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Now that you’ve landed in London (or Manchester) for your PLAB 2 visit, and have more or less settled into your comfy abode, your stomach starts to rumble. Uh-oh. Now what?! You seriously begin to consider if your mom wouldn’t mind just moving in with you for the next few months. But then you remind yourself that you’re a strong independent doctor who can cook! (well….kinda…you can boil an egg, so that’s something, right?)
What will I eat everyday in UK?
Maybe ‘burgers and chips’ (fries are called chips here!), all day, EVERYDAY?
Then where do I get the groceries from?
Where do I buy things from?
Where should I NOT buy things from?
I don’t have that much money to throw around!
Let us guide you...
Never fear, I bring you glad tidings of a food blog of sorts, a list of places you can go to in order to whip up something yummy for pennies on the pound, even if you’re no gourmet chef. When you drew up your monthly allowance for food before arriving, you wondered how much to set aside for food. £600? £1,000? Well, what if I told you I could lay out a plan that would allow you to eat a variety of meals, fresh and to your taste, for under £300 per month?
I can see you’re doubting me. I must admit, there are some restrictions to this plan. You can’t go out and eat willy-nilly as often as you’d like. You may have to cook in advance for those days when classes/studying will run long. But I assure you that you will not go hungry. Let me first list for you the places to shop::
They have everything you might need! I have talked about the top three I used to go a lot. There are others, obviously, but always compare among the shops and see where's the better buy.
It is a quaint store that carries most everything you’ll need to eat comfortably. Also, they have a fresh bakery that makes the most delicious triple chocolate chip cookies that you will ever have. I jest not. They are to die for, along with their chocolate muffins, chocolate twists, butter croissants, and various other savory breads. Lidl is also good for finding reasonably priced biscuits and cookies (my personal favorite are the ginger snaps), as well as certain veggies (celery, Brussels sprouts, onions), eggs, pasta/spaghetti noodles, juices, jams, long life boxed milk, and canned soups. They do not have a halal/zabihah meat section, but don’t worry, I’ll cover that too.
This is basically the UK’s answer to Wal-Mart. It is big, it is busy, it is moderately priced. Don’t be fooled by the flashy signs and supposed ‘roll backs’ and ‘special pricing’. Do your homework and see if what you’re buying is a better deal or not. Thankfully in the UK at the bottom of the prices there is a notice of ‘price per 100 g/1 kg’ so you don’t have to strain your brain thinking about what is more economical. From ASDA you can find halal/zabihah meats in their meat aisle, these prices are somewhat more than what a butcher has to offer, but they are also sold as seasoned and precut, which could save you a lot of time. I’d also recommend ASDA’s own brand milk or dark chocolate if you have a sweet tooth.
Around the Barking area you will find only a Tesco Express. There is a much bigger Tesco just down the road in East Ham if you’re interested. Tesco is the next level up in pricing versus Lidl and ASDA, and as the one in Barking is the Express version, there is limited availability in stock. They have a section of ‘meal deals’ if you are crunched for time and wish to just buy a readymade sandwich, salad, or pasta, they have vegetarian options, as well as seafood alongside other meats.
There is another thing you must keep in mind- in the UK they charge for plastic bags in most major retail supermarkets. Some stores, like Lidl, offer one time use only bags for about 5p that they will not replace if it were to tear (but you can still bring it with you each time you shop at their store), but other stores, like ASDA, you can purchase a bag that they will replace if it were to tear so long as you bring the original one back to the store. Or, if that all seems unnecessary to you, you can simply pack away your shopping in a side bag, backpack, or purse. There is a section in each store just off to the side after checkout that allows you to readjust your things into bags.
Butchers are a dime a dozen in the Barking area. Just find whichever one cuts the meat just the way you like it or is the most convenient for you (there’s one to the side of the Common Stations center on the way to the station), and you’ll be set. I recommend investing in a ‘value pack’ bag of drumsticks, wings, or drumsticks and wings. They are about £6 for one bag or £11 for two, and one bag should last one person about two weeks (if you were to eat four pieces of chicken per day).
The one endearing thing about the UK is their love for outdoor markets, or farmer’s markets. It makes me nostalgic for home. If you want to get a good variety of fruits and vegetables for a decent price, I would recommend walking over to East Ham (a ten-fifteen minute journey), and taking in their markets. There you will find many roadside vendors selling apples, oranges, bananas, avocados, capsicums, tomatoes, you name it, in a small bucket. Each bucket costs just £1. Shop around first to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your pound, and don’t be shy to poke and prod at the produce to make certain that they’re fresh. You can find these markets in Barking too, but I’ve always found that the produce has been fresher and tastier in East Ham.
You will find a variety of ethnic Desi/Eastern European/Afro-Caribbean stores and grocers for anything you may miss from home, but I again would advise shopping around to make sure you aren’t spending too much at one place.
There will be days you don’t want to cook anything and just want to go out to eat. Barking has a KFC, McDonald’s, Subway, and Nando’s as well as many, many local restaurants if you’re hankering for a kebab, biriyani, shwarma, noodles, or steak. If you’re keen on halal/zabihah only, many diners have the label clearly marked outside, and when in doubt, you can always ask.
Apart from food items you may possibly have a need for pen, pencil, notebook, binders and any other stationery things. Stores for these needs are Wilko, B&M, Poundland etc.
If you feel like that you underestimated the winter in the UK, you will have to buy clothes in the UK. What are the affordable places? There are a handful of places, my choices are Primark, H&M, Debenhams (sale items) etc.
My biggest advice would be using GOOGLE MAPS for everything. You can search "Egyptian food near me" and it will show you the nearby restaurants.
Hopefully, we have covered all the necessary places you might have to go to in your stay in the UK. If you have any other query, don't hesitate to drop a comment below!