London and Me: Intermission or Can I Order Indian Instead?

This is the perfect time to talk about a serious food issue in London.   I never run into this problem at home but as soon as I touch soil in the UK, I have to deal with it – pub grub.  Specifically the phenomenon of fish and chips.  Even if a pub doesn’t have something edible like bangers and mash, there is always fish and chips with those malt packets on the side.

Fish and Chips!I’m not a fan of fish and chips.   In the US, I enjoy fish with flavor.  Perch can be tasty and if seasoned properly, white fish might even pass my inspection.  But in the UK, the fish of choice is usually haddock, something I consider quite bland.  No wonder they offer packets of malted vinegar for taste. There is no catfish, buffalo, or any other flavorful fish. It’s haddock or bugger off.   To make matters worse, the plentiful chip shops on every corner serve theirs up in lovely greasy paper to ensure you enjoy every greasy bite.  The fish’s greasiness is directly proportionate to the greasiness of the chips.   This is considered really good eats.

Fish and chips and mushy peasThere’s something else.  I’ve seen it on plates with fish and chips.  It’s green and mushy and …well, it’s mushy peas.  Wiki says mushy peas are dried marrowfat peas which are first soaked overnight in water and then simmered with a little sugar and salt until they form a thick green lumpy soup. They are a traditional British accompaniment to fish and chips.  They are actually sold in tinned cans and sold as batter in pea fritter.  Okaaay. To me, it looks like peas pureed and then cooked down into glop.  In the US, it’s called baby food.  Why is this served at meals?  Why do people eat it, much less with fish and chips?  I just don’t get it.


Dublin, Ireland (Temple Bar)And let’s talk about the beer. Yes, this is utter heresy territory.  I’ll admit right off that I don’t like beer.  I’ve tried since college to find a drinkable beer to no avail.  A beer loving friend actually bought at least 15 kinds of beers for me taste, so determined was he to find a drinking buddy.  I hated every one.  In the UK, I’ve had shandys and ciders; no luck.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I dislike the taste of hops, barley and the fermentation process, ergo beer. In the UK, every social event calls for some kind of beer, ale, stout or cider. It’s hard to avoid.   Europeans joke that Americans drink cold weak piss.  Sorry, Europeans drink warm, really, really strong piss.  There, I said it. What do you think Dear Reader about pub grub and beer? Tell me how you really feel.  Or set me straight.

Oh, because I know what you people come here for:

John Mulligan eating

Richard Armitage as John Mulligan in Moving On, definitely not eating fish and chips, mushy peas or beer. Courtesy of


34 thoughts on “London and Me: Intermission or Can I Order Indian Instead?

  1. Fish and chips is low-end food, and a bit of an acquired taste. I suggest therefore that you go to Belgo (covent garden or clapham if convenient) and instead try the moules et frites – and perhaps try one of the floris beers which are weak and fruity. I like the ninke one.
    There is a reason I used to say that UK immigration policy is ‘helllo, can you cook?’
    Oh and if you’re after indian, try imli (soho) or chowki (near picadilly) they’re both excellent.
    – random, who now lives in manchester 🙂

    • Welcome Random! Wow, LTNS. This is like two fandoms colliding. 😀 Next time I go back, I’m taking your suggestion. Maybe you can chang my mind about this. 😀

  2. Judi,
    Australia, being very loyal to the mother country at one time, also has a legacy of pretty horrid fish and chips but, thankfully, we have grown up a bit and now prefer to eat “seafood” piled artfully in a tall stack on a very large white platter, lol. Having said that, I have a shocking fish and chip shop a block from me. Fish and chip shops are often run by Greek families. Nothing wrong with Greeks (obviously), big fan of democracy myself and thank them heartily for their philosophical legacy. But why they cook fish and chips the “English way” is a mystery to me. I am trying to train my local shop (yes I do succumb occasionally) to NOT have “innundate with salt” as their default setting but to little avail. Need lots of malt vinegar to balance it, I tell you.
    Anyway, England also has chefs, like Rick Stein, who use traditional plentiful English fish in nice edible dishes. So I don’t think all is greasy with mushy (or is it mooshy?) peas.
    I don’t think I can bear to look at your food pictures any more. I’m feeling a bit queasy. Won’t even mention the beer (except I just have, doh!). Lots of Aussies love beer, but warm, black beer … not so much.
    Can you get a salad sandwich in London? Maybe on wholemeal bread? I’m seriously worried that your next installment might be “Travels With My Troubled Digestive Tract”. {Crosses fingers that this won’t be true}

