too sweet.