Sunday, January 06, 2008

Food Shopping The UK vs. France

One of the things about being a 'foodie' is that one can't resist food shopping. So, although I didn't do much cooking during our recent trip to the Uk I did go food shopping several times with both my daughter-in-law and my sister-in-law. Both are pretty good cooks and like to experiment. We had a lot of fun going around the big supermarkets, mainly Waitrose who seem to be the upmarket supermarket of choice in England. I must say that their stores are very well laid out and that the checkout system is superb. (you could pick up your own scanner & log things in as you put them into your cart. Then, if you used the store's card you could check yourself out. An honor system of sorts, but pretty neat if you're in a hurry.)

Here are my impressions of what I saw as the major differences in shopping in a Uk as opposed to a French supermarket.
  • Ethnic foods. No comparison. The Uk markets have a very wide range of cuisine, everything from Indian to Thai to Japanese to American to, yes, French. Our average French market has a pretty poor selection of anything that isn't French.
  • Preprepared foods. Again no competition; the UK markets are stuffed with preprepared everything and the quality looked pretty good. Expensive though and I prefer to cook from my own raw ingredients.
  • Meat. Trade offs. The beef looked better and was cheaper. Lamb was about the same in price & apparent quality. France won hands down when it came to pork. The precut sections were similar except that in France there is a lot of 'offal' on offer. The 'bespoke' butcher section in France had a much wider selection of meats available. Overall I think I prefer the French market.
  • Vegetables. The French markets are far superior. Not quite as wide a range of specialty items, but much better quality. AND the French prices are far lower. (this doesn't include the outdoor markets which in France are better yet. Can't say about the English outdoor markets as I didn't have a chance to try one.)
  • General stuff. On basics the markets are pretty much equal. The English have far more snacks, nibbles and so forth. The French have a lot more non food items being more Hypermarketish in style. No big deal here.
  • Wine. The English have range. Wines from all over the world. The French have price. Overall they're at least 40% cheaper on an like for like basis as is possible to work out. For example: I can buy a perfectly nice drinkable bottle of red wine in France for about $3.00. An equivalent in England would cost $5.50 and that would be on sale. I did like the range in England, but at the same time I've found that as one buys wines from the various regions of France one gets almost as much variation in style, taste & terroir as one gets from around the rest of the world.
Ideally one would combine the best of both countries into one perfect supermarket. It would a dream to shop in, but would probably go broke. We've chosen France and are happy we have. Although the lack of ethnic things is frustrating at times I can go to the Herb Lady at market and get pretty much any condiment I want. In England the charcuterie & fromagerie departments are only a pale imitation of the real thing.
Bottom line comes down to price. Overall I think our food bill in France is about 20% cheaper than it would be in England. That's not counting wine. If we were to buy lots of preprepared stuff in either country then our bill would go way up.

Moral? Live in France, cook from scratch and drink lots of wine.

England? Its a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there!

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