    • Aha, another legacy of bad fish chips. Interesting it’s not bad here because they use something else besides haddock, I think. Aren’t those pics lovely? I thought they fully exemplified what I was talking about. Oddly, they are supposed to be the best of fish and chip and mushy peas. Bleech! I actually ate well in London: dim sum, Italian, Indian, thair, greek. In other words I ate English only once, think it was bangers and mash. And my digestive system cooperated just fine, thankfully. 😀

  3. Be thankful you didn’t encounter puddings in the form of “spotted dick” or “dead baby”. Swimming in Birdseye custard…or Babycham or shandies. 😀 Thank goodness for Jamie Oliver. Ah well, cheap food is the same all over. Big Macs with limp lettuce or greasy fish’n’chips and mushy peas?

    • I’ve heard of spotted dick, but what the heck is “dead baby’? I’m scared to google that. Yeah, that’s why I eat everything but English and American when eating abroad. No McDonald’s or Pizza Hut for me there.

  4. When I lived in London in the 80s, it seemed like there were more kebab places than chip shops (thank heavens). Is that no longer true?

    • Welcome stoplookingup! Fandoms are really colliding here. Do come back, there might be more DT! 😀

      There are many kebab shops, but for some strange reason I seemed to notice the chip shops more. Sadly did not visit a kebab shop.

  5. I like it once in awhile, but it wouldn’t be my goto fast food of choice (which would be, if I were living in a Mexican-influenced area, tacos). I like the mushy peas, too, but I never met a legume I didn’t like.

  6. Although I give mushy peas a miss every time, I love most other pub grub. Fish & chips, bangers & mash, steak & ale pie, etc. And most of the fish & chips I’ve had in England have been good (a few losers). One English food item I’d love to try is toad in the hole. (Oh, and I used to fix myself beans on toast. Heh.)

    Still, to me the quintessential meal in England is kebab, chips (with vinegar), and fizzy lemonade. 🙂

    • I wondered when you were going to say something! 😉

      Yes, I wrote this with you in mind, with your love for fish and chips. I suppose I’ve gotten the greasy stuff over there, although I have to confess that the fish portion is really generalized. To be absolutely honest, I had once had good fish and chips with Gillo, and she ordered from a good local shop. The mushy peas? Still baby food. 😀 My fave brit meal is Indian. LOL!

      • You may recall, our first time to England together we weren’t allowed to eat Indian… We barely got to eat Brit. It was all “Italian, Italian, Italian!”

        So glad our other trips to England were more diverse in the BritFood choices. 🙂

        • Yeah, I do recall that. Ever since then I’ve made it my business to be more diverse. But you really should allow us to eat Italian again! 🙂

  7. a) Fish and chips is junk food. Expecting it to be particularly tasty is like expecting a Burger King to be cordon bleu.
    2) Some places get it right: fresh, good quality ingredients well cooked. Makes all the difference. You won’t find that at your average chippy (I’m veggie, but understand the one at the end of our road serves a blinding battered fish).
    iii) Mushy peas are the work of the devil.
    e) You’re stuck in London. It has its good points, though chippy dinners appear not to be one of them. They seem not to know how to do a decent portion of chips, their pies tend to the worrying (meat or cheese and onion – someone has blundered), and they are CLUELESS about gravy. I’m not casting nasturtiums on their morality, amity, or general character, just noting that the gravy down there is not real gravy but a strange, alien concoction.

