When I first moved to the U.K. in 2005, I spent much of my time navigating store aisles, Googling ingredients, figuring out metric measurements, and taste-testing new products, especially of the snacking variety. That last bit was one of the best parts of expat life.
America may be known for its junk food, but Britain knows snacks too. And although they might not have every seasonal flavor of M&Ms, the Brits have chocolate candy that will make you wonder if M&Ms should even share the same shelf. Their potato chips (or crisps, as they call them) come in some wacky flavors, and even the traditional salt and vinegar chips make the substandard version you've been eating pale in comparison.
Snack food options in British grocery stores extend past the traditional chips and candy. The quality and availability of fresh, ready-to-eat products — even in local, non-artisanal supermarkets across the country — is wonderful. The bakery section rivals bougie bakeries in taste and selection, and for a quarter of the price. The deli is heavy on meat and pastry, which is just fine by me. (But I should point out that the U.K. has many vegetarian-friendly snack options too.)
Access to snacks, and fresh food, is important. So important that in the U.K. you can find smaller versions of their national supermarket chains in train stations, motorway rest stops, and airports. At any given time, even on a Saturday night while waiting for the last train home, the longest lines are at the mini supermarket. It seems we're all in agreement that you can't end a good night out without a buffet of snacks.
Here are 10 ready-to-eat options for the next ride home.
1. Mini Cheddars
Cheez-It-lovers may find a new food crush in these crackers. With no bright-orange coloring and a smoother consistency than crackers, a bag of Jacob's Mini Cheddars are sure to delight when you're looking for something salty. They even come in Stilton and Red Leicester if you want a more robust cheese flavor.
2. Sausage Roll
Individual-sized meat pies and rolls abound in the U.K., but nothing quite measures up to the sausage roll. Seasoned sausage meat wrapped in buttery, flaky pastry and sold already cooked, this British classic definitely outshines its cousin, the American pig in a blanket.
Shaped as "monster feet," these crunchy corn-based snacks are supposedly meant for kids, but when they come in flavors like Pickled Onion and Flamin' Hot, you have to wonder. But don't spend too much time thinking about it. Just eat them.
4. Cheese Twists
Found in the bakery section, these twisted pastry sticks are covered in cheese and have a hint of mustard. Still warm from the oven or eaten hours later, this savory baked good feels like a splurge, but costs much less than what you'd pay in a cafe.
Don't be confused — these are not pancakes. These oat bars are similar to granola bars, but the golden syrup they're made with gives a sweet, caramel flavor and soft, chewy texture. You can often find variations on the traditional flapjack, with the addition of raisins or, my personal favorite, chunks of Belgian chocolate.
6. Hula Hoops
The taste of this popular British snack is reminiscent of Potato Stix, but the hoop shapes make the snacking experience all the more fun. You can't eat them without putting a few on your fingers first. Flavors range from meaty (roast beef) to cheesy (cheese & onion), but original is all you need.
7. Pork Scratchings
Whether you go for the popular Mr. Porky or the artisan Mr. Trotter's brands, one thing is for sure — you won't be able to go back to eating American pork rinds. British pork scratchings, for better or for worse, look like what they are — crispy pig skin. They've got less of the Styrofoam rinds you find in the U.S., and way more of the flavorful crunch (or less air, more flavor, for short).
8. Jaffa Cakes
I think the British word "moreish" must have been created for these chocolate-coated, orange-flavored, jelly-infused cookies/cakes (their classification is a long-running debate in the U.K.). Whatever they are, you won't be able to stop eating them. But that's OK because as far as sweet snacks go, the Jaffa Cake is so low in calories, it's practically diet food.
9. Pork Pie
Made up of chopped pork and pork jelly fully encased in hot water crust pastry, the pork pie is a British delicacy — and tastes better than it sounds. Served cold and often seen next to the aforementioned sausage roll on picnic spreads and in supermarkets, the mini pork pies are a great snack for when you want something heartier.
10. Tunnock's Teacakes
Teacake has many meanings in the U.K., especially regionally, but if you're in need of a treat, find Tunnock's. Their teacakes have a cookie base under a dollop of light marshmallow filling and are completely covered in chocolate. They are most widely found in a box of six, and we promise not to tell if you eat them all.