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One of the first things you have to do when you arrive in a new country is to go grocery shopping. New Brits in America probably won’t be intimidated by the size of stores, but once you start wheeling up and down the aisles you’ll notice plenty of choices—and you won’t recognize many of the brand names.
It can be intimidating, so here is a guide to 10 very American things you’ll find when you shop. Some you’ll know under another name, and some it’s up to you to decide if you want to put them in your shopping cart…
The cereal aisle is always a colorful eye-opener, and even though many of brands are transatlantic these days, you’ll recognize Rice Krispies and Frosties as Frosted Flakes. As for newbies, a couple of examples are Wheaties, a good way to learn about American sports, and Count Chocula, which only appears around Halloween. Of course, here’s plenty of healthy stuff too though: granola is popular cliché tree-hugger one, and brands like Kashi are fiber-filled too—though you always need to watch for sugar.
The subject of fierce pronunciation debate by Stewie Griffin and Brian the dog in “Family Guy,” Cool Whip is an imitation whipped cream, a topping for desserts and pies. It originally had no cream or milk, but now the “Original Cool Whip” has skimmed milk and light cream. Staying with whips, Miracle Whip is another alternative—this time a kind of sweeter mayonnaise that technically doesn’t have enough vegetable oil in it to be called mayonnaise at all. Brits might see it a kind of U.S. version of salad cream, and, like salad cream, will either love it or hate it.
A tub of Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Creme looks very similar to Miracle Whip—and, not coincidentally, is made by the same company who makes the Whips—and is a fluffy marshmallow that you can spoon out and spread over the perennial favorite, apple pie, the Florida-born Key Lime pie, or indeed anything that takes your fancy.
If you’re getting some Jet-Puff, you’re probably going to want to pick up a pack of Graham Crackers (pronounced “Gram”) too. Originally a coarse, healthy snack invented by a Presbyterian minister to stop carnal lusts, they’re more often sweetened with a sprinkling of sugar, honey or even cinnamon, and are the “bread” in which you squish fire-roasted marshmallows (or Jet-Puff, if no flame is available) and a bit of chocolate to make S’mores, a campfire favorite in the U.S. since time began.
Coming in a bag, grits are a corn dish that look a bit like flaky porridge oats and are a food from the pioneer days—and very beloved in the American South. Heated gently in a pan and stirred slowly, they come out looking like—well, many would say the name is apposite. Adding cheese, peppers and other goodies—sweet or savory—can enhance/take the taste away, and, again, they’re a love-it-or-hate-it breakfast staple.
Packets and long tubes of shrink-wrapped jerky are in stores and gas stations across America. Dried cuts of meat of all kinds, they’re salted to the max and are a chewy favorite for truckers, adventurous types or anyone taking a long trip because they’re handy, packed with protein, last more or less forever and don’t need to be refrigerated. In California, they’re often found in earthquake kits.
Iced tea is something that will catch cuppa lover’s eyes. Another favorite, especially in the southern states where it often comes pre-sweetened, it comes in glasses and cans and is strongly-brewed tea chilled/served over ice and with maybe a slice of lemon. Lipton’s Tea is usually what you’re given, though brands like PG Tips and Typhoo can be found in specialist stores like Cost Plus World Market.
As for milk, Skim is non-fat (in the U.K. it would be known as skimmed), 1% means low-fat (semi-skimmed), 2% is reduced fat (no equivalent), while Whole/Regular is what Brits would also call full fat. There’s also almond, vitamin-enhanced, soy and goat milk, while “Half and Half” is half-milk and half-cream, for coffee. Like American chocolate, Brits often say American milk “just tastes different,” from what they’re used to, so you might want to experiment.
Veggies with a different name
Coming to the fruit and vegetable section, there are a couple of re-namings that you probably know already, but be prepared for blank stares if you do use the English ones: eggplant is the American name for the aubergine, Zucchini is what Brits know as courgettes, the super-hip rocket is known as arugula in the U.S., a swede is rutabaga, and Hannibal’s favorite, the fava bean, is what Brits would know as a broad bean.
Canned and Processed Cheeses
Finally, there’s the marvelous invention that is Easy Cheese, or cheese in a can, which, as you’d imagine, comes up rather short against a Wensleydale or a Double Gloucester. Velveeta is a soft processed cheese you can spread or melt easily (older Brits might just remember it as “Velveta” around the WWII era). It’s similar to the boldly-named (and processed) American Cheese.
Expats, what are your favorite finds in American supermarkets?
A Matter of Taste: An Expat on Differences Between British and American Palates
We’re Not in Tesco Anymore: Six Ways U.S. Supermarkets Differ From British Ones
Why the U.S. Should Adopt British-Style Supermarkets
See more posts by James Bartlett
James Bartlett writes about travel, film and the weird and wonderful side of living in L.A. He has been published in over 90 magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, Angeleno, Hemispheres, Delta Sky, Westways, Variety and Bizarre. He is also a contributor to BBC radio and RTE in Ireland, and is the author of Gourmet Ghosts - Los Angeles, a "history and mystery" guide to bars and restaurants in L.A. - details can be found at www.gourmetghosts.com.