    I lived in the US for a few years, and if I’d based my ideas of American food on the bars and takeaways round that area, I’d have concluded that you people wouldn’t know good food if it slapped you round the face. Thankfully, I had locals who knew much better to help me out. My first real rice and beans in a Hispanic owned and run cantina was a religious experience; my first nice NJ diner was almost as amazing. Having someone(s) with a clue to take you off to different kinds of eateries makes things so much easier and happier!

    Now, you look after yourself, and remember: Mushy peas = work of the devil. Just say no.

    • Welcome Karen! Thanks so much for your long and humorous reply.

      I admit that US fast food places are crappy, some more so than others. But fortunately (or unfortunately) I have champagne tastes so I tend to not head at these places unless really pressed for time, like at lunch. We have lots of great restaurants. I suspect many don’t think fast food is haute cuisine, especially us yuppies living in big expensive cities crowded big expensive eateries.

      It’s funny you bring up about gravy. Not sure what happens there, considering Yorkshire puddings and bangers and mash. Too much flour and no herbs, salt or pepper? I’ll have to remember that mushy peas are of the devil. 😀

      How do feel about beer on both sides of the pond?

      • I lived near NYC, so US city dining options? Fantastic! Actually, I will always love America for introducing me to southern Indian cooking. Hereabouts, it’s mainly northern Indian dishes and the Indian British cuisine that’s evolved over the past couple of hundred years, but you don’t see much south Indian food. London’s got some places that do dosas, and Manchester’s only got one!

        Anyway, gravy down south is… odd. It needs to be thicker, for a start, and if you ask for chips and gravy, you get looked at all gone out. Gravy = thick! The Americans I know from the southern states know what gravy should be like. (Which reminds me: another thing I’m grateful to the US for is proper grits, black eye peas, collared greens and gravy. Oh, dear god, yes!). I do not understand how southern English gravy evolved; I only know that I remain convinced of the innate superiority of the kind I grew up on, because I are intellectually rigourous.

        I don’t like the taste of alcohol, I confess. American spouse informs me that there are lots of microbreweries in the US that could give British real ales a run for their money, though he loves the local breweries around our town, and various family members who’ve been to the US have given very favourable reviews of US microbrewed ales (and been baffled by the insistence on chilling them). There’s a real return to locally brewed ale in Britain after years of the big boys blanding everything down. Spouse says that drinking beer at room temperature made no sense when he first moved here, and he still likes a cold beer, though he’s now adapted and says he can taste that ales taste better at room temperature and lagers better cold. My Mum prefers lager to ale, and likes it cold; everyone else drinks ale at room temperature. I believe that lager never used to be refrigerated until it got popular in the US and Oz – probably because the summers are hotter, and cold drinks were pleasing; apparently, ale doesn’t taste so well cold as lager does. And that is the absolute extent of my understanding of alcohol, except that there’s a family disagreement over whether Glenfidditch or Laphroig is the better whisky, and general agreement that the Irish whiskies have it over the Scotch.

        (mushy peas = evil)

        • Oh yes, I hear NYC is eating mecca. Would love to eat my way through that town. I didn’t taste Indian food until I went to London. It’s only been in the last few years that more neighborhood restaurants are opening up near downtown Chicago. Once I had Indian, it was love. So I’ve associated it with London every since.

          Southern cooks do know gravy. I learned a lot of recipes from my mom but never got the hang of gravy. It’s actually an art form!

          That’s my problem too, the taste of alcohol. That’s why I go for the sweet sissy drinks like daiquiris and amaretto sours. It’s only recently I’ve gotten into cosmopolitans and margaritas. Beer? Bah, but as some commenters have stated, I haven’t sampled them all yet. Is the difference between stout, lager and ale the strength of the ingredients or length of brewing process? Just left a message with my beer lover friend, telling him he’s been remiss in his quest to find me a likeable beer. 😀

  8. Funnily enough, despite my visits to London, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten fish&chips. A full English breakfast yes, but have always managed to avoid that dish!

    But I guess that’s always the case if you have to look for food on your own. You won’t know the right addresses for good quality food, so you would encounter some poor excuses of a meal! No doubt many foreign tourists think the same about US food, if all they ever could find where the same ol’ fast food places.

