English Breakfast: Food on the Street

Doner Kebab. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Rainer Zenz.

It’s finally that point in the semester: Classes and internships are winding down and so are our bank accounts. As a result, us here on the BU London program have resorted to some deliciously cheap and unhealthy options for our daily dining. Now, I’m not talking about vending machines—London has its own breed of highly inexpensive eateries open until all hours of the night.

But first, a note on fast food. Yes, London does have outposts of some of America’s favorite unhealthy restaurants—KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King—but the odd thing here is that these places are surprisingly upmarket. For example, the McDonald’s here look like something that we would consider on par with a Panera Bread, and their prices match the fancier aesthetic. Most KFC sandwiches go for £3 (about $4.50), whereas they would cost about 99¢ at home. Of course, I know nothing about these culinary abominations, since I do not eat at such embarrassing places! (Puts in monocle.)

On top of that, London street food is very different from what we have in America. In the three months since I’ve been here, I have seen one hot dog cart. One! And even then, no one seemed to want it.

Instead, the British late-night dining scene can be broken into two main sections: Fried Chicken and Kebabs.

As one might expect, London fried chicken joints are blatant KFC ripoffs. Certain favorite names include “Mississippi Fried Chicken” and “PFC,” which I think (hope) stands for “Perfect Fried Chicken.” These places are very greasy, very cheap and often smell of fryer oil. The chicken is usually far too salty to be palatable, but if one is wandering around Islington at 2 a.m. with some friends, it can be oddly satisfying.

Over on the good side of food, kebabs here are awesome! In London, “kebab” does not necessarily refer to meat on a stick, but rather doner kebab—a large slab of ground lamb (or possibly chicken) rolled onto a spinning spit and sliced off in chunks for your eating pleasure. Even what we would think of as “kebab”—chicken or lamb shish—is taken off the skewer, grilled, sliced and placed either in a pita or under a cabbage-y salad. Every kebab place has its own flair—some wrap everything up in a flatbread, some smother the goodness in onions and lettuce, some stuff the meat into a big fluffy pita—but there are still some constants. They all offer the same default sauce option: chili sauce. It’s very spicy (as one might expect) and can be cooled with either garlic sauce or yogurt sauce (though those are usually additional charges…that’s how they get you!) Some kebab places also don’t have fryers, either, which means no chips (french fries) or falafel, but the doner certainly makes up for that.

I wonder if I will miss these culinary simplicities that the British have to offer. Kebabs are both ubiquitous and tasty, which is a win-win situation, and who can really complain about that?

About Joel Kahn

Joel is currently a film major at BU. He hails from South Florida, and started at The Quad writing about food. He is now the publisher of The Quad.

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