In the past, every time I visited Korea, I thought the food was incredible. Until last summer, when I was there for a month, after which I realized that a lot of the food is mediocre. Like the “American” food (of which there’s a lot) and ethnic food in general besides Korean, Chinese, and Pho. Even the Japanese food there is not that great. The sushi in particular is generally pretty bad, but everything else also; it’s just whatever.
It made me realize that there’s no objective way to say whether the food somewhere is bad or good; it depends completely on the standards. This might be obvious, but I don’t think people think about that when they consider whether the food somewhere is “good”. I hear a lot of people say how the food in Korea is awesome. It is – if you’re talking about Korean food. In regards to almost everything else, it’s pretty bad. But you go to Korea for Korean food, so by the standards for which you’re there, it’s good.
I think that’s why some Americans say the food in England is bad. Because the British equivalents of the food we eat in America is pretty bad. Meaning burgers, dogs, BBQ, Mexican food – overall, it’s not that great.
But there’s stuff here’s that’s better than in the US, some much better. Like, I think a lot of the meat is superior here, both in variety and quality, from any random supermarket. The cheese is incredible, and they take it seriously (some cheeses have numbered scores on a scale of 6 to indicate sharpness, vs the vague classifications we use in the US). They take local food sourcing really seriously also, if you’re into that. The alcohol selection is much more varied and interesting here. Sandwiches are amazing – nothing fancy, just really solid ingredients. The tea is much better here (and I’ve come to appreciate and regularly drink English Breakfast Tea). I also think the coffee is better here. There’s a higher probability of getting a quality espresso drink at a random place here than in the US. My new favorite espresso drink is a flat white, which I’ve never even seen in the US.
The biggest thing to get used to is that there’s good ethnic cuisine here, just not the stuff I used to eat. There are a lot of fantastic bakeries of different types – French, Portuguese, Polish – that just don’t exist in the US. (That’s one thing I don’t miss at all, places like Panera – I think the bakeries here are superior.) The equivalent of Bay Area Mexican is probably European-type places like Nando’s (Portuguese chicken). It’s reasonable and decent. There are mid-range Italian, French, and Belgian places (had no idea that mussels and french fries were a Belgian specialty – delicious) that are quite good. And there are a ton of good Mediterranean and Middle Eastern places. So yeah, is the food good here? It really depends. If you’re willing to go beyond what you ate in the US, it can be great. If you want the same foods, it’s disappointing.
I’ll tell you one thing I don’t like: fish and chips. Well that’s half true. There are certain places where the fish is incredible – flaky, moist, delicious (although a bit oily). But chips here are rubbish. They’re cut like squat steak fries, and prepared in such a way that they quickly get rubbery. I’ve come to realize that fish and chips places in the US aren’t authentic at all with either their fish nor chips, but as far as chips go, that’s a good thing. If we could mix the fish here with US chips, that would be awesome.
I will note one other weird thing here about the food that I think says something about Britain: I feel like they’re really slow to adopt new cuisines. It doesn’t make sense, given how diverse London is. Take a diverse place like New York (SN. New Yorkers say New York is the most diverse city in the world, but just walking around, to me London just feels more diverse, in terms of variety of how people look, the languages they’re speaking, and whatever) – there’s a huge range of food there, lots of different cuisines. London, I feel not so much, and that’s odd to me, although again, maybe it’s just that the ethnic food is different than what I’m used to in the US. But I feel like Britain is slow / resistant to taking things from other cultures in general. I think I’ve noticed this already about sports – the sports they follow here are basically the ones that originated here (soccer, rugby, cricket, tennis). The biggest food trends here seem to have originated locally, like the gastropub thing. There’s virtually no fusion to speak of at all. Because of that, I just get the sense (maybe inaccurate) that Britain is slow and reluctant to incorporate foreign things. They’re bigger about imposing their culture than assimilating into it. At least in contrast with the US. For all the talk of US cultural imperialism, US culture really is a hodgepodge of stuff from all over. That’s probably a big reason why US entertainment translates so well – it has influences from all over the place.