    Mainland Europe doesn’t do the warm ales, beers and stouts, doesn’t mean it isn’t available (usually indeed UK brands), but it’s not as popular as in the UK. Since I don’t particularly like beer, I can’t say whether your opinion is correct or not. 😉

    • Hi CC. That true. I usually don’t know where to go, or at least eat where the natives do. So the mainland likes their stuff cold or cool like the US? I haven’t clue and most likely never will. I do recall seeing people drinking a lot of wine.

      • They like their beers cold. Then again, that does depend on the beer, some are better served cool. The only beer I’ve ever liked is Oud Bruin (Old Brown), which is indeed sweeter and doesn’t have the bitter hop taste. Otherwise, no thanks!

        And wine has always been popular, if anything, it has become even more so.

        While I may not have eaten fish&chips, I do know that cod the preferred fish meat. However cod is marked as endangered/vulnerable, as is haddock actually, so any reputable merchant would know cod is a big no-no.

        • The Europeans like cold beer but the British like it warm? Now I’m confused. (Not that it really matters because no Brits will be visiting my house in the near future I don’t think). 😉

  9. I need to know what beers your friend brought you! Fifteen different kinds of American two-four stuff? Old Milwaukee, Miller, Bud…? My favourite English beer is probably Old Speckled Hen. It’s good beer and it haz a flavr other than vague wheatiness.

    If you find you really don’t like the flavour of beer you still might like a lambic. Sadly these are Belgian, not British. They’re made with lots of fruit juice. Lindeman’s Kriek (cherry) and Peche (peach) are the best I’ve had. The former is tart and the latter is sweet.

    • Hi there 42nd Doctor, welcome! Oh no, my friend isn’t into the low brow stuff. He drinks nothing less than Bass ale. Don’t think I’ve ever had wheat based or lambic bears. Can’t imagine what a fruity beer would taste like. I’ll have to tell my friend and put him on it! Thanks so much for the suggestions.

  10. Ok I’m going to be the dissenting voice. Firstly if you wnat good fish and chips you wouldn’t get it in a pub, unless it’s a locally sourced and run pub. If you eat in a chain place like a Weatherspoons you are going to get crap. Secondly most “proper” fish and chips is cod not haddock, and you would never get mushy peas in a proper chippy!

    I would like to point out as well in most US brew pubs or similar if you order fish and chips you are not even told what sort of fish it is, the wait staff will usually just stare at you and say “white fish” which will usually imply pollock or some other low grade fish only good for cat food.

    It’s fine not to like beer, might I suggest next time trying some good ciders?

    • Welcome Steve! The fandoms keep colliding in this post. 🙂

      Welcome Steve! Thanks so much for crossing fandoms and commenting. Finally some dissent! I thought I was throwing around some heresy and nobody bit. What you say is true. the only time I had good fish and chips in the UK was when a local knew the best place to go. In defense of US fish and chips, I can’t say I’ve ever had greasy fish, even in a chain. And if that’s cat food, then my US taste buds must be in a sorry state. (But to be honest I usually eat catfish). The first time I saw mushy peas in the UK, I looked around to see if anybody else was eating it; nobody was. So why is it still served?

      I’m trying to recall if I’ve had ciders in the UK. The closest I got was a shandy. In the US, a cider is like a hard lemonade, I think. On the other hand, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. 😀

    • There might well be places in the UK where they don’t sell mushy peas at a chippy. Here in the beating heart of Northern England, they’re found in every chippy – or, at least, I’ve never met a chippy north of Staffordshire that didn’t have them on the menu. Sadly.

      Weirdly, the American spouse loves them. He is strange.

  11. May I enter this discussion, please? I have visited both the UK and the US.
    Unless the takeaways have changed significantly since 1997 (as I’m sure they have!), it was difficult for me to find a decent cheap English meal while I was travelling. I was also shocked at the price of food in London at that time and ended up eating quite a lot of Indian food and kebabs, as these were within my budget! I can’t recall eating any gravy there but remember that things like KFC and McDonald’s were 2 to 3 times the price they were in Australia. Even a salad sandwich was expensive, and all you got was a little shredded lettuce and a couple of very thin slices of tomato and cucumber. I was sooooo glad to get home…. on our salad sandwiches. we have the usual lettuce, tomato and cucumber but also sliced capsicum (bell pepper for you Americans), grated carrot, grated REAL cheese (with TASTE!), sliced onions or sliced beetroot (if desired) and sometimes olives and jalopenos (well, at least in Canberra where I live). It’s hard to get your mouth around these sandwiches, they’re so thick!
    I don’t really like burger places in America either because they all seem to serve that horrible orange rubbery stuff that’s supposed to pass as cheese! And everytime I’ve ever asked for “no cheese, please” or “no ice in my Coke, thanks”, I get the strangest looks – and it’s not because of my accent. Most Americans I’ve met seem to think I have an “exotic” accent and want me to keep right on talking! No, it seems that asking them to leave out the so-called cheese or the ice is heresy!. ROTFLOL. I just think that the drinks one purchases at the usual burger joint are already weak enough that they don’t need to be watered-down further by dissolving icecubes!
    But, then, I know “foreigners” complain about our food, too, so it is obviously a case of asking the locals where to find the palatable “cheap stuff” wherever we may travel. I have never been a beer drinker so I can’t comment on the merits (or lack thereof) of any nation’s brew. But I just LOVE English and Australian cider – especially the hard stuff!

    • Welcome Kathryn! It’s nice getting the bird’s eye view of both countries from an Australian. It puts things in perspective. Yeah, that orange stuff is actually cheese “product” and dominates the fast food market. A cut above that, restaurants thankfully offer a choice of cheeses. Upscale burger places are opening up now (they cost about a steep $10) but have everything you could possible want. You get all that even on salad sandwiches? Wow, I need to head to Oz!

      I tend to ask no cheese, but no ice? That is a heresy! Americans put ice in everything, even beer if it’s not cold enough. Would I shock you if I said I like my coke watered down with little fizz? LOL! Cider isn’t getting much play here yet. Those who order cider are already knowledgeable about beer. Don’t recall seeing adverts for cider, only lite beer and hard cider (alcoholic fruit drinks). Thanks for commenting!

  12. Thanks, Judi. I realize that I’m a little late to the discussion – I’ve missed out on this post somehow until now. As my daughter is married to a US Marine and they won’t be coming to live here for another 3 to 4 years yet, I’m hoping to experience some more of the foods we hear talked about in the movies and on television! I’ve always wondered about grits, though……what exactly is that? and is it gritty in the mouth…as in “rough-feeling” like muesli? Melanie brought my 2 darling little half-American, half-Australian grandbabies “home” for 2 months over Christmas (last) while her husband was….. “overseas”, shall we say? By the time Bailey (aged 5) went back to his Californian home, he was saying “biscuit” or “bickie” for some of our more-obvious Australian-made “cookies” and told his mother she had to “go to that special store” to see if she could find some to buy! Melanie has found a grocery shop which sells some English and Australian foods near Oceanside somewhere and has introduced Bailey and Kaitlyn to those bought food ( if she can’t make them herself), so the littlies are becoming quite international in their tastes. I just love the food at The Cheesecake Factory I’ve been to in both CA and Kentucky – not only for the great variety of cheesecake available but also for the wonderful “chicken and Asian salad bits and sauces” dish they serve (can’t recall the name of it just now) – you make up your own wrap using lettuce leaves to stuff the chicken and salad into. Perfect lunchtime treat. Also loved the food at P J Changs in LA. I’m a sucker for Asian cuisine and I’m always pleasantly surprised that decent food is (or can be) so cheap in the US. But I still haven’t gotten used to the idea of waiters coming up to our table and “topping up” my Coke – for free!!!! WOW! Of course, then I come home and have to un-addict myself all over again – been drinking Coke for 50 years now and it’s my worst food/drink sin. Even the bottled variety isn’t as strong-tasting as it used to be. One day I would love to go back to the UK again for more culinary exploration (amongst other things!) but can’t see that happening unless I win the Lottery – and that might be a little difficult as I don’t take tickets! I’m having thoughts about our proximity to New Zealand (only about 3 hours flight away) a lot these days…wonder why? And would you believe I’ve never been there and it’s our closest neighbour! Crazy, isn’t it?

    • Kathryn, it’s okay to comment whenever you can. It’s always appreciated.

      Grits is corn based mush like porridge, similar in texture to polenta or farina. It’s not as smooth as cream of wheat which why it’s referred to as ‘grits.” It’s nothing as gritty and bumpy as museli. It can be served at any meal but it’s usually for breakfast. People mix all kinds of things with grits although the usual is butter and salt or butter and sugar. It’s de riguer down south and in breakfast franchises like Bob Evans or Pancake House. Good stuff.

      The Cheesecake Factory is an evil evil place. I try to forget its existence. 😀 Oh yeah, refilled drinks. It’s great but bad in a way because our meals are super-sized which unfortunately has led to an epidemic of obesity in this country.

      What are Oz specialties? I would love to visit there and NZ (you might have to drop by a certain studio when Hobbiton is open).

  13. Would love to visit Hobbiton. Matthew owns “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy on DVD and I’m about to re-visit these movies this long weekend.

    Both Matthew and Melanie have paid short visits to NZ as the NZ snow fields are great (so I’m told). When my kids were young, I paid for them to learn to ski but didn’t have enough money left over to learn myself – as other parents will understand! Melanie is quite good at cross-country skiing as well as the downhill type, whereas Matthew has only ever indulged in the downhill type. As they are now both parents themselves, they haven’t visited “the snow” for a while – maybe once the littlies are ready to learn to ski, it will be different.

    Melanie went to the snowfields near Aspen on her 1st US visit as a 21 year-old university student doing a six-week stint of study at the Miami International University (I think that’s what it’s called!!) in January 1996.

    Wonder if RA tried out the NZ snowfields last winter (June, July, August in the southern hemisphere)? Haven’t heard any rumours to that effect but, then, there’s always next year!

    Bailey (Melanie’s son) fell in love with Milk Arrowroot biscuits (I think we may have stolen that idea from the Brits) – they are just a very plain oval-shaped biscuit, nothing to write home about. It’s just that they are suitable for young children who may have a wheat flour intolerance so we give them to our babies as a treat now and then from the time the babies get some teeth. He loves Anzac biscuits, too – now they ARE one of our inventions, although the Kiwis do have something similar so I believe.

    I’m guessing you probably know our soldiers were labelled “ANZACs” (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) after the First World War (1914-1918)? We celebrate a day called ANZAC Day on 25 April every year to remember all of our soldiers who have died in battle, no more for just the ones who were killed at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, on 25 April 1915 but also up to the present day. There’s an old movie called “Gallipoli” in which a rather young Mel Gibson starred – quite reasonably done as far as the truth is known.

    Anzac bickies are made from rolled oats and golden syrup and are usually homemade.

    We’re still a rather young country when it comes to European settlement, etc., and are therefore closer to our English roots than the Americans are, so we probably have a better understanding of English foods – but we are much more adventuresome! I’m only joking! And since 1950, we have had quite a mix of migrants, so we’ve certainly benefitted in the food department.

    Australia became a British penal colony from 1778 as the Brits could no longer “transport” their convicts to the US after the American War of Independence! Not every person here has a convict ancestor, of course, but…. being the weird and warped people that we are, most of us love to find a convict “skeleton in the closet” when we’re tracing our family trees! My ancestry is 3/4 Irish (from Eire, not Northern Ireland) and only 1/4 English (from the county of Somerset – the guys who invented cider!!!!) Well, I’m pretending they did – I have no idea if it’s true! But, fortunately, I know people from many different backgrounds and cultures and just love trying out “new” (well, to me) foods